Academic journal article Spatial Practices

Poets as Experimental Geographers: Mark Nowak, Kaia Sand and the Re-Composition of Political-Historical Space

Academic journal article Spatial Practices

Poets as Experimental Geographers: Mark Nowak, Kaia Sand and the Re-Composition of Political-Historical Space

Article excerpt

Abstract:

This essay explores how poets refashion space, pressing poetical experience in a political direction. Examining the work of US-based poets Mark Nowak and Kaia Sand, I analyze political-poetical interventions that conceitedly push poems beyond the page and into history-drenched spaces of dissent. Along the way I explore the following themes: how poetry can surreptitiously slide into social protest against neoliberal capitalism without stepping onto the slippery slope of didacticism; how poetic interventions can galvanize a political scale shift from the local to the global and back again; how poets make tactical use of recombination and recontextualization to foment formally innovative platforms for politics. Nowak and Sand uncover the social relationships embedded in space, conceitedly eschewing the idea of poet as expert, instead favouring the practice of poet as rigorous investigator of socio-political relations. Rather than claiming authorial authority, they inspire audience participation by embracing a tactical position of amateur.

Key names and concepts: Mark Nowak, Kaia Sand; poetry, public space, scale, space.

History is the scaffold on which art and writing grow.

(Matthew Stadler 2008: xx)

Spatial politics are forged on the anvil of social relations and are vibrating with all-too-often unacknowledged historical multiplicity. Yet spatial politics are also hammered out on the anvil of poeticalartistic practice in ways that honour open-endedness, scale-shifting, and inexpertdom. This essay explores how poets refashion space, pressing poetical experience and aesthetic relations in a political direction. Focusing on the work of two contemporary US-based poets - Mark Nowak and Kaia Sand - I examine political-poetical interventions that conceitedly push poems beyond the page and into history-drenched spaces of dissent. Along the way, I consider the following questions: how can poetry surreptitiously slide into social protest against neoliberal capitalism without stepping onto the slippery slope of didacticism? How can poetic interventions galvanize a political scale shift from the local to the global and back again? What methods of presentation and dissemination are these poets using to provoke political-poetic interaction?

Both Nowak and Sand make tactical use of recombination and recontextualization to construct formally innovative platforms for political dissent. Both writer-activists uncover the social relationships that are embedded in space as they eschew the idea of poet as expert, instead favouring the practice of poet as rigorous investigator of the socio-political relations that inflect both abstract and corporeal space. Rather than claiming authorial authority and triggering the tyranny of the omniscient expert, these poets encourage participation on the part of their audiences by embracing a tactical position of amateur. In doing so, both foreground the ephemeral process of social interaction as informed citizen, subtly shifting the locus of power to the audience, transforming bystanders into meaning-makers. Both Nowak and Sand knit formations of presence and absence, intertwining the past and the present in an effort to create, in the words of Henri Lefebvre (1991: 367), "forces that run counter to a given strategy" as they engage in "establishing 'counter-space' within a particular space" of material and discursive unevenness. While place and space are often organized in ways that prevent lateral, collective connections, these writers resist the ingratiating processes of social control and political cooptation, creating Lefebvre-esque "counter-spaces" (383) that are "designed to thwart strategies, plans, and programs imposed from above".

Key aspects of these poets' work cannot be grasped or grappled using conventional literary theory and the vocabulary of poetry criticism. In this essay I argue that there are contemporary poets whose work we gain greater analytical leverage on if viewed through a visual-art prism even though poetry is usually not examined in the same field as site-specific art practice. …

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