I started the Poetics List in late 1993, just after I came to Buffalo and co-founded the Poetics Program and a little while before the founding of the Electronic Poetry Center. When the list began, a email-based discussion group was a radically new format. There was no web interface and no way to filter messages. Emails were read and written via on-line ascii systems. During the first six years of the list, a deep and wide ranging discussion developed among the few hundred of us actively participating. I asked that the list address not be publicized so that we could keep the discussion to those with shared interests and that the list not become a general interest poetry forum. Much of the spirit of the early list was captured by Joel Kuszai, who edited Poetics@, for which I wrote the introduction. This ROOF book is available free in as epub, mobi, or pdf; or via Amazon. Or you can also explore the early Poetics List archive (1993-1996).
The list was unmoderated until 1999. At that time, many of us involved in early forms of social media were confronted by flaming, spam, and trolls -- before having those words for them. While some people objected to our move to list moderation, an unmoderated list ended up driving away or silencing people I wanted to be part of our discussion while at the same time giving free reign to those hostile to the list's basic orientation (which, regrettably, I was far too slow to realize). A no-holds barred unmoderated offshoot of the Poetics List was started but didn't last long. (I take up issues around editing the Poetics List in an essay in "Electronic Pies in the Poetry Skies" in Attack of the Difficult Poems.)
In any case, the care free days of the early list were over before the new Millenium opened its eyes. By that time, the list had become a rare open forum for the discussion of, and exchange of information about, unconventional poetry and poetics: you didn't have to be at a bar in New York or a cafe in San Francisco, or to know anybody on a scene, or to be enrolled in a program: all you needed to participate was an active interest. So I was determined to keep the thing afloat and with the help of a succession of list moderators, we did, peaking at about 1500 subscribers, with many more readers via the web.
Like PennSound and the EPC, the Poetics List has been housed in a non-profit, non-commercial space with no advertising, no snooping on reader's or posters' web activity, and privacy of our subscriber email list. This building of noncommercial web space has been a foundational principal for all three sites. For many of the long-term participants of the Poetics List, it became a very personal space of friendship and exchange, argument and disagreement, as well a place to find or post information about new books and publications and web links. Participants relied on the list for contact with those with shared poetry interests and as a means of getting in touch with one another. It was a life-line.
Here is how I formulated the aims of the list, in consultation with Joel Kusai and Chris Alexander, starting about 2000:
Our aim is to support, inform, and extend those directions in poetry that are committed to innovations, renovations, and investigations of form and/or/as content, to the questioning of received forms and styles, and to the creation of the otherwise unimagined, untried, unexpected, improbable, and impossible. While we recognize that other lists may sponsor other possibilities for exchange, we request that those participating in this forum keep in mind the specialized and focused nature of this project and respect our decision to operate a moderated list. The Poetics List exists to support and encourage divergent points of view on innovative forms of modern and contemporary poetry and poetics, and we are committed to doing what is necessary to preserve this space for such dialog.
Please note that this list is primarily concerned with discussions of poetry and poetics. We strongly encourage subscribers to post information, including web links, relating to publications (print and internet), reading series, and blogs that they have coordinated, edited or published, or in which they appear. Such announcements constitute a core function of this list. Brief reviews of poetry events and publications (print or digital) are always welcome.
The Poetics List is not a forum for a general discussion of poetry or for the exchange of poems. Queries for contact information, messages intended for just a few subscribers, "flame" messages, and free-standing personal poems or journal entries will, in general, not be forwarded to the list.
Also, please note that the Poetics List is not a "chat" list and we discourage the posting of very short messages intended for only a few subscribers. Personal queries and off-topic submissions will not be posted.
The advent of user-friendly blog sites provided welcome access for poets to create new forums, key alternatives to what the list initially offered. In the last several years, Facebook and Twitter have, for many of us, diminished the lure of Listserv forums.
It has been over ten years since I left Buffalo; it is no longer viable for me to continue to sponsor the list. So, as of today, the list has been discontinued. But we are maintaing and hope to improve, the list archive. The Poetics List EPC page will continue to have current information on the archive.
And as the old Poetics List has ended, a new one is beginning. Francesco Levato of the Chicago School of Poetics has started the Poetics List 2.0 -- which has many features not possible to offer via the Liserv format.
A renewed interest in Clark Coolidge’s work has, I think, been sparked by recent publications: The Act of Providence (Combo Books, 2010), a booklength poem on his Rhode Island home town, and two titles from Fence Books — a collection of sonnets, and his mammoth prose performance work from the 1970s (never before published in its entirety and hence giving it a near-mythic status among many of his readers), A Book Beginning What And Ending Away, which the publisher calls “a missing treasure from one of the great ages of American experimental literature.”
I am currently revising a book-length study of Coolidge’s early work (1962–1978); the majority of my posts will likely come out of this material, but I’ll also be sorting and sifting through his several dozens of collections that have come out since then. Anything like a complete survey of his work will inevitably elude us, particularly since his considerable unpublished work at least equals and probably exceeds, in terms of sheer page count, the published work. I’ll be trying out a variety of reading strategies that I think propose themselves when facing such a vast and variegated body of works, particularly one that resists that standard academic work of close readings for paraphrasable content. My hope is that these commentaries will prove equally useful to those both familiar and relatively new to Coolidge’s writing.
In a post on Jacket2, "Boycott Language" might mean the Poetry Wars of the 80s, when a boycott mentality around Language writing was manifest in certain quarters of the public sphere. My cover image says otherwise; it is evidence of the ongoing human rights horror in Israel and occupied Palestine that should be at the forefront of political discussion now. As a poet and critic attentive to "language," I want to contrbute to the current debate on the boycott of Israeli universities advocated by the BDS movement and the American Studies Association, along with the more narrow but also controversial resolution on the rights of Palestinian scholars to travel to the West Bank by the Modern Language Association. As with my last entry, the MLA has been the site of significant institutional work in poetics over the past two decades, but that is not simply a matter of ludic play. It also turns out that I was a member of ASA over the past year, but did not participate in the vote on its boycott resolution.
To get to the point: I cannot support the ASA resolution on two counts. First is its confusion of two separate invocations of universal rights: the human rights of Palestinians and the academic freedom of scholars. These rights are not in conflict, and therefore not subject to any form of "means-end" rationale—as I see ASA's boycott language advocating. Let me explain as precisely as I can. On the one hand, the resolution cites the lack of academic freedom among Palestinian students and scholars as a result of "Israeli state policies that violate human rights and negatively impact [their] working conditions." The ASA's information page clarifies their position:
Under the current conditions of occupation, the academic freedom of Palestinian academics and students is severely hampered, if not effectively denied. Palestinian universities have been bombed, schools have been closed, and scholars and students deported. The ordinary working conditions for Palestinian academics and students are severely constrained by restrictions on movement to and from work, on international travel, and by discriminatory permit systems. Israeli scholars critical of their country’s policies also face sanction since it is a civil offense for scholars in Israel to endorse the boycott.
I have no reason to doubt that these claims are well-founded, and they are profound violations of human rights. ASA then advocates "a boycott of Israeli academic institutions," meaning that scholars and institutions should not
enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions (such as deans, rectors, presidents and others), or on behalf of the Israeli government, until Israel ceases to violate human rights and international law.
While ASA believes that the scope of its boycott language is restricted only to institutional contacts, it is often difficult in practice (or in specific instances) to determine where individual and institutional contacts are precisely distinguished. Academic freedom is, without question, curtailed in relation to the aims of the boycott; ASA is asking scholars and institutions to give it up, willingly if provisionally, as a political act. But the resolution then goes on to return to a universal standard (true for everyone, everywhere) of academic freedom to discuss the boycott resolution:
It is also resolved that the ASA supports the protected rights of students and scholars everywhere to engage in research and public speaking about Israel-Palestine and in support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.
I assume that a similar right would apply to discussion of the resolution, as I am doing here, in critical terms—even as, unfortunately, the conduct of the debate, since the resolution, has been exceptionally polarized from both sides: you are either for it or against it. The Wall, in other words, is real.
My first objection, then, is the simultaneous invocation and suspension of academic freedom in relation to a political goal whose ethical imperative should not be opposed to the right of scholars, or anyone, to freely discuss, learn, and act independently of political coercion. Even Judith Butler, who argues convincingly for the goals of the BDS movement, fudges the consequences of the resolution on this point. After carefully pointing out that the boycott would apply only to institutions, not individuals (via a labored parsing of cases that indicates the lack of rationale on this point), she concludes:
So given that no Israeli will be discriminated against on the basis of citizenship, and that increasing numbers of Palestinians might well enjoy academic freedom for the first time if the occupation is brought to an end, we can safely conclude that the principle of academic freedom will be more substantially realized through the support of BDS than by opposing it.
Academic freedom is being portrayed here as a kind of quantity—more of it under certain circumstances means that there can be less of it under others. Such a rationalization is precisely the means by which academic freedom is restricted under all kinds of conditions, not just the present one. If you say something the trustees don't like, the university will suffer: curtail your speech. If you say something that differs from a colleague, you may be seen as uncollegial: curtail your speech. If you write Language poetry, you might offend a workshop poet: curtail your speech. In fact, the general condition of academic life is to negotiate restrictions on what may be said, in order to continue to preserve the ideal (or the illusion?) of academic freedom and survive in institutional life. None of us, in fact, in any public circumstance that I am aware of, has genuine academic freedom—but this does not mean there should be less of it. Rather, it should be insisted on: academic freedom is impossible, but it must be preserved. What is left is to consider the consequences of specific compromises that are made, all the time, in order to continue to pursue the goals of scholarly and creative life. What are the downsides to this willing curtailment of a freedom that is never entirely realized, but that continues to be invoked as a standard? What are we doing when we give it up?
My second objection is a more general one: boycott mentality. As a symbolic, as much as practical, policy, the ASA resolution declares as "off limits" certain institutions and contacts. A Wall is being built, on the other side of which are those who continue to maintain contacts with Israel. The public reception of the resolution's perlocutionary force on this point has been quick, brutal, and may lead to much worse consequences than the ASA could have imagined; it may turn out to be a political disaster, in other words—but this is not my point. My point is simply the us-versus-them mentality that the boycott language creates, of boycott supporters versus everyone else, which maps onto not only 1) the actual us-versus-them state of affairs in Israel and Palestine but 2) every other form of us-versus-them in existence, from racism and class division to the Cold War and anti-Semitism. Here, the point that curtailing contact between peoples in intractable political situations—which would be either suspended or discouraged by the resolution—is a loss for precisely the goal of the resolution itself: greater public discussion of the situation in occupied Palestine, and the human rights issues involved. In terms of symbolic value and provoking debate, the resolution may indeed have a positive effect, even in its crudeness—but not in terms of the instrumental results it advocates, nor in terms of what it asks us to give up. Here, I will contrast the equally contentious resolution of the MLA, which points to the specific issue of the travel of scholars of Palestinian origin to the West Bank. It is specific, based on documented policy, and doable—and almost as symbolic, it turns out. There are, I will conclude, any number of ways—including divestment and sanctions, as with the campaign against Apartheid in South Africa—to pursue the goals of remediating Palestinian rights without an act of self-censorship or, worse, the creation of new boundaries.
Don't go there is a voiced or unvoiced introjection I have heard all my life: from my childhood in Taiwan, across the Straits from that monster, Red China: don't go there! To my student days in Berkeley, when fear of Oakland's police and racial tension were often voiced as don't go there; to my negotiations with the trauma of the Holocaust and the taboo of even setting foot in Germany: don't go there; to my teaching in Detroit, which is the object of national and suburban phobias: don't go there. In the next post, I will document what I learned when I did "go there"—to an academic conference at Tel Aviv University in November 1997—and how that experience informed my response to the boycott debate, and whether I would go there now.
by David Shook
From the moment that an explanation is offered, there’s no longer any danger for the reader. — Alain Robbe-Grillet, to Mario Bellatin, for molossus 1
a) In prosody, a molossus is a metrical foot of three long syllables. English language prosody, mapped in stressed and unstressed syllables, is not very accommodating. Attempted examples include Tennyson’s “Break, Break, Break,” which properly scanned makes three separate feet, the end of the second line of Gerald Manley Hopkins’ “The Caged Skylark,” (“Man’s mounting spirit in his bone-house, mean house, dwells—“), which seems a stretch but works if scanned as four feet and its final word does not take on extra stress, and “wild-goose chase,” which works in isolation but seldom in context, as in Thomas Hardy’s “Erotophuseos.”
Exempli gratia: audiri, cantabant, virtutem, http://moloss.us
b) from the Greek Μολοσσὸς, A breed of dog from Southern Europe, now extinct, considered to be the ancestor of today’s molossers, including St. Bernards, Great Pyrenees, Rottweilers, and Great Danes. Prominent dog fighting enthusiasts contend that they were used by the Greeks to fight men and animals, including tigers, lions, and elephants. Aristotle and Grattius praised them. "Never, with them on guard," says Virgil, "need you fear for your stalls a midnight thief, or onslaught of wolves, or Iberian brigands at your back."
Exempli gratia (simulacrum): The Jennings Dog, the Vatican’s Belvedere Court dogs
c) An online broadside of world literature. molossus, founded by editor David Shook—me—in 2010, as an online forum for interview and book reviews, with a focus on literature in translation and the conversational interview. Since its inception, I have endeavored to cover as wide a spectrum of literature as possible, with a focus on whatever interests me, showcasing smaller presses like Los Angeles’ Insert Blanc, Chicago’s Sara Ranchouse, and Tijuana’s Kodama alongside more mainstream publishers. In this sense, molossus is a very personal website, an impresarial front, reflected in its irregular schedule as in its coverage of the places I travel.
Contributing editors have played an increasingly important role in molossus’ development, and include Indian poet Sudeep Sen, who edits a weekly portfolio of original poetry and prose, Australian poet John Mateer, who frequently contributes dispatches from his travels, Mexican novelist Mario Bellatin, who has never done anything for molossus at all, really, besides offering his friendship, and the British poet Jenny Lewis, who has contributed several notable interviews. Literary Organizer Brian Hewes played a significant role in the technological development of the website.
Because of its small and personal nature, molossus has served as a venue for experimentation, including art installations like the Poetry Machine, a 1964 candy vending machine retrofitted to sell individually wrapped poems; events like AZTEX+PORN+STALIN at the Silver Lake Jubilee, featuring LA writers Boris Dralyuk, Sesshu Foster, Geoff Nicholson, and Zak Smith; original portraiture and illustration by LA artist Laura Peters; and a new quarterly edition of original world literature, now in its second edition, which has already featured work from Brazil, Burundi, China, Equatorial Guinea, Estonia, France, Georgia, Haiti, Mexico, Moldova, Philippines, Poland, Rwanda, and the USA, including political cartoons by Guinean artist Jamón y Queso, the last interview conducted with Alain Robbe-Grillet by Mario Bellatin, the oral poetry of the Burundian Batwa, and a free ebook of Stalin’s juvenile verse and literary correspondence, in its first ever literary translation from the Georgian and Russian by Vlad Osso.
Since its inception, molossus has championed the short review—often derided by the literati, if indeed there is such a thing, for its lack of breadth and depth—as a challenging but necessary form in today’s world. YOLO. molossus is descriptivist rather than prescriptivist, bored by nostalgia and moaning, future facing. Most importantly, from an editorial standpoint, molossus has championed not being boring, not lingering lonely but ought to have been read in forgotten browser tabs, or moldering in RSS feeds. To that end, I’m out.
molossus is a foot, a dog, a stink, a grating noise. molossus is Los Angeles, the world, the gathered and the scattered. molossus is an online broadside of world literature.
We have been trying for some time now to understand poetry, understand not just its aesthetics but also how it circulates and what it carries with it as it circulates. We came to poetry through higher education, but once we were there, we were told that poetry was more vibrant outside of higher education and this seemed to be a true statement at the time. As a result, when we were sent down to do an internship at the Poetry Project, we devotedly showed up every Wednesday and put out chairs. Once Jessica Hagedorn let us write some things for the Newsletter but she complained that our prose was not awake and rewrote them so they were no longer ours and she was right. Once we got to ride in a cab with Eileen Myles and a typewriter. Once we missed the last train upstate and spent the night in Penn Station. Actually more than once; there was this bar called Downtown Beirut... Years later we found a datebook where we wrote down the readings of that freshman year. And what was surprising to us twenty years later was how many people we saw read that we now count as long time friends. Poetry is funny that way. Decades pass.
Does this in anyway explain why we are so puzzled when we hear that one and then another and then another poetry friend that we know and love is going to be spending close to $1000 to attend the AWP conference — not as a presenter but as an audience member — in a few weeks?
When we ask this question we don’t mean those of us who are poetry professionals. For better or worse, and most days we are saying worse, the AWP performs the tepid expectations that our culture has for professional organizations. Best we can figure out, AWP functions as an advocacy group for the institutionalization of creative writing. It publishes a newsletter full of advice about teaching and feel-good reports from MFA programs, it provides guidance (and some best practice standards) on MFA programs to potential consumers, and runs a conference that features a plethora of panels about things such as How Twitter Works (And Doesn't Work) For Writers and The Third Degree: Why Writers Pursue Additional Education Beyond the Bachelor’s and Master’s. Oddly the AWP seems to see its role as an advocate for creative writing programs as a thing, less for its individual members. We say this despite its claim that it exists to advocate for writers. There is no other way explain why it has decided to have a panel on a third degree and to reject the proposed panel on Principled Protest in Academia: the Story of the University of Houston Sit-in. And why its idea of advocacy has been concentrated around providing program advice to writers who want to enroll in higher education to study writing and why it has done little to protect their interests once they are there. It has not taken a strong stand against the predatory lending practices of the student loan industry. It has pointedly made no serious resistance to the adjunctification of labor beyond a statement of recommendations on non-tenure track faculty that says things like “NTT faculty who wish to bargain collectively should do so.”
We at Commune Editions all have our own individual reasons for avoiding the AWP conference, although we might agree that a conference with a panel on Four Ways Blogging Benefits a Writer was never likely to be much of an inducement. But we should confess that two of us have succumbed to professional pressures from our employers and gone in years past (and are likely to succumb in the future too; we do, we admit, work in the business); one of us remains untainted. And we should further admit that when this succumbing has happened, we relied upon travel funds provided by our employers to cover at least part of the expenses. It would be dissimulation not to admit this. For not to belabor the obvious, but one of the reasons these conferences have $285 registration fees and are held in $200 a night hotels with $12 beers in the bar in major urban areas is because there is a presumption that the attendees are tenured faculty who will be getting at least some of their costs covered by their employers. According to the AWP’s financial statements, the revenue on the conference was $1,352,908 in 2012. Most of this was spent on renting rooms from the hotel and on staff and also on honoraria for the featured writers. Whether this is a good way for any organization to be spending its money is another issue. Our only point here is that the AWP conference resembles other professional academic organization conferences and it is priced like everybody has an expense account, like everybody is tenure track.This is not to brag. Hate the tenured as much as you want, including two of us; forgive the underemployed one of us perhaps. We are just trying to describe what feels odd to us.
Here is the thing, despite this financial structure, we doubt the conference could happen if the only people who attended it were those with travel funds provided by their jobs in higher education. There are not that many people in this category, compared to the MLA or even the ASA or Modernist Studies Association. And we suspect, although cannot prove, that there are even fewer interested in say panels on devotional poetry or female memorists with daddy issues or in tumbleweeding out of the great plains. This means that for the AWP to survive as it is, it requires there to be a lot of underemployed people hoping to eventually get jobs and who see the conference as a semi-professional networking nexus in which to seek precarious employment. It seems telling that the AWP seems to get bigger each year as employment prospects collapse. In 1992, the AWP conference had 15 events and 40 presenters. Last year more than 12,000 people attended. In 1992, nontenure line labor was closer to 57%. Now it is at over 76%.
We get the desperation here. We don’t hate the payers. There are a lot of MFAs and not a lot of jobs. There seems to be a bursting high education bubble and a bursting MFA bubble within this bubble too. Outside of higher education, there is no serious grant infrastructure for writers. There is no meaningful welfare system for any sort of US human that might help writers along. There is Obamacare and it isn’t that great. We get how all of this might force one into a position so impossible that one might as well join an organization whose mission is to defend writing programs and not much more. I mean we do all sorts of odd things in our moments of despair too.
But what is it that lets the conference look as it if could be a semi-professional networking nexus? What compels so many to go to a conference when the conference is full of panels like We’re Having a Party: Building a Literary Community Through Event Series? and so not full of panels on how the U of Houston students managed to get a 55% raise after their sit-in?
We suspect that a lot of that reason has to do with the offsite reading.
Basically, the only part of the AWP conference worth attending is the part that is not the AWP conference. We do not know when the offsite reading becomes the most crucial part of the AWP (no one at the AWP has returned our email requesting information). But in recent years the offsite has become many nights and many overlapping events organized by many different presses and organizations, few of them local to the city. The AWP has even started listing them on their website, as if they are part of the conference. And if the conference panels seem, well, lacking, then the offsite readings seem at least better.
We are interested in how the AWP has become the offsite readings more or less because we too love and believe in the DIY ingenuity of literary culture. The offsite reading has an interesting history. The first one was probably at the Chicago MLA in 1985. Charles Bernstein probably had something to do with it. At the MLA, the offsite reading is just one night. The tradition is that the local poets organize the reading and that local poets read with visiting poets. Poets show up as poets (not as representing a press or a journal).
It is notable how different the AWP offsite readings are than the MLA one. At AWP they are for the most part organized by the business, the MFA program (Brown alumni read) or the press (Apogee press) or the not for profit (VIDA). They do not necessarily have a local tie.
Why are so many presses and journals and small groups of people willing to do the work that the AWP could possibly be doing, such as preserving DIY literary cultures in the face of the onslaught of attack on this by the institutionalization of creative writing that is taking all things dear to alternative literary cultures and charging large amounts of money for them? And why, to add insult as it were, do the people Doing It Themselves then pay the AWP and multinational hotel industry and the airline industry close to $1000 to let them do it?
We keep getting caught up in these amounts of money in part because we have watched the Brooklyn Poetry Summit funding campaign sort of fail. Or half succeed if you like that glass half full stuff. Their goal was a modest equivalent of five people going to the AWP. They only got the equivalent of two and a half people going to the AWP. But the Brooklyn Poetry Festival is just one example of a moment of community organized support for literature. And really saying the Brooklyn Poetry Festival is good and the AWP is bad is not our point. They are what they are. What we want to say is that the AWP is not, as it claims in its mission, the advocate of the writer in general. The kind of writer who most needs advocacy is the kind least likely to get it from AWP. It is an organization that has very successfully appropriated the community-organized forms of literary distribution and used them as a false sociality to disguise the economic collapse of higher education and then to perpetuate its continued existence.
We worry not that much about the $1000 paid by our friends (it’s first world money after all), but more the false sociality that lets the AWP conference suggest it could be for the community. It is this false sociality that has so many joining an organization that seems dedicated to preserving their own exploitation and then, once there, do the work that the conference is refusing to do. This is also, we worry, what makes it impossible for these same people to imagine that they have a collective politics that could resist the pillaging and destruction of higher education that is happening right now. Makes it difficult to support the very things that have made literature have such rich and decentralized structures of support.
This false sociality, we suspect, is why the AWP is even worse than the MLA at protecting the very institutions that formed it. Don't get us wrong. Both organizations are fiddling while Rome collapses. But the MLA (and this must be related to the fact that its annual conference, unlike the AWP, gets smaller each year) has at least been able to issue some tepid critiques of casualization. It has at least been able to have a discussion, even though a painful one, about Israel, Palestine, and BDS. And its disenfranchised membership in addition to having a party and building literary community through a reading has also been holding a sort of alternative conference every few years whose goal is to attempt to figure out how to respond to the economic destruction of higher education.
Again, it is not MLA good; AWP bad. But maybe we were wrong when we said that it wasn't AWP bad and Brooklyn Poetry Festival good. Maybe it might be that the Brooklyn Poetry Festival is at least somewhat good. And we bet if you were going to the go the AWP and decided not to and sent your money to the Brooklyn Poetry Festival instead, they wouldn't make you do the AWP's work and organize a panel on What's a Creative Writing PhD Worth? and then charge you $285 to go to their readings.