Poet's theatre ~ theatre notes

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Poet's theatre

The zeitgeist is a wonderful thing. Days after my mini-discourse about poetic idioms in contemporary theatre in the comments of my review of Villanus, a call for conference papers on the "poet's theatre" in the US serendipitously crosses my desk. It's for a panel called "Contemporary Poet's Theater: L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E and Beyond" that's proposed for the 20th Century Literature Conference in Louisville in February next year. Professor Laura Hinton at the City College of New York gives a fairly comprehensive description of "poet's theatre" from the poetry end, which some of you might find interesting (and maybe highly arguable), and is worth quoting in full:

In recent contemporary poetics, the term "poet's theater" has become linked with the "Language" group of writers and often directors of poetry-plays produced as low-budget staged performances in the late 1970's and '80's. Today, new productions of classic "Language"-oriented poet's theater abound, by writers including Leslie Scalapino, Carla Harryman, Charles Bernstein, among others. Yet there are also many contemporary playwrights in other settings doing work that is not only aesthetically related to "Language"-oriented theater, but which might be productively critiqued in terms articulated by Language writers and others writing on avant-garde performance art. These "others" are theater writers are those who are engaging in "poet's theater," by virtue of treating a written text as an act of performance -- the drama thus emerging not from some external "signified," but from within the "signifier", the poetic language, itself.

This panel is an attempt to ground a definition of the term "poet's theater" in a potentially expanding notion of the contemporary working scene of today's American theater, both through under-financed small public venues (like cafes or coffee houses or art-spaces) or in venues like Off-Broadway. And it is an attempt to look at what the embodied stage and poetic experiment have to offer one another. It is a given that contemporary-American poet's theater (which this panel coordinator views as a major but often overlooked postmodern genre that
perhaps defies many attempts to identify and categorize it) stands well outside the established American "realist" theater tradition of, say, O'Neill, Miller or Tennessee Williams. The poet's theater we speak of is more likely to be influenced, instead, by early 20th-century European experimentalists of the stage, like Brecht, Beckett, and Artaud. American modernists, of course – like Stein, Pound, and Djuna Barnes – wrote poetry plays that defied the conventions of narrative drama. However, the focus of this panel will examines their more contemporary inheritors. We will consider for the proposed panel any papers about works and theater practitioners who have emerged during or since the early stages of Language writing (for example, John Ashbery, Bernstein, Ntozake Shange, Harryman, Scalapino, Amiri Baraka, Cherie Moraga, Tracie Morris, as well as "non-poet" playwrights like Adrienne Kennedy, Anna Deavere Smith, or Suzan-Lori Parks - the latter of whose works are based in a non-linear use of lyrical language and the performativity of individual and community speech acts.)

So it seems that I'm not the only one noticing. If any TN readers want to submit an outline (I'm idly thinking of it but, given my workload, probably won't), Laura is asking that you send a 250-300-word abstract and title describing your proposed topic no later than September 12, by e-mail only, to: Laura Hinton, Professor of English, The City College of New York (laurahinton12@gmail.com). And include the following cover-sheet information: name, address (preferably home), e-mail address, telephone number, academic affiliation (if applicable) and a personal biographical note, (100-150 words).

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