Poetics of the Neoliberal Midwest

Sunday, Apr 21, 3:00pm
RM 270, Healing Center

In popular books like J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy, the Midwest stands in for the effects of neoliberalism—rust belt factories and abandoned towns serving as symbols for the broader movements and depredations of global capital. But these romanticize the actualities of an eroding ecological and cultural habitat. What are the naked costs of disinvestment, ecological devastation, racialized violence, and the financialization of everyday life? How might poetry stand as witness to and as protest against the decentralized power of neoliberal imperatives? In this panel, Emily Barton Altman, Toby Altman Laura Goldstein, Brenda Sieczkowski, and Keith S. Wilson present work that attempts to interrogate, map, and contest the dynamics of capital as they manifest and affect an emblematic site of American economic, political, and cultural life.

Emily Barton Altman’s long poem “The Seaway” charts the history of the St. Lawrence Seaway. Built to facilitate commerce between the Great Lakes and the globe, the Seaway became almost immediately obsolete due to changes in container technology. Nevertheless, it has served as a conduit for invasive species and devastated the ecology of the Lakes. Toby Altman’s new project To Feel Things and their Names engages the rural banks that modernist architect Louis Sullivan designed late in his career, taking up the problem that Sullivan tries to solve: can banking be reconciled with democracy? Laura Goldstein's new manuscript golden infection tracks the effects of the 2016 election, as well as everyday life in the Midwest, on herself and the various communities she's connected to. She uses the term "infection" metaphorically and literally, eventually drawing other poets in to infect the space of the poem in order to question and challenge fascism, capitalism and neoliberal individualism. Brenda Siezkowski’s “Dysplace,” uses a hybrid collage of prose and poetry to examine how the re-inscription and re-appropriation of (Midwest) urban spaces can offer strategies of survival in (and sanctuary from) spatial injustices produced and expressed by the culture(s) of neoliberal capitalism. Keith Wilson’s book Fieldnotes on Ordinary Love (Copper Canyon, 2019) has poems in it that deal with with race, class, and disenfranchisement in Chicago. He’s also working on visual poems, many of which deal with the same topics in Chicago as well as Central Ohio (where he lives now). These poems engage with typography and layout as instrumental to the lyric form of each poem.