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Poetry and Urban Transformation

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Organizer: Davy Knittle

Co-Organizer: Sarah Arkebauer

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How does poetry model, resist and press against the material transformation of cities and urban regions? How do poems engage with urban change as it shapes the movement of people, commodities, and ideas, and as it curates affective experience and interior lives?

At a time when urban areas house the majority of the global population, and in which their continued uneven (re)development and decay perpetuates the stratification of access to material, social and economic resources, we are interested in how poetry across historical periods and geographies responds to, synthesizes, and participates in the transformation of the urban built environment.

How do poems engage the affective life and physical shape of the transforming city and region, as a planned space and as a ruptured or disordered one? How do poems register changes at many scales: community-based efforts to shape urban space, gentrification and revitalization projects, and climate crises and ecological disasters? How are urban experiences, communities, spaces, and lives archived in poetry when they cannot or cannot continue to appear in the built environment? How do poems approach the legacies of racial, class-based, and anti-queer violence that have been constitutive of cities and urban areas? This seminar seeks papers that synthesize contributions to the studies of poetics, the urban and the regional, and the public sphere.

David Harvey argues that: “[t]he right to the city is an empty signifier. Everything depends on who gets to fill it with meaning.” In an effort to complicate, contextualize, and clarify Harvey, we are interested in considering how poets have used their work to engage with urban transformation as a means of populating and claiming the city, and of recording the immaterial or obfuscated effects of changes to the built environment.   

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