St. Bonaventure University will host an academic conference titled “Never Abolish Chance, The Concrete Poetry Conference” on Friday and Saturday.
The conference will celebrate the poems of Olean native Robert Lax and the wider world of concrete and visual poetry to which he contributed significantly.
Concrete poetry is poetry that relies on the visual appearance or arrangement of its words as part of, or even most of, its impact.
Lectures and panel sessions including a dozen presentations by poets, scholars, and critics from the United States and Canada are scheduled.
The title of the conference, “Never Abolish Chance,” is a line drawn from Stéphane Mallarmé’s A Throw of the Dice [Un Coup de Dés], an important early concrete poem, which celebrates its 120-year anniversary in 2017.
Born in Olean, Lax lived most of his life on the Greek island of Patmos. He was published in Mary Ellen Solt’s groundbreaking anthology “Concrete Poetry: A World View” (1968). Toward the end of his life, he left a vast collection of unpublished correspondence, notebooks, audio and visual materials, and small press ephemera to St. Bonaventure University.
Today, St. Bonaventure holds the largest repository of materials by and about Lax to be found anywhere in the world. A special exhibit drawn from the Lax archive, curated by Friedsam Memorial Library director Paul Spaeth, will open on Thursday, March 30, at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts on the St. Bonaventure campus. Conference attendees will tour the exhibit.
Featured conference speakers with expertise in the life and work of Robert Lax include Michael N. McGregor (Portland State University), whose biography “Pure Act: The Uncommon Life of Robert Lax” (2015), has been shortlisted for numerous awards in biography, American studies, and Catholic publishing, and John Beer (Portland State University), editor of a selection of Lax’s poems published by Wave Books in 2013, as well as author of “The Waste Land and Other Poems” (Canarium Books, 2010), winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America; a chapbook, “Lucinda” (Spork Press, 2013); and the full-length verse novella of “Lucinda” (Canarium, 2016).
Other keynote speakers illuminate aspects of 21st-century concrete and visual poetry.
Evie Shockley (Rutgers University) is the author of “the new black,” winner of the 2012 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award in Poetry; a chapbook, “a half-red sea”; and a critical study, “Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry” (University of Iowa Press, 2011). Her honors include the 2012 Holmes National Poetry Prize, fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and residencies at Hedgebrook, MacDowell, and the Millay Colony for the Arts.
Renee Gladman will deliver a keynote presentation at 7 p.m. Friday in the Trustees Room of Doyle Hall at St. Bonaventure.
Gladman’s recent titles include “Calamities” (Wave Books, 2016), and the Ravicka novels “Event Factory” (2010), “The Ravickians” (2011), and “Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge” (2013). In 2014-2015, she was a fellow at Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, where she worked on Prose Architectures, an interdisciplinary project exploring the continuum between sentences and drawings, to be published by Wave Books in May 2017.
Gladman has taught at several U.S. universities, most extensively as a professor of creative writing at Brown University from 2006-2014. Her presentation is free and open to the public.
The conference will also spotlight contemporary concrete poetry in Canada in a two-part performance and panel sponsored by Brock University of St. Catharines, Ontario. These events have been designated plenary sessions for students of Clare 401.
From 2 to 3:15 p.m. Friday in Swan Business Center 209, poets Derek Beaulieu (Alberta College of Art and Design) and Jordan Abel (Simon Fraser University) will read.
The second conference event designated as a Clare 401 plenary session will run from 2:45 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, also in Swan 209, and will feature a critical panel titled “Writing as Shield: Canadian Concrete and the Art of Survivance.” Speakers include Gregory Betts (Brock), Sarah Dowling (University of Washington-Bothell), and Julia Polyck-O’Neill (Brock).
Students, staff, and faculty with current SBU ID will be admitted to all conference lectures, readings, and panel sessions.
Attendees intending to partake of conference food services are asked to register and pay. All members of the St. Bonaventure and wider communities who are interested in registering for the conference and receiving a schedule of events should contact Lauren Matz at (716) 375-2459 or should access the registration link at http://stbonavenue.com/conferences/
The conference is sponsored by registration fees; St. Bonaventure University’s School of Arts & Sciences, Provost’s, and President’s Offices; St. Bonaventure University English Department; the Dr. Patrick Panzarella Endowed Professorship; the Reginald A. and Elizabeth S. Lenna Foundation; and Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario.
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