Yale Working Group in Contemporary Poetry

WGCP Spring 2010

Posted in Uncategorized by beineckepoetry on May 9, 2010

Friday, May 7, 2010

Henry Sussman, David Mahan, Justin Sider, Jean-Jacques Poucel, David Larsen, Kevin Holden, Katie Yates, Alexandra Cheiteh, Nancy Kuhl, Caitlin Mitchell, Peter Gizzi, Ilan Ben-Meir, Liansu Meng, Edgar Garcia, Lucas Klein, Richard Deming, Jason Labbe


Elizabeth Willis WGCP Visit

Posted in Announcements, Events, WGCP Communications by beineckepoetry on May 5, 2010

This Friday, May 7, from 3-5 in room 116 of the Whitney Humanities Center the poet Elizabeth Willis will be joining us to discuss her poetry and poetics. The following questions, culled from the WGCP’s recent of Willis’s collection Meteoric Flowers, will serve as prompts for this Friday’s discussion. The session will be a free flowing conversation with our visitor. Our sessions are open to any and all guests, so be sure to spread the word to anyone who might be interested.  This will be our last session of the academic year, so it is especially celebratory.

As a coda to last week’s discussion (and as an epigraph to this week’s), these lines from Willis’s essay “Art against the State; Or What I Lived for.”  She writes:

“At times, another’s words seem to gather the energy one is unable to gather for oneself. ‘We gather our energies in order to make this intolerable world endurable.’ Such a sentence signals the relief in understanding that the battles we fight individually may be nonetheless shared. ”


ELIZABETH WILLIS is the Shapiro-Silverberg Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Wesleyan University. She is the author of four books of poetry, Second LawThe Human AbstractTurneresque, and Meteoric Flowers. Her work has been selected for the National Poetry Series and her awards include the Boston Review Prize, an award from the Howard Foundation, a Walter N. Thayer Fellowship for the Arts, and a grant from the California Arts Council.  As a critic, she has written on 19th– and 20th– century poetry, and she has edited a collection of essays entitled Radical Vernacular: Lorine Niedecker and the Politics of Place.


Questions for Elizabeth Willis

When we discussed the work of Lorine Niedecker a few years ago, we noted the emphasis in her poems on the domestic as a countervoice to the monumentalism and even hypermasculine tendencies of modernism. While one wouldn’t see your poems as domestic, is there a way that you conceive of the feminine within poetry—or specifically your own work.  To further contextualize this, your discussion of identity with Charles Bernstein could be made to speak directly in part to your being a woman—how does that aspect inform (rather than explain) your sense of poetics or the perspective of your poems?  Or, to quote one of your poems, “What form do women take?”

At our recent session, the fact that the majority of the poems in Meteoric Flowers are prose poems raised the question of why prose is becoming more and more present in contemporary poetry.  Do you see this a kind of acquiescing to prose as the more dominant mode (culturally and commercially within our present moment)?  Is it a way of employing a mode that disrupts the categories of prose and poetry?  What might such a disruption offer?

In terms of the structure of Meteoric Flowers, do the poems interrupt the prose poems, or do they set up the prose that follows (with the poems acting as “proems”)?

In what ways did the tropes of flowers and botany provide principles of organization for you in the writing of the poems and in thinking about the collection as a whole?

In Turneresque you found a correlation between the painter J.W. Tuner and Ted Turner’s Turner Class Movies channel. Is there a contemporary analogue to Erasmus Darwin.  In other words, is there a way that the Enlightenment thinker is re-inscribed culturally in the present?  This would speak to how the collection of poems escapes nostalgia or sentimentality.

One question that came up often had to do with the role of intentionality in your work.  How do you think of intentionality within readings of poems in general? To what extent does the author’s intent guide readings of the poems? Since your poems disrupt linearity within and between sentences, it would seem that intention is a hard thing to determine—yet does that end up suggesting that meaning has no place within your act of writing.

How does one decide the measure of allusions? Do you imagine your reader ought to go read Erasmus Darwin to understand your work? Do readers who catch the allusions throughout your work read a different and perhaps “more authentic” poem than those who do not catch those allusions.  Is it the reader’s responsibilities to track these down?

We discussed very intensely the question of lyric subjectivity.  Is it voice or style that creates a field of expressivity within and between the poems?  What is the difference between voce and style in terms of what lyric poems express?