Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lifting Belly High Plenary: New Directions

I’m going to try to blog on the sessions I attended at Lifting Belly High. It would be great to have links within all of these blog entires, but I have to be realistic about my time, so for now, I am going to write up what I can and will as I am able come back to the blog entries and enhance them. For now though, I am completely charged by the conference - for both by scholarly projects and also for my poetry. I want to capture some of that energy on my blog.

Plenary: New Directions

Stephen Fredman, the author of Poets’ Prose, spoke and talked about his work in writing about the prose poem. He said that in the past twenty years, the focus of poets prose has shifted and women writers are in the center of it. A central concern is how prose can move between poetry and narrative. He also talked about the growth in people writing flash fiction and the short short story as examples of or related to prose poems. He looked at interrogating issues of race and investigations of the erotic in prose poetry. He raised teh following questions:

Why has there been such an explosion of women in the genre?

What do women poets bring to prose poetry?

What are gender-bending works in genre-bending mode?

What attracts Black and Asian poets to work in prose poetry?

Jeanne Heuving talked about her current project which is fascinating. She is exploring what she calls “libidinized poetics.” In her address, she called for three new directions in poetry criticism. First, she said that we need to go beyond textualism and see language as a medium not simply as material. Second, she called for addressing the challenges that cultural studies presents as an area of inquiry that takes people away from examining poetry. She said that critics should engage cultural contexts that poetry engages and look at why poetry, as poetry, is important to the culture. Finally, she called on critics to write studies that are diverse, in particular, for women poets and men poets to be considered together.

Cynthia Hogue discussed the importance of bringing the lyric back into analytic discussions. She asked, How does the lyric respond to current exigencies? And, What happens to love poetry in the current study of sexuality? (This question I obviously find very provocative.)

Lesley Wheeler talked about the project that she just completed about examining the sound in poetry. Her new book is out and on my list of books to buy. She mentioned in particular two poets that I haven’t read or come across: Frances Harper, a 19th century African-American woman poet, and Pauline Johnson, a Mohawk poet, also, I believe, from the 19th century. Her book also examines the oral delivery of the poets Edna St. Vincent Millay and Amy Lowell. More recently, Lesley has been looking at voice as a trope and exploring collaborative poetry, including the chapbook Olive Oyl by Denise Duhamel and Maureen Seaton.

Elizabeth Willis addressed how the terms of feminist discourse are different now than they were twenty years ago. She referenced the brillliant work of Marilyn Waring, an economist from New Zealand, on assigning value to make labor within households visible. She called for a rewriting of systems of value through what we write and what we teach. She asked three questions of the audience:

1. Are you registered to vote?
2. How do we expand boundaries of what a poem or essay can take in?
3. How can we let the world enter our work and still do our work?

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