Sometimes the only thing more boring than a conference is someone trying to explain a conference to you second hand. But—golly gee whiz—Miami University’s second Post Moot conference, held this past April in Oxford, Ohio, impacted me so positively that I feel nearly obligated to share what I experienced there. It’s not that the conference was devoid of boring moments or that it was its content was so extraordinary in terms of conference fare, but there were at least a few subtle distinctions between Post Moot and the other convention experiences I’ve had that seem really worth noting and celebrating.
First, some throat-clearing: the conference model most readers of this review will probably be familiar with is from going to AWP—a big, fat dragon of a get together that swallows its participants and craps them out 3 or 4 days later, exhausted, overwhelmed, overstimulated, with pockets full of business cards from people they don’t remember meeting. I don’t mean to represent AWP as exclusively negative; I’ve only gotten to go once, but it was a very good experience for me. It’s great to be around a sea of other people who have a big investment in the word; one will likely have the chance to meet at least a few writers they’d been admiring from a distance; and, in general, you have a chance to meet new people. And how often do adults bother to meet new people?
But all of these attractions aside, AWP’s most prominent quality, to me, is how mechanically it operates. It’s like a huge machine that processes writing and people who write like they’re cheese. For one reason or another, it feels bureaucratic, sterile and so huge that everyone seems to express feeling lonely or lost at the end of it, even amidst the throngs of other writers.
One reason Post Moot was striking to me is because, in this way, it was practically antithetical. It had that luxury because it operated on a much smaller scale (I would guess there was less than 300 consistent participants at most?). So, first, there was this more manageable group. Second, only one main presentation took place at any one time so there was not any anxiety over which presentations to attend and which to miss; everyone basically had the chance to see anything they wanted to. And third, whereas a model like AWP never breaks for meals—or for anything really—Post Moot not only had built in meal times, but they were extravagant, healthy and all around fantastic meals consistently. What’s more, they were provided by the conference organizers themselves! Almost anytime one could spot William Howe during the conference, he was donning a chef’s coat and wielding a ladle. Which brings me to this point—the visibility and sheer work ethic of the conference organizers. Howe commandeered the food end of things—and deliciously, I might add—Chris Cheek announced every single presentation, I believe, and Catherine Wagner managed all things odds and ends, whether it was last minute transportation for presenters, taking in the money and registration info or some other miscellany. These details may seem weird or insignificant, but they established a tone for the conference that I found ideal for anyone really wanting to give the presentations their full attention.
Finally, the subtitle to Post Moot 2KX was “poetry & performance: a convocation.” I feel this was another foundational decision that set a great tone for the conference. “Performance” was an ambiguous enough term to allow for a wide diversity in the presentations. It’s difficult to explain that any further, knowing that I can’t do any real justice to any of the presentations, let alone all of them. But, in an attempt to illustrate the variety, I will provide this list of highlights and memorables from the weekend:
• Mark Wallace reading his poems on the weirdnesses of living in California.
• K. Silem Mohammad’s deadpan delivery of poems with titles like “Squirting Ringworm Taco.”
• K. Lorraine Graham exhibiting pretty darn advanced hoola hoop skills prior to reading from her book Terminal Hum.
• Rick Royer reading work alongside his sleep machine, encouraging audience members to nap during his performance and demanding, also, that they not laugh.
• Mel Nichols reading a series of Facebook superpoke messages.
• ______ making (folding, cutting sowing and binding) a handmade, blank book in some 15 minutes, to hopefully empower the audience to do so later on their own.
• Ryan Downey presenting a paper comparing Kamau Braithwaite to Andre 3000 of Outkast.
• Barrett Watten reading from the several-volume, collaborative project Grand Piano, on compromising radical politics with jobs in academic institutions.
• Jose Luna wandering around a dark auditorium, playing experimental saxophone.
• Dana Ward giving a trademark manic reading, complete with tics and other physical hiccups.
• Tyrone Williams presenting a paper on Rodrigo Toscano’s Collapsible Poetics Theater and drawing links from it to the dubious phenomenon of Colored People Time.
• Hoa Nguyen reading phenomenal work which involved a lot of poop because, according to Hoa, she was changing lots of diapers when she wrote it.
• Chris Mann literally—deliberately—mumbling nonsense for the full length of his presentation.
• Kate Sopko presenting on the unglamorous maintenance that art and its creation require, as well as questioning why those who perform that maintenance don’t receive as much praise as those credited as the artists.
• Mike Basinski’s presentation—a stream of consciousness flood, during which audience members were encouraged to clap at arbitrary moments.
• Lisa Howe reading from her poems for the zombie apocalypse.
• Rodrigo Toscano’s Collapsible Poetic Theater performance, presented by students of Miami U. who had only practiced it for 2 days.
• AMJ Crawford and Danny Snelson’s sound/image/poetry barrage.
• William Howe reading his English-to-insane-English translations of Dickinson on a mere three hours of sleep.
• Adeena Karasick’s jack-hammer-articulate reading style.
• Rod Smith, at an after party, unable to read his poem about Sarah Palin having sex with a Chihuahua because of debilitating laughter—the audience’s and his own.
• Lara Glenum, Josef Horaçek and Jonathan Skinner’s super-grotesque multimedia installation: Horaçek’s audio/video manipulations of Glenum’s texts, on a screen surrounded by a creepy, rudimentary construction-gut-tunnel assembled (and later destroyed) by Skinner.
• Jen Hofer’s presentation on her brilliant “Escritorio Publico,” project, in which she simply sits in a public space and composes letters for anyone willing to pay a small fee (was it $2 a letter; $3 a love letter; $5 an illicit love letter?)
Maybe these snippets of summation are useless if you don’t know the people they reference. I don’t know. But I guess it’s not even the specifics I want to illustrate here. It’s more just 1) the democracy in what this conference had as presentations and 2) how much more organic and familial this conference felt than those I’ve attended prior.
For me, these two elements really facilitated thinking outside of my usual conventions in terms of artistic creation. The contrasts between each presentation provided a breadth that almost seemed counterintuitive to the idea of conferences as a whole. Since conferences are get togethers of people who like the same things—whether it’s comic books, Civil War reenactments or experimental poetry—they’re usually pretty limited by their very nature. This conference featured poetry readings—with a breadth of different styles—performance art, dance, visual art, video art, sound collages, book making and other craftsmanship for which I don’t know names. But that’s the point…the names stopped mattering. And I’m tempted to say it’s because the presentations were so often hybridized. But that feels inaccurate because, as the conference proceeded, they began feeling less and less like separate entities. Post Moot emphasized the unity of all these expressions I’ve come to think of as separate. This is why the familial tone proved to be so important, since emphasizing the unity of things that are sometimes thought of as separate or even adversarial can turn to a damaging endeavor, if not handled with great sensitivity.
Beyond that: I had come to the conference (and I imagine I wasn’t alone in this) expecting presentations more exclusive to literature. This expectation wasn’t exactly disappointed, it just proved to employ a sort of biased vocabulary. All of the presentations were literary, but they were also visual, performance, dance, etc. K. Silem Mohammad standing there reading poetry became a sort of dance. Carla Harryman formally presenting scholarship became a kind of visual. The environment of acceptance and family which had been established was essential to pulling this all off, though, since all of these potentially different genred presentations could’ve been viewed as irrelevant by many participants otherwise. After attending a short film screening, or a performance piece or a sound experiment, I would consistently leave with a better understanding of how incorporating some of those aspects of creation could help further build the poetry I’ve been writing. In fact, after attending the conference, I feel more conflicted than ever about using all of these terms to segregate these expressions traditionally thought of as different forms (performance piece, film screening, poetry, etc).
Possibly my favorite presentation of the weekend was the Black Took Collective’s performance and this is mainly because they were so successful at incorporating so many aspects of art making into their hour or so of time. Comprised of three members (Duriel E. Harris, Dawn Lundy Martin, and Ronaldo V. Wilson), the trio stood, sat, moved, read, sang and lifted their voices in about every other way to incorporate as much into their performance experience as possible. During sections, there was video being projected on more than one screen, as well as projections of script they were sometimes typing during the performance on laptops, part improvisation, part extraction and mash up of other texts. Voice modulation, certain wardrobe transformations, moments of audience call and response—the Black Took Collective struck me as very in tune with the subtle levels of representation or expression that could be tweaked to change the experience and its significance. They were possibly the most inspirational of the presentations, for me, in regard to establishing meaning through different, often unrelated avenues.
This captures the essence of Post Moot in many ways. Not an emphasis on hybridized or collaborative forms, but that all expression entails aspects of hybridity and collaboration, whether intentional or not. The more aware the artist becomes of those aspects, then hopefully the more they will be able to manipulate them in order to create a fuller expression.
This is also why I feel Post Moot so much deserves attention. Unlike other conferences I’ve been to, Post Moot was not as much about rehashing and scrutinizing the modes of expression I’m already familiar with, but challenging participants to travel beyond the typical, self-applied bounds of our expressions.
Whether there will ever be a third Post Moot is sketchy, at this point. And clearly conferences of this nature aren’t banging down our doors, promoted in the mainstream or ever known by most. Perhaps, however, the influence Post Moot—and get togethers like it— have on their participants will be the catalyst for more celebrations of this nature to emerge. And if that’s the case, I highly suggest to any arts practitioners (or not) interested in a crash course in expanding their modes of expression to give such a conference’s attendance high priority, despite time, travel, financial or any other sacrifices it entails. Until then, Post Moot will loom lone and legendary, at least in the mind of this one participant privileged enough to have been there.