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Lectures from the Allen Room and the Wertheim Study: Self-Theorisation, Gendered Rhetoric, and Community-Formation in 1970s Avant-Garde Little Magazines


July 31, 2014

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The stormy or complementary liaison between theory and praxis is a crucial nexus for the work of avant-gardes and our historical and contemporary understanding of them.  For ‘Language Writing’, in particular, with the concurrent rise of theory in public discourse, university and museum contexts from the 60s on, the introduction of theory becomes a significant stimulant for creative production and an explanatory valve with which to channel difficult avant-garde poetry.  This talk looks at a range of magazines published in the ‘70s and early ‘80s that—in their aesthetic, political, or social affiliations—can be associated with what would later be called ‘Language Poetry’.  In these ‘proto-Language’ magazines, we find a greater diversity of practices and participants than is normally granted in retrospectively unifying accounts.  This presentation analyses the negotiations within magazines between an inclusive heterogeneity and diversity on the one hand, and an argumentative poetics and politics on the other.  By showing images and original copies of archive material held at NYPL and other rare books libraries, Sophie Seita will introduce these journals, their editors, their emergence in their respective local/international contexts, as well as their design and layout.   Among the journals discussed are Slit Wrist, Montemora, Big Deal, 4 3 2 Review, Unmuzzled Ox, Sulfur, Personal Injury, Roof, Sun & Moon, and others.  Particular attention will be paid to the divide and conversation between theory and praxis, process and artefact, the relation between a highly theoretical, eloquent, and sometimes agonistic poetics, and a committed lyric or decidedly untheoretical poetry—pressing concerns that can co-exist side by side in a journal’s pages.  Lastly, the talk will reflect on and propose ways in which little magazines can reorient our study of avant-garde communities.

Sophie Seita, a writer in residence in the Wertheim Study, is a PhD candidate at the University of London and a Visiting Scholar at Columbia, writing a thesis on avant-garde groups through little magazines, ephemera, reading series and correspondence.    She is involved in the Archive of the Now (an audio archive of contemporary poetry), the Blue Mountain Project at Princeton  (a digital archive of historical avant-garde journals), and the unAmerican Activities Transatlantic Reading Series. Scholarships and awards include: DAAD, Studienstiftung, Hölderlin Study Abroad Scholarship, Queen Mary Principal’s Studentship, John Kinsella and Tracy Ryan Poetry Prize, Charles D. Abbott Fellowship 2013 (Poetry Collection, SUNY Buffalo), Columbia University’s Gatsby Foundation, and a Beinecke Fellowship at Yale (2014).  She is also a poet, performer, and translator.