Thursday, June 12, 2008

Not Live-Blogging the NPF Poetry of the 1970s Conference

After a long silence (moving apartment, finishing up the semester, hiding in rural England and drinking much ale) I'm back, but not in NYC: I'm in Orono, ME, for the Poetry of the 1970s Conference hosted by the National Poetry Foundation at the University of Maine, Orono. Bruce Andrews, Rae Armantrout, Nicole Brossard, Clark Coolidge, Jayne Cortez, Ann Lauterbach, Bernadette Mayer, Tom Raworth and Fred Wah are among some of the many, many folks here.

I had planned to liveblog the conference, but then on evening one, before evening the opening Art Reception, featuring some of Bernadette Mayer's "memory" installation, my laptop died. So this is a change of plan, a sort of "NPF Today" round-up each day.

Wednesday 11th

The first two of twelve (count 'em, twelve!) readings tonight, featuring Fred Wah, who's new to me and whose reading I really enjoyed, particularly a longish poem in two voices he read (but which I didn't get the name of - mic troubles) and his closing poem, on mis-uses of his last name, particularly by spam mail; and then Kevin Killian, Dodie Bellamy, and Eileen Myles, who will be on Saturday's Queering the 1970s panel. Thanks to the four readers, and the beer and wine on hand, we had enough energy to (sort-of) have the first of four Open Readings, curated by Bill Howe, who reminds me of someone I just can't place (I think for this reason I keep staring at him foggily). Highlight was probably Tom Orange's impression of Apocalypse Now veering into taking pictures of the audience and then being compared to Robert Frost. All very non-linear, which is how it should be.

Thursday 12th

Really interesting panel at lunch on the history behind No More Masks! An Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Women Poets, which was edited by Florence Howe and Ellen Bass. I was struck by the range of ways this anthology was discussed. Ellen Smith, who chaired, situated it within academic conversations involving key favourite theorists such as Kristeva as well as important thinkers such as John Retallack; Judith Johnson's approach offered a more free-wheeling narrative that addressed the problems collectivity alongside individualism, what it meant to be a unique human being identifying as a poet, a Second Wave feminist, etc, etc; and Florence Howe herself gave a personal narrative of the anthology coming into existence that spoke to the happenstance of its origins, as well as to the stunning need for it, even as late as 1973.

I don't want to privilege any of these responses as a more valid way to proceed, but rather to suggest the interplay between modes of discussion, recollection, situation, and understanding is invaluable because productive. Some of the other panels I've attended have presented excellent academic arguments that have pushed my thinking and revealed new ways of reading the objects of their gaze. They have, however, also threatened to mask their texts, to place the texts at least alongside if not behind a reading of the text after-the-fact. The No More Masks! panel kept present the urgently creative and pedagogical (in the widest, least strictly institutional sense) possibilities of writing, editing, reading, making, etc.

So that's where my thought is tonight, before heading of to see Bruce Andrews and Jayne Cortez read, followed by some Grand Piano collaborators, and another open reading extravaganza. Jerry Springer style, my thought of the day is that discussion of created works, from punk zines to literary manifestos, from Ian Hamilton Finlay's aggressive gardening to a ground-breaking anthology of poetry by women, work best when they allow the works to continue to be creative events, in process even if published and technically created. This conference is pleasing in part because it's not only about academics (or writer-academics) talking to one another; it brings together people moved to think and respond to a time-period, in disparate modes and methods. Here's to that continuing through Sunday.

(Apologies for typos...I'm going to be late for the Andrews!)

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