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WRITING UTOPIA
Ed. Sally-Shakti Willow & Sarer Scotthorne

paperback due May 2020

with funding from the University of Westminster’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

This extract from Sally-Shakti Willow’s manifesto of Utopian Poetics, WRITING UTOPIA NOW, gives some background to the concept of Utopian Poetics.  Click here to read the full manifesto in Studies in Arts and Humanities Journal.

Writing that best performs the utopian also resonates with Isabel Waidner’s description of radical innovation in Liberating the Canon (2018). That is: Writing that works ‘across various systems of oppression (intersectionality), across formal distinction (prose and poetry, critical and creative, and the various genres), and across disciplines’.



WRITING UTOPIA is a manifesto/ritual/anthology that aims to both explore and perform the art of the utopian in contemporary poetics.  Thomas More’s original coinage, Utopia, suggests both perfect place (Gk. eutopia) and no place (Gk. outopia).  Drawing on this paradox, WRITING UTOPIA invites writers and readers to collaborate in co-creating a space of intersubjective connectivity between self and other that is both the place of equality and communion and the no-place that exists between writers and readers in the space/s of the text/s.  Envisioning a better world in which to live – a world without the various forms of violence, oppression, prejudice and injustice that comprise our present global reality – writers are invited to play with the poetic possibilities of multiplicity, simultaneity, interconnectivity, materiality and more, to imagine and anticipate the potential Utopia/s to come.  In this way, a space of intersubjective multiplicity is opened and activated in each vor/tex[t] with the potential to perform those utopian possibilities it anticipates.

With an introduction written by Sally-Shakti Willow, distilling the learning from her four-year immersion in the study and practice of utopian poetics, the anthology will include contributions from invited writers and poets to present a broad and heterogeneous collaboration of voices whose utopian visions will resonate, challenge and inspire.  Radically and vitally, WRITING UTOPIA does not present one person’s utopia to the exclusion of all others but invites participation in the co-creation of utopian spaces in which disagreement and challenge are as necessary and welcome as agreement and harmony.  These utopias will speak to and inform one another: sometimes opening up the discord of productive tensions; sometimes anticipating and precipitating one another; sometimes resonating and balancing each other.  Completion and closure is not the aim of this utopian vision.  The openness of enquiry, of constant flux and shifting fusion, is what keeps this utopia in the process of performance: creating, opening and yielding to each new reading with each new moment.



Examples of source texts that perform various elements of utopian poetics:
  • Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictée (1982) – anticipating and performing the utopian possibilities of non-alienation (communion) and non-oppression (equality) through its linguistic and structural materiality, which opens and invites the reader into a space of intersubjective participation (which Cha calls ‘interfusion’)
  • Maggie O’Sullivan’s In the House of the Shaman (1993) – linguistic & lexical disruption and experimentation foreground language’s materiality and invite the reader to co-construct meaning from fragmentary remains
  • Anne Waldman’s Fast Speaking Woman (1996) & Trickster Feminism (2018) – laying down language as mantra, casting spells & creating rituals to make material transformation in the physical world through participation in the poem’s rhythmic action
  • CAConrad’s ECODEVIANCE: (Soma)tics for the Future Wilderness (2014) – embodying language through ritual as both protest and performance to manifest change in the material world; encouraging reader participation in both the ritual-making & the poem-making

Early roots of utopian poetics can be traced in:
  • Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hazard (1897)
  • Mina Loy’s ‘Feminist Manifesto’ (1914), ‘Aphorisms on Futurism’ (1914)
  • William Carlos Williams’ Spring and All (1923)
  • Gertrude Stein’s ‘Composition as Explanation’ (1926)
  • H.D.’s Trilogy (1946), Hermetic Definition (1972), HERmione (1981)
  • Charles Olson’s ‘Projective Verse’ (1950), ‘Proprioception’ & ‘Human Universe’ (1965)
  • Allen Ginsberg’s Howl (1956) & ‘Wichita Vortex Sutra’ (1966)
  • Jerome Rothenberg’s Technicians of the Sacred (1968) foregrounds the global ritual & shamanic roots to which this manifesto of utopian poetics is indebted

Further sources of utopian poetics include:
Some or all of the poetry/writing of: Rae Armantrout; Caroline Bergvall; Laynie Browne; Diane di Prima; Lyn Hejinian; Jack Kerouac; Lila Matsumoto; Tracie Morris; Harryette Mullen; Hoa Nguyen; Lorine Niedecker; Lisa Robertson; Robert Sheppard; Scott Thurston. Bernadette Mayer’s Utopia; Paul Hawkins’ Place, Waste, Dissent; Francesca Lisette’s sub rosa; Sandeep Parmar, Nisha Ramayya and Bhanu Kapil’s Threads; M. Nourbese Philip’s Zong!; Nat Raha’s Of Sirens, Body & Faultlines; Dolly Turing’s Oh (Para)Cosmic Being; Samantha Walton’s Self Heal. Works of utopian poetics can also be found in the following journals and zines: Adjacent Pineapple, Blackbox Manifold, Cumulus, Datableed, Empty Mirror, Hotel, Intercapillary Space, Jungftak, para.text, Tentacular, The Projectionist’s Playground, Zarf and many more.

For a practical sense of utopia as creative activism, please see the following article: https://vector-bsfa.com/2018/10/11/conference-report-utopian-acts-2018/