On a recent radio interview, Language poet Bruce Andrews talked about how, back in the early 70s, using a paper cutter radically changed his work, breaking up his writing into a modular process. It was the correct response for the time. Today, we have immense information moving capabilities at our fingertips and new movements like Conceptual Writing or Flarf are the correct responses for our time. If writing is not taking these new conditions into its poetics, it simply cannot be considered contemporary. If nothing else, what the Conceptual Poetry and Its Others conference did was codify this tendency for the record.
The other significant notion that emerged from the conference was that conceptual poetics is a many-headed monster, showing itself wildly adaptable to a wide variety of interests and agendas, the baseline of the practices being floated by technology. In a sense, what the conference did was to bring the field of poetics up to date and in line with other art forms and long-established cultural trends. Words like "sampling," "appropriation," "cut-and-paste," "mixing" and "remixing" were in constant use as were frequent references to technology, globalization and multi-lingualism. The papers and discussions were very much focused on the concept of poetry off the page, bleeding into galleries, performances, sound installation, on the airwaves, interventionist strategies, websites and blogs, all of these not being the traditional spaces where poetry happens. Yet all the poets got up and "read," and all have published numerous books. Conceptual poetry is a poetry that, in fact, knows no bounds; in this, its wildly contemporary. As respondent Brian Reed put it, "Genres don't evolve, they get more confused over time." Reed claimed that the poet is now a post-production studio, enabling new notions of collaboration fueled by distributed agencies and sites of production.
During one of the discussions, an audience member queried one of the panelists on the use of the term "avant-garde," a term that the audience member claimed was retrograde. The respondents countered this claim by saying that perhaps a reclamation of the avant-garde was possible as the interdisciplinary spaces reintroduced by technology made it possible for poetry to inhabit them comfortably; where poetry meets technology, its hard to keep poetry in its box as only "poetry" and only "poetry."
Notions of what constitutes subjectivity were discussed. Following my theory of "unboring boring," Marie Smart introduced the idea of "unsubjective subjectivity," as a reversal of the creative process. Rather than perceive this as a negation, Smart suggested that we think of this as a "canned subjectivity." In conceptual writing, choices are made by the writer, denying its machine-like tendencies, suggesting instead a non-robotic unsubjective subjectivity. Most everyone agreed that subjectivity is impossible to erase in this writing. Similarly, Jesper Olsson of Sweden's OEI magazine introduced the idea of an "editorial poetics," claiming that the actions of massive tendencies these days toward archiving could, in itself be construed as a poetic act.
Translation and multi-lingualism were frequently discussed topics. Several of the respondents claimed that the act of translation and moving between languages could be construed as a forms and methods of conceptual writing. Both Charles Alexander and Jonathan Stalling cited procedural and conceptual ancient Chinese poetry as antecedents to current conceptual practices.
Laynie Brown had audience members read the results of her survey asking dozens of women what they thought conceptual poetry was. The results were varied and claimed up a heretofore absent space for a feminist conceptual poetics. Vanessa Place, in her respondent paper, read such a text -- conceptual, procedural and bodily -- instructions on how to insert a tampon. Place and Rob Fitterman both proposed that a genre of post-conceptual poetics was already in place, allowing for more explicit political agendas as well as an opening up conceptual poetics to an absorption of more conventional formal and subjective tropes.
Throughout the weekend, hundreds of audience members, panelists and respondents were in accord as to the general principles of conceptual poetics. Only one respondent, Graca Capinha, expressed contempt for the genre, claiming that words shouldn't be made into "objects" or "commodities" for a hungry market, something she felt was swiftly happening. She lamented the fact that these writers have not made active political change as poets in Portugal (her country) did during the dictatorship where they were instrumental in change. She refuted the idea of an "unsubjective subjectivity," suggesting that by abandoning subjectivity, poetry was in danger of losing its function.
The last notes of the conference were sounded by various audience members who suggested that conceptual poetics is a contemporary way of writing that can be adopted almost any variant. Christian Bök seconded that notion by saying that the genre has evolved from something invented by three guys drinking beer in a bar in Buffalo a decade ago to widespread way of writing poetry today, reiterating that conceptual poetics is, in fact, the right poetry for the right time.
Source:Conceptual Poetics: An Editorial Pause by Kenneth Goldsmith
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