The Force of What's Possible: Writers on Accessibility & The Avant-Garde - Is there any avant-garde? What’s at stake when 100 writers think through issues of accessibility and audience? This is a book comprised of answers—to these questions and their offspring—as various and contradictory as its contributors

The Force of What's Possible

The Force of What's Possible: Writers on Accessibility & The Avant-Garde, Eds. Lily Hoang and  Joshua Marie Wilkinson, Nightboat, 2015.

Is there any avant-garde? What’s at stake when 100 writers think through issues of accessibility and audience? This is a book comprised of answers—to these questions and their offspring—as various and contradictory as its contributors, ranging from Eileen Myles, Lyn Hejinian, and Joyelle McSweeney to Blake Butler, Jenny Boully, and Rikki Ducornet, among dozens of others. The results here provide discrepant engagements on the most pressing questions of the literary, the political, and the force of what's possible for writers in the 21st Century.

Joshua Marie Wilkinson & Lily Hoang
Introduction to The Force of What’s Possible Issues

Starting in Summer 2012, I sent out roughly 200 invitations to a slew of poets to contribute to an anthology on the avant-garde, empire, and accessibility. Soon after, I invited Lily Hoang to co-edit a second volume on the same topics from the prose perspective. This was the solicitation we sent out:
In a recent article in The Boston Review, Marjorie Perloff argues that “by definition, an ‘avant-garde mandate’ is one that defies the status quo and hence cannot incorporate it.”1
For Alain Badiou, in his final thesis on contemporary art, “It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognizes as existent.”2
With these two claims in mind, I am writing to ask you to contribute a short piece on what you believe to be elemental about your work as a writer:
  1. What does Perloff’s ‘avant-garde mandate’ mean for your own work?
  2. Should a writer be accessible in their writing and what does this mean to you?
  3. In light of Badiou’s claim, what is imperative to you about a poem/prose in terms of the political, the social, the unconscious?
  4. How do you navigate the tensions between audience, your compositional practices, and your imagination?
  5. In short, what compels you to write what you write and why?
Originally conceived of as a double-volume—one on poetics, one on prose—The Force of What’s Possible: Writers on the Avant-Garde and Accessibility (to be released this month with Nightboat Books) emerged as a single concentrated edition. For the next three months on The Volta, we’ll feature responses to these questions by a range of writers.


Dan Beachy-Quick | As In the Green Trees |

Brian Blanchfield | Freely Espousing: or Subject, to the Avant-Garde |

Jaswinder Bolina | A View from the Factory Floor |

Amaranth Borsuk | Towards an Auto-Destructive Poetics |

Jenny Boully | Innerworkings, In Meadows |

Susan Briante | Towards a Poetics of the Dow |

Laynie Browne | Rendering the Invisible: A Translucent Imperative of Poetry |

Blake Butler | Mirror-Maze-Child-More |

Amina Cain | Slowness |

Mary Caponegro | Success in Circuit Lies (Redux) |

Julie Carr | In Defense of My Experience (Or, The Body and the Avant-Garde) |

Ken Chen | From The Excerpts: Poetics or or Politics |

Jeremy M. Davies | The Pleasure of Perversity |

Jeffrey DeShell | Notes Toward a Defense of Experimental Writing |

LaTasha Nevada Diggs | no te entiendo

Amber DiPietra, Jen Hofer, & Denise Leto | as rigorous as a mathematical demonstration, as surprising as

       an ambush in the night, and as elevated as a star: Some Thoughts on Access, Difficulty, Limestone, and Empire

Rikki Ducornet | Eros Breathing

Nicolle Elizabeth | Take The Story

Clayton Eshleman | Genesis and Praxis

Brian Evenson | The Crazy Party Guy, or, A Disruption of Smooth Surfaces

Johannes Göransson | IT’S STILL TOO MUCH: Conceptual Poetry, The Poetry Foundation,

       The Plague Ground and the Anti-Kitsch Rhetoric of Contemporary Poetry Discussions

Noah Eli Gordon | Five Allegories to Turn the Fingers of the Right Hand into a Fist

Rachel Eliza Griffiths | Iambic Passage: How Identity and Access Trouble American Imaginations

Duriel Harris | “As Sound Creates Forms on Water”

Carla Harryman | Avant-Garde Unconscious

Yona Harvey | The Poetics of Self-Education

Lyn Hejinian | Sun on the Avant-Garde

Brent Hendricks | My Alternative Pop Song

Christopher Higgs | A Manifesto Needs Who?

Harmony Holiday | That’s the Way it’s Gonna Be

B.J. Hollars | Not Trash

Paul Hoover | The Question of the Avant-Garde

Gregory Howard | Always the Next Machine

Laird Hunt | Some Notes on the Tyrannical Prehension

Alta Ifland | I am My Own Status Quo

Jac Jemc | Notes on Trying to Say

Stephen Graham Jones | In Defense of Non-Mandates

Pierre Joris | 15 Non-Theses Towards an Un-Manifesto of Poetry Un-Randomly Culled from Recent Notebooks

Bhanu Kapil | Elemental Notes

Kevin Killian | “I Can’t See You Any More, Baby”: Accessibility, the Avant-Garde and My Flick Knife

Amy King | Gestural Poetics

Ann Lauterbach | In Praise of The Various

Hank Lazer | Why I Write and What’s at Stake

Sueyeun Juliette Lee | Actual, Real, and True

Juliana Leslie | Passive Voice

Stacey Levine | Writing Properly?

Timothy Liu | Why We Do That Thing That We Do

Robert Lopez | The Good Thing about Today is I Slept through Most of It, or the Illusion of Urgency

Sean Lovelace | Turnips

Jill Magi | “Nothing Is Wrong: Thirteen Thoughts on Poets and Poetry in the Year 2013”

Ravi Mangla | On the Merits of Moderation

Farid Matuk | Poems of the Near Mind

Mark McMorris | Where This Thing Is Going

Joyelle McSweeney | The Golden Age of Obliteration, or Staphylococcus aureus, or,

      How the Artist Must be Accessible to Art

Miranda Mellis | Sub Traction

Megan Milks | Avant Slash Pop

Lydia Millet | Self Again

Kyle Minor | Once Upon a Time (or, The Trouble with Avant-Garde Ought-Nots)

Ander Monson | Another Project for the Heart

Laura Mullen | Accidental Cliques? (Or, uhm, which status quo I was supposed to defy, again?)

Kristine Ong Muslim | On Writing, Accessibility, and the Avant-Garde

Eileen Myles | Painted Clear, Painted Black

Alissa Nutting | Our Wrong Parts

Lance Olsen | a flash poetics of illegibility

Ted Pelton | Oscar vs. George

Craig Santos Perez | from Unincorporated Poetic Territories

Vanessa Place | Refusal: The Confession of a Real Pervert

Khadijah Queen | Navigating the Body, Revealing the Audience: On Sonic Integrity,

      Contrast, Movement, and Endurance

Wendy Rawlings | Strange & Enormous & Terrible & Absurd

Elizabeth Robinson | Constellation and Dilemma

Joanna Ruocco | Living with Language: Our Body of Need

Aurelie Sheehan | Walk Through

David Shields | Negotiating against Myself

Anis Shivani | Empires of Consciousness

Cedar Sigo | Sensation

Eleni Sikelianos | What Pursuit

Carmen Gimenez Smith | Drone Poetics

Ken Sparling | A Bunch of People Paper Thin Their Butts of Mud

Cole Swensen | On the Brink of a Response

Briane Teare | My grandmother’s name was Lorine.

Roberto Tejada | Imperatives

Melanie Rae Thon | The Ethics of Perception

Lynne Tillman | Breaking What is Broken

TC Tolbert | Red, left. Light blue, right. Or, So many ways to say yes.

Steve Tomasula | I Only / Never I

Jackie Wang | We Epistolary Aliens

Kellie Wells | Fourteen Ways of Looking at Rat

Tyrone Williams | Reginald and Me

L. Lamar Wilson | Queer Black Avant-Garde Poetics: On Being Guilty of Excessive Darkness

      in the First Degree

Ronaldo V. WIlson | Living Being: After the Avant-Garde

Timothy Yu | “You’re Not Avant-Garde, Are You?”

Lidia Yuknavitch | Why Do you Write it All Weird?

Andrew Zawacki | Encounter