Nomadic Travels and Travails Conference

International Poetry Seminar
Moving Back and Forth between Poetry as/and Translation:
Nomadic Travels and Travails with Alice Notley and Pierre Joris
(7-8 November 2013, Université Libre de Bruxelles)

Convener: Franca Bellarsi
Co-convener : Peter Cockelbergh

Over the last forty years, the concepts of nomadism and rhizomatic writing have become ever more prominent in North-American verse. The different yet highly complementary trajectories of Alice Notley and Pierre Joris are two cases in point. In life, their nomadism made them journey in opposite directions via England—with Joris relocating from Europe to the USA after a detour through the Algerian desert, and Notley leaving behind the American desert of her youth for Paris. Likewise, the multi-layered textual roamings that inform their poetic travails also unfold along a pattern of intersecting and diverging routes. Yet, whether in dialogue with or counterpoint to one another, Notley and Joris both engage in a poetics of ongoing movement and challenging fluidity, in writing practices that repeatedly subvert the conventional borders of identity, belonging and representation. Whereas Joris openly vindicates this nomad poetics, its presence may remain more implicit in Notley’s output but is, however, no less real.

Moreover, with their writing marked by a poetic hybridity that challenges the safe boundaries of nation, language and aesthetics, of gender and genre, history and myth, Notley and Joris also interrogate poetry as an actual form of cultural and experiential “ferrying-over,” as an act of translation that extends well beyond the mere faithful rendition of a would-be original. Notley’s rhizomatic imagination may have blossomed within one and the same language, whereas Joris’s has regularly involved circulation between different linguistic systems. Nonetheless, both cultivate a poetics of in-betweenness and transgression that revels in permanent re-creation and transposition of myth, medium and concept inside the very space of English.

As practitioners of a personal, experimental poetics of disobedience whose nomadic remappings also expand our understanding of the very act of translation, Alice Notley and Pierre Joris are the two keynote speakers who, in both dialogue and counterpoint, will inspire the poetic travail of this two-day international seminar hosted by the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) and its Department of Modern Languages and Literatures.

Under the impetus of the Notley-Joris tandem, this two-day poetic laboratory will thus be a space of reflection a) upon how “nomadism” and its rhizomatic energies affect developments in contemporary poetry and poetic translation; and b) conversely, upon how different understandings of a “nomad poetics” may renew our approach to poetic production and translation across the ages, from the ancient epic up to Modernism and so-called Postmodernism.

We welcome proposals addressing—but not necessarily limiting themselves to—the following issues:

  • Whether a “nomad poetics” is explicitly or implicitly present in their work, who are the “nomad poets” of our time in the English language?
  • To what extent, as in the case of Notley and Joris, can their poetics of disobedience and impurity be brought into dialogue and counterpoint? How does their work compare with the one of Notley and Joris?
  • What are the non-Anglophone influences―both past and present―upon the contemporary forms of nomad and rhizomatic writing in English?
  • How does the hybridity inherent in poetic nomadism and rhizomatic practice throw a different light on works in mixed or mixed-in languages and/or in mixed or mixed-in media?
  • What light does a nomad poetics throw on the phenomenon of linguistic and cultural exile (whether the latter be chosen or enforced)?
  • As an expression of restlessness and displacement, does nomad verse also question our conventional understanding of place and of its poetics? How do the works of Notley and Joris, for instance, renew our sense of the urban, of the desert, and of the aesthetics associated to such spaces?
  • How do Notley and Joris’s respective remappings of myth illuminate the possible intersections between a nomad poetics and the (de)construction of personal and social myth?
  • How does poetic nomadism bear on both our expression and understanding of trans-cultural and trans-historical experience?
  • Even further, can poetic nomadism and its rhizomatic trajectories offer pathways for rendering trans-species experience?
  • Do nomadism and its poetics of hybridity also constitute a form of ecopoetics? What contributions might they make to the ongoing theorization of ecopoetics?
  • In what ways does a nomad poetics and its hybrid remappings challenge the conventionally accepted boundaries of gender and genre?
  • As an active poet, how have the concepts of nomadism and rhizomatic writing influenced your experimental practice? To what extent has the different yet complementary nomadism of Notley and Joris inspired you?
  • As a translator of poetry, what new possibilities might Joris’s concept of “nomadic translation” open up for you? How might Notley’s re-creation and transposition of Sumerian myth into contemporary English enrich your practical understanding of your own craft?
  • How does Notley’s and Joris’s respective interest in “impure translations” invite us to revise assessments of past translations of poetic works into English/from English into other languages?
  • What can a nomad poetics and its hybridity contribute to our understanding and theorization of “metaphor” and “imagery”?
  • How do nomadism and its enlarged experiential field tie in with a poetics of the ugly, the commonplace, and the daily ordinary and trivial?
  • With its poetics of impurity and disobedience, how does nomad writing both challenge and renew expressions of the sacred and spiritual in poetry?
  • If we subscribe to the belief that poetry is not just an expressive practice, but also an epistemological one and a form of knowing, how does poetic nomadism help us reconsider our epistemological models?

The working language of the seminar will be English, and the various Anglophone poetic traditions will be taken as a starting point, but we highly encourage comparative work, bringing poetic practices in other languages into the debate and reflection.

Please send abstracts of 250-300 words and a short bio to

Dr. Franca Bellarsi
Dept. of Languages and Literatures
Université Libre de Bruxelles

Deadline for submission of abstracts: 31 March 2013.

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