What I’m Working On by Michael Baumann

Michael Baumann, a second-year Ph.D. candidate, created an audio file to discuss what he is working on. For accessibility, a script has been provided below.

What I’m Working on by Michael Baumann



What am I working on this semester? A piano(!) (Literally, but then also that’s a metaphor.). In addition to adding little weights to little hammers (another literal / metaphor) so that they (re)set and so that the keys won’t stick and so that I won’t get so grumpy–I’m tuning it, which is easy: I have perfect pitch and a musical ear (when it comes to pianos) (but not really about much else). Ya just sound it out.

I’m doing a lot of stuff this semester (sounding it all out) (that is). A comprehensive literature exam on the sonic rhetorics of slam poetry, a dissertation on the politics of ethos and avowal when queer writing teachers (in)audibly “come out” (or don’t), a couple of courses (of course) on new media writing (which–duh–employ such sound).


Literature exam: I’m tracing the history of American confessional poetry as an antecedent to its contemporary iteration(s) of slam. I harbor so many questions, but I’ll blight you with only a couple here: first, slam’s autobiography-ness explodes the first-person lyric, and the politic/al foregrounds a shift from modernity (in)to a postmodern conscientiousness of what poetry is (not) rhetorically and generically. For example, a page-poem’s grandest conceit is that there’s always a speaker, and that speaker isn’t necessarily the author; a slam poem implies (or necessitates) that the speaker and the author are the same. What does this mean for audiences’ phenomenological and ontological conceptions of “speaker”? In a neo-Foucauldian sense, too: What tensions might exist in performance poetry regarding sincerity/authenticity versus performativity, especially considering various (in)visible intersections of identity? Finally, in terms of Writing Studies’ interests in processes, I find it difficult to pasteurize process from product, as the performed genre is not complete until shared with a live audience, who breathe textures, modalities, rhetorics, and semiotics in/to the product/poem during the final stages of its process/performance. So (to what extent) is the space between rehearsal and improvisation, between rhetor and interlocutor, dialectical or queer? Additionally, considering the Western rhetorical canons, in contemporary writing studies, we’ve often stretched rhetorical theory, which once applied to oral/aural, as well as multimodal, performances of oratory, to fit our needs, meaning in this case that we substitute, reinterpret, and perhaps even (mis)appropriate the canons memory and delivery in particular (cf., Trimbur, DeVoss and Ridolfo, Ehses and Lupton). Do these canons enjoy a comeback in slam poetry?

Dissertation: I wonder sometimes what is, after all, different between teaching a class and performing a poem: are they not both performances? Anyway, I’m interested in a mixed-methods (auto)ethnographic dissertation so I can listen to students re: how openly “out” queer teachers affect writing classrooms. Especially considering the politics of “passing,” at odds–always–with Writing Studies’ fetishization of “authentic” voice, how do students interpret queer writing teachers’ ethoi and author/ity?


While tightening my piano’s heartstrings this semester, certainly I’ve plucked some of my own. I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, and it would suck if I already did. With so much focus on sound this semester, I’ll be hearing much, listening a lot, (and certainly there’s a difference between hearing and listening).


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