21st October, Canberra Museum and Gallery, 9am to 4pm
Poetry on the Move is unique in placing an academic research conference on poetry and poetics firmly within the festival program. This aligns with the International Poetry Studies Institute's aim of conducting research related to poetry, and publishing the outcomes of this research internationally through its journal Axon: Creative Explorations.
This symposium aims to explore ways in which contemporary poetry uses or harnesses knowledge of various kinds and how poetry understands the world. For example, how does poetry make use of, interact with or transform existing bodies of knowledge? And how is poetry itself a form of knowing? If poetry may be said to produce knowledge, what kind of knowledge is it?
Download the symposium program as a pdf below
Cassandra Atherton and Paul Hetherington
Small Leaps, Giant Steps in Prose Poetry
Because prose poetry is written in sentences that turn at the right margin, the reader does not pause at the line’s end as they do when they read lineated poetry. As a result, prose poetry’s sentences typically lend fluency and forward momentum to the reading experience in a way than even enjambed lineated poetry rarely achieves. However, this paper argues that the prose poem frequently requires of the reader a leap into the white space outside of the prose poem box following its final sentence. This might be described as a version of Auden’s idea of ‘leap[ing] before you look’. This paper discusses the concluding lines of a range of prose poems from Baudelaire to contemporary examples, including some of our own works. We contend that the tight fluency of fully justified sentences in many prose poems functions to catapult the reader into a widening conceptual and poetic space. In these works, the prose poetry form puts pressure on the concluding sentence to open outwards and often upwards in a kind of rising inflection.
Openness and the Knowledge-rich poem
This paper explores the creative problem of how poets convincingly integrate non-experiential knowledge in their work. I propose that strategies of openness can surmount not only a knowledge/experience dualism but also the pitfalls of didacticism and stuffiness. Setting the context for this creative problem through a consideration of TS Eliot’s concept of “the dissociation of sensibility”, I consider what Umberto Eco’s “The Open Work” and Lyn Hejinian’s essay “The Rejection of Closure” imply for the composition of a knowledge-rich poem, and some practical strategies these works suggest. The paper closes with an overview of those strategies of openness employed by John Forbes, whose erudite poems achieve an intoxicating fusion of knowledge and experience.
Climate Embodied: Exploring a poetics of strained breath
Drawing on new materialist theory, I focus on the materiality of breath. Breath is encoded in languages and texts, for example, through the quality of letters/characters, punctuation, space. I argue that attentiveness to matter situates human bodies and textuality in their more-than-human contexts, where breath like the senses, acts as mediator of human and other-than-human material relations and knowing. Breath connects human bodies with their habitats, with air and atmosphere, with ecological exigencies of climate and pollution. I explore the material breath as a way of engaging with the materiality of a poem against a contemporary background where air and atmosphere are strained. I offer a reading of selected climate change poetry focusing on the interlinked materialities of breath and text and the ways a poem might speak into the strained breath of a climate change and pollution affected Earth.
Colin Powell and the Blue Shroud Over Guernica: Different modes of experience created by poetry and visual art
On 28 April 1937, The Times (London) published George Steer’s report, The Tragedy of Guernica. Picasso read the report, dropped the project he was working on and began sketching for a new painting which would become Guernica. The painting was finished in June 1937 and was displayed in the pavilion of the Spanish Republic in Paris accompanied by Paul Éluard’s poem, La Victorie de Guernica. I am not sure if Picasso had also read Gernika, a short poem Telesforo Monzon, a Basque poet and interior minister in the Basque Government, had written on visiting the village just a few days after the bombing.
A full-size tapestry-copy of Guernica hangs at the entrance of the U.N. Security Council meeting room. According to Maggie Farley, the staff writer at the L.A. Times, on 5 February 2003, as the U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell ‘…came out of the meeting for a press conference, after presenting evidence to help U.N. to decide whether or not to go to war in Iraq…’, the journalists noticed that the tapestry hanging behind his back had been covered by a blue curtain.
Why did Powell find the presence of the painting unsettling? By covering it, was he and other officials at the U.N. acknowledging its power. How does a painting like Guernica acquire that power? Does it reside in the truth it represents or does it originate from the emotional intensity of our experience viewing it?
In my essay I compare Picasso’s Guernica with Steer’s newspaper report without which the painting might not have happened. I also bring into focus two poems written about the same event. Do the poems possess the same power? What kind of emotional experience the poems offer their readers? In what way that experience differs from the one that Picasso’s Guernica or Steer’s newspaper report provide?
Inside me, my voice struggles to get out
By what means are voices made distinct in poems about the young adult experience? How does voice (cadence, diction, lexicon, line breaks and syntax) contribute to the diversity of representation? Mike Cadden and Robert Small have theorised that representations of young adults often position adolescence as a period of incomplete ‘growth to awareness’ (2000). Young people are often represented as being on a journey to self-discovery, grappling with the ideology and ethics that will serve as a framework for their decision making as an adult. They are also positioned as being unaware of others around them. Creative writing that starts from presumptions about what is typical of any group limits observation and imagination. Many young people are aware of issues in their world, such as global warming, LGBTQI+ rights, and racial and sexual discrimination. Through a discussion of Catherine Bateson’s verse novel, his name in fire (2006), I will be exploring the following questions: are young adults characterised in a way that is too simple and static in the young adult (YA) genre? How are texts in other genres able to counterpoint the characterisations of teenagers found in YA verse novels?
Uncaged: Poeming, choreographing, dancing
This paper examines the enmeshing of three themes: poetry's relationship to conceptions of truth, intersection with and use of other disciplines, and its rendition of embodied knowledge(s). Drawing on the making of After Cage: A Serial Composition for our Time (Hecq 2019), the paper teases out the first two themes by focusing on the textual making of the work. Spawned by a response to global politics, the poem evolved through encountering a composer, a choreographer and a company of dancers. Research into avant-garde music, quantum physics and mathematics gave the text its edge. The paper then turns back findings upon the premises put forward at the outset of the investigation by invoking the experience of sharing knowledge with a choreographer in the dancing of the poem in rehearsal and full production. It interrogates the process of revision initiated by collaboration with a dancer-choreographer.
Michael Leach and Rachel Rayner
Contemporary Australian Science Poetry
Poetry and science are interrelated, requiring common skills such as observation, experimentation and creativity. While there is considerable scope for poetry to inspire science and science communication objectives, science can provide ample enrichment for poetry, particularly in the ways its disciplines use language. In this paper, we aim to provide a discussion of contemporary Australian science poetry that is currently missing in the literature. By reviewing recent poetry and science writing anthologies, 100 science poems were identified and classified into poetry type and scientific field, the most popular being free verse (84%) and biology (29%), respectively. By analysing the similarities and differences between the genres, contexts and artists (54% women and 25% with tertiary science education), a picture of scientific and poetic creativity can be drawn, highlighting the value of a multidisciplinary approach to writing.
Ramshackle Girls and Sleuthing Gatekeepers: Poetry, plagiarism, and the critical art of theft
As Kat Rosenfeld observes, poetry is ‘a medium in which sampling, allusion, and conversation have always been part of the game’ (2018). But as suggested by recent poetry scandals involving plagiarists such as Aisley O’Toole, Pierre DesRuisseaux, Sheree Mack, and Lisa Low, the difference between conceptions of literary dialogue, intertextuality and the realities of literary theft are perhaps more ambiguous than the rules of engagement might imply. Examining a series of plagiarists and the responses of outraged readerships, this paper explores the complex politics surrounding plagiarism in poetry to argue that debates about poetry ‘fakes’ often reveal elitist and hypocritical attitudes to form and practice. In doing so, the paper focuses on anxieties about the relationship between poetry and truth by way of concerns about originality, authenticity and authorship. Further, it discusses the role of cultural gatekeepers—such as ‘witch-finder’ Ira Lightman—in policing the borderlines of appropriation.
An exploration of Ecopoetic strategies and the Projectivist Tradition through the works of Charles Olson, Susan Howe and Juliana Spahr “...the foundations of space, the 'strata',
those silent powers of before or after speech, before or after man... becomes archaeological, stratigraphic, tectonic...” (Deleuze 1989: 243–4)
In this paper I draw a line across time, through an analysis of poetry in the projectivist tradition in the context of the Anthropocene. Employing a New Materialist reading (Barad, 2007; van der Tuin and Dolphijn, 2009) of the work of Charles Olson, Susan Howe and Juliana Spahr I unearth poetic implications in light of ideas within the Deleuzian tradition, specifically stratigraphy and assemblage (Colebrook, 2016). Within this space, archaeology and excavation become more than metaphor and instead are employed as methods through which texts can be mined for their ecocritical implications. Although Spahr is the only one of these three poets who is firmly located within the realm of ecopoetry, this paper argues for an acknowledgement of broader frame of ecopoetry, and subsequently, links projectivist materialities directly to ecopoetic strategies.
Multilingual Negotiations: Knowing what will work
Multilingual poetry, which weaves together multiple languages, necessarily straddles multiple cultural contexts. This raises the question of how poets who write multilingually negotiate and deploy their cultural knowledges, who they write for, and how their audiences receive them. Using Suresh Canagarajah’s Negotiation model to examine poets’ linguistic choices and Mendieta-Lombardo and Cintron’s adaptation of the Myers-Scotton Markedness model to consider audience and context, this paper will examine examples of contemporary bilingual and multilingual poetry published in Australia and Canada to identify the many conversations and negotiations that must take place between language-cultures as well as between multilingual poets and audiences for these poems to ‘work’.
Languaging in Indigenous Australian and Adivasi Indian Poetry
North American scholar of Chickasaw ancestry, Chadwick Allen, who has worked extensively on global Indigenous literatures, has proposed a ground-breaking methodology for a comparative reading of Indigenous literary texts. He calls it trans-Indigenous and, in the essay, “Decolonizing Comparison: Toward a Literary Studies” (2014) defines it as “a broad set of emerging practices designed explicitly to privilege reading across, through, and beyond tribally and nationally specific Indigenous texts and contexts” (3). Drawing on Allen’s work and in line with my doctoral research which is a trans-Indigenous study of contemporary Indigenous literatures of Australia and India produced in or translated into English, in this paper, I intend to present my analysis of selected poems by Indigenous Australian and Adivasi/Tribal Indian writers. Bringing the diverse texts into conversation with each other will be the notion of ‘Indigenous languaging’.
Extending the (Scientific) Document: A Docupoetics of the Natural History Archive
Among the poetries of witness, docupoetry is distinct for its practice of appropriating fragments of archival texts in order to relate polyvocal social histories. Yet while docupoetry’s remit is the telling of ‘historical narratives… human or natural’ (emphasis mine; Harrington 2011b:np), its potential to relate non-human histories remains underexplored. Such histories have arguably gained new relevance in the context of Anthropogenic climate change and emergent ‘new materialisms’ that reinstate ‘things’ at the centre of inquiry. This paper will investigate the possibilities for a docupoetics of natural history, firstly by reevaluating the scope of natural history through a new materialist lens, and secondly by considering the implications of contemporary theories of the science archives. In doing so, this research will indicate how the poet might fruitfully consider the scientific archive as a resource for docupoetic praxis, as well as how the science-poetry relation might function as a site for knowledge production.
Exile, Trauma and the Postcolonial Cold War in Asia: Poems by Ee Tiang Hong and Kurihara Sadako
This paper examines selected poems produced by two Asian poets, Ee Tiang Hong (Malaysia), and Kurihara Sadako (Japan). Writing in different languages, both poets wrote to different contexts, but at the same time their work gives voice to human themes, the poems of these authors are important documents of the postcolonial Cold War in Asia. I argue that through their poems we can analyze the emergence of new ways of articulating experience in the latter half of the twentieth century, trace themes of exile and trauma, as well as other salient issues such as nostalgia and a death world, and questions the way we have constructed narratives of the period (and of periodization itself). Reading the poetry against the broader historical and literary traditions allows us glimpses of life worlds that exist outside dominant epistemic categories, that defy easy categorization, and it is in this uneasiness that the poetry itself brings to bear upon the relationship between experience, longing, and broader historical and knowledge constructions.
Totalising poems for totalising problems: the long poem and overwhelming environmental issues
For reasons pertaining to scale, banality and technicality, climate change is under-represented in contemporary realist literature. Long poetry – a modern descendant of epic, a genre with well-documented encyclopaedic and totalising impulses – may be uniquely capable of portraying totalising environmental problems of overwhelming scale and indefinite limit. This is due to poetry’s linguistic and temporal flexibility, its lack of obligation to narrative, and its ability to incorporate information and transverse technical subject areas. This can be seen in poems like Timothy Donnelly’s 2013 long poem “Hymn To Life”, which performs a synecdochic representation of life and destruction by parataxically contrasting different kinds of very specific dated information (the loss of species, moments in history, pop song chart rankings). This paper will then consider how information can be used as a compositional device in long
poetry to approach difficult-to-represent environmental crises such as climate change.
Thom Gunn and the Architectural Poetry of “Unique Impersonality”
This paper explores the poetry of Thom Gunn (1929-2004) using concepts borrowed from Modernist architectural, artistic and aesthetic debates over function and form. To do this, it revisits Theodor Adorno’s lecture “Functionalism Today” (1965), which critiques the case Adolf Loos makes against architectural ornamentation in the essay “Ornament and Crime” (1908). Adorno maintains that “the absolute rejection of style becomes style”, while for Loos, “lack of ornamentation is a sign of intellectual strength” and “[modern man’s] sense of his own individuality is so immensely strong it can no longer be expressed in dress”. Gunn’s style and poetic self-presentation respond richly to an interpretation couched in these terms. His poetry deploys language in the mode of what Vidyan Ravinthiran terms “a paradox to unpack—Gunn’s style of unique impersonality” and thereby motivates a reconsideration of the relationship between form (style, ornamentation, art, dress…) and function (meaning, objectivity, impersonality, life…) that sits at the crossroads of poetic and architectural knowledges. The poetic conceit of “unique impersonality” problematizes and nuances Adorno’s architectural notion of non-style as style. The paper will concentrate on three poems: “The Annihilation of Nothing” (1958), “On the Move” (1957) and “Waking in a Newly-Built House, Oakland” (1957).
Choreographing George Balanchine: notes on poetic biography
This paper begins with a deceptively simple proposition: that poetry can enable and encourage an expanded field of biographical writing. I will explore this proposition by discussing my current project, a poetic biography of choreographer George Balanchine.
Much has been written on the life and works of Balanchine, including comprehensive biographies, memoirs of dancers, articles on, and reviews of, his ballets, and books on Balanchine technique. There are also two archives (at the New York City Public Library Jerome Robbins Dance Division and the Houghton Library, Harvard University) dedicated to the comprehensive collection and preservation of Balanchine materials—they house everything from articles, reviews and correspondence, to video footage, interviews, photographs and personal items.
Despite this wealth of available information, it is stated frequently by those who knew him (including his wives) that he was a very difficult man to ‘know’, and that the closest we get to an ‘inner Balanchine’ is through his ballets—a vast and eclectic body of work (more than 400 ballets that range from the romantic and popular, to the playful and bizarre; from Broadway and Hollywood to his acclaimed responses to such composers as Hindemith and Stravinsky).
This paper will discuss how poetry’s many affordances have enabled me to approach an ‘unknowable’ character such as Balanchine in a way that shifts beyond facts and information, and towards an evocation of character through writing that meets his choreography—including his/my emphasis on ‘technique’, extensions, ephemerality, and the music itself. In this way, I will explore how formal and stylistic interventions in biography writing can move beyond conveying the objective facts of a subject’s life story, and towards a more subjective, singular and imaginative representation of an individual that is still grounded in a documentable reality. The paper will outline what such work might contribute to the expanding field of biography writing.