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Posts Tagged ‘Corporate Relations’

Sifting through sounds from the bench: An interview with Jena Osman

Posted September 2nd, 2016

Jena Osman is a renowned poet and editor. She has published numerous books and chapbooks and was the co-founder/co-editor of the award-winning literary magazine Chain with Juliana Spahr. Osman currently teaches in the MFA Creative Writing program at Temple University. 

Her 2014 book Corporate Relations draws directly from landmark Supreme Court cases to examine and unpack “corporate personhood”—the notion that privately owned corporations should be extended the same rights as individual citizens—revealing its century long development in a manner that is at turns illuminating, humorous, disturbing, and beautifully lyrical. You can check out the book’s opening poem here and purchase a copy from the venerable small press Burning Deck here.

Corporate Relations served as inspiration and source material for Ted Hearne’s stunning composition Sound from the Bench, which will be performed by Philadelphia’s acclaimed new music chamber choir, The Crossing, here at FringeArts on September 11 as part of the 2016 Fringe Festival. FringeArts recently spoke with Osman about the origins of Corporate Relations and her collaboration with Hearne.


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Jena Osman (photo by Amze Emmons)

FringeArts: What spurred you to write Corporate Relations?

Jena Osman: When Citizens United won its case in 2010 it dawned on people (including myself) that corporations had just won a constitutional right—freedom of speech. There was general political/media outrage about corporations being given rights reserved for people, that the ruling suggested that corporations actually were people. Because this seemed like such a crazy idea, I started to look into it and I discovered that corporations had been racking up a series of constitutional rights since the mid-19th century. I’ve always had an interest in objects that seem human (puppets, automatons, computers that play chess, etc.), and corporate personhood fell in line with that fascination.

FA: How did you arrive at the book’s hybridized form?

Corporate Relations is organized around twelve Supreme Court cases that grant corporations constitutional rights. After reading each case, I pulled out phrases that felt particularly “human” to me; the phrases are in the order in which they appear in the case, and the spacing of those found poems was determined by where the phrase fell on my printed out page of the case. The court case sections are broken up by a series of poems that try to further investigate the increasingly blurry boundary line between the human and the machine; they consider automata, the John Henry story, Fritz Kahn’s amazing illustrations of the human body as a factory, the mechanics of ventriloquism, Frederick Winslow Homer’s “scientific management” strategies, etc.

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