Jessica L Wilkinson and Ali Alizadeh

This issue of Axon brings together a number of papers presented at the 2013 symposium, ‘The Real Through Line,’* as well as additional works, including new poetry, solicited in response to the symposium’s foci. The symposium aimed to investigate the rapport between the genres of poetry and nonfiction, and also to propose possibilities for both practice and theorisation of a poetics which, to draw on philosopher Jacques Rancière’s concept, becomes a literary space for the distribution of the non-poetic, of ‘the prose of the world’, of that which one may refer to, however generally, as the real.

Questions posed by the conference organisers included: what can the poetic line offer to nonfiction writing beyond the capabilities of the prose sentence? How can poetry extend the nonfiction genre? What nonfiction narratives necessitate or are enriched by the poetic form? Can poetry challenge representations of reality or the real itself? What are the implications of a poet’s foray into historical, biographical, autobiographical, ecological, political, scientific and mathematical terrains?

Instigated by Wilkinson and Alizadeh’s explorations of a modality which may be described as nonfiction poetry—as stated in their 2012 manifesto—the articles and poems included in this issue of Axon are interrogations, explications and extensions of the syntheses of poeticity and worldliness via a diverse range of theoretical, creative and scholarly works.

In her article on the contemporary US poet Juliana Spahr titled ‘Kind of, in Kind’, Ann Vickery considers the ways in which Spahr, while drawing on an established experimentalist tradition, explores the real of experience and also ‘engenders a specifically biopolitical critique’. According to Vickery’s careful reading of Spahr’s work, the poet’s innovative style is not an evasion of an experience of the symbolic order of reality, but a conduit for a profound engagement with non-normative subjectivities and ontological immanence. Vickery’s own poem, ‘The Great Australian Dream, Delivered in the Manner of Gatsby’, as included in this issue of Axon, can be seen as an innovative subjectivisation of a situated engagement with one’s experience.

Pam Brown’s poem ‘Placeville’ also engages the poet’s personal experience—this new poem represents an extended poetic-autobiographical adventure through the quotidian and mundane experiences of daily life, lines of poetry accumulating like William Eggleston-style photographs; an artistic exhibition of the ordinary.

Jill Jones’ article ‘Every Day, Streams of Changes: Networks in Time, Place, Process in the “Snapshots Project”’ reflects on a serial, online poetry project whereby participating poets—from around the world—posted a poem every Wednesday to the group, responding to the day’s activities. Jones refers to an informal survey she conducted with participants, in an attempt to understand the variety of ways in which poets experimented with ideas of ‘dailiness’ in their writing, and how poets engaged with a networked writing environment.

Felicity Plunkett’s article ‘Hosts and Ghosts: Hospitality, Reading and Writing’ takes cues from J. Hillis Miller’s essay ‘The Critic as Host’ in order to explore an ‘anatomy of reading’ whereby readers, critics and/or editors inhabit a text as both host and guest/ghost. Beginning with a consideration of poet Charles Simic’s imaginative ‘habitation’ of artist Joseph Cornell’s boxed artwork assemblages, Plunkett’s essay grows as its own poetic assemblage of ‘habitations’ as she explores poetry and life writing, finally turning to her own foray into poetic life writing as she discusses her work on Donald Crowhurst, lost at sea during the first race to circumnavigate the globe, solo, in 1968. This special issue of Axon also features a new poem by Plunkett, ‘Grave-craft’, on conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader, who also disappeared at sea during a solo voyage. Plunkett’s poem, in two parts, experiments with the tensions between knowing and not knowing, with writing a life story, and writing it ‘another way’.

Jessica Wilkinson’s article, ‘Beyond facts and accuracies: long form poetry as biographical method’, explores the intricacies of poetic, (auto)biographical works by poets Jordie Albiston, Susan Howe and Lyn Hejinian, and considers the ways in which their respective works extend nonfiction writing into the poetic form. Wilkinson asks: ‘What does it mean to write a biography in verse?’ and ‘What is enabled by the shift from sentence to line, by the poetic form overtaking conventional biographical formalities?’ Her article investigates how poetic (auto)biographies have the potential to extend our representations of historical figures into new dimensions, allowing for more complex engagements with knowledge through play.

Rosalind McFarlane’s article ‘Water, Diaspora and Desire: Belonging in Contemporary Asian Australian Poetry’ conducts a close reading of poems by Debbie Lim, Shen and James Stuart, through a diasporic lens. McFarlane hones particular attention on both water imagery and desire as they appear in each of the poems; her interpretation engages with concepts of fluidity and mobility, and investigates links between diasporic belonging and depictions of water in these short works.

In his article ‘Return to the Palindrome of the Real’, Justin Clemens identifies and critiques the theme of the symposium as a ‘re-turn from textuality to the real’. He proceeds, however, to propose a highly original paradigm of his own for the praxis of a (Lacanian) real in poetry. The palindrome is, according to Clemens’s article, the poetic genre of the real par excellence; and he supplements this proposal with an original palindrome of his own, titled ‘H-lessness: Relevant Logic’. The constraint and formalism of this poetics may also be seen in the four new poems, or ‘propositions’, by Jordie Albiston, in which the rigour and mechanics of a mathematical method, far from resulting in an aesthetic of pure, abstract autonomy, produce texts that activate the real of language.

Patrick Jones’s contributions to this issue of Axon and the theme of nonfiction poetry include an impassioned, engrossing discourse against the usurpation of the reality of country by socio-cultural symbols, titled ‘Literary Stiles and Symbolic Culture’. Jones writes against ‘a love of symbols’, signifiers which have brought ‘brutality, illness and suffering’ to country. But far from rejecting all symbolic and poetic engagements, Jones advances a poetics based on an ethics of care for the land and its traditional owners for whom ‘the real world is not a metaphor’. Jones illustrates his commitment to such an ethico-aesthetic framework through his poem ‘Walked Words’, inspired by the experience of walking to ‘The Real Through Line’ symposium in Melbourne, from rural Victoria.

Ali Alizadeh, in his article ‘Marx, My Muse’, interprets the real as a contingency. He suggests that the socio-economic symbolic order of the late capitalist space can itself be seen as a situation which, in philosopher Alain Badiou’s sense, may be ‘ruptured’ by an artistic truth; and Alizadeh contemplates a philosophy of art which could condition such truths. By drawing on the aesthetic thoughts of Benjamin, Adorno, Rancière and Badiou, Alizadeh envisages a poetics which could simultaneously negate the cultural logic of late capitalism and also posit an affirmationist real. Lyn Hejinian’s contribution to this issue of Axon also cites Adorno; and her intense prose-poetic and/or fictocritical reflection on the intersection between selfhood and the poetic, producing ‘accumulated fragments of perception’, advances a ‘polyphonic awareness’ of the world.

This issue of Axon is itself a proposal for expanding a ‘polyphonic awareness’ of the rapport between the poetic and the real, and between contemporary prosody and nonfiction writing. It is hoped that the articles and poems included herein contribute towards a greater understanding of the genre and practice of poetry, an understanding that surpasses the form’s real or presumed boundaries, and advocates provocative and singular interactions between poetry and other areas of knowledge and experience.

* Presented by Monash and RMIT Universities, Melbourne, April 5, 2013.