The Poetry Project


Paratextual Play — Workshop with Holly Melgard

Even though writers and publishers spend exorbitant time and money composing paratexts to guide readers to and through their work, standards in mainstream publishing strategically mask paratextual labor to appear invisible and unobtrusive to readers. Paratexts are things like blurbs, synopses, book covers, even separate author bios and interviews, all of which are peripheral dimensions of text that designate boundaries for its reception in discourse, as Gérard Genette theorizes in Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation (1987). Meanwhile, competing for the scarce resources of attention, recognition and material support, poets for over a century have designed unconventional paratexts that disrupt information flows and reveal invisible architectures of capital undergirding the “Literary” category.

Paratextual Play studies the conventions of literary packaging by exploring paratexts as sites for creative expression, experimentation, self-authorization, and mischief-making. Activities in this workshop are designed to support you in your own Paratextual writing. We will begin by checking out Genette’s theory of paratext more closely and reflecting together on a century of paratextual play (with examples by Tan Lin, CAConrad, Kamau Brathwaite, Rupi Kaur, Theresa Cha, Hannah Weiner, Bernadette Mayer, and Gertrude Stein among others). Midway through, we will deliberate over ways Genette’s theory can be updated to better reflect 21st century born-digital paratexts like hashtags. And further in, we will examine paratextual labor in several recent collective practices (Black Took Collective, Gauss PDF, Troll Thread, and some Ugly Duckling publications + ephemera). Throughout, we'll workshop your own paratextual creations for framing your work—however conventional or unconventional—with the group. Here, we’ll utilize the resource of our hivemind to process these invisible forms of frame-writing we commonly practice, but never call “the work.”