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August 06, 2010

Poetry Papers at the CWWN Conference

Writing about web page http://cwwn.sdsu.edu/

A paper that I really enjoyed during the conference was by Jane Dowson , who was one of my external examiners for my PhD. We have many interests in common and I was pleased to see Dowson presenting on Kate Clanchy , Pascale Petit and Gwyneth Lewis . Dowson described these poets as inhabiting a New Confessionalism, which needs to be negotiated carefully. Dowson quoted Clare Pollard who suggested that ‘To revert to confessional mode now might be to reaffirm the cultural image of the “Mad Poetess”,’ and she commented on the hostile critical reception faced by Kate Clanchy on the publication of her collection about motherhood Newborn. Dowson condemns the dismissal of confessional poets and uses her ‘new critical grammar’ to discuss Pascale Petit and Gwyneth Lewis. This means:
• paying attention to ‘the unsayable via symbolism, typography, rhythm, self-reflexivity’;
• ‘building alliance with the reader as eavesdropper, confidant/e, listener-subject’;
• being aware of ‘the pleasure and healing of recognition, shared intimacy, community, imaginative expansion’;
• and paying particular attention to intertextuality.

One of my favourite panels from the conference was “Sexuality, Danger and Money in Three Women Poets”. I went along to this panel because it was on three poets that I do not know quite so well; I had never come across Arielle Greenberg or Katy Lederer but I had read a few books by Anne Carson (e.g. Decreation). Unfortunately, I had a farcical moment in this panel where all of my pens ran out of ink at once, so these notes are just from memory and are not quite as detailed as usual.

Darcy L. Brandel discussed Arielle Greeberg’s negotiations of language and violation. She focussed in particular of Greenberg’s interpretation of Marcel Duchamp’s art installation Étant donnés, which presents the viewer with a wooden door that has a peephole for each eye. Through the peepholes can be seen a naked mannequin and a lush landscape. Brandel discussed the ambiguity of this image: is the naked woman/mannequin powerful or powerless? Is she offering an invitation to the viewer or is she being violated? In her analysis of Greenburg’s poem ‘Given’, Brandel offered detailed analysis of the poet’s experimental use of language and outlined the poet’s condemnation of the artwork’s voyeurism: ‘in the afterlife—-is so accommodating a gift / of gaslight murdered by air’.

Next Paul Crossthwaite spoke about Katy Lederer’s collection The Heaven-sent Leaf, a collection of 45 almost-sonnets. Crossthwaite focussed on how Lederer brings together money and poetry comparing the two as systems with economies, values and currencies. Lederer worked as a “brainworker” at a hedge fund in midtown Manhattan, and the book was published at the beginning of the downturn in the world economy. Crossthwaite talked (among other things) about how bringing the language of finance into poetry lends it at times a prosiness that is in tension with the sprung and musical lines elsewhere in the poems.

The final paper was presented by Maya Linden on desire, danger and ambivalence in Anne Carson’s poetic form. Linden talked particularly about Carson’s collection Autobiography of Red and The Beauty of the Husband focussing on how Carson approaches femininity, masochism and self-destructiveness. Linden seemed to be suggesting that the ambivalence in Carson’s writing is a problem for more conventional feminisms and that there needs to be a more expansive kind of politics to understand Carson’s work.


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