Poetry in General
Keegan Cook Finberg’s book manuscript, Poetry in General, or, Literary Experimentalism since 1960, argues that postwar poetry emerged as a form of socially engaged praxis, one that reimagined the public as a readership. Counter to received notions of poetry’s obsolescence or marginalization, Poetry in General makes the case for poetry— as practice and form—as the premier force in contemporary politicized aesthetics across expressive media in the United States. Furthermore, what is called interdisciplinarity today has its origins in poetry’s expansion beyond the framework of poetics. This expansion and transformation of the function of poetry responds to the degradation of the social democratic notion of the “public” in the United States at the midcentury, an era often regarded as the apex of the American social welfare state.
During this period of institutional and governmental change—toward privatization, public austerity, and notions of individualism or personal responsibility—the art world’s relation to poetry shifted because of radical experiments in interdisciplinarity and the backlash against them in the form of a philosophical crisis about media autonomy. For instance, “event-scores” produced by the international group Fluxus during this moment show that poetry not only became art, architecture, and performance, but also a form of engagement and critique that constituted the creation of a public through socially engaged reading practices.
As a result, forms of reading and living today are produced as types of poetry. For example, the publication of Let Her Speak, a reproduction of the entire transcript of Wendy Davis’s filibuster to thwart anti-abortion legislation in Texas, made clear the erosion of firm distinctions between acts of public reading, bodily performance, and political action, on the one hand, and poetry, on the other. Poetry’s apparent saturation into life after the 1960s had several political effects: efforts at participation or interactive reading could be emancipatory, or, they could simply mirror corporate structures, enforcing the status quo. Tracing poetry as the category that both makes legible the spaces of political movements, and creates new spaces of emancipation, a chapter of Poetry in General—expanding upon an article published Textual Practice—argues that Frank O’Hara’s exploration of the referent of the Manhattan Seagram Building’s privately owned public park suggests an active space outside of Cold War culture. Focusing on feminist body and performance art of the 1970s, another chapter examines how the commodified female body becomes the site of public expression and collective resistance in works governed by poetic constraint—what Finberg refers to as a “contorted poetics.”
By examining works at the limits of the category of poetry such as architecture and performance art, as well as more widely read literature like New York School poetry, Poetry in General draws a portrait of the way that shifts in poetry, and its activation of a public through reading practices, are related to developments in global capitalism.
An early version of Poetry in General earned a competitive year-long University of California Chancellor’s Dissertation Fellowship, and a portion of the second chapter on Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems and the architectural discourse of the International Style appeared in Textual Practice.
Reading Practices and Poetry
Keegan’s article, “Figuring an Ethical Reading Practice: Anne Carson’s Whaching,” examines the figure of the reader in Carson’s poetry to consider what contemporary literature can teach us about ethics. The essay argues that the mode of reading suggested by Carson’s poetry emphasizes being made rather than making, following a poststructuralist tradition of learning ethical practices from figurations of reading. In Carson’s work, this reading practice has consequences for the way we encounter borders, read transnational literatures and formulate communities. Keegan’s work on Carson is an exploratory step toward methods for her second book project, which will look more broadly at the figure of the reader and its relation to pedagogy in modernist texts. The peer-reviewed article is open access at Canada and Beyond, and you can read it here.
Keegan has written reviews of recent poetry collections and books of criticism for Jacket2 and The Rumpus. Her encyclopedia entry on “Event/Situation” is forthcoming in the Encyclopedia of Cultural Theory from University of Toronto Press.
Keegan is currently the Reviews Editor for the Southern Indiana Review.
From 2011-2014, Keegan co-directed the Poetry and Politics Research Cluster and Collective. With Madeline Lane-McKinley and Kendra Dority, Keegan created and organized Politics of the Digital: Poetry, Technology, and the University, A Symposium. This two-day event included a poetry reading and an interdisciplinary symposium featuring graduate students, faculty, and a keynote from Johanna Drucker.
With Juliana Leslie she created and organized Radical Reading Practices, a Symposium. This two-day event attended to the work that readers perform when reading and reconstructing poetry. We focused on the particular ways poetry makes historically and politically significant demands on readers. We fostered conversations about the assumptions that structure the way we approach poetry and the larger aesthetic, historical, and theoretical categories that are implicated by that approach. Our keynote speaker was Christopher Nealon, and other panelists included Stephanie Young, Emily Carr, Kendra Dority, Daniel Benjamin, David de la Rocha, David Lau, Whitney De Vos, Eireene Nealand, and Joshua Anderson. The event included a poetry reading.
While Keegan was co-director of P&P, she also organized reading groups for graduates and faculty, and several poetry readings. Some of the readers P&P invited include: Lyn Hejinian, Bhanu Kapil, Ronaldo Wilson, and Craig Dworkin.