Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Expanded Poetics Feature—Issue 62, March 2016)

Nathan Brown
Expanded Poetics

The term “expanded poetics” is not meant to designate a movement — let alone another avant-garde. It makes no claim upon the new. It borrows from obvious precedents — such as “expanded cinema” and “sculpture in the expanded field” — and it requires no manifesto, because it denotes modes of attention that are already widely evident in contemporary cultural activity. Rather, the function of the term is to foreground some parameters of these modes of attention while drawing together a context — institutional, communal, discursive — for their practice.

In my use of the term, “expanded poetics” foregrounds attention to the formal and ideological entanglement of poetry with other forms of making (poiēsis) in the arts and sciences. Under this broad rubric, problems of boundary formation are better multiplied than artificially resolved, but what is always at issue are concepts, models, ideologies, and practices of formal production. The concept of poiēsis functions as a relay between what is understood (under any given circumstances) as “poetry” and its porous boundaries — the site of intersection between poetry and what it is not. Such boundary work is what I think of as “poetics.” Of course, some of the pieces included here are critical of the category of “making” as determinate of poetic or artistic practice; how could it be otherwise, amid an often lugubrious “maker culture” eager to spin the identity of art and innovation? Any real engagement with the fate of poiēsis in the present will necessarily be a critical engagement, attuned as much to the persistence of this category as to its ideological derilection.

Expanded poetics involves attention to that exteriority of poetry which makes it what it is and what it may be. Perhaps poetics begins to die when it attends solely to the province of poetry. Perhaps poetry falls into narcissistic self-reflection when it purports to circumscribe the boundaries of poetics. After all, contemporary poetic practice is extensively bound up with performance, cinema, digital media, scientific models of structure and form, architecture, dance, political practice, religious practice, theories of race, embodiment and gendered identity, the perpetuum mobile of the art world and its ideological, historical impasses. Under all but the most cloistered circumstances, attention to poetry will draw one also toward attention to some or all of these, and many more fields of inquiry and activity. What is needed are contexts and communities in which this is openly acknowledged, and wherein both the transience and critical specificity of these forms of attention is enabled and encouraged.

This feature on Expanded Poetics gathers together some work that grows from such modes of attention and artistic production. Some of this work emerges from or around the context of The Centre for Expanded Poetics at Concordia University in Montreal, where several of the contributors and I are working to construct a situation in which institutional and academic obstacles to studying and producing the boundaries of poetics are minimized, and in which time and resources are made available for pursuing projects that might otherwise go unpursued. Other contributors are friends working on projects across those boundaries, have been visiting faculty at the CEP, or are collaborators or fellow travelers who will visit in the near future.

I won’t try to characterize the individual pieces included herein, since that would reduce their internal discrepancy to generic categories and superficial assessments. Nor will I try to summarize the relations between them, since that would reduce their relational heterogeneity. They are indeed heterogeneous, and nothing really holds them together except, perhaps, a willingness to pursue an artistic or critical practice through forms of discipline generated by their materials, rather than existing disciplinary or aesthetic boundaries. The work traverses truly discrepant political, formal, affective worlds. What I hope it collectively embodies is a critique of the boundaries of making immanent to that which is made, and the immanence of making to the boundaries of critique.