Breakdown on Small Press Traffic’s Aggression Conference or "Mama, Don’t let your babies grow up to be po-bloggers"

The Premise

AGGRESSION: A CONFERENCE ON CONTEMPORARY POETICS AND POLITICAL ANTAGONISM
PRESENTED BY SMALL PRESS TRAFFIC

While a triumphalist rhetoric of community and collectivity has frequently accompanied the narratives of alternative literary scenes and practices, the purpose of this conference is to instead explore the myriad ways in which consensus and community become challenged and/or untenable, and to produce fresh opportunities for rethinking poetic theory and practice.

The Panel

The Internet
Moderator: Stephanie Young

Panelists (Jasper Bernes, Craig Santos Perez, and Erika Staiti) will address the perils and possibilities of technologically mediated public spaces, specifically focusing on how new technologies may mystify, reproduce, or intensify existing racial, gender, and class divisions.

The Breakdown
I went to this panel hoping to find ways to better navigate all the information out there on contemporary poetics. I am sure I was not looking for a clear answer to the perils of po-blogging because I honestly don’t feel there is anything perilous about poet blogs. I subscribe to the ones I enjoy reading, comment on the ones I find interesting, and unsubscribe when I think a particular blog is a waste of my time. Like I said, no real peril here for me.

I did want to open myself up to the possibilities of improving conversation on poet-blogs and how to improve dialogue between poet-bloggers and, hopefully, the rest of the world.

So what did I get out of the panel? A lot of rehash, a sense that my current practice is right on target, and the premise that the Internet itself is the aggressor we should fear.

Erica Staiti started off by reading various blog entries and comments regarding Michael Magee’s poetics and the Numbers Trouble essay. The Magee online debate has been something that I have never had interest in because it felt too much like the self-inflated storm in a bottle controversies I participated in when I was in New York where the NYC poetry slam community would gather and deride how a particular slammer’s one poem was the bane of all poetry and how it shed an evil light on everything wonderful and good about the page. One non-poet friend who happened to over hear this conversation turned to me and said, “This poet must be the most important poet ever because all your other poet friends can’t seem to stop talking about that poem.” My friend might as well have been talking about Magee because within some poetry circles it seems Magee is the true Apocalypse of poetry- he who will start or end everything. Well, at least if you read the blogs about him, which I don’t and so my own poetry world will have to wait for a different apocalyptic harbinger.

Stati’s recap of the Number Trouble essay, a po-blogger topic that I found more interesting, didn’t explore any new ground for me. I would have enjoyed a response as to why there was more talk about race than gender? What is the tone of these responses? Are there more comments from the ubiquitous and all-knowing “Anonymous” on race than gender? Without naming names, is the tone of response different on so-called public blogs (where the owner of the blog can be held accountable for meditation) versus less private forums such as list-serves or friend-only blogs?

Jasper Bernes was next up to bat and he decided to take a different stance on aggression, he directed it to the Internet itself. Bernes lists a number of ways the Internet falls short when it comes to live political activism, but many of these arguments easily transfer over to poetic practice, and so I found them hollow. Not that political activism is a hollow pursuit, but putting other forms of resistance like the creation, circulation, and organization of spaces for political poetry (all of which can be done with the help of the Internet) into a negative light doesn’t serve potential and current allies against the current political machine. See how quickly this changed from a talk about poetry to an indictment of the system? That’s how I felt during Bernes’ talk.

Another contradiction in Bernes’ essay revolved around identity. Where at one point he is mocking Kenneth Goldsmith’s idea of conceptual sans-identity poetry, he follows that up by deriding information distribution in poetry as a capitalist pursuit. Let me get this straight—we can have a poetic identity but we just can’t use it when getting our work out in the world? That concept doesn’t seem to vibe with me.

Craig Perez rounded out the panel presentation with a reading of different sections from his essay response to the Magee poem. As stated before, I have no interest in the online back-and-forth over this one poem, but I was interested enough to ask Craig for his essay a few months back to give me some insight as to what the whole brouhaha was about. Craig’s response uses Magee’s poem and previous writings as the strongest evidence that Magee is just an appropriator with a lack of perspective.

Perez’s personal response to the panel called for attention to ethnic po-bloggers who seek to shake up the status quo. He listed poeta y diwata (Barbara Jane Reyes), Unitedstatesean Notes (Javier Huerta), Letras Latinas (Institute for Latino Studies, Univ. of Notre Dame), Detainees (Linh Dinh), You Are Here (Lee Herrick) and this blog. as voices against the grain that can add some diversity to these discussions. Here’s a funny thing, I really don’t think of this blog as being that counter to the mainstream, but that’s because I usually don’t shout out the mainstream so much. Maybe I should do it more often.

My Takeway
I was presented a lot of information I already knew, which is OK considering I read a ton of po-blogs, but it felt like everybody else in the room had that same knowledge as well making this an exercise in redundancy. Jasper Bernes’ essay felt more like an assuaging of his problems with the world as opposed to his take on the problems with poetry communities on the Internet, and if he wants to talk about honest distribution of information, this isn’t the way to go about it.

However, I will thank SPT and the organizers for their efforts since the open atmosphere did allow me to say many of the things I am posting on the blog in the open to the whole room. But how did I find out about all this in the first place, get an opportunity to hear the varied opinions, and use my background in poetics to make a change in real time? That’s right- the evil Internet.

More Internet
Barb’s thoughts on the panel and more
Race & Gender
Jasper Bernes’ essay
Laura Moriarty’s take on the conference

Author: Oscar Bermeo

Born in Ecuador and raised in the Bronx, Oscar Bermeo is the author of the chapbooks Anywhere Avenue, Palimpsest, Heaven Below, and To the Break of Dawn. He lives and works in Oakland, CA.

2 thoughts on “Breakdown on Small Press Traffic’s Aggression Conference or "Mama, Don’t let your babies grow up to be po-bloggers"”

  1. Your blog and visions for poetry truly move me. One question:

    One of the ways that “white people” consolidate power is by perpetuating the myth that they are monolithically white and devoid of great intermixing, ethnic divisions, complex ancestries, and cultural differences. Thus, if all people, including people of European descent, have ethnicity and are “ethnic” then might it be best to refer to non-white po-bloggers as “nonwhite po-bloggers” if that is what you mean?

    Thanks for a great write-up about the conference.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Jonathan.

    Between the two terms, I would choose “ethnic po-blogger.” If someone of European descent (or any descent, for that matter) wants to claim that identity and speak on how it affects their poems and/or poetics, more power to them.

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