Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

"Shaking the Lights": Reading Twentieth-Century American Avant-Gardes

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Who this event is for

  • Everyone




Join Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre and Dr Eric White as we explore the works of several American avant-garde writers from the twentieth century. This series of events from February to April showcases both the writers - some well-known, some less celebrated - and also Eric's fascinating research into these poets and their time.

Join us for two online reading groups - as we look closely at poems by Langston Hughes and Kathleen Tankersley Young, and subscribe to our Weekly Poem to receive another poem by Young with expert commentary from Eric. The series will culminate in a podcast interview with Eric, in which he'll reflect on his research into the avant-garde writers, including William Carlos Williams, Hughes, Gwendolyn Bennett, and Young, and what their work says about the material world around them (and us), including their relationships to technology and infrastructure.

Everyone anywhere is welcome to attend our online reading sessions. In the first, on Thursday 24 February from 12-12.45pm (UK time), we'll be looking at two poems by Langston Hughes: 'Railroad Avenue' and 'Elevator Boy'. We may also touch on his famous poem 'The Negro Speaks of Rivers'. To attend, please register via this Zoom link. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting. You can download copies of the poems from this Google Drive folder, and you can read a digitized version of Fire!! – the journal in which the first two of these three poems originally appeared – via the Beinecke Library website.

Our second meeting on Tuesday 10 May from 12-12.45pm (UK time) will look at Kathleen Tankersley Young's poems 'Remove the Yellow Sweater' and 'We Are Not Walking On Level Ground'. You can register for this session via Zoom and find copies of the two poems in this Google Drive folder. If you have any difficulty accessing the poems, please get in touch with Niall Munro: niall.munro@brookes.ac.uk

Please also stay tuned for the Weekly Poem feature and the podcast release in late May, and don't miss the chance to sample UNBODY, an interactive augmented reality installation by award-winning poet Jay Bernard and inspired by Eric's research. It takes place as part of the Think Human Festival on Saturday 9 April at OVADA, The Warehouse, in Oxford, and you can book a slot to attend via Eventbrite. View a preview of the work on YouTube.

Dr Eric White is Reader in American Literature at Oxford Brookes University, and his research specializes in transatlantic avant-garde writing and culture. He pursued his BA at the University of British Columbia in Canada before completing his postgraduate work at the University of Cambridge.

His first monograph, Transatlantic Avant-Gardes: Little Magazines and Localist Modernism (EUP, 2013) investigates how modernist writers interrogated the relationship between physical places, the printed page, and cultural identity in artist-run journals. He has also edited critical facsimile editions of William Carlos Williams’s early prose, and with Craig Saper, the influential vanguardist anthology Readies for Bob Brown's Machine. Eric's latest book Reading Machines in the Modernist Transatlantic: Avant-Gardes, Technology and the Everyday (EUP, 2020) argues that modernist avant-gardes used technology not only as a means of analysing culture, but as a way of feeding back into it with their inventions and collaborations as well as their creative work. Together with Dr. Georgina Colby, he is Co-Editor of the Edinburgh Critical Studies in Avant-Garde Writing and Edinburgh Foundations in Avant-Garde Writing Series. You can find out more about Eric's work on his Oxford Brookes research page, and watch Eric's TEDx talk about the technology pioneer Bob Brown via YouTube.

Complementing his literary research and editing work, Eric is also PI of the Avant-Gardes and Speculative Technology (AGAST) Project, a digital humanities collaboration that re-imagines modernists’ inventions with prize-winning writers such as Iain Sinclair and Jay Bernard using eXtended Reality (XR). By doing so, AGAST seeks to empower communities by making creative digital technologies more accessible. The collaboration with Jay Bernard, UNBODY, is an Augmented Reality Hololens installation that probes the boundaries between identity and consciousness in an extended reality. In this interactive installation, the viewer co-creates the installation by moving through the space, assembling and recombining Jay Bernard’s holographic texts and bodies into shimmering holographic poems. You can view the installation on 9 April in Oxford by signing up for a slot on Eventbrite.

AGAST projects have been funded by CILIP/Arts Council England, the European Research Council and the Independent Social Research Foundation.