Saturday, April 21, 2007

never stop singing for liberty

We’re very happy that Nancy Shaw has been holding an appointment as a Visiting Professor of American Studies at New York University, for it’s a far easier journey here from New York than it is from Nancy’s more recent home in Montreal or her more lasting attachment to Vancouver. She’s the author of Affordable Tedium from Tsunami, Scoptocratic from ECW Press, and most recently a collaboration with Catriona Strang entitled Busted from Coach House Books. According to this book’s afterword by Christine Stewart, "Busted razes the discursive frames that still the possibilities of reason, society, nations, identity, persons, morality and justice; it records, fragments, listens to generations and the generation of historical agency and/or control to note the articulation of social relationships; it rails against the flaccid generic -- the justifications of historical subjugation; corrupts convention’s larynx and cruel pretty lyric in triangular (self-supporting) seen metrical pediment." In introducing Nancy I want to focus a few remarks around four notions, namely community, culture, collective and collaboration.

First, community, an idea that we take as such a given here in D.C. and that has been so valorized in the recent history of experimental writing that I wonder if perhaps we lose sight of what it actually means. So I think we can always look to The Kootenay School of Writing as an exemplary kind of community. Yes you can take classes there, but no it is not a degree-granting institution. Nor is it, as has been a common misperception from our south-of-the-border perspective, some subsidiary or branch office of Language Poetry, Inc. The KSW’s roots are in grassroots writing workshops that sought to develop and foster the class consciousness of the workers, and thus its subsequent efforts in experimental practice have never been far from its proletarian origins.

Second, culture. As a scholar Nancy is a true interdisciplinarian. And while Cultural Studies has come to be defined less by the specific disciplinary objects it studies and more by its constructivist, materialist disposition towards those objects, whatever they may be, clearly one object towards which its disposition has been most problematic is poetry. Poetics becomes a buzzword in cultural studies, with catch-phrases like "the poetics of x" or "the politics and poetics of y" effectively and safely neutralizing the transformative capabilities of poetry as a productive making. For Nancy, to articulate "the politics and poetics" of something is to articulate redundantly. Or, as she and Catrioana Strang put it in Busted: "Politics and art are never free of lyric poetry."

Third and fourth, collective (to gather together) and collaboration (to work together). How many recent poetic collaborations still retain the signatures of individual authors for individual poems? Busted is a true collaboration, something of a manifesto, a catalog of bulletins, gripes, credos, shuffles, flags, edicts, anthems, torch songs and protocols. It’s small enough to carry with you in a pocket or purse; and as the poem "Just watch me" tells us, "History turns on small events; an emphatic hit delivered with such sincerity, and we are suddenly resonant." Busted is an emphatic hit, and the song we resonate with is both simple and profound: "never stop singing for liberty."

[introduction to nancy shaw's reading with lorraine graham, in your ear at the district of columbia arts center, april 21 2002]

7 comments:

-k said...

Very sad news. I remember that reading and I specifically remember your introduction. Busted was the first collaborative poem that I ever really read, and as I later made my way back through other collaborations, the model that stayed most prominently in my mind was Shaw and Strang's.

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