On March 11, we held our very first Living Canon Talk at the High and Low Gallery in Portland, Oregon. Panelists were poets Samiya Bashir and Neil Aitken. Our moderator was Zahir Janmohamed (host of Racist Sandwich podcast). With these "living canon" talks, De-Canon seeks to challenge the notion of literary canons as fixed or established, instead presenting conversations that are dynamic, ever-evolving, and of the moment.
The etymology of the word “canon” goes back to Latin and Greek phrases for: “church law” and "measuring line" and "any straight rod or bar; rule; standard of excellence”; possibly derived from kanna, which was the Greek word for “reed” or “cane”. So perhaps (one might surmise) we have been ruled, for some time, by paradigms of standards-setting, by vertical hierarchies of knowledge and by a hierarchical approach to learning, by rules set in place or approved by designated officers of our spiritual and/or cultural lives; with De-Canon, however, we wish to challenge those concepts and
definitions. Here, we propose a space in which we offer no standards of excellence, and propose no veritable standards, except to question codifications of reading, and instead embrace the porousness of knowledge and of knowing; we also consult one another - fellow readers and writers, those experiencing the current state of society with us - in order to inform us on who, or what, we should be reading and paying attention to.
The de-canon is both fixed and fleeting.
The de-canon mediates and immediates.
The de-canon is many-eyed and many-tongued.
The de-canon asks: can lack-of-center exist independent of a center?
The de-canon questions the straightness of the rule, and of the ruler.
The de-canon is the bending of “rule”, the curvature of “rod”, the dissolution of “excellence.”
Dao Strom opened the event, introducing the De-Canon project, and offering a brief overview of how it came to be.
Zahir Janmohamed, our moderator and the co-host of the Racist Sandwich Podcast, begins with a few questions about Samiya's poems.
Samiya Bashir reads from her latest book, Field Theories.
Neil Aitken reads from his newest book, Babbage's Dream.
If you missed it, you can listen to the reading and conversation here:
Neil Aitken (panelist) is the founding editor of Boxcar Poetry Review, a translator of contemporary Chinese poetry, and the author of two books of poetry: Babbage's Dream (Sundress Publications, 2017) and The Lost Country of Sight (Anhinga, 2008), winner of the Philip Levine Prize. A former computer games programmer and a past Kundiman Poetry Fellow, Neil holds both a PhD in Literature & Creative Writing from USC and an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside. His poetry has been published in The Adroit Journal, American Literary Review, The Collagist, Crab Orchard Review, Ninth Letter, Southern Poetry Review, and many other literary journals. [www.neil-aitken.com]
Samiya Bashir (panelist) is the author of Field Theories (forthcoming in 2017 from Nightboat Books), as well Gospel (2009) and Where the Apple Falls (2005), which were both Lambda Literary Award finalists. She is also the author of the chapbooks Wearing Shorts on the First Day of Spring (1999), American Visa (2001), and Teasing Crow (2006). Her poetry, stories, articles and editorial work have been featured in numerous publications most recently including Poetry, Drunken Boat, World Literature Today, Ecotone, HOAX, The Normal School, Poet Lore, Callaloo, and The Encyclopedia Project. [www.samiyabashir.com]
Zahir Janmohamed (moderator) is a journalist based in Portland, Oregon and Ahmedabad, India. He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, where he was the inaugural co-recipient of the Anne Cox Chambers fellowship for long-form journalism, as well as from the Mesa Refuge, the Djerassi Resident Arts Program, the Norman Mailer Center, and the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. He is a proud alumnus of the VONA workshop for writers of color. His articles have appeared in The New York Times, Foreign Policy, Guernica, The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, Newsweek, The Boston Review, The Guardian, Scroll India, and many other publications. [www.zahirjanmohamed.com]