born: Cambridge, MA, 1969
education: Connecticut College (BA), Boston University (MA), University of Chicago (PhD)
occupation: Visiting Assistant Professor in English, North Central College, Naperville, IL; visit my faculty profile here.
current projects: I divide my time between poetry, literary history & aesthetic activism.
My recent poetry moves in two directions. First, there are “harmolodic essays”–long performance poems written in an improvisational mode similar to Ornette Coleman’s free jazz. Most recently, I have been developing poems that are scripts for performances in which audience members participate. I am trying to get away from the single voice of the author, looking for a poetics of the multitude. Gaper’s Delay, a collection of harmolodic essays, was recently published by Virtual Artists Collective. A different line of poetic inquiry focuses on the borderlands between kitsch and modernist poetry. Using techniques borrowed from the New York Objectivists, my one-time mentor Jackson Mac Low, & “Language” poets, I interrogate popular cultural texts, using poetry’s attention to image, symbol and music to reveal some of the affective ideologies that circulate in these texts. Recent publications include CHVMS, a rewriting of Hardy Boys adventure stories from the standpoint of Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of distinctions (Beard of Bees Press) & Family Poems, an Abecedarium built on words chosen randomly from a dictionary. This sort of work is intended to shift the boundaries between popular and poetic cultural forms. It is related to contemporary movements such as Flarf and Conceptual poetics, but I am attempting a more earnest engagement with the source materials than I find in most of this work.
For a number of years, my academic research has examined the relation between poetry and populism in twentieth-century U.S. culture. I wanted to understand how poets have contributed to grassroots political movements. In my view, populism names a zone of political affect, rather than a specific bundle of ideologies. To become a populist is not to become a political subject, but to engage in a performance that generates political antagonism. To become a populist, any subject need only take a stand, cop an attitude, put forth a position or disposition. Populism is the movement (not the culture) of movement culture. I looked at six poets who engaged in movement cultures: the three most popular Chicago Renaissance poets, Vachel Lindsay, Edgar Lee Masters and Carl Sandburg (I edited The People’s Pugilist, a collection of Sandburg’s early journalism and poetry, published by Charles H. Kerr Press), and three post-war writers: Gwendolyn Brooks, Edward Dorn and Kamau Brathwaite. In each case, I called attention to the resonances, reflections and forms of reciprocity between aesthetic and political affective gestures.
My current research project goes in an entirely different direction. My goal is to develop a literary approach to “weird fiction.” I take an expansive view of this academically underappreciated genre. In my view, weird fiction shadows fiction as such. As the novel develops, so does the weird novel. In the mid-1800s, as magazine writing flourished, weird stories did as well. Today we too often associate weird writing with H. P. Lovecraft’s pulp stories in Weird Tales; they are merely the most obvious tip of the iceberg. One result of this association has been the rise of a prolonged conversation about the weird, conducted by authors, fans, bibliogeeks and biographers, that has proceeded without the benefit of systematic literary analysis. Meanwhile, the few academic works that have attempted to analyze weird fiction–Tristan Todorov’s The Fantastic, for example–hold the genre at too great a remove (as though fearing contamination). My goal is to square this circle: to write about weirdness in terms that literary scholars and Lovecraft fans will appreciate. Most recent and forthcoming posts to this blog make public some of my findings.
“Aesthetic activism” describes my participation in various grassroots attempts to repopulate/reconfigure culture and society. As a member of the CAFF Collective, I participated in a number of public art projects; as a key-holder of the Mess Hall, I helped to program and manage this alternative cultural center. In 2008 I founded The Next Objectivists, a free, open-to-the-public poetry workshop that meet bi-monthly at the Mess Hall until it closed in March, 2013. The Next Objectivists continue to write and perform together occasionally & are completing our Collected Works, which will hopefully go to press soon. I am a member of Compass of the Midwest Radical Culture Corridor, a collaboration between Midwestern artists, activists and cultural theorists dedicated to “dreaming and doing on a regional scale.” In 2012 we published Deep Routes: The Midwest in All Directions. As a collaborator with and then member of Feel Tank Chicago, I have participated in “Parades of the Politically Depressed,” the event series, Pathogeographies and other explorations of public feeling.