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Poetry as Performance

posted: 7.2.09 by archived

Last night, June 30th, a poetry event curated by esteemed avant-garde poet Eileen Myles took place on the rooftop of the Hispanic Museum in Manhattan. The performance was part of Tuesdays on the Terrace, and was vaguely (as Myles said in her invitation) in response to “Zoe’s show and the Hispanic Museum’s collection.”

Avant-garde poet Eileen Myles, curates "The Collection of Silence"

Avant-garde poet Eileen Myles, curator

The event was highly unusual as far as poetry events go. For one thing, it was performed SILENTLY.

The invitation says, “All will converge to sit, move, read, and perform silently for one hour on the Hispanic Museum’s incredibly spacious and evocative Audubon Plaza. You as audience are invited to come up and stroll amongst this silent happening at your own genial pace. You are urged to dress vividly and shamelessly as if you were attending a wedding or a renaissance fair or a nature hike, an art opening, poetry reading, or to spray-paint things on your roof.”

“Participants include poets Charles Bernstein, Stephanie Gray, Tim Liu, Mónica de la Torre, Rachel Zolf, Christine Hou, and Julie Patton, dancer-choreographer Christine Elmo, The Village Zendo, and soprano Juliana Snapper.”

After the performance, the “silent texts” were available in a bilingual, printed edition for all to read. And then performers and audience had a party.

More from the press release: “The Collection of Silence, a baroque site-specific work around the possibilities of silence as central to the syntax and punctuation of everyday life. A diverse group of poets will present short pieces at various locations on the outdoor plaza of Audubon Terrace, where they will be joined by a group of students from PS4.

“Also accompanied by dancers, Buddhists, an opera singer, and a life drawing class, this mute and active gathering will demonstrate and celebrate the collective power of silence and the capacity of an unvoiced poem to serve the communal purposes of public life.”

Questions for Teaching:

1. What do you think the purpose would be to having a silent poetry event?

2. What does this event try to say about the role of audience in more conventional poetry readings? What’s the purpose of asking the audience to dress up or to dress outrageously?

3. What relationship might poetry have to art in this context? How are the mediums similar? Different?

4. It might be interesting to contrast Myles’s event with a poetry slam or a lecture on poetry. How are the events different? What qualities do they share? Ask students to reflect on their preferences and consider where those preferences come from.

5. Stage your own poetry event. As a class, discuss what qualities it will have and why.

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Categories: Joelle Hann (moderator), Literature, Popular Culture
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