VERSeFest Day 5: Factory Series

The matinee event for 2pm on March 14th was a Factory Series event with Markotić and McElroy who both work with components of language more than starting from components of story. Their work in poetry seems more whole person some how instead of using the heart as a morphine pump while the rest atrophies. They consider the sound and rhythm and effect but also allow the head into the room. The effect is less defined and confined. Not his-story not i-story, more or-y.
Nicole Markotić
Nicole Markotić read a bit from Bent at the Spine (Bookthug) which is a disjunctured practice. She mentioned how a former student reference Prairie poetry as now meaning disjunctured poetry, not stories of grainfields like they used to. In her book “each stammer confesses grammar”.
She talked in her lecture on how we appropriate terms of disability for poetry when we speak of “accessible poetry”. We misuse the term “accessible” to suggest that the poem is a place we willfully bar access to and, the reader, by extension, is disabled and needs a ramp or other adaption to get equal access.
By good design in physical architecture, one doesn’t need to adapt to the user, but considers the user from the start. The design that helps those in a chair also is a good idea for those with strollers, delivery carts, with balance issues. Wide corridors that permit chairs, also permit conversations of the deaf where people may walk 3 abreast so see each other talk.
She said, if you need a ramp you often have to travel much farther than those who take the stairs just to end up at some awkward back corridor. She asked us to examine this idea of accessible.
Good design in poetry is by nature that which considers various end-users, not one that accommodates an unreasonable reader subset.
Gil McElroy
Gil McElroy read from various bits he read and wrote. He started off by saying he has a soft spot for the misheard and misread because, in part, random chance is fundamental to our existence in our universe.
He pointed out this story about the older Y-chromosome from New Scientist as how things can come to light by a random chain of events. And Markov chain, a mathematical theory of randomness in statistics, that first tested in the pattern of the first 20,000 letters of Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin.
One of his older projects he returned to was a prefix project that he did for a 10-day festival in Peterborough where he took stencils and chalk and added his prefix poems around town at 4 a.m. (The police were noticing.) He took words and made them into other words by cleaving off the “a”. In front of churches he added “a quire” and by bus stops “a go”.
Going entirely programmatically would make it too static. He wanted to reinject himself back into the material by messing with inserting himself back into the flow. For example within a poetly O! part series of reverse engineering new words into being,

o asis
o blique
o ccult
o gee
o be a fine girl, kiss me
o kay

The humour allowed out isn’t just a song lyric. It’s a mnemonic device for remembering the main spectral types of stars.
As I’ve mentioned before the meaty, interactive discussion bits are some of my favourite parts of literary events. I can read the word, or find recordings but writers fielding questions is a whole other level of depths.
Factory reading panel
Factory reading panel
Nicole Markotić and Gil McElroy on stage with host rob mclennan.
There were a lot of audience questions in this. I didn’t time it but perhaps more than a half hour.
The question of access came back again.
She said, in poetry aspects that help access and mobility are not parts that explain and elaborate and simplify. They are elements that keep you moving into the structure. The structure can remain complex. Where do you put the door in poetry? Wherever you put it, it doesn’t fix problems or make us all the same any more than it would in architectural terms.
In her experience it means a sweet spot, not too opaque, not too obvious. In practice it means a friendly poetry in form and tone. In practice accessible means customized. No simpler and no harder than it needs to be for any particular reader. But she made the point, if one wants only something pitched exactly at your level, what you want isn’t poetry. Maybe to be told a story. But poetry should have that extra something to chew on, unpack with more readings. “The pleasure is in not understanding. The pleasure is in the re-reading.”
The term access is problematic. It has implicit a patronizing, condescending position as if we need to dumb ourselves down so others can get it.
[Rather like the frame of “giving equal rights” rather than those being inherent dignities that are not ours to give and yet are ours to withhold. I’m not sure about the logic. Accessible is a new term in disability, predating the political consciousness. It seems more a homophone with the term as used in disability when it is used in poetry. And except in my experience I do have to dumb things down. Connections aren’t universal. People need a lot of dots. Unless you are all co-explorers and don’t want ledgers to match at the end, just enjoy the process of speculating together, which is also gratifying].
One thing Markotić pointed out is that once people are told her poetry has no narrative and you just enjoy the sounds and ideas, people had no trouble embracing it. Second year students found it “accessible”. It is a matter of where you place expectation of outcomes.
McElroy’s lists within language, playing with sound and erosion and err-osion was one of the more fascinating poems of the festival for me. Already my mind tends to cut up words and find words within words as a habit. The idea of making prefixes from a poem within a day already rolled into a new poem draft. It’s a fractured way of looking at elements for what they could do or be.
One of the audience member on McElroy’s neologism of “u niform” remarked that the word had a feel to it, saying, it’s as if I don’t even not know what it means but I’ll fight you if you call me that.
When asked something McElroy said he liked how “you can bend language and put it under stress but you can’t break it.”
rob gave a report on the lectures and other events that day.

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