Poets Theater Online

In December, 2017, the Third Annual Festival of Poets Theater took place. One feature of the festival was a set of works that lived a full week (12/10-17) online, in the post below, which we edit here for posterity.

I’ve always thought poets theater was a genre derived after the lyric had disentangled poetry from drama, separated the pair in the interest of rationalizing each. It then enjoyed a sort of nostalgia for the civic duty of classical theater, hence Eliot, Stevens, or Lowell’s plays. As a postmodern genre, it then entailed some amount of irreverence, hence Stein and Scalapino, who to my mind sought the most radical forms it might take. There might come a time when a poet needs setting, character, dialogue, or other dramatic conventions to work through something that was happening in their practice prior to trying their hand at writing a more or less producible script. It also derives from a confluence of work by writers within or tangential to the art world when another genre, “performance art,” emerged from a sense that theatre had become exhausted, in a way, but you had many inassimilable writers involved—like Vito Acconci, Hannah Weiner, and theater or studio artists like Richard Foreman, Adrian Piper, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Carolee Schneemann, Judith Malina, George Brecht, Yoko Ono, and Scott Burton. For the last three years, Devin King and I have taken a special interest in reevaluating this inassmilability. That may be why the festival offerings intersect performance, new media, music, installation, etc., with the “poets” part of “theater.”


We wrote last year, and it remains key:


How does Poets Theater integrate the usually solitary research practice of the poet into the ecstatically open site of the theater? How does performance ‘do’ poetry, and how does it replicate poetry’s gestural openness? And what are the outer reaches of these theatrical gestures; how does Poets Theater fold into dance, painting, sculpture, music, and even back into poetry?


Poets theater is also a complex form of sociability that might be insular, broadly public, overtly political, and all three of these at once, hence Teatro Campesino, Black Arts Repertory Theater, Language poets’ poets theater in the 70s. Hence, more and more it becomes possible to reach some kind of global view of the genre. This year we divided our curatorial efforts in two. Over the summer, we invited Chicago-based artists to a sort of study group focusing on the Ivorian writer, artist, dramaturge, and community organizer Werewere Liking’s “chant-roman” (song-novel) It Shall Be of Jasper and Coral. We studied its formal properties—the way it organizes itself based on “pages” rather than scenes or chapters; the way it includes dialogue, voice-over, philosophical interludes, and polemic; the way its politics are intensely “local,” regional, pan-African, and universal (feminist, post-colonial, anti-imperialist) all at once. We then encouraged these artists to use our study to touch off their own work, whether or not it patently signals this resource. Secondly, we asked another set of artists to offer work presented online, such that the festival could go “live” and, relatively speaking, global. This allowed us to commission new work and screen it alongside recent and/or important historical precursors (Artaud plays that role here!). It also allowed us to incorporate an important aspect of poets theater that has been somewhat less evident this century: the radio play.


Welcome to the third annual Festival of Poets Theater!


–Patrick Durgin


Unscripted, unrehearsed, and unedited, [Suzanne Stein and Steve Benson‘s] NOW is a three-part improvisational work created for the Third Annual Festival of Poets Theater. Bridging, exploding, and reinforcing the dialectical tension and chaos underlying the dichotomy of practice and performance, NOW attempts to examine, understand, and simultaneously realize its own nature during the course of this half-hour-long documentation-as-product.

An abject housewife undergoes a cyber-erotic transformation through the subversive use of a vacuum cleaner. That’s Sucktion, a hyperopera composed by Anne LeBaron with a libretto by Douglas Kearney (published in Someone Took They Tongues. [Subito, 2016]). This performance, directed by Nataki Garrett, features the trio, SoNu​ (Nina Eidsheim, vocalist; Phil Curtis, laptop/sound design; Gustavo Aguilar, percussion)​, and was recorded at REDCAT in Los Angeles (2008).

Says Annie Dorsen: Reading comments on the internet is a bad business. Most people advise not to do it. Don’t read the comments! But I love to read the comments. It’s talk without consequence, chat far niente, for the pleasure of it, for self-assertion, for recognition, to be part of it, to appear, for the lulz. Under the nastiness and the banality (and sometimes the sweetness) is the simple desire to be heard. No matter what the words say, the message of every comment is “I love you, I love you, I love you…”

“In the days before the anticipated transmission of his recording on 2 February 1948, [AntoninArtaud asserted that it would work to attack and jolt the people of Paris, but would also bring to them deliverance and ‘corporeal glory.’ He especially wanted the recording to impact upon and provoke those engaged in hard, poorly-salaried manual work, such as metalworkers and road-menders. But then, the day before its expected transmission, the recording was banned as inflammatory and obscene by the head of the radio station… On the evening of 2 February, with supreme irony, Parisian listeners to radio heard a broadcast about how the city’s inhabitants needed, in the era of the Marshall Plan, to be aware of American popular culture and to adapt their lives to it.”–Stephen Barber, The Screaming Body

Postponed: Due to technical difficulties, Alain Jugnon‘s radio play Artaud in Amerika will make its debut here on or shortly after January 1, 2018, and remain online for a full week. We regret this postponement, but we are pleased to see this major, new commission coming to fruition and infiltrating holiday routines the world over. Stay tuned for further details. Meanwhile, read this:

this is

a quick caption for Artaud in Amerika

because Artaud lives in it

I know that Trump did not know that my poet Artaud had hosted your Welles in France in 1948 out of love for Rita

but Artaud lives in it

the piece is called Artaud in Amerika

where you are not

there are Artaud and Welles who redraw the world in red

life in beauty

dreams in american

without Trumperie

with poetry

the cinema

and writing

Artaud in Amerika is Artaud who tweets to Trump:

leave the stage, we are the theater

un texte pour dire vite ce que c’est que Artaud in Amerika
car Artaud est vivant dedans
je sais que Trump ne savait pas que mon poète Artaud avait accueilli votre Welles en France en 1948 pour aimer Rita
mais Artaud est vivant dedans
la pièce s’appelle Artaud in Amerika
là où tu n’es pas
il y Artaud et Welles qui refont le monde en rouge
la vie en beau
le rêve en américain
sans Trumperie
avec la poésie
le cinéma
et l’écriture
Artaud in Amerika c’est Artaud qui tweete à Trump :
quitte la scène, le théâtre c’est nous

Alain Jugnon
5 décembre 2017

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