When "I" Means "We": Poetry and Social Life

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Princeton Comparative Poetry and Poetics Colloquium


When "I" Means "We": Poetry and Social Life
Eighth Annual Graduate Student Comparative Poetry & Poetics Colloquium
Department of Comparative Literature, Princeton University
Saturday, May 4, 2013

The role of poetry in social life is fraught: to question it is to open the door to paradox and polemic. Today, with the humanities increasingly forced to prove their "usefulness," poetry comes under particular scrutiny. Does poetry have anything to say to the world at large, any role to play in social life beyond the confines of the ivory tower and little magazines? Should it? If not, why does this demand persist both within the poetry world and without? What do we gain and lose by insisting that poetry be measured by its applicability to "real" life? Can we conceive of a robust relation of poetry to the larger world that does not reduce it to something that "has designs on us"? "When 'I' means 'We': Poetry and Social Life" proposes a multidisciplinary and transnational discussion of what, if anything, poetry specifically can accomplish socially and politically, and of the ways in which the belief in poetry's ability or inability to do so has been conceptualized and articulated. Is there a conflict between a poet's social situatedness—within a larger community or within a community of fellow poets—and conventional assumptions regarding the particularity of poetic voice or the conventional image of the poet as a lone figure? How has the definition and vision of "poetry" been shaped by given communities in specific historical and national literary contexts? How do aesthetic ideals shape not only poems but also the communities that produce and consume them? How does poetry bind people in affective communities? And to what ends?

On Saturday, May 4, 2013, the Department of Comparative Literature at Princeton University will host a colloquium in comparative poetry and poetics to address these and related issues. We invite graduate students at any stage in their work to submit proposals for a twenty-minute presentation.

The keynote address will be given by Oren Izenberg (University of California-Irvine), whose provocative book Being Numerous: The Poetic Imagination of the Ground of Social Life, was recently published by Princeton University Press. In addition to the keynote and panels of graduate student papers, the colloquium will also feature a lunchtime roundtable discussion with members of the Princeton faculty, and a reading by contemporary poets whose work is concerned with issues of poetry's relation to community and social life.

We welcome papers that offer questions, challenges, elaborations, and interpretations of this year's theme. Papers may focus on any poetic tradition, language, or period. We are especially interested in proposals that take a comparative or interdisciplinary approach.

Topics may include but are not confined to the following:

• Lyric self-expression and/or/vs. a poetry of communal or social concerns
• The poet as bard vs. the poet as lone genius as models for poetry's role in social life
• Poetry and/as collaboration
• Poetry and affective affiliation
• Poetry and social/political/cultural identity
• Poetry as social practice
• Poetry and political solidarity
• Poetry as medium for social and political mobilization
• Models of community that poems offer or construct
• Poetic communities or coteries
• Poetry and friendship
• Poetry and poetics of the local
• Historically and nationally specific ideas of poetry's role in social life (i.e., Renaissance coteries, avant- garde manifestos, L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poetry, etc.) and the forces that shaped them
• The tension between poetry conceived as a purely aesthetic practice and as the means for argument, the transmission of ideas, and social engagement
• Poetry as a signature or enforcer of class privilege vs. poetry as the "authentic" voice of a people or minority group
• Avant-garde poetics and the construction of "insider/outsider" communities
• The "poetry world" as itself an "outsider" or "minoritarian" community
• The impact of technologies (print, digital, etc.) on the formation of poetic communities
• The formation of poetic communities across national and linguistic borders

Paper proposals should include a title, 250-word abstract, brief bio (including department affiliation and areas of interest), and contact information. Papers should include at least one close reading. Audio-visual equipment is available upon request.

Deadline for proposals: April 10, 2013

Please send proposals via email attachment, as well as any questions, to comparativepoetics@gmail.com.

Thank you for your interest.

Ella Brians (Comparative Literature) and Kathryn Stergiopoulos (Comparative Literature)