La conferencia de poesía en Berkeley / Heriberto Yépez

The Berkeley Poetry Conference

North American experimental poetry is undergoing an unprecedented crisis this year and last week an historic shift occurred.

The Berkeley Poetry Conference was originally scheduled for June 15-19. It was going to bring together innovative poets (at mid-career) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the gathering of writers like Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, Jack Spicer, among others.

The 1965 conference was a defining and historic moment. And the new Berkeley conference was likewise set to become a reference point.

The participants included (to mention only five) Claudia Rankine, Cathy Park Hong, Juliana Spahr, Fred Moten and Vanessa Place, in other words, representatives of the best of North American poetry today.

But prior to the conference the scandal against the racist works of Vanessa Place erupted. There was talk of disinviting Vanessa Place, who would surely have taken advantage of the event to present a racist or polemical performance.

The organizers, however, reiterated their invitation to Place. And in a matter of days, three-quarters of the invited writers (myself included) pulled out of the event. The conference collapsed.

The mere fact of this boycott already marks an historic moment, a symbol of new poetic times, of the sociopolitical crisis and the explosiveness of our current literary period.

But the organizers came up with a masterful counter-move. They agreed to cancel the original conference but organized another one in its place, “Crosstalk, Color, Composition: A Berkeley Poetry Conference.”

Along with poets who didn’t cancel and new poets of color, the second conference gathered CA Conrad, Hugo García Manríquez, Judith Goldman, Craig Santos Perez, Ronaldo Wilson, among others.

The conference took place and the expectations, as well as the technical dexterity in the readings and discussion panels, made it memorable.

The discussions to follow, of course, will continue for a long time.

But the key point is that everything that happened, from the memory of that 1965 conference up until the collapse of the original 2015 conference and the celebration of the new one, established a new moment in North American poetry and, because of its influence, in global poetry.

This is all happening amidst the crisis of police violence (from Ferguson to Ayotzinapa); the new conference took place on the very same week of the massacre in Charleston and Donald Trump’s racist comments about Mexicans.

The consequences of everything taking place in North American poetry and the event to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Berkeley Poetry Conference have sealed two undeniable facts: 1) a cycle of North American poetry officially ended in 2015 and 2) the new North American poetry will be more and more dominated by non-white poets.

The struggle between literary white (matriarchical-patriarchical) supremacy and the poetics of minorities will determine the path of poetry in this new century.

{ Heriberto Yépez, Archivo Hache, Milenio (México D.F.), 27 June 2015 }

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