Schedule of Events | Participant Bios

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Multilingual Poetics, Feminist Implications

Rachel Levitsky has asked me to post a brief note on our panel, Multilingual Poetics, Feminist Implications, which featured Julia Bloch, Angela Carr, Zhang Er (capably represented by Leonard Schwartz, wearing Nathalie Stephens's name tag), Janet Neigh, and me. These presenters, some of whom I was delighted to meet for the first time, brought together literary-critical, pedagogical, and poetic practice-oriented perspectives on literature that uses more than one language. Our presentations were, not at all surprisingly, followed by a challenging, insightful, and very stimulating discussion.

When we proposed this panel, we wanted to think about multilingualism from a variety of perspectives in order to make concrete a term whose meaning seems obvious, but whose use can sometimes be vague (is it the same thing as bilingualism? multiculturalism?). Some of the key questions we wanted to discuss included:

-What is the meaning of multilingualism in and for our practice as poets?

-What is/are the relationship/s between multilingualism and translation?

-How does multilingualism compare or relate to polyvocality or other multi-voiced textual practices?

-In what ways do the non-English parts of a multilingual text mean, especially for those who cannot read the languages in which they are written?

-How can a multilingual text best be taught? What does a pedagogy that centers multilingual work look like?

-What is the relationship between multilingualism and feminism?

These questions were discussed with reference to a broad range of texts including Anne Tardos's Uxudo (me), M. NourbeSe Philip's She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks (Julia), Erin Moure and Oana Avasilichioaei's Expeditions of a Chimaera (Angela), Chinese songs and poetry by women from a variety of historical periods (Zhang Er), and Louise Bennett (Janet).

While all of these questions received some treatment in the panel, a new list of questions began to emerge for me as I listened to my fellow panelists speak. Listening to Julia's paper on NourbeSe Philip, I began to think about contemporary multilingualism in relation to historical instances of multilingualism: when Philip revisits Ezra Pound's famous dicta "make it new," how is she remaking a multilingual poetics? How does contemporary multilingual work differ from its historical precedents in high modernism and elsewhere? To what extent is it accurate to see contemporary multilingual works as the inheritors of Pound's or Eliot's (or even Loy's) multilingualisms?

I also wondered about what meanings are signaled by the simple fact of linguistic mixture. As Angela outlined the politics of selecting a language in which to write in a complex linguistic environment such as Montreal's, and explained that to group readers according to language is also to group them according to ideology, I wondered how certain linguistic combinations can also carry specific ideological or affective content. That is, before we even read the work, its linguistic combination already has a certain suggestive power, already makes us feel a certain way. What kinds of linguistic combinations can we - ought we - deploy in our poetic works?

Janet's paper, which opened with an anecdote about multilingualism and xenophobia at Geno's Cheesesteaks in South Philadelphia's Italian Market, raised similar questions for me. Like Angela, Janet emphasized that languages meet in specific times and places, in response to specific forces of history, colonialism, immigration, and economics, and she explained that in order to be pedagogically responsible - and pedagogically effective - we must develop activities that situate our students' linguistic knowledge. Janet shared a list of classroom activities designed to help students think about the social privilege that comes with knowing English, and the ways in which language does and does not map onto other social structures like class and race. These exercises seemed especially useful in bringing the work of our panel forward.

Zhang Er's paper engaged an alternative tradition in Chinese poetry, and the debate about whether these female-voiced poems had really been written by women, or whether they had been written by male poets taking on female voices (she argued that they had been written by women). I, on the other hand, wrote about a formal effect of Anne Tardos's work, where the reader is led through transliterations of different languages, learning how to pronounce French words (sidérant) through their simplification into English words (see-day-rant). Our two papers were brought together in a question from the audience, which I have been mulling over ever since: Divya Victor asked our panel as a whole to reflect on the politics of what she called "ventriloquy." Was there a way in which we might think of multilingual poetics as an empowering ventriloquy? Instead of a powerless puppet being manipulated by an insidious puppeteer, might we find an enforced performance of listening instead of an enforced performance of speech? What possibilities could be discovered there? What kind of feminism would this be?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


I've created a list for AdFemPo blog posts HERE.
And here's my response...

If other posts exist, please send them!


Friday, October 2, 2009

A note on how Adfempo was organized/conceptualized.

from Rachel Levitsky

A note on how Adfempo was organized/conceptualized.

The conference was organized by Emily Beall, Kate Eichhorn, Laura Elrick, Tonya Foster, Laura Jaramillo, erica kaufman, Rachel Levitsky, Anna Moschovakis, Akilah Oliver, Jen Scappattone -- as the Belladonna Adfempo Collective, and Ana Bozicevic and Aiobheann Sweeney and Michael Washburn at the Center for Humanities, and Ann Humphries and Leah Souffrant at Center for the Study of Women and Society, and The Poetics Group and English PhD.

Here is a bit of chronology about the process, which seems important, coming out of the plenary. Did I not say more there because I was tired or because I want to hear, be in a conversation with. It seems most of the things folks wanted to say, they said as questions. I am paraphrasing or getting these wrong, or nearby their original intent: "What is Feminism for you?" or "Do you consider yourself Feminist poets? Why are we not talking about what that is?" "What is found in the waste?" "Is it perhaps useful to think of feminism as a wasted term?" It seems venturing out always feels like venturing out alone.

Evelyn Reilly came up and said the politics are in the way we are interacting here and I said that is intentional.

Point in fact. The project is an architectural experiment, an attempt at rearranging space, the shape between the bodies. If there is one disappointment I have it is that the sessions, which I hesitated to call panels, were in fact panels.

I imagined we could infinitely re-vision the format. Can we. I digress.

A little history to the happening. erica kaufman and I thought we should do a conference, something that could reflect the project in a concentrated kind of way, for the 10 year anniversary, and erica went and made it happen, talking to Leah Souffrant, Ann Humphries and Aoibheann Sweeney at the Graduate Center. A CFP written, a call gone out, and then receiving about 85 proposals, mixture of individuals and panels, of films, collaborations (some never getting to us, like one from Martha Ronk, who was to set out to create a combination of prose poems and photograms with Farrah Karapetian--I think we would have liked the proposal a lot, but I have not yet gotten to who this we was and how we came to be).

As the proposals came in I became very nervous about the thing, not only because it seemed large but also because the format seemed to me awfully pat, promising career development and boredom but little invention, critique, play. Not because the proposals themselves were flawed but, again, the format. When conceiving the CFP I'd imagined Esther Cohen and Bread and Roses, sharing how to do what she does making image making available to working people, and Anne Waldman and Pat Stiers talking about their work together, and a writing the body workshop with Akilah Oliver, a prose conversation with Renee Gladman and Gail Scott and Tisa Bryant. All these in my imagination had a discovery about them, an energy of emergence.

Now I must say that Emma Bee Bernstein's death affected everything. We were making a book with her and so dove into the despair of her passing. Charles' elegy and Susan's rememberance in Elders Series #4 and also her brother Felix's beautiful piece on Charles' blog... all point to the impossibility of hammering down a meaning there, in her death, and yet it did make all of us turn around. Among other ways that it shook me it woke me into knowing that erica and I could not do this conference on our own, it would be bad for us and maybe impossible too. And so we brainstormed the collective and almost everyone we asked said yes to it and so the collective was strong and it was big enough and almost diverse enough intellectually if not demographically, though our one non-poet I think felt disrespected and left, and I was sorry that was the atmosphere and sorry she left but not sorry for our suspicion in general. Left after the first meeting were those who stayed and they are: Jennifer Scappattone, Tonya Foster, Akilah Oliver, Laura Jaramillo, Laura Elrick, Emily Beall, Kate Eichhorn, Anna Moschovakis, Emily Beall and erica kaufman and I. Politically we are all rather left, some of us more queer than others of us, and some of us married and one of us a mother but in general as a group of women, having less than the mean by way of indicators of hetero-normativity and I think this says something about where we position ourselves politically too. Politically we would probably all say we were anti-racist and anti-classist but we let things become too white, too easy and tried to revise after not doing a great job of listening to the comments amongst us that things were going colonial that way. We wondered for a while about how to have a meaningful class panel when in the poetry world there is so much denial and shame about the issue. So there were some good and funny and sometimes harsh or painful exchanges and we all kept coming back.

We all read all the panels and were daunted by how to keep all the ones we liked and fit them into one day. We came up with 8 minute monographs so that not everything had to fit perfectly neatly into a title. In the interest of inclusion and mixing things up and making things more diverse, we asked people/chairs who proposed panel-ready panels to let other people onto their panels and some said yes to us and some said no to us. And we each picked a panel to shepard and some other people like Sarah Dowling and Jane Sprague and Steve Zultanski and Jen Hofer and Tamiko Beyer and Vanessa Place and Kass Fleisher agreed to be shepards to their panels and Sally Silvers said yes to perform and so did Carla Harryman and Lila Zemborain and the IDR and we were able to afford a great final performance and Laura Elrick and erica kaufman organized that. We imagined a ‘fifth’ space where less talking would happen and Angela Joosse agreed to curate a film program. And the Center for Humanities let us do all this complicated visioning and also materially made the thing real and made postcards and arranged all the access to space, along with the Center for the Study of Women and Society, Ph. D. Program in English, and Poetics Group. And there is much more to this story but tonight I will end so that words go into the world and I am responsible for them.