Thursday 24 October 2013

UEA 50th Anniversary: The Art of Conspiracy

 Discovered amongst the volcanic ash, discarded event programmes and shattered plastic pint glasses that covered campus the morning after the UEA 50th Anniversary celebrations, the following missive outlines the proceedings of the the School of American Studies' 'Art of Conspiracy' event. Or does it?..

To whomever this message reaches,

I have some disconcerting news.  As a contribution to the University of East Anglia’s 50th Anniversary Festival an assortment of departments, schools and faculties were asked to think up and run hands on activities throughout Saturday 28th September.  The School of American Studies’ input was an hour-long workshop entitled ‘The Art of Conspiracy’.  According to an unidentified whistleblower, a few days prior to the affair the organisers/puppet masters met in an unknown location to plan the event in painstaking detail.  We will never know for sure what happened in that meeting, but thanks to the testimony of several dependable experts and eye witnesses present at the workshop we have a clearer idea of what really happened that Saturday.

As people filed into room 1.6 of the Thomas Paine Study Centre, there was a certain tension in the air.  People knew something was going to happen, something important, but no one knew exactly what; all they could say was that they had been attracted by the mystic title and blurb in a programme that had been suspiciously handed to all of them earlier in the day.  Coincidence? I think not.

The deep rumble of chatter disappeared abruptly when Dr. Hilary Emmett introduced the running order of the event.  The experts have told me that everything happened exactly as Dr Emmett said it would – how convenient.

First, MA by Research student Joseph Broadbent gave a brief talk titled ‘The Logic of Conspiracy Theory’.  He proposed that conspiracy theorists do not live up to their stereotype and to illustrate this point he demonstrated that the tools to be a conspiracy theorist are innate within all of us.  For example, he explained how just a few biases we exhibit—such as the availability error, proportionality bias, the post hoc fallacy, pareidolia, confirmation bias, and the backfire effect—make us more disposed to believing conspiracy theories than we would initially have thought.  Mr. Broadbent went on to run a mini-experiment to prove his hypothesis.  By playing a verse of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’ forwards, then backwards he managed to get the room to see how the song has been seen by some conspiracy theorists to be a part of a grand satanic plot.  Ending on that note, he left a list of how to build your own conspiracy theory up for the room to see.


Following this the audience, which had already been suspiciously sat in groups of five to eight, were invited to create their own conspiracy theories.  A chosen member from each group went to the front of the room and underwent a ritual, at the end of which they had selected three cards—a person, a corporation, and an event—that had to explain the oncoming zombie apocalypse.

 An eyewitness found this all incredibly troubling because we all know that the zombie apocalypse is going be here soon.  That the number 3 was used is more worrying because we know that it is the only divisor of the number of the beast that gives us the date of this oncoming catastrophe (2/2/22), but the team from American Studies carried on despite these objections.  It is quite clear that the academics from the school of American Studies knew far more about this event than they were letting on because the selection of three cards cannot be a coincidence.  Therefore, I shall name them so that all who deal with them in the future know about their role in this episode; they were: Dr Nicholas Grant, Dr Wendy McMahon, Dr Kaeten Mistry, and Dr Jonathan Mitchell.

After some clearly biased speculation and conjecture each group presented their findings which were rated by how complex and how believable they were.  These ranged from Bill Gates using Microsoft to create wirelessly updateable zombies, to Disney having already started creating mindless zombies (from Britney Spears to Miley Cyrus).  From Sarah Palin being a secret communist, to McDonalds being the epicentre of the future breakout.  On reflection, these entries leave us much to ponder as it is quite possible that they could be truthful, but cloaked in parody so as to disguise their truthiness from the sheeple.

So, we are left with several perplexing questions: first, was ‘the event’ a success? From the information I have to hand I think that for American Studies it would have appeared so, yes, as participants and lecturers alike were seen leaving happily discussing the art of the conspiracy theory.  And, secondly, lastly, and by far the most important, is Miley Cyrus a zombie?  Only time will tell.


A. Nonymous.

Monday 14 October 2013

Beyond the Border: The Vancouver Poetry Conference (1963)

Date: 23rd November 2013
Organiser: David Mc Carthy (PhD Candidate at the School of American Studies)

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of one of the most seminal events in modern American poetry, the Vancouver Poetry Conference 1963. Following the publication of Donald Allen’s prescient The New American Poetry: 1945-1960, Warren Tallman and Robert Creeley gathered a number of the New American Poets together in Vancouver for three weeks of poetry readings, public lectures, workshops and roundtable discussions on contemporary experimental poetics. This occasion helped to consolidate and disseminate some of the major theoretical arguments informing experimental American poetry of the period and facilitated an unprecedented level of cross-fertilisation and dialogic exchange between current and successive generations of experimental North-American poets.

To coincide with UEA’s own fiftieth anniversary, the School of American Studies is hosting a one-day conference intended to reassess the continuing legacies of the Vancouver Poetry Conference, its participants and the open-form poetics being championed at it. Speakers will include David Arnold (author of Poetry and Language Writing: Objective and Surreal), Daniel Katz (author of The Poetry of Jack Spicer) and Miriam Nicholls (editor of The Holy Forest: The Collected Poems of Robin Blaser and The Fire: The Collected Essays of Robin Blaser), alongside a range of postgraduate and early-career researchers from the UK, US and Canada who will be discussing issues relating, but not limited, to; the dynamic relationships and intertextual dialogues between the participants (chiefly, Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Robin Blaser and Denise Levertov), the influence of the conference and its participants on the development of experimental Canadian poetics, instances of Trans-Atlantic poetic exchange between North-America and British little-magazines, the notably absent Jack Spicer, and the general disregard and transgression of literal and conceptual borders endorsed by the open-forms of the New American Poets.

Beyond the Border: The Vancouver Poetry Conference (1963) will also include a screening of the Canadian film-maker Robert Mc Tavish’s new documentary The Line Has Shattered, which chronicles and explores this landmark occasion in innovative North-American poetry using archive footage and interviews with some of the participants half a century later. In addition, Michael Palmer, one of the most important American poets writing today and an original attendee at the Vancouver Poetry Conference, will be giving a reading to conclude the event and help celebrate this important anniversary.    

Trailer for Robert Mc Tavish’s The Line Has Shattered

Michael Palmer’s Page at -

You can register for the conference here. The deadline for registration is 21st October 2013.