Poetry News

Links Hall & Sector 2337 Present Second Annual Festival of Poets Theater

By Harriet Staff

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Chicago's second annual Festival of Poets Theater, presented by Links Hall and Sector 2337, kicks off on December 7th and runs through December 10th. To whet your appetite, ye denizens of the Big Shoulders, up at Links Hall's website is a statement by the intrepid curators of the festival, Patrick Durgin and Devin King. The statement provides a nice primer for those unfamiliar with poets theater, reviews last year's series of events, and looks forward to performances in December. We'll take their statement from the top and then let you travel to Links Hall to read the rest:

Poets theater is a genre of porous borders, one that emerges about the same time, and involving many of the same artists, as performance art, performance poetry (“spoken word”), conceptual and “intermedia” art. But poets have long been playwrights, either primarily (Sophocles, Shakespeare) or as a platform for postmodern literary experimentation (the operas and page plays of Gertrude Stein, for example). If poetry can most specifically be called, in the words of David Antin, “the language art,” the collusion of linguistic media and dance, performance, music, and the visual/plastic arts might also fall under the purview of poetics as a theater of experiment that may or may not have to do with the genre “drama” as it is traditionally and persistently defined (think of Simone Forti’s collaborations with Charlemagne Palestine or Jackson Mac Low, or Adam Pendleton’s “Black Dada” performances generated in tandem to his privately circulating anthology and publicly exhibited paintings of the same name). Although recognized by two anthologies—Sarah Bay-Cheng and Barbara Cole’s Poets at Play and Kevin Killian and David Brazil’s Kenning Anthology of Poets Theater—it wasn’t since Michael Benedikt’s Theatre Experiment in 1967 that the wider scope of pertinent work to fall under this rubric was fully acknowledged. If poets theater is a form of sociability, page play, agitprop, or post-dramatic theatre, fully distinct disciplinary boundaries have internally divided it as a field, and dispersed our knowledge and the influence of its practitioners.

The Second Annual Festival of Poets Theater aims to remedy this with performances, screenings and readings over four nights, plus an afternoon of talks on the genre and salient examples of it. The first iteration of the festival, in late 2015, featured the work of three generations of writers and artists, including screenings of work by Eleanor Antin and the infamous production of Kathy Acker’s Birth of the Poet in 1985. Avery Young reset Amiri Baraka’s 1968 play “Home on the Range” in reference to #Blacklivesmatter. Heidi Bean, John Beer, and Carla Harryman gave talks on poets theater. And Patrick Durgin explored contemporary debates in performance reenactment while paying homage to Scott Burton and Judith Malina. Others worked with reference to Isadora Duncan and Seneca. The festival’s offerings ranged from Neo-Benshi (film-talking), performative lecture, and experimental re-enactment of a “talk poem” disrupted by hecklers. We aim to maintain the scope of the festival while pushing against axiomatic discernments between text and context, circumstance and production, and obviously those between genre and praxis. Throughout, the fest asks: How does Poets Theater integrate the usually solitary research practice of the poet into the ecstatically open site of the theater? How does performance "do" poetry, and how does it replicate poetry's gestural openness? And what are the outer reaches of these theatrical gestures; how does Poets Theater fold into dance, painting, sculpture, music, and even back into poetry?

All events can be found here. See you there!