Friday, May 16, 2008


Laynie Browne is conducting a survey about poetry for the forthcoming symposium on Conceptual Poetry in Tucson. Here are my responses to her questions.

1.  What is conceptual poetry?

I see it as a specific move within the larger possibility of the history of writing, one that requires (a) the pre-existence of conceptual art and (b) writers whose concept of an avant-garde which they believe still exists and to which they feel committed is predicated on the desanctification of the aesthetic object (a la Duchamp’s moves within sculpture nearly a century ago). It is thus an avant-garde that is widely accessible precisely because (a) it is retro & nostalgic and everyone can recognize it, and (b) anyone [in theory] can do it. Its tell-tale sign is that it usually removes some or all of the normal tasks of reading & interpretation from the process of consumption. The point isn’t to read the work so much as to “get it.” Having said that, some of its practitioners are exceptionally talented.

 2.  Can poetry be non-expressive?

Yes, absolutely, but to be non-expressive is a series of specific moves within the possibilities of language and poetry. Which is also to say that there is more than one way to get there.

3.  Is there such a thing as a “direct presentation of language”?

Yes, and for very much the same reasons that language can be non-expressive. It occurs as the result of specific moves within the creation of the poem.  

4.  Intellect rather than emotion? 

I reject the either/or nature of this question. I am only interested in both/and, thank you.

5.  Dismantle this line-drawing

Untitled, Eugene Andolsek, American Folk Art Museum
from the show Obsessive Drawing

 6.  What is the purpose of form and formlessness?

To differentiate themselves one from the other. To create foreground & background & a million effects such as shape.

7.  Distinguish between procedural and conceptual

One category of conceptual is procedural (think of Kenny Goldsmith’s works, such as Fidget), but a lot of poetry is procedural without being conceptual. Shakespeare’s Sonnets are entirely procedural. So are Ted Berrigan’s.

8.  What formal restraints do you practice every day?

The common ones of ablutions. The first thing I eat in the morning is a banana. I’m writing a poem in which each “sitting” is determined by how long it takes my six-year-old PC to boot up. I always go to sleep lying on my left side.

9.  What is the responsibility of the writer?

To respond.

10.  Why are women virtually excluded from the UBU web anthology?

There are two answers to this question. The first is generational. The gender bias of the institutions of literature (as distinct from literature itself) have only begun to seriously bend and open during my lifetime. In spite of the decisive role that certain women – Gertrude Stein, who is present in this anthology; Bernadette Mayer, who is not; Lucy Lippard, who is not; Hannah Weiner, who is not; Barbara Krueger & Jenny Holzer, who are not; the Guerilla Girls, who are not; Juliana Spahr & Jena Osman, who are not – have played in making conceptual poetry possible, indeed inevitable, they have generally been underrepresented all along. To the degree that this short list (just 31 items) tries to represent a few key moments in the history & pre-history of conceptualism, it invokes several periods when women did not make up half the world of writing, which is quite recent. One might likewise ask why are Dada and Russian Futurism under-represented here. Indeed, where is Dmitri Prigov, who coined the phrase “conceptual poetry”?

The second answer is more concrete: you ought to ask Craig.


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