Organizer notes, 6/22 meeting

Hi Bay Area Poets,

Chris, Cynthia and Stephanie have written some notes in response to the conference, here, here and here (basically the posts below this one.)

We're hoping to post links to the text of panelist talks soon, and Andrew Kenower has started posting audio over at A Voice Box: Bay Area Recordings of the Recent Past.

All of this in the hopes of further conversation--here, in comment boxes, as you will--but also in person on the weekend of June 21/22, time/date and location TBA. Watch this space for more info soon.

Thank you to everyone for your various and necessary participation, of all kinds -

Cynthia Sailers

Now that the conference is over, I'm thinking about several things: my talk, my role as an organizer, my thoughts about the particular conference papers (and the high standard of work), the group dynamics and the overwhelming sense of myself as it ended. A week has passed. I've been able to feel less fragmented by my experience, able to see certain ways we succeeded as a group and the inherent failures of an academic conference (esp. if one is seeking a self-study of community or affective connectivity). Simultaneously, I feel less pressure to form an overall narrative of the conference and instead to allow myself to puncture through a more generalized impression, or the illusion of our being a good group, producing good work. I have a growing sense that we may have failed to activate our own aggression (with its destructive/creative potentiality) or at least to acknowledge the ways it was there; we may have failed to do what Camille Roy suggested we do, to look at ourselves as a group, the here-and-now of our group moment/formation. I think we may have failed to be self-critical enough, being able to let go of the "looking outside ourselves" at problems (example: that we were revisiting the intense critique and debate surrounding Mike Magee—why?).

I also surrendered to the impossibility of giving enough attention to everyone's papers, the ideas, and also to one another. To what extent can a group be a good working group and also process the affects, anxieties of being in a group? I hypothesized that Chris, Stephanie, and I may have followed a recognizable conference model, despite discussing alternative frameworks, because it may have been easier to put ourselves in the roles we are accustomed to. Maybe it's just easier to produce a certain kind of work, a certain kind of discourse, we're mostly all familiar with? However, at the end of the day I felt disappointed, agitated, disconnected, anxious, alone, despite those friendly faces and engaging ideas that surrounded me. It's also been on my mind that someone had gotten spontaneously sick during the last panel, and many felt saturated, overwhelmed, too full to talk, too tired, myself included. The after party, thus, has a psychic quality of the post-Thanksgiving meal, some missing (napping it off), some feeling excluded, some loosening up their pants, some wanting to get rid of bloatedness and uncomfortable feelings, some wanting to give ourselves a pat on the back for making such a great meal, and some playing with a pickaxe found in David Buuck's backyard. I found I wanted to retreat to the waters!

I was immediately grateful for Laura's post on Sunday, for someone able to make some sense of it all, to provide a barometer for if things had gone well. Similarly, in checking in with those on the panel I worked closest to, I nested in the idea that no one was mad at me (yes, a very simplistic ideal, sadly) and that something useful has happened. But when Lyn Hejinian sent a supportive note, about self-reflexivity, our ability to be self-critical—I wondered if that were true. I had so many impressions, questions, curiosities about what had transpired. What kind of group were we? How did we negotiate our own needs with those of the group? There was so much left unsaid.

And there was the predictable, fraught, provocative quality of envy in the group, the admiration and the more aggressive responses to certain papers in particular. I'll admit, I was proud that even if we doubted our own intelligence, we could look around and marvel at how smart our friends are. And, yet, I missed so many voices, so many ideas, hidden and not articulated, and sometimes shared in private and sometimes not.

I also heard from a lot of people, some desire that my talk might have taken a different direction; there was desire for a more overt, interpretive stance of "the group." And so I've been thinking about what "the group" is, who constitutes it. Was I being asked to interpret or theorize about the kind of group "we" are? And, yet, I found myself needing to be very concrete—since it was an SPT conference, is the group, this potential self-study, limited by SPT group membership, i.e., "the official group" (in a psychological systems analysis, the group would be clearly defined as an organization with roles, dynamics, membership, and leaders. This kind of analysis seems valuable in and of itself, esp. in times of recent SPT leadership change, the question of community involvement, and ambivalent feelings about SPT as an organization—"what kind of organization is it?"). Or was I being asked to postulate on the notion of "community," assuming "the community" could be analyzed as some amorphous external group with numerous internal subgroupings, somewhat loosely defined by aesthetic and market driven adjectives, such as "the experimental poetry" community?

And so my talk left people with desire for something else; it may have failed to do what it could have done or what might have been unconsciously expected of me: I may have left too much open, failed to "do the work," introduced a lot of ideas and failed to draw more connections or conclusions. So I've been thinking about desire, lack, and the invitation for an interpretation: if I would have interpreted our group, would I have engendered a defensive response (the resistance to knowing, understanding, of being known. And my being positioned suddenly as a critical other, arrogant, perversely pleased with some newly acquired skill). And I wonder how I would have interpreted a group which hasn't yet formed. Or specifically the conference group, one which hadn't yet happened.

Those questions: Who are we? Are we a community? What does that mean? How do we position ourselves in context to another group, the Other? were largely left unanswered, and perhaps seem too loose, unless specific contexts and group ideals are defined. Above I comment on a sense of the group ideal as being a good group; I think I mean the way we take pride in our sense of cooperation, inclusion and collaboration. We prophesize a logic that is anti-competitive because we have no real currency to compete over, and yet there are demonstrations of mastery over discourse, aesthetic and political, there are a few decent jobs in the area some special people get, and there is the management of anxieties caused by our various social hierarchies. I won't go into it here, but this might be a good place to think about forms of healthy opposition.

I'm particularly thinking about Tyrone and Bhanu's presentations (the two outsiders to this poetry community) and how untouchable their presentations seemed if gauging by the response. I have been dreaming about their various content/images throughout the week, the experience as Bhanu noted of putting the shit back in the mother's body, experiences which were mainly left unprocessed. I thought of Bion's notion of "beta elements," and how these talks had the impression of raw sense-data and of "inchoate elements." (Bion first uses the term beta-elements in Learning from Experience: "If alpha-function is disturbed and therefore inoperative the sense impressions of which the patient is aware and the emotions which he is experiencing remain unchanged. I shall call them beta-elements. In contrast with the alpha-elements the beta-elements are not felt to be phenomena, but things in themselves"). As a group we problematized the panel, turning to Chris to explain the frame, his distinctions about race and ethnicity; there was a sense of intellectualization, of wanting someone to know. Many felt the responders were not talking to one another. Some explained to me that it was because we were tired. My experience was altered: in/by Bhanu's sense of a schizophrenic narrative, a process is, an integration of different coordinate strands, the relationship between illness, ethnicity, digestion, the body, BDSM behaviors, locality. In Tyrone's work, we again return to the body in a very different way (one I'd love to hear people's thoughts about), in slavery, in the sensuality of part objects, the tongue, as speaking tool, as likened to an erotic. They both provide us with a calculus, something to grapple with, the other's voice, streaming in, experiential/experimental, attempting to deconstruct what it posits, a point of anxiety.

So much anxiety gets generated in showing up and speaking or not speaking, of wanting to be seen but not humiliated. Robin described the feeling of being at a hearing; I think in part a response to our long wooden table, the microphone, a crowd looking on. This association has stuck with me: we might all be implicated. Our own affinity and otherness. When people mentioned later, at the party, the next conference can be called 'shame and poop' or the other exposing affects, the creative destructive potentials that were discussed as historically generative examples and thoughtfully contested are brought to bear. Those other social spaces, relations which we might learn to critique: the psychic, the social apocalypse, and utopic ideals resonant in Jasper's paper around capitalism and our own demise. Again, we face the perverse, the hysterical modes our social defenses, and those suddenly old, familiar anxieties which permeated the atmosphere, made us conscious of our participation, shy to speak up, to be uncontained. But what might be the negotiation for us to have more connection, to raise more issues with one another, and to try to speak the unspeakable? This is a conference, a work group, yet on aggression. So how can be harness our aggression and simultaneously decenter ourselves so that we might open up those caverns and crevasses which remain underground?

Chris Chen: More Notes From The Museum of Tolerance

I want to thank my co-organizers, Stephanie and Cynthia, for helping to make this event happen.


“For there are crucial modes of social life,” George Lichtman writes, “in which the antagonism between what is actually required and what must be believed is so massive that only unconscious denial will make the process bearable.” Although the description is embedded within a long discursus on the phrase “ensemble of social relations,” it could easily describe my experience of lapsing back into a more readily available critical idiom of attacking the conceptual frame or form of the conference as a whole and of repudiating the politics of difference in particular. Such gestures are in no way equivalent to opening a space for what might not ordinarily appear in such a public setting. What was needed was perhaps a cloud chamber. Or some other measure, beyond the demand for theoretical reflexivity required to sustain epic critical polemics, to track the intensity of our collective engagement—which might include exasperation at the ritual fetish of “The Distinction,” a sussurating and indistinct field of signs, and a sarcophagus or chrysalis for the schizophrenic body.

Then perhaps it was a hopeful sign that the wish for “more actual aggression” to materialize, a wish that as organizers I think we both desired and dreaded, went unmet—or deflected into questioning absent rather than present authorities. Of course this would be only one particular form of, highly visible, contestation. Other forms might include withholding participation or consent in order to consolidate a total critique of the group, as parochial, hermetic, antiquated.

It’s terribly narcissistic, isn’t it, this special group convening a forum in which to interpret itself and its feelings? Either antagonism, and its cognates, or the enforcement of intimacy. Either the fact of unspoken criteria for authoritative judgments, the unspoken role of institutional affiliation and its imagined rewards, or the persistence of the politico-aesthetic problem of representation in theory. And yet—

And yet the continuing division of cultural and organizational labor. A crucial question that was raised by Erika Staiti's archiving of recent online discusssions, around gendered or racial participation, underscores the severe limitations of framing participation as merely a problem of “structure,” of the unequal distribution of cultural capital, or as John Guillory has argued, "exclusion...from access to the means of cultural production." For as the perennial reasoning goes, exclusion from such means can breed only envy, didacticism, guilt, Das Man, that most inclusive of all educational institutions, the "school of resentment." So it was a relief to hear Lisa Robertson point out how “identity” remains present discursively even or especially in the absence of a more recognizable system of marks. Which I took to mean, in an age of conservative backlash, it’s helpful to observe what gets bracketed as “content,” and when. Either Walcott or Naipaul. “I am a man”—inductively.

There may be no such thing as “aggression” without its specific socially constituted object, target, or aim. And no basic grammar of group formation. And yet I want to register how difficult or threatening it seems for a group premised on resistance to dominant modes of representation, to suggest that any tool used externally, let us say “aggression” here, will also be used internally in order to discipline a group’s own members. An attack on “linking,” as W.R. Bion asserts, is also an attack on the possibility of collective thinking. To question how this tool operates across fairly rigid social boundaries may indicate its strengths, but also many of its fundamental weaknesses.

Stephanie Young

I’m writing this in the attempt to hurl myself somewhere beyond the participatory difficulties I experienced at the conference on Saturday. Which were basically the difficulties of navigating dual roles in the assembled group: co-organizer, facilitator, moderator, participant. The net result, in this body’s case, was a lot of internal anxiety, an inability to think, speechlessness (in a public or group context) and recourse to certain social (and domestically inflected) work. Thus it felt manageable, during the lunch break, to reorganize the tables and chairs of our meeting room with Jen Hofer, Cynthia Sailers and Suzanne Stein, in an attempt to fit more seats and bodies into the area where panelists were speaking, while still maintaining the presence of a table around which we could gather and face one another. About this action, I could think. And even converse with Jen, Cynthia and Suzanne about various formats the room might take and what impact these spatial shifts might have on conversation and participation. I tend to minimize and de-value this and other kinds of work (clean-up, negotiating a scheduling mix-up with the CCA tech, basically tending to and managing the physical/org space in which we’d convened) which was, for the duration of last Saturday at least, the extent of what I could offer. Lots of folks who do and have done work facilitating group conversation in various formats have echoed back these difficulties from the vantage point of their experience. The analogy most offered is that of hosting a party and being unable to be very present/engaged, or ‘have a good time’. One must flit, finally, one must check in with lots of people.

In the week following the conference I’ve wondered about various experiences others might have had. As always, who felt able to participate in group conversation, and how? Who has the confidence and sense of power to participate? Is confidence and power what’s required? How does silence function as participation? What value may there be in silence? How are individual silences felt and responded at the level of the group?

I’d like to discuss some questions and response more specifically located around the panel I moderated on The Internet. The monolithic quality of that category, The Internet, is no less problematic than the monolithic category/frames employed for the other two panels, which I’ll admit we—Chris, Cynthia and I—found amusing in an ironic but hopefully not too cynical way, as we attempted to create spaces which could engage the complexities of these hopelessly vast and interconnected areas. And I should say that all kinds of shorthand and code are contained in that monolithic category. The Internet, yes, but also more specifically poets/poetry and blogs, poets/poetry and social networking, poets/poetry and online discourse, poets/poetry and political action, poets/poetry and virtual utopias: questions around community.

I stayed up last night reading print-outs of the conversation surrounding Jasper Bernes’s posting of his talk here, follow-up conversation here, and then at Stan Apps’ blog, here. Also Barbara Jane Reyes’ response to the internet panel here and Oscar Bermeo’s, here.

And so I observe my own inability to remain grounded in responding to the events of last Saturday, where we met together to listen and speak, bodies in a room. Instead I feel great internal pressure to keep up with the conversation as it moves past that room and unfolds online. There’s something to be said here, repeating what many have already said in various ways, about the internet’s impact on time. Cynthia quoted from Fritz Lang’s film Fury in her talk on Friday night: “A mob doesn’t think. It doesn’t have time to” and I’ve been wondering how this condition, the mob mentality, may be a foundational moment from which internet discourse begins. (begins where? when?) My thinking on this is now happily and further complicated by the collision of psychoanalysis (around what might be considered the hysterical group), and economic analysis, the unpaid labor of the internet but also the destructively capitalist functionality of the internet which Jasper points towards: “Sometimes it’s a screen, and sometimes it’s domination, and these two effects are mutually enabling.”

That there has been no cross conversation or overlapping comment box participants at Barbara Jane’s, Oscar’s and Jasper’s blog feels problematic or indicative of some larger problems; what do we miss by the channeling of conversations into already established networks? I should say that I’m coming at this conversation today with a lot of questions about the political potential and communicative possibilities of our poetry communities both on and offline. And where the lines do and don’t intersect. And so I am radically confused.

I wonder about Barbara Jane’s critique of Erika’s project: “She framed this whole presentation as a bifurcated “Race and Gender” discussion, in which women of color get to fall into the cracks or not exist,” which raises important questions about how that bifurcation was operative inside the two conversations Erika archived, as those conversations were happening (and Barbara Jane was someone who addressed exactly this problem, which she points to in her post, and as you can read in the ‘gender’ PDF that Erika created.) What is the role of the archivist? To what extent might Erika be presenting an archive which seeks to perform a critique/analysis via making material visible in a different format, or by drawing attention to problematic terms of debate? How is irony at work, or not, in that project title: “Race and Gender”? Is something beyond irony called for? What’s the role of a hybrid editor/archivist? Is this a new role? This seems related, or to criss-cross, with Craig’s use of irony and quotation in his paper on Mike Magee’s poem, and the confusion and debate surrounding the sincerity (or stability) of a critique which utilizes irony and quotation.

Barbara Jane also questions Erika’s position on the conversations she archived in part because Erika doesn’t write a blog. And I think there were, in the room on Saturday, many spoken and unspoken questions about position and participation. I wonder about the particularity of reading as participation across the field of the internet. There’s something about how Erika read and ingested the materials she archived (a reading experience she likened to Tristram Shandy), materials I've heard more than one person describe as unreadable or worthless. Cynthia talked on Friday about the group’s desire to evacuate or quickly digest and expel certain kinds of information—is there a way we would prefer not to labor over this material, the disappearing traces of a shameful or distasteful discourse? What role has Erika performed for the group, by digesting this material through her own reading, cutting and pasting body? Is Erika’s distancing herself from those materials (it was “like reading Tristram Shandy”) a defense against her own act of digestion?

The online extensions of conversation around Jasper, Craig and Erika’s presentations might return us in some form to the first question Joshua Clover posed as we moved from presentations to group conversation last Saturday morning. Jasper and Craig were asked to speak to a basic conflict Joshua saw between the closing points of their talks: Jasper’s with a call for embodied strategies of resistance and activism in the service of equality, implicitly requiring a move away from the internet, or at least away from idealisms surrounding virtual forms and technologies, and Craig’s (which I don’t have in front of me but will hopefully post soon, I hope I am getting this right) discussing blogs written by Barbara Jane Reyes, Javier Huerta, Francisco Aragón, Linh Dinh, Lee Herrick and Oscar Bermeo, and the positive role of blogs in helping to build or strengthen/connect communities of writers previously excluded from a racist and sexist U.S. literary history/contemporary moment, with its false constructs of centrality and marginality, which the blog may help to disrupt and re-frame through new social and aesthetic formations.

In this conflict, Erika’s project, and Erika herself, was cast as mediator—Cynthia, Suzanne and I discussed this over lunch and Cynthia addressed it vocally, to the group, when we gathered for the next panel, this placing of Erika in “the lady role”. At first, I wondered if this framing of Jasper and Craig in conflict, with Erika as mediator, might be a splitting of theory from practice: Jasper and Craig asked to address the limits, potential, and relations of the internet, with Erika and her project, an archive of the ‘actual’ (or two versions of the ‘actual’), sitting between these theoretical positions. (I still wonder what further study of that archive might reveal, as a location for thinking about some of the ways in which overlapping communities are moving inside these deeply material networks, and how we are failing, and where there might be some way to move inside these forms as a way of bringing about social and political change—if social and political change is an individual or group goal.)

But then I thought my idea was wrong, because in many ways Jasper’s and Craig’s talks are also very much about practice, not only theory. And when Barbara Jane discusses her disconnection from Jasper’s critique as having nothing to do with the vital relationship in her communities between the internet and what Jasper might call ‘land-based’ activism, she is very much addressing practice, not theory. As were other voices in the room last Saturday, who began to complicate the questions: Scott Inguito discussing distance learning’s relationship to class and educational access, and Oscar Bermeo reminding us that these questions about The Internet are some of the same questions so often asked of Poetry’s limits and possibility in the world.

So I return to questions of gender and race, active frames in the comment boxes on Jasper’s blog this week, where the discussion of his talk, specifically its critique of Stan Apps and Matt Timmons’ editorial statement, rages on. (Actually, it seems to have raged itself out now that I’m finally posting these notes.) Those comment boxes are currently occupied entirely by white men (so far as I can tell; there are some participants commenting ‘anonymously’) Which is not to say that many participants there are unmindful about how they occupy conversational space or that the conversation is not useful. I’d agree with Joshua Clover when he says “Lastly, since this debate (sweaty trolls aside) seems to me to be exactly about what political goals might be, about possibility and necessity, and about strategy…that looking for points of strategic alliance in a complex landscape (rather than reducing the discussion down a progressives/radicals distinction, or a we’d-all-like-change indistinction) is very much to be desired.” But again, and especially if this is a broader conversation about political possibility, it’s distressing how certain modes of participation are replicated. It’s easy (and feels somewhat shameful) to point again towards a space in which only white men are participating. But gender and race aren’t the only frame—all kinds of conditions effect who has read their Zizek and Marx in full, including class, access to/location of one’s education and I suppose the belief that one must have read Zizek and Marx in full in order to have anything useful to say about large scale resistance. Here I could quote someone else in the same comment box who points out that there is no such thing as equal access; you can see I’m stuck on a hook, the hook of finding much to value, and learn from, in this comment box, and much to feel hopeless about. When Mark Wallace steps in to say “…resistance and especially large scale resistance seldom operates on a singular theory about what it's up to, and by no means requires being right in any pure sense, in which case there may be room for all you guys on the boat” I am exceedingly grateful, but also think about how the guys in this case are literally guys, the Marxist guys he’s mediating between. While there is a need to debate the finer points of strategic alliances, if you are interested in large-scale forms of collective resistance, at some point the conversation needs to become wider, which probably means addressing questions around discourse as something beyond style. (And I appreciate that Jasper thought about some of these questions as he re-worked and re-presented ideas from his Action, Yes paper at the conference.)

In one of his comments, Stan Apps posits as natural this idea that the internet provokes ‘gladiatorial behavior’ which was a question I was hoping we might take up more in our conversation last Saturday—is it the technology producing this behavior, or does the technology endlessly replicate social relations which precede the internet? If my question sounds rhetorical, it’s not—like the mutually enabling charges Jasper describes, there’s something cooperative between the technology, its impact on users’ time (the mob mentality; the group which doesn’t have time to think because it has no time) and the problem of historic social relations. The two are holding hands. And discourse problems are often endlessly ‘about’ both of these things.

This is where a closer analysis or reading of Erika’s project might have some things to say about the slick and sticky mating surface between technology and the social (what time of day are the majority of comments made, the timing of the two conversations in relation to the academic calendar, etc.) I’m also curious about something Erika brought up—that fewer total participants were engaged in the conversation around Mike Magee’s reading/poem. I wonder how many of those participants had previously existing relationships in less virtual contexts? What sort of local might this smaller group constitute?

I find myself where I began, with questions I failed to vocalize in the room, wondering about the internet’s relation to locality. A forum like Lucipo (a listserv which grew out of a poetry festival in Carrboro, North Carolina) may serve as a useful object lesson in the ways that virtual encounters or locations might act as an extension of embodied conversations in local communities; a location for the group to continue to talk with itself, as it organizes, fights, plans, strategizes—whether about aesthetics, road trips or revolutionary change. What happens when the discourse opens up to those who are not entangled in the lived, embodied relations of a community is pretty well documented. Things can fall apart quickly.

Of course I’m writing this on and for the internet, both for and to local communities and for and to those who do not live in the bay area, and yet part of what felt most useful, and simultaneously problematic about the conference last weekend was its insistence on (and the economic reality of being able to invite) primarily local participants. That the two out of town participants were both on the panel addressing an ethnic avant-garde is a problem I want to acknowledge but can’t begin to unpack here.

I guess if we are thinking about the internet as a tool I come back to this question about the possibilities of a local internet. That which has potential to connect the local to itself, which might render visible, if only for a second, the unseen connections in front of our eyes, previously invisible or dismissed points of intersection between local communities. How we define the local opens up another series of difficult questions I don’t have any answers for.


May 30, 7:30 pm
When You've Got an Itch You've Got to Scratch It:

A Talk on Group Mania and The Criminal Mind

What is a group mind? And how does it think? When does it stop thinking? Why does it produce the lynch mob. The falsely accused. The criminal. The legally dead. The agitator. The paranoiac. The pervert. The murderers among us. Aggressive subjects and castrated objects. This talk will interrogate the role of outcasts, or those occupying the fringes of social relations, as part of the "total personality" of the group.

This opening talk will offer a psychoanalytic framework that may help us to begin to think about how group dynamics, even at their most destructive, can provide a context for creativity as well as alienation and "queering" of its subjects. What is the function of the marginalized subject in providing the image of freedom from the group while at the same time being dominated by it? How do we seek our revenge? Get justice? What is the role of compliance? What does it defend against?

Through Freud and Klein's theories of identification, projection, and object relating, we can examine how the group becomes part of the individual, and the individual becomes a part of a group. Films such as Fritz Lang's M (1931) and Fury (1936), Lars Von Trier's Dogville, and Todd Field's Little Children(2006,) represent the tension between group phenomena and the valency of individuals to take particularly destructive stances—-as Hans Beckert says in Fritz Lang's M, "nobody knows what it's like to be me."

Cynthia Sailers is the author of Lake Systems (Tougher Disguises,2004). She is currently writing a dissertation at the Wright Institute in Berkeley. She is a board member of Small Press Traffic and previously co-curated the New Yipes Reading Series. Currently she lives in Alameda.

Saturday, May 31, 11:00-12:30
Panel: The Internet

Moderator: Stephanie Young

Panelists will address the perils and possibilities of technologically mediated public spaces, specifically focusing on how new technologies may mystify, reproduce, or intensify existing racial, gender, and class divisions.

Panelists and Presentations:

Jasper Bernes's essay "On the Poverty of Internet Life: A Call for Poets" (Action, Yes) argues for an understanding of internet culture in terms of the logic of capitalist accumulation and the ideological imperatives of the U.S. ruling class after 9/11. It closes with a call for poets to realize the emancipatory promise of the internet in a space and manner less susceptible to regulation and subsumption. His talk will focus on his plans for such a project, responses to the essay and the subsequent development of his thinking. Advance / related reading: from Jodi Dean, Publicity's Secret: How Technoculture Capitalizes on Democracy (rotate clockwise in Adobe reader to view), Cornell University Press, 2002 (link to come), Immaterial Labor and its Machinization, by Leopoldina Fortunati and "Apple - 1984" (dir. Ridley Scott):

(Text of video: Each of you is a single cell in the great body of the State. And today, that great body has purged itself of parasites. We have triumphed over the unprincipled dissemination of facts. The thugs and wreckers have been cast out. Let each and every cell rejoice! For today we celebrate the first glorious anniversary of the Information Purification Directive. We have created, for the first time in all history, a garden of pure ideology, from which each worker may bloom secure from the pests purveying contradictory and confusing truths. Our unification of thought is more powerful a weapon than any fleet or army on earth. We are one people. With one will. One resolve. One cause. Our enemies shall talk themselves to death, as we will bury them with their own confusion. We shall prevail.)

csperez will revisit his essay My Michael Magee and the Frontier of Democratic Symbolic Action, which he describes as follows: "This essay situates 'Their Eyes, Their Asian Glittering Guys, Are Gay' (which caused a stir in the online poetry community that generated more than 500 pages of online commentary) within the context of Magee's brilliant critical work Emancipating Pragmatism: Emerson, Jazz, and Experimental Writing (U of Alabama Press, 2004). I suggest that Magee's Emerson functions as a founding father of a "Pragmatist-Flarf." In addition, I question the limits of Pragmatist-Flarf's desire to intervene, through "democatic symbolic action," in racialized discourses." Advance / related reading: poeta y diwata (Barbara Jane Reyes), Unitedstatesean Notes (Javier Huerta), Letras Latinas (Institute for Latino Studies, Univ. of Notre Dame), Detainees (Linh Dinh), You Are Here (Lee Herrick) and Intuitive Intertextuality (Oscar Bermeo).

Erika Staiti will discuss her recent editorial/archival project, "RACE and GENDER". RACE is an archive of what remains from the conversation surrounding Michael Magee's poem "Their Guys, Their Asian Glittering Guys, Are Gay" (May-Dec 2006). GENDER is an archive relating to the Chicago Review essay "Numbers Trouble" by Juliana Sphar and Stephanie Young (Nov 07-Feb 08). Both projects are exclusively composed of blog posts and comments. RACE and GENDER can be found at Advance / related reading: : The Wayback Machine and excerpts from Archive Fever.

More about the panelists:

Jasper Bernes is the author of Starsdown (in girum imus, 2007). He is a graduate student in English at UC Berkeley.

'csperez' (craig santos perez) has published over 500 posts on his blog ( since 2006. His comments have appeared, or are forthcoming, in many prestigious sites: Poeta y Diwata, Silliman's Blog, Looktouchblog, The Poetry Foundation,The Newer Metaphysicals, Detainees, and Lime Tree, among others. He currently edits the Omnidawn Publishing blog (

Erika Staiti has found a new way to cope with her mild (and undiagnosed) obsessive compulsiveness. She searches, cuts, pastes, reformats, searches, cuts, pastes, reformats. Please visit her project at

Saturday, May 31, 2:00-3:30 pm
Panel: Community Histories

Moderator: Camille Roy

This panel will investigate fault lines within Bay Area poetry communities of the 70s and 80s. How are group narratives constructed, rendered visible or invisible? How might these histories and narratives inform our current conversation and social space? What is the role of the archive? The academy? The economy? How might submerged or obscured conflict and aggression re-express or distribute itself elsewhere?

Panelists and Presentations:

Realism and Utopia: Writing, Sex and Activism in the New Narrative: What was at stake with the emergence of New Narrative in San Francisco during the late 1970s? Whereas Language Poetry’s rigorous critique of subject-centered expressivist poetry registers, among other things, a response to the contradictions of the early 1960s Free Speech Movement, New Narrative’s commitment to a consequential form of storytelling, one with the potential to activate new forms of community, was critically faithful to the promise of another new social movement, Gay Liberation. In his talk, Rob Halpern will consider the lived relations, embodied positions and community fault lines that mark New Narrative as an intervention in activist writing. He will look specifically at several projects from the early 1980s, including Bruce Boone’s Century of Clouds; the literary magazine Soup #2, edited by Steve Abbott; Boone and Glück’s collaboration, La Fontaine; and the transcript of the Left/Write Conference in San Francisco. The range of work represented by these projects is exciting because it makes a dynamic and contestatory social ecology legible at a moment when efforts to forge a union of leftist writers were revealing their limitations due to incompatible visions as to how an “engaged writing” ought to be practiced.

Outlaws, Lone Wolves and Made Poets: Bay Area Poetics and Group Formation from the 70s to the Present: Who is in? Who is out? Who cares? What is the coin of the realm in the poetry world? How do we earn it? How spend it? Is there a secret spiritual history? What about politics? How do you tell if you are in a group or if your group exists? Laura Moriarty will address questions such as these by disscussing how publication, teaching, reading and one's personal and social lives come together to form the poetry world(s) we believe we are in.

Community–it’s the goo that is all over the place–facilitating and making a mess of relation, writing, and people’s access to one another, one another’s work, the world. An interest in (and an embattled relation with) community seems to have been ever a part of the discourse among writers in the San Francisco Bay Area, where from the 1970s onward this battle has been entangled in contesting identities, politics and aesthetics. The etymological and historical roots of community reveal that while community sometimes pertains to geographic location, shared interests, a relation (including a contestatory one) to a state or other government, it has very much also to do with sexuality, gender, class and race. What passes unnoticed and/or is marked as vulgar and transgressive is always revealing; implicitly community has to do with demarcations of bodies and minds that matter and those that do not. In short, community is a term fraught with political relevance from the get go. Community has to do with subjects. Community also begs the question regarding its value or purpose. What’s it for? What’s it do? What is a writing community? Is there such a thing? How does community differ from friendship? Is the writing community a nurturing place? Or does it look more like the global community, rife with competition and disparate investments and access to capital and power? How can community and communities intersect? Robin Tremblay McGaw's talk will look at some of the battles around writing occurring in the Bay Area in the 70s and 80s. We’ll look at how some of these debates were constructed and how they played out. Advance / related reading: How do the debates of this earlier period relate to some of the present day discussions around community? For example: the Stephanie Young & Juliana Spahr Chicago Review piece, and comments around it, including David Buuck's dim sum blog entry re: "I am a sexist" or comments on Kasey Mohammad’s limetree blog in September 2006, regarding Lisa Robertson's posting on friendship vs community on the Poetry Foundation web site.

More about the panelists:

Rob Halpern is the author of Rumored Place and Snow Sensitive Skin (co-authored with Taylor Brady). Two collections of poems, Disaster Suites and Music for Porn, are forthcoming, and a chapbook called "Imaginary Politics" will be out from TapRoot Editions next month. He's currently co-editing the writings of the late Frances Jaffer together with Kathleen Fraser, and translating the early essays of Georges Perec, the first of which, "For a Realist Literature," can be found in the current issue of Chicago Review. He lives and teaches in San Francisco.

Laura Moriarty's most recent books are A Semblance: Selected & New Poetry 1975-2007 from Omnidawn Publishing and An Air Force, a chapbook from Hooke Press. Other recent books are Ultravioleta, a novel, from Atelos and Self-Destruction, a book of poetry, from Post-Apollo Press. She has taught at Mills College and Naropa University among other places & is currently Deputy Director of Small Press Distribution. She is findable on-line at A Tonalist Notes and related blogs.

Robin Tremblay-McGaw's work has appeared in Poetry Flash, Mirage, Five Fingers Review, HOW(ever), HOW2, Biting the Error: Writers on Narrative, and elsewhere. She is currently at work on a manuscript entitled"Community and Contestatory Writing Practices in the San Francisco Bay Area1970-Present."

Saturday, May 31, 3:45-4:00

SUPER-SOLID is a slideshow constructed by Rodrigo Toscano on proletarian jitters, cross-cultural compatibility, and ripped forms of motion.

Rodrigo Toscano is the author of To Leveling Swerve, Platform, The Disparities, and Partisans. His newest (upcoming) book, Collapsible Poetics Theater, was a National Poetry Series 2007 selection. Toscano is also the artistic director and writer for the Collapsible Poetics Theater (CPT). His polyvocalic pieces, poetics plays, and body-movement poems, have been performed at the Disney Redcat Theater in Los Angeles, Ontological-Hysteric Poet's Theater Festival, Poet's Theater Jamboree 2007, Links Hall, Chicago, and the Yockadot Poetics Theater Festival. His radio pieces have appeared on WPIX FM (New York), KAOS Public Radio Olympia, WNYU, and PS.1 Radio. His work has been translated into French, German, Italian, and Catalonian. Toscano is originally from Southern California. He works in Manhattan at the Labor Institute, and lives in Brooklyn.

Saturday, May 31, 4:00-5:30
Panel: An Ethnic Avant-Garde?

Moderator: Chris Chen

This panel will investigate the often volatile and contentious relationship between race and the idea of an “avant-garde,” however broadly or narrowly either term is construed. Where does the accent fall when we speak of diasporic, ethnic, cross-ethnic, and/or "white" avant-gardes? Panelists will have the opportunity to explore the contemporary relevance of the distinction, drawn by an earlier generation of critics and poets, between creative projects organized under the sign of “identity” or “difference,” versus a “poetics of indeterminacy” informed by critiques of what Charles Bernstein once dubbed “the official cultural space of diversity.”

Panelists will select several “exhibits”—which might include individual poems, critical essays, interviews, films, visual art, music--which might serve to serve to spark further conversation.

Panelists and Presentations:

Bhanu Kapil lives in Colorado where she teaches in The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. Humanimal, a book that takes, as it's subjects, race and the feral body, is forthcoming from Kelsey Street press this Fall.

Juliana Spahr's most recent book is The Transformation (Atelos, 2007).

Tyrone Williams teaches literature and theory at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is the author of two books of poetry, c.c. (Krupskaya Books, 2002) and On Spec (Omnidawn Publishing, 2008). He also has several chapbooks out, including AAB (Slack Buddha Press, 2004), Futures, Elections (Dos Madres Press, 2004)and Musique Noir (Overhere Press, 2006). Recent poems are in or forthcoming from Critiphoria, Laurel Review and The Nation. He is currently writing a book of poems for the innovative writing press, Atelos Books.

PANEL EXHIBITS: (more to come - watch this space)

Bhanu Kapil

Bhugra, Dinesh, and Peter Jones. "Migration and Mental Illness," Advances in Psychiatric Treatment 7 (2001): 216-222.

Juliana Spahr

Laura Doyle, "The Flat, the Round, and Gertrude Stein: Race and the Shape of Modern(ist) History," Modernism/Modernity 7.2 (2000) 249-271.

Gertrude Stein, Three Lives

bell hooks, "Postmodern Blackness," Postmodern Culture, vol. 1, no. 1, Sep. 1990.

Ron Silliman, from “Poetry and the Politics of the Subject,” Socialist Review, 88/3, July-September, 1988, pp. 61-68:

"Progressive poets who identify as members of groups that have been the subject of history – many white male heterosexuals, for example – are apt to challenge all that is supposedly `natural' about the formation of their own subjectivity. That their writing today is apt to call into question, if not actually explode, such conventions as narrative, persona and even reference can hardly be surprising. At the other end of the spectrum are poets who do not identify as members of groups that have been the subject of history, for they instead have been its objects. The narrative of history has led not to their self-actualization, but to their exclusion and domination. These writers and readers – women, people of color, sexual minorities, the entire spectrum of the `marginal' – have a manifest political need to have their stories told. That their writing should often appear much more conventional, with the notable difference as to who is the subject of these conventions, illuminates the relationship between form and audience."

Tyrone Williams:

Adrian Piper

Ernest Withers

Glenn Ligon

Christopher Stackhouse, "Everyone's Own Color Red," The Journal of the Academy of American Poets, Vol. 34, Spring 2008, pp. 25-28.

Chris Chen

Timothy Yu, "Form and Identity in Language Poetry and Asian American Poetry," Contemporary Literature, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Autumn, 2000), pp. 422-461.

Jen Liu, ‘Was It The Gost Of Autumn In That Smell Of Underground, Or God’s Blank Heart Grown Kind, That Sent A Happy Dream To Him In Hell?' 2005 Watercolor, ink and colored pencil on paper, 276×145 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Upstream Gallery, Amsterdam

Exerpt from an exchange between Walter Benn Michaels ("Plots Against America: Neoliberalism and Antiracism," American Literary History 18.2 (2006) 288-302) and Paul Rothberg ("Against Zero-Sum Logic: A Response to Walter Benn Michaels," American Literary History 18.2 (2006) 303-311)

Julie Mehretu, “Excerpt (Suprematist Evasion),” 2003, ink and acrylic on canvas, 32 x 54”

Can Dialectics Break Bricks? (1973)