Suzanne Stein is a poet, publisher, and the community producer at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Alli Warren is a poet, administrative assistant, and co-curator for The (New) Reading Series at 21 Grand.
I’m Alli Warren and I’m Suzanne Stein.
So, Alli, we have kind of a big task in front of us right now. Which is, you and I have agreed to open this event together.
And welcome everyone, and thank them for coming.
And, also, we want to set the stage a little bit, ground everyone, give a gloss on how things will go, and also maybe say a few things about how you feel and about how I feel about the subject at hand.
Welcome everyone! thank you for coming! And welcome and thank you also to anyone listening from afar, in geographical distance or in time.
Suzanne, let’s say thank you to Studio 1 and to 21 Grand, and our volunteers, to Sara Mumolo, and to our donors who have been so generous in helping us out. And to Jacqueline Waters for designing the program for us. Thank you to Anne Lesley Selcer for organizing a childcare performance. We so much appreciate people offering their help, often for things we might not have thought to need.
And Alli, let’s also give special thanks to Catherine Meng for offering her services as Podcasting Director. Catherine is recording the presentations today and will be posting them live to the Labor Day blog as we go. It was extremely important to us---and by us I mean David Brazil and Sara Larsen and Brandon Brown and you and me—that those who might be unable to attend—for whatever reason—would still be able to listen, feedback, and participate.
Should we say a few words about some of our aims as a group?
Each of us of course had somewhat different goals or particular interests. I think it’s fair to say that all of us wished to open up a space of conversation, to propose a new way that a collective conversation might take place in our community. Which might also be useful towards other forms of collective organizing. An important place to start seemed to be by trying to understand something about each other’s circumstance, the daily realities, what types of exigencies and contingencies shape our poetic forms and labors.
That is, we wished to talk particularly about this subject of labor and how it impacts not just poetic life, a poet’s social life, or political life, or a poet’s “career”, but all of those things, and how they affect and shape—or not—poetic form.
The asking of questions, the setting up a new form of dialogue or conversation, and being comfortable not knowing ahead of time what we might learn from this, what will be highlighted, but being open to discovering that, and to seeing what emerges.
And also, in—our sixth or seventh?—organizing meeting, we talked about how difficult it is to know who we're speaking for, who the event is speaking for and to. That this was an ongoing question, for us, and for the event itself.
We haven’t drafted a collective statement. Each of the five of us, as organizers, has chosen to participate in a different way.
It seems to me that the ways we’ve each decided to participate are not unrelated to our practices as poets, or are naturally extensions of that. That is, we are participating in the work of the weekend in a manner congruent with our aims as both community members and as poets. I probably think that and want to say so because one of my primary interests in putting this event together is that question of form, shaped as much by the pressure of circumstance as by desire.
I see my own role as primarily organizer—that is, reorganizing or reformulating social space, when possible, has been one form of poetic composition for me.
And also, this “composition” is very close to what I do “professionally,” in my job, the one I have right now, where I work for an art museum. I try to reconstruct environments in which people say or write things to each other, and attempt to make them more open or differently productive than they were before. And those two things, my ‘poetic composition’ and my “professional labor” are deeply connected and have mutually generative ties, but not necessarily nicey-nice, even if I’ve been a bit Pollyanna about what I’ve been forced to do, given my needs. I need to work for money and I’ve needed to push poetry (or is it just myself?) ‘into service’. Anyway, I always want to know how others negotiate like needs, and what that looks like personally and formally is one reason I’m here today.
There are a few questions that have been central to me, in co-organizing this event, and now here, participating, and looking towards the future, they are the things I keep coming back to:
How can our poetry communities, as generation-crossing models of gift economies, as alternative social models, provide structures “which could be usefully applied to other cultural locations”? (Donovan).
I think it significant that out intuitive, interactive models thrive DESPITE the fact that the larger culture heartily devalues them. That we continue to have the kind of dialogues and interactions, the social & productive models which one does not find often in dominant culture. I mean that our kinship models are different. That a 20 year old will host a house reading for a 60 year old. That small publishing is a labor of love. That our reading groups thrive outside of institutional frameworks. Etc, etc.
How can we use these models, these capacities, outside Poetry World? I want to think about the future, about the world outside these walls.
This event is taking place over two days. Today is Sunday. Four groups of participant-presenters are going to give “talks” or “performances”. There will be two 15-minute breaks and one hour-long lunch break. There will be discussion time after group 2 and before the hour-long break, and discussion time again at the end of the day. Sara Larsen and Brandon Brown will co-manage those two brief sessions.
Tomorrow is Labor Day. Tomorrow we will reconvene at 21 Grand in Oakland for brunch, and for more discussion. This day is entirely devoted to talking, to dialoguing, to sharing, to questioning. It will be an open floor moderated by David Brazil, with the help of Suzanne Stein and myself.
The four groups of participant-presenters we’ll have the pleasure of hearing from today have been grouped as such out of logistical necessity. Those groups should not be taken as thematically or aesthetically or in any other way organized.
You will note that on your program, some of the participant-presenters have been “deputized” by others. If an invited poet was unable to attend, we offered them the option of deputizing someone to participate in their place. We hoped that this might be another way of involving more voices, or expanding the reach of those whom the five of us might not have thought to invite. Our thanks to those who deputized and to those who agreed to participate in someone’s stead.
Alli, although we went back and forth about this a lot, I really would like to address our decision not to include as presenters today workers who are employed by the university as their primary occupation, including adjuncts.
It’s important to me to state that our decision was less one of exclusion and more one of inclusion.
To my mind one of the benefits of academic affiliation might be participation in collective presenting, speaking, and listening opportunities which translate, in part, into learning how one wishes to speak, in public, collectively and apart, on matters of great or grave importance to the participant.
I find it frightening and difficult to speak in public space. Without formal training, and without much practice, I hesitate.
Me too! I know that I don’t think well on my feet. & I haven’t mastered the discourses by which my thinking could be more articulate, concise, and convincing. The formal training you’re talking about imbues a common set of understandings, and assumptions. In the rare circumstance in which I have the opportunity to gather with poets and scholars to think publicly, I have often felt small and slow and underqualified. Sometimes I have felt dominated and silenced.
But I believe that people thinking together can think things that individuals thinking individually cannot think. I want to do a better job of creating spaces in which we all can speak together, even those of us who have not been trained to put forth a cohesive argument or set of terms, or what have you.
And how important for all of us as participants in a poetry community and as participants in the social world, to have the opportunity to speak together formally, constructively, and openly in public space.
Exactly. I know that much of my thinking in helping to put in this event revolves around creating the space, time, & structures by which all of us will feel free to speak. In a non-competitive, comfortable environment among peers. Or begin to feel free to speak. Each in our own ways. And to open up lines of communication around what seems to me to be our common condition: work and time. They are intimately intertwined. So it seems to me an important question to talk about this very basic fact. Because it seems to me we often *don’t*. And so what might it look like if we do? What is the relationship between our working and our writing?
Thanks you Alli, for saying so clearly so much of what’s been on my mind. Maybe we’ve gotten a little afield of our welcoming and grounding tasks just now, but I think that’s okay, because possibly it sets the stage for the variousness of what might happen here today. We posed some fairly broad questions or possible themes to our presenters.
As a starting place, and not a closed set of issues. For example,
• How do you navigate the constraints of your work life and your poetic life energetically?
• How does your employment life relate to poetic form in your own work, or in poetic work generally?
• How do class relations play out in the poetic sphere or how do they appear in or affect your poetic work?
• The position of the institutionally unaffiliated artist or intellectual in relation to the academy.
• The taboo nature of the conversation around class and financial reality.
• The possibility and practice of stealing time at work for poetic production (the "wig").
Do you think it might be useful here to reiterate something from our original Labor Day 2010 announcement? Ok. We are convening around the notion of labor and poetics. Because issues of labor and money are integral to so many of our lives as artists, we hope that gathering as presenters and participants will highlight the particularity of our struggle to “do two jobs,” that is, make artworks and earn a wage to support ourselves. We think and hope this gathering will be a positive model for thinking cooperatively in the future.
Oh, and we want to make this a welcoming environment by making it comfortable, physically! and by plying you with caffeine and sweets and by keeping an eye towards fun. It’s a holiday weekend after all, and we should enjoy the fact that we’re not at WORK. There is coffee and water and tea in the back of the room. There are snacks. There are bathrooms down the hall. Get up if you feel like it. Please feel free to come in and out or move about as makes you comfortable today.
And without further ado, we’d like to welcome our first group of participant presenters. Before you will appear, in the following order:
Erika Staiti, who will be reading a text by Pamela Lu