Notes from workshop for La Fronteras in Tijuana.
Context: It was hard to do. The border is three fences deep. It works really well at keeping things disconnected. I feel a deep disorganization of my brain from it. I am always anyway a first world white girl of confusion and angst. This got worse.
Heriberto and others worked with me in the back and forth of Spanish and English. They were super human.
I began with a quote from Jeff Derksen, or something I wrote down and attributed to Jeff Derksen at that recent Vancouver conference, which was this:
Poetry as a place for atypical thinking.
Then we talked and translated for a long time Drew Gardner’s “Chicks Dig War” and the idea of “useful.”
As we talked about “Chicks Dig War,” we talked about a series of questions that I had written down from the recent Rethinking Poetics conference. They are not exceptional questions and probably don’t even benefit from being attributed to those who I attribute them to. But I leave their names beside them anyway. Still they are just notes. And they are large questions that I think are obvious ones.
The questions/issues were:
from Monica de la Torre: does it produce knowledge?
from Joan Retallack: does it generate the courage?
Here Joan talked about video that Paul Chan did with Lyn Stewart. Stewart talking about reading poems to the jury because they generate courage.
from someone (my notes dropped the name): where does reciprocal alterity show up in the poem?
from Mark Nowak: what is the role of the artist in the time of accumulation by dispossession?; how do we tell stories not heard in poetry and take back that which has been taken away by capitalism?
from Rachel Zolf: how do we problematizing the relation between the subject and testimony?; is polyvocality the answer?
This discussion went on for two days. Other things got added to it. Among these things added was a quote from CA Conrad that I find so useful:
I cannot stress enough how much this mechanistic world, as it becomes more and more efficient, resulting in ever increasing brutality, has required me to FIND MY BODY to FIND MY PLANET in order to find my poetry. If I am an extension of this world then I am an extension of garbage, shit, pesticides, bombed and smoldering cities, microchips, cyber, astral and biological pollution, BUT ALSO the beauty of a patch of unspoiled sand, all that croaks from the mud, talons on the cliff that take rock and silt so seriously flying over the spectacle for a closer examination is nothing short of necessary. The most idle looking pebble will suddenly match any hunger, any rage. Suddenly, and will be realized at no other speed than suddenly.
And some questions about the “but also” and “find my body.” And some discussion about the atrophy of formal conventions around various sorts of poems.
And some discussion about Nourbese Philip’s Zong!, Mark Nowak’s Coal Mountain Elementary, and Kenneth Goldsmith’s Day.
Then some questions like what sorts of ghosts might we need? What sorts of unconscious narratives? What is the “but also” that we might add?
This is along story to end in failure.
The last day is a 5 hour workshop. The back and forth English-Spanish talking we’ve been doing feels impossible for 5 hours.
I retreat into writing. So five prompts. Each is to begin with “what would happen if Tijuana…” As in “what would happen if Tijuana moved south?”; “what would happen if Tijuana was moved to the bay area?” Anxiety about Tijuana had been something we discussed the previous day as worthy of our attention. Issues here felt very wrenching. How to talk about narcoculture when you might get killed doing it? And yet what does it mean that narcoculture barely registers in Mexican literature right now? Issues in which I felt very much over my head.
My prompts were…
Write something that brings on the emotion.
Write something that brings on the courage.
Write the reciprocity.
Write the accumulation by dispossession.
Write the but also, the unconscious, the ghost spirit, the body.
Then the idea was to break into two groups and together make an essay that brings on the reciprocity and other issues that have come up in the last two days of discussion. There were some rules, like leave the text in chunks. And include everyone at least once but don’t include all the writing. Etcetera.
I desired a discussion of things like how do we use emotion? What sorts of emotions are represented? And what sort induced?
What happened is what always happens whenever I do this assignment: we turn democratic. The discussion is too hard. We resort to an editorial politics of inclusion. And we do this despite the questions being so front loaded. Like you can’t front load the questions so much that the democratic pedagogies disappear.
I’m torn every time I attempt this sort of collaborative group writing production space about the failure. My general take is that the failure is useful. And sometimes I think oh what I will do is we will write the essay together and then we will not read it and then I will ask people to write their own essay that begins as an answer to some of the failure, that takes as it purpose some of the hard discussion that was hard to have. But every time I want to hear the writing. I can’t stop self.
As the experiment failed, I took some notes on some ways to attempt to make it fail less next time. The notes now make little sense to me. I seem to think in that moment that maybe if I directed the groups more, it would fail less. But my notes all seem to suggest that the answer lies in form. So I write down “what if each group gets a different ‘guide’ like rhythm or metaphor?” and also “what if one time I do this and everyone has to think about ‘heartfelt metaphor’ and the sort of work it might do and write a piece of heartfelt metaphor?” and then “what if we had to ask 5 questions of the self/piece at the end about this failure? and then not read the collective piece but go back to one’s writing and rewrite?”
I am now attempting a different version of this again this coming week. I have assembled all the poems that Stewart quotes from in the Chan film. I am adding in a piece from Vanessa Place’s Statement of Fact. I am thinking I might experiment with being more directive and seeing what happens.
Anecdote to be continued.