by Ella Longpre
The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics’ Queer Poetics Symposium began Tuesday, March 18th with a panel featuring symposium guests Ana Božičević, Trace Peterson, Lucas de Lima, and Teresa Carmody.
JKS faculty Bhanu Kapil introduced and moderated the panel, expressing gratitude to our guests who explore a “new way of writing – a way of being in the world.” Kapil presented each guest with a gift (sparkly tights, Christian Dior vintage belt, hematite heart, bag made by Kapil’s mum), and invited JKS student, Jason Burks, to speak. Burks invited the audience of writers: “Give, give, give of yourself. Transgress, regress, whatever –gress.”
Here we should pause to note that the inflatable unicorn head was once again present.
Unsurprisingly, the panel reached no consensus on the definition of queer poetics. But, as Teresa Carmody noted, if nothing else, queer is the “word that brought us together.” The panelists’ varied approaches reaffirmed that queer may be an undefinable term (and, by extension, so then is queer poetics)–but participation in its politics, its issues of representation, its communities, signals an investment in the term’s legacy. Or, uttering the word queer guarantees that the speaker has at least an approximate definition in mind. In fact the etymology of the term may refer to someone other or outside or perverse, but the very act of regulating what authentic experience we can point to when we say queer only repositions the margins that the term cuts into [our] community.
Rather than attempting the impossible question, “What does queer mean?” it might be more productive to ask, “What does queer mean to you?” And this is exactly the question our first panelist, Ana Božičević, posed—to her Facebook friends. Božičević shared the crowd sourcing results (one response: “1990”), before moving on to another question: “Is my work queer if I am?” Božičević also briefly discussed Judith Halberstam’s notion of queer failure, a tension between “abject pride and prideful abjection.” Božičević then noted a failure in the tendency of literary criticism to so often respond to queer poets and their work “with disregard to their poetics.” (Does this contribute to the elusive nature of our symposium topic?)
Following Božičević, Trace Peterson spoke on the “volatile and changing category” of queer, calling on its historically divisive function in the dichotomy, “I say aporia, you say identity.” Peterson introduced other counter-intuitive dichotomies, such as trauma vs. consumer choice, excluded vs. enfranchised. Peterson pondered whether one’s personal narrative is inherently central to one’s poetics—summoning Kari Edwards with the statement, “identity is not my stopping point.” Still, as Božičević mentioned earlier, identity can eclipse poetics in critique: Peterson shared the story of a former “fan” who expressed that he could no longer admire Peterson’s work, now that she does all this “queer stuff.” (Am I eclipsing poetics with identity by sharing this anecdote?) Still, Peterson explained that the marker of queer, in the hands of the poet, “can make visible communities that experience aporia, trauma, exclusion. And have fun with it.”
Lucas de Lima then shifted the panel’s trajectory with the introduction of the feral, in his presentation on a “queer poetics of vengeance.” De Lima explained that feral means to “forget organic bandedness,” or that “the feral impulse is about abjection but perhaps more than that.” It is “earnestly tasteless” and “undoes any private sense of self” that is the “condition for shame.” De Lima named The Marys, an early AIDS-era coalition, forbears in his “queer ancestry” who passed down the drive “to create visceral theater out of death.” Though de Lima suggested that such theater can leave a “bad taste of vengeance” lingering on the tongue of the poet, he also asked whether this bad taste, this ingestion, might be necessary: “What if our only future lies in turning the voice of the corpse into the beat of our pulse?”
Our final panelist, Teresa Carmody, spoke on community. Carmody introduced the term Loser Art to the audience, meaning books that won’t sell. Carmody distinguished between Loser Art and its antonym, bad writing, which she defines as “compulsively conventional.” Carmody read from a work of fiction in progress which expands the notion of books that won’t sell. Two indicators of this genre: (1) does it look like, or is it, poetry, and (2) is it written by someone who has no cultural capital. Carmody, a fiction writer who is best known, currently, for her work as editor and publisher of innovative work, explained that “publishing is the ability to say, ‘this is art and poetry—and here is the non-heteronormative reason…’” And perhaps the enterprise of the queer or innovative artist is to simply “insist something else matters. Make something else.”
Ella Longpre is an MFA candidate at the Jack Kerouac School. She is a writer and musician. Her work appears in the ether. You can find her at ellalongpre.tumblr.com