Curatorial Rationale for the Fourth Annual Festival of Poets Theater (2018), by Josh Hoglund

Curatorial Rationale for the Second Annual Festival of Poets Theater (2016), by Devin King and Patrick Durgin.

Poets Theater 10 = the newspaper published by Green Lantern Press / Sector 2337 to accompany the Second Annual Festival of Poets Theater (2016).

Introduction to the Third Annual Festival of Poets Theater (2017):

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