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Charles Reznikoff: Inscriptions (1894-1976)
International Conference
Université Paris Nanterre, France
June 1st-3rd, 2023

Keynote speakers: Norman Finkelstein, Michael Heller.

The career of the poet Charles Reznikoff (1894-1976) may be viewed as a lifetime spent recording the present and the past that frames the world of this first generation American, whose parents fled the pogroms in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century. In many ways a poet of New York, Reznikoff was also the keeper of a poetic heritage tied to a long history. Readers of Reznikoff will for instance be familiar with the fabled sacrifice of his Russian grandfather’s Hebrew verse, hastily thrown in the fire and the layered response Reznikoff’s writing, often quizzical if not experimental, offers to the theme of destruction and loss. The poet’s dedication to his own vocation as a writer is equaled by a resolve to retrieve the voice of those whose experience is yet to be heard, yet to be inscribed. The overarching theme of “inscriptions” thus provides an entry into the relationship Reznikoff never ceased to explore between the landscapes he observed walking the streets of Manhattan and his native Brooklyn but also those he witnessed thanks to his experience as a lawyer and through the memory of Jewish culture, recounted from the vantage point of the Bible in his 1959 collection of poems, Inscriptions: 1944-1956.
The publication history of his work bears witness to the determination to leave a mark. His first book of poems, Rhythms was privately printed in 1918 in a basement in Brooklyn, New York, followed by Rhythms II in 1919. Reznikoff’s independence from commercial publishing was only briefly interrupted when New Directions put out two volumes in the 1960s (By the Waters of Manhattan; Testimony). Over the course of his lifetime, Reznikoff’s resolve to establish a print legacy never subsided, using his own press, teaching himself to typeset for instance his 1927 collection, Five Groups of Verse. Reznikoff’s writing has never ceased to inflect the course of American poetry and after his death, avant-garde publishers resumed the work of durably inscribing his poetics (Black Sparrow Press; Black Sparrow Books).
Reznikoff’s work remains nonetheless somewhat enigmatic, for he is a poet of many roots and as many facets. Precision and spareness, the humble qualities for which his work is most often recognized, have nonetheless secured his reputation as a rare craftsman, while the range of his writing as a poet, translator, playwright, one-time screenwriter, and novelist, combined with the acutely ethical nature of his concerns, have far extended his readership If his sense of poetic exactness has been seen as an echo of his initial legal training, so could the sense of advocacy often implicit in his work be said to stem from this same background. Yet Reznikoff’s connection with the law must also be balanced with his preoccupation for the Law from a religious perspective. As for the role played by Judaism as a source in Reznikoff’s poetry, it is no longer understated, though the specific scope of that resonance within his work is still being investigated. On a similar note, visions from a past tradition combine effortlessly in Reznikoff with a sense of sight and observation in an urban context that, much like his “objectivist” fellow-poets Louis Zukofsky, George Oppen and Carl Rakosi, celebrates the ordinary, the simple and the plain, yet immediately question it from a social, political, and cultural standpoint, revealing the world of the poor, the downtrodden and disenfranchised.
It is no doubt this constant to-and-fro, this richly polychromatic witnessing that testifies to Reznikoff’s enduring relevance on so many delicately interwoven levels of interpretation. For at least the last three decades, his work has been discovered and rediscovered, translated and re-translated, across the Atlantic and in the Southern Americas in particular. Increasingly cited by French poets as a model for the invention of new formal approaches to poetic practice, his singular contribution to reflections on the document, the archive, the law, and the writing of history has garnered renewed critical recognition, and it has found new audiences and resonances in adaptations to the stage.
This international conference, the first entirely dedicated to the American poet Charles Reznikoff in France, will seek to explore it through:

- Reznikoff’s Legacy Today.

- Reznikoff & History.

- Reznikoff & Documentary Poetry, Archives and Witnessing.

- Stage Adaptations of Reznikoff’s Work (including but not limited to his plays).

- Reznikoff & the Law.

- Reznikoff & Judaism.

- Reznikoff & the City.

- Reznikoff and the Ordinary

- Reznikoff & Simplicity.

- Reznikoff & Rhythm.

- Reznikoff and Objectivism Now.

- Reznikoff and Autobiography.

- Reznikoff and the Shoah.

- Reznikoff in France and in French.

- Reznikoff in Spanish.

- Reznikoff and Translation.

Abstracts of 250-300 words, in English or in French, along with biographical statements of 150 words, should be submitted at by June 1, 2022. Replies to follow by 15 July 2022.

Organizing committee: Xavier Kalck (Université de Lille, France), Fiona McMahon (Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3, France) and Naomi Toth (Université Paris Nanterre, France).

Conference Location: Nanterre (92), France
Conference Starts: June 01, 2023
Conference Ends: June 03, 2023

CFP Submission Deadline: June 01, 2022

For more information, contact: Fiona McMahon