Poetry News

David Buuck on Performance Poetics

By Harriet Staff

First International Dada Fair, Berlin, 1920.Credit: Courtesy of Hannah Hoch

We're accustomed to David Buuck's careful and critical writings on contemporary poetry, so now that's he's begun a series of posts for Jacket2 about contemporary poetry and performance, we're paying attention.

Buuck's not interested in codifying a new field or discipline. Instead, he's curious about the "various elements of what one could perhaps describe as a performative turn in how we think of and about poetics in our interwebbed and post-conceptual moment."

Broadly speaking, we associate the phrase "performative turn" with a tendency among visual artists from the 1960s onward to create performances and participatory events rather than traditional, stable art objects. Happily, Buuck doesn't simply equate the recent performative trend in poetry with a kind of belated art-world practice. Instead, he notes that there is a "dynamic and diverse range of modes of performance emerging in the expanding field of poetry and poetics, further blurring the lines between text and performance as well as challenging conventional notions of what poetry is or can be in the contemporary moment." In other words, it's complicated.

Buuck's analysis of the oft-cited relationship between performance and new media technologies is particularly nuanced:

I am also curious as to what extent there might an increased tendency to consider the performative, the live, the embodied, as fertile sites for poetry in response to cultural shifts in our relation to mediating technologies and our increasingly alienated and seemingly disembodied experiences of sociality. Of course, I don't mean that it is as simple or intentional as a poet saying to herself, "I hate the alienation of internet culture — time to get the poet's body front and center stage!' But it does seem to be that alongside the increased interest in highly mediated forms of writing such as conceptualism and other non-expressive or techno-interface modes, there is a wave (backlash?) just as strong making claims for the value of the body, the live, the 'slow,' the real. As such, the obvious risk here is a nostalgia for some kind of authenticity, if not also an outright return to the Idea of the Author - the poet's performing voice/body being the site from which one can claim some kind of unique individuality or genius. Thus, while I am interested in and excited by the wide range of new (or newly renewed) experiments in that space between performance and writing, I remain skeptical of claims on behalf of live and/or embodied language arts as somehow in and of themselves radical.

We look forward to more of Buuck's thoughtful skepticism.

Originally Published: February 7th, 2013