From "Avant-Garde" to "Experimental": Reading Poetry After the 1960s
This dissertation rethinks contemporary notions of literacy by exploring how reading practices related to innovative poetry have shifted in the past sixty years. I argue that examining experimental poetry gives us unique insight into current scholarly interests in reading practices in the digital era, ethics in the age of globalization, and hyper-mediated everyday life. Increasingly populist, open and participatory work emerged at the mid-century, when genre distinctions weakened, and the events of daily life became creative aesthetic principles and tactics. Beginning at this crucial moment, my project examines inter-arts experiments produced in the U.S. and globally that question modernist and New Critical practices of reading poetry. These experiments propose alternative modes of thinking about reading that foster political action, performance, and active reconfiguration of everyday public spaces.
The contemporary experimental writing movement, “conceptual writing,” which often reproduces or appropriates literary texts into a new frame, takes up the larger discussion about reading practices and contemporary culture, and serves as the impetus for the dissertation. The first chapter considers Fluxus “event scores” to argue that the importance of this 1960s transition in reading was informed by a reconfiguration of the experience and meaning of genre and media. The second chapter focuses on the poetry of the New York School to consider a mode of reading akin to urban spatial practice that offers alternatives to nationalism and corporate culture within a Cold War setting. The third chapter discusses mid-century constraint-based literature written by Oulipo members, feminist body art of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and the work of architect-poets Madeline Gins and Shusaku Arakawa. Putting these works in conversation for the first time under the category of “constraint-based work” proposes that constraint is not only an authorial preoccupation but also an embodied practice, and a reading method. The argument politicizes procedural methods and points to modes of reading that are closer to modes of activism. The last chapter focuses on conceptual writing, a present-day category of poetry that often highlights how and even whether a given text is meant to be read.