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:
- Andrei Gheorghe – The Longest Poem in the World
- Christian Bök – Eunoia
- Jen Bervin – Nets
- K. Silem Mohammad – Sonnagrams (and some more here)
- 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.