Saturday, March 01, 2003

David Shapiro on collaboration, the late John Hejduk, architecture, politics & the New York School:



About writing the history of collaboration: Kenneth Koch's issue of Locus Solus was the first that I know to pursue seriously a collection of French AND American and other (Japanese, etc.) collaborations. Do you have it? Also, I wrote on the aesthetics of collaboration for Denver Museum (Poetry and Painting) and I gave a kind of "theory" of the politics of collaboration for a show I helped with at the Corcoran years ago: with Hobbs and Cynthia McCabe: Collaboration. All of my books since January (l965) have had collaborations with my sister, kids from Bedford Stuyvesant (I worked there with Kenneth and edited an issue of Learn Something, America from a children’s museum). My idea had been since about l962 to collaborate with everyone I could or wanted to or who wanted to collaborate with me. One of the things I've been teaching architects since l980 at Cooper Union is collaboration.


I collaborated with John Hejduk on a Palach project in Prague. When you speak of the absence of politics in some NYSchool work, I always find it strange because my earliest book had poems against apartheid, my second book is filled with anti-war poems written at Columbia University, which I helped paralyze in resistance to its practices. A Man Holding an Acoustic Panel is a long work explicitly concerned with colonialism and empire, etc. Somehow, the politics of the work with children that I helped start (first footnote in Wishes, Lies and Dreams points to my work before Kenneth) due to the total left-wing tilt of my work since childhood. The idea that NYPoets were nonpolitical hedonists is a tiny part of the dogma that was useful, I always thought, to those who wanted to pigeonhole name-call and reduce. Even Kenneth's rather noble "Pleasures of Peace," maybe one of the best antiwar poems ever written and a critique of the kitsch of the "antiwar" poem --this work, so jubilant and political and explosive, never gets talked about. Anyway, I mention the Locus Solus issue and KK's whole love of the theme of collab, and my own for about forty years with children, as interesting. I'm not writing this well in collaboration with my son's computer. It's funny to have been on the FBI Lookout list for so long, humiliated at airports, and then belong to a history that is defaced of its politics.


I am always amazed at the boutiquing of Marxism in Lucio Pozzi's phrase, and I do indeed find it amazing, as a kid whose first and last poems are against empire, that hardly anyone finds politics or collaboration, for that matter, except in the voices they are close to...It reminds me of your skepticism about me because I was published in a "commercial" press. But you could have also seen me in C magazine and many wild publications. I too was skeptical of Holt, until I got them to publish Ashbery and got Dutton to publish the poems of Frank Lima, a poet with Puerto Rican roots whom I find completely disappeared from the 300 volumes I have read of L=A criticism. A poet who found it hard to get his books published until we begged Lingo to do a Selected, and I find absolutely no mention of him in the archives. He and I collaborated for the last 30 years.


Anyway, I'm not proofing this letter and probably I have it all wrong, bitter-sweet, sweet-bitter, the sting of the honeybee. Hejduk, my best friend, was called a nonpolitical fantasist until, in Prague, his so-called fantasies (seen again this year at the Whitney with my poems and completely ignored) were liberties beloved by the Czech. When I did an opera with Morty Feldman and creatures (winged) with videos by me and Connie Beckley about collaboration, as it were, between a architecture and poetry, it was never reviewed except by a few parochial architecture critics. Anyway, those interested in the Black Mountainous experiment should look to books published by Cooper Union and Monacelli and Rizzoli about the Cooper collaborations the last 30 years. Many of the most important architects--Libeskind, Tsui, my student Shigeru Ban, and others--come out of Hejduk and my idea of making a school that would synthesize architecture and poetry. Our students learned by having exercises in which houses were built in the condition of Rimbaud, Shklovsky or the pantoum. The work was centered in my own course around three revolutionary moments and three cities and three groups of poets: Moscow, Paris, New York, l848, l870, l9l7 and the present tense. Despite my constantly writing about this and Hejduk, I have never hardly been able to intrigue poets in the politics of this, though it has ended in such things as Shigeru's WT project and his paper houses for the poor in Japan, many books of criticism, etc. Hejduk poetry, which I selected for MIT, was hardly reviewed. All of this might intrigue you, or not. But it does inflect a sense of the political inside the city. Why is it that the participation of the Columbia poets like me is passed over without a sense that we were not only political but getting smashed and beaten and trampled. Hmmm. Just little pieces of history "disappeared."


To me, the idea of collaboration was a conspiracy, a revolt between two or more. I liked the collaborative nature of the blues. I believed in the rebellious intent of chamber music. I believed that in working with artists and others we could inflect education. I thought that Cooper and work with children could assist a new sense, not of NY school formulae, but of storytelling. Lopate agreed with this and has his own story. I continued throughout my whole life to teach and work for kids at various institutions like Cooper to create a political and formal consciousness at once. I resented being disappeared because I thought this work important. I see that architectural education now does use my "litertarypoliticalsymnbolist" approach and my students are the heads of Princeton and many other places. The work that Cooper kids did from l980-2002 is amazing. You might call Cooper Union Archives and ask to see some of the books. Hejduk's works are often dedicated to me, collaborations on anti-masques, film we did together, etc. The work is about community and includes Victims, perhaps one of the supremely severe meditations on the Holocaust. His work has been a great influence, but Muschamp usually puts it down as mere poetry and paper drawing. Hejduk had more real admiration for poets than I have met from any poet in my life. He had Calvino Ashbery and Hawkes at his school; he used surgeons like Selzer to explain the cuts in architecture. But what is most interesting is the amazing mood and mode of experimental collaboration in his school. There are now at least a few books about it. Another book that would intrigue you is The Road That Is Not a Road about a surrealist Chilean group in Valparaiso that used almost a decade or two before me many similar modes of teaching collaboratively the idea of surrealist art and architecture. An amazing group.  


In a more positive mode, thank you for reading my poem. Hope you found your review (by me) in an old APR, where I tried to rebel from within by underlining you, Hilton Obenzinger (another Columbia kid) who fought and fights) and Coolidge, etc. 


Yours, or am i?


 David Shapiro