Poetry Off the Page: Poets Theater

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At Poets Theater at The Rogue in Tucson, a Poetry Off the Page event, Brent Cunningham will present three short, experimental plays that engage directly with the audience. Mark McLemore talked with poet and UA professor Ander Monson in the AZPM radio studio, where they were joined by poet and Brent Cunningham (by telephone from Berkeley, CA) to discuss the symposium.

 

 

About Poets Theater
by Brent Cunningham

 

The roots of "Poets' Theater" as a sub-genre can be traced back to at least 1950 when The Poets' Theater in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was formed. William Carlos Williams and Thornton Wilder were among its first board members, and its most active participants included Frank O'Hara, John Ashbery, Alison Lurie, V.R. "Bunny" Lang, Edward Gorey, Paul Goodman, Donald Hall, Richard Wilbur and Archibald Macleish. Of course The Poets' Theater was not the first time poets had written and staged plays; nevertheless, its project (along with similar experiments at Black Mountain and elsewhere) would remain a touchstone for poets exploring the possibilities of theater over the decades that followed. While any aesthetic lineage can be debated, any history of Poets Theater would have to mention the Black Arts theater pieces of Amiri Baraka, as well as the Poets Theater events staged by Language Poets in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In the Bay Area, there has been at least one Poets Theater event, usually more, every January for the last decade. This tradition was initially organized by some of the board members at Small Press Traffic (which still hosts P.T. in the Bay), including Kevin Killian, Taylor Brady, Elizabeth Treadwell, and Brent Cunningham, as well as Camile Roy working with New Langton Arts. Killian's own plays, which he had been staging with a loose but consistent troupe of poets, artists, and friends throughout the 1990s, were arguably the most immediate and dominant influence on the tenor of those evenings. Since then, a new generation of Bay Area poets have grown up wondering if "Poets Theater" is merely any play written by a poet, or whether there is an alchemical formula that makes a play not just theater, but poets theater.

Arizona Board of Regents