The Poetry Project


The Clearing with JJJJJerome Ellis

© Ellis - The Clearing

The Poetry Project and ISSUE Project Room present the official launch for composer and poet JJJJJerome Ellis’ The Clearing. The project includes two sister pieces: an album (co-produced by The Poetry Project and NNA Tapes) and a book (published by Wendy’s Subway). The Poetry Project's commission of this work is supported with a grant from The Axe-Houghton Foundation.

The Clearing asks how stuttering, blackness, and music can be practices of refusal against hegemonic governance of time, speech, and encounter. Taking his glottal block stutter as a point of departure, Ellis figures the aporia and the block as clearing to consider how dysfluency, opacity, and refusal can open a new space for relation. Ellis will perform excerpts from the project.

First introduced in his 2020 essay “The clearing: Music, dysfluency, Blackness and time” in The Journal of Interdisciplinary Voice Studies, Ellis presents “The Clearing” as a concept that challenges us to reimagine dysfluency in speech and question how speech and articulation impact how we exist in the social realm. Ellis speaks with a block stutter, which manifests as intervals of silence in his speech. He calls these intervals “clearings.” In the opening section of the essay, Ellis argues that stuttering—much like music—challenges and “breaks up” time as we know it: “My thesis is that Blackness, dysfluency and music are forces that open time. Opening brings possibilities: temporal refusal, temporal escape, temporal dissent.” Ellis goes on to suggest that disabled speakers and certain types of people, especially Black folks, are subjected to related forms of temporal regulation and oppression that seek to pathologize and criminalize: “Temporal subjection enacted against Black people occurs in many spheres. Brittney Cooper examines several in her work: Black women’s reproductive health; legal and extralegal murders of Black people; racially skewed correlations between zip code and life expectancy; and the conceptualization of history itself.”

Recorded in various bedrooms over the course of several months and setting the text of Ellis’s essay to music, The Clearing is a haunting and expansive series of reflections on the questions of speech, articulation, and the power behind both. Expanding on Harriet Jacobs’s idea of the “loophole of retreat,” Ellis positions Black music and speech as disruptors of “conventional” time and as tools to map out new means of communication and activity.


Tickets for this in-person event have sold out. A livestream of the performance will be available on the ISSUE Project Room event page on November 12 at 8pm ET.

This is tentatively planned as a live indoor event at St. Mark's Church. We are following (and exceeding) guidelines laid out by the CDC and the State of New York. These include: limiting the number of attendees to 50% capacity; setting up seating with fixed and socially distant spacing; requiring proof of vaccination be shown at the door upon arrival; and requiring and providing face masks, as well as hand sanitizer stations. Before each event, we will also be conducting rapid tests for all performers and event staff. We will have several microphones on hand, and will be rotating and sanitizing these between readings. Attendees are required to register in advance, and contact information is collected at the point of registration in the event that we need to support any public health efforts around contact tracing. We are committed to the safety of our performers, audience, and event staff, and will be fully prepared to update any of these plans and protocols as circumstances continue to evolve. We are grateful to attendees for helping us maintain safety within our present public health context, and look forward to holding meaningful shared listening space together.

Please arrive prepared to show proof of vaccination and a photo ID at the door. Proof of vaccination may be in the form of your vaccination card (or a picture of your card), the NYC Covid Safe app, or the Excelsior app. If, for medical reasons, you have not been vaccinated, you may instead bring documentation of a negative PCR test taken within the last 72 hours.