Saturday, May 23, 2009

Poetics of Numerousness: Singularities, Movements, Idealities

From May 14 to 16, 2009, I participated in Poetics of Numerousness: Singularities, Movements, Idealities: An International Conference on Contemporary Poetry and Poetics at Grant MacEwen in Edmonton, with readings and papers presented by the likes of Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Andy Weaver, Adam Dickinson, Steve McCaffery, Jason Wiens, T.L. Cowan and plenty of others, organized by Roger Davis and J. Mark Smith. Here are a few (selected) highlights:

Emily Carr. Finally good to meet Calgary poet Carr, author of a forthcoming title through above/ground press. Talking of Daphne Marlatt and Lyn Hejinian’s “mother tongue” and “making it strange,” “our public tug of war with private need.” In her paper she asked, “does being part of a community presume that someone is listening?” She talked about the innovative approach to the problem of female voice in the lyric, writing that in the new lyric, speech is “inadequate head-on,” and that “the self is no longer the self but a series of associations.”

Jessica Lewis Luck. Writing about New York poet Lisa Jarnot’s work, specifically Night Scene (2008), Luck talked about her use of the ballad metre, about “the absence of the lyric ‘I’,” and about her use of sound and rhythm, reading a couple of Jarnot’s poems out loud, proving to the audience just how much these poems need to be heard. With poems leaping from high point to high point, ignoring plot details, as she said, “her poems help us ‘learn our parts phoenetically.’”

Thricemost Field Mouse Song

Thricemost Field most fidelitous mice of men
mice most field toast rebellion riven gunned
of rice mice most field glow of the one
christ mass field task resting mice and run
run most field roast, mossy mice of one
arm’s length mouse flank, felicitious and sunned
tan glow field row mouse is underdone
cooked roe built of field greens overrun
run mouse field house tent inside the sun
love paste arm’s haste mouse toes moon and hum
shaped wave, spare pace, mouse face dusted on
under taken leaves all raken, golden fur begun
open out the field of mouse, the field of mouse begun. (Lisa Jarnot)

Carmen Derksen. Writing on Jen Bervin’s Nets, which writes her own poems through sixty of Shakespeare’s love poems, “as ghostly power points.”


Against my love shall be as I am now
With Time’s injurious hand crushed and o’er worn;
When hours have drained his blood and filled his brow
With lines and wrinkles; when his youthful morn
Hath travelled on to age’s steepy night,
And all those beauties whereof now he’s king
Are vanishing or vanished out of sight,
Stealing away the measure of his spring;
For such a time do I now fortify
Against confounding age’s cruel knife,
That he shall never cut from memory
My sweet love’s beauty, though my lover’s life:
His beauty shall in these black lines be seen,
And they shall live, and he in them still green.

Listening to her piece, I did wonder if she was aware of Gregory Betts’ work on “plunder,” writing poems out of the same kind of erasure, the same kind of pulling one text out of another; the difference seems to be that plunder doesn’t leave in what is being erased, thus leaving only the extractions. Plunderverse doesn’t seem to highlight this inherent and even collaborative “doubling” of the original text with the new. Could this even be a form of translation?

Panel 5, J.C. Peters, Jessica Ruzek & T.L. Cowan [photo of Peters with McCaffery and Rachel Blau DuPlessis in the front row, listening]. This is the panel I got to moderate, with Vancouver-based independent scholar J.C. Peter’s paper (best title of the conference, I’d think), “Making Love to the Words and Getting Jilted: My Textual Affair with Steve McCaffery,” talking about how McCaffery’s work “set free the polyphonic meaning of each letter,” and her relationship with his work existed “less a reading than a relationship,” writing about “new neural pathways of engagement” necessary for what he had accomplished with his work. Not about sex, but exploring McCaffery’s work “through libidinal ways.” Apart from the fact that it was a great paper well delivered, it was magnificent to watch McCaffery himself in the first row, enjoying it as much as the rest of us. Her paper focused on McCaffery’s essays, and how he was often doing exactly what he called others on, expecting a kind of consideration that he wasn’t presenting when talking about the work of others. As in her handout (a review she did of North of Intention), “Why does Steve use to many big words?” or “Excuse me. but it is spelled bill bissett, not Bill Bissett. Talk about disrespect. Who does this guy think he is?” I very much liked this smart, informed, thoughtful and tongue-in-cheek paper. What else has this woman done, I would certainly like to know.

The Olive Reading Series (special): Andy Weaver, Adam Dickinson, Rachel Blau DuPlessis [photo of Dickinson, looking modestly sincere]. A special edition of the reading series, it was good to have Weaver and Dickinson return to the reading series that they (along with Jonathan Meakin and Paul Pearson) founded some nine school years earlier, back when all were grad students at the University of Alberta. I’ve heard Weaver read a number of times, and it’s good to know, too, that a second poetry collection is forthcoming from NeWest Press, finally, despite being another two years off. It’s getting harder to make fun of Adam Dickinson for being a “nature poet,” reading from new work as well as his second collection from Brick Books. There are some really interesting things happening within his poems, subversive, subtle things. Calling his second collection a box on “taxonomy,” and reworking lines from Darwin, Dickinson appears to be working poems on how the world is or how it is has been previously explained, bringing his own thinking into the twisting mix.

Steve McCaffery was a treat; “the rain in spain falls mainly on mark twain,” he read in one piece, moving into a sound poem, reading much the way I’ve heard Ottawa poet Max Middle read text as sound over the past few years (Middle’s work existing without the conceptual and intellectual framing that McCaffery brings to his pieces, existing more as “pure sound” in the form of spoken/performed text). All four even had new chapbook/broadside publications from Olive, each made in a limited edition of fifty copies and available for $10 from the series; if you would like copies, email the series through their website to see if they have any left.

Cocktails with the Pope

Catholic families hate genocide to bits
even when the bloodshed’s from Beowulf
transposed by a Lecturer in one of the Wehrmacht’s

smaller gymnasia “blow it up” and
“it tickles you to death”
from mundane to sublime

look how all the troubles in Northern Ireland
weren’t repaired in teacups
one redundant miner notes

the random neurological patterning
in an Anglo-Saxon vision poem
quite protestant in its simplicity

a mind in the moving cool between
struggle and intercultural vendettas
resigned to a safe suburban neo-classicism

in April all the gigolos
perspire from Fra Angelicos
cast in a discourse that must be

doubted. But how to
when nowadays the muse is but
the proverbial wet poodle drying in a microwave

thus night arrives
the rag trade sweatshops settle sweetly
into their detached cosmopolitan compounds

and God’s in His Heaven
knitting fake rubber hands
for all the non-existent shop-lifters. (Steve McCaffery, Shadowland)

[photo of McCaffery at the Olive, coming directly at me] The next afternoon, he gave the most amazing lecture on Kenneth Goldsmith, “The Mundane End of Unoriginality,” that “uncreative writing is profoundly gravitational,” and of Goldsmith’s ability “to be uncreative and unengaging” being the central point of his writing, completely removing any idea of creative or the literary. Does this still exist as art, as writing? For Goldsmith’s project, Day, where the whole of a particular issue of The New York Times is copied out, McCaffery asks and answers, “Why is reading Day different than reading The New York Times?”

Despite the fact that Audrey’s Books had the titles (but weren’t there), McCaffery apparently has new titles out with American publisher Chax Press and BookThug, the second being a first trade edition of an early 1970s publication made for a University of Alberta class reading for Douglas Barbour in an edition of one hundred copies (of course, being neighbour to jwcurry, I went through a copy of such years ago), both of which I would love to get my hands on.

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