“Appropriation, Intertext and Authorship in 21st Century Poetry”: 12-5-09 Guest Lecture

A friend of mine in the PhD program at Purdue kindly asked if I would come into her ENGL 407 class (Introduction to Poetry Writing) and give a lecture on something related to my own experimental work and/or anything relating to Flarf and conceptual writing. I of course accepted.

Read the handout of my Lecture notes here (PDF)

Something which prompted her asking me to do this was her decision to teach the July/August issue of Poetry Magazine to her class the following week. She hoped that I might provide some context for their reading of the Flarf and Conceptual Writing section of that issue, edited by Kenneth Goldsmith, which is online at the Poetry Foundation website.

My lecture was centered on Roland Barthes’ “The Death of the Author,” which none of them had yet encountered in their courses. After a brief discussion of the major division in contemporary English-language poetry between the Mainstream (official verse culture, School of Quietude) and the experimental (avant-garde, post-avant, flarf, conceptual, Oulipo, Language School, etc.) and some relevant vocabulary, we read and discussed excerpts from Barthes’ essay and two other poetics essays by Marjorie Perloff (“The Pleasures of Déjà Dit: Citation, Intertext and Ekphrasis in Recent Experimental Poetry”) and Craig Dworkin (his introduction to The UbuWeb :: Anthology of Conceptual Writing).

We used the ideas generated from this discussion to read several poems that eschew traditional ideas of authorship by various means of appropriation or constraint, all of which are available online:

  1. Andrei Gheorghe – The Longest Poem in the World
  2. Christian Bök – Eunoia
  3. Jen Bervin – Nets
  4. K. Silem Mohammad – Sonnagrams (and some more here)
  5. Eric Elshtain, Gregory Fraser, Chad Hardy, Matthew Lafferty and Eric Scovel – Gnoetry Daily

The discussion went very well, and it seemed that many students in the class had interest in these types of poetry. We briefly discussed at the end the issue of appropriation and whether one is “really writing” when using such techniques. Using Barthes you can respond that even traditionally authored texts are still intertextual and respond to all kinds of cultural texts, even if this appropriation is implicit not explicit as in most of the texts we looked at. Also, using Mac Low’s argument that Pleasure is the purpose of making poetry (read an excerpt from his “Pleasure and Poetry”) or any kind of art, why would the means of textual production exclude it from judgement based upon whether the texts are relevant, meaningful and/or pleasurable to the writer and the audience?

The whole experience highlighted for me even more clearly my desire to teach issues of poetics and experimental poetry to students, and to ask them not simply to admire and replicate the poetry of the dominant Mainstream poetic figures of our times (what creative writing workshops do), but ask them to think about what poetry is, what texts are, what the role of the author is or might be, and how these ideas might factor into the way the write and live in the world. I think a curriculum that focused on the idea of writing first and the craft of writing later would better prepare writers to make timely and original works of art instead of lyrical reproductions of Romanticism superimposed upon our Techno-PoMo landscape.


7 thoughts on ““Appropriation, Intertext and Authorship in 21st Century Poetry”: 12-5-09 Guest Lecture

  1. I just saw an episode of some weirdo-art-comedy (a fantastic genre) on Adult Swim called The Mighty Boosh that might fit that description. A Victorian monster of sorts called The Peppermint Nightmare comes into a store, pisses for a full minute on the clerk’s face, and then demands protection money. After the clerk whores himself out to a transsexual to get the money, the villain returns and they end up re-mixing his song about a sexual practice involving black eels inserted in the anus in a style that blends the contemporary and the Victorian. Utterly terrible and delightful shit, and timely too.

    • Nada,

      I just now, looking back over this comment stream, realized that you wrote “techo-pomo” and not “techno-porno” lanscape as I had thought. That episode of The Might Boosh makes better sense in that context. Sorry for any confusion. Maybe I’ll post sometime later about the techno-porno aesthetic.

      In response to what you actually posted, I think to actually apply the aesthetics and ideals of the Romantic period to our contemporary writing could definitely be timely. The result would probably look and sound very different from what Coleridge, Wordsworth and Shelley wrote. The difference is between re-doing, actually re-applying the Romantic aesthetic today, and mimicking the forms, tones and styles of a past era, which is what I meant by “reproducing.”

  2. I wish I could have been there for your lecture. I would like to have had classes that focus on the concepts and ideas that breed poetry before being taught HOW to write poetry. It probably doesn’t make sense, but I hope it does. I’ll definitely check out your lecture notes and the links from this blog post.

    All the Best,
    Chelsea L. Clemmons


    • Thanks, Chelsea. I really believe a lot needs to change about how poetry is taught. It is sad to me that so many students interested in writing come into it with such outdated ideas about and models of poetry (or worse, none). I think this is partly due to the marginal status of (and hence ignorance about) all poetry in our culture, but also to a lack of in-depth education in contemporary poetry at all levels, K-12-UG-G. But then this has been true of all the arts, not just poetry. Science, math and sports are clearly higher on the political list of priorities.

      Best 2 U 2

      • You are absolutely right. I think that the arts should be more integrated into learning on all levels. I’m an undergrad student at Troy University in English and Language Arts Education, and I think we may see at least a few changes in that arena in the future. In my Theory and Practices of Composition: Writing Across the Curriculum class, the professor had us do a project inspired by Tom Romano’s ideas in Writing With Passion: Life Stories, Multiple Genres called a multi-genre research paper. It incorporates art and creative writing into research and academically-based projects and/or papers. I was thoroughly impressed with the idea, and I enjoyed incorporating the arts into academia. I hope to see more work like this in the future. I also hope that English and the Language Arts begin getting the attention they deserve in education.

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