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Contemporary Poetics Research Centre

 

Poetry & Revolution International Conference at the CPRC, Birkbeck College

Friday 25 May 2012 - Sunday 27 May 2012

The current crisis makes it possible to think what couldn’t be thought before, which has always been the task of poetry.
With its echoes of previous crises of modern society, it places on the agenda a reappraisal of revolutionary art from the point of view of the necessities of the present.

**** Click here for an active conference schedule that includes links to text, audio and video files from the conference ****

 

                             

(Click the images above to download a full sized conference flyer, conference schedule, or welcome pack (including abstracts and bios) in pdf format)

 

Responses from the Poetry & Revoltion Conference committee:

The university and the outside

In terms of the problem of academia, we did what we could, because we were actually trying to reach out of it, rather than taking refuge in it. But the conference was still in the main confined to an avant/academic milieu. Though we did try, there needed to be more poets from other traditions. And it would have been good to get activists (ones who weren’t also poets) to talk about art/poetics etc from their perspective - this would have enabled the conference to become actually revolutionary: the best sessions felt like political meetings, the worst were still basically an academic conference. This should have been directly addressed, and not only in the discussion at the end. We should produce a sharply focussed statement on what academia is, what in it should be defended, how the best of it can become revolutionary, and a response to the knee-jerk critiques of it (ie a response that takes on board, and takes seriously, those objections to it).

The underlying issue is what places, what resources should be occupied or otherwise fought for. Can we defend universities and other social-democratic gains other than through more radical (transitional) demands? What are these demands?

Different audiences and communities make different (sometimes contradictory) demands on the poem, and what constitutes a radical aesthetic in one situation might be boring or conservative in the next. What would Joan Retallack's thought provoking talk on indeterminacy mean when presented to a group of farmers living on the outskirts of Hebron? What would it mean to have the same group of farmers at the poetry and revolution conference? Would they learn or gain anything from this? The Poetry and Revolution conference showed that we can't answer these questions until the question is actually posed in reality.

The fact that we tried, hard, to form a lot more extra-university links and were largely frustrated by forces outside our control may not be just bad luck; it may, in some instances, reflect a worry about, or a fear of, the university – not as mandarin sire so much as site of the reproduction of capital; a business, an employer.  We don't think Birkbeck could, realistically, have done more than it did – and it did plenty; but we should, perhaps, be concerned that those outside the Academy (including some of us!) won't necessarily see it that way.

We did form, or begin to form, a number of extra-university links and the ‘success’ of the conference will partly be in whether these will develop or not over the next weeks/months and across possible events and meetings and discourse.

A lot of people have quite sectarian poetics, not just in how they write, but in how  and what they read and allow inside them  and get affected by, and in knowing or not knowing how such alternate poetics  work  in society.

Mobilisation

Peter Weiss's Aesthetics of Resistance shows, not tells, how working-class intelligence, apperception, language, creativity, resolve, commitment are open to whatever can be thrown at them – the whatevers including High Western Art, the Spanish Civil War, the 1938 Moscow Show Trials, and mature Nazism, before the start of the world war.  So, no, there's no excuse for 'talking down', nor for any sort of banal 'realism'; but nor is there any excuse for pointless displays of mandarinism.  No excuse suffices for not defining terms or giving examples in a complex argument.

There’s no reason why any specific aesthetic forms (conservative, punk/avant) are appropriate to revolutionary mobilisation, other than what’s required by current struggles. A static agenda shows lack of confidence in the capacity of oppressed classes and may indicate political despair.

Mark Novak’s Sunday poetry workshop showed some ways in which radical poetry might be taught to, and more importantly emerge in all its vitality from those who are largely excluded from the Academy.

An idea emerging in an institutional context only becomes useful to a revolutionary poetics if it is able to function and be understood outside of the context from which it first emerged. Of course the idea need not function in the same way, but how an idea formulated at a conference about revolution might be useful to the actual work of revolution (perhaps through translation or implementation) is something to keep thinking hard about, even though an actual practical commitment to work within a set of carefully identified audiences and communities might be the best way to generate useful ideas in the first place. In this regard perhaps our fairly restricted poetry and academic communities are not the best place, or at least not the only place, to start.

Future actions

In terms of contemporary leftist poetry what was most interesting was what has changed for people in terms of the crisis - many younger poets who’ve been involved in contemporary struggles, and who know their poetry has been changed (though it was a failing that those people were still academics / grad students - we need to be reaching out of that milieu). It would be good to do a follow up day when we specifically invite poets who have also been activists - not just those who presented at the conference - to carry on this discussion, and with a view to publication.

Next time more poetry, interspersed more directly in the days. And more ‘extra-curricular’ activity. And more revolutionariness too. Daft to over-theorise what we will accept or discard. Flexibility, swift response, lightness.

Ask people to present papers on the work of living poets. It could be more international, with a better balance of non-western scholars, thinkers, poets, subjects, etc.

It would have been good to have a Bangladeshi singer. Maybe we should have been in better contact with some of the action groups in London concerned with current dilemmas/developments/terrors in Syria, Egypt, Yemen.

The grand concluding conversation was horribly hampered by the layout of the room, with all the chairs facing an empty dais. Nor was there anywhere to store and display possible agenda points.

 

Conference Details:


Keynote Speakers

Joan Retallack, poet, essayist, activist, John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Professor of Humanities at Bard College, New York.

Jack Hirschman, poet, translator, essayist, activist, Poet Laureate of S. Francisco 2006, member of the Revolutionary Poets Brigade.

Mark Nowak, poet, activist, Director of Graduate Writing Programme at Manhattanville College, NY.


Poetry Readings

Friday Night (25 May 2012), 7.30pm
Tom Leonard, Jack Hirschman, Ziba Karbassi, Marianne Morris, Sean Bonney, Harry Gilonis.
At X-ing the Line, The Apple Tree, 45 Mount pleasant WC1
This reading is sponsored by Birkbeck College Contemporary Poetics Research Centre in association with the XING the Line reading series, as part of the Poetry and Revolution International Conference
Door charge: £5 waged and £3 unwaged. All proceeds to the poets.
Numbers are limited: first come first served.

Saturday Night (26 May 2012), 7:00-10:30pm
7:00-8:00pm: VLAK: Launch of Special Issue of VLAK on Occupations
8:00-10:30pm: Joan Retallack, Maggie O’Sullivan, Abdullah al-Udhari, Keston Sutherland, Ulli Freer, Mark Nowak.
At The Centre for Creative Collaboration, 16 Acton Street, London WC1X 9NG
This reading is sponsored by Birkbeck College Contemporary Poetics Research Centre in association with Royal Holloway Poetics Research Centre, as part of the Poetry and Revolution International Conference
Door charge: £6 waged and £4 unwaged. All proceeds to the poets.Numbers are limited: first come first served.


Papers:
Approximately 45 papers on a wide range of issues over the Saturday and Sunday. Speakers from Portugal, Greece, the USA, Ireland, & the UK


Liaisons and co-operation with Occupied and Free Spaces


Venue:
Birkbeck Main Building, Torrington Sq., WC1. No registration required. All welcome.


Contact: Stephen Mooney, estaphin@gmail.com

 

Supported by the Birkbeck Institute of the Humanities, and co-sponsored by the Centre for Modern and Contemporary Writing, University of Southampton

 

Poetry and Revolution Conference Schedule

**** Click here for a fuller active conference schedule that includes links to text, audio and video files from the conference ****

 

Friday 25 May 2012


19.30-23:00 Conference Reading
Tom Leonard, Jack Hirschman, Ziba Karbassi, Marianne Morris, Sean Bonney, Harry Gilonis
At Xing the Line, The Apple Tree, 45 Mount Pleasant WC1

This reading is sponsored by Birkbeck College Contemporary Poetics Research Centre in association with the XING the Line reading series, as part of the Poetry and Revolution International Conference.
Door charge: £5 waged and £3 unwaged. All proceeds to the poets.
Numbers are limited: first come first served.


Saturday 26 May 2012


10.00-11.30   9 papers in 3 parallel sessions
11.30-12.00   Coffee break (Room 152/153)
12.00-13.00   Jack Hirschman Keynote talk
13.00-14.00   Lunch break
14.00-15:30   9 papers in 3 parallel sessions
15:30-16.00   Tea break (Room 152/153)
16.00-17.00   Joan Retallack keynote talk
17:00-17:30   General discussion

19:00-22:30 Conference Reading

(19:00-20:00)   VLAK: Launch of Special Issue of VLAK on Occupations

(20:00-22:30)   Joan Retallack, Maggie O’Sullivan, Abdullah al-Udhari, Keston Sutherland, Ulli Freer, Mark Nowak
At The Centre for Creative Collaboration, 16 Acton Street, London WC1X 9NG
 
This reading is sponsored by Birkbeck College Contemporary Poetics Research Centre in association with Royal Holloway Poetics Research Centre, as part of the Poetry and Revolution International Conference
 
Door charge: £6 waged and £4 unwaged. All proceeds to the poets. 
Numbers are limited: first come first served.

 

Sunday 27 May 2012


10.00-11.30   8 papers in 3 parallel sessions
11.30-12.00   Coffee break (Room 152/153)
12:00-13:30   9 papers in 3 parallel sessions
13.30-14.30   Lunch break
14:30-16.00   11 papers in 4 parallel sessions
16:00-16.30   Tea break (Room 152/153)
16:30-17:30   Mark Nowak keynote with immigrant workers from UNITE
17:30-18:00   General discussion
18:00-19:00   Wine & chat (Room 152/153)

All conference rooms are in the Malet Street main building, Birkbeck College, University of London, Bloomsbury
, London WC1E 7HX (entrance on Torrington Sqr)

 

 

Contemporary Poetics Research Centre, Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX.