from the Plenary Panel on "Discrepant Engagements" at the Poetry and Poetics of the 1980s Conference

My fellow panelists at the The National Poetry Foundation (NPF) Poetry and Poetics of the 1980s Conference have generously agreed to post excerpts from their papers from the June 30, 2012 Plenary Panel entitled "Discrepant Engagements: Long Form and Hybrid Genres in the Writing of Nathaniel Mackey, Erica Hunt, Beverly Dahlen, Anne Waldman and Robert Glück."

Our panel proposal included the following statement:

Against the backdrop of a decade characterized by the rise of neo-liberalism, a number of writers in the Bay Area, New York, Philadelphia, and elsewhere found themselves asking urgent questions about poetry and politics, experimentation and identity, narrative and the paratactic fragment, the problematic and the performed "I," "theory" and "praxis," poetry and prose. "French theory" in the form of writings by Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida, Georges Bataille, Luce Irigaray, Helene Cixous, Louis Althusser, and others opened up writing as a site of de-centered pleasure, transgression, ideological constraint and productive critique;"language-centered" writing challenged the poetic field, proclaiming its newness and group ethos; gay and lesbian, feminist, and writers of color contested both mainstream and avant-garde writing and publishing practices and ideologies.

Our panel contends that the 1980s witnessed a dispersed and emergent, strategic shift from verse-based poetics to various experiments in prose, often hybrid and performative. In his introductory essay, "Language, Realism, Poetry" from In the American Tree, Ron Silliman points out that "another transformation of poetry was taking place--into prose" (XIX). The turn from verse forms to various modes of prose-based writing occurs among numerous writers who are not part of this anthology, including Robert Gluck, Bruce Boone, Kevin Killian, Eileen Myles, Aaron Shurin, Beverly Dahlen, Anne Waldman, Kathleen Fraser, Alice Notley, and many more.

Our panel proposed the following questions:
  • Does a prose-based poetics function not merely as a structure for formal experiment, but also enact critical and utopian re-readings of gendered and racialized histories, communities, and futures?
  •  How does one's position in various social margins/movements overdetermined by heteronormative prerogatives manifest at the level of genre in the work of already marginalized experimental writers? 
  • How do publishing practices extend and critique the masculinist tradition of the long poem in ways that are undertheorized by formalist schools of criticism?
  • Does prose have an edge on activating "history" and "identity" as explicit concerns? Or is there something specific about the move to prose and long hybrid forms in the 1980s that argues for these things? 
  • What potential does the hybrid form hold in terms of educating/education? The epic, not unlike the realist novel or long poem, can become a sort of history book linking the individual to larger forms of social organization. Is there something about the 1980s that makes this form particularly resonant in terms of recording time?


We hope you enjoy the excerpts. Keep in mind these ARE excerpts, and thus the arguments are necessarily abbreviated. At some point, I believe the video of the panel will appear on the NPF website.

See the earlier xpoetics post on The Poetry of the 1980s!

    photo courtesy of David Lau

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