Monday, March 15, 2010

Evergreen Program/Course on the Horizon

Writing: Guerilla Poetry, Poets Theater, and the Politics of Language

Excited to get back into the classroom after spending this week writing evaluations (in place of grades) of myself and my co-learners, the students in my winter course on radical poetry and pedagogy.  This past course was terrific, due almost entirely to the students/co-learners who, empathically and thoughtfully, created their own courses, enrolled in one-another's courses, and in each tried to rethink and implement pedagogical models (the writing workshop, as it were).  Each course, taught by 3 or 4 folks, worked hard to create an environment that would be more generative than what we had been doing the first half of the course--which was, not accidentally, a more normative lecture/seminar jaunt thru some of the western alternative learning movements and their entanglements with trajectories in contemporary (or modern) poetry & poetics.  Each of these team-taught courses generated good feedback; none, even when problems arose, failed outright, according to those who performed the roles of students in those courses.   

We closed out our semester (quarter) by coming back together to hear a talk and reading by Robert Mittenthal (who read a thought-provoking essay on pedagogy and his experiences with co-founding "Autonomous University"), which opened up the evening for an end-of-quarter student reading.  Some beautiful, difficult, weird, and all in all pretty awesome work was shared by most in the class.  Nice night, no house fires.  

Now on to a program I'm really stoked about--a larger (refashioned and deeper) version of a course I taught when I first arrived here at Evergreen, description below.  What can it come to mean to perform the text? When the text becomes public utterance, what are the political/social dimensions of that move within particular contexts?  In his wonderful--and too often overlooked--Overcoming Fitness, Robert Kocik proposes (or subjunctively muses for a world after Market Democracy America) the need for social services, "omitted" from our current neo-liberal fundamentalist culture. One is the "clinic for vestigial organ stimulation," which involves "recovery of the senses and physiological functions excluded as the body sealed around itself" (19).  One way to to begin circling around the question of the use value of poetry, say, and further, the many implications of tracing out what "performing the text" can come to mean, is by taking Kocik's omitted clinic and building it.  If I were to "recover" the senses and other physiological "functions" excluded by a definition of the body as "owned" rather than "rent," i.e., if I wanted to imagine fully a world in which the meaning of "body" is not parasitic on a presumed ownership (society), how I might I go about it?  Perhaps there are an infinite number of ways I could, yet each attempt would not be in isolation--each "staging" (to use Ranciere's terminology) of an aesthetic event (which might be thought of as a political action too) would abut and confront and interlock with other bodies, and as such, a dependence, if not an interdependence would form.  I could not be the sole proprietor of "this body," nor could I be the sole stake holder of its actions, its public utterances.  In the subtlest way, say by quietly writing a poem and sharing it with my friend, I am inviting (perhaps) dialog thru difference, and with difference, an invitation to be vulnerable.  This interdependence thru difference (as opposed to identification) is, perhaps, one necessary component of "community," and by extension, "a commons."

What happens if we take these interrelated yet still foggy ideas into the wide-open and "go big" (and further) with them?  Or: to approach the omitted (and thus to perform a kind of analysis of the present conditions which cause the omitting), those untried behaviors for which unanticipated functions might result, is to make those behaviors before digging much further into the questions we are posing.  Starting with a problem, we cannot end with a further set of problems without problematizing (trying out, making) that problem, instancing it with a behavior that at the start could (perhaps will) appear to have no particular use whatsoever, and no "poetic" value--no use, but maybe only a tenuous relation to the problem(s) posed.  And this is a radical move: to ask what performing the text can come to mean is to perform an erasure of our understanding of these terms in favor of making new behaviors (stimulating parts of our world that have yet to be counted as poetic, stylistically or otherwise, playing with materials that are perhaps not thought of as "suitable" poetic materials, i.e., vestigial) , leaving as little of our stilted definitions (our given understandings) behind.  To ask the question then means to obliterate, or at least suspend, the question thru action that may seem to fall outside the domain of "poetry" or "theater," thru making the " unfit" "poem," say, and seeing what other (maybe surprising or paradoxical) questions shake out from there. 

Trying out new behaviors, often by translating (making use of) old behaviors into and thru each other, recording them (if those behaviors aren't already a kind of record-keeping) in concert with others, captures some (but not nearly all) of the spirit of "poets theater," and indeed guerilla poetry--the two terms here sometimes interchangeable, sometimes not at all.  What the written, specifically, has to do with poets theater, is one question we'll seek to explore--both historically and as if the question has never been posed, i.e., experimentally (in the sense of "experiment" not "experimental").  Marx and Brecht loom large in many ways.  But more so, specific instances of political catastrophe.  So, the relations between catastrophe and poets theater and guerilla poetry need be explored.  

At the end of the day, however, despite some thorough background reading and encountering diverse instances of modern and contemporary performative works, I'm interested in what you, as co-learner, come up with, "individually," and in cooperation with one-another.  

If you are enrolled in this class, or hope to be (on the wait list), you'll receive an email from me about various aspects of the program.  For now, if on waitlist feel free to contact me about getting into the program.  And if in the program, as soon as you can, purchase The Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater, 1945-1985, edited by Kevin Killian and David Brazil.  This text we'll work with after Week 1.  Earlier readings (prior to digging into a few of the essays in this book) will be sent to you and available on our course blog (web address TBA) as pdf and/or link.  

Writing: Guerilla Poetry, Poets Theater, and the Politics of Language

CRN: 30397
Note: This 8-credit program will meet from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays and from 4 to 8 p.m. on Saturdays. First class meets in SEM 2 B1105.

What does it mean to perform the text? What happens when genres collide? This creative writing program will bring together several terms often thought to be well-defined—including “poetry,” “prose,” “theater,” “politics,” and “essay” —and, through experiments in writing, reading, and collaborating, re-narrate their meanings and implications. Along the way we’ll investigate key concepts and texts in poets theater and guerilla poetry, mining them to create our own individual and collaborative writings. Our work will culminate in “poets theater week,” a week at the end of the quarter dedicated to showcasing our work as part of the final series of PRESS literary events of 2009-10. Working in groups, we’ll spread out into the larger Olympia community and “perform” or “stage” our pieces. (To learn more about PRESS, visit David's public blog: )

During the quarter, our meetings will consist of weekly seminars, lectures, and “language labs”—times for brainstorming, rehearsing, and trying out language experiments. Guest artists will also come to campus to work with us. By the end of the quarter students will have a new portfolio of writings and, where appropriate, will have developed existing portfolios through collaborative refashioning and critique. Readings will include selections from The Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater, Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, Ranciere’s The Politics of Aesthetics, and individual pieces by Bertoldt Brecht, Hannah Weiner, Tina Darragh, Chris Mann, Thalia Field, BARGE, Nonsense Company, Tonya Foster, Kaia Sand and Jules Boykoff, Laura Elrick, and Rodrigo Toscano. Though helpful, students are not expected to have a background in either creative writing or theater to do well in this program.

Credits: 8 per quarter

Enrollment: 25

Program is preparatory for careers and future studies in the arts, creative writing, and education.

Planning Units: Culture, Text and Language, Expressive Arts, 8-12 Credit Programs

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