The mind, not poetry, is a machine made of words. FML.

There is something that must be done and undone. I am writing a way in. I have not been earnest enough honest enough. I have not been forthright.

What is bottled up will not burn right. It melts, cracks, explodes. It makes a big mess of things. I do not want a mess really. I want fuel, air. I want ash.

Except for my love I do not know what I should care about. And it is not my love, and I do not need to care for it. It wells up and fades out and when I am aware of it I am a milk jug rolling and bobbing on the waves of it.

There is nothing more satisfying than a good fuck, a deep fuck. Something should be sore after, and something should be knocked loose—something hard to pin down, that should not stay where it was.

I brought them outside and washed them with the hose. In rainbows.

Writing can take it out of me and make it visible, but what it becomes is a sham. Was it a sham when it was still inside me? And when the air and sunlight and water of the world touches it, what will be left of it? The world eats everything. It is always hungry.

Fourteen hours and twenty-seven minutes and forty-one seconds have passed. Mostly without me.

Sometimes I do not wash the stink off of me. I am a dirty animal too.

Before there was a decision there was a moment. Of confusion? Of peace? Of innocence? Before I got lost on the better route, I saw where I was and wept for the brutality of it. I knew where I was.

Two roads diverge in a forest. I run crashing through the bush and thorns.

Returning and rerunning, retreading the path, rewinding the tape. Reposting the repast, repelling and rappelling. But not rapping. I leave that to the masters.

“There is no authority in one or others.” — Leslie Scalapino.

“I write for myself and others.” — Gertrude Stein.

I will write to the end of myself and others, and there is no succeeding.

Don’t ask me to explain because I do not understand it.

I thought of writing The Bewilderness Survival Guide, but I do not think it can be survived. I waste away to nothing in my bewilderness.

Earlier this week I thought of a digital art project. Participants would have their bodies and faces scanned to create 3D game characters which would then star in an unending series of animated death scenarios. They would watch their bodies choking, starving, having a stroke, dying from infection, malnutrition, dehydration, exposure, being mangled, shot, blown up, slashed, stabbed, hacked, burned, crushed, brutalized, hit by cars, buses, falling satellites, eaten by roaches and wolves and sharks—fatally wounded in every conceivable way on a projection screen.

I want to watch this for myself. I want to participate. I want to see my imaginary deaths pile up before my eyes. I want to know what I would think and feel then.

I mean to be morbid but this is just my positivity shining through. Not obsession but its antidote.

Article on Gnoetry up at the Sycamore Review Blog

Read this explanation of the Gnoetry 0.2 program and my writing process + aesthetic with it: Confessions of a Cyborg Poet: Gnoetry, eRoGK7, and Human-Computer Poetry Generation @ Sycamore Review Blog.

Writing with Gnoetry is like playing a game called “What is the best poem you can sculpt from this language?” Since I approach it as though it was a game or puzzle, it makes me feel less like the author of the poems I create through it—less an owner and more a participant—so I feel much freer to experiment and less anxious about writing about sensitive or possibly offensive subjects.

Watching Art21 on Hulu and Thinking about Writing

I’ve started to watch episodes of Art21 on Hulu Plus now through my PS3. Seems you can watch all of the episodes on the PBS Art21 website. I’ve always been fascinated with all kinds of art: music, visual art, literature, dance, film. I’ve also liked to listen to interviews with artists, which I often find much more stimulating than interviews with writers. They usually seem so much more passionate, intense, and wrapped up in what they’re talking about, what they’re working on. It’s this mentality I would like to bring to my poetry, to my projects and what I am doing with language. Some of my favorite poets sound more like abstract visual artists describing a display than writers talking about a poem or the situation that it arose from. Writers like Jackson Mac Low, bpNichol, Gertrude Stein, Leslie Scalapino and Christian Bök that continue to engage my curiosity and respect after repeat engagements with their work and thought. It is not really so much an idea of an avant garde that I want to connect with. Instead, there is a curiosity and openness to their work that is constantly (constantly did) re-emerg(e)ing throughout their careers, a necessity to change the approach, the materials, the aesthetic of their projects as new focal points emerged. And the concepts, perspectives, states of mind, spaces that their works engage with and recreate for readers are a pleasure am undeniably thankful for. This is how I would like my past present and future works to be. If there is a poembassy to bomb, it is in my mind, and I will continue to build it up, blow it up, and build it back. Or maybe stretch out a bit in its hollow shell and look around.

Using “wreading” activities in my Introduction to Poetry class

I guess for my first foray into relating the impact of Language Poets on my own sense of poetry, it will be fine to start with how they have affected my teaching of poetry at the college level. Charles Bernstein in particularly has been someone whose pedagogy I have used as a model to guide how I shape my own courses on poetry as literature and as an art form.

Skimming through some the of chapters of Bernstein’s new book, Attack of the Difficult Poems (I’m able to read it online through my University’s library website as an ebook, but I think it’s stupid that I can’t just download the thing and print it out, or transfer it to my Kindle–I’ll have to work on that [o]: ), I’m surprised at some similarities to what I’ve been doing with my literature classes over the past few years. I’ve experimented with using writing activities in a literature course before, particularly the Introduction to Poetry course I taught last year at Purdue University. I think it is one of the best ways for students unacquainted with poetry and its language activity My subtitle for the course, which I plan to use again, is “Poetry as a Second Language,” which Bernstein’s echoes in his chapter on “Creative Wreading & Aesthetic Judgement:”

My response to this chronic poetic aporia (CPA) is to provide intensive poetry immersion courses, something like teaching poetry as a second language. That means I try to immerse the class in a wide yet distinct variety of poetic forms, sounds, dictions, and logics.

I had connected with that same concept of poetry as a second language via Kenneth Koch’s excellent book on teaching poetry, Making Your Own Days. Koch was referring I think to something Paul Valery had said about poetry being present as a second language within any given language, so that the language of poetry, while dwelling solidly within any given spoken/written language, exists on a somewhat different plane, behaving in different and strange ways in relation to its home language. I took from this that to really teach someone what poetry was it would be necessary to show them how it behaves by its own set of codes nestled within our language’s more instrumental set of signs.

Bernstein seems to describe a set of activities which he uses to run an alternative to the standard “creative writing” workshop for undergrads. I’m a fan of Kenneth Goldsmith’s “uncreative writing” activities, too, as well as other forms of appropriative, generative, or otherwise methods of writing poetry (Google Sculpting, Gnoetry). I’ve taken a lot from other teachers, especially writers who teach.

One wreading activity I had my students participate in last year which they found to be very engaging and enjoyable (I gauged this from their comments, laughter and expressions during the writing process) was for them to apply the Writing by Negation exercise (Oulipo) to two famous American poems. Here are the results:

==============================================================

The first poem below is the class’s negation of Wallace Stevens’ “Anecdote of the Jar.” The second is a negation of Emily Dickenson’s “[The Brain–is wider than the Sky–].” Both poems in their entirety were decided upon by the class calling out suggestions which I then weighed as either being the most “interesting” or popular suggestions.

———————————————————-

Novel of Many Cans

for Wally

You retained many cans in Australia,
And square they weren’t, beneath the lake.
They destroyed the prissy palace
Lonely by the lake.

The palace sank down into it,
Poised, increasingly tame.
The cans weren’t square above the sky,
Stout and of a parking garage below the ground.

They left things well alone.
The cans were purple and gaudy.
They smelled of tuna and the beach,
Just like everything else in Australia.

[The Viscera ++ are narrower than the Ocean ++]

for Emily

The Viscera ++ are narrower than the Ocean ++
Then ++ moved them further apart ++
The many the all will exclude
With tension ++ and Eric ++ inside ++

The Viscera is shallower than the sky ++
Against ++ Release you ++ Green for Green ++
The two the same will reject ++
As Granite ++ Netting ++ doesn’t ++

The Viscera is heavier than the Devil ++
As ++ Light as ++ Dollar for Dollar ++
And we will share ++ and they won’t ++
As Multisyllabic Word from Silence ++

Collaboratively composed in class by members of ENGL 237 – 002, Purdue University

Dec. 6, 2010

==============================================================

Novel of Many Cans is one of my favorite titles, I think I’ll steal it! It also has a better ending than I’ve ever written on my own. (How long has it been since I wrote something “on my own” anyways?)

Along with some of my standard writing/reading/wreading activities I might modify the collaborative writing Bernstein describes to suit my own purposes. I’ve got two projects in mind already: one is based on description and another on definition. Perhaps a third can be on subversion? They’ll each contribute a sentence a class day to any text and, by the end of the semester, we’ll have a book length collaboration, or maybe a chapbook that I can try to publish. Wouldn’t that be cool!

I’m a Mother Fucking Amateur: Introducing the updated blog

It’s been a rough year for me. Fifteen months now of lower back problems and sciatica have dealt a serious blow to the amount of time and energy I could devote to writing, reading and thinking about poetry, being a practicing Buddhist, a dutiful husband. This blog has suffered much from my health problems, probably more than anything else, but it’s time for me to get back to work here.

What is the work of Poembassy Bombing? To figure out what it means to be a Mother Fucking Amateur (MFA 2009) and whether this is a term to embrace or run from in shame.

What do I mean by Mother Fucking Amateur? It is the best description I have for how I have felt since I completed my MFA program in 2009. So I have this degree now and a documented (and lived) institutional educational experience. I am a pedigreed “creative writer.” So how I do I become a poet, one of the same ability and impact as those I most respect: Stein, Mac Low, Koch, Silliman, Scalapino, Mohammad, Hejinian? I had a terminal degree and the feeling that I had not even started. This is when I first felt like a mother fucking amateur.

Add to this my health issues. However clear my sense of purpose or direction may have been 16 months ago (and trust me, it was not all that clear, all though it seems otherwise now) things have changed. The Buddhism that inspired my previous title (what light already light) is no longer as solid in my mind and life as it was, partly due to my physical inability to properly practice meditation and partly due to the ideas of Stephen Batchelor (Buddhism Without Beliefs) and Slavoj Zizek. Zizek’s ideological critiques of Western Buddhism particulary, although I find them problematic (I’ll blog on this later for sure), have made me suspicious of my own motivations and desires concerning my adopted religion/philosophy. My infant poetics and aesthetic sense have also fallen into troubling times, and I find myself really needing to read, discuss and come to new and more informed conclusions about the avant-garde ideas that have been somewhere behind my decisions about my writing since I first started down that road six years ago in grad school.

There is a lot that I need to learn about poetry, and I need to develop my own approach to understanding the art and writing about it in addition to my ongoing attempts at practicing it. I’m using the blog to this end for now.

Upcoming projects on the blog:

  • Reading through all of the original L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E issues (@ Eclipse) and reflecting on the relevance and impact of the aesthetics and practice recorded there. I’ve been reading Bernstein’s early essays from Content’s Dream, and I want to get deeper into the writing and ideas of that formative period of the Language School, which has produced some of my favorite poetry of the 20th century.
  • A discussion of Zizek’s critique of Western Buddhism and the impact it has had on how I think about my Buddhist practice. I’m a huge fan of Zizek. I take his criticisms very seriously and think there is a lot to how he problematizes Buddhism for Western practitioners.
  • Thoughts on the writings of Leslie Scalapino. Her last two books and the recent release of the update How Phenomena Appear to Unfold have only furthered my interest in her work. I group her with Mac Low and Stein as an unabashedly eccentric, free and original thinker about what poetry is capable of. Once you can understand her prose style–the density of the ideas and the quirky use of language–there is a lot to experience that is new and strange.
  • How my further use of Creative Wreading (ala Charles Bernstein) works out with my Introduction to Poetry class this fall semester.
  • Other things I’m sure.

GnoetryLeaks @ Gnoetry Daily

Said of WikiLeaks: “Could become as important a journalistic tool as the Freedom of Information Act.” – Time Magazine

Now its a poetic tool too. Over at Gnoetry Daily, Eric Elshtain has initiated the GnoetryLeaks series, what could amount to the most transparent poetry series of all time, using individual leaked U.S. embassy cables from Cablegate @ WikiLeaks as source texts. I’ve joined the project now, and soon we plan to collaborate on several pieces Gnoetry-renga style.

It’s all so exciting!

Read the series so far: GnoetryLeaks @ Gnoetry Daily

Identity A Blog Post

[Original Post: 26 Jul 2010 @ 3:48 PM]

[Update 1: 04 Aug 2010 @ 1:03 AM]

[Update 2: 03 Sept 2010 @ 9:59 PM]

1

I am I because my little blog knows me. The author typing alone has nothing to fear.

– – – – – – – – – – – – –

Questions for Further Discussion:

What is true about the statement in this poem?

whr iz d contxt?

2

To not forget: ideas and texts that I fear losing track of [I fear losing track of myself and my things], unlike in writing poems, where memory is not (for me) (for now) important, is not the object, and there is often little to “keep track of.”

Blog is about image (self) in that scattered pieces which the self is fearful of forgetting may be kept in one space and displayed as self-image, is then the self that is forgetful and may forget itself but never will, which has that identity then of seeing oneself laid out as in a journal or photo album. There is some distance there. Flip through and remember things you have lost track of to feel more whole.

This is of the nature of illusion.

3

My writing is mostly to avoid or obstruct self-construction, brush aside the illusion of a solid self. My writing often instead relies upon a principle of like/dislike or pleasure/boredom, which is an equally troublesome illusion. I have read. Though I really like-dislike pleasure and boredom. But then,

Writing is the present creation of illusion in order to diverge from it in being a state of attention. Attention, the activity of reading or observing, is the only history and present moment – at all.

(Scalapino, The Public World / Syntactically Impermanence 10)

There is the term “timeless awareness” in Tibetan Dzogchen Buddhism. This could not be a medium [basis?] for writing.

Attention here assumes the point of conventional self (relative) not the truth of no-self (ultimate) — self and mind as they appear and are experienced within or without narrative/historical context — as the point of composition. By assuming this point and writing in opposition to the self-cherishing attitude and the reinforcement of self-concern, one engages in an effective deconstructionist and Buddhist mode of writing.

4

This is nothing like nowhere as good as Identity A Poem. That had a lot to do with plays and human nature. This has nothing to do with plays and little to say about human nature.

I love you Gertrude Stein. I do this for you Gertrude Stein.

>- o -< >- o -<>- o -<>- o -<>- o -<>- o -<>- o -<>- o -<>- o -<

Lotuses smell like toilet cakes

Blogs smell like blogs

ppl smeL lIk ppl

And swamps smell terrible most of the year.

<+|+> <+|+><+|+><+|+><+|+><+|+><+|+><+|+><+|+>

5

There is illusion of continuity thus continuity of self. There are posts (writings) and gaps, and the gaps must be filled in with an assumption of continuity of self. Until the last writing. Then the complete writings may be published and sold, arranged in order of the best continuity of self, not necessarily in time, because a self does not always develop in time or thought, but actions, which are often more clearly defined outside of temporal continuity. And a self does not really develop in actions because the self does not inherently exist.

6 – txt msg (CstructD 4 othRz)

A prsn iz not a v gud writer. A writer iz CstructD 4 othRz out of a prsnz living & wrkN. Born @ d nd of writiN & brawt in2 d wrld by editors, 1 hOpz dey wer gud fRnds. DIS iz an illusion of BcumN a writer. insted jst jst wrte.

An Emerging Writing Project (Plus a Personal Update) (Plus a Bibliography)

Personal Update

It’s been a busy summer, but I was shocked to see just how much time has gone by since I had heard of Leslie Scalapino’s death. My posting schedule was definitely effected by a personal medical problem that I’m still dealing with: a herniated disc in the lower lumbar region of my back. I wasn’t really able sit down, at a computer or anywhere else, for very long until recently. Things are definitely on the mend now, but it will be months still until I am reasonably “back to normal.”

I’ve been writing like mad this past year, aided by unemployment, I suppose, lots of free time. Most of my work has gone up at Gnoetry Daily under my handle (or gamer name, or trickster name) eRoGK7. [Note: Some poems are currently private, but will return to the site soon.] I was surprised that I had written what amounts to two books and a chapbook of (potentially) publishable work, plus one long project that simply went nowhere.

The Writing Project

I can only describe it loosely as a project right now. I have pages and pages of notes and some aborted attempts to start a “poem,” or whatever it will turn out as. The working title is “Love in the Time of Humanitarian Aid,” which I think captures nicely a theme which I now see has run through my work for a while: namely, how is our sense of concern and love for others (call it empathy or compassion) shaped by the national and international institutions that carry out humanitarian aid? My real obsession with this issue came after the recent earthquake in Haiti and the coverage of that, how it fell into all of the standard colonial attitudes and “white man’s burden” traps that are typical of Western coverage of foreign disasters of all kinds. That, together with the beuarocratic games being played with the initial flow of aid into the country and its distribution, reminded me too much of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, and I was (and am) still upset by that travesty, especially after absorbing Spike Lee’s excellent documentary on it.

Having thought about this project for half of the year now, I’ve been drawn towards two root issues that seem fundamental to an understanding of humanitarianism in our global capitalist world: First, that many many people, significantly many other Americans I’ve known, have difficulty recognizing — or easily forget — the common humanity people share beyond the social, historical, religious and cultural differences between nations. By this I mean only that although people everywhere must struggle against different circumstances and conditions, we do all share in the complexity of the human condition and often desire very similar outcomes in life, be that prosperity, peace, or relief from the constant struggle to survive.

I think the author Chimamanda Adichie has done a much better job at explaining this problem. Her talk “The danger of a single story” examines this issue from a properly post-colonial context, explaining how people in the West, influenced by literature from colonial times to the present multimedia landscape, often rely too much on “single story” narratives, such as the backwards tribal African or the Illegal Immigrant Mexican, to make up their understanding of the “other” peoples of the world.

The second root issue that I’ve fixated upon is that of Power, of those that operate regionally and internationally to ensure the exploitation of the mass of peoples around the world for the benefit of an increasingly concentrated few. This is at the expense of many in the First / Developed World as well as the Third / Un(der)developed (if we must still use such terms). It is the greed and genocidal neglicence of such powers and the institutions they rely upon which, often mingled with genuinely good intentions, end up poisoning the drive for global justice, equity and prosperity that might actually benefit the world.

How I want to approach writing a poem about this has been my problem. I don’t feel like computer programs which essentially carry out a highly flexible cut-up method on source texts are the right tools for this project. It’s not about reconfiguring language, or juxtaposing language from different fields/cultures, or even about playing with language in a game-like interface (my own sense of what my Gnoetry aesthetic is). Aside from my visual poetry, my writing for the last two years has been working almost exclusively in this mode, and I have by writing out of my inspiration/obsession with Jackson Mac Low.

Lately, though, I’ve turned increasingly to Gertrude Stein, Lyn Hejinian and Leslie Scalapino as models for transitioning away from Gnoetry and other computational poetry methods. But this post is getting long enough. What I like most about these authors, beyond their work, is the way they think about and explain the reasons for their writings, the radical way they thought about what writing could do and what they could do through it. I’ll save an in-depth discussion of this for later.

Bibliography

Here, mostly for my own sake, is a list of some of the books, articles, websites and films that I’ve been researching for this project. Who knows what will come out of all this mess.

  • Shadows of War, Carolyn Nordstrom
  • Frontline: The Quake, PBS (March 30, 2010)
  • Easy money: the great aid scam, Linda Polman, The Sunday Times (April 25, 2010)
  • The danger of a single story: Chimamanda Adichie on TED.com
  • Aid Watch | just asking that aid benefit the poor
  • Good Intentions Are Not Enough
  • The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon
  • The Memory of Fire Trilogy, Eduardo Galeano
  • Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means, William T. Vollmann
  • The Making of Americans | Writings 1932-1946 (Vol. 2) | Gertrude Stein: selections (Poets for the Millenium) | by Gertrude Stein
  • Way | The Front Matter, Dead Souls | New Time | The Public World / Syntactically Impermanence | Zither & Autobiography | It’s go in quiet illumined grass land | by Leslie Scalapino
  • The Language of Inquiry, Lyn Hejinian [Contains the long poem “Happily”]
  • Mulamadhyamakakarika, or The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way (trans. Jay L. Garfield) | Shunyatasaptatikarikanama, or Seventy Stanzas on Emptiness | The Raja Parikatha Ratnavali, or A Strand of Dharma Jewels | by Arya Nagarjuna
  • The Heart of Compassion, Dilgo Khyentse
  • The Way of the Bodhisattva, Shantideva
  • Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art, Jacquelynn Baas and Mary Jane Jacob, Eds.
  • Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left, Judith Butler, Ernesto Laclau and Slavoj Zizek
  • Violence | First as Tragedy, Then as Farce | In Defense of Lost Causes | by Slavoj Zizek
  • “Use and Abuse of Human Rights,” Gyatri Spivak
  • Pathologies of Power: Rethinking Health and Human Rights, Paul Farmer
  • Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag
  • “‘‘The Most We Can Hope For . . .’: Human Rights and the Politics of Fatalism,” Wendy Brown
  • Inhuman Condition: On Cosmopolitanism and Human Rights, by Pheng Cheah

“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.

Good Article for Young Poets

Off The Shelf: Finding the pieces that turn writing into poetry,” by Matthew Zapruder.

Thanks to Ron Silliman for linking this on his blog. This seems like it would be a great resource for instructors teaching introduction to poetry courses, or anybody else new to poetry. It does a good job filling in crucial history of the formal shift in English language poetry from the old days of rhyme and meter to our more contemporary (in)formal tendencies. I know I had a few students who seemed determined to write like Alexander Pope, Edgar Allen Poe or Emily Dickenson who might benefit from this. Zapruder also connects poets to visual artists–a connection which I think is good to encourage in young writers’ minds–and introduces some helpful ways of thinking about the discursive element of poetry, the level of statement and idea, instead of focusing only on the formal aspects of writing.

Some quotable moments:

For about a year, I carried around a rhyming dictionary, writing terrible sonnets, lousy sestinas, atrocious villanelles, abysmal pantoums. I felt like I was working, which was good, but it was also painful and embarrassing to write so much bad poetry.

I didn’t realize then that I was doing my own clumsy version of what art students do when they learn to paint. Now every time I go to the museum I see at least one of them with a sketchbook, copying the great paintings, and it makes sense to me. I’m glad I did it, even though nothing I wrote was any good.

Also:

One thing I do notice about my poems is that, though they might not have overt formal elements, there is always a rhythm that develops, subtly, in the voice of the speaker. Maybe something more like a cadence. Most poetry is “formal” in that way.

And I think, secretly, that my poems actually do rhyme. It’s just that the rhyme is what I would call “conceptual,” that is, not made of sounds, but of ideas that accomplish what the sounds do in formal poetry: to connect elements that one wouldn’t have expected, and to make the reader or listener, even if just for a moment, feel the complexity and disorder of life, and at the same time what Wallace Stevens called the “obscurity of an order, a whole.”

I would only suggest that conceptual rhythm be added to the idea of conceptual rhyme. The most interesting poetry these days, for me at least, must be engaging on this level–of patterns of thought, the play (or disruption, or explosion) of signs, of making words mean elsewise, of making statements or impressions that are  surprising to both reader and author–and only after that do I admire its formal, linguistic or aural ingenuity. Alternately, I would also say that I have used formal, linguistic and aural constraints to give my writing a framework within which these “conceptual” elements might better flourish. In either case, the conceptual level of works end up taking precedence over the other (still essential) elements; i.e. I would not consider the work to be good without perfection on that level, though I might tolerate a lack or have more flexibility with the rest.

The education in literature Americans receive through high school is overall totally inadequate at giving young people the necessary foundation to make it an important part of their mental lives (if they are allowed these). Poetry suffers especially, and I have seen it in undergraduates that know nothing of poetry after 1900. Maybe this article will help to make up for this gap in understanding, or at least point them in a more relevant and timely direction. And just maybe, after reading this article, jumps to more experimental “forms” of poetry and works of conceptual poetry might not be so difficult for students to make.