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talk notes: on reading

I gave a talk at a university on reading before I did a reading (no pressure–a privilege to do (thank you, Lucy Biederman (author of Walmart Book of the Dead)  for the invitation)). I  spent most of my time on why reading out loud is important.

Yr thoughts?

We talked about the history of literacy and ASMR, and I told them a story about revising my last book by rhythm. But, mostly, I gathered and elaborated on the claims of smarter ppl. Here are some passages I built out from and some gloss.

From Robert Kocik’s Supple Science: “The hypothalamus—the neuroendocrinological signaling center—as it sits atop the speech apparatus, is especially susceptible to constant collision and vocalic wavelet. Speaking is like using a vibratory keyboard….Thought tones our biochemical being. Chants are bioregulatory templates” (294).

What does it mean to play a vibratory keyboard? That poems can deliver messages, sure, but also poets compose, syllable by syllable, how they feel about what they think. Which means that rhythm should be a major concern of every poet.

“When words mean only what they say, we die.” Kocik, again.

“The alienation of poetry began when intellectuals started to read in silence and to write in private.” Heriberto Yépez.

It is only recently that the study of poetry could be silent. 20th and 21st century educational institutions have a lot to do with that. It’s well documented that composition education (Comp 101) has shifted away from oral forms to producing almost all written products. This is partly because educational institutions are increasingly pressured into thinking of students as little clerks, bureaucrats, and coders in training. And bureaucrats produce silent work: records, reports. Vocalized poetry draws on a historical counter-current of expression that remind us that the voice can connect and move people into  conversation and debate in contexts both intimate and public. Thinking here of Vicuña before/as she performs wrapping a thread around the audience.

The silence of poetry should not be taken for granted. Nor should an atomized scene of its reception.

There are some things I’d like to say between Kocik and Yépez along the lines of vibratory assemblages, the regeneration of leftist meat-spaces, and what this all means in regard to the kinds of harm done by silence and hierarchies of who gets to speak, but they’re not well worked out. Just a bundle of pointing. So let me just stick with the classroom now that I have taken a long break from teaching: What would a creative writing classroom look like that didn’t privilege the written text as the final product. I don’t think this would mean privileging a performance as the final product but rather their pairing. And this would mean thinking of them, when they are paired, as not a product at all but as a sounding out of what their composers think the context of their language might be. How do you grade that? Maybe not at all.

A word in the air

lets you

hear the image

see the sound

-Cecilia Vicuña

Later that night at a bar in Cleveland this guy talked w/ me for a long time  about his vision for the future. He was brilliant and a lot of it was over my head but one fraction that stuck w/me was his desire to create a digital infrastructure that flipped value hierarchies so POC were compensated for the data harvested from them and the constant acts of acts of narrative triage they perform through social media. Narrative triage: a firework of a phrase. That some narratives must be collectively rewritten on an emergency basis by a collective of writers and that this is an extremely undervalued form of ad hoc labor. w/o triage, death. Pay up! I mean, it’s a different kind of indebtedness, a language-work debt I certainly haven’t paid down enough. Ok, I’ll drop the metaphor. Let’s not financialize language too much.

Bibliography, partial, of that talk.

Robert Kocik. Supple Science. (Oakland: ON Contemporary Practice, 2013).

Nathanial Mackey. Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

Charles Olson. “Projective Verse” (1950).

Walter J. Ong. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. Reprinted, Routledge, 2009.

Cynthia L. Selfe. “The Movement of Air, the Breath of Meaning: Aurality and Multimodal Composing.” College Composition and Communication 60, no. 4 (06, 2009): 616-663.

Cecilia Vicuña. “K’isa / Alangó / A Vibratory Disorder,” Spit Temple. (Brooklyn: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2012).

Heriberto Yépez. “Context and Signs of an Urban Visual Poetics.” Tripwire 4. Winter 2000-2001




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About the Author

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Joe Hall is the author of five books of poetry, including Someone's Utopia (2018) and Fugue & Strike (forthcoming). His poems, reviews, and scholarship have appeared in Poetry Daily, The Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day, Postcolonial Studies, Peach Mag,, PEN America Blog, Poetry Northwest, Ethel Zine, Gulf Coast, Best Buds! Collective, and Eighteenth-Century Fiction. He has taught poetry workshops for teachers, teens, and workers through Just Buffalo and the WNYCOSH Worker Center.

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