A Note About PRESS


The prose, poems, essays, and other text arts “contained” in PRESS are, in some ways, the mist of a real event, every bit as real as this post-human bi-product of an anthology.  PRESS, in fact, was and still is a week-long set of events meant to articulate some of the sociopolitical valences and disjunctions text arts has for left political movements and conversely—to dialogically detour through the various thickets, through the dialectical interchanges that spider out or emerge from our poetical conversations. 


Since the beginning of this year’s (2009) PRESS literary conference, Rob Halpern’s Disaster Suites has been on my mind, specifically a line in the essay at the end of this startling book: “So this is post-disaster, and still the thing has yet to come.”   The question of how to approach disaster, or, as poet and essayist C.J. Martin writes (in his response to Disaster Suites), how to matter, served as a kind of echo that reverberated through the related, yet also diverse, particularities of last year’s event.  At PRESS the particularities of what was and what is yet to come were played out via panel discussions, workshops, and performances.  Topics ranged from contemporary ecopoetics to poetical responses to militarism and capital; from globalization and globalism to plagiarism and authorship; from class and access in text arts to post-colonialism.   How to matter in relation to the daisy cutter basket of disasters that concern and devastate us? 


The “how” is of course in part a question of design, where, as poet Joan Retallack notes, the work of the “sentimentally needy” writer (who, e.g., identifies along normative categorical lines – “writer” serving as the cast by which xe operates), the bumper-sticker protest poem, say, cannot do the work it wants to do.  Its failure to challenge its own lack of externality from the get-go, so goes the narrative, allowing reader to equal worker, ensures that it will either be subsumed by the spectacle or behave as an attempted cheap replacement for established forms of organized protest.   How to experiment with language, therefore becomes that tactical echo for questions of how such experiments may or may not overtly hook up to reimagining and realizing new social relationships. 


Yet the “how” is more than a design problem for the socially engaged fill in the blank.  Housed within the term one finds questions of possibility, of what one’s poetics are, and whether a poetics is also a politics.  For those of us at PRESS, the “how” was often preceded by or followed a “whether,” and the recognition that what matters is more in question than we might assume opened up further conversational detours. 


So, PRESS was and is a real event, and this anthology is contiguous with it, is in fact part of it.  All the contributors in this volume were and are deeply concerned in their work with how to matter, and all were and are interested in what historical and contemporary relations between text arts and left political movements might consist in.   And the work, like the particular panels, workshops, performances, and conversations during PRESS, is quite diverse.  Though, for the most part the work in this anthology, as in Wheelhouse generally, is “avant-garde”, “post-avant”, “non-mainstream”, “experimental”, etc (insert your favorite word for sub-dominant textual form here _____), it ranges widely.  From the imagistic and transcendental negative poetics of Leonard Schwartz to Rodrigo Toscano’s Collapsible Poetics Theater; from Kristin Prevallet and Kaia Sand’s post-Situationist, psychogeographical radical poetic experiments to Jules Boykoff and Mark Wallace’s radical materialism, PRESS, I think, represents a fairly large cross-section of attempts to untangle that question of how to matter, how to approach disaster, and where intersections may or may not be replaced by total enmeshment, sublation.   More importantly, it is our hope, all of us who have contributed to PRESS, that these conversations and this anthology call further questions to mind, wider contributions, future discussions. 


Despite the wonderful work from those mentioned, what continually excites me, in fact what gets me most interested, is the immense dedication and creativity the students (most from The Evergreen State College, but also undergraduates from other schools) have brought to PRESS, to this anthology.  After all, PRESS was and is for the most part a student-driven event, one organized by dozens of student volunteers, many whose work appears here.   Regretfully, there are some students who worked tirelessly on PRESS but whose contribution is not represented here.  This includes a small handful who opted not to publish, but mainly the political and other organizers who designed workshops impossible to anthologize beyond the summative; the cooks for the event; the random folks who do not themselves write but who were integral to the conference’s various conversations.  A full list of organizers is on the Wheelhouse main page, as is a full list of donors to whom we are deeply grateful.  Here I’ll mention just a few students and former students who made PRESS possible but who are not in this anthology (yet!): Alex Valin, Ben Farr, Sarina Fong, Victoria Larkin, Kate Arvin, Chris Hord, Tyler Bennett, Ben Rosas, Theodora Ranelli, and all the anti-war Olympia Port protestors, who not only designed and moderated a fantastic panel on the anti-war movement and the Olympia Ports, but who (see main page link to Amy Goodman’s story) acted under constant undercover military surveillance, arrests, and threats of expulsion. 


Lastly, I’d like to thank our editors, especially Meghan McNealy.  Meghan, now a Wheelhouse editor, not only co-founded PRESS, but she designed this anthology.  Lionel Lints, Eden Schulz, Elizabeth Williamson and Gianna D’Emilio were also integral as PRESS editors and organizers. 


Enjoy.  Don’t enjoy.


In Solidarity, and on behalf of PRESS organizers and Wheelhouse Editors,

David Wolach