Poetry News

At Jacket2: Adrian Piper & the Public Face of Conceptual Poetry

By Harriet Staff


Some important questions addressing race and conceptual poetry from A.L. Nielsen at Jacket2, if you please. He recalls Adrian Piper's famous calling card:

Among the readings for the graduate seminar in black philosophy and theory that my students and I completed not long ago were the collected writings of philosopher and artist Adrian Piper, in which, among so many other projects, she reproduces the calling card she had printed up for use in one of her on-going projects from the 1970s. Because Piper is, as we so deftly put it in America, a light-skinned black person, she has had the experience of being in a group of white people and hearing one of them tell a racist joke. She had cards printed up that she would present to the tellers of such jokes, cards that explained that she was in fact a black person and that she found the telling of the joke objectionable. This was not merely a personal campaign, you must understand, but was a sort of philosophical theater. . . .

Later, in "Piper at the Gates of Dawn," Nielsen asks:

I think of Piper and that work a great deal while listening to the arguments surrounding conceptualism in poetry in the present. There are questions I would enact if I had her knack for embodying them. Why is the public face of conceptual poetry so incredibly white? Is today's conceptualism a sort of white masque? Is the enlisting of poets such as Harryette Mullen, Claudia Rankine and others in the anthology Against Expression a mask for that expression of whiteness or an act of acknowledging black conceptual poetics? If the latter, then why is the public face of conceptual poetry so incredibly white?

Read it all.

Originally Published: May 23rd, 2013