Saturday, July 31, 2010

Breakthrough Nostalgia: Reading Steve McCaffery Then and Now

As Steve McCaffery approaches his mid-60s, his poetic and critical output shows no signs of abating. Within the last decade, in fact, McCaffery has produced five new collections of poetry, a new collection of critical essays, and three volumes of selected material: Seven Pages Missing Vols. 1 & 2, and Verse and Worse.
            Yet it has also been nearly 25 years since Open Letter’s first festschrift on McCaffery appeared, and both the critical community surrounding McCaffery’s work specifically, and of innovative writing in general, has changed dramatically. Thus, this new issue of Open Letter seeks to examine the changes in the reception of McCaffery’s work, as well has his own poetic development, over the last quarter century.
            Intended as a continuum from the first collection of Open Letter essays on McCaffery, this new gathering seeks critical essays (both scholarly and experimental) on any aspect of McCaffery’s criticism or poetry (including sound, visual, and performance poetry), with a particular interest in writing produced since 1990.
            Some points of departure, or lines of inquiry may include:
-         Reassessments of McCaffery early writing or analysis of recent writing
-         Is there a McCaffery canon? The significance of Teachable Texts, Carnival, or The Black Debt?
-         McCaffery and digital poetics: his inclusion in Poems for the Millennium Vol. 2 as a cyberpoet? Carnival: Panel 3 as his first self-identified digital work?
-         McCaffery collaborations (TRG, Nichol, The Four Horsemen, Mac Cormack)
-         McCaffery’s contributions to theories of translation, sound poetry, or pataphysics
-         McCaffery’s influence on writers, both younger and contemporary
-         The concept of nationality in McCaffery’s career: his international reputation or his interrogation of nationality in assessing literature?
-         McCaffery and trans-historicism: making the new old, or making the old new?
-         The critical and theoretical contributions of McCaffery to literary debate
Priority will be given to critical writing on McCaffery’s work, but submissions of poetry or visuals inspired by, or related to the work of, McCaffery will also be considered.
     Please send proposals/ intentions/ ideas to Stephen Cain by October 1st, 2010. Complete work will be requested by January 2011.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Harper's War on Progressive NGOs

A great article by Alice Klein in this week's Now here, which is the first I've come across that actually explains the real rationale behind the Harper government's attempt to eliminate the long form census. I've never bought the argument that it's just an attempt to appeal to the libertarian members of the party (they're a fringe element at best, and who else would they vote for anyway?). Like last week's post, when you read the cumulative list of cuts to groups, or outright defunding of organizations, the pattern is certainly odious and draconian.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

All RebELLE Rockers

A few weeks ago, after the passing of Barbara Godard, I mentioned my concern about the eroding of feminist gains that I have witnessed since the Harper government has taken power. This week, reading the new issue of Canadian Dimension, I came across this piece by the feminist collective RebELLEs. While I was aware of most of these reactionary measures as they occurred individually, to see all of these attacks on feminist activities listed concurrently in one place is a powerful indictment of the Harper government and should be a real awakening. Thanks to the RebELLEs, and to Canadian Dimension for providing a forum for activist voices.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Agents Provocateurs

The calibre of performances at the opening of this year's Scream Literary Festival was incredible. David Antin's talk-poem wove in elements of the G20 protests, pan-Africanism, llamas as a mode of transportation, Freud's failure to recognize narrative, anxiety about the mathematical problems of a fellow faculty member, and concluded with a nod to the Scream itself and the importance of the energy created through community convergence. Antin spoke much longer than the anticipated 30 minutes--without pause, notes, and without repetition--standing with a lapel microphone and not even breaking for water, which I also admired as Antin is close to 80 years old.

Steve McCaffery also possessed the energy of a man many years younger as he conducted the intensive verbal gymnastics necessary to premiere the vocal version of Carnival: Panel 3. Using a prerecording of his earlier performance of Panel 1, McCaffery read Panel 2 live, creating the aural palimpsest that is Panel 3. After years of listening and studying sound poetry I think my ear is finally attuned to recognizing modes and techniques of vocal performance, and it was wonderful to hear elements across the entire history of sound poetry entering McCaffery's reading from pre-semantic vocalisms, to ecstatic chants (as in Hugo Ball), to interrogative ejaculations and simultaneous languages (pioneered at the Cabaret Voltaire), to the rolling consonants and inflections of Schwitters's Ursonate, to the improvisational "free-jazz" of the Four Horsemen. The piece's conclusion, in fact, strongly reminded me of the Four Horsemen with long mantra-like voicing creating a base-line over which McCaffery uttered recognizable poetic phrases, which was often a standard Four Horsemen technique, especially in pieces like "Matthew's Line" or "Seasons" from CanaDADA or some moments recorded on 4 Horsemen, 2 Nights. Listening to McCaffery read Panel 3 "solo" was like getting 4-Horsemen-in-1. 

I also had a chance to pick up the Scream's program in which Bill Kennedy discusses the theme of this year's festival: "Following the events of the G20 here in Toronto, it may seem both apt and puzzling that we would use the term `Agents Provocateurs' as a theme for a literary festival. In the wake of widespread protest and massive security presence, burning police cars and civil outrage, global politics and civic disfigurement, is the notion of a writers-as-provocateurs beside the point? Where does literature fit within this charged political climate?"

I'll reverse Bill's mode of rhetoric and instead move from two clear literary provocateurs (although, notably, from poets two or more generations older than the Scream's organizers, volunteers, and every reader at the mainstage this year) to the question of literal G20 provocateurs...

Here are links to two petitions that ask that the events of the G20 be fully investigated, particularly the trampling of human and civic rights that occurred that weekend, and the conduct of the security forces:

Canadian Educators Condemn the G20 Attack on Civic Education

Amnesty International Calls for an Independent Review of G20 Security Measures

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Provoked to Scream

I'm still trying to digest the repressive events that occurred in Toronto during the G20 last week, and still seeking the most affective means of responding to the clear trampling of civil and human rights that the state imposed and falsely justified.

As an avid watcher of CBC's The National, I was at first heartened by the coverage of the police brutality on newscasts on Sunday and Monday, but it soon became obvious the story was being buried as G20 news (both pro and con) completely disappeared by Tuesday night's broadcast. Suddenly, it was all the Queen's visit...

At least the Toronto Star carried this story yesterday, which seems a fair report of recent protests against the treatment of peaceful activists.You'll see that even the mainstream media are reporting on people being dragged from their showers and detained without charge.

The only thing I would immediately dispute is the statistic about the majority of Torontonians being happy with the police-action. I'd like to know what the exact question that was asked in the poll, and how it was conducted....

Meanwhile I feel I should post about the upcoming Scream Literary Festival noting, as Jenny Sampirisi did a few days ago, that the theme of this year's festival, "Agents Provocateurs," has taken on quite a different resonance.

Here's the mainstage (Monday, July 12th) lineup:

Gil Adamson
Tony Burgess
Angela Carr
Brian Joseph Davis
Jeff Derksen
Linh Dinh
The Element Choir
Michael Lista
Kathleen Phillips
Damian Rogers
Ken Sparling
Sherwin Tjia

You can find the complete schedule here. I'll be performing at the Zygal event on Thursday the 8th, and am very excited to finally have to opportunity to see David Antin on Tuesday the 6th.