I’ve been asked to comment on Ron Silliman’s excellent talk “Your Monsters Are Our Monsters: The Problem of Borders and the Nearness of the American Avant-Garde.” In Silliman’s “L-shaped talk,” the shape itself merits consideration.
Rachel Zolf’s poetry jolts readers from their comfort zone and into a contact zone where they encounter a poetics that is semantically “readable enough” but that conveys its urgency primarily on an affective level through shock, defamiliarization, and a poetics of glitchy error. What Zolf has called “mad affects” are experienced in readerly, textual encounters with her work. They also happen when the text moves off the page and into the realms of the aural, the visual, and the performative.
In “Immanence and Affect in Post-Avantgardism: Imagining the Social Subject,” Jeff Derksen and Louis Cabri argue that the contemporary social forms through which “the revolutionary imperative” (Neil Smith) expresses itself compel avant-garde poetry to rethink its historically inherited modes of address, formal organization, and function.
people arrived from portugal. people arrived from africa. people arrived from india. people arrived from england. people arrived from china. people predated arrival. people arrived from predation. people were arrayed. people populated. whips patterned rays into people. people arose. people rayed outward to toronto, montréal. people raided people. people penned the past.
In the beginning there was the word. And the word was “she,” born from her mother like so many other public prayers. d’bi.young anitafrika, daughter of foundational dub poet and scholar Anita Stewart, stands at a lectern that transforms into a pulpit by the first move of her hands (Mac laptop not nearly withstanding). At the same time that anitafrika offers a critique of the repressed lust in the life of the common homosexually active and actively homophobic preacher, she creates a new congregation.
The moment I sat down to write this response to Erin Wunker’s talk “Technological Subjects: Framing McLuhan in the Twenty-First Century” delivered at the November 2014 Avant Canada conference, I caught myself beginning by half-consciously composing tweets instead of carefully crafted, scholarly sentences: “wishes she could time travel back to nov. ’14 as she reads @erinwunker’s provocative piece on McLuhan & social media.”
Whenever Steve McCaffery talks, he opens areas of and occasions for research into poetry and poetics. Here he enters simultaneously into the career of bpNichol (his sometime collaborator until Nichol’s untimely and tragic death in 1988) and into the fraught question of the origins of written language. Nichol, a prodigiously creative poet and performer, original and boundless, seems to have cultivated a wild and naïve persona, and a casual, open-hearted approach to his multifarious creative occasions.
“Let me ask you to consider the ideological agenda in claiming poetry for one section of society.” Lillian Allen’s provocative performance-talk pierces the business-as-usual of literary communities, literary criticism, and of literariness itself. She reviews the occluded history of dub poetry — a form of performance poetry known for its musicality and its overt politics — and examines its incredible but too-often-unattributed legacies.
In November 2014, a representative sample of Canada’s avant-garde gathered in St. Catharines, Ontario, at the Avant Canada: Artists, Prophets, Revolutionaries conference to map out the state of experimental writing today and for the future. A major focus of the event was Indigenous poetics and politics, including the keynote address by Stó:lõ First Nations elder, philosopher, and author Lee Maracle. Her apposite message to the future-oriented, mostly settler audience was to remember: remember how and why your families came to Canada, remember who was here to greet them, remember the violence of displacement and the violence of the passage across the Atlantic.
We are at an interesting historical juncture. Governments, acting, as usual, as agents for industry and capital accumulation, are fiddling with the dials controlling communicative acts, trying to squelch (as in “suppress the output” of) the frequencies of dissent, or else simply decreeing them (via legislation, in Canada, like Bill C-51) the noise of terrorism, “full of sound and fury / signifying nothing.”