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Infrastructural Verse

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Organizer: Michael Martin Shea

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If the infrastructural turn in literary studies has found its privileged object in the novel (realist or otherwise), the history of poetic representations of infrastructure—from “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry'' or The Bridge to the trans-Atlantic networks implicated in Zong!—suggests the possibility for a different infrastructuralist archive. Indeed, theorizations of poetics across languages have long relied on an metaphorics of infrastructure, where the poem is a “high-energy construct” (Olson) or the poet is figured as “a wire that conducts and transforms the poetic current” (Paz). This seminar thus seeks to investigate how the form of the poem attends to, represents, and reimagines infrastructure as both problem and solution. What happens when we read infrastructure—and its lack, neglect, or privation—through poetic forms, rather than novelistic ones? How can what Christopher Nealon refers to as poetry’s “nimbleness around scale-shifting” be deployed to think about the dizzying complexity of modern infrastructural projects, their simultaneous existence as unrepresentable, globe-spanning networks (under-sea fiber optic cables) and objects or fields of ubiquitous presence (tap water, electrical sockets, wifi)? If the collapse of infrastructure is rendered as jaw-dropping spectacle—from Hollywood films to the viral event of the stuck Evergreen container ship—can poetic forms construct alternate spatio-temporal modelings of infrastructural crisis? How does poetry imagine the infrastructure of the future, or complicate its utopian promise—what Bruce Robbins has described as the (unequally distributed) distraction from our bodily necessities? 

As infrastructure is inherently transnational, this seminar is particularly interested in comparative studies and/or papers on poets from non-Anglophone traditions whose work explores the convergence between poetry and infrastructural studies. Potential subtopics include but are not limited to:

Ecopoetics, infrastructure, and environmental justice
Translation, transnationalism, and borders as infrastructural projects.
Poetic community and infrastructure, including academia
Poetic representations of the violence or afterlives of colonial or plantation infrastructures.
Poetry, social media, and new media technologies 
Infrastructures of publication and cultural production
Poetry and the fantasy of infrastructure, or what Perry Miller calls the “technological sublime”

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