Friday, August 05, 2005

Poetry on the Pavement

Serious writing about poetry is something you rarely find at the pelican. I'm shit at it, don't know the language, tend to go off into emotional rants when I find something close to my heart & write about the sensation of it, not the sense.

But I'm fortunate to have as a friend Michele Leggott who not only writes wonderful poetry but who writes & lectures about it equally well & has kindly let me post her words here. During the recent New Zealand National Poetry Day, she & her students took to the streets & the lecture halls & the corridors to (in)scribe poems, to re-place them, to change the way they are seen/scene. Her account below is taken from the Poetry off the page course website at the University of Auckland.
"After meeting up at Slurp, poetry day began with the frenzied dissemination of poems, chalked down on pavements, pinned up on walls, handed out in leaflets, scrawled on blackboards, whiteboards, noticeboards… Our group dispersed lines by T.S Eliot, W.B Yeats, Ezra Pound, Emily Dickinson, Stephane Mallarme, Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein, ending our poetic rampage in a strategic infiltration of the engineering block. Taking ‘poetry off the page’ (and onto the pavement) reterritorializes the text into the action-oriented public space where the power relations between the reader-writer-author tripartite are under constant (re)negotiation. This reterritorialization sets the text free from the archive and its effects of monumentalizing and canonizing poetry. Archived poetry implies the associative Greek etymons of archive: arkh (government) and arkhein (to rule). Out of the archives poetry becomes an arkhein (without ruling) that is in a state of anarchy rather then the governing hierarchy, hieros arkhein (sacred ruling) of the archivist. The dissemination then is a nomadic one, a freeing up and revamping of poetry. By writing a poem on the pavement it becomes new again. The aesthetic experience of the poem is radically changed; it is no longer in the private space sanctioned for ‘art’ but in the disjunctive chaos of everyday experience. The reading and writing of poetry become a public act. In between street signs, ads, graffiti and snippets of conversation lies a poem. The new context produces new resonance of meaning. New overtones of irony were produced in writing Bruce Andrews’ Species Means Guilt in close proximity to the biology block. As the poem is played out in the social space it blurs the word-world dichotomy. The text and the world inhabit each other blowing away all conventional separations. The poem foregrounds its social constructedness and reveals the world’s textual constructedness. On the pavement the act of writing (and reading) poetry becomes more visceral, the contact more physical. Somewhere between papal bull and prostrate angels my hands bleed…almost like a masochism of affective simulation. The graphicity of the text transforms from monochrome industrial-standard serif typeface to the fat doodles of bright jumbo chalk personalizing the poem with the trace of its scribe. No longer ‘immortal words’, the pavement poems are ephemeral, fragile and endangered. The poem could disappear in the next downpour or may survive relatively intact to the early hours of the morning. Reading is refocused to the moment-to-moment interactions of the text and the world. Pedestrians walk around the words, over the words, ignore them, catch a fragment or stand back and read the entire composition. Nice. What is somatism? Are we reading it the right way?"

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