New: Jonathan Skinner on the conference!

New: Joan Retallack on the conference!

New: Soma Feldmar’s notes from the conference!

New: notes on the conference from Bruce Andrews!


A beautiful verse write-up of the rethinking poetics conference can be found here, from John Keene. Perhaps the most comprehensive recounting so far.

Stephanie Young writes copiously and sensitively about her experiences at the conference, and includes the text of her presentation.

Kasey Mohammad’s summation, as well as his presentation notes.

The following presentation texts or notes from the conference were posted as facebook notes, so I’m not sure which of these links are available to the wider public:

Joshua Clover

Chris Nealon

Juliana Spahr

Jennifer Scappettone

Ben Friedlander

Rebecca Wolff

I have promised myself that I will not spend time writing up a recap, because I need to focus on a new benshi as well as a manuscript edit. Still, I haven’t been entirely able to shut up about my experience of the conference. Below find my facebook updates and comments. There will be a ghostly feeling reading these out of context, because I have ellided my interlocutors out of respect for their privacy:

I just think… you can’t rethink poetics…very well… in the same old theatre of power.


@xxxxx: not a bad thing. The problem was that the conference only represented very few of those practitioners, who were doing the entirely unexpected thing of serving up doses of what many of us surely already knew their positions to be. It was a form of brand enhancement. There wasn’t much of what I would call actual //conferring//. To confer with each other, we would need a different structure than an ocean of many listening more or less passively to a few. Add to this the (to me, often) alienating-by-definition (not necessarily in a bad way as this is how the academy defines itself and creates an inside/outside) academic discourse that was really so different from the impassioned way that most of those same people are delighted to put forth their ideas at a bar, and the whole thing struck me as a bit of a circus, and I don’t mean that glowingly. In a circus, animals are trained to behave in certain ways, and although their behavior may impress us, we are also aware of how they were tamed and subjugated into being able to produce those behaviors. The poetics-izers at the mics were, with some exceptions, seeming not to question the mode of their own discourse (and indeed why should they, since many of them have been preparing all their adult lives to speak such a language), which strikes me as a bit of an anti-poetics stance from the get-go. Several people who I felt did that //less// in this context were Tonya Foster, Charles Bernstein, Susan Howe, and of course Lisa Robertson, whose presentation was the only one that moved me as I wanted to be moved by the proceedings. Others performed their academic discourse roles brilliantly and were noteworthy for having been CLEAR while still fully inhabiting “the professorial”: Steve Evans (although I missed some of his talk), Ben Friedlander, and Kasey Mohammad, whose facility in the role bordered on the elegantly parodic.

Ah well, here I am going on about the conference when I thought I had almost talked myself out of writing up a response to it…


But the question is: why were people not (generally) rethinking (the entire conference was not completely devoid of freshness)? Was it complacency, or was it some kind of (possibly professional) fear? Or was it that the structure of the event precluded it? I think perhaps it might be a combination of all three of these factors, and perhaps a few more.


XXX, Flarf and Conceptual poetry were only mentioned in passing a few times. These poetries were certainly not the focus of the event. It struck me though that in many cases //poetry// was not the focus of the event. One lunchtime companion commented that instead it seemed like a number of dilettantish expositions on topics outside of poetry. Poetry and poetics are perhaps capacious enough to absorb all “topics”… but even so…


XXX, I share your cynicism to some degree, but I also want to try to bracket it. My desire for the conference was to be exposed to some paradigms from which to consider the making of poems. I don’t know that I desired or expected a “re-thinking,” although the startle of that would have been interesting, if it had actually happened. Instead, I feel like I got a little (very little) of what I wanted: the apt or beautiful articulation of what it is to write poetry and be in poetry. In poems, I mean. Then I got a lot of what seemed to me to be pre-packaged positioning: that is, I knew what to expect of the schtick of a given person, and they delivered that. This was not startling. As theatre, it was fairly entertaining, because I am interested in all of these people as people, although the academic language was sometimes, or even often, as BKS pointed out, too baroque. I was disappointed that no one self-reflexively questioned the baroqueness. I don’t dislike the baroqueness (and indeed, to say so would only reek of sour grapes on my part) (wait: that’s wine), but I do feel that it is a club language, and I’m not myself so fluent in it, so there were moments I sulked about that, but that’s my “fault” in that the decision not to become engulfed in that language reflects my life and my aesthetic choices. I do think, no, I know, that there is an awful lot we can say about the experience of being in poems and also analytically about the phenomenon of poems-in-the-world without being so terribly baroque, and some of the presenters certainly did that.


XXX, it strikes me that there is baroque, and then there is baroque. There is baroqueness as form (which THRILLS me), and then baroqueness as code, to which I have several reactions: annoyance, admiration, feelings of exclusion & inclusion, to name only a few. I don’t privilege, you know, “plain language.” Still, a conference is, at least … See Moreprimarily, an arena for spoken discourse, and as such might do well to (as Chris Nealon noted, although I felt his presentation was quite baroque, in the second sense) give more thought to the rhetorical than the linguistic. Presenters at a conference should (I guess) look to “win hearts and minds.”


Andrew Schelling spoke of his “work with the warblers.” Of course, that set my mind to warbling.


I wanted to make a space for gratuitousness. Utter uselessness: unashamedly unjustifiable.


I wanted to make a space for decadence. The point of the work not to do good, but to do mischief.


Nada Gordon keeps chewing over this conundrum: [Mark Nowak]”The point is not just to interpret the world, but to transform it.” / [Steve Evans] “You’re not going to change the world that you haven’t significantly reinterpreted.”


One of my favorite audience questions, from a guy named Joe with a kind of Shiva bun: “Isn’t the inhuman where all the action is”?


At one point a tree pruner set to work just outside the window in back of the panel of presenters. Watching him swing about on his rope, I thought of Carolee Schneemann’s “Up to and Including Her Limits.”


The grandes dames, at one point, seemed all to cluster together in the equivalent of box seats: Susan Howe, Joan Retallack, Rachel Blau du Plessis, Marjorie Perloff…


The “epiphany” of the School of Quietude finds its parallel in the “good work” of the Post Avant. Noting, just noting, that these are both in a sense “outside” the poem (although maybe less so in the former).


How? What about trying a task-based conference? (This notion is taken from the sort of task-based language teaching practices I use in my classrooms every day to maximize participation & individual talking time) Participants volunteer. A call for prompts is sent to participants. ON THE DAY OF THE CONFERENCE (not before, to prevent preparation & rehearsal), groups of no more than five are RANDOMLY ASSEMBLED and the prompts RANDOMLY DISTRIBUTED. The groups would sequester and discuss: CONFER. The day or days would finish with a report, which could take either a critical or creative form. Just a thought.


[upon saying it would never work]

I guess I shouldn’t be so defeatist? 🙂 I suspect it wouldn’t work because participating in such a conference would offer no particular cultural cachet and wouldn’t help people to strengthen their brand messages. Then you have all the issues of individual egos and interests… for example, someone doesn’t WANT to address a particular prompt and wants to switch groups…but that group doesn’t want that person in because he/she is an alpha male/female and would tend to dominate… and even in the groups that DO work, more or less, they still have to go through the process of discovering and working through internal dynamics before much can get done. I took a course in this once. Group dynamics are fascinating, but HARD TO DEAL WITH, and unless everyone involved has a certain amount of patience and equanimity (I, for one, do not) tasks like this can be very trying. What I love about the idea, though, is the experiment of seeing what would happen when all those very different and very brilliant minds rubbed up against each other. The outcome would be impossible to predict… and that… I feel… is a positive value, too.


NB: I had lots of fun at the bar afterwards drinking blackberry martinis.

5 thoughts on “re-re-re-re

  1. dear Nada!

    thanks so much for pulling links together. that need for a wiki feels kind of intense right now. and also for dragging some FB interaction into another space, this one. as others have said it's a curious moment or just highlights this move where a lot of conversation is happening on FB and thus not necessarily retrievable or accessible depending on whether one is or is not on FB, or who is on one's friend list, or, or, or…

    I keep wondering how I would feel right now if I were a younger poet trying to feel my way into these conversations. But if I were a younger poet I might have a less vexed relationship to FB? I dunno.

    one practical question I wish would have come up (maybe it did and I missed it/didn't hear it?) is the relationship of the archive to locations like FB.

    I think your task-based conference idea is fantastic. fantastic! i am trying to think through practical applications around things I've relegated to the “impossible” (by the impossible I mean my failed imagination, all the ways it fails) and this is a really helpful idea.

    (aside: i feel kinda ridiculous, trotting about the internet chit-chatting, after not speaking or not feeling very comfortable speaking for a while. I keep feeling obsessed today about how *some* speech generates *more* speech, like moving from the back to the front of the room after one stands up at the microphone or presents on a panel.)

    many thank yous in many ways. (deep bow)

  2. Hey Nada-
    Maybe this has been mentioned on FB (which I'm not on), but Bard's Language and Thinking program requires of its faculty such task/prompt-based workshop participation, in which the prompts are usually given out like two minutes before breaking into more-or-less randomly organized groups to then do them & discuss. Granted, I *have to* do it for employment, but it's a great model, especially when it involves folks from different media, genres, & disciplines, & produces much more interesting & unpredictable working/thinking/collaboration/playing/discussion than listening to a bunch of 20 minute academic (and non) panel presentations, & the work produced is more-or-less 'for its own sake' than towards building your CV or whatever. I use such methods in my teaching & my own practices all the time, including peer-to-peer (sorry, is there a better phrase for that?) pedagogy & collaboration…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s