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

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