I will wear the mask

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In this PennSound podcast, Jeff T. Johnson and Emily Abendroth exchange perspectives on how modular, nonlinear writing can open into enactive relationships that press readers and listeners alike beyond individual experience toward “critical empathy” and its relational tactics and strategies for living in common amidst social struggles that require collective reflection and navigation. The conversation is structured around a set of readings and commentary on material drawn from Johnson’s Trouble Songs: A Musicological Poetics (punctum books, 2018) and Abendroth’s Sousveillance Pageant (Radiator Press, 2021), two texts that employ complementary approaches to working across genres, formal and gestural structures, and disjunctive expressive modes. 

“Where are our comrades?” Abendroth asks, inviting reflection on how textual gestures might ignite collective forms of reckoning. Likewise, Johnson compels reflection on how “trouble songs” — and perhaps trouble itself — might be written through listening and listened to through writing. These are just a few provocations that emerge in this afternoon conversation, recorded in the Wexler Studio at the Kelly Writers House during the winter of 2021. 

To hear a Trouble Song chapter with music, visit “Take Apart: Room by Room.” You can also listen to the Trouble Songs playlist on Spotify. 

Emily Abendroth is the author of the poetry collection ]Exclosures[ and The Instead, a book-length collaborative conversation with fiction writer Miranda Mellis. Her newest book Sousveillance Pageant (which coasts restlessly between poetry, novel, and research essay) was published by Radiator Press in 2021. She has also released chapbooks with Albion Press, Belladonna, Little Red Leaves, TapRoot Editions, and Horse Less Press. She has been awarded residencies at the MacDowell Colony, the Millay Colony and the Headlands Center for the Arts, and was named a 2013 Pew Fellow in Poetry. She is a founding member of the Coalition to Abolish Death by Incarceration, as well as the LifeLines: Voices Against the Other Death Penalty Project.

Jeff T. Johnson is the author of The Book / Or / The Woods (punctum books, 2021) and Trouble Songs: A Musicological Poetics (punctum books, 2018). His writing has appeared in the tinyTarpaulin SkyPEN America, and elsewhere. He wrote the music and culture series “Book Album Book” at Fanzine, and is at work on a performative critical investigation of analog-digital interface, language-oriented poetry, digital language art, and experimental electronic music called Janky Materiality. He lives in Philadelphia. — Knar Gavin