Sally-Shakti Willow is a poet and performer. She is currently researching and writing utopian poetics at the University of Westminster, where she is also a visiting lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing. Her poetry has been published by Adjacent Pineapple, Eyewear, The Projectionist’s Playground and Zarf. The Unfinished Dream, a collaborative chapbook with visual artist Joe Evans, was published by Sad Press in 2016. Atha is forthcoming with Knives Forks & Spoons press. Past performances include The Unfinished Dream (2016/2017) and Freedom of Movement (2018). Sally-Shakti’s literary reviews have been published in The Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry, The Contemporary Small Pressand The Northern Review. She is a Community Teaching Assistant for the online Modern and Contemporary Poetry program, ModPo, run by the University of Pennsylvania.
I am currently a doctoral researcher studying utopian poetics and experimental writing under the supervision of Professor John Beck and Dr Georgina Colby at the University of Westminster. My research is part practice-based and I receive additional supervision from Professor Kristen Kreider at Goldsmiths, University of London.
My research focuses on the work of Korean-American artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (1951-1982), exploring the ways in which Cha’s work engenders or suggests an experience of non-alienation and non-oppression through its content, materiality and formal strategies. Taking as a theoretical foundation Ernst Bloch’s utopian philosophy, I explore the utopian poetics of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee (1982) and other text works. Reading Bloch invites a new reading of the utopian – not as idealised and ideological destination but as the performed experience of non-alienation in process and as the ‘anticipatory illumination’ of the ‘darkness of the immediately experienced moment’. Through close reading and engagement with Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee and other text works, I demonstrate how her practice performs a utopian poetics for both the writer and the reader and the various ways in which this is manifested in the texts as material objects. Beginning with an introduction to the place of the utopian in modern and contemporary critical discourse, I make the case for reading utopia as performance through the philosophy of Ernst Bloch, drawing out connections and contrasts with the aesthetic theory of Theodor Adorno.
Having established this critical parameter, I engage closely with Cha’s text works at the levels of language, page and object. First examining the performance of utopian poetics as poiēsisin Dictee’s use of metaphor and metonymy; then exploring Dictee’s material processes of enunciation – the ways that it communicates as a material object in codex form; and finally analysing Cha’s mail art work Audience Distant Relative and her performance Reveillé dans la Brume (Awakened in the Mist) (both 1977) in terms of the gestural responses they elicit from their audiences. In each case, contemporary poetic theory and the growing field of recent Cha scholarship inform my argument.
Chapter 1: Utopian Poetics in Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’s Dictee
Chapter 2: Dictee’s Material Processes of Enunciation
Chapter 3: Utopian Poetics as Embodied Performance
I am due to complete my doctoral research by September 2019.
My poetry explores the intersection between a poetic practice and what Barrett Watten has called ‘New Age lifestyle politics’ (‘Language Poetry’s Concrete Utopia’, 2015). I write through the utopian possibilities and challenges that arise from the practise of both utopian poetics and an alternative lifestyle as forms of resistance to neoliberal politics, using a language-focused approach to open up un-analysed assumptions on each side.
In my creative-critical practice I am exploring the possibilities for using utopian poetics as a research method to better understand the poetic practices of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. This is taking the form of a writing practice that works through the embodied gestures instigated by Cha in Dictee and other works.
My writing practice is deeply informed by both performance and book arts. In practice, these three disciplines are intertwined in my work, with each element informing and feeding back into the creation of a project. For example, The Unfinished Dream explores the physicality of material form in both the book as an object and the human body, and the resulting poetry is performed both on the page and in live performance. In addition to the published chapbook several artists’ book versions of The Unfinished Dreamwere made collaboratively by hand, one of which is now housed in the Liberature Reading Room in Krakow, Poland. Both the artists’ book and the chapbook utilise a sketchbook-style cut-and-paste aesthetic to foreground the materiality of the making and writing processes and bring awareness to the physicality of the reading process. More recently, I have been working with poetry and performance to engender an experience of embodied intersubjectivity, whereby participants become aware of the physicality of their own body in space and its relationship with others’ via the language of the poem. Each performance of a piece of work, whether on the page or on the ‘stage’, informs my practice and shapes my subsequent writing.
Atha – poetry chapbook, Knives Forks and Spoons Press (forthcoming, 2019)
radical doula – poem published in Rise Up & Repeal anthology, Sad Press (forthcoming, 2019)
paperw[eigh]t & ‘somewhere. That’ – two poems published in Original Plus Dub anthology, Hesterglock/Prote(x)st (forthcoming, 2019)
Three Yoga Poems (Pranayama, Mudra, B&ha) – three poems published in Burning House Press, November 2018
folding in – visual poem published in The Projectionist’s Playground 8, 2018
Tat Twam Asi & In Other Words – two poems on display at Blackpool Illuminations: Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2018
[&howto-] – poem published in The Projectionist’s Playground 6, 2018
Guided Meditation: for Maggie O’Sullivan – poem published in Adjacent Pineapple 2, 2017
windfarm turning – poem published in The Projectionist’s Playground 4, 2017
infinite imperative – poem published in Zarf 10, 2017
The Unfinished Dream – collaborative chapbook with visual artist Joe Evans, Sad Press, 2016
Straif – poem published in the Nous Sommes Paris anthology, Eyewear Publishing, 2016
Contemporary Literature Reviews
Review of Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge –for The Northern Review, August 2018
Writing Utopia Now (provisional title) – multi-modal article exploring the performance of utopian poetics in Mina Loy’s ‘Feminist Manifesto’. Studies in Arts and Humanities Journal, Special Issue ‘Utopian Acts’ (forthcoming, April 2019)
Review: Poetry and Performance During the British Poetry Revival 1960–1980: Event and Effect by Juha Virtanen (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) – Academic book review, published in the Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poets (10), June 2018
Seminars and Conferences
‘Utopian Poetics, Gesture & Embodiment in the Work of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’ – Critical paper and poetry reading at Talking Bodies 2019, The University of Chester, April 2019 (forthcoming)
‘The Utopian Poetics of Gesture & Embodiment in the Work of Theresa Hak Kyung Cha’ – Critical paper and poetry reading at the English, Linguistics and Cultural Studies Research Seminar, University of Westminster, December 2017, on the theme of ‘Bodies in Women’s Experimental Writing’
‘Utopian Poetics in Theresa Hak Kung Cha’s Dictee: A Korean American Between the Beats and Language Poetry’ – Critical paper and poetry reading at the Centre for Contemporary Poetry (ContemPo), University of Brighton, November 2017
Funding and Awards:
University of Westminster PhD Studentship 2015-2018
Faculty Research Funding £900 for research trip to Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive to access the Theresa Hak Kyung Cha archive, April 2017
Globally Engaged Research Scholarship £1000 for Naropa Summer Writing Programme, Naropa University, Boulder, Colorado, Summer 2018
Faculty Research Funding £300 towards Naropa Summer Writing Programme, Naropa University, Boulder, Colorado, Summer 2018
2018 – Present: Writing the City, Reflective Writing and Independent Writing Project– Level 4, 5 and 6 teaching on the Creative Writing BA at the University of Westminster
2018 – Present: Wellbeing When Writing– postgraduate workshops using Creative Writing pedagogy to support Doctoral Researchers in all disciplines, University of Westminster
2018 – Present: Community Teaching Assistant for ModPo– online mentor for the open-access Modern and Contemporary American Poetry course run by the University of Pennsylvania
2017-2018: Independent Writing Project– supervisor for Level 6 Creative Writing independent writing project (poetry), University of Westminster
Spring 2017: Other Worlds: Fantastic Narratives– Level 6 module examining utopian and fantasy fiction, University of Westminster
2015-2016: Introduction to Literary Studies – Level 4 study skills tutorials, University of Westminster
I have been a fully qualified Teacher of English since 2005, teaching in UK secondary schools until 2014.
I am currently completing a Certificate of Special Study in Supporting Learning at the University of Westminster, upon completion of which I will become an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
The Contemporary Small Press
From 2015 to 2018 I was the research assistant for the Contemporary Small Press project co-ordinated by Leigh Wilson and Georgina Colby for the Institute of Modern and Contemporary Culture at the University of Westminster. My responsibilities included: liaising with small press publishers, writers, and readers; researching, writing and publishing articles on the Contemporary Small Press website; editing and publishing reviews of small press titles by a pool of voluntary reviewers; maintaining public contact via the website and social media accounts; publicising and promoting the range of events organised by the project; and analysing the project’s impact.
Republic of Consciousness Prize
The Republic of Consciousness Prize was established in 2016 by novelist Neil Griffiths to acknowledge and reward the work of British and Irish small presses in publishing innovative and daring new literary fiction. It is supported by the Times Literary Supplement. In 2017 I was on the judging panel for the prize, which included reading a wide range of submissions and liaising with the other judges to establish the long list, short list and prize winner.
PhD Utopian Poetics, University of Westminster (due to complete 2019)
MA Creative and Critical Writing, University of Sussex (2015)
Qualified Teacher Status (2005)
BA (Hons) English and American Literature, University of Kent (2002)