On the reading group, part I

(reading Adrian Piper's Decide Who You Are in Constructing Masculinity, where Pi
(reading Adrian Piper's "Decide Who You Are," in Constructing Masculinity, where Piper's work appears as the endpapers)

Below is an email query I sent last Friday, the results of which will be posted soon as Part 2. I'm grateful to the folks who responded, many with sentence contributions, including: Yosefa Raz, Laura Woltag, Joshua Clover, Melissa Mack, Lindsey Boldt, anonymous, Laura Moriarty, Lauren Levin, Brandon Brown, Alli Warren, Monica Peck, Jackqueline Frost, Jess Heaney, Cynthia Sailers, Andrea Quaid, Scott Inguito, Samantha Giles, Zack Tuck and Anne Lesley Selcer.

A procedural update: the composition / remix of sentence contributions proceeded pretty much as anticipated in the email below. I dropped sentences into excel as they were received, making decisions along the way regarding which longer groups of sentences to leave together, and which seemed most dynamic as individual units. Then I sorted the sentences or sentence clumps in descending alpha order.  I almost went with this ordering device because I am a sucker for list poems and it was beautiful to see so many desires listed in a row. All those sentences beginning with “I want.” Instead, in homage to Dan Thomas-Glass, and in some attempt to move away from the organizing I who would default to the alphabet because it rendered a result pleasing to herself, I chose (as per the original plan) to use a chance operation inspired by With + Stand's editorial practice, for instance as follows in Issue 5: “The order of poets in this issue was determined based on the following chance operation: each poet was randomly assigned to a U.S. state; poets were then reordered based on state levels of radiation fallout from nuclear testing.”

In this case, each sentence or sentence cluster was randomly assigned a zip code in Oakland, and then reordered based on the percentage of foreclosures in that zip code during the second quarter of 2009.

Here’s the email. Part 2 soon!


I'm writing with a quick idea / question / response project, in hopes you might have a few moments this weekend to participate. The idea is fairly simple and shouldn't take a huge amount of time. It will require only 1-5 sentences, sentences which you are willing to give up some control over. The setup however is a little long, and it goes like this:

I'm writing to poetry friends and folks with whom I've either participated in a recent reading group with, or who I know to be interested non-affiliated reading/study groups. Basically any group that convenes around a text, idea or practice, and is shaped to some degree by bay area poetry communities and poets. And which is free (or close to free, or dealing with money in some way that asks some questions about the relationship between study/education and money.)

I'm writing b.c. I keep thinking (and trying to formulate some ideas) about what's going on with what feels, to me, like a profusion of reading/discussion groups right now in bay area poetry communities. Particularly groups that address their work to content other than poetry as such, or to poetry within another framework. I was going to write something around these questions for Jacket2 (where I've been blogging, sort of, for the last month or so: http://jacket2.org/commentary/stephanie-young)  But I realized that I'm not sure yet what I might say. I'm not even sure of my questions. 

So I thought I would ask you. 

My proposal is thus: 

Send along 1-5 sentences (total) by next Monday evening. Your sentences should, in one way or another, address themselves to the following questions. These questions probably exceed the capacity of any 1-5 sentences. Your sentences can be more questions. Or quotation. Or you could address 5 sentences to a single question with some specificity. You could do anything, really, in 1-5 sentences. 

The questions:

How is it different?

What is the relationship between the reading you do on your own, and the reading you do with groups?

What are you learning?

What do you want? 

How do you feel about it?

How do you feel about AAAARG?

How many people?

Why do you think there are so many reading/study groups right now? 

Have there always been?

Does it have to do with place?

Process, or content? 

What is the source of the tension?

What makes it difficult to be there?

What does it mean for a reading/study group to be private? 

What does it mean for a reading/study group to be public?

Which texts?

What do they have in common?

What sort of snacks? 

Alcohol, coffee, tea?


What is the relation between your writing and your participation in reading/study group(s)?

What is the relation between your political work and your participation in reading/study group(s)?

Who are the public intellectuals?

What is ambition?

What is the anxiety about?

Does a conversation develop?

Do you feel mastery of (over) the materials? 


Do you act on it?

Do you feel insecure?

Do you hang out afterwards?

Do you carpool?

What else?

After I receive sentences, hopefully from at least 10 folks, my plan is to re-order these in some way. I'm not sure what the unit will be - if each person's set of sentences will stay together, or if everything will be reordered at the level of individual sentences, or some combination thereof. A lot will depend on the sentences and what they are doing. If a group of sentences are all working on one idea I will probably keep them together, that is, ideas will trump other considerations. In terms of the ordering / reordering logic, I'm going to ask Dan Thomas-Glass for advice b.c. he always orders contributors in with + stand in a provocative way. Or maybe I will use a method already employed in With + Stand. Or something else.  

This means I would need you to be ok with me doing something with your 1-5 sentences. 

The resulting piece will be attributed to everyone who sends sentences. I might insert my questions or use them as a title or leave them out or something else. I don't know yet.

But your specific sentences finally won't be tied to your exact name. They will be part of a larger piece, which your name will be attached to, along with others, and the piece will be a blog post. 

I have to travel all day tuesday and so my idea is to re-order these on the way, and post by mid-week. 

I of course very much hope you'll send something but understand the millions of reasons why you might not be able or want to - so a big thanks for considering it. Sorry this email is so long. Thanks particularly for all the reading and thinking together in various formations.