Poetry Reading & Workshop: Conversations on Capitalist Crisis Poetry

Date: July 2, 2021

“[Poetry] forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” (Audre Lorde, “Poetry Is Not a Luxury”)

The social and political functions of poetry can be argued to have a lot in common with actual policy-making processes. Both can be propelled by a sense of progressivism, urgency, social justice, and their strong appeal to the imagination, i.e. that things can change, or rather that things can be thought and be thought differently. Thus, the connection between political work and writing programs deserves to be taken seriously, may it be either because creative writing programs at universities address a wide interdisciplinary audience or in consequence of the benefits of prison writing projects such as PEN America’s Prison Writing Program. In these, rights, values, ideas for reform, expressions of identities, etc. are given a formal outlet rendered by an aesthetic that can undermine the established symbolic codes and rhythm of the given public discourse. 

Both poetry and politics are interested in how the subject is structured and how it relates to others, society, the world at large, even if with very different trajectories. Neoliberalism, in contrast to both democratic politics and poetry, has a primary interest, however, in isolating the subject from fellow subjects as well as from any institutional responsibilities. Many of our contemporary political crises are the product of ‘Late Capitalism’ and what William Davies (2016) calls “punitive neoliberalism” (130). Today’s audits and assessment centers restrict access to resources to a select few and curb the autonomy of the individual. In this context, poetic practices represent a creative, liberating force that can allow the subject to regain (some) autonomy.

This workshop series seeks to debate the links between politics, poetry, and capitalism. That is, we ask how poetic language constitutes and defines subject categories so far barred from existing in the symbolic order of current, late-capitalist political contexts. Or rather, in Audre Lorde’s (1977) words, how “[p]oetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought” (37). Taking into consideration the active work of poets like Christopher Soto, Claudia Rankine, the Octavia Poetry Collective, Reginald Dwayne Betts, or Aja Monet, this workshop series seeks to explore:
• how poetry identifies, engages with, and intervenes in contemporary political crises
• how poetry shapes and transforms political and capitalist discourse
• how the crises induced by late capitalism have spawned new poetic forms and strategies

Rather than a traditional workshop, we want to create a forum for a transatlantic conversation on capitalist crisis poetry. Therefore, workshop meetings are structured in two parts: in Part 1, which is open to the public, a currently active poet reads a selection of their poems followed by a Q&A which allows us to assess their work in light of capitalist crisis poetry together with the writer. In Part 2, we broaden the conversation to critically contextualize and discuss the link between politics and poetry from the individual workshop participants’ perspective. This way we seek to work together towards a living forum that traces the various ways in which poetry intersects with the current capitalist crises and political work.

To kick off the second installment of our workshop, we have invited British poet Keston Sutherland for a reading of his poetry. Sutherland is the author of numerous volumes of poetry including The Odes to TL61P (2013) and, most recently, Scherzos Benjyosos (2020). He holds the position of Professor of Poetics at the University of Sussex and is currently working on a book titled The Poetics of Capital in which he – in his own words – “explore[s] the potential of the fundamental concepts of the critique of political economy to give shape and direction to a poetics adequate to the task of describing and valuing the most extreme, original and radical poetry of the contemporary moment.”

July 2, 4:00-5:30 pm CEST // 10:00 am-11:30 am EDT (on Zoom)

In order to register, please get in touch with the organizers via email:

Hannah Schoch:         hannah.schoch@es.uzh.ch
Marcel Hartwig:         hartwig@anglistik.uni-siegen.de
Stefan Benz:                           sbenz@mail.uni-mannheim.de