10 TRIES, 100 POEMS (TAKE 5) :: T.L. COWAN AND ALEXANDRA JUHASZ :: FIELD NOTES :: WILLFUL HEALING THROUGH COLLABORATIVE COLLAGE

This Field Notes entry marks the fifth installment of 10 Tries, 100 Poems, a Field Notes mini-series documenting experimental workshops that use poetry as a means of resistance to contemporary forms of distraction, deception and distortion. T.L Cowan and other queer feminist artists and writers come together in this workshop/gathering to dig into binaries and false dichotomies such as truth vs. lie and real vs. fake news. Together the group creates a rearrange-able poem-collage, a project Cowan describes as “a proposition, provocation, invitation to read slanted, to read multiply, to move ideas and facts around, to seek broadly and to think expansively and in many directions.” The workshop, conducted by digital media literacy advocate Alexandra Juhasz, is part of a larger project, #100hardtruths-fakenews. Read more in the Series Introduction. [2018 series editor: Adrian Silbernagel]


I held a Fake News Poetry Workshop at the home of T.L. Cowan and Jasmine Rault in Toronto in March 2018. T.L. and Jasmine generously provided snacks, beverages, friends, music, couches and chairs and cats, and a sense of deep place and close people. They are my dear friends, so most critically of all, they supplied support and love.

I was in town for the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Conference, so I invited a select handful of fellow Media Studies scholars from around the world, queer feminists who I thought would be open to play, would enjoy each other, and would be creative and smart. T.L. and Jasmine invited some of their friends and colleagues from Toronto:

Hello friends & colleagues,
I’m writing to invite you to Alex Juhasz’s Fake News Poetry Workshop as One Try at Radical Digital Media Literacy event in Toronto during the SCMS conference. This is one of 10 poetry workshops that Alex will be hosting this Spring as part of her ongoing #100HardTruths project, which she began on Jan 20, 2017:
‘In the Spring of 2018, I will be collaborating approximately ten times with poets in their communities. Together with our participants we will adapt, extend, translate and make more usable the many resources currently available in the “online digital media primer,” #100hardtruths-#fakenews, a website that I built over the first 100 days of the Trump administration as an act of engaged, enraged intellectual citizenship. — Alex Juhasz’
So, please join us:
When: Saturday March 17, 6–8pm … and stay afterwards for an *8-till-late GLITCHing party* (see below for details)
What to expect: Alex will lead us through her process, we’ll chat & hopefully we’ll write some poems or poetry-adjacent materials.
What to bring: Whatever you’d like to drink (we’ll have some booze and non-booze on hand) & your date(s), if you’d like.

T.L. ran the “poetry” or “poetics” part of the workshop, which ten people participated in. A party would follow to say goodbye to and celebrate an artist friend of the group’s. The workshop began with a discussion, and ended with us making a stack of cards containing phrases that could be shuffled into poems. What follows here are photos of that collaboration, as well as brief reflections from several of the participants.

Alex Juhasz


T.L. Cowan: The living room workshop/poetry party is something I’ve always loved — a salon of co-creation, of research by listening and making together over a short, intense time. I didn’t know what to expect or who all would show up — this is always the case for these kinds of events — so I had many supplies on hand depending on where everyone wanted to go. It’s always important to have lots of markers, paper of different sizes and various forms of glitter, glue and fabric. You never know what’s going to be useful and necessary.

I first met Alex in her living room, when she hosted the FemTechNet Los Angeles gathering in the summer of 2013. It was a pivotal moment in my life and career. The collective work that week brought me to the network work of FemTechNet, a model of cross-rank, and (to a lesser extent) cross-sector collaboration, solidarity and action.

I’ve written in the FemTechNet Roadshow blog series about how, in my mind, FemTechNet operated with the intensity and careful improvisation of cabaret and about the necessity of platform proliferation for feminist digital media practice (if you can’t get your hands on this essay in Feminist Frontiers you can tweet @AgingSupermodel and I’ll get it to you). This Fake News Poetry Workshop shared these elements: we didn’t know who would show up, but Alex has a very careful method that leaves open improvisation and group direction after she has established the foundation of her project in the room.

The impulse of the project is to shift platforms from digital news circulation and refusal and rebuttal to poetic forms as a way to explore truths and lies. What is fake? This is the question that I think most grabbed our group: it seems none, or very few, of us were willing to give over to the binary of fake/truth, but shared an understanding that these ways of shaping the world are themselves up for grabs; and aren’t truth claims dangerous, the bedrock of colonialism and imperial occupation, and the justification for injustice? Indeed what is justice, even? We seek it, we talk about it together, at every turn we cultivate our understandings, learn new ways that justice escapes us, that we do harm.

One of the ways I think about cabaret methods (and I think of cabarets as grassroots, artist-run socially engaged and often satirical variety shows) is as a method based in proliferating dialectics — on the rubbing against of many perspectives of the story living in the contradictions generated. Thus the assemblage technique we used to create our poetry deck — all the cards can be shuffled to make a different version of the poem depending on the configuration — was fitting as we kept in motion our ideas about the state of “news” in Canada, the U.S.A. and beyond. News has always been about perspective, has never been about truth but about winning over audiences to a version of a truth. We work to convince each other of perspectives and orientations. Look at it this way…

Our poem, I think, is a proposition, provocation, invitation to read slanted, to read multiply, to move ideas and facts around, to seek broadly and to think expansively and in many directions.

Cait McKinney: For me the workshop was a chance to experiment with expressing thoughts on-the-fly, with others, in a format that felt unfamiliar and vulnerable. I didn’t want to write a “bad” poem but I’ve also never written a poem before so it seemed like a good time to just try. I liked how the pace of the workshop felt slow, and how we were all quite careful with our thoughts and with each other. Writing down our work on paper, and the tactility of gathering those papers and shuffling them around lent something to the process as well.

Julie Hollenbach: I enjoyed this process. This kind of poetry writing felt like collaborative collage making: where first the group gathered the raw materials (ideas, memories, concepts, insights, keywords, feelings, desires) that would be used to build and layer the poem through dialogue generated by foraging in Alex’s #100hardtruths-#fakenews. The discussion of reflections on #100hardtruths amongst strangers (to me) felt powerful and important; it feels far too infrequent that I have the opportunity to move critical conversation into the creative realm of making. Throughout, I was touched by the generosity and openness of all who participated. I feel great satisfaction in the playful, open-ended-ness of the poem we created; how it can be mixed and reformulated into an endlessly shifting form that defies static interpretation.

Julie Levine Russo: There are too few spaces to affectively process our current political contingencies. The workshop felt like an occasion to materialize and transcode the emotional layer of #100hardtruths. I was struck by the reservoir of care for self and others that we were able to coalesce and disperse. I think that poetics and collage have the capacity to unstick ideas and traumas so they can be rearranged and remobilized. I’m interested in the way form and platforms (whether index cards or Scalar) can enable emergent modes of collective creativity and agency. I had no idea what to expect, but I couldn’t imagine anything other than a collaborative poem developing from our group (each of us held a piece). And furthermore, I agree with Julie!

Alex Juhasz: One conversation that I had during the party that followed the workshop (although the “workshop” also felt like a kind of “party” for me), has stuck with me. I was chatting with Darren Patrick and Beth Coleman, and Darren mentioned wondering if this (referring to the workshop and after-party) is what consciousness-raising groups might have been like. I replied that while I had never been a participant in one myself, I did remember my Mom’s CR groups quite well. These were held in our living room (and those of others) in Santa Cruz CA and Boulder CO during the height of the second wave women’s movement in the early to mid-seventies. My memory (and then later reading and also academic writing) leads me to believe that CR had more tears. More first time reckonings. More coming to words where words had never been, turning feeling into knowledge through public encounter. After and because of that, those words having been said (by them), later movements and institutions, from which we build, resulted from their politicized communal namings in living rooms.

But I also know what Darren meant. The workshop felt like a vision of CR in its willful healing, its necessary aligning of theory, feeling, community, queer feminism, and daily experience. It felt like a much-needed respite from technology, capitalism, patriarchy, and their hold on social media and us. In real time and place — listening, talking, and validating one another — we approached an embodied and collective knowing — so needed — together.



T.L. Cowan is a writer, performer, activist and professor living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. An Assistant Professor of Media Studies in the Department of Arts, Culture & Media and the Faculty of Education at the University of Toronto, T.L. is also an organizer with FemTechNet (Feminist Technology Network) and the Center for Solutions to Online Violence (CSOV).

Alexandra Juhasz is Chair of the Film Department at Brooklyn College. She writes about and makes feminist, queer, fake, and AIDS media. Her current work is on fake news, online feminist pedagogy, YouTube, and other more radical uses of digital media.