[Dis]embodied Poetics Conference Panel Review: Collaborative Being: Gender, Race, and Sexuality

By Cait Turner

Can poetry erase racism by erasing erasure? To disembody language, must we dis-gender it? How can we collaboratively address problems of race, class, and gender in the abstract space of poetics? Is poetic space truly abstract, or is it concretized? If it is concretized, who benefits from this? These were some of the questions implicitly and explicitly examined at the “Collaborative Being: Race, a Gender, and Sexuality” panel at Naropa University’s inaugural Disembodied Poetics Conference.

The first panelist, Aimee Herman, explored ways of gendering and de-gendering poetic language. She invited us to “examine how words feel in your mouth and under your tongue. Taste them. ” As a queer poet, Herman described the many assumptions brought to her work by allies and critics alike.   A bound chest, she explained, was a form of poetic experimentation rather than a sort of gendered orthodoxy. Breast binding remains a dangerous cultural praxis—bodies, Herman argued, are themselves experimental texts vulnerable to criticism. A gendered poetics, she continued, is a false poetics. Words exist in the liminal space between the body and the mind—they don’t simply hang there and disappear; they are absorbed like any nutrient. Herman asked us to consider what it might mean for language, for poetry, to be un-gendered? When we are writing, we are not necessarily writing-as-men or writing-as-women—we are producing language that takes a non-gendered shape. This non-gendered shape, Herman maintained, is the shape of poetics to come.

One way that poetry might take this non-gendered shape involves collaboration between genders so that the masculine/feminine language binary blurs into a cacophony of thought-sounds. This was the goal of the second panel presentation by Amaranth Borsuk and Andy Fitch, a male/female duo interested in the poetics of erasure. They began with a brief description of erasure poetics, wherein a poet re-presents a pre-existing piece of work through redacting and re-shaping lines, phrases, and form. If, as Herman stated in an earlier panel, form is the “gender” of poetry, then re-shaping form is a radically un-gendered poetic act. Borsuk received transcriptions of Fitch’s audio diaries and redacted certain lines while re-shaping and re-ordering their syntax and grammar. Fitch did the same, and they both “communicated” these pieces to each other in tandem, dramatically “shushing” each other during the redacted lines. This performance was spontaneous. The result was a verbal collage of quotidian desires, private musings, banal observations, and censorious breaths. The “shushing” almost seemed percussive, which illuminated the rhythmic “re-production” of interruption and erasure within actual conversation. This performance piece suggested that conversation is indeed poetic.

The final panelist, Ailish Hopper, also scrutinized the role played by erasure in poetic praxis. Her paper, “Getting Under Being Over It, Getting Over Being Under It: Poetry That’s Awake Inside of Race,” examined how race is increasingly erased from poetic space, particularly by liberal “post-racial” poets. Hopper read excerpts from pieces by Claudia Rankine, Thomas Sayers Ellis, and other poets of color alongside white voices, and determined—correctly, in my opinion—that white writers are all too often willing to ignore racial complexities in favor of a hegemonic poetics where any mention of race inside a work becomes a poetic “agenda” undermining aesthetic credibility. Hopper wondered what might happen if more white writers acknowledged their whiteness, and wrote from “inside that awareness.” What does it mean, she wondered, to write whiteness? What might it look like for poets of color to “write white” or for white writers to “write from a space acknowledging power?” White privilege is a hot topic, but Hopper’s inquiry goes much further than the simple, overused, “check your privilege” screed. In order for poetics to transcend racism—and, Hopper stated, we must understand that as a country, America may never transcend racism—we must confront racial complexities and concerns poetically. Poetry cannot exist above racism, classism, or sexism—therefore it must claim poetic space as political space. Poetry can and must oppose the hegemonic constructs currently constricting and restricting its discourse in order to truly re-present those for whom it claims to speak to, for, from, and about.


Cait Turner is a first year MFA student at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. She is interested in the intersectionality between politics, poetics, and pedagogy.  Other research areas include democracy and pedagogy, activist writing, and proletarian literature. When not writing or studying, Cait enjoys arguing about geopolitics with strangers on the internet, preferably while listening to a really good record.

[Dis]embodied Poetics Conference Panel Review: Ecoskeletons of Language, Sound, and Impossibility: [Dis] Embodied Lineages

By Jennifer van Alstyne

Matthew Pincus, a 2nd year MFA candidate at Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School, presented on “Stein’s Exoskeletal Language: Embodied Desire in Disembodied Sociality,” which focused in Gertrude Stein’s Three Lives, and more specifically the section on Melanctha. In “The Rejection of Closure,” Lyn Hejinian writes, “The desire that is stirred by language is located most interestingly in the language itself – as a desire to say, a desire to create the subject by saying.” Pincus argues that in Three Lives, “social realist relationships and urban spaces are disembodied desires of the text whereas language are embodied elements of desire,” the social realist relationships being Melanctha Herbert/Joseph Campbell and Lena Mainz/Herman Kreder, and the two, “subtle, possibly sexual relationships” are Anna Federner/Mrs. Lehntman. By examining Stein’s language, Pincus is able to present us with hidden desires in the text and semantic connection with particular use of Marjorie Perloff’s The Poetics of Indeterminancy: Rimbaud to Cage (Princeton University Press 1981, Northwestern University Press 1991). “Melanctha Herbert is a recording of atoms falling upon consciousness,” Pincus says, “veering away from conventional, Dickensian social realism to ulterior modes of arrangement and components of narrative.” Pincus is a regular book reviewer for Pank, Raintaxi, Bookslut, and Necessary Fiction, and has essays forthcoming in Coldfront Magazine and Manor House Quarterly.

Connor Fisher has an MA in Literature from the University of Denver and is currently a 3rd year MFA candidate at Colorado University-Boulder. His paper, “Text, Absent Image, and the Impossibility of Co-Being: Holocaust Museum and its Affect,” focused on Robert Fitterman’s book, Holocaust Museum (Counterpath, 2013) which is a listing of hundreds of captions taken from Holocaust Museum photographs presented as a text-only translation of medium. What does the text mean without the image? Fisher argued that because of the gap between text and image, readers experience “a muted, flat affect” and a gap of signification which “parallels the lack of phenomenological similarity between a contemporary, English-reading public and the Jews, Gypsies, and others who experienced the events captioned in the book.” Interlocution in Levinas’s work, for Fisher, is seen as a way to experience the “Other’s” consciousness, or those who were victimized by the Holocaust as exemplified in Fitterman’s text. The Holocaust Museum though only provides a narrative and visuals, which distance the viewer from grief and suffering by making them empathize rather phenomenologically forcing one to experientially investigate. Fitterman’s latest book, No, Wait. Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself is available from Ugly Duckling Presse (2014). Fisher is a regular book reviewer and has poetry published on Squawk Back.

Unfortunately, third panelist Julie Joosten, whose paper entitled “On Modulation and Meaning: Tracie Morris’s Sound Poetry,” was unable to attend the conference. I was disappointed not to hear about Tracie Morris, 2014 Summer Writing Program faculty, but we hope to see Joosten at the next [Dis]embodied Poetics Conference in 2016.


Jennifer van Alstyne has been published in the Eunoia Review, Crack the Spine, Midwest Literary Magazine, The Monmouth Review, The Foundling Review, Paper Nautilus, Poetry Quarterly, and Whiskey Traveler. Her collection, Scansioned Music: A Glenn Gould Collection, was published in Crossroads 2013 for which she was the winner of the Jane Freed Grant. She is currently Associate Editor for Something On Paper and Book Reviews Editor for Bombay Gin.

What Where Series: Readings by TC Tolbert, Maureen Owen, and Stephen Graham Jones, Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Please join for our final What Where Series of the semester! This event is free and open to the public. We hope to see you there!

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What Where Series: Readings by TC Tolbert, Maureen Owen, Stephen Graham Jones

Tuesday, October 28

7:30 PM

PAC (Performing Arts Center)

Naropa University

Book signing to follow—book purchases are CASH ONLY.

Photography by Mamta Popat

TC Tolbert often identifies as a trans and genderqueer feminist, collaborator, dancer, and poet but really s/he’s just a human in love with humans doing human things. The author of Gephyromania (Ahsahta Press 2014), Conditions/Conditioning (a collaborative chapbook with Jen Hofer, New Lights Press, 2014) I: Not He: Not I (Pity Milk chapbook 2014), Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics (co-editor with Trace Peterson, Nightboat Books, 2013), spirare (Belladonna* chaplet, 2012), and territories of folding (Kore Press chapbook 2011), his favorite thing in the world is Compositional Improvisation (which is another way of saying being alive). S/he is Assistant Director of Casa Libre, faculty in the low residency MFA program at OSU-Cascades, and adjunct faculty at University of Arizona. S/he spends his summers leading wilderness trips for Outward Bound. Thanks to Movement Salon and the Architects, TC keeps showing up and paying attention. Gloria Anzaldúa said, Voyager, there are no bridges, one builds them as one walks. John Cage said, it’s lighter than you think.


Maureen Owen is a poet, editor and publisher currently living in Denver, CO. She is the author of eleven books of poetry, most recently Edges of Water from Chax Press. Her title Erosion’s Pull from Coffee House Press was a finalist for the Colorado Book Award and the Balcones Poetry Prize. Her collection American Rush: Selected Poems was a finalist for the L.A. Times Book Prize and her work AE (Amelia Earhart) was a recipient of the prestigious Before Columbus American Book Award. She has most recently published work in The Denver Quarterly, Vanitas, New American Writing, and Bombay Gin. An instructor of numerous workshops and classes in poetry and book production, her awards include grants from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the Fund for Poetry and a Poetry Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She has taught at Naropa University, both on campus and in the low-residency MFA Creative Writing Program, and served as editor-in-chief of Naropa’s on-line zine not enough night. She can be found reading her work on the PennSound website.

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Stephen Graham Jones is the author of 16 novels and six story collections, so far. Most recent are Floating Boy and the Girl Who Couldn’t Fly and After the People Lights Have Gone Off.


Naropa University welcomes participants with disabilities. Please contact Ariella Ruth at 303-546-3581 or agoldberg@naropa.edu to inquire about accessibility and discuss disability accommodations needed to participate fully in this event.

Discreet Graphs and Casually Kept Houses: Lisa Jarnot’s Non-Lecture on the Life and Work of Anselm Hollo

By Genelle Chaconas

Lisa Jarnot’s keynote speech at Naropa’s 40th anniversary conference on the life and work of acclaimed poet and translator Anselm Hollo was not a lecture. According to Jarnot, lectures are about seeing a pompous individual stand at a podium and drone on about something to the point that the audience begins to ask themselves “when will this asshole stop?” With a room full of eagerly listening former and current Naropa students, professors, staff, crew, friends, and family present, Lisa Jarnot began her talk by removing her shoes onstage, grounding the space in a more conversational space, easing the social tension between speaker and listeners. If the anecdotes are in any way correct, Anselm Hollo would have approved of such a gesture. After all, it’s good ‘lighten up’.

The conversation that followed was circulatory in nature in the way that conversations with a friend might evolve. Jarnot invoked the spirit of Hollo through a series of poetic utterances. Little leaves, causetries, discreet graphs of the moving mind, the un-weeded garden, the casually kept house: all orbit around Hollo’s passionate pursuit of the radiant ordinary. Hollo words reminds us that every day, seemingly mundane occurrences are often the events we remember; while the larger political and social concerns of the world and a heartfelt compassion for humanity are never far from Hollo’s voice, the anecdotes, or ‘discreet details of private lives’ are given equal if not privileged attention. The larger arc of historical occurrence, which appears like a constantly present ache throughout Hollo’s work, is never without the present of the personal experience of life lived. The vivid, spontaneous expression of the present is the common tongue and denominator in his poetry. Hollo’s poetry is full of these intimate details and their intersection with the movement of time. The underlying aesthetic (and ethic) may be that all of these details are fleeting. They are the gift to the aware and the observant. Anselm Hollo rejected the idea of strict poetic rules that put one ‘on nerve’, and chose instead to embrace the emergent reality that grew from any given moment, whether that moment were tender, splendid, or sorrowful.

Jarnot’s speech took a delightful turn towards the anecdotal; from the recollection of four months (no, six months) Jarnot spent at Jane and Anselm’s home to her first advice on poetry (“lighten up”), the conversation unraveled at a comfortable, unhurried tone, in express rejection of the lecture format. The conversation began to circle around a question: where had Anselm come from? The answer to the question is never fully arrived at, for Anselm Hollo always found his place between: he found himself throughout a long and accomplished life above and below an air raid shelter (with ancestors on both sides of the axis); on both sides of the Atlantic; in translation between languages; between an older American literary tradition and the Beat Generation; between ever-evolving literary genres, personal aesthetics, and techniques.

And the list could continue. Needless to say, Anselm Hollo was a brilliantly accomplished, highly humble, multi-talented professor, author, and translator. Naropa University and the world will miss such a unique and valuable talent, one who (according to anecdote) always looked just a little past whoever he spoke with. Whatever Anselm Hollo saw just a little farther than the rest of us, we’ll just have to wait to discover for ourselves, with our own eyes, through our own moments lived.


Genelle Chaconas is an MFA candidate at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. She asks herself how she got here every day. When and if she answers herself, she remembers how lucky it is just to be. She’s currently working on an anti-narrative manuscript on film and collapsing multi-levels of perception, but it won’t let her say any more about it. It has a mind of its own. And it makes the rules.

[Dis]embodied Poetics Conference Panel Review: Withness: thought-start in creative-critical practice, with Marthe Reed, Lisa Samuels, Megan Kaminski and Duriel E. Harris

By Heather Sweeney

How can we understand and move beyond the ground of witness to reach a state of “withness”? Withness is the engagement of inhabiting and being within a feeling or a cause, which can also be transferred to the experience of writing or reading. A key tenet of withness, notes Samuels, is that it seeks to “democratize values.” The panel was informed by C.S. Peirce’s concept of abduction as it relates to “withness” in the “witness” and “with” ness sense. As an unfolding awareness, withness wants to stay present; it wants critical closeness as opposed to negative distinction.

Marthe Reed began by providing insight into the poetics of Philip Whalen and Mei-Mei Berssengbrugge, whose works are informed by Buddhism and framed by the practice of “withness.” Both Whalen and Berssenbrugge record movement, feeling, memory and being, the inner and outer. Reed also shared her visual poetry, exposing the witnessing, observing and documenting the environmental crisis in Louisiana: “This is the work of loss/witnessing what was/loss of water, language….” Silence punctuated the space as she expressed a withness altered by loss. She asked, with calm resolve, when witnessing a crisis how do we return to thinking with rather than against? Poems, Reed claims, are “records of awareness” and “projects of recuperation.”

Lisa Samuels described a wild dialectics, in which thoughts always swerve, yet where there is an assertion of relation among thoughts. Recurrence in a text, she explains, is “the guiding dialectical current back to the reading,” an ethical move and wants to activate. Further, this withness is a documentary move and must be performative. Samuels “performed” much of her presentation with an overlaid recording of Leslie Scalapino reading her work. While two voices pulsed and overlapped throughout the room, this disorientation furthered the idea that withness is co-relational and one must “stay within” to full absorb meaning. The riveted room intently listened as the embodied and met the disembodied.

Megan Kaminski spoke energetically about systems, specifically cities and people, which comprise and compose each other. The body and the city become the sites of meeting and composition. Citing Kristeva’s claim that when the boundary between subject and object is shaken, the narrative is challenged first, she asked how we relate to ourselves, our surroundings, “after the shaking.” Kaminski proposed that this is the space/time that allows compassion and possibility. The boundaries between self and other, self and city begin to dissolve. Kaminski spiritedly read from her forthcoming collection Deep City, revealing a world of “cashmere sounds” and “humid song.” Within the practice of withness, we can examine how the outside and inside, and the senses, come together in to unveil the constant present.

Exploring issues revolving around pain and slavery in relation to withness, Duriel E. Harris asserts that we can acknowledge that “all oppressions are linked.” When objects are shareable they become real and the outcome is collective. To have pain is to have certainty, for example. The challenge, however, is that lack of awareness is “distilled as doubt.” Harris gave us a glimpse of her one person show, where she passionately interrogates the refusal and embodiment of “Thingification.” The absorbed audience experienced powerful song and became witness to the dialectics of power, which “maintains a disparity of power by any means,” including violence and torture. Harris invigorated the audience by “enacting their collective ritual participation in the struggle against thingification—the annihilating objectifying force at the core of all oppressions.” Harris posed the question, “How do we talk about these issues in a way that is not alienating?” In other words, how can we all be present in the same space and practice “withness”? We are left to explore how “withness” rather than resistance, might lead us to create and manifest.


Heather Sweeney is an MFA candidate and Allen Ginsberg Fellow at the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University. Her poetry and book reviews have been published in Dusie, Cutbank, Shampoo and canwehaveourballback?. When she is not in Boulder, she lives in San Diego with her husband and beloved dog, Dexter.