Hi everybody. One month after the end of the poetry and/or revolution conference, we wanted to organize some provisional thoughts.
We are not certain about many things, including the relation between revolution and poetry if there is one. But we are certain about the need for revolution. And we have certainly spent much of our lives engaged with poetry.
We were not certain how the conference would go given that it was the continuation of a conversation among people from two groupings, UK and Bay Area poets, that had recently been quite fractious.
And yet we felt the conference was a success not in spite of but because of a shared need to hold open a space for disagreement, uncertainty, and speculation. As we organized this event, we made sure that every panel was structured around a comparative exploration of US and UK gender, antiracist, and anticapitalist politics. And every minute of the conference affirmed this, we said it over and over, everyone said this in lovely, complex, and contradictory ways. A commitment to the messiness and difficulty of thinking together: together as people, but also thinking together the big questions and struggles, rifts and legacies, aesthetics and politics. This was the thinking of revolution and/or poetry. We didn’t finish. We barely started.
We posted everything we could from the conference, and then we posted everything that was passed our way regarding the conference along with public responses and so on. We didn’t include and/or exclude.
And then a predictable thing happened, which was that there were responses that were not in this spirit. We can say two very clear things about these first responses. One is that they seemed largely to be from other folks from the U.K. and to come from a context we can’t really claim to grasp in full. But another is that these responses singled out people as individuals in ways that were alienating and/or threatening and/or and dismissive, and most but not all of these individuals were women. Or they had language that was alienating and/or threatening and/or dismissive to women more broadly.They sometimes purported to be doing this in the name of some revolution or another.
Because these responses were by men and claimed to be somehow part of the thinking of the conference, it became possible in being angered and alienated by these responses to imagine that the division and the anger was between revolution and/or poetry on one side and women and/or feminism on the other.
That is mistaken. Radical gender and antiracist politics—particularly in the context of active and evolving social movements—are neither peripheral nor exclusive but are constitutive features of poetry and/or revolution. Revolution is not some autonomous object or program. There is no opposition between feminism and revolution, or antiracism and revolution. It is not a form of solidarity to suggest that there is. It is a familiar and regressive fractioning of thought however messy into a world of individuals and false oppositions. We think these things together. Expunging the participation of nonwhite and non-cismale individuals from confrontational street actions and/or launching toxic, sexist attacks that cast discussions of empathy and social bonds as fundamentally reformist — these are especially noxious forms of contemporary radical baiting.
A further set of replies to the first round of responses which had singled out mostly women elided the stark difference between the conference and its initial respondents, erasing the contributions of some individuals at the expense of others. It accepted and took up the order of proper names and empty antinomies. This discussion has increasingly seized the opportunity for varieties of red-baiting and radical-baiting which are endemic to contemporary discussions about poetry’s relation to political life.
And yet we were struck by how conference presenters consistently refused to render these moments of political mobilization mutually exclusive, how smartly they challenged persistent media-managed stereotypes about who engages in contentious politics and who engages in the work of support and care. We were struck as well by presenters’ attempts to imagine the metabolic relation between conflict and care in social movements as something other than essentially male and female, white and nonwhite, and privileged or unprivileged; how they consistently valued both political antagonism and affective bonds; how they saw them as working together. We would like to thank again everyone who participated. We feel tremendously hopeful about the gathering as a model for how our increasingly circumscribed social roles could, in the words of one participant, inelegantly unstick.
the po-rev-ers, aka the and/or-ers