I had a great time at Pilot Books, giving a talk and reading with Reg Johanson, as part of Big Pelt Talkie Series (and part of Poetry at Pilot March Small Press Fest). Many thanks to Pilot Books, Summer, and William Owen, curator of Big Pelt. Many thanks too to Reg and those who packed the small bookstore, sat either out of fear or--hopefully--interest for over 2 hours of difficult conversation, some poetry too.
This was my first time (sadly) at Pilot, one of Seattle's treasures, a little cove of poetry books. The collection of work they have is quite amazing--not a ton of books, but extremely good picks, and I found myself wanting to spend all day in there or buying everything in sight. From Wheelhouse contributor William Walsh's Question Struck, a hard to find book that I've been very curious (ha) about, to a great chapbook selection, I was kinda drooling. Ended up going home with Kyle Schlessinger's The Pink, from Kenning Editions. Oooh, this book is good. More on that later.
Reg gave a talk first (go to the link above and watch the video for a small part of it). Really amazing, clear and thought-provoking recounting of how he built his new chapbook, Escraches (Argentine word for outrage, also the movement in Argentina of those who continue to protest the disappeared by picketing the houses of former officials, during the military regime, who murdered thousands of dissidents). The work begins (on the cover, as if, or as, a pamphlet): "struck him in the head with an ax relieving / themselves on the monument." More on this work as I go further into it, from which he read and which deals with site-specificity (spatial practices), develops a poetics of documentary poetry (working with both found and non-found materials detailing a localized event, here, among other occulted phenomena, organizing the protests against the Vancouver Olympics in the face of terrible and underreported atrocity), while wrestling with how to make room for the subjective "I," to allow its felt sense of wounding (the body's or identity's "symptoms") to become--to both withstand (embrace), and resist its wounds. Working thru Joan Retallack's poethical pedagogy in relation to poetic practices, along with detailing some of the work I ended up discussing--site-specific and "re-articulatory" work by Kaia Sand, Laura Elrick, and David Buuck, Reg's talk was radicalizing, problematizing, and pleasurable--nothing pretentious or dogmatic about it. Which is how Reg is, who he is, and I admire this a great deal. Was great to see him again, much to think about with regard to his talk.
I promise I did not know what Reg was going to do ahead of time. It was rather uncanny, tho, just how much our talks overlapped. I crafted a too-long set of questions/concerns circling around the poetics of spatial practice and methods or tactics I used in "writing" Occultations, and which others (I mentioned the corporeal rituals of Hannah Weiner and read from an essay on Elrick's Stalk) used in (or as) their work. Here, I spoke at the tactical level, talked about such corporeal practices as show up in these poem-sections as behaviors that seek to amplify the body-as-ecosystem's socialized markedness, shape, imprinted-ness left by late capitalism, here, specifically, the surveillance industrial complex--the increasing privatization of law's "enforcement." Fantastic poet/artist/editor and former Michigander (!!) Joel Felix (who, due to my hermitage, I met for the first time there) asked challenging questions about whether, thru a kind of abjection of "this body," the "here," (or thru amplifying the abject already extant), it is possible to, as Robert Kocik, who I leaned on for this talk, writes, "make new behaviors" and thus discover new "functions." And further, what those new behaviors would be--aside from speaking about them, where/what are they, have we arrived at any? And finally, whether my set of moves, even as tactics, whether they speak to a poetics that implies some form of transcendentalism? Tough questions, to which I didn't and don't claim to have answers. Robert Mittenthal and my partner Elizabeth were helpful here in thinking out loud.
Answers, of course, are orthogonal to our interests here, and so as Joel's questions were picked back up in the discussion portion of the evening, Nico Vassilakis quite rightly scratched his head and asked where this every-few-years anxiety about the use value of "poetry" comes from. With Nico pointing out (rightly, I think) that there's good reason to suggest the best thing poetry can do is do nothing. A good reminder that a lack of some form of exchange value, or even use value beyond the thing in itself, if possible, affords a radical departure from normative discourses, vocabularies, in essence, the language of late capitalism. So goes the argument that otherwise, the drive for (in my case) a Rancierean intermingling of functions/behaviors in the service of X often constricts our practices and potentially makes poetry more, not less, vulnerable to the heteronomous market. Though I basically agree with this point, as hell, for most of my scribbles I couldn't tell you what they are doing or why they are beyond that they had to come out this way, I don't think there is a contradiction in saying that the aesthetic event, poetry say, can be both in and for itself (an essentialist position) and, in yet another context, have use value beyond itself--given that all these terms are not fixed, fluid. Further, there are too many people making strange and wondrous things to make a claim for "poetry" either way here, I think. Or at least I wouldn't want to stray from the particular instance to the general. Nor would Nico, I'd assume. Good discussion, tho. I really learned quite a bit from all who spoke up, went home puzzled and frazzled, which means something really good happened. Oh, and did I say I also went home with Kyle Schlessinger's Pink?