To Neither Extreme: Texts From Other Centuries and the Works Contemporary Poets Make From Them – Karen Weiser


So much of how we think of history comes to us in the form of narratives. What happens to our understanding when that text from the past is poetry or is re-visioned into poetry? How do poets work with historical texts or different kinds of older disciplinary narratives? For a brief period early scientific texts were poems, and yet our culture seems to have mostly forgotten that poetry has the capacity to be wide in what it attempts to do or think through. Lisa Robertson writes in the poem “Palinode/”: “Though my object is history, not neutrality / I am prepared to adhere to neither extreme.” My hope is that we can explore our own writing as it comes out of a reading practice, considering history without feeling inclined to “adhere” to its formulations. We will look at pairings made up of contemporary poems and the works (or historical subjects) they converse with, seriously engaging both texts on their own terms and together, while writing poems that make use of the past to open new vistas of inquiry.   Some texts will include selections from: A Key Into the Language of America by Rosmarie Waldrop and A Key Into the Language of America by Roger Williams; Fred Moten’s Hughson’s Tavern and Jill Lepore’s New York Burning; and Aaron Kunin’s The Sore Throat and William James The Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1. ; Lisa Robertson’s R’s Boat and Rousseau’s “Fifth Walk”; Elizabeth Willis’s Meteoric Flowers and Erasmus Darwin’s The Botanic Garden; Susan Howe’s “Thorow” and Thoreau’s Walden.

Karen Weiser’s first book of poems, To Light Out, was published by Ugly Duckling Presse in the Spring of 2010. She is a doctoral candidate at the CUNY Graduate Center studying early American literature.