Called to Action: Professor and Alumna Craft Anthology for Our Times

Hurt, healing, humiliation, inspiration–words create and carve the contours of our lives, giving expression to the mundane and the miraculous. The manifesto offers a vehicle–whether in print, online or delivered from atop a soapbox in middle of a crowded public park-for words to publicly morph from thought, to utterance, to action.

Now comes The Manifesto Project, a hybrid anthology of manifestos and poems. Alan Michael Parker, the Douglas Houchens Professor of English, and his former student, Rebecca Hazelton '00, teamed up as colleagues to co-edit a work of words for these times.

They began with a question:

What does a poetic manifesto look like in a time of increased pluralism, relativism and danger?

"The very act of writing a manifesto is a political act," said Hazelton.

Parker and Hazelton invited 45 poets, at various stages of their careers, to lend their voices to the project. The contributors submitted a prose manifesto (from Latin "making public") and selected two of their own poems–an anthologizing act that poets are never permitted.

"Poems train us to perceive nuance," Parker said. "They teach us to read the news and politics closely. This kind of reading has a truly democratic, lower case 'd,' component."

In their introduction, "More Manifestos, Please," the editors wrote:

"Manifestos assess the current situation, and look to the future. They aren't just descriptive, they're prescriptive–they are calls for action and demands for change, either implicitly or explicitly. Manifestos are inherently revolutionary, and because of this, they have an expiration date–the status quo and the revolutions it inspires ever-shifting. We just don't know when that date will be."

The passage of time was at the front of Parker's mind as he sought a co-editor who could represent perspectives other than his own.

"As a generation younger, Rebecca reads differently. She reads different poets, she lives in the world in a different way. And I wanted someone I could trust," said Parker, who recently won the N.C. Poetry Society's Brockman-Campbell Book Award for the best book of poetry published in the state in 2016, The Ladder.

Hazelton was a Patricia Cornwell Scholar at Davidson. Parker was the professor in her first poetry workshop. She still remembers one of the discussion questions, deceptively simple: "What are you doing when you are writing a poem?"

As a college sophomore, she had no ready answer.

That's why you're in the workshop, Parker replied.

"Just knowing that I needed to ask it was important–that question changed the way I write," Hazelton said. "Writing poetry is wonderful, therapeutic and cathartic. But when we think about making art, we have to think about other people, and audience."

Hazelton and Parker's call for submissions went out through traditional academic channels and via social media. Originally, they committed to publishing 25 percent unsolicited work, a percentage that more than doubled in the book's final contents.

"We wanted people from different aesthetic spheres," said Hazelton, "and the different knowledge that can come from people at different points of their careers."

With University of Akron Press, they published the anthology after an intense two years of regular video chats and lots of co-editing.

Their own professional partnership changed from professor-student to collegial collaborators and peers.

"One of the things that a school like Davidson can do is foster teacher-student relationships that extend beyond one classroom and even beyond the student's time at Davidson," said Hazelton.

"By the end of the project, her infant could recognize me on the computer," Parker said.

The Manifesto Project covers a gamut of topics, each central to a manifesto for these times: "There Is Nothing New Under the Sun. Make It New," by Lisa Ampleman; "Slow Poetry," by Sean Bishop; "A Private Architecture of Resistance," by Doyali Farah Islam; "The Promise of Radical Content," by David Groff; "What Lies Inside Us: Connectedness in Language and Being," by Afaa Weaver.

MacArthur Fellow Claudia Rankine and co-author Beth Loffreda sum up the dynamics of the manifesto form itself in "The Racial Imaginary:"

"The racial imaginary changes over time, in part because artists get into tension with it, challenge it, alter its availabilities. Sometimes it changes very rapidly, as in our own lifetimes. But it has yet to disappear. We cannot imagine it out of existence. Instead our imaginings might test their inheritances, to make way for a time when such inheritances no longer ensnare us.

"But we are creatures of this moment, not that one."

John Syme


  • October 30, 2017