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Twenty-First Century Distribution
Council of Literary Magazines & Presses / Small Press Distribution
Friday, 4 January 3:30 PM-4:45 PM, New Orleans (Hyatt Regency Chicago)
MLA 2019

Posting Poetry, Publishing Protest: Social Media Publications and Poetic Activism in Zimbabwe
Susanna Sacks (Northwestern University) 

This paper considers how Zimbabwean poets use Facebook to engage a diasporic audience, building an international base for political activism. I ask, first, how Facebook's algorithmic and aesthetic norms shape the poetry itself, and second, how poets work within those norms to address a new and growing audience. Over the past 15 years, social media publication has opened new routes of conversation and direct interactions with local and regional audiences. The rise of social media as a platform for poetry publication, reception, and distribution exhorts us to consider the audience as itself an intrinsic part of literary production, creating collective speech through hashtags, comments, and shares. For Zimbabweans - nearly a quarter of whom currently live abroad - social media publication has also become an important means of reaching an increasingly transnational nation. Moreover, the relative anonymity of Facebook publication has made it an especially appealing outlet for dissident writers and activists, whose work engages a dispersed audience linked by a shared political investment in the nation. By publishing on Facebook, dissident Zimbabwean poets provide activists with a language of protest and affiliation while themselves skirting retribution. Facebooks norms require that, for a post to appear in users' newsfeeds, readers must interact with the primary text, commenting on it directly or recontextualizing it through shares. These digital poems thus become interactive projects, staging grounds for the performance of communities as well as artistic artifacts, exemplifying the sort of collaborative speech currently driving literary production and social action globally.


Redistribution, Repetition, Re-traumatization: The Mongrel Coalition and the Copy Logic of Twenty-First-Century Culture
Jacob Edmond (University of Otago)

This paper examines the intimate relationship between the poetry and paratextual practice of the Mongrel Coalition against Gringpo and the online media through their work was distributed during their 2015 campaign against, in their words, "WHITE CONCEPTUALISM" and, in particular, the conceptual writers Kenneth Goldsmith and Vanessa Place. Like Goldsmith and Place, the Mongrel Coalition deployed the device of repetition to negotiate the copy logic of digital media. The oeuvre of the Mongrel Coalition exists entirely online: much of it comprises posts to the coalition's accounts on Twitter and Tumblr and to its webpage gringpo.com, from which all content has now been deleted. Their work involved the cut-and-paste or mashup of existing texts, images, and audio files and depended for its effect on social media distribution through further acts of copying: of retweeting, reposting, sharing, and so on. In calling out Goldsmith and Place, the Mongrel Coalition therefore inevitably encountered the same problem that bedeviled the work of these conceptual writers: the problem of repeating re-traumatizing racist texts and images. The paper examines how the Mongrel Coalition attempted to address and respond to this problem, especially in their now deleted work "The Best Conceptual Poem of the Year." Through a reading of this work as a commentary on the copy logic of digital distribution networks, I show what the Mongrel Coalition can teach us about the role of the copy in twenty-first century culture and the different possible ethical, political, and poetic trajectories of the device of repetition.

Analog Internet: Pseudo-autobiography and the Poetics of Print Digitality in 21st C. Multiethnic Writing
Maria Dikcis (Northwestern University) 

Since the early 2000s, a variety of multiethnic poets engaging with digital landscapes have investigated linguistic, social, and cultural identity through print works attuned to the aesthetics of "online" representation. Three recent texts by poets of color - Mónica de la Torre's Public Domain (Roof Books, 2008), Tan Lin's Insomnia and the Aunt (Kenning Editions, 2011), and Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014) - aspire to reconstruct, appropriate, and bootleg the conditions of what can constitute "digitality." Underlying the formal and narrative structure of each work is a mechanism of broadcasting, exchange, or citation found commonly on the Internet: respectively, the video clip, email, and Google search entry. Via these platforms, de la Torre, Lin, and Rankine all reimagine the "virtual" lives of their partially autobiographical selves entangled in scenes of digital interaction, treating the behaviors, forms, and interfaces of these identities as variously both object and agent of media ideology. I argue that the self-representative ethos characteristic of Internet spaces takes on a new potential of technological distribution within the context of minority poets materially and symbolically seizing control of the means of media reproducibility. I am thus broadly concerned with addressing how and why we should reconsider the status of the book as "digital" technology. Contemporary poets and the independent presses publishing them are increasingly putting digitally surrogate production and consumption practices into the service of altering norms of what constitutes "ethnic" literature, intensifying the political stakes of representation for poets of color who are defining new practices of media making through formal innovation.


Poetics of Ubiquitization: Peripheral Thresholds in Tan Lin's Ambient Heath

Holly Melgard (University of Buffalo)

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