Coup created by our thoughts (PoemTalk #166)

Cecilia Vicuña, 'Colliding and not colliding at the same time'

from left: Huda Fakhreddine, Edwin Torres, Jena Osman


Edwin Torres, Huda Fakhreddine, and Jena Osman joined Al Filreis in the Arts Café at the Kelly Writers House to talk about a performance piece by Cecilia Vicuña. The piece was a segment in a ninety-minute presentation titled “An Illustrated Conversation” that took place in the same room at the Writers House in February of 2017. One of the parts of the performance goes under the title “Colliding and not colliding at the same time.” The segment begins as the audience, having been encouraged to ask questions about an art video that had just been screened, went momentarily silent. No questions were being asked, so Vicuña began improvisationally to fill the room with words and sounds, exploring a convergence or collision of topics: the then-recent election of Donald Trump, the “millionaires’ coup” in Brazil, the “mystery of what is happening at this moment in the earth,” the collective thought of the people in the room, and the room itself.

'El corno emplumado' and poetry's hemispheric sixties

Image adapted from cover of ‘El corno emplumado’ 1.

Before he became Muhammad Ali, the boxer Cassius Clay wrote a few verses protesting the war in Vietnam. He sent them to a new magazine in Mexico City, El corno emplumado/the Plumed Horn, which had begun putting out bilingual issues of writing and visual art by writers from every corner of the Americas. The editor, Margaret Randall, turned down Clay’s “haiku-like poems,” a decision she came to regret.

'Poetry is in the world'

Gillian Conoley and Christy Davids in conversation

An interview with Gillian Conoley and Christy Davids

Note: Gillian Conoley’s A Little More Red Sun on the Human: New and Selected Poems, with Nightboat Books, won the thirty-ninth annual Northern California Book Award in 2020. She received the 2017 Shelley Memorial Award for lifetime achievement from the Poetry Society of America and was also awarded the Jerome J. Shestack Poetry Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and a Fund for Poetry Award.

Zoning in, zoning out

A trialogue

Note: When I first met Edgar and Jose-Luis in Chicago some six years ago, and then again two years later, it seemed like we had known each other forever. Three nerdy, studious, politically minded Cali blokes far from home (they in Chicago, me in New Orleans) couldn’t talk fast enough to connect the dots between us historically, philosophically, politically, and poetically. And since meeting them, the range of accomplished publications they’ve both produced presented me with rich materials from which I felt I could engage them both — at the same time.

Partial objects

Jennifer K. Dick's 'Lilith: A Novel in Fragments'

Author photo (left) courtesy of Jennifer K. Dick.

Artifact, from the Latin arte, “by or using art,” + factum, “something made.” But an “artefact,” in French, is also something accidental, a residual effect created by human beings that distorts observation of a natural phenomenon, like footsteps distorting a seismic measurement. Jennifer K. Dick’s Lilith revolves in part around this ambiguous status between the accidental and the deliberately formed: the reader encounters a series of enigmatic textual objects that seem alternately laden with meaning.

Beasts of no nation

On the poetics of invasion and Marwa Helal

Image adapted from cover of ‘Invasive Species.’

When they adopted the term “invasive species,” midcentury ecologists imposed a lexicon of human violence onto the migration of organisms, suffusing natural phenomena with political flavor. Invasion is a versatile metaphor for all kinds of unwanted arrivals and threats to national borders; the term supercharges crusades against overly dominant flora and fauna with xenophobic emotion.

               who made this taxonomy?
unmake it
Marwa Helal, Invasive Species[1]

Non-object art

From representation to action

Photo courtesy of Clemente Padín.

In a recording of a performance from Clemente Padín’s archives described by Jill Kuhnheim, Padín reads a poem to a group of schoolchildren until he reaches the line “‘este verso debe repetirse’ [this line should be repeated].” Taking his own words as instruction, Padín closes the gap between the text of the poem and its performance, repeating the words again and again until one of the children exclaims “‘este verso debe culminar’ [this line should finish].” Rather than an interruption of a prescripted performance, the playful, improvisatory response of the child perfectly completes Padín’s poem. 

Between the hardly real and the barely there

Rae Armantrout's 'Conjure'

“Perennial,” 2019, North Cascades, WA. Photo by Tony Beeman.

How can anyone engage with language in an essential way now? The numbness brought on by the language of politics and advertising — one that the Language writers of the 1970s and ’80s sought to quell — has been compounded by global capitalism, a ravaged planet, social media, and the rest of the internet’s anesthetizing algorithms. And yet it’s as if Rae Armantrout moves through the world in just this essential way, experiencing language in its most elemental, and often absurd, form.

How can anyone engage with language in an essential way now? The numbness brought on by the language of politics and advertising — one that the Language writers of the 1970s and ’80s sought to quell — has been compounded by global capitalism, a ravaged planet, social media, and the rest of the internet’s anesthetizing algorithms.

Les chemins

An introduction to contemporary Ivorian poetry

Photo by Todd Fredson.

So, which Côte d’Ivoire? Yet, even that designation is not so stable — leftist nationalists of the recent wars often proclaim, not Côte d’Ivoire, but the state of Éburnie; Éburnie is proposed as a change to the country name, a change that would help move the country further from the status of residual French colony or international resource extraction zone. And as the country split during the civil wars, rebels in the north referred to a Republic of the North. So, who is an Ivorian poet?