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This report is taken from PN Review 114, Volume 23 Number 4, March - April 1997.

Re-tooling for the Alternatives Robert Sheppard

An International Poetry Conference/ Festival, The New England Center, Durham, New Hampshire, 29 August - 2 September 1996

People began thanking Romana Huk for organising Assembling Alternatives from the first of the 50 plus poetry readings, and they never stopped. However, the idea of assembling alternatives seemed doomed from the start. Alternatives, in this case, to mainstream poetry, can prove alternatives to one another, and the assumed rainbow alliance of Canadian, US, UK, Irish and Australian poetries looked a little blurred at times. Rather than a spectrum it was a collection of snapshots. Given 80 plus optional papers (and conference fatigue) nobody saw the whole thing anyway. What follows are a few of my snaps, shuffled and selected, into the loosest of narratives.

Even though the North American language poets have been instrumental in eroding the distinction between poetry and poetics, the mood of the evening-reading audiences lifted into something like celebration. Maggie O'Sullivan had the difficult task of opening the conference, but her blend of sonic exuberance and semantic deviation - her ideolect becoming our dialect through performance - seemed somehow appropriate, as did the fact that her women's poetry anthology Out of Everywhere was to be mentioned often, and its subtitle, 'linguistically innovative poetry', become the conference buzzword.

Canadians Karen MacCormack and Steve McCaffery take language experiment into the rarest of areas: MacCormack's Apollonian investigation of the contradiction of definition (exemplified by her latest title Marine Snow), contrasts with McCaffery's Dionysian ...


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