Roy Scranton

Roy Scranton is the author of the novel War Porn (Soho Press, 2016) and the philosophical essay Learning to Die in the Anthropocene (City Lights, 2015). His journalism, essays, fiction, poetry, and reviews have been published in The Nation, Rolling Stone, the New York Times, LIT, Boston Review, Prairie Schooner, Los Angeles Review of Books, Contemporary Literature, The Appendix, and elsewhere. He is also one of the editors of Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War (Da Capo, 2013). He holds a Ph.D. in English from Princeton and an M.A. from the New School for Social Research, and teaches creative writing in the Department of English at the University of Notre Dame.


27 April 2013

Lament of the Makers: Conceptualism and Poetic Freedom

Yesterday, here at Princeton, we hosted a symposium on "Conceptualism and Poetic Freedom." Our speakers included Vanessa Place, Mónica de la Torre, Jena Osman, Timothy Donnelly, and Kent Johnson. It was an rich afternoon of intense discussion, and I feel lucky to have been a part of it. Joshua Kotin helped bring it all together, and Jeff Dolven moderated the panel with his usual insouciant brilliance. As well, we were very grateful for the support of the Lewis Center for the Arts, the Program in Latin American Studies, the Princeton University 250th Anniversary Fund, and the English Department.

The afternoon proved unforgettable, and the discussion goes on. Vanessa Place's keynote is being published on the Harriet Blog in five parts. I am publishing below my prompt, from the email I sent all the participants, which was intended to open up the conversation. My next post will be my opening remarks. More may follow. And so the semiotic circulation continues. 

Thanks to everybody who participated and who made the event possible.

Lament of the Makers: Conceptualism and Poetic Freedom

Dear Redacted Name,

Hello! My name's Roy Scranton and I'm a PhD candidate in English at Princeton University. I'm also one of the organizers for Princeton's graduate Colloquium on Contemporary Poetry. I'm writing today because we're putting together a symposium on conceptual poetry, on April 26, and we'd love to have you be part of it.

Our symposium will be called "Lament of the Makers."

Beyond the straightforward title Notes on Conceptualism, the more recent polemical gestures Against Expression, I’ll Drown My Book, and Uncreative Writing have staked out an agonistic position for conceptual poetry. Un-, anti-, drown. In its most Dada strain, conceptual writing seems not only rigorously formalist, but vigorously obstreperous: a kind of aggressive masochism. Constraint squeezes production until nothing is said but what’s said. Erasures, Oulipian N+7s, writings through, found texts, cut-ups, Flarf, and appropriation seem to challenge the very notion of poetry, the lyric “I,” the autonomous speaking subject, the voice, the human, perhaps even our ideas of creation, creativity, and freedom.

Still, somebody squeaks in, arranging the weather. Somebody has to pick which text to transcribe. Cage fudged his I Ching. Unfreedom, uncreative, the decentered subject: our great avant-garde myths? Or maybe it’s true that poetry no longer expresses its notion, and like religion has become mere rung on the ladder to knowing. Is making caught between remake and fake?

Our symposium, "Lament of the Makers," wants to ask: what is the relationship between conceptual poetry and poetic freedom? Must we assume they’re antagonists? And what does “poetry” mean if they are? What are the political stakes when poetry not only makes nothing happen, but doesn't even "say" anything?

We would like for the symposium to consist of an afternoon’s engaged discussion, followed by a reading and reception. The schedule would include a keynote speaker, a panel discussion (to include the keynote speaker and our invited poet), and a reading from our invited poet.

We would be delighted and honored if you'd consider being on our panel. Would you be interested and available?


Roy Scranton