14 June 2008

more conceptual poetry symposium, Portland

I'm in Portland where it's getting colder today, although I see the sun peeking out. My daughter is settling in here, ready for college life in this city of the present, city of the future. Today is farmer's market time, curtain hanging time, early morning coffee time.

The site for the UA Poetry Center's "Conceptual Poetry and Its Others" is now online, almost completely available in video files, audio files, and files of papers and talks.

09 June 2008

New Work from Carol Watts

I have written about Carol Watts earlier, in another post. Now my attention is called to new work by Watts in the how2journal. More stunningly sounded and worked sections, seven in the sequence titled ZETA LANDSCAPE, each 19 or 20 lines, moving in small groups of words in and through the lines, always with a sense of "beyond" — indeed the movement is both toward infinity and strongly toward "this place." I'll give the first section here, in hopes that you will visit the site and find the wondrous more that is there.
the feeding of one into the landscape results
in a climbing to infinity     this opens the labour of a day
the task is     to find a distribution of fields
and from these the truth of this place:     hill common
in its own pitch     said     rhos y breidden
and from this one point     sines of all hills and valleys
as if pastoral could predict them     by counterintuitive
measure in the dark meadow     its starless     spectrum
at night     where the ram is sleeping     its breath
barely rising     the mound is a shadow     the reservoir
pumped down under the hill     leading to a thought
of depth     or scarcity and thinness     the land is not
what it should be     in light     the same terrain     lifts
falls     watch waters burst     a spectacular strung
balloon     spraying other coordinates     which emerge
drip pinkly     at some distance     under brush and detached
in the spinney     are cauterised by maternal     licking
just under ten steps north     no frost     made safe
on this occasion     not infinite enough     for cosmology

07 June 2008

new CHAX PRESS address

The physical location of Chax Press has moved 8 blocks. Change your address books online & rolodex & otherwise. The correct address is now
Chax Press (& Charles Alexander & Cynthia Miller)
411 N 7th Ave B
Tucson, AZ 85705-8332

conceptual artists' books?

Would a conceptual artist's book be an "altered book"? Or a "found book"? Or perhaps a book taken from one's shelf, with only the title page altered or replaced in favor of one that credits the artist who is committing the act of appropriation? What about taking an existing book, cutting out all of the pages, printing something else on the pages over the existing print & possibly images, then re-binding it in either a similar or divergent manner from the original? What about taking an existing book, pasting or sewing it along formerly openable sides so that the book is unopenable, placing it in another container that credits the artist/appropriator? Is something like Kenneth Goldsmith's Day, in which the author has retyped an entire day's issue of the New York Times and re-framed it as a book, as much a conceptual artist's book as a piece of conceptual writing? What other possibilities might there be? Are there particular interventions into existing works that are most useful in thinking of artist's books? I welcome your comments, and depending on what comes of them, I might try to create an exhibition of conceptual artist's books. I have no illusions that works such as I have proposed, or that others might propose, are anything new, i.e. such works have been made in the field of artis's books for years, even decades. Is it anything new to think of such work as "conceptual"?

Invitation from Lisa Bowden

This is from Lisa Bowden of Kore Press. Please send any response to her at the email listed at the end of her invitation.
hi tucson poetry friends,

anyone else have a response to last weekends outrageous gathering at the Po Cent? here's an invitation to get together and talk and listen, perhaps more fully and freely, about the presentations, the potent side conversations, and any thoughts about all of it.

there's a room at the Center [University of Arizona Poetry Center, corner of Helen & Vine, Tucson, Arizona] available this Thursday, say 6:30-8pm.

Please let me know if you are interested and can come this Th. Or, if you are interested but can't make Th the 12th, what date soon might work. PC is open late on T and TH, and seems a likely and available place for this community conversation. I know people are beginning to leave town soon, so my hope is that as many of us that want to do this, can before the summer diaspora begins.

Please pass on to anyone who I may have missed here. I'm not seeing Jefferson Carter, Barbara Henning or Sherwin Bitsui's e-mail on the list, so feel free to forward.


Lisa B

06 June 2008

The Purple Book

There are a lot of little (and some big) books around Chax Press, blank books that I have sewn as models, or in teaching book making, from time to time. Today I spotted one small Oriental side-stitched book with purple covers of what is probably Lama Li Nepalese handmade paper. The front cover had a black zigzag paper attached — not really a true zig-zag, but it had a zig-zag pattern on each side. The back cover was bent in one corner, an inadvertent fold that happens as books move around sometimes. I decided to just write in the pages of the small book, and here is that writing.
This purple book
has a bent
on the back


how do I tell
front from back
before I begin
to write

the purple cover has
a black ziggy zaggy
on the front
the back cover
is well behaved
though bent
at the corner

zigzag is a pattern made
up of small corners at
variable angles, though
constant within the zigzag,
tracing a path between
two parallel lines

a zigzag is the juxtaposition
of chevrons, or of forward
slashes and backslashes


the trace of a triangle
wave or a sawtooth
wave is a zigzag

the sawtooth wave is a
kind of non-sinusoidal

I recently had sinus
surgery, but not
sinusoidal surgery

my purple corners are
bent, my virigules
are slashed

trace a path
breathe a breath
bend a corner

home now

the door opens

Charles Alexander, 6 June 2008
I wonder, if the found materials in the poem are the materials of paper, color, thread, etc., and the language of the poem in some way appropriates these materials, is this really an appropriation? Is this a conceptual poem?

02 June 2008

still more Conceptual Poetry

I have seen several comments and discussions stemming from the notion of a conceptual poetry that begin with references to conceptual art. Previous to the Conceptual Poetry and Its Others symposium, I also wondered if the work of conceptual artists, particularly the privileging in much of their work of language and idea and statements about art and art context, over visual works, would be some kind of model for conceptual poetry. Now I would say that, nearly unequivocally, “no.” The symposium practically made no mention of conceptual artists, with the principal exception of the artist who is perhaps the largest, and possibly the first, influence on both conceptual art and conceptual poetry: Marcel Duchamp. Even in Duchamp, the emphasis was not so much on his appropriation of real-world objects, such as the readymades, but on his careful selection and presentation of such objects. It was repeatedly pointed out that not everything works as a readymade, and that selection, framing, and context, all of which are generally created by the artist, are essential. It’s not just any urinal, and it’s not just presented in any way. It’s presented sideways, hung at a particular height, and implies specific kinds of relationships to the viewer.

The definition of conceptual poetry, or at least of part of what may be considered as conceptual poetry, specifically stressed that all or part of the work is something other than what the poet creates anew. Thus a significant part of the meaning or context of the work has to do with the choice the poet makes of what to work with, and how to frame the work. The range may be from total appropriation, such as Kenneth Goldsmith’s re-presentation of one day of the New York Times, to a use of outside work for structural purposes, such as Cole Swensen’s call for an ekphrasis that was not in any sense a poetry about the “subject” of works of art to which the poetry refers or depends on, rather is aligned in one way or another with structural or patterning aspects of the work of art, such as an echoing, in language (and possibly in very creative ways) of an art work’s rhythm of shape, or rhythm of color, or rhythm of tone. Within this range of conceptual poetry one might find works created from procedures enacted on source texts, various forms of collage and quotation using work that is not created anew by the poet, and all sorts of other works. And when appropriation, collage, or quotation is a marker of the conceptual nature of the work, it is by no means necessary that the work is made entirely of things found “outside,” though of course this is one possibility.

Among writers invoked, it was noted that Walter Benjamin’s Arcades is a work made almost wholly of writing by others. Benjamin’s work becomes an archive or collection that one may read partially, beginning anywhere, moving in a nonlinear manner. In many conceptual works, the possible readings proposed may be other than beginning-to-end and reading-every-word. Goldsmith described his own work as meant for short attention spans, and as rewarding skimming rather than a complete reading. In fact, he recommends skimming as the appropriate reading practice for his work. Charles Bernstein mentioned that much of the work of Robin Blaser is composed of quotations from others, and should be considered within this broad range of what is being proposed as conceptual poetry. Yet clearly Blaser’s work is meant to be read in a very different way than Goldsmith’s. One memorable comment from Goldsmith’s talk was when he remembered a student who had an assignment (not from his class) to write something in the style of Kerouac. Goldsmith thought the student would likely have learned at least as much, and possibly more, by just re-typing a work by Kerouac. Careful and accurate retyping of every letter and space and punctuation mark, that is, and not simply cutting and pasting.

Once again, all of this points to the fact that no one at the symposium was proposing limits, so much as methods (new & not so new) of writing and reading poetry.

In one panel Laynie Browne pointed out that the online ubuweb anthology of conceptual poetry includes 2 works by women in its 30-plus total of works. I am glad she brought that up, and I find the omission there worthy of comment. But I also believe that the creators of that anthology were beginning to sketch out their ideas for conceptual poetry among works they already knew well, and perhaps (but I’m not sure about this) from works already present on the ubuweb site. We are told that a more inclusive and comprehensive print anthology is in the works. Also, perhaps Laynie was pointed to this web anthology and its introduction, as I was, prior to the symposium, in order to get an idea of what was being proposed in the symposium. That is, as “respondents” (we were two of about 10 such “respondents”), when wondering what we were responding to, we were told that we might look at that anthology. I now know that such direction should probably not have been given, as it was misleading, or I at least took it the wrong way. That ubuweb anthology was in no way the basis for the symposium, though it may have been one among many of the sparks that led organizers to create the symposium. From the first moments of the symposium, though, it was clear that we were at the symposium to think about conceptual poetry in any ways that seemed appropriate, and there was no particular previous statement or work on which this symposium depended or to which it was responding.

One more note: there is an excellent profile of Caroline Bergvall, one of my favorite presenters at the symposium, that was created just before the symposium began by Lisa Bowden of Kore Press. It can be found on the Kore Press "appreciations" page.

more Conceptual Poetry

Another url on "Harriet" puts Kenneth Goldsmith's posts on the Conceptual Poetry and Its Others symposium together.

A comment on his posts at that site feared that the symposium was engaged in canon formation. As I experienced it, nothing could be further from the truth. This was very much an opening and a questioning, with many poets engaged with poetic works ranging far from the poets present or presenting at the symposium. Marjorie Perloff's role was as a convenor, and I found no one who talked during the symposium (either formally or informally) the least bit interested in setting up borders around "conceptual poetry." Craig Dworkin made comments on the panel that specifically requested we forego the first ten years of criticism that would argue endlessly about defining "conceptual poetry" and argue for what is and what is not conceptual poetry. Rather, let's focus on the works, not on the categorization, and certainly not on canon formation. No one argued with those comments.

Here is Christian Bök's four-square grid for kinds of poetic activity. Thanks to Joseph for filling in my memory blanks to complete this.

Upper left quadrant:

positive for intentionality
positive for expressivity
connected to games of mimicry
(romanticism, persona poems)

Lower left quadrant:

negative for intentionality
positive for expressivity
connected to games of vertigo

Upper right quadrant:

positive for intentionality
negative for expressivity
connected to games of combat
(oulipo, Roussel, dada)

Lower right quadrant:

negative for intentionality
negative for expressivity
connected to games of chance
(procedural poems, Cage, Mac Low)

01 June 2008

conceptual POETRY and ITS others

Just a brief post-symposium note.

CONCEPTUAL POETRY AND ITS OTHERS concluded yesterday evening after two and a half days of readings, by Charles Bernstein, Tracie Morris, Kenny Goldsmith, Craig Dworkin, Christian Bök, Cole Swensen, and Caroline Bergvall. Marjorie Perloff gave the keynote address and moderated two panels, including one in which I was a panelist along with Linda Reinfeld, Jesper Olsson, Brian Reed, Marie Smart, and Vanessa Place. Tenney Nathanson moderated a panel that included all of the poets who gave readings. For the complete schedule and list of participants you can visit the Poetry Center's page with the schedule.

This was a terrific symposium, focusing attention not on relatively recent works in poetry that are constituted primarily by "other" materials, i.e. where the creative works frame something that already exists, at least to some degree. Thankfully, though, there was no movement to define such works, rather to expand the field of creative language work in general and to consider some exciting works within the field. From Kenneth Goldsmith's insistence on "the uncreative," to Christian Bök's presentation of a grid that divided all poetry into four squares, depending on positives and negatives for "intentionality" and "expressivity," to Charles Bernstein's before-the-inquisition "recantation" of all previous positions and activities he has taken that were in any way opposed or critical of the works found in books by the "accessible poets," to Caroline Bergvall's magnificent soundings of multi-lingual work that is generated from an investigation of Geoffrey Chaucer's work, to Cole Swensen's call to consider ekphrasis as writing in relation to visual art that is not about the subject of that visual art (and in general, a critique of subject-based writing as that in which subject dominates and textural and other qualities of poems fade), to Tracie Morris's wondrous and danceable presenting of various hip hop work that is both conceptual and socially coded in a rich variety of ways, and of her consideration of styles of black oratory and address in which we must consider such matters as the preaching style of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, to Craig Dworkin's call to the audience to consider the ethical, social, and political import and responsibilities of conceptual poetry (and by implication, of poetry in general), this was a mind-expanding and inspiring symposium, a highlight of my 24 years in Tucson.

There was also an intriguing presentation of visual poetry at the UA Poetry Center Library during the symposium, with works by Peter Cicciariello, Julie Willms, David Baptiste-Chirot, and others.

The University of Arizona Poetry Center directors and staff are to be commended for presenting such a daring and exciting symposium. Marjorie Perloff also deserves great credit as a key planner of the symposium, which focused not on her ideas about the poets, but squarely on the work of poets present and on related works taking place in our time as well as in the last few decades, with important precedents also garnering their time, such as the work of Marcel Duchamp and Walter Benjamin.

There is a report on Charles Bernstein's recantation, by Kenny Goldsmith, on the Poetry Foundation web site. The UA Poetry Center presented streaming audio of Perloff's keynote address and of the Nathanson-moderated panel, but these are no longer accessible from the Center's web page. The Center also recorded (audio & video, I believe) the entire proceedings, which one hopes will be made available shortly. Apparently within two weeks there will be a symposium site (most likely accessible from within the UA Poetry Center's main site) that will include audio, video, files of talks and panel presentations, and more. Stay tuned to this blog and I'll post whenever I know that site is up and running.

My symposium days will actually end today, in an hour or so, after I have breakfast with Craig Dworkin.