Monday, February 21, 2011

Porous the Borders in the Bay: SPT, Nonsite, Motels

Deep gratitude to the kind, talented and gracious Samantha Giles, and to the rest of the SPT folks for setting up a crazy-energizing (for me) reading with Laura Elrick and Lara Durback on Friday night. Michael Cross needs mention too, facilitating two in an ongoing series of beautiful broadsides, the latest one of Laura Elrick's work, letterpressed by Rich Owens. Wow, it was great to hear Laura's work in-progress. She performed a steady stream of prosodic, intense and at times intensely funny poems-of-a-cycle, each feeling like the hurried or rushed "voice in the head" part way between "pre-linguistic" para-logic (internalized impressions of things, people, systems) driven as much by sound and word-play as anything else AND the more formally subtle performative speech-act. Thus I take the work to be enacting that interest, stated in her SPT bio, of lately exploring the relationships between social time and utterance. That "inner speech" Keith Waldrop writes in relation to Stein's pre-occupations (Intro to Useful Knowledge, New Directions) is here as much coerced or inscribed by false consciousness, hence traced from imprinting political systems as it is echoes of other associative conversations one has in the head, imbued with present-tense experience, the output forming trace or shadow of that live-wiring filtered and perhaps interrupted by monetized time, a poetic speaking of what will have just passed, its affect that of opening up possibilities, to paraphrase Taylor Brady in relation to Michael Cross's work, disclosing prosodic parameters for what has not yet been foreclosed

Lara's work was also amazingly refreshing: deeply performative and procedural, Durback following up on her WONDERFUL Zine Chapbook, played a recording of her poetic, truncated, funny and also horrifying experiences with a personal history with clothing, the politics and economics of what and how we wear, and this was underlayed by livve short thought-bursts, one after the other, each testifying to one of those thought-but-not-said-publicly moments--read by Durback from a stack of blue post-its, each of which she stuck to all manner of surfaces in the room, after and as she read from them. So the ephemeral, the honest, the political, and the found, all intermingle here in a way that's arrestingly direct and narrative. Sort of a no bullshit get off our asses and do kind of beauty to the performative work that I loved, and that complimented Elrick's work so conspicuously.

This work and mine--a sort of love letter to The Book of Frank and a sort of note to CA Conrad of thanks for existing (my notes towards my essay-review on Frank) can be found in David Brazil & Sara Larsen's latest issue Try Magazine. So many thanks to David for putting the issue together, which also features some awesome work from Cedar Sigo, David Buuck & Juliana Spahr, Stephanie Young (on Weiner's The Fast !!!!), Jason Morris, Dana Ward, and several others. And my apologies to David for falling ill the night Elizabeth Williamson and I were to have dinner with him.

Was also great to see old friends and meet new folks. Great, for instance, to see fellow Black Radish Books author Carrie Hunter, whose fantastic procedural-lyrical The Incompossible is coming out soon through the press. Was so good to see Tanya Hollis, who carted E and I around all night in the rain!


The next afternoon Laura, Lara and I met up with other Nonsite Collective participants for a discussion about Nonsite's collaboration and residency with SF Camerawork, "Common/Use." (See Nonsite Collective dot org or the archives here for a description of the 4-month residency bringing writers and photographers together to explore and intervene in the privatization of our public spaces and commons-forming practices.) This was, I think,  a really generative discussion that first caught the three of us up to speed on what the collaboration has been doing as of late and what it's planning (a documentary/investigative poetry-photography walk being planned by Ariel Goldberg and an exploration-intervention of the Sit/Lie Ordinance recently passed in SF led by Tonya Hollis and others -- both sound incredibly necessary and mutually complimentary). From getting caught up to speed we all discussed the productive challenges the residency has posed: how Nonsite, a self-organizing pedagogical collective, tran-slocal and non-hierarchical, imminently collapsible and in many was a come-as-you-are nonsite in itself, how can we now produce work that interfaces more directly with activist communities, the public, and do so in relation to deadlines, to the hyper-visual problematics of the photographic artistic? That doesn't problematically frame or archive, i.e., use or appropriate, living communities who are involved in reclaiming public space? The productive problems of forming a commons curriculum and "installation" in the gallery -- that tension between atopia and installation, commoning and commodity, aesthetics and the archival/curatorial -- was discussed, with core questions such as how we as collectively "starburst" (to quote Laura Elrick) can be most salubrious, and most helpful towards particular communities organized to maximize the visibility of their production--activists, unionists on the picket line, for example--ended up taking on a central conversational role.

All of this occurred within the gallery itself, and as folks came and went, arrived to see our work and to see some of the other fantastic collaborations, such as Dodie Bellamy's, on display as part of the larger Camerawork show "As Yet Untitled," it was clear that our meeting doubled as itself an installation. And has in the past in more active/self-reflective ways, with Jen Benka and others sitting down with the public at the common table and asking visitors to write down their thoughts in relation to specific questions, as well towards developing "common terms" lined along one wall as headers ("private," "use," "boundary" e.g.) - the participants then sticking their notecard responses to the wall under the corresponding header.

My sincere thanks toTanya again, to David Buuck, Taylor Brady, Rob Halpern, and several others who invited us to participate in this meeting/discussion. I came away feeling overwhelmed by how much the Collective has managed to do, how many productive experiments have been, or will be, tried. One question that came up was where Nonsite was as a collective now, more generally, now with so many new participants, with such activity lately, etc. A great question that I don't have any particular answer for other than the above and the below re-post of a note I wrote about Nonsite last year. Due to the localism of any on-site art installation, which this is to some degree, I did come away with some concern about the worries folks had about having to "produce" "visible results," whether, for example, that felt sense of pressure would temporarily unhinge the very careful considerations that I witnessed right then and there, and have been a part of the last couple years--the carefully considered commitment to trans-local, cross-disciplinary radical pedagogy, for lack of a better set of terms, where we have always produced a great deal, but have done so as radical, non-recapitulating compliment to established forms of art and protest (aesthetics), forms/movements/groups that are already afoot and in need of our help and that we are thus already involved in. That is, Nonsite, for me, among several other things, has been a no-place of imminent critique, or a place of counter-boundary and interrogation of already established discourses that we, as individuals, are already a part of (to support established forms, under convivial conditions, means to critique them too). The work I've been a part of so far has been a deeply-thought set of reflections, or have felt anyway like reflective and aesthetically-driven curricular explorations unearthing further possibilities, such that I slow down, interrogate my own preconceived notions, activities, and commitments, temporarily suspending all of those discursively, in order to deepen some of those notions, activities, and commitments, and to torque or even let go of others. I feel like that is still very alive here, and that the residency applies pressure to us in this regard in ways that are, again, generative. So I also think we need not worry whether we produce too little--as Chris Daniels mentioned there, he's been so radically changed and astonished by the production that Nonsite has generated and is laden with use-value for him, that change in him being maybe not easily visible, but extant.

Speaking of whom, before I re-post my thoughts regarding Nonsite (how I've worked with and come to participate in Nonsite), I must say that one of the highlights of my visit was spending the afternoon with Chris, talking over a bite about his work on a new chapbook press, one that is currently working on some more beautiful poems by David Brazil and others. Really great to see him--as always. And as always I left the Bay wanting somehow to teleport back and forth, wishing the DOD would just sell that technology to a corporate giant already.... From the blog last year:

In the past several years--since suddenly falling ill--I've been a buried bone. Collectivity and gathering had been (what?) intuitive for me, collaboration and organizing isomorphic to "this body" and/or "David's identity," my life in New York absolutelypopulated, from working as labor organizer to navigating thru the narrow arteries of traverse that New York City alone poses as challenge to any commuter.  

This was initially difficult, this drastic shift in my adaptability to physical environments shaped by a dominant cultural formation. Not long after the first of several bodily changes occurred, it became clear that too often, even in disability rights circles, our failure to "keep up" with our shaped environments was/is thought of as a shift in bodily capability that needs be dealt with, such that despite activism demanding greater access services/rights, the underlying discourse negatively articulates itself viz. "what the body can do," putting the onus of adaptability too much on those for whom access is denied by not fully acknowledging the underlying inequities effecting all of us, regardless of level of mobility: of the disappearing commons, the fact of who gets to have a say in urban planning, in how we gather, and why private interests get to decide what counts as a "habitable" environment (let alone a beneficial one), etc.  

My initial timidity (or disorientation?) combined with the limits public and private spaces puts on us led me to what ostensibly counted as a house-bound life.  House-bound at least in contrast to an earlier bodily existence. I've since learned to get around differently. But especially a few years ago, the house-bound life, of course, meant rather severe changes in the way I socialized, especially given the far-flung nature of many of my friendships. This narrative plays out ten times a minute in this country alone as politicos play roulette with what counts as "health" and what counts as "care." 

It's Thom Donovan's recent Harriet post on Nonsite Collective that has gotten me thinking here about "disability" and somatic practices again, wherein Thom describes the trajectory of Nonsite thru collecting comments from those active in it (a call to which I came late, hence feel badly for having failed to contribute something as I'd promised). I'm thinking specifically of Amber DiPietra's comments, as well as her amazing initial contributions to the Aesthetics of Somatic Practices curriculum, and all the work that came before and after it: Thom's talk on a poetics of disability, the Collective's work on a poetics of patiency, and Robert Kocik's hooking those discussions up to systemic problems of the disappearing commons, omitted social services (omitted by capitalism), and ultimately translating nonsites (systems of metaphors or narratives serving to apprehend or map occulted phenomena, such as lacks or holes or omissions) into sites--habitable spaces/structures that nourish, thatovercome, that fill extant voids.  DiPietra recalls, that early on, after moving to SF and getting involved with Nonsite:

I also felt my disability being erased because I found that I was trying to emulate an avant-garde poetics (which had not existed so much on the coast I came from) and in that poetics, there was less room for the “I”, for a body’s history, for emotion around that history. 

And that as she injected those feelings into Nonsite discussions (at first as blog entry), there was not only room for them, but action and lively discussion, a self-organizing pedagogy for which she was as responsible in sustaining as anyone else:

Then, one day I took a chance and wrote a blog post about this ambivalence I was feeling on the Nonsite Collective’s blog. I felt as though I were doing something risky and perhaps, not very refined. These were scary folks. They weren’t from the South (the opposite ended up being true), they were more intellectual than I and thus, had gone past the need to talk about the body (that wasn’t the case) ...But in fact, my blog post was met with an amazing response—and Nonsite events on disability began to unfold...

Though I am a participant of Nonisite Collective from afar, and though I feel I owe a huge amount of my thinking/feeling the world to friends active in Nonsite, I re-post Amber's comments not simply as a way to cheer us on, or to redouble Thom's already excellent write-up. It's rather to mention that though I am a Nonsite participant, my small contributions have been wholly online or in my own classrooms--I've never been to a general meeting or had an in-person Nonsite discussion (outside of many, wonderfully generative informal discussions with Thom and Rob, Eleni and others, far too late at night). My trip to SF in July will be my first, my reading and talk for Nonsite my first, and so my participation has been on the very outskirts of the Collective, or would be, were the collective not actually living up to what its baseline aims are at moment, that self-organizing pedagogy/set of investigations. So, this re-post is to extend Thom's collection of remarks by mentioning that it was this particular set of conversations--those around somatic practices/disability rights/poetics thereof--that saved me from myself, got me first plugged in to Nonsite discussions, that got me involved, and that ultimately got me re-thinking/feeling what the body can do. 

It was at the time of my move to the West Coast from NY that I began teaching as visiting professor in Bard College's Language & Thinking Program each summer, which got me in touch, and facilitated friendships with, Thom Donovan, Eleni Stecopolous, and Rob Halpern, all of whom were active in Nonsite Collective, a collective with which I'd developed a keen interest a year or so before while doing some writing on Robert Kocik's Overcoming Fitness. I was at that time working on two manuscripts, one a book of poems written in hospitals and hotels and written forhospitals and hotels (Hospitalogy, which is ongoing), and the other ended up asOccultations, which had its Belladonna Series/Thom Donvan-curated release party as my first full-length poetry book in New York back in mid-April, and which is at the printers now for its official print run.  This work is deeply informed by Amber's work, and by follow-up work from those Thom mentions in his post.  My performative work before falling ill was very body-centric, very much interested in gendering and owning, and yet that work seems quite distant to me now as I recall how generative (how really intensely moving) those Nonsite discussions were. My (then) eavesdropping on the conversations that were playing out helped me re-feel a poetics, and I describe this at the end of Occutations as a sort of essay/set of notes (which I'll post in part in another blog entry as continuation/response to what I see as connection between Amber's Nonsite entry on somatic practices and some of the newer posts on commoning - can this body-as-shorn predicament be, consensually at least, a commons?). 

Since late 2007 (or early 08) I've incorporated Nonsite's resources into my classroom fairly consistently. It doesn't hurt that there are to be had on the website several documents and other resources related to key questions in contemporary poetry and poetics-as-connected to social justice. More than that, though, the very self-organizing pedagogy that Thom and Amber talk about over at Harriet, it's deeply realized, continues to help model for me different ways to "gather differently," as Thom puts it, to: 

explore different platforms and social milieus in which poets can collaborate, converse, and connate. 

Thom adds: 

If this returns us to many projects deferred and abandoned by radical social movements ongoing since the 30s, that is because the desire has not gone away to embody a form of assembly that reflects radical content.

As I wrote recently in an essay for Jacket Magazine, I don't think it does return us, precisely, to the radical social movements that have helped inform Nonsite Collective'scollective practices, from Situationsist cross-disciplinary political interventionism to Freirean anti-banking pedagogy, but in the classroom, as elsewhere, the desire to assemble differently is certainly there, manifesting as response to managerial trends in education, increased corporatization hostile to any experimentation that doesn't garner dollar producing attention. Nonsite's work, incorporated back into the institution (which is essentially what I am doing when I teach, not to mention the many other participants who move rather freely between the classroom and Nonsite's events) helps highlight how radically restrictive a lot of institutional pedagogical practices are, how, for example, even at a place such as Evergreen (where I teach), a school known for its radical co-learning (even popular educational) models, we need push ourselves to go further in cross-disciplinary research; we can, and should, push ourselves outside of the morbid professionalization inherent in how schools, say, get funded. We should (and at Evergreen I can) do so while still bringing to our re-narrations, our explorations outside of given domains, our different assemblages, a rigor and intentionality necessary to know what we are asking and how to listen for it.  Thom asks:

Is gathering a form of poesis—a form of active making?

Not necessarily, is my provisional answer--there is a premium in this culture on spectatorship. There is no sense, tho, in which one can participate in Nonsite Collective and be a spectator. The organizational pedagogy necessitates gathering as a commoning, which is an active making, and so every curricular discussion that spiders out in my classroom (our classroom) is an emergent instantiation of a constantly becoming (a radically dialectical) Nonsite Collective, its making and remaking, fashioning and refashioning. From CA Conrad coming to our classroom and building with us a new (soma)tic to 25 of us wrestling with what else Kocik's commons site for "sorely missed" social services might include (architecturally, structurally, and then again, poetically), there is something substantial, not simply semantic, about the claim that Nonsite has no central locus of activity. As long as this work recursively flows back into the refashioning of the Collective's draft proposal and its attendant makers, which is to say, into further avenues of collaboration, in echo of Halpern's "no work in isolation!" 

So I'm extremely happy to see that Thom's put together a series of reflections on Nonsite Collective, where it's been and where it might be going (or can go). From both the classroom to (contiguously) the development of a poetics, Nonsite Collective has en-abled me in ways I can't fully apprehend, despite being able to state that what I appreciate most, perhaps, is precisely that which Amber speaks of--this desire to actively move from site to nonsite back into site, i.e., to make use of without using. Metaphor here is not terminal, but rather takes physical form when possible, thus Thom's mention of re-imagining poetry as not for itself, but "for us," I take to be a claim about the poem itself as part of a commons, a crucial site of activation for us who assemble, forming (and taking responsibility as) an aesthetic ecosystem--where aesthetic embodies the political-social-ethical practices of constructing/narrating some future(s) contra catastrophe. 

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