Essay: Collen Fulton’s “The Inaugural Mood”

The Inaugural Mood

Criticisms from the Field: The Vancouver 125 Poetry Conference and the Futurity of Poetics

The temporality of our forms of poetic engagement have a strange character. On the one hand, full professionalization and institutionalization ties it firmly to an extreme contemporaneity: to be engaged with poetry today is to be a recipient of one or a diversity of kinds of recognition, to be known to be engaging with poetry today (it is important to be known to be in a residency, guest-editing a journal, leading a workshop, pitching a new project to funding bodies, launching your sixth book, or starting your own small press; it is not important to have done any of these things until the next opportunity for making one’s recognisability present arises). On the other hand, our forms of poetic engagement have long tried to grapple with different sorts of apriority: poetry today is full of work that devotes itself to locating, rewriting, and recentering what came before, to the reconciliation, uncovering and recontextualization of origins, colonial transgressions, witnessings, and to contesting the very notion of what is past in order to made sense of what isn’t yet. That last point is essential.

Contemporaneity produces recognition, rather than the present. Apriority produces contemporaneity, rather than any kind of past. And here, what is recognizable is taken to be implicit in what before. Note the lack of futurity. We’re bad at futures. But inauguration, the fourth and missing term of this diagram, is everywhere in our poetry’s temporality. It is the occasion upon which the ring should be worn. A special occasion.

Let’s think about the way that the inaugural is deployed as a stand-in for futurity. Let’s go back to the end of 2011, in Vancouver. The Winter Olympics had come and gone and left its mark on the city and on those who had resisted it, the Occupy movement was in full swing and the city was about to celebrate its 125th anniversary of incorporation/theft. The city used this moment to stage, among other things, a large poetry conference that aimed to grapple with contemporary poetics in a manner analogous to the landmark 1963 Vancouver conference. With a seventy-thousand dollar budget put up by the city, VAN125 took place just a block away from where the homeless population of East Hastings had set up a tent village the year before in defiance of VANOC’s opulence and the provincial government’s broken promises for affordable housing.In the words of the city’s poet laureate at the time and the event organizer, Brad Cran, the goal of VAN125 was to “look forward [from], not back [at]” not just 1963 event, but past and present divides in Canadian poetics. But what did and could an event like VAN125 do when undertaken within such fraught social relations? For its part, the idea of cultural events being in the best interests of political groupings like the city and the state tends to be justified along the lines of the influential (and failed)2 theory of the creative class or cultural city, where cultural investment is the perfect fertilizer for fallow urban spaces, functioning something like a waft-up economics to rival the more pragmatic forms of trickling-down. For our part, we must try to understand this kind of literary event, the inaugurating or epochal literary event – as a special case of Pierre Bourdieu’s theorization of aesthetic-social fractioning and reproduction. As inauguration, the epochal literary event attempts to establish and propagate standards of taste, and by extension, class, under the guise of identifying exemplary and the excellent and projecting onwards from them. This is what passes as futurity within such an event. (Note that this kind of analysis can and should be done for many such events: the Avant Canada conference in 2014 or the upcoming Kanada Koncrete this year, for example. I chose VAN125 purely because of my having had first-hand experience of it.)

Almost a hundred poets were invited to the four-day conference, from October 19th to 22nd, and although the vast majority were Canadian due to protectionist arts funding policies, some were American, including one of the three keynote readers, making the focus of VAN125’s inauguration not just Canadian but continental. Each day was divided into panels of one moderator and three or four poets who read their work and then discussed their practice or the loose topics that were given to each grouping,3 though in practice most panels addressed audience questions more than any kind of thematic goals. Panels of nearly two hours each ran from 9am to 7pm each day: the first night was capped off by a traditional Coast Salish welcome (plus a traditional wine and cheese welcome) for the poets at the Listel Hotel,4 whereas the second and third nights each ended with cabaret readings and musical performances. After a keynote, the final day concluded with a large panel that we will discuss in depth later (as well as another poets-only fete). Admission to VAN125 was charged either by panel (20$ per) or in a bundle (179$ for the full event, or 129$ for students/low-income attendees), and the cabaret readings had separate entrance fees. These are staggering costs by the usual standards of poetry events, especially considering VAN125’s ample funding.5Though we still are principally concerned with temporality, spatiality plays a part in this inauguration as well, in terms of setting. The first day of the event was held in the Segal building (which hosts SFU’s business school), the second and third days took place at the SFU Harbour Centre (a former department store), and the fourth day was spent in the SFU Goldcorp Centre for the Arts (which after a ten million dollar donation was named after the mining conglomerate Goldcorp, known for poisoning Hondurans, displacing indigenous Guatemalans, and more recently, a deafening silence on the assassination of a sixteen-year-old who had been protesting one of their installations6). VAN125 actively sought to synthesize a future for poetry by containing its aesthetic oppositions, tried to “begin” a future by being “together,” – but as a literary event it could not help but adopt liberalism’s forms of spatiality: corporate (architectural) and populist (audience), governmental (mandate) and academic (backing). The big tent.

VAN125’s curation strategy, the panel format, was central to the way it handled these oppositions, and it had a profound effect on what poetics can mean in such a setting. We must consider what ‘the panel’ is as a form, and the way panels relate to each other, to audiences, and to those who such events must be justified to (organizers, patrons, and so on). The way in which audiences experienced VAN125 is, for example, nearly identical to the descriptions given in the MLA outline for convention presentations:  “sessions featuring three speakers and a respondent or four speakers,” in the case of the panels – “roundtable sessions containing up to eight presenters, including a presider and respondent,” in the case of the final group discussion – keynotes “of critical renown” in the case of the headline reading – and not to forget “special events […] of significant interest to some portion of the membership,” which MLA guidelines propose should be held via “allied organizations,” much as the cabaret readings were hosted in conjunction with the yearly Vancouver Writer’s Festival. As much as VAN125 took inspiration from the seriousness of the academic conference, it also shaped itself as a kind of career fair. According to the USAID governmental guide to planning career or job fairs, these events are “typically held in large assembly halls with a booth for each employer. At the front of each booth is a table that displays company brochures and information. Usually, several company representatives staff each booth, standing behind tables as they talk to job seekers. Some companies decorate their booths.” Other comparisons of structure can be made, to the ambassadorial delegation or to the roundtable of talking heads, but it is enough to note how poetry adopts forms for its self-articulation from areas of public life with which it claims to have little in common. Considering VAN125’s outreach to aspiring and emerging poets via its marketing and explicit option for student pricing, as well as the caste-grouping of poets, it is hard not to see the conference’s posture as one of recruitment, a chance to let newcomers sample from an already-established patchwork of poetics, and to see “experts” at work for the purpose of future mimesis.

A common criticism from attendees and participants of VAN125 had to do with the way panels were positioned next to one another, making it impossible to see, for example, both the formalist grouping of Carmine Starnino, Barbara Nickel, Stephanie Bolster, George Murray and Chris Hutchinson and the experimental grouping of Sachiko Murakami, Ray Hsu, Darren Wershler, Sandra Doller and Meredith Quartermain, due to them taking place at the exact same time in different parts of the venue. One only has so much time to spend on the hunt for the future of poetry. Do you want to see the panel on the lyric, or the panel on the city? Do you want to see the panel on translation and the Other, or the panel of Downtown East Side poets? Do you want to see the panel devoted to bpNichol, or the panel devoted to feminist poetics? Of course, one could attend a panel discussion full of unfamiliar poets that deals with an unfamiliar topic, but even then the possible outcomes of the panel format seem to be either echo chambers or abstruse trolling (as when the lyric poet Russell Thornton successfully baited the Kootenay School-aligned poet Clint Burnham into an acidic back and forth over the “theory-mongering” of the avant-garde). One of the problems of big-tent approaches to ideological fractures in any community or population is that the enclosure is merely formal, and this was certainly the case with VAN125. The panel – not quite a workshop, not quite a lecture, adaptable to poetry as much as to a discussion of contemporary marketing research on hydraulic pumps – always attempts to interpolate a group of specialists borne witness to by the crowd, rather than the kind of open-ended encounter (whether between audience and poet, the poet and the social, the material and the poet’s relation to it) that the word poesis at its best implies.

And for a clear image of a large tent on fire slowly drifting downwards, we need only look at the final and summative panel of VAN125. Taking place on the main stage of the Goldcorp Centre, with three-hundred capacity seating, ten poets were arranged in a line facing the audience. On either side was a moderator: Vancouver professor and activist Stephen Collis on the audience’s left, and Montreal editor and reviewer Carmine Starnino on the audience’s right. Between them were Christian Bök, Ken Babstock, Clint Burnham, Steven Heighton, Suzanne Buffam, Jen Currin, Sachiko Murakami and Stephanie Bolster. The keynote reading the night before had not functioned as a moment of commentary about VAN125, since the three poets simply read their work in complete disconnection from one another (Fanny Howe, Don McKay and Martin Espada have very little in common in all senses), with no discussion with or questions from the crowd afterward. The final panel was thus a chance to look back on four days of “poetic activity” and the political turmoil that was taking place in the city. It began with a statement of thanks from Stephen Collis to the Musqeuam First Nation for VAN125’s presence on their traditional territory, as well as thanks to the Department of Heritage and the Cultural Capital program for funding – then it was taken over by Carmine Starnino for an extensive listing of the publications, awards and credentials belonging to each of the eight respondents. Almost immediately a tension in the discussion arose as Starnino attempted to move from Collis’s description of VAN125’s findings being “one eye on the lyric and one eye on whatever comes next” (a call for futurity and fundamental change) to his own description of “poetry becoming a steampunk practice” (as if poets should emulate the contemporary with Victorian-era technology only). After nearly fifteen minutes of the two straight white men speaking, Jen Currin presented a statement of poetics comprised not just of audience comments, but also testimony from miners in one of Goldcorp’s Guatemalan holdings, as well as quotes from poems read at the counter-reading that took place the night before.7 The panel as a whole ended up discussing the politics of poetry and the antagonisms of the poetic divisions  in the room, but rarely as a dialogue, and more often as isolated statements from each of the panelists.

The discussion, as many noted,8 was focused on and by the men on the panel, and in general respondents shied away from a concrete statement on whether VAN125 was a success (on its own terms) or not. For a quick overview, the topics ranged from: Heighton’s self-help-style imposition to “write and read what you love” in the face of “puerile gang wars,” as if to absolve everyone of conflict; Burnham’s embrace of the conflict, relishing the fact that a diversity of poets “being in the same room for the first time” led to “shit getting fucked up”; Sachiko Murakami’s attempt to critique the streamlining of poetics at the conference and its immunization against wider political questions, (which was quickly quashed by Starnino when he asked her to name the names of those she had heard being critical of the event, which she refused to do); Ken Babstock’s fatalist response to the critique, stating that “the complicity of everyone in the late Capitalism […] seems to be a given” and that anyone “not living under a rock” should have thought through this moral bind to such an extent that it needn’t be dealt with aloud below the Goldcorp roof; Bolster and Buffam’s career-oriented anecdotes about their MFA writing students wanting to “keep politics and poetry separate” in terms of content, even while treating the choice of ‘poetry as profession’ as a somehow rebellious act; Bök’s technological and exceptionalist laying-out of goals, wanting “to be the kind of poet that can make his own planet,” “the best poet in the local galactic cluster,” all while bemoaning a feeling that most poets of his era have “diminished ambitions” for the future (he fails to comment on the people on the streets at the time); followed by Currin’s anarcho-primitivist rebuttal that poetry needs to face the coming apocalypse and accept that it would inevitably “end up around the campfire again.”

The fundamental move in this final panel then was a transformation of the question “what is the future of poetry?” to “what does a contemporary-yet-to-come in which poetry takes place look like to each of you?” The taste-formations of futurity in each case resulted in aesthetic positioning: Currin’s “Cormac McCarthy-esque” campfire (as Burnham mockingly called it) privileging a return to nature and human intimacy, Bök’s “robot audience” privileging the digital and making anything one can imagine possible, and Starnino’s “plagiarising present” privileging a textuality that maintains allegiance to canon and a sense of continuity. After about an hour and half the audience, from whom only four questions came in total, seemed to get tired particularly of Christian Bök’s opinions and began to boo and hiss loudly in an attempt to silence him – the discussion ended shortly thereafter. It was in fact the head organizer Brad Cran who ended it, and in doing so, perhaps sensing the discomfort of many, tried to summarize VAN125 as an attempt to preserve “respect without consensus.” The failures of the conference should be apparent in this final panel, where, for example, racial representation remained predominantly white, and despite the equal presence of men and women, male voices drowned out all others and controlled the conversation.

In these and so many other ways, it seems as if VAN125 wanted two very different and incompatible things: to be both an open forum that resisted top-down curation, and a pluralistic, delegation-style inquiry into poetic fields and their teleologies. It also wanted to be both an event for and about ‘the people’ as well as a celebration of or gift to ‘the poets,’ where the festive atmosphere of entertainment and performance jarred with the pedagogical atmospheres of theoretical, activist, and craft-oriented divides. Of course, VAN125 was praised for its ambition and overtures to diversity in an airy National Post review written by Michael Lista, but the review of the event treats the criteria for its success almost as a tautology – that the dearth of attention to poetry and dearth of interaction across aesthetic lines makes any attention to poetry and any interaction between poetics something that should be applauded. Lista somehow manages to criticise poets he doesn’t like for wasting Canadian taxpayer funding within a trip report that mostly discusses how much fun it was schmoozing with them at a boutique hotel. The fact that the review ends with a derisive image of “tripped out” protesters at Occupy Vancouver on the reviewer’s way back to his room post-conference, contented that noble work had been done, should show that little thought was given to VAN125 in retrospect.9The epochal literary event, of which VAN125 is only one example, poses problems to which only it (in its own view) can be the answer. What will unite poets? What publics can poetry move in? What future might poetics share? Where will the audience for poetry come from, and what do they want from it? If VAN125 gave up on auguring the unintelligible future implied by its forced assemblage and its shattered present, if it settled for an inauguration of custom futures in which all of those forces and poetics were eminently intelligible and consumable, it is because it was unable to give up one of its major ideological foundations – that of taste. Pierre Bourdieu’s work in Distinction identifies taste-formation as the ideological function which makes possible the contradictory coexistence of sharply divided publics and mashed up aesthetics and ethics, which is the double movement which characterizes VAN125 as our case study. No longer just a doctrinaire, sense-based guideline for the appreciation of ‘proper’ art, Bourdieu argues that taste is now present at all social levels as “the stylization of life,” “the purifying, refining and sublimating of primary needs.” Inauguration is more comfortable than futurity. It is not the future, it is one’s taste in future:

Pure taste performs a suspension of ‘naïve’ involvement which is one dimension of a ‘quasi-ludic’ relationship with the necessities of the world. Intellectuals could be said to believe in the representation – literature, theatre, painting – more than in the things represented, whereas the people chiefly expect representations and the conventions which govern them to allow  them to believe ‘naively’ in the things represented. The pure aesthetic is rooted in an ethic, or rather, an ethos of elective distance from the necessities of the natural and social world, which may take the form of moral agnosticism (visible when ethical transgression becomes an artistic parti pris) or of an aestheticism which presents the aesthetic disposition as a universally valid principle and takes the bourgeois denial of the social world to its limit. [Bourdieu 5]

To identify what is proper to a taste becomes “a practical affirmation of an inevitable difference” [Bourdieu 56] – rather than depending on a rational justification or aesthetic argument, tastes assert themselves by negating other tastes. Taste’s power to construct difference “begins with a transgression that is in no way aesthetic: it has to abolish the sacred frontier which makes legitimate culture a separate universe, in order to discover the intelligible relations which unite apparently incommensurable ‘choices,’ such as preferences in music and food, painting and sport, literature and hairstyle.” In the case of the literary event, everyone involved must think of whether and how consumption of this experience can have a social and moral impact that the consumption of a rodeo, a street magician, a figure-skating set or an anime convention would lack; and everyone, from organizers to participants to attendees to the excluded, tend to think their consumption and refusal to consume on a trajectory relevant to their political position. With VAN125 we can see that taste is not just a preference, the capacity to ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ this or that poet or kind of poetry, but works also as a moralized susceptibility to existence in the thing one may or may not prefer. Taste allows us, stupidly, to ask what would it would mean for the fate of a society/art/identity if a thing that exists before one’s eyes were to exist. The literary event specializes in this kind of superfluous ontological interrogation. In order to maintain itself as the answer to its own questions, the inauguration of poetics is not merely a structure filled in cyclically by accidental material (whatever current debates may be had in regards to poetics, whatever coteries may be in our time triangulating themselves against one another) – inauguration is a structuring structure, a habitus, to use Bourdieu’s term, which naturalizes itself to such an extent that it seems inevitable given the future, the continuity, that it promises. It is as if the present, so deprived of its own existence in the way it is always forced to be recognizable, has been forced to parasitize the future under the name ‘inauguration.’

Reading the literary event with the aid of Bourdieu should dismiss one of the first critiques I anticipate for the way VAN125 has been drawn here, namely, that with better critical tools better choices in curation might be made. This critique treats the literary event’s dilemmas not as dead ends, but as a generative position, and is roughly the point of view of the optimist who believes that the epochal literary event is at least minimally amenable to poetics “if done well.” The problem with such a critique is that it assumes that taste-governed choices about curation (whether they are recognized as such or not) have something to do with their goals or outcomes, and either need not pass through the social parsing that taste implies, or can obey the social. On the contrary, the curator is the person who least understands their own tastes and the possibilities of the event. The trajectories along which subjects think and plan, and by extension make choices regarding the structure of such events,10 “involve the more or less explicit and systematic representation an agent has of the social world, of [their] position within it and of the position [they] ‘ought’ to occupy. Political discourse, when it exists as such, is often no more than the more or less euphemized and universalized expression (never perceived as such by those who utter it) of that representation.” [Bourdieu 454] And because taste relies on the negation or quarantine of other tastes, attempts to perfect or hone one’s own taste will always be incomplete. The closer one manages to push an event toward their vision for it, the more alternative manifestations of the event must be discarded, and the less politically generative it becomes. The habitus (and in our reading, inauguration) neither reproduces its tastes as it hopes to, nor does it die easily; it much more commonly buds off.

In fact, the metaphor of budding – the asexual reproduction of organisms such as coral and sea sponge where a detached piece survives as a distinct genetic clone – aptly describes the way inauguration reproduces literary culture while deferring its futures. Like all aspects of culture for Bourdieu, it “simultaneously presupposes and demands that one take part in the game and be taken in by it; interest in culture, without which there is no race, no competition, is produced by the very race and competition which it produces […] which makes the game and endlessly remakes the competition for the stakes.” [Bourdieu 250] Every time a new game begins being played the field is reproduced, and cultural capital, as well as its social space, undergoes a transformation: usually the grasp of those who are used to holding onto this capital tightens (the reef condenses), occasionally it is inherited by a new group or generation (the reef expands), or very rarely, perhaps mythically, it is transferred and redistributed through its own rebirth (the dead reef fertilizes itself).11 As an aside, Bourdieu also points out how welcoming a diversity of poets and poetries into the same room and inaugurating a shared temporality for them does nothing to recognize or change their differential chances of survival.12A second possible critique – the voice of the abstinent poet/poetry-consumer/poetaster who claims that the literary event is fully contingent to poetry and may be readily abandoned – can now be put aside as well.13 As Bourdieu makes clear, in every instance of social differentiation – whether it is an election, a job interview, or a literary event – some must win and some must lose. Much like the expansion and devaluation of bourgeois access to ‘qualification’ for education (and therefore subsistence) that Bourdieu studied in Distinction, poetry too has experienced a swell of access and participation (for some) alongside a diminishment of relevance or currency (for all). The more everyday and common literary events become in the social lifecycle of poetics, the less assured poets can be of retaining or growing standing/community/readership by taking part in one. As a result, some instances of the event have to be valued as more elite (and in terms of temporality: epochal) in order to stand apart from the coffee house open mics of the poetry world.

To claim that the inaugural form of the literary event can be abandoned, and to leave it at that, naively ignores the ways in which agents adapt to limits on cultural reproduction. Those at pains to avoid the devaluation of real and aspired-to positions within a cultural field, within society, will turn to other taste-based systems of differentiation if the literary event (or any sphere of artistic activity) as we know it is not an option, as they have always done, and this is obviously already taking place in a poetry landscape in which careers live or die on Twitter, in workshops, in English departments, long before and long after the public reading or performance. The transmutation of contemporaneity into recognition does not end if the duration of a contemporary is ‘shortened.’ Again borrowing from Distinction, “the strategies which one group may employ to try to escape downclassing and to return to their class trajectory, and those which another group employs to rebuild the interrupted path of a hoped-for trajectory, are now one of the most important factors in the transformation of social structures.” [Bourdieu 147] Despite Canadian poetry being a more petrified environ than most, we cannot conclude, especially after those who have been empowered by the habitus have finished reaping its rewards, that it can simply be foreclosed upon.

In the last several years, poetry has been forced to deal with its tendency to confuse and obscure social fractioning with aesthetic fractioning after a series of collapses: from multiple scandals over racialized appropriation in the Conceptual movement, to an exposé on the military-industrial ties of one of poetry’s largest prizes, the Griffin, to the airing of pervasive misogyny and sexual abuse within writing communities ranging from the American Alt Lit to Anglophone Montreal, to a generational and racialized debate about the nature of ‘literary activism;’ the very questions that the literary event is supposedly the answer to are being asked with more and more intensity. One can find and analyze epochal events similar to VAN125 wherever the future suddenly becomes noticeably absent in poetics, but the tendency, of course, is to inaugurate this absence and then quickly move on.

Ironically, the invocation of “respect without consensus” that closed the final panel at VAN125 does somehow summarize the character of the epochal literary event, and of inauguration as the truth behind most social forms of poetic activity. From its root in Latin, ‘respectus’ did not have the connotation of an implicit and reciprocal relation between object and subject that it has now. It simply meant “to regard, to look at.” If respect (for one’s lack of future) without consensus (on what is lacking in the present) binds poetics under the phenomena of occasional inauguration, what it implies more simply is that there can be no consensus on what is being looked at, no consensus on the ways of looking, and not even a consensus on what those who are doing the looking look like. Looking has to be on the contrary a futural gesture. We look so that we can someday find. When a poetry suffused with recognition looks into the future, its stare, which is always the weaving-together of many circumspections, seems profoundly blank.


Ironically the location of the tent village has since been ‘beautified’ by cast-iron railings and street gardens, making it quite difficult to squat there again: http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/story/2908
Which even its champion, Richard Florida, now admits: “On close inspection, talent clustering provides little in the way of trickle-down benefits. Its benefits flow disproportionately to more highly-skilled knowledge, professional, and creative workers whose higher wages and salaries are more than sufficient to cover more expensive housing in these locations. While less-skilled service and blue-collar workers also earn more money in knowledge-based metros, those gains disappear once their higher housing costs are taken into account.” http://grist.org/cities/fallacy-of-the-creative-class/
Topics included methodologies of translation (Zapruder, Avasilichioaei, L’Abbe, mod. Grubisic), formalism (Nickel, Hutchinson, Starnino, Bolster, mod. Murray), the Kootenay School of Writing (Eng, Derksen, Strang, Lusk, mod. Burnham), First Nations literature (Arnott, John, Wallace, mod. Morse), slam poetry (Wilson, Evanson, McGarragle, mod. Gilpin), ecopoetry (Siebert, Denham, Leclerc, Wong, mod. Collis), publishing (Doller, Murakami, Hsu, Quartermain, mod. Wershler) and even ‘poetry and the cultural city’ (Bök, Wershler, Lai, mod. Derksen) and a panel of DTES poets (Rea, Shimrat, Aweda, mod Gardiner & Turner). It should also be noted that several poets appeared on multiple panels.
The Listel on Robson was also where many of the guest poets here put up during the conference: a four-star hotel, the Listel is self-described as a “boutique hotel,” “committed to art, elegance and comfort,” with rooms decorated by either contemporary gallery art, or “Northwest Coast art supplied by the UBC museum of anthropology.” 
Anecdotally, other participants say that after the first day, paid entry was less guarded and some poets defiantly brought guests from the homeless community of the DTES and Occupy Vancouver into the audience.
http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/blog/stimulator/8941, http://www.vice.com/en_ca/read/canadian-pensions-are-being-invested-in-a-mining-company-with-a-questionable-human-rights-record
Organized by Jen Currin and Christine Leclerc, a counter-reading took place on at Rhizome Café in East Van, an anarchist co-op that was involved in activism of many kinds in the city. (http://rhizomecafe.ca/ourstory/) This event, of which very little record remains, functioned as an outlet for poets not involved in VAN125 to vent about its apolitical tones and complicity to capital. The tone as I remember it was one of rage, even though some of the more skeptical local conference attendees (Burnham, Mancini, Derksen, Eng, Lusk) also attended and read.
In correspondence with Gillian Jerome, one of the organizers of VAN125, the founding of CWILA was actually a response to the archaic and patriarchal ‘survival-of-the-deepest-voice’ tone of this final panel.
Despite the conference indeed being a landmark in terms of scale and financing, there are very few traces of it as archive. The event’s website has been sold to a Thai herbal manufacturer. The audience questionnaire handed out at the final panel, which was supposedly going to be sent to the Vancouver Municipal library as a part of the anniversary collection, was never compiled. As far as I know (and according to correspondence with Brad Cran) my personal recordings of a handful of panels are the only ones that were made.
10 Who to invite, where to hold it, how to fund it, what to wear to it, and so on. The extension of Bourdieu’s quote may assist in outlining the opacity of choice as I’ve attempted to treat it: “between the position really occupied and the political ‘positions’ adopted, there intervenes a representation of the position which, although determined by the position, may be at odds with the political ‘positions’ the position seems to entail for an external observer.” [Bourdieu 454] Case in point, those VAN125 participants ‘choosing’ to attend the Rhizome counter-reading.
11 To be precise, Bourdieu also wants to untangle the idea of ‘social mobility’ from its typical understanding as only either upward or downward. For him there is vertical social movement on the one hand, where one moves up or down hierarchies within a field of culture (unknown poet, emerging poet, established poet, award winning poet, canonized poet, dead poet) and transversal movement on the other, where one moves into an entirely different field and must find a way to convert latent cultural capital from the old into the form valid for the new (poet becomes novelist, poet becomes real estate agent, poet becomes academic, poet becomes parent). The issue of the reconversion of cultural capital is thus just as important as the issue of its reproduction, and for poetry the literary event is one quilting point for both.
12 “Through the mediation of the disposition towards the future, which is itself determined by the group’s objective chances of reproduction, these strategies depend, first, on the volume and composition of the capital to be reproduced; and, secondly, on the state of the instruments of reproduction […], which itself depends on the state of power relations between the classes.” [Bourdieu 125]
13 Since I have written of this elsewhere, I should note that this is a response that arises in a curiously regular way when similar discussions of prize culture arise: to claim that one or one’s own field is untainted by the prize (or the event) is merely to say that one’s cultural capital is being doled out and hoarded in other ways.


Collen Fulton is a poet and prospective PhD student living in Montreal. Her first book, Life Experience Coolant, was published by Bookthug in 2013.
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