Poetry News

Now Available: Full Texts of Leslie Scalapino Memorial Lectures in 21st Century Poetics by Simone White & Divya Victor

By Harriet Staff

simone white anddivya victor june 2014

Robin Tremblay-McGaw puts it best: "On the glorious afternoon of June 1st, Small Press Traffic hosted the 4th annual Leslie Scalapino Memorial Lecture in 21st Century Poetics at Timken Hall at the California College of the Arts (CCA). This year the lecture included two of the more provocative Scalapino lectures thus far." Lecturers were none other than Simone White and Divya Victor. Wow. Even more exciting? The full texts of their talks are at X Poetics. Apparently, when invited, White asked, "Why me?"

White "suggest[s] that this question marks her 'increasingly thorny engagement with the problematic relations between poetic togetherness, isolation (togetherness' ostensible opposite) and the baseline set of qualities that make writing that is hard to do and hard to read, capable of being read in togetherness or solitude." White's engaging of "why me?" goes beyond, in our reading, even this moment. An excerpt:

I’m saying that "Why me?" doesn’t mostly mean "isn’t there someone else?" (although it also means this); mostly it means, why should I come among you on this particular occasion to share thoughts about writing and thinking that are malformed and contradictory and nonetheless unshakeable and dear? What project of affiliation am I being asked to participate in? Do I have an adequate understanding of that project’s relation to what I am trying to achieve as a human being? As a black human being? What I am getting at is the question, how will it be possible for you to understand me? How is that possible when questions at the poetic center of my writing and thinking deal with problems of misunderstanding, failure to receive, exclusion and suspicion of center-logics, suspicion of orthodoxy of all kinds? How can such a person reach others or be invited through writing? How can you be inviting such a person, how can such a person be inviting? I’m speaking to a kind of generative paranoia that I think of as an indispensable and deep well of despair, out of which the work constructs mechanisms for egress, not to say escape.

I want to get at all of this or break all of it down in two parts. I want to talk about how Leslie’s work affects me or how I feel myself to be associated and lined-up with her work despite (because of) the superficially contrasting intensity of my interest in what blackness means and how it is cut with practices of critical writing and reading. And I want to share some recent thinking about Nathaniel Mackey’s continuing prose masterwork, From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate, a work that concerns itself with all the issues I’ve mentioned at a level of complexity so demanding that I’ve come to think of it as probably unreadable. Now, many of you have read this work. I have read it.

So I’m not trying to weigh Mackey’s novel down with any of the hostile dismissiveness that greets so much black brilliance. . . .

Read it all, and Divya Victor's piece as well, at X Poetics.