ABOUT THE COURSE
This course will explore the evolution of digital poetics, from mid-century onwards. While focusing on they heyday of programming (from 1980s on), we will also devote significant attention to earlier experiments in electronic poetry (by Brion Gysin, Jackson Mac Low, and others), and we will consider this digital poetry tradition in light of some new kinds of poetry made possible by Web 2.0 (from flarf to poetry apps and online generators). Our approach to poetry will be strategically open-ended, encompassing text-based, visual, sound, and hybrid works in an effort to engage with the breadth and complexity of digital poetic practices. We will also examine the intersections between poetry and other practices (music, performance, installation, gaming) and between online and offline identities and practices. Lastly, we will attempt to frame digital poetics in and against various national and transnational poetry communities from the historical avant-gardes to the present day.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs works with words, sound, video and bodies. Her work has been published in Ploughshares, Jubilat, Fence, LA Review, Palabra, and Black Renaissance Noir among others. Her performance work has been featured at The Kitchen, Exit Art, Recess Activities Inc, The Whitney and MoMa. As an independent curator and artistic director, she has staged events at El Museo del Barrio, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, Brecht Forum, Symphony Space, Dixon Place, and BAM CafÈ. She is the recipient of several awards; of them include Cave Canem, New York Foundation for the Arts, Jerome Foundation, Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and The Laundromat Project, and Millay Colony. She along with Greg Tate, are the editors of yoYO/SO4 Magazine. She is the author of TwERK (Belladonna* 2013)
PHOTOS FROM THE EVENT
INTERVIEW WITH LATASHA N. NEVADA DIGGS
1. Could you please tell us what it means to be a sound artist.
I honestly wonder what that means myself. I work with the voice, my voice. I work with electronic devices. Sometimes they are used to manipulate my voice. Sometimes they already contain preset sounds that I like to use. But I also like the many sounds heard in languages, dialects, vernaculars, pidgins. So I work with all of this. A collage of sound. A collage of silence. A collage of bodies conjoined in wonderful sequences.
2. Could you tell us more about your recently released poetry collection entitled TwERK?
It's a big party. A variety show. A dance-a-thon. A dancehall sound clash. A gay ball. A strip club. A memoir. A Harlem shake.
3. I was especially fascinated with your poem, “the originator.” I enjoyed listening to you read your work on poetryfoundation.org. I’m sure people have asked you about the melodic feel of the poem and even the structure of poem itself has a lot of movement. Could you talk more about this poem?
Well...it's a villanelle. Essentially the form leads to being melodic. Also the form I felt fit very comfortably as an ode to DJs which are considered the first element of Hip Hop. I was thinking about DJ Jazzy Joyce, Grand Master Flash, Kid Capri, Red Alert, Clark Kent, DJ Shadow...a lot of DJs I've either known in past lives or listened to. Of course there are a ton of other DJs I respect immensely in the house music scene but for this poem, it focused on their role in Hip Hop. At first, the poem was dedicated to DJ Jazzy Joyce because she is a female icon in Hip Hop to me. But I decided to make the tribute broader. Back to the villanelle...it gave me that entry into both old school European form via old school rhyme schemes in Hip Hop. It allowed for a hook, it allowed for however many 'bars' I had to 'spit.' It allowed me to be the MC for the DJ. The MC was originally the hype man for the DJ. So the DJ is the originator.
4. What other literary figures or poets inspire you? What influences your work as an artist?
Edwin Torres is a primary influence. Then writers like Ana Marie Shur, Lisa Linn Kanae, Kamau Braithwaite, Harryette Mullen and Jayne Cortez. Douglas Kearney. Everything influences my work. I can't really say one item. It could be politics or other artists. It could also be from PBS Nature documentaries or my fear of swimming in lakes.
5. How do you see your poems evolving over the next five years?
Ha! I imagine more flash fiction/non fiction, more theatre, more video, more curatorial work, more producing concerts, more editorial work. And yes, all that coming from poetry.
6. What advice would you give to an upcoming artist in this field?
Take your time. Allow yourself to be a bit scattered with your artistic projects and from there, allow yourself to polish up each one at a time. Live. Please Please live. Live for a while and don't worry about the damn manuscript...if you're a writer.
INTERVIEW WITH URAYOÁN NOEL
When did you start writing poetry?
While I had always been fascinated by the musicality of language (nursery rhymes, songs, etc.), I began writing poetry when I began reading poetry for pleasure, at the age of thirteen or so.
Spanish-English bilingualism in your poetry is a crucial and undeniable part of your poetry. Do you feel as if there is an urgency to use both in your poems as a way to assert your identity through language?
I don't see it as a matter of asserting identity. Partly, it's a pragmatic decision: I was raised in a bilingual household, so moving back and forth between the two languages is natural to me, and I like that my poetry can reflect my everyday reality. At the same time, I do think that my choice to use both is political inasmuch as it is a critical reaction to the monolingualism of U.S. publishing and of the U.S. more generally. In that sense, I agree with Doris Sommer, whose book Bilingual Aesthetics considers the work of bilingual writers as an alternative and a challenge to the monolingual public sphere. I also see my insistence on mixing the two languages as attuned to a political energy, to the experience of living in an increasingly Latino/a nation.
Are there some phrases or lines that you have a lot of difficulty translating between English and Spanish?
Yes, but the difficulty is in many ways the point. In my view, all translation is in some sense difficult, uneven, provisional; in that sense, I view my self-translations as instances of what Haroldo de Campos calls transcreation: they do not aim to finds simple equivalences between the two languages but to politicize translation, and to let the poems perform the differences between languages and the ways in which one language haunts the other. I should add that I view my poetics as operating across languages (and not just English and Spanish) but also across media and in the slippage between the page, the screen, and the live performance.
How did you find the Nuyorican community, and what role has the Nuyorican Poets Cafe played in your life?
I had read some of the foundational Nuyorican poets in college, among them the late, great Pedro Pietri, but I first went to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in 1999, shortly after moving to New York. I did some of my first readings and performances there, and I met many poets and artists that would go on to have a decisive influence on my life and work. Of course, the Nuyorican poetry tradition has also become central to my life as a scholar and professor (I wrote my dissertation on Nuyorican poetry, and the book based on my dissertation will be published later this year). More immediately, though, the Nuyorican tradition (in literature, the arts, politics, etc.) has taught me so much about what it means to be Puerto Rican, about New York, about what creativity can do, about fighting for one's beliefs, about art with a purpose, and about culture and why it matters. Pietri has this great line from his book Puerto Rican Obituary (1973): "your breath / is your promiseland.” I take him to mean that we are not just where we are and where we're from, but also what we become, and that poetry (the recovery of breath) is central to that becoming.
Thank you for the kind words. I was always writing poetry, but I was also interested in performance. I experimented with various forms, from stand-up comedy to playing in a band, but when I saw poets such as Pedro Pietri, Tato Laviera, and Edwin Torres perform, I realized their work had that mix of humor, eccentric beauty, Puerto Rican soul, and New York energy that I had been looking for in my own work. I'm not sure my work is against formality; some of it is very high-literary, and I sometimes work within traditional forms such as the sonnet, the terza rima, and the Spanish décima, but I'm in interested in what happens to those forms when we re-embody them, when we approach them not as an academic exercise but as points of departure for our own remixing. Thus, I have written bilingual and Spanglish terza rima and décimas, and I have developed those into performance pieces and even songs that I play with a full band. We tend to think of form as either closed (sonnets, villanelles, etc.) or open (free verse), but I'm interested in what I sometimes call a performalist poetics that approaches open form with rigor and closed form with a sense of play.
In many of your poems, such as “In the Faraway Suburbs,” the idea of places and searching for something in different countries and states and cities, seems to be a theme. What attracts you to cities? What do you think that you will find in each new place that you go?
I was born and raised in a city (San Juan, Puerto Rico), and I have lived in New York for so long that the city is in my blood. San Juan is and is not a U.S. city; Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens but Puerto Rico is not a state. I am a citizen but I am stateless; that paradox defines me and I bring it with me when I travel, so I guess I'm always looking for the contradictions and the tensions of belonging or not in all the places I visit. At the same time, travel is great for my writing: it breaks my routine and introduces me to new places and people. Writing is how I process the world around me, so when I travel I am always taking notes. It's not so much about what I find in a place as about how what I find engages my body and brain in a new way. The place writes the poem, in a sense.
In a review by Cerise Press, it was said that your “key interest is identity — not a traditional identity such as being Puerto Rican, a New Yorker, or Nuyorican, but one that encompasses the barrage of experiences, influences, humiliations, and joys that make up the urban experience, an identity of the moment.” Do you agree with that statement? And if so, do you write for all who know the urban experience or do you write, especially, for those who exist within similar urban sub-communities as yourself?
Yes, I agree, and I see cities (and NYC in particular) as laboratories of experiences and identities; none of us is just the sum of fixed identities, since the city is always changing, as is our relationship to it. I certainly write from the perspective of a Puerto Rican in New York, but my New York (like my Puerto Rico) is very different from that of the Nuyorican poets of the 1960s and 1970s or of earlier writers such as Jesús Colón, partly given the particularities of my experience (as a Puerto Rican born and raised on the island, and so on), but also because New York City itself has changed, and I'd like to think of my work as attuned to those changes (good and bad). For these reasons, I don't love the idea of writing for someone; certainly my perspective and the linguistic particularities of my writing are not for everyone, but I'd like to think that the poetry is welcoming to anyone who can find themselves in the hi-density coordinates of the neural and embodied city. I do believe in what the late Stuart Hall called a “counter-politics of the local,” in the idea that poetry can capture an alternative city, beyond the chain stores and market trends of global capitalism. I like the idea that by observing and living the city as deeply as possible, poets can tell a different story, a people-centered one, but also one that challenges us to rethink how and what we see.
If you could give one piece of advice for young poets living in urban environments today, what would it be?
Read. Find and sustain a community. Evolve with it. Poetry doesn't sell, so sharing is everything—the poetry is in the making and sharing. That freedom is called poetry. The city is old and it will outlast you, so learn its/your history and the work of its poets. Read. Publication will take care of itself. Collaborate with non-poets. Read. Explore your city. Observe. Question the advice given by poets in online interviews.