[Along with Whitman & Darío, Sousândrade (Joaquim de Sousa Andrade, 1833-1902) emerges today as one of the great nineteenth-century forerunners to a full-blown poetry of the Americas. Nearly forgotten after his own time, he was brought back through the enthusiasm of Haroldo & Augusto de Campos, to become, in Latin American terms at least, the epitome of a late experimental romanticism & a prefigurer of new poetries to come.
Let me set the scene. Getting to MLA was difficult, involving two attempts at traversing Michigan, one blocked by light snow over black ice, obscuring the lanes, and the other hindered by a hundred miles of freezing fog. But what could be better than the entry to the conference hotel after that? The first person one sees is an augury — it was Jonathan Eburne, energetic promoter of surrealism and the avant-garde. Next, in the lobby, was David Lloyd, intent on networking for the policy discussion on travel to Palestine (see forthcoming post on the BDS campaign). Whatever it was that drew me here, now is the moment and this is MLA. And there were sessions, disappointing to be sure in many instances but confirming in others; the book display, with major presses like UC, UPNE, and New Directions not attending; the Pavlovian wine and cheese at 5 in the book display, leading to the perennial overflowing hotel bar, overlooking ice breaking on the Chicago River.
The Modern Languages Association is large enough that it is districted into divisions, like “American Literature to 1800” or “Women's Studies in Language and Literature.” This year, the “Literary Criticism” division's special panel at the big annual gathering (a brutal job fair veiled by an ever more threadbare academic conference) was on “Marx and Poetry.” This may be for the simple reason that the division’s head gets to choose the topic: Kristin Ross has written one of the great works of Marxist poetry criticism, The Emergence of Social Space: Rimbaud and the Paris Commune.
But it may be a measure (one might admit to optimism) of some cultural heat, perhaps a thimbleful, gathering around poetry and around historical materialist approaches thereto. After all, Ross got elected. And the Rimbaud book, her debut three deacdes ago, is recently back in print.
Andrew Demirjian participated in ModPo during the fall of 2013. “As I was reading the poems and watching/listening to the videos,” he wrote me recently, "I was working on two pieces as a creative response to the course.” One of those pieces is entitled “Amiri Baraka A-Z.” It is an alphabetical vocabulary for Baraka, consisting of word-length clips drawn from PennSound’s Baraka recordings, each embedded under a letter of the alphabet. Click on a letter — or touch a letter on the iPad — and Baraka’s voice performs single words beginning with that letter. Once you start the web-installation poem, it will continue; you can stay with a letter, or move around and spell out your own performative vocabulary.