Sunday, December 03, 2006

Kari Edwards

One of the odd things about the relatively small size of the trans-Atlantic experimental poetry community, and the way that its movements and dialogues now happen so much over the web, is that you can come to feel quite quickly and intimately connected with writers who you never meet, who perhaps you're only vaguely able to keep up-to-date with, and yet they feel as familiar as friends and as central as any of the great canonical writers. I never met Alaric Sumner, or Ric Caddel, but I exchanged very occasional emails with both of them, and felt their deaths, in 2000 and 2003 respectively, unexpectedly sorely. It's as though it's all one big conversation, whose limits one never discerns, and which comes in and out of proximity -- or rather you are sometimes in and sometimes out of its proximity -- but it keeps going, somehow, and it matters, and somehow it matters (whether or not to anybody else) that you're a part of it too.

I'm only thinking about these things because I've just heard that Kari Edwards has died. The difficulty of believing that this is true is partly because of the enormous amount of work she seemed always to be doing as a poet and an activist, and because her death was (as far as I know) sudden and unanticipated; but also because I never met her, never even had one of those on-off email correspondences with her, she certainly wouldn't have known who I was, and so it's too easy to believe that everything is just as it was. Her blogs are still up. I haven't seen any other confirmation of the sad news. It feels like it could so easily be untrue; I feel a bit odd even writing this yet.

But one must presume that it's so, and all I can do is express regret and condolences to her friends and colleagues; plainly she had very many of both. Those who have never encountered her work would do well to start with her main blog -- there are useful links in the sidebar for further exploration. (The RainTaxi interview is really worth a look; some of what she says is infuriating, but it's typically lively and candid.)

For all its fireworks and fisticuffs, the world of experimental poetry can also be quiet, insular, evasive; it distrusts identity politics, sometimes quite properly, sometimes ruinously, sometimes for the sake of preserving its integral and hard-won modesties and its desire for ambiguity. Quite often, those working with ideas around gendered and politically hijacked bodies withdraw into a virtual arena of 'pure' language and/or image, wishing to disassociate themselves from the categorical overdeterminations that power the coarsest work on all sides of the fence: disembodiment as abstinence from the vulgar sideshow of being identified with destructive consumer fantasies about 'personality' and 'lifestyle'. Which is a decent strategy, well-intended. But the passionate and unyielding presence of Kari Edwards, like that of Alaric Sumner, has been a more celebratory and ultimately a more problematizing, agitating pressure. Those who refuse to breathe the dirty oxygen of publicity too often find themselves retiring into an airless and lordly fancy of 'private life', in which their own behaviours and commitments are protected from the contested civic narratives to which they so often pay lip-service in absentia.

The bitter irony of Kari Edwards being taken out by heart failure, of all things, is going to be hard to reconcile with the brave and vital body of work that survives her; and it's odd, therefore, this evening, to think of all the writers and artists and activists to whom she was a light and inspiration, who will miss her terribly, and whom she never met, and never knew.

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