The Next Objectivists Poetry Workshop was founded in January 2009. Our mission: to live poetry differently. We would resist the increasingly intense pressures to privatize poetic practice that result from & help to perpetuate neoliberal hegemony by doing poetry in ways that were not captured by the economy in cultural capital as its being regulated today.
Not that we knew this two years ago; those who joined the organization in its early days were acting on impulses & following structures of feeling toward incoherently recognized desires. The workshop, which has always had a commitment to investigating the processes of poetry as techne (an art & craft, a way of life), finds its purpose through an on-going process of often joyful & contentious, sometimes banal & tedious self-examination. We speculate. & although we have a singular object of study — the poetry & poetics associated with what the poet Edward Dorn named the OUTSIDEREAL — our workshops are a various as the members who contribute to them.
The Workshop Presents
the Continually Evolving Shape of the Multitude
From our inception, the Next Objectivists has insisted upon being autonomous, free & open-to-the-public. Autonomous means that we are not affiliated with any institution (other than the Mess Hall, where we hold our meetings). Although we are often scholarly, our approach is not constrained by the academic & commercial cultures that dominate so much of the discourse about poetry today. We refuse to be constrained by the logics of alienated explication & lyrical branding, both of which tend to prise poetry away from common life. We refuse to assist in the production of non-public preserves/reservations for activities like reading, writing, discussing, revising, rhyming & designing. These practices play so vital a part in our well-being, we do not want to set them aside for the well-educated & well-to-do. We do not think poetry should be primarily identified with those who "make it" in the marketplace. We invite everyone & welcome all. We ask you to leave your expertise at the door.
Because of this policy, our membership is fluid; there's always a first-timer at the meetings, & many participants enjoy an occasional relation to the workshop. Our first two years have seen an edifying mix of determination, transformation, commitment & inconsistency. Nothing repeats. Many members who played a crucial role in the foundation of the workshop during the first year no longer attend. Many of the most stalwart members today joined in the second year, & some of the most vitalizing Next Objectivists attended for relatively short periods — five months, seven months — before wandering work search or a simple shift in interest sent them to another part of the labyrinth.
Our constantly shifting membership is organized objectively — that is, we try as much as possible to focus our attention away from the personalities gathered around our tables, in order to put it on the poetry we study. We are object-oriented in our concern for the devices, mechanisms & effects we discover in the work we read, write & rewrite together. We are interested in the dance rather than the dancer. We celebrate the unity of art & life, but in a complex way. We pry the object away from the subject because we believe that subjects are in so many ways themselves created from the outside in.
Although our organization enjoys the fluid intelligence that responds to desire & a hydra-headed multiplicity of approaches to our work, a gradual organization has occurred, which is (retrospectively) evident in a rough sequence of seminars. Often, the themes and issues in these seminars returned to our discussion over many meetings and sometimes we were unsure of the evening's discussion topic until it precipitated in conversation, but nonetheless a rough sequence of attention has emerged. What follows is a roughly chronological list of our seminars to date:
The Objectivist Tradition
Our attempt to turn contemporary poetic practice inside out began in the most simple manner possible. We read the work of the New York poets of the 1930s-60s that called themselves Objectivists. We read poetry by Louis Zukofsky, Charles Reznikoff & Lorine Niedecker. We also began to read work by writers who clearly inspired & were inspired by the Objectivist poets; we read poems by H. D., Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, Lola Ridge, Kenneth Rexroth, Robert Creeley, Edward Dorn, Basil Bunting, Tom Clark. One one lovely evening in the summer, we paired the work of Rae Armantrout & Tom Raworth — we leaned a lot that evening!
Poetry of the OUTSIDEREAL
As our confidence grew & new desires emerged, we began to expand our reading list to include writers whose work was not directly related to the principles and practices of the “original” Objectivists. For example, one particularly memorable evening was spent on the production of a poetics of the OUTSIDEREAL in Jose Hernandez's modernist Argentine epic, The Gaucho Martin Fierro. Another on poetry by Stephen Roedefer. Another on modern & contemporary Surrealism. We studied the poetics of The Oulipo, the Situationists & the Bauhaus. As the workshop continues to evolve, its become increasingly clear that the poetic practices we associate with the Next Objectivist movement are global in scope & owe as much to feminist, indigenous & queer ways of making poetry as they do to the modernist aesthetics that got us started.
The Poetics of Ekphrasis
Another chapter in the history of our research began in year two, when we turned our attention away from the work of particular authors in order to investigate ekphrastic poetry. We reasoned that one mode of “poetry from the outside” might consist of poems which organize themselves around objects rather than subjects. We regarded poems based on other works of art—poems about paintings, photograph, movies, songs & other poems. We painstakingly composed a taxonomy of the ways in which poets have interacted with these objects & several members wrote ekphrastic poems of their own.
The next seminar moved from images that belong to the world, to ones more intimately lodged in the psyche. We began ask questions about the relation between poetry & dreams. Over the course of several months, we read numerous poems about dreams or dreaming. We wrote down our own dreams and discovered the poetic dream work of a great many fascinating writers. Out Poetypists (see below), transcribed more than twenty-five pages of dreams recited anonymous by members of the general public. We consulted with several Chicago writers (see Guest Objectivists, below) who have produced poetic and artistic dream objects & tried to revise each others' dreams for accuracy.
The instantiation of our most recent seminar — which continues as we enter our third year—marked another shift in the workshop's approach to poetic life. The “Requested Investigations” series asks workshop members to generate a set of questions from their own on-going efforts to read and write from the outside in. Workshop members would work on the questions with the writer, producing new texts & unloosening blockages. The goal was to To pitch-in for another's inquiry, and to get inside someone else's unfinished poetic effort, both for the thrills and / or derangement involved in these acts of generosity and to create a collective poetic brain bank/labor tank to be at the disposal of anyone who wanted help with a particular passage their were working on or issue that confronted them. Some of the multitude of questions posed by members of the workshop to the collective as a whole have so far included:
- Is it possible to use a forced word of replacement to get text MORE ACCURATE?
- How do we know when we are reading texts that are FROM somebody, rather than BY somebody?
- How might a grid or framework free language from the conservative instincts of the self (or ego, conscious awareness of tendencies and biases such as fears, desires, styles, tastes, talents, complexes, etc.)?
- What are some of the structural similarities between poems & jokes?
- How does repetition in a poem move through, or against, time?
Our forthcoming workshop,which belong to the “Requested Investigations” series, begins with the question:
- What, if anything, makes space a particular playground for poetry, in ways no other feature of thought can?
The Poetry Reading as a Poetry Writing
The Next Objectivists Produce the Poetry of the Multitude
One new & unforseen way of going about the business of poetry that has emerged for us is an inversion of normative ways of conducting the poetry reading. We began with a principled stand in favor of collaborative writing, but also the acknowledgment that writing is also a solitary practice — none of us were prepared to give up our own, individualized habits of production, but neither did it make sense for the workshop to simply bolster each member's practice separately. We desired to be more than a loose confederation or professional club. So we began to develop systems of collaboration that required multiple authorship but not immediate authorial contact— projects that would require a group effort but could be contributed to with the flexibility work-life in the neoliberal environment so often demands.
Our first collective writing project developed in response to an invitation to participate in the exhibition “Synesthetic Chicago” at the Chicago Cultural Center. Over a period of several weeks, Next Objectivist Poetypists sat behind manual and electric typewriters in the Cultural Center's “Tourist Information” Room. Interacting with the numerous visitors, most of whom were attracted to our antiquated word-processing machines, we transcribed their synesthetic sensations of the city. Numerous pages of transcription were compiled & redistributed at our workshop, where they were revised into poems that were printed in the style of brochures and leaflets & placed into the information stands at the Cultural Center. In this way, we made poetry into both a collaborative practice & a public one. We returned the public's words to them in poetic form, & provided an alternative vision of what might constitute the circulation of information the city provides for visitors.
In the subsequent years, we refined (refound) this method of composition-by-public-transcription into a regular practice. We took our cue from William Carlos Williams, who sought to produce a “bolus” of poetry — an anonymous, democratic poetry of the mass rather than the singularity. This, we have come to realize, is the poetry of the multitude. It is now a goal of the workshop to help bring into begin this multitude. At various public events—the Printer's Ball, the Version Festival, neighborhood Arts Festivals, and the Red Rover reading series—we enjoin our audiences to participate in the creation of new poems. When you come to a Next Objectivist event, you help to author the evening's poetry. We resist the drive to distinguish between a cultural-producing elite and an un-empowered & frequently distracted & discontent audience that seems the engine of so many readings these days.
Over the years, we have invited a number of “Guest Objectivists”: writers who spend the evening with us engaged in a conversation about their own particular involvement with the methods & madness of writing inside out. We strongly support the fostering of a local community of writers, & the majority of our guests have been from the city, or even the neighborhood. But we have also been honored by the presence of poets from Philadelphia and Brooklyn, New York. An Alphabetical list of Guest Objectivists to date:
& note that we've been fortunate enough to schedule a reading & discussion with Allison Gruber, who will be a Guest Objectivist in the field of short fiction during the month of April!