Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Why ON now?

below is a statement I wrote for the ON Contemporary Practice launch at St. Mark's Church last night. I am grateful to all who attended the launch, and participated...


I don’t doubt, as we speak, that critical exchanges about poetry and art are happening everywhere. And this is the impetus for ON Contemporary Practice, a journal devoted to writings about the practices of one’s contemporaries: that critical exchange can become visible through the many forms it assumes. Listservs, blogs and social networking services like Facebook and Flickr have tended to supply us with the most immediate and accessible forums for critical correspondence in the past few years—so why sidestep and insist upon a printed object? I’m not sure the exact importance of the printed object vs. the virtual one per se, except that it can provide an air of care, intention, presence, and consequence in ways that virtual media often can not. Given some of our despair before the Web—especially the material anxieties which cloud its otherwise hopeful prospects for serving as a democratic cultural repository—, it seems conceivable that the best way to back-up our futures is to print them out and make them aesthetically palatable for a readership. In a sense Kyle, myself and Michael would prefer to think of ourselves as documenters and collators rather than editors. What we would like to document is the ongoing fact that one’s contemporaries matter for forming a practice, and locating what work needs to be done during any given moment. Rather than seeing any one’s work in isolation, ON believes that each poem, or book, or art object is in some way collaborative, and that all cultural phenomena issue from some form of discourse. Likewise, there is something exhilarating about recognizing one’s voices in those of another, and those of another in one’s own. Such a continuum, Robert Duncan called the “symposium of the whole,” however we believe our own symposiums to be as much unique as general, collective as singular, idiosyncratic as appropriate, antagonistic as agreeable. While poems themselves can act critically and extend critical conversation, there is still the want to provide context, discursion, address, and perspectives that perhaps only contemporaries can have towards each other. I believe this can happen through the book review, or the academic chapter (though God forbid one write a dissertation chapter about their contemporaries); but moreso, I think it requires a constant renewal and invention of forms by those working across fields, institutional and cultural configurations. Forms that will not merely extend content, but that will emerge from the problems nearest the lives they impinge on, and which connect and overlap inextricably. Recently an older poet gave a reading with a considerably younger one, and insisted that they introduce each other. These introductions consisted of merely saying the name of the other poet, and in the case of the older poet also saying the name of the younger poet’s press. While I was ok with the older poet declining typical introductions, I was not ok with the younger poet getting the same treatment. Emergent practices (the practices of those younger, lesser known, and/or unprecedented by their isolation or exclusion from hegemonic publishing practices and arenas of reception), more than anything else, need not so much legitimation as sufficient context to make them legible and available to a readership wider than their ken. Yet, it is one’s ken specifically—those who have spent the most time with the person and the work, if not the place where the work was born (whether that be an actual place, or space for the imaginary)—who can most easily account for the work’s exigency—the fact that it was made with a need to communicate something and make certain things happen (however unawares or intentionally). While I expect critical exchanges will continue to happen wherever people care about the stakes of their work and the work of their peers, ON’s editors celebrate how much wiser we are for having encountered the offerings collected by our contemporaries in ON’s first issue, and acknowledge the fact that many others’ works are deserving of critical reflection, and more sustained engagements. If you have an idea for submissions, please see ON’s submissions guidelines at the journal’s website, or email the editors individually. We look forward very much to reading your submissions towards the publication of future issues.

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