Rethinking Poetics Conference - some notes

I went to the Rethinking Poetics conference this past Saturday in NYC. Though the conference was 3 days, I only went to the Saturday panels and used my other day in the city to go see other sites. (More on that later.) There was so much to cover for the day, but I will just lay out my personal highlights:

Poetics and the Academy

All the members of this panel contributed something that caught my attention. I thought what Steve Evans had to say about the conference itself and poetry and poetics at large was of important note regarding exclusion and justification for any such, along with the state of poetry/poetics, whether in the, or outside of the Academy. (His comments are not favored just because he was one of my favorite teachers at UMaine, but because he's "wicked smaht" asthey would say up there.) Juliana Spahr, Stephanie Young, C. S. Merwin and Mark Nowak had inspiring things to say about poetry and poetics outside of the academy and into the community. They all discussed different ways to make that happen, what it would look like. I thought Juliana Spahr's calling out of the graduate degree programs as a "Pay to play" system particularly "here here!"-worthy. (She writes, under a mountain of MFA debt...) The feeling from the panel bounced from "we are f*cked" to "there's still great hope" when it came to the "State of Poetry."

Ecologies of Poetry

Eco-Poetics journal editor Jonathan Skinner said he didn't think of eco-poetics or ecologies of poetry as a genre as he did a site. Sherwin Bitsui discussed how being a Navejo Indian affected his writing. That words have the power to negatively or positively affect things and so he would self-censor his writing because of that belief. Saying or writing a thing has the power to affect the thing itself...That caught other's attention as well, as a questioner in the audience asked about it after the talk.

Poetics as a Category

This was the panel and question and answer session that became the most impassioned, or heated, for the day. (Apparently there was some significant drama the day before, but that wasn't so much about poetry or poetics as it was the politics of poetry, from what I hear.) A lot of people had a lot to talk about when it came to discussing what was and was not considered poetry and why. Marjorie Perloff's panel contribution was the most animated. When the audio and video are posted, I'll direct you to her talk and you can see what I mean.

This was the panel that was also filled with the most tension. When you are trying to "rethink" a world-wide, history-long art form, such a thing is bound to happen, is supposed to happen, I think, for the good of the intention. Though I'm not sure I gained the most from this panel. Except to ask this question: what is the benefit of claiming a given piece of work is NOT poetry? Who benefits? WHAT benefits? Does "poetry" need to be protected from mislabeled work? What happens if everything anyone wants to call poetry, gets that label? I thought to ask the panel the question, but it occurred to me that I didn't much care about their answers. I do, however, care about MY answer. It goes along the lines of the "guiding questions" I developed for the close reading project, "What do I like and why do I like it?"

Affective Economies and Prosodies

This was the most academic and cerebral of the panels for Saturday. It was difficult, sometimes, to follow everything every panelist had to say, it being the end of the day and my brain getting a bit mushy by the end. (At one point, to keep myself attentive, and because Florine, my companion for this NYC adventure, had pointed out how often an "ism" and a "ion" word were being used, I decided to keep a tally. Ism, ion, ty/cy, ic, al/ally were all tallied. We got into the 30s for about everything, per speaker. The particular thing to note is that words that end that way often represent abstract words, which is harder to follow when heard than when read, since it's not very visual.)

Lisa Robertson's panel contribution about the French literary theorist and poet Henri Meschonnic intrigued many audience members, including me. If I had a ton of time to revamp my French and an extra $40, I might even consider purchasing his book, "Life and Rhyme" (La Rime et la Vie). ( The focus on rhythm of words (not to be mistaken for meter) being a vital part of the life of poetry and how rhythm creates meaning was one of the key ideas Robertson talked about and the audience responded to, gauging the level of enthusiasm it prompted in the question and answer time. Not much of Meschonnic's work has been translated in to English. He was not as well known as his contemporaries (he died last year and his work was most prominent in the 70s) because he stayed in France and didn't promote himself in America. For me, the talk Lisa Robertson gave on Meschonnic was the highlight of the day and a good way to end it. I will be writing more on Meschonnic as I continue further study. (All posts with "Henri Meschonnic" label)