Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Notes from the conceptual poetics symposium

For those who might be interested, these are my notes from the Conceptual Poetics symposium in Tucson this past May. I'm not going to go into a lot of reformatting here, so hopefully this will all work out and be readable. And of course, these notes reflect my understanding, interests in, and interpretation of the weekend's events. But I post them in the hopes that they might be of interest to someone out there and that some of you might post some thoughts engendered by these discussions.


Notes from the conceptual poetics conference – Laura Winton

Cole Swenson - as opposed to/against a poetry taken over by subject matter
Emphasis on the everyday at the expense of rhythm or other poetic aspects
Poetry/visual art ties
Rhythm, repetition, compositon

Craig Dworkin Reading:

Piece one:
From the 19th century grammar book How to Parse

Reading directly, very quickly, not slam, but quiet and fast, not meant to get every word, but maybe how rules and rules of grammar are absolute, rules of grammar might actually sound to student, to us as moderns, to those who throw out or reject or don’t adhere so much to traditional rules of grammar.

Piece two:
Sentences replaced with grammar elements rather than specific words.
Ex: pronoun noun comma adverb period. Etc.

Piece three:
Other piece: To publish the unpublishable week’s worth of subject lines from spam.

Piece four:
Used personality inventories to create poems. I am . . . etc. to create confessional/expressive poem

Piece five:
Using only the true/false answers and his occasional modifying comments to a quiz.
Note: I could take my Dante quiz and call it “How I Ended Up in the 8th Ring of Hell: with a nod to Craig Dworkin.”

Kenneth Goldsmith:

We shall reminisce about the time when human beings wrote poetry for other humans. (As opposed to themselves??)

Cole Swenson – Civil Disobedience/poetry
Tracie Morris:

Goffman – giving vs. giving off, in black poetics
Undermining typification
Phyllis Wheatley – negotiating neoclassical work w/ black aesthetic

Black “transgressive” speech – doubledness, double-consciousness, double-entendre

Ringshots – uttering of noises, use of codes
African linguistic traits interacting with everyday speech of American vernacular

Morphology of language
Uniquely African constructions

Standard American Vernacular is incorporating more and more of Africa and African speech patterns

Of corse, sampling = collage, per Duchamp, Hoch, etc. Found Art. Kenny Goldsmith in favor of appropriating, stealing, etc.

Missy Elliott—Minimalism, embellishment & futurism
Interesting clip from “The Rain”
Supa Dupa Fly

“bling” as a transgressive act

Saturday morning/pre-lunch roundtable

Jasper: -

Cognitive interruption
Beyond detournment, tqactics of situationists
Re-reading earlier works through the lens of conceptual poetics
Activist archivists – reframing works
Editorial aesthetics/poetics

How is the idea of poet/ry as solitary act/person complicated by new work, by conceptualism, by borrowing, pastiche, collage, found work, etc.

Conceptual Poetry as the ready-made. “It’s all already there. I just have to write it down.”

Beckett: Cascando (but also Krapp) “I turn the recorder on. I turn the recorder off.”

Irrelevance of “le mot juste”
My new style of strike out/parentheses= a hedge against “le mot juste”
Trying out/on different words, several simultaneous

Chance Operations

Duchamp – Art – Canned Chance
Cage – music
Judson /Cunningham – dance

Trying to cut out subjectivity. But there’s still a canned subjectivity – the subjectivity within the random/chance. Decisions be made. But is it subjectivity in terms of choices, or in terms of personal-ness, perspective, me-centered poems. Of course, choice is where the subject matter begins – setting up the parameters, the texts, the beginning and ending points, etc. Is there an unsubjective subjectivity?

My notes (already used??) Chance vs. emotion

Avant garde actually has a more democratic impulse than high modernism were we employ metaphors: x=y. (metaphorical mathematics). Where x and y are fixed, a cryptogram to be unlocked, footnotes to poetry, the need for cliff notes, a dictionary to be used side by side with the poem, the desire of vernacular/convessional poetry is the same as the desire of an avant garde, to put out surfaces, straightforward work of a way, but confessionalism still relies on a private set of meanings/references, but assumes that through commonality and sentiment the code can be unlocked.

Bok/Dworkin/Goldmsith –which one of them did the cryptogram poems, a parody of this idea of unlocking??

De-emphasis on meaning per se through choice/collage/found materials, etc. Attempt to unlock the cryptogram, meaning of high modernism, eliot, et al.

Charles Alexander

Social, political import of this work. Does it make it to activism?
Kenny Goldsmith: Sacred space of the poem for transgression.
Panelist: Can it be taken out from there?

Physical pleasures of poetry (see my notes from Friday night on pleasure and transgression.)

Tactile through speech act
I think it can be sexual too

Brian Reed:

Critic working on a book on visual/verbal links

Genres become confused over time
Derrida’s law of genre
My contention that genres become confused and under that weight, give birth to new genres, like the mixing of atoms that create new elements when mixed. Hydrogen and Oxygen combined make water, a new compound, rather than remaining discrete.

Christian Bok Presentation:

I. What is “intentional” in Conceptual Poetry?

Disarming literary mandate of self-expression
Erase evidence of lyric style, the “normative” style
Suppression of subjective aspects

American Conceptualists like LeWitt

Kinds of manifestos (started to type meanifesto!), adherents, this is an avant garde, and one looking to an art-form, not simultaneous as with Dada, Beat, etc. but not merely homage or writing about, but taking up, just as Gysin said—we are not about 40 years after first burst of conceptualism, so maybe we are catching up—also in performance art, Judson Dance, etc

Poem as an art object.

II. What is expressible in conceptual poetics?

The I with a colon atop instead of a dot.
William tell, a novel. – the apple(s) on the head
Minimalist and conceptual. A world in an image. A story in a letter.

Contrasting to contemporary literary ctitics
The genius of the self
Convincingness of the poem, the lyric, the imagery
Poet’s mastery of self

Against criticism
Against workshop criteria

Death of the Author
Poetic despot
Trial of comprehension
Overthrow the unjust tyrant
In Barthes birth of the reader occasioned by death of the author

III. What is conceivable in conceptual literature?

Tyrant Writer
Victor Reader
Savior Letter

Lyrical style – cognitive aesthetics
Self-conscious and self-assertive simultaneously

Concepts of writing possible – according to Bok



Autobiographic investigations
Author adopts Subjective Persona
“Authentic” voice


- Expressiveness
Self-conscious but not self-assertive

Ex: Oulipo

- Intentionality

Still some self-assertion
Unwilled self-exhibit
Surrealistic – Schwitters to Breton to Ginsberg
Self speaking to self without thinking about self

- Intentionality
- Expressiveness

Authors forfeit control
Dadaist – Tzara, Cage, Maclow

Poetics of a traffice report, its own internal grammar, poetics, lyric?

Bernstein: Saturday, 5/31

“Foolishness is its own reward” – line from poem
“from there to there is enough to blow up in anyone’s face.”

“Attack of the difficult poems”
“The answer is not in our technology but in our poetics.

Benjamin and the uncanny – Arcades project made up entirely of citations

Bernstein’s “Recantation” on poetry page
After Galileo
Therefore, is it forced?
Is it sincere?

Several mentions (typos = almost emotions, emanations, emntions . . . ) by Bernstein & Bok of “detourning” poems. J

Platonic idea – meaning as an ideal that exists outside of the social
Puritan ideal – that meaning should be available, accessible in the poem

“My quest has been to be a normal person, a self-help project toward normalcy. . . . When I become normal I will be a poet in the (normal) world.”

“Theory of Flawed Design”

Dea%r Fr~ien%d

Performed with all sounds, symbols, stops, & verbal struggles

“Poems (themselves) are less important than what they allow us to do in the pereceptual world.”

Progressivist model of replacement is flawed – go back and read things in a different way. How poetry exists within social space that it is written in.

“Singing/chanting ot newscasters to self.”

“A pixilated man”

Panel discussion: (Friday evening???)


Intellect rather than emotion
Is Conceptual Poetry the New American Poetry?
Having a “urinal” moment”
What constitutes such a speech act/provocation in this “post”-everything era?
Does Conceptual Poetry have a spiritual resonance?

Charles Bernstein:

Showed conceptual poem and talk (not reading poem) simultaneously
Seems somewhat similar to the Performance Writing people

Christian Bok:

Problem of “lethal” seriousness of the avant garde. The pleasure, play, jouissance is reserved for the poet rather than the reader/audience.

“post” = a gesture to newness in the avant garde, parallel to neo, which
is actually retro, revisiting of the old
Post = our impatience for transcendence
“More of the same, only worse”
Work is good when it creates provocation, more ideas, etc.

Tracie Morris:

Perloff: normativity of language experimentation
Meaning of sonic performance as a script
Replacing idea of consistent speaking position of an “I”


Enigmatic bewilderment
Raise issues for as rather than reinforce what we already know – is this my comment or his???



Social/Cultural difficulty
Textures, ambiance (vs. the difficult of “high modernism”)
One person’s difficulty is another person’s pleasure

Final Panel – 5/31/08

Barbara Cole, Editor, Open Letter

Wystan Curnow:
Forms & History

Bernadette Myer

Gracia Capinha

Who owns (the) language – paraphrase of moral/story in “official”languages
Poetry and art does matter
The fear of governments and dictatorships toward art proves that it matters, that it has power, can be dangerous
There is no language unless the emotional part of your brain works, according to neuroscience
Modernist project – enlargement of consciousness, non approved, yet to be proven, yet to be known, discovered

Thingness – object = repetition of market

Stephen Fredman

Appropriation in music, sampling
The mix
Creativity rests in how you recontextualize the work of others
Language poetry and its emphasis on discourse cut poetry’s ties to othr art forms
Subjectivity vs. emotion

Vanessa Place

Words as things
Words = what fills up mainstream boxes
Barthes & the evacuation of language/meaning
But language is also procedural
Responding to poems created by machines
“robopoems for a robofuture”
“bankruptcy of image & text”

Final & most heated conversation (did not document who started it, but was the final panelist) – why only 2 women writers in the Ubu Anthology of Conceptual Poetry???

Presented by someone who had done an informal survey of 50 women before the conference regarding their ideas/opinions/questions regarding conceptual poetics/

Some questioned her own “methodology”

Marjorie Perloff – impatient, suggested that not everyone needed to be included in every movement, that then we’d have to worry about why not enough latinos or African-americans, etc. and then having to weigh and watch every single thing.

Batted back and forth – why are we still asking this question in 2008 and why do we have to still ask this question in 2008

Some of the better and less combative comments included a suggestion that sometimes inclusion is a matter of definition. How you define something determines who is included.

My private note—interesting that the conference was at least ½ women and the presenters at least ½ women. Some noted this as a defense or corrective, rather than criticism, of the lack of women in the anthology. See how many of us are here now???

Another good discussion --- nature of something like Conceptual Poetics to grow out of small groups of people who form affinities, begin to define themselves and give name to what they’re doing. Indicated that Goldsmith/Bok/Dworkin constituted such a grouping.

Dworkin himself said that the online version was not meant to be “official” and representative (although some questioned that, given the “The” aspect of the title out on Ubuweb.) He said that there is a print edition planned that will likely be much more inclusive.

My private note: replication of Corso and others’ discussions of why women ignored in Beat anthologies and histories for 40 years (except for a couple who were unignorable like DiPrima). Aren’t all of these always the arguments? Question of definition seems the most pertinent. How you define the “movement”, the “artistic moment” without watering it down to include, but making sure the feelers are out to embrace those whose work does fit in, does have an affinity, etc.

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