Smooth Chafe of Poetic Systems
The concept of “Poetic Systems” as a special issue theme originated as an evocation of resistant practices faced with institutional structures, an alternative to hierarchies and linearities. Soon it developed, however, towards the softening of edges via the medium of poetry, a centering of interconnection, reciprocity, and exchange as form. The print, sound, and video poetry featured in this issue thus intuitively allow systems to expand into ecosystems. They stage organic and collaborative communities of practice. So bureaucracy can perform itself as a genre of poetry in Carlos A. Pittella’s writing. For him, a “system [can become] so pervasive that we have learned not to see it.” Yet re-emphasizing that invisibility also means destabilizing it so that the banality of the formulaic and indexical can lead to the surrealism, even the lyricism, of sound instead.
On a granular level, systems manifest in the individual work of the featured authors. Of course, all making by default involves an individualized process, but the procedure is not always rendered transparent in relation to the product. By including process notes with the poems, and sound and video works, the contributors to this issue gesture at techniques and methods, rituals and preferences that they have honed for their respective practices. Some of these procedures are “integral activities,” as Annick MacAskill suggests about incorporating ancient Latin translation into her contemporary poetics. Other processes are specific to the featured work. By systematically recording themself before bed each night, Khashayar “Kess” Mohammadi, for example, has developed the ability to inspire verse in a semi-conscious state. Their sleepy voice induces a liminal space, the knowledge that “each poem is a rift.” Even more intentional in scope, Rasiqra Revulva has coded “a living, multi-stage, mixed media, modular interactive poetry generator” called #RasiqraRemixed to perform elements of her published poetry. Beyond the misleadingly direct system of composing with the written word, then, sound and video poetry amplify the procedural through their heightening of technological mediation.
Collaboration spotlights systems. A number of works in this issue function through a network of collective making, inhabiting poetry as a relationship between individual and communal. In all transparency, the video segment from Light is adapted from my poetry collection, Hell Light Flesh. Set to the voice of classically trained soprano, Xin Wang, by composer Jimmie LeBlanc, and then produced as a film by director Michael Hidetoshi Mori, the resources and scope of the team involved go far beyond anything I could do as an individual. By the same token, this work is no longer mine in a singular sense, but has been shaped and transformed by the range of minds engaged in the direction of a completely new work, in different media from my original words. The immersive potential of collaboration is thematized in the sound essay, “Collaboration, Invisible Dramaturgies” produced by Katherine McLeod, and featuring a podcast-like conversation between McLeod herself, Nadia Chaney, and Erin Robinsong. Performing together through a mélange of poetry, movement, and flamenco, they debrief about their process and reflect on “the nature of collaboration versus working together.” Compellingly, they suggest that collaboration is more than a division of labour or sum total of parts, but rather an allusive state of togetherness, one which almost mystically draws minds into a space of mutual doing.
Finally, this issue as a whole becomes a poetic system. It places various forms of engagement with poetry in relation to one another. Unfurling print poems beside sound poems beside video poems offers support across media, in terms of mutual connection, complement, and also distinctiveness. Elements across the collective body of content overlap and even repeat. Chaney and Robinsong reappear from their dialogue to enter a collaboratively composed walking poem. The hybrid operatic context of Light replicates in Fungi Opera, a polyvocal sonic expanse produced by the so-called Toronto Experimental Translation Collective. Citing Merlin Sheldrake’s Entangled Life, this work underscores a shimmering truth of interconnection, that “[m]ycelium is a body without a body plan.” Relevant to “Poetic Systems” as well, this issue could be construed as a body without a plan. Systems aren’t smooth. Parts might reflect one another and interrelate, but as much as poetry is conducive to openness, it always holds potential for the productive chafe and even the clash.
—Klara du Plessis, Curator
Klara du Plessis (she/her) is a poet, scholar, and literary curator. Her debut poetry collection, Ekke, won the 2019 Pat Lowther Memorial Award and her critical writing received Arc Poetry Magazine’s 2022 Critic’s Desk Award. Her book-length narrative poem, Hell Light Flesh, was adapted and produced as a mono-opera film with composer Jimmie LeBlanc. A book of essays, I’mpossible collab, and a collaborative poetry collection, G, composed with Khashayar “Kess” Mohammadi in English, Afrikaans, and Persian, were both released in fall 2023. Klara develops an ongoing series of experimental and dialogic literary events called Deep Curation, an approach which posits the poetry reading as artform. Klara holds a PhD in English Literature from Concordia University.