Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Lifting Belly High Plenary: Feminism, Formalism, & Innovation

Saturday morning brought another incredible plenary at Lifting Belly High. Rachel Blau DuPlessis began this one. DuPlessis talked about the importance of feminisms and her configuration of feminism of reception, a concept I am keenly interested in. She asserted feminisms as a critical and resistant relationship to hegemonic culture likening it to a helix, imbrication, dialectic, and swirl and said that in her work she works to “change the language and conventions of representation.” She said she writes not feminist poetry, that is poetry that reflects the opinions and traditions of the feminist movement, but she writes as a poet enriched by feminism and its critique. With regard to writing political poetry, DuPlessis noted that she “writes politically by trying to represent political lives.” She said her work is concerned with three elements, 1. it, 2. she, and 3. of and is the ethical acknowledgement of intersubjectivity and betweenness.

Lisa Samuels talked about “membrane feminism” as a way of thinking about “wet and sticky language acts.” Of interest to her is the corpus collosum, the membrane between the left and right brain (I’m not entirely sure that it is a membrane, but don’t have time to investigate that at the moment) as well as the hymen, another membrane of great discussion.

Annie Finch began her talk by acknowledging the lack of racial-ethnic diversity among the presenters and topics at the conference, but acknowledged the extraordinary aesthetic range at the conference. (An observation that I found spot on.) She then provided a personal testimony about how important form structures have been to her since she was a young child and how important the avant guard is to her as a poet as well. The perceived opposition of these two allowed her the opportunity to “reclaim the traditions of my mothers.” Interestingly, she asserted that she doesn’t think that there is such a thing as innovative form. She believes that there are innovative procedures and composition methods, but that form is not a site of innovation rather the innovation comes in content. She concluded with her vision of a community of poets and scholars that are free from the battles of the past and have all of the possibilities available to everyone.

Stacy Carson Hubbard examined the three words of the plenary session and found innovation as the site where there is action. She noted that form is a way that poets immediately engage history on its own ground and that form can be a way to critique, imitate, develop, demonstrate obedience, contestation, and subversion. Often for early modern poets it was a way of doing all of those things simultaneously.

Lynn Emanuel noted that the long-standing binary between formalists and innovative or experimental poets was no longer acceptable based on the configuration of this panel. She talked about a forthcoming anthology, American Hybrid, by Cole Swenson and David St. John as another location where the binary is being broken. Finally, she offered a sense of the need to reevaluate realism and see a more dialectic relationship between realism and modernism.

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