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Poetic Grammars

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Organizer: Julia Bloch

Co-Organizer: Jane Malcolm

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In “A Grammar of Waking,” the poet Tonya Foster writes, “Hungry / and articulate / syllables // graze the / field of this page.” Metapoetically invoking units of punctuation not as sound but on a visual field, Foster's poem abstracts the terms of grammar only to personify them in a poem that interrogates identity and consciousness. This panel is interested primarily in how modern and contemporary poets foreground the terms of grammar in order to puncture narratives of culture, to upend received forms of meaning, and to pressure language itself to torque poetic expression in new ways. From Gertrude Stein’s “Poetry and Grammar,” which makes bold claims for and against the building blocks of linguistic meaning (“Sentences are not emotional but paragraphs are”), to M. NourbeSe Philip’s “Universal Grammar,” which uses the form of the linguistic workbook as a critique of colonialism, grammar functions both as the literal organization of meaning and as a structuring metaphor for lived reality. Grammar features prominently in a number of recent interventions in cultural studies, as well: the future anterior is theorized by writers such as Alexander Weheliye in Habeas Viscus as a way to imagine both freedom and new genres of the human, while Denise Ferreira da Silva has written about how “modern grammar” provides the grounds for analyses of the sociohistorical operations of power. Sarah Ensor coins the notion of “nontelic grammar” as a way to understand intransitive queer futurity, while the future itself—and its grammatical imperatives—is always being retheorized in Black studies, queer theory, and ecopoetics.

This panel seeks a way into these multiple discourses around grammar by inviting participants to present close readings of and/or critical engagements with poems or poetics statements that foreground the terms of grammar. Panelists will use their discussions of a number of grammar-centric poems and essays to build a broader context for understanding what grammar means in poetry, drawing from fields like sociolinguistics, critical race theory, and editing theory, in order to investigate the cultural work grammar does when it is foregrounded in a poem.

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