Poetics: Experimental, Avant-Garde, Radical?

This special issue will explore works of contemporary poetic experiment and the conditions within which they are produced. This can include digital/screen poetics; popular forms like hiphop or other “insurgent” music like punk/indie/heavy metal; spoken word/oral.

We are interested in research and criticism into the relationship between formal innovation and political claims. Should one make political claims at all for formally-motivated poetry? Much of this work professes to destabilize naturalized ideological forms, creating previously unarticulated spaces within larger dominant discourses. What can we make of these claims? Does such experimentation merely carry out the brainwork of late capitalism / neoliberalism? That is, do formal innovations in poetics advance the work of capitalism – 1980s disjunction becomes contemporary media streams, the “open” text becomes the digital “hot” link, 1960s poets’ lower-case “i” becomes the iPod/iPhone.

Concerns about the implications of formal experimentation are varied.  Narrowing their critique to the term and the concept of the avant-garde, Pauline Butling and Susan Rudy argue that the avant-garde privileges young white male artists and “enacts progressive narratives of modernisms / capitalisms (Writing in Our Time: Canada’s Radical Poetries in English (2006)). Leslie Scalapino, in “Letters to Poets,” Jacket 31 (2006), critiques the assumption that “the elimination of expressivity” is a sound definition for contemporary avant-garde work. She argues that such a conclusion excludes “feminist and Black art” and pushes “formalism to the point of a totalitarian construct.” Stephanie Young and Juliana Spahr address similar concerns in noulipian Analects (2009), questioning the gender politics of constraint poetics within the experimental Oulipo tradition of Anglophone writers.

Consider these discussions and the questions they raise. What constitutes an avant-garde, experimental or radical poetic? Can poetic innovation make any claim toward political activism? Are the terms currently in use (avant-garde, experimental, radical, conceptual) meaningful? Are some more fitting than others and how might these terms work with (or against) postcolonial, aboriginal, feminist, queer, communist, anarchist, or posthuman concerns? If the experimental is so easily plugged into the agendas of late capitalism (from i to iPod), might it be better, as Alan Badiou claims, “to do nothing . . . [rather than] contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which the Empire already recognizes as existent” (“15 theses on contemporary art” Lacanian Ink 23. 2004)? Or not?

Note: As this edition is dedicated to the study of structurally innovative texts, submissions that challenge the boundaries of the conventional paper will be considered as well as those taking more standard approaches.

Essays should follow the submission guidelines of the journal: canlit.ca/submit

Cover letters should indicate that the article is to be considered for this special issue.