I’m very excited to be here with Andrea Quaid and everyone today for collective conversations on feminist poetics and pedagogy. Like to many people, the two may not seem like conjoined subjects. I also admit I don’t purport to know much about the intersections of the two. I’ve explored both separately — pedagogy in the classroom, the jail, the digital space; poetry on the page, the classroom, in jars …. I’m excited either way for an exploration of both poetry and pedagogy, two passions that should intersect for me. Upon conversations with Andrea over the years, we’ve been keen to understand that as feminists engaged with poetics, our interests and work in pedagogy have often not had a space for the two to intersect. Why should feminist poets reclaim pedagogy as our own? In the symposium we’re hoping for a space that can facilitate this conversation.
The first thing I want to say to you who are students, is that you cannot afford to think of being here to receive an education: you will do much better to think of being here to claim one …
The first image of a rape that I saw was Peter Paul Rubens’s Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus. I was paging through my father’s art history books. I had just learned to read and even before I encountered the word r-a-p-e, I knew there was something wrong with it. Something ugly. Being brought up, as many of us were, on the Western canon of Greek myths, I understood that rape had something to do with love. When a god loved a mortal too much, the result was rape. But this painting did not show rape; it portrayed the epigraph to rape.
We speak, in this cointerview, of our books — Serena Chopra’s Ic (Horse Less Press, 2017) and Aditi Machado’s Some Beheadings (Nightboat Books, 2017) — of epiphany and performance, the sociopolitical import of the line break, of decapitation, autoeroticism, and the sensorium. In so speaking, we discover that we are both, and proudly, grammarians.
“What is Ban?” The poet imagines an answer, asserting (among other things) that Ban “is a warp of smoke.”
Bhanu Kapil’s 2015 book Ban en Banlieue is a novel of meandering lists. The second (and largest) section of the book, titled “Auto-sacrifice (Notes),” is one such list, and it includes other lists within itself. The notes are less notes than collapsed vignettes offering insight into historical trauma and the creative process of articulating harm both physical and emotional. The notes work together to create a ragged narrative, one that seems contingent on a certain character — “Ban” — but also independent in itself.
Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil and The Devastation by Melissa Buzzeo were published by the same press, Nightboat Books, on the same day in 2015. How do these two works speak to one another? Taken together both pieces gleefully frazzle and implode a number of genres: novel, poem, historical fiction, autobiography, performance text, theory. The works situate readers in psychogeographical outskirts, landscapes that wish to enact a language turned away from violent erasures and silencings. Who does literature serve?
Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil and The Devastation by Melissa Buzzeo were published by the same press, Nightboat Books, on the same day in 2015. How do these two works speak to one another?
Taken together both pieces gleefully frazzle and implode a number of genres: novel, poem, historical fiction, autobiography, performance text, theory. The works situate readers in psychogeographical outskirts, landscapes that wish to enact a language turned away from violent erasures and silencings. Who does literature serve?
With poets using the Earth itself as a mode of composition for textual erasures and explorations of physical systems in relation to poetics, I imagine a future where an astronaut-poet might plant an adamantine sound poem in the icy particle rings of Saturn to see if it could withstand bombardments and pressures from the cosmos. Perhaps the icy particles would play the decomposing sound poem, changing as it decays, to a live audience on a nearby space station. Maybe the poem would be titled after the language of celestial mechanics: “Orbital Resonances.”
Laynie Browne: Is there such a thing as the poet’s novel?
Bhanu Kapil: The poet’s brain changes, perhaps in mid-life. Perhaps the poet moves from one part of the country to another. The poet turns to the sentence as the place where questions of magnetism, gravity and light — the forces that bind a person to the earth and then release them, abruptly — might most fully be worked out. Why? On a scrap of paper, I draw three overlapping rough arcs. These are sentences. These are vectors, complicated — in this preliminary sketch —by refraction and shame: the reality of what happens — does happen — has happened — at the limit of a nation state. Sometimes, as I’ve thought about elsewhere, a person doesn't get to cross. A person sees their body reflected, perhaps, in the gelation membrane that extends above and just beyond the border like an invisible dome. To exit you rupture. What the novel-shaped space lets the poet do (perhaps) is work out what happens both before and afterwards: the approach to that multi-valent perimeter [the shredded plastic on the floor.]
When I think of Incubation A Space for Monsters, I think of the form of the list, and how Kapil has transplanted this form so common to poetry into the form of the novel.
We think through lists, live them, annotate and move through time non-sequentially as we insert our prerogatives into lists. With each iteration on a list, as we enact it, who do we become?
“The secret pleasure of refusing to live like a normal person in a dress/with a sex drive and fingers/dreamy yet stabilized in the café of languages” .
Incubation A Space for Monsters, is a book akin to movement as a form of identity. The movement is many-directional. A character, Laloo, is literally moving. She is in transit via hitchhiking, which means in a sense that she has no idea which direction she will move. Her body is spliced, part “monster” part “baby” part “cyborg” part “dream.” She is moving in the direction of female identity, an identity between borders, between safety and risk, between any fixed notion of intimacy and the question — how to be a person intact?
I had the good fortune to spend three days in the field, last week, with a wildlife biologist and her field crew, in their study area in the Southern Canadian Rockies, observing and helping the team “pull transects,” inventory tree growth, and track for wolf and other predator sign. They were compiling data for evidence of “trophic cascades,” in the ecosystems at the mountain-prairie interface. Trophic cascades are the energy that ripples out from the presence of a top predator, or a “keystone species,” in an ecosystem—not necessarily through direct predation so much as through an “ecology of fear,” which keeps herbivores vigilant and on the move, balancing browsing with scanning for predators. Removal of the predator can result in a collapse of the number and complexity of the energy cascades; presence of a predator amplifies and expands the energy ripples. Through such “cascade” effects, we ultimately might establish links between, say, wolf presence and songbird diversity. (For some ecosystems, a “mesopredator” like the coyote fulfills the function of the wolf.) Or so the theory goes.
Theoretical or not, I like to call it the wolf-songbird complex.
This playlist is comprised of recordings related to questions. Bhanu Kapil, in her recent post on Harriet, Notes on Mutation, asks: “What is a question? How do questions work in your writing? What do they perform? What happens when you ask them?” Today’s commentary might be considered an appendix to Kapil’s post, paying particular attention to the relationship between composition strategies, recording technology, and public performance. I’m also interested in grouping these recordings together in a playlist so that the questions from one piece might circulate through the others.
I’ll begin by quoting more from Kapil’s notes: “A question: Literally, it’s a way of gathering information but not of processing it. As a mode of enquiry that’s also, linguistically, founded on doubt, on not having the words for what happens at the end of a relationship, the question seals space*.” I have excerpted a portion of Kapil’s comments contextualizing her own book of questions, The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers, from her Kelsey Street Press audio page. At one point in her discussion, Kapil describes the weaving together of the disparate material she has gathered from interviews as well as from her own answers to her questions as “a shared space for voices.” On PennSound, you can listen to an excerpt from The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers recorded in 1999 at the Left Hand reading series in Boulder.