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.
“Where New York poets and others … tended to hear a ‘cool,’ abstract, even cerebral, poetry,” writes Peter Boyle in the translator’s essay accompanying this feature, “in Latin America a more emotional, threatening, and visceral ‘magic’ surrealism developed.” Boyle places Cuban poet José Kozer’s work in this surrealist camp: time and reality become warped and subjective in Kozer’s neobaroque poems.
These poems come from Bernadette Mayer’s long-unpublished early book, The Old Style Is Finding out Something about a Whole New Set of Possibilities, which was written mostly from 1966 to 1970, when Mayer was between the ages of twenty-one and twenty-five. Unlike the majority of the poems in the book, they were never published in any form until their appearance in Eating the Colors of a Lineup of Words: The Early Books of Bernadette Mayer (Station Hill Press, 2015), which we coedited. When Mayer began The Old Style, she was a student at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, taking poetry classes from Bill Berkson.
This feature on Conceptual writing collects thirty-five responses from a wide group of practitioners and critics of diverse method, intent, and position, who responded to Divya Victor’s 2015 call for writing: 1) To expand the field of critical influences and frame its discourses through the lenses of anti-imperialism, postcolonialism, spirituality studies, disability studies, ecocriticism, and critical race theory; 2) To create records of aesthetic and political genealogies which resonate as true and lived for practitioners; and 3) To articulate the critique of dominant and hegemonic genealogies or histories associated with contemporary conceptual and conceptual-like writing.