In: To ponder

Poetry & Politics by Taylor Brady

Yesterday spent at the Poetry & Politics event on campus, with participants Taylor Brady, David Buuck, Judith Goldman, Joanne Kyger, Walter Lew, Eileen Myles, Leslie Scalapino, Jen Scappetone, Juliana Spahr, Rob Wilson, Heriberto Yepez. A very full schedule, with little time to breathe between subevents.

Eileen kicked things off with some thoughts on the media-concocted relation of poets (e.g. Allen Ginsberg) and politicians (e.g. John Kerry) to the “mainstream,” the way in which the term has come to signify some benevolently blurry and normative state of being-in-the-world; she endorsed a poetic strategy of “inundation” as a practical alternative to “resistance,” the devising of an expanded notion of things that might satisfy someone’s definition of “mainstream,” with much more stuff to fit into it—widely diverging voices and views that would insist on their own validity by virtue of their constant visibility, in competition with the always-already there and established validity of an increasingly right-veering official mainstream. This is my remembered paraphrase of what I took to be some of her major points, and bears little resemblance to any language she actually used. She finished by reading from her novel-in-progress, Inferno, a very funny fictionalized autobiography about becoming a poet-lesbian in New York City.

Juliana’s poetry-in-a-time-of-crisis panel was next, with Walter, Rob, & Heriberto. She kicked things off with a revised, shortened version of her essay, which was originally written for a 2001 MLA panel headed by Charles Bernstein (who, I believe, supplied the “crisis” title). Rob talked about the central California coast as a fertile location for political/poetic production, Heriberto read an anti-poetic statement that reminded us all that poetry has always been as much a part of the military-imperialist apparatus as anything else, and that as poets we are all inextricably complicit, that “we are Bush” (as he was reading this, Rob’s face was going through all kinds of distortions, only some of which were due to the severe allergies from which he was suffering). Walter finished things off with an unfortunately truncated video presentation documenting his experience with “movie-telling” (his phrase) in Korean culture: the practice of live cinematic narration in public theaters, often with a radical political agenda.

We were well behind schedule at this point, so we took only about five minutes before sliding into Leslie’s panel, which was re-titled at the last minute—I didn’t write down the new title, but it had a bunch of slashes in it and the word “event” was repeated at least once. A recurring focus among the participants was manipulation of media reportage in the Iraq war, as seen for example in injunctions against the counting of civilian casualties, resulting in the absurdly tautological redefinition of what counts as a civilian casualty (the counting of civilian bodies is forbidden, and therefore any body that is counted becomes by default a non-civilian). Joanne discussed the fascinating Vietnam-era correspondence between Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, correspondence which culminated in disagreements about the role of poetry in politics, disagreements which ended their twenty-year friendship. Judith and Jen combined forces to read their contribution, with Judith acting as a kind of human quote-machine, and Taylor read a series of very elaborate but eminently parsable sentences about … well, I’m sure they were about something. No discredit to him, but I was suffering from low blood sugar by then. David gave a very funny, stammeringly addled address about being a poet against the war and a poet against poets against the war etc. See Alli for an expertly subjectivized and lyricized rearrangement of the entire panel’s proceedings.

After this, it became necessary to reshuffle the whole schedule so that the student reading went from 6:30 to 7:30 instead of 6 to 9 as originally planned. At this point, the panelist-poets gathered downstairs in the dining hall for a Chinese-food dinner. David gave an impromptu performance on piano.

The final scheduled event was the panelists’ reading. Nate Mackey was on the line-up as well. By this time, everyone was starting to fade a little bit, I think, but the readers were valiant and engaging. The final entry was Heriberto’s video-presentation: a gruesome animated skull with a computer voice read “for” him, to hilarious effect. The video ended with an appearance by Gertrude Stein, or an (un)reasonable facsimile thereof, flanked by somber gray cartoons of dildos. Um, you sort of had to be there, but take my word for it, it was pretty brilliant.

Once all the detritus was swept into a corner and all the guests were checked into their hotel rooms, the survivors gathered at Alli Warren’s house for a party. In attendance: event coordinators Roxi Hamilton, Kim Bird, Carra Stratton, & Cole Akers, plus Juliana, Bill Luoma, Patrick Durgin, Judith, Jen, Joanne, David, Taylor, Walter, Heriberto, and Heriberto’s partner Myra (sp?). History repeated itself as the crowd eventually found itself drawn into a replay of last weekend’s Michael Jackson dance party at Stephanie Young’s. At one point Joanne made Alli fashion makeshift maracas for her from pinto beans and mason jars.

Got home at 2 in the morning, and am feeling old and hung over now, but glad it all happened.

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