Kore Press is lucky to have a close relationship with the University of Arizona Poetry Center. The Poetry Center was founded in 1960 by Ruth Walgreen Stephen, who wanted " to create a welcoming place and a distinguished collection that would encourage students, faculty and community members to encounter poetry without intermediaries.” This vision is potent in the Poetry Center's third biennial symposium, Poetry off the Page, taking place May 18-20. Poetry off the page is an impressive collection of contemporary poets and performances that are 'forging new literary territory.' Kore Press spoke with the Poetry Center's Marketing Associate, Annie Guthrie, who carefully curated the sympiosum.
How/why did you curate this symposium? What elements did you want to focus on to create a cohesive, multi-media poetry collection?
It was very difficult to choose because of the sheer volume and variety of great hybrid works being made today. I wanted to focus on works that gave special consideration to the performance itself, and especially to poets that considered the performative potential of the valences in which they were working; enactment, or mimesis interest me greatly as craft techniques because they have the effect of doubling down the power potential of the performance and of the work itself.
For example, Cecilia Vicuña, who will weave the Poetry Center into various destinations around Tucson, creates a non-temporal exhibit that in the very act of utterance and performance manifests its intention for community gathering.
I recognized early on that grand cohesive claims about “off the page” works were not possible, and not necessary. Rather the format of the symposium will mimic the spectacle or extravaganza in that diverse interpretations of “off the pageness” will be on display.
Why/how did you make your decisions on who to bring in and what to feature? What did you seek in putting together this symposium?
The Poetry Center staff as a whole are interested in new trends occurring in the poetry “reading,” in which poets give a more weighted consideration of the role performance can play in and outside of their poems, a trend which nicely overlaps with the growing amount of hybrid works being made - works made by poets playing with other media, such as theater and film, sound and dance.
Aside from consulting with staff, community members, and poets from around the country probably the most interesting aspect of how this came together is that I was able to attend some important events, including a Small Press Traffic Poets Theater celebration at CCA in San Francisco, where I was able to pick the brain of poetry theater greats like Kevin Killian, and to take in the thrill of actor/audience engagement and new visions of traditional concepts of “prop,” “stage,” and “play,” as presented by Brent Cunningham, who will perform flash plays at the symposium. I also attended the &Now conference in San Diego, where I really was able to actually witness what is going on now in poetry, and to understand that there was a definite emphasis on performance as a “new” valence that poets want to take on in different ways.
How does being a poet and visual artist figure into your curatorial practices and interests?
Well I think the fingertips on each figurative hand are magnetic…so of course I have a personal interest/love for each performer that will be coming here with their offerings. I guess my personal interest in the “unknowable” is reflected in this line-up, in that they each address it in their own particular way. I am very excited about the film/video screening as well, where I’ve asked poets to contribute new, never-seen-before works, which we will screen on the Sunday of the symposium. I’ve always loved to play with the photographic image, and more recently with video, so I am really excited about the opportunity to showcase the myriad ways in which poets make use of a filmic vocabulary.
What does this symposium speak to? How does it contribute to the current poetical conversation in the United States?
Rather than make proclamations about movements or even trends, the symposium offers a stage for variance and performance, and a stage always offers contributions to conversation, “poetical” and otherwise…I hope that participants, scholars, patrons and writers and artists who are coming from all over the country to be a part of the symposium will be able to initiate and or continue in these conversations.
How do readers interact with the poem when it is more than just text on a page, when the form and spectacle of the poem are the experience? How do we ‘read’ a performance? What is ‘the poem’ when it exists in a form that can be different each time it is performed? Does that make the poem transient? Is the poem rewritten with every one of its performances?
I hope you will tell me your answers to them after the symposium!
How will this symposium redefine the definition of a poem?
After you see all the performances, and in between, you will have time to chat with other artists, writers and thinkers, and I am sure you will come up with one or ten good answers to this question, too!
In reading the event descriptions, it seems this year’s focus is really about questioning our definitions of poetry and art, in general.
If that is how it seems, I am happy. I love questions, and I don’t trust definitions.
For a full schedule of symposium events, ticket information, and all things poetry, please visit poetry.arizona.edu.