The Expanded Lyric is a two-day interdisciplinary conference which aims to explore the state of the lyric poem in the contemporary world by bringing together writers and researchers in English Literature and Creative writing, artists, performers, musicians, filmmakers, designers, independent scholars and others for whom lyric poetry is a core part of their practice. The conference takes place on 3-4 April 2014 at Queen’s University Belfast.
My paper Doing Words with Things has been accepted for the conference. An abstract is opposite:
Doing Words with Things:
Reconsidering Features of the Lyric Poem through Visual Art Practice
What insights into the lyric poem are gained by considering works balanced between visual art and poetry? A biro line inscribed across a bed sheet; a sequence of shelving units punctuated by ‘grammatically’ balanced domestic objects; a sculptural dialogue performed with a British Sign Language poet. These works use a range of strategies to push features of language and the lyric poem beyond the bounds of language itself: a line in lieu of a word; grammar replaced by gravity and friction; phonology turned plastic. They ask: What does the space of the page have in common with the space of the room around it? Do objects inhabit space — or time — in a way that words do not, or are they all in it together? Above all: how can material things be used in lieu of words to grasp, tether or express the personal and first-person encounter with experience?
Taking the form of an artist talk, the presentation will examine and contextualize the above examples from my own fine art practice: a practice concerned with exposing equivalences between the material and referential properties of language, and how these equivalences might be exploited in the first-person expression of experience at the heart of the lyric tradition. Mindful of the contemporary proliferation of ‘art writing’ and related linguistic and textual practices within fine art, I will speculatively propose these and other visual art strategies as ways to imagine stretching the already expanded field of the lyric poem.
The artworks under discussion are situated in contemporary fine art practice but share their roots with the writings of Gertrude Stein, Francis Ponge and the audiopoems of Henri Chopin. I will suggest that my visual artworks take a plastic rather than poetic approach to the textual concerns encountered by these writers: problems I see enunciated in the literary criticism of Peter Schwenger and his discussion of ‘words and the murder of the thing’ through Barthes, Blanchot and Heidegger. As the objects of personal experience flee from any attempt to capture them in words, there is a feeling (Barthes, Blanchot) that we might get closer to the object by pushing words up against their own materiality until they almost become objects themselves. If poetry approaches this materiality from an origin in language, the visual art practices I will introduce approach it from an origin in objecthood.
Of course, these artworks are not in themselves lyric poems. By standing outside of the lyric tradition and looking in, the works suggest an interdisciplinary and analogical model for flooding the poetic form with expansive possibilities in excess of its scope: possibilities that nonetheless linger at the far reaches of the lyric form as tidemarks of its formal and conceptual proximities to contemporary art writing practice.