Hurrah. I'll admit that the last few posts have been somewhat of an Eagles approach (that is sending out my third stringers to rest my starting team), but the fact is the last year has left me so beleaguered that I really did need a rest. Nevertheless, I'm done, the quizzes are over I mean, and Luminations will become ??? Well, I'll start by fixing my links to the left! - Ben
2) What is a thematic house? Define this with reference to Charles Jencks. And what kind of design, inner and outer, would you give, if you were the architect, to a multi-million dollar commission for a House of Poetry? Would you spend all the money on the building itself? Being not-so-familiar with Jencks, all I remember is his concern with semiology and “reading” architecture. Of course, there is reading to be done, but reading is also not all... Briefly, I suppose then a Thematic House would be merely a corbusier – a house in which the house was its theme. That is where every possible ‘reading’ refers back to the house’s houseness. Were I to make a House of Poetry, with a title like that it would have to be even more gaudy than the Santa House of Coralville. Perhaps the outside would be in austere concrete with friezes made up of tacky poetic scenes: Joyce at a desk, Shakespeare with right arm dramatically raised and the left gripping his chest, etc etc. I would also ensure a bland garden.The walls of all rooms on the inside would have hallmark-style greetings stenciled in red. And no windows. 3) What is the security alarm system that is likely to keep a poet like the Australian desert dweller John O'Brien from being published in a magazine like Jacket (if, indeed, he gets around to sending his work there)? In other words, think of Jacket as a sort of Bauhaus house. Would having O'Brien's decidedly naïf Red Rose poem there mess up the interior design? Would its appearance there embarrass the guests at the cocktail party, like, what... say a velvet portrait of Elvis next to the Julian Schnabels and Sally Manns? This question is about axiology and the way its messy wiring is cosmeticized by facadical architectures and floor plans. In other words, would O'Brien be rejected because his poem is ugly, or would he be rejected because the poem doesn't fit into the Total Design (a concept whose ideological vectors remain virtually uninvestigated within the institution of avant-garde poetry)? This is a very important question. Answer it at length. Absolutely because the poems don’t fit into the total design. There is no such thing as an ugly or bad poem, unless we are prepared to talk in relative terms. I do think Billy Collins is awful, I despise Wordsworth, I agree with Pound re. Whitman (what happened to those twenty or thirty pages?), and think Williams is a bore but that is not the way to talk about poetry. Good and bad is for Bush. The question should always be ontological (why is something there) rather than a matter of valuation (is something good). Total Design, in this context, is merely a way to talk about editing. An editor has no use for good poems that don’t fit the design. It’s no secret or surprise. We may find what we consider to be bad poems in good magazines, however, my point is that it is not a question of good or bad but how to situate such poetry. O’Brien’s poems are naive, but rather than dismissing him or them, we may want to look into how perhaps they come to be in this way. If they are published, in what context (thematic, or otherwise) are they published etc. 4) How high can a poem be built? Can it have elevators? Can the cable on the elevator in a high-rise poem snap so that the elevator drops for hours, crashes through the ground floor, and keeps going all the way down to Hell? What do you think the architecture is like in Hell? No. No. No. Hell is a presupposition of heaven etc, so from this atheist, no. Quiz #11 This final quiz contains only one long question. Your answer will need to be at least equally as long... It would be easy to rewrite each of the architectural interpolations in the quote below to describe the current ideological Other of the poetic field. (In fact, we will place poetry in parentheses, in nominal or adjectival form, where appropriate.) So: Is such social/economic magma poetry's repressed but elemental ground? If not, why not? What would be needed to move beyond its big suck so as to loose poetic production into a truly autonomous and liberatory field? Here is the quote. Five extra points if you can identify its source: “The institution of architecture [poetry] is clearly more than buildings [poems] and the practices by which they are produced... The building [poem] itself is no more than a specific mechanism of representation. In fact, there is no such thing as a building [poem] outside of a large number of overlapping mechanisms of representation: schools of architecture [poetry], professional codes of ethics, critical practices, historiographical methodologies, academic protocols, pedagogical techniques, curriculum structures, the strategic role of the author's signature and project credits, legalization of the word architect [poet], designated safety factors in structural [prosodic] calculations, standardized drawing [writing] techniques and conventions, building [attributional undergirding] codes, aesthetic codes, zoning codes, clothing codes, school admission standards, faculty classifications, fee structures, hiring and firing practices, rhetorical conventions, examination structures, model-making techniques, various forms of etiquette, legal contracts, copyright law, the structure of the slide lecture, strategic control and dissemination of ideas through conferences and publications, ritualized master worship, theoretical and graphic commonplaces, copy-editing protocols, interview and presentation formats, photographic techniques, the institution of the architectural [poetry contest] jury, portfolio construction and circulation rituals, competition formats, official and unofficial club membership control. Funding patterns, the structure of the architectural [poetic] monograph, the biography and so on, to name only some of the most obvious ones. All of them are mechanical systems of reproduction whose ritualistic, if not fetishistic, repetition constantly affirms the presence of architecture [poetry] rather than analyzes it. Indeed, the very intensity of their repetition seems to mark a nagging but suppressed doubt about that presence. They are the real mechanics of architecture [poetry]. The building [poem] is literally constructed by these mechanisms of representation. I’m putting my money on Mark Wigley’s book, The Architecture of Deconstruction? At any rate, this could merit a long response, but essentially this is asking about context. And, yes, as stated briefly above, poems need to be contextualized not into good/bad or long short, successful/ unsuccessful. These are the type of silly valuations that produce the bickering over Alan Sondheim’s work on the poetics list for example. The question is not whether Alan’s work is gibberish or spam or even good. In fact there are questions. What allows him to produce as he produces? From where does the work arise (not just in Brooklyn, but precedents)? etc etc. Those questions make the work tell (or talk if you prefer). [end]


3) If architectural theory has any utility for innovative poets today (careful: this is still an open question! [see, for example, Peter Riley's book, Architectural Analogies in Poetry: Comparing Apples and Oranges in Elysium]), then what happens when Steve McCaffery, for example, writes a poem under the influence of Vitruvius and Alberti, both of whom insist that the ordering and structure of their respective theoretical treatises perfectly match that which they prescribe for building (theory as art work)? Does the poem then take shape *around* the ideological Poet-space from which it is secreted, or does the poem instantiate itself as a kind of discrete space or chamber, like an hexagonal cell in a honeycomb, built by a bee who is, for all intents and purposes, blissfully blind to his Queen? Answer, please, in 300 words, via the technique of Automatic Writing. automatic, as proscribed Which distinctions is the Johnson fellow making at any rate? if vitruvius wrote under the influence of mccaffery, what then? think de koonig i’m no Which distinctions is the Johnson fellow making at any rate? if vitruvius wrote under the influence of mccaffery, what then? think de koonig i’m not influenced by history, i influence it. the question is about the quantities of self in restrained by the strictures of architectural theory. impossible not to be influenced by poet-space, even mac low knew this. the poem may look like a chamber and certain other poets may talk it into a chamber, but it is not a chamber. i am now confronted with the problem of fulfilling many more words it is not automatic to talk to oneself, but one does. what is perhaps of more interest is the poetic pre-fab. those metrical-types have been pre-fabbing for years to the extent that an improvisation in an accent or stress is made to be an innovation. they upset me these pre-fabbists. walking around a metrical poem is akin to the mall – no viciousness intended mike, but my sensibilities have been offended by a certain crassness in this ‘debate’ between the versists and the whitmanists, this is an argument like gay marriage and in the end we must ask who gives a fuck (i choose my words carefully, ‘damn’ is not it). not even the mall, the mall where no shopping is essential and all space is designed for one to end up in. lets not end up for a while. malls are extreme durandian places, and the house is the place the versists start from (I don’t do pun disclaimers). this wall goes here and has gone here and always will go here. the master contractor will make the better wall, but the structure is the same walls, different nails, glue, etc... I’m amazed how ranting I can get doing automatic. Sorry. sanbyaku. 1) Go back to Quiz #6 and review the outline given there of Total Design as insistent concern in 20th century architecture, in both its implosive and explosive traditions. Now consider the following dictum/ars poetica of Barrett Watten, an experimental poet and theorist who has been as interested in issues of architecture and social space as any American poet since the Vietnam war: that poetry is, in its essence, the manifestation of a mind in control of its language. What is the relationship between the connotations of such a terrifying pronouncement and the overall look of Architectural Digest magazine? Illustrate your answer with photographed interiors of three corporate conference rooms in the magazine. Not having access, nor entirely desiring it, to Architectural Digest, what one can surmise is that the Watten pronouncement, upon which I hope in the name of all equitableness he has reneged, is as much about the illusion of control and transparency as the contents of AD. A ‘mind’ or a thinking body is never ‘in control’ it only hopes that it is. hyper-awareness is not ‘control.’ Poetry’s relationship to language comes down to, in some way, an intense awareness of language being used. Poets are not especially sensitive. In fact, we are downright clumsy. One need only scan any poetry discussion group as a demonstration of how even the ‘best’ are really children fumbling with footballs. [May extend this answer]


Quiz #9 1) If architecture is merely sculpture that bodies can enter, then is poetry merely prose into which certain tunnelings and orifices have been chiseled? If this definition is valid, would you qualify it as an effective materialist definition of poetry? Write your answer in block letters. architecture is not merely “sculpture that bodies can enter.,” in fact we’ve been going this whole quiz without ever talking about what architecture is. perhaps we can say that some architecture is merely this type of functional candy, some is not. in poetry i would say that certain types of poetry – say much of billy collins, much ‘confessional’ “lyric,” etc – are merely chiseled prose, if even chiseled. but to return to the question, “what is architecture?”, is not really an answerable question. there are simply too many threads and unless one has an agenda, an architectural cause one intends to further, then the argument for a definition is superfluous. this is non-committal, I know, but i’ve tired of dialectics in favor of amorphous networks of ideas. that architecture should be changing, that architecture produces personal spaces, that architecture occupies relational space, forms place, and is able to reverse and deny all preceding is architecture. there is a parallel here with poetry and materialism. there is nothing to the above definition. 2) Assuming that there is something to the above definiton, consider the following: Recent research into Egyptian pyramids has found that the famous and heretofore puzzling secret passageways that rise from the burial chambers toward openings at the outer walls are in fact precisely pointed (when the movement of the heavens through reversed time is factored into astronomical calculations) at key constellations, especially Orion. What seems clear is that these tunnels were intended as a sort of launching ramp through which to shoot the mummy-spirit to the stars. Without losing the materialist definiton we have set forth above, would you say that poetry has a like purpose, in any way? If not, would you say that there are particular objective historical forces (beginning with 17th century English copyright laws) that have progressively accreted to seal over the launch-openings with a kind of viscous substance? Reflect, please, avoiding vagueness. I believe there are fertility rites connected with this theory of the secret passageways, no? Don’t they believe that the shafts were representational of the penis shaft and that the ascent to the stars was somehow related to ejaculation? (Please reread question and draw from this whatever conclusions, I, out of modesty, shan’t say) So what this question is asking is, essentially, does poetry have a purpose as did the pyramids. I shouldn’t need to invoke the ‘bardic’ tradition in order to speak of purposes, but it is probably true that today that poetry has no ongoing purpose. For people who do not read poetry often, the purpose seems to be merely an expression of or sympathy for emotion. This is the GWB reading of poetry. But purpose, no. When asked about the purpose of poetry, I think of the scene in Trainspotting when the group of Glasgow junkies discovered their baby dead in the crib. One of the characters says to the protagonist, “say something” (or probably “fucking say something”), meaning, in the context, he needs some combination of words to mollify the horror in front of them. Without intending to get pretentious, Ewan McGreagor’s silence is more the poetry I have come to prefer – that is the poetry that refuses to mollify or provide us with an escape from the horror. Does this admit to a purpose? I should hope not, unless of course poetry can be purposeful without being proscriptive...


4) Please consider Lenin. In 1920, in the midst of raging civil war, and shortly after a Social Revolutionary wounded him in an assassination attempt, he spoke before a Moscow conference of revolutionary architects, poets, and Constructivist artists, including Mayakovsky, Rodchenko, and Tatlin. It is dangerous, comrades, he said, to believe that Soviet art and architecture in the era of the dictatorship of the proletariat can outstrip the present and model the future. It is rumored that many of the petit-bourgeois intellectuals in the audience snickered at the ironic obviousness of such a remark. Mayakovsky, drunk, opened his trousers and produced his flaccid penis, saying, with a dead-pan matter-of-factness, Look, it is a cloud. Christian Rakovsky, later to become a leader in Trotsky's Left Opposition, laughed, and so did Brik and Mandelstam and Lunarcharsky (the latter who, in democratic spirit, had chosen to sit among the artists). Stalin, sitting across the aisle, two rows back, inhaled, blew smoke, and took note. It is said that Lenin was unusually lethargic and hesitant in this speech, perhaps due to his recent gun wounds. Taking the above scenario as starting point, make up a relevant question relating to Poetic Architecture, and then answer it. Could the erect cloud have fashioned a future? If so, which aphrodisiacs should have the Constructivists offered flip-floppy Lenin? ) Derrida has said, in speaking of deconstructive architecture (Tschumi, Eiseman, Johnson, Steven Holl, COOP Himelblau, and others): First of all, they do not only destroy, they construct, effectively, and they construct by putting this architecture into a relation with other spaces of writing: cinematographic, narrative (the most sophisticated forms of literary narration), finally experimentations with formal combinations... all of this is something other than a restoration of architectural purity, even though it is also a thinking of architecture as such, that is, architecture not simply in the service of an extrinsic end. So, I am now increasingly tempted to consider this architectural experience to be the most impressive deconstructive audacity and effectivity. Also the most difficult because it is not enough to talk about this architecture; one has to negotiate the writing in stone or metal with the hardest and most resistant political, cultural, or economic powers... It is these architects who come up against the resistances, which are the most solid ones in some way, of the culture, the philosophy, the politics in which we live. Doesn't this quote suggest to you that as soon as Derrida leaves the ethereal sky of Continental philosophy and enters into discussion about matters concerning everyday technology, that he comes across as a banal blabbermouth? In any case, consider, because he has a point: As long as innovative poets do not bring the imagination solidly up against the category of Authorship, that hardest and most resistant of ideological powers in the cultural field, will they ever succeed in constructing a truly new poetic architecture? Answer and speculate, in Piranesian fashion, what a revolutionary Archi-texture might be.
On the Magnificence of Dead Authors
I’m hardly in the position to take an argumentative or supportive stance for or against the Kent Johnson who wrote this (he being far more knowledgeable about Authorship than I). However, since I’ve been away so long and would hardly want to give the impression I’m skimping, I’ll offer my desultory thoughts.. First, one’d have to have ones head up/in the proverbial hole (not so you’d be visiting George dubya Bush, but far, anyway.. say Kerry distance) not to concede that Kent Johnson’s effort re: Authorship is worthwhile (he’s not chasing phantoms). And that some didn’t laugh at the Yasusada episode, is one too many flaccids for a single blog post… My difficulty is that there is a moral problem from the point of view of criticism to speak of Barthesian ‘dead authors.’ Although the case can be made without reference to Wagner that Parcifal is racially purist, the case to the opposite can also be made all too easily. Moreover, in my universe of historical punishments (I’ve literally just created this universe since really I’m a moral relativist), I’d hate for Wagner to get away scot free. But there is more to Kent’s argument than this. The Yasusada episode exposed deep ‘other cultural’ baggage that American readers can bring to a text and it is deeply important that such notions are erased from the cultural consciousness (what is that?) - not just in America. Out of curiosity, how do you (reader), read these translations from Sawako Nakayasu?. But I think there is even more to Kent’s argument than a purging of cultural assumptions, and I hope more to it than tackling aging language poets. If I understand him correctly this ‘bringing the imagination up against the category of authorship’ is rather like the Duchampian example of removing self from the work (we know this by now to be impossible). If this is so, it is curious that the point should be made. I mean haven’t writers/poets like Burroughs, MacLow, McCaffery, etc. already done this? I suppose the ‘problem,’ should one read it that way, is that such experimentation has effectively died and what passes for experiment is little but lang po imitation or ‘weirdness for wierdness’ sake.’ Lang Po is not authorless… Lang Po’s have gone to the extreme of questioning linguistic mediatedness, surely?, but they have not investigated ALL by which we are mediated.. Authorship being one issue.. But for the top prize, if we ‘imagine up against Authorship’, will we clear the path for new poetic architecture ? I’d say no. It’s an interesting and, as Kent’s projects have shown, exciting path but there is much more than culture (authorship, if it’s not clear, I identify as part of that) alone.. there is mediation in physical bodies, in environments, architecture etc etc. I’d ask if poetry can imagine itself up against those areas too…


Please pre-order Sawako Nakayasu's new book So We Have Been Given Time or Winner of the this year's Verse Prize - like we didn't already know her writing was, like, way cool!


1) Consider this thought experiment: You are a Poet, and although you cannot imagine it, you are always in a diorama. The diorama is inside a museum. The museum is located in a city. The city is in a 21st century country. The diorama changes according to the scheduling of exhibits: Savannah plains, Arctic ice, Rainforest verdure, Academic conference... Unaware of your placement, (for your reality has always been *here*) the limits of your Poetic world are obviously the limits of your diorama. Assuming this scenario, what is the spatial relationship of cutting-edge Theories of Space to your spatial predicament? Now close your eyes. Explain. Remote. 2) Please think of professional wrestling: Are the sounds the wrestlers make (the grunts and yells and body-against-canvass sounds) to the hoaxed fight as theory is to poetry? If so, is architectural theory, when quoted by poets, a kind of theatrical scream of pain? If not, why not? Think hard. Depends on the poet, but usually yes. We have a vocabulary for describing the structure of a poem, any poem. The borrowing of vocabularies to replace existing ones to no purpose is simply exoticism. 3) Let's assume that Western accentual-syllabic prosodies are a kind of white stucco wall: a paradigm of a will to order, a thin layer of periodically bumped plaster that hides the real materiality of the wall so as to produce a simulacrum of ideality and cleanliness uncontaminated by the foul fullness of history. The conceit drawn here is full of holes. Deconstruct it. OK here’s the information. White stucco walls are accentual-syllabic prosodies (both?). They are also paradigms of the 'will to order' that hides the ‘real’ materiality of the wall (otherwise known as plasterboard or siding). Ermm. Stucco walls “produce a simulacrum of ideality and cleanliness uncontaminated by the foul fullness of history”. Stucco never had it so good.. and it sounds like it could belong to either of the two main American political parties, when in fact both parties have made sure to impress a bloody history on stucco. Now those Anglo-Saxons did a lot of things, but building stucco walls was not one of them (or was it?). And in fact, if my copy of The Ruin is to be trusted, the Anglo’s weren’t averse to exposing “the materiality” of walls either. {more later}


4) The architects who talk about chaos, absence, fragmentation, and indeterminacy usually work hard to assure that you know that a design is theirs by using signature shapes and colors. Arguments about the impossibility of 'the total image' are employed in fact to produce precisely such an image-- a signed image that fosters brand loyalty. Clearly, the dream of the total work of art did not fade in modernism's wake. On the contrary, all of the issues raised by architects and theorists of recent generations that seem, at first, to signal the end of the idea of the total work of art turn out to be, on closer look, red herrings that thinly disguise the traditional totalizing ambitions of the architect. Relate this quote (5 extra points if you can identify its source) to Michael Palmer, Susan Howe, Jorie Graham, and J.H. Prynne. After doing so, briefly discuss the meaning of the Signature and its role as limen within Poetry's institutional architecture. I will go further than identify Mr. Wigley as the source for the quotation, I will link readers to the article: click here. The totalizing ambitions of the architect are characteristic of the explosive and implosive school, though perhaps more ‘total’ in the explosive school because of their worldly scheme of things… I fail on the next part of the quiz because I have only ever read Prynne of the poets listed, and was rather underwhelmed – and now can’t remember a thing about him. Nevertheless, it should be said that of course, the dream of a total work of art hasn’t faded, but one rarely finds the dream in the type of poetry espoused by the above poets. A total work of art, to my understanding, would be multi-disciplinary and the arts’ structure would operate at a ‘local’ and ‘global’ level. The message of some writing certainly inspires, incites, or changes the ways in which readers view or interact in the ‘world’. However, this is not a avant-garde idea! A total work of art in poetry leaves the page, denies reading, moves, as I feel like I keep saying, into the realm of perception itself. Poetry is at an advantage to other arts, including architecture, because it has always been so close to NOT communicating a concept. If the question is inviting me to comment on the cult of certain personalities, I’d ask who? I have but a handful of poet’s signatures, and even the cover on Allen Ginsberg’s Collected Works – the inside sleeve of which contains his signatory flowers etc – is beginning to crumble.


3) Is the Anglo-American Modernist long poem explosive or implosive in its architectures? Or is its largesse, rather, impelled by a dialectical tension between these two poles? If the latter, what does it mean that such a synthesis has resulted in the canonical ossification of the genre? And is this ossification analogous to the sacralization of those classical ruins to which millions of tourists every year make pilgrimage? Use The Cantos, The Wasteland, Patterson, Briggflatts, Cornish Heroic Song for Valda Trevlen, and The Anathemata as examples in your answer. This is a very complicated question, so don't leap to the obvious (i.e. Of course the Modernist long poem is 'explosive'!). You should think so hard that your very head catches fire. Impelled to the difficult answer that the long poem is a combination of the explosive and implosive (these terms understood in the context of the questions, not my own view of architectural writing), I’m wont to decide where to take this. The first point must be to call the possible logical fallacy of the dialectic. If the aforementioned tension is dialectical, then we should assume that the synthesis has not yet occurred. As I understand it, there is no initial tension in the synthesis until the next antithesis has arisen. I’m amused by the suggestion that a synthesis would imply ossification, however, as this is a classic critique of Hegelian and Marxist dialectics – i.e. that the State in Hegel and the communist utopia in Marx mark an end in the dialectic process, which is, of course, illogical (why should the process end?). Is it being suggested that the Anglo-American Modernist long poem is the end of some sort of dialectical process? If so, we might ask how this relates to “sacralization”. Still, the “thing” about the Modernist long poems is that when reading them, one does feel like a tourist. Wasn’t it Zukofski who made the analogy between the Cantos and rough mountain terrain (or was that what Pound told Zukofski, I forget)? One can’t help being awed by the analogies in the Pisan Cantos between Taishan and the mountains in view of the DTC camp, for example. But the shifting images and associations, lets call them part of the internal space, in MAA long poems often sit uneasily with the overall sprawl or reach of the structure as a whole. In other words, while we might follow one image to another there is a point at which the links break apart and we have no obvious recourse to a larger design.. but what this has to do with architecture, I don’t know.


Attempt 2: Are the secret desires for fame and/or notoriety of innovative writers, actually driving them to propose crazy theories about hybrid art work, especially poetry? Reflection: Surely not! All the innovative writers I know are upright honest people (and love to be called innovative) {make note of sarcasm}. Could this possibly be the implication of this elusive question? Response: There is no b/w answer to this question. I suspect something of the sort with Karen McCormack, whose intermittent findings in the field of architectural poetics are, or seem to be, absent from her actual writing – which I would unfairly classify, if pushed, in the post-language school. Although I’ve heard that she made a (successful?) recommendation to MG about adding a ‘missing’ section to The Mechanism of Meaning, I’m yet to see where she sees architecture working in her poetry. Perhaps because it is my view that “poetry” – the stuff made of lines and verses and a (closed/open) meaning - cannot be architectural in any meaningful sense, I can’t see the direction of her architectural poetics. Madeline Gins, however, has already produced architectural writing in Hellen Keller/or Arakawaand has inserted what I would call architectural writing/poetry (no scare quotes) in Architectural Body. In fact, she’s the most explicitly architectural writer I know of. Lamont Young is also a very architectural poet (sic). 2) As partly evidenced by the November, 2000 Language/Poetry/Performance Conference in New Dehli, contemporary innovative poets have become influenced by recent architectural theory's critique of Total Design, a concept that has two meanings: a) the implosive, in which design takes over all interior space (Sullivan, Wright, Taut, the Vienna Secession, etc.) and b) the explosive, where architecture is destined and authorized to move outward beyond discrete structure to encompass all scales (the Harvard School of Design via Gropius, the English Designs and Industries Association, etc.). The former resists (in petit-bourgeois/aristocratic fashion) industrialization and mass culture; the latter (in futuristic/avant fashion) seeks to become its very spirit. The former is most famously embodied by the Weimar School of the Arts and Crafts, under the leadership of van der Velde; the latter by the Bauhaus, under the inspiration of Gropius. Now, one could see the implosive school as analogous with the circumscribed ontology of mainstream, workshop verse, including recent conservative expressions of formalism: the Architect-Poet is the Hero of Interior Design. But one can also see, as Mark Wigley, head of Princeton's School of Architecture points out, that the explosive school is founded on an ...explosion of the designer. Not only are objects designed, mass-produced, and disseminated; the designer himself or herself is designed as a product, to be manufactured and distributed. The Bauhaus produced designers and exported them around the world. The vast glass walls of the Dessau building which, in Gropius's words 'dematerialize' the line between inside and outside, suggest this immanent launching outward of both students and their designs. Even the teaching within the studio was a product. Gropius said that he only felt free to resign in 1928 because the success of the Bauhaus was finally established through the appointments of its graduates to teaching posts in foreign countries and through the adoption of its curriculum internationally. Write an answer of at least 300 words drawing parallels between the Bauhaus as described by Wigley and Language poetry, with particular attention to the latter's accelerating absorption by the academic institution. Be rigorous in your answer and avoid servile timidity. My answer won’t be 300 words, and is undeniably glib. (North) Americans fuss over language poetry. Lang Po and Bauhaus are fundamentally different in that the former is primarily a national and parochial movement, whereas the latter is international, though I’m not convinced it was necessarily explosive. Certainly, Lang Po is much more interesting than most workshop poetry. Nevertheless, these two forms of writing have more in common than they would perhaps like to admit. Both still subscribe to a fairly ‘representational’ view of poetry. Both are convinced of the absolute power of language. The absorption of Lang Po has more to do with the changing face of academia than it does with any sort of Lang Po supplication.


Quiz #6 1) Is it possible that the recent desire amongst innovative writers to build analogic skywalks into a discipline of power and social utility such as architecture may be impelled from below by a hidden structure of ideological tensions and undergirdings that parasitizes and eats from within, thus shaping, as it consumes, the very social space of avant-garde aesthetic practice? Answer yes or no, and then rewrite this question into a syntax that is less onerous. Erring on the side of caution, I’ll say ‘no’ until I’ve rewritten this. I’m going to attempt a couple of interpretations as an additional hedge. Attempt 1: Are innovative writers appropriating topics such as architecture in order to add utilitarian (or pragmatic) purpose to avant-garde aesthetic practice? Reflection: The onerous version of the question suggests that the writers are driven by an “ideological conflict”, meaning, possibly, the conflict between something ostensibly pragmatic like architecture (or science) and the superfluous avant-garde writing. Response to Attempt and Reflection: It is possible, but current trends would indicate the opposite. Take almost any of Kenneth Goldsmith’s books, which are totally useless and, in terms of content, have nothing of intellectual value to tell us (aside from a little bit of gossip). The statement of uselessness, however, is paradoxically powerful for reasons that have little to do with architecture (ask me another time). Even Madeline Gins, who has said that she is always pragmatic, and whose books do offer ‘content’, doesn’t seem to have aspirations to make writing more purposeful – in fact, she appears to believe writing serves a very important utility. That said, she also doesn’t appropriate or “build analogic skywalks into” architecture, she lives in it (don’t we all?). {more attempts later, time providing}


3) The following question is two questions, really, so points are double (tripled if the two answers are seamlessly melded into one): a) What is a flutter echo? Provide one example from the current English Poet Laureate and another from one of Jack Spicer's translations of Federico Garcia Lorca. b) Was Kurt Schwitter's Merzbau a visionary and mystical poetic text or a meaningless shrine to garbage, insanely imploding into an ever-more claustrophobic post modern space? Justify, being careful to note the possible irony in the question. For the literal answer to ‘a’ click here. This is a question about surfaces and parallels. You see, Mr. Motion is our flat surface. With his poems being on one side and his paymaster on the other, both are, to all extents and purposes, dull (unless you read the celeb pages) to the extent of unintelligibility. That is, so intelligible I can’t believe what I’m reading. Now enter the flutter, Jack Spicer (with his others) whose sense bounces off a Lorca we barely recognize were it not for the letters. Even still, through this absent dialogue between Jack and Federico in which Jack echoes Lorca and echoes Jack echoing Lorca and echoes Jack being Lorca through the transparent façade of translation there is a surface intelligibility that belies the unintelligibility of layer upon layer of voices. In like manner, the Merzbow is a layered unfinished construct of garbage, urine, feces, and all sorts of (stolen) ‘stuff’. However, Merzbow is not a flutter echo. There are layers that form a kind of narrative that belies the chaos of its own construction. Its space is mystical in the way that Henry Vaughn is (for me) mystical. That is, in its perpetually unfinished state one is release from the burden of completion (tautological?). In fact, in the Merzbow is really the “mysticism” of an anarchic, Bakhuninian, impulse in which we are granted the freedom of our own willed construction through the destruction and manipulation of acceptability. In other words, the Merzbow allows one to do whatever one wants to do with the accumulation of shit – literal and figurative – from everyday life, memory, friendships (Schwitters became notorious for stealing friend’s belongings for his Merzbow), etc. There is irony in the question as in the answer. 4) What is more relevant to avant-garde poetry's possible coextensiveness with architecture: The Brooklyn Bridge or the ruins of a university after a riot? Explain. “Coextensiveness” reveals a certain agenda relating to poetry and architecture – and this is a point I’ve been trying to tease out. What would be the value of running parallels between poetry and architecture (e.g. a frieze is to architecture what Pre-Raphaelites are to poetry) other than a kind of flattery to one or the other practices? I’d suggest that co-extensiveness is less important than the actual correspondences between language and architecture. One interesting example of this is Matt Siber’s work. An example here: Perhaps if I attempt a direct answer to the question I can make myself clearer. The Brooklyn Bridge is certainly more important to poetry’s co-extensiveness with architecture. When I think of Whitman or even Sandburg, the Bridge figures prominently. I would say that the figure of the Bridge contributed to their New York as it did/does in architectural terms. And for certain strands/ strains of avant-garde poetry, the Bridge suspends continuity (sorry for being facetious) of a more representational mode of expression. Now, the ruins of a university I would say are actually co-extensive with the Brooklyn Bridge as I framed it. Thinking of the ruins of the University, I recall The Futurist Manifesto (“We will destroy museums, libraries, and fight against moralism, feminism, and all utilitarian cowardice”) and the early C20th idealist cult of youth (i.e. before Nintendo, Snoop Shaggy Dogg ??, etc). I recently argued that in Futurism one can find the seeds of the non-representational in art (C.f. my John Cage quote about perceptual art) in, especially, Russolo. However, my reading is based on an interpretation of Futurism less commonly found in literature and more often argued about by such luminaries as John Cage – and I think even Henry Flynt may have talked about them recently on Anal Magic. For literaries, futurist destruction links too nicely to making it new and has no architectural overtones. Thus, the destruction of the university is as much of an albatross to avant-garde writing as the Brooklyn Bridge. It is highly likely I am lost in my own ruminating logic. But I should add that for Situationists up to recent “Black Bloc” anarchists the destruction and reclamation of space does have a linguistic angle, space being what participates in the codification of interactions that will always be complicit in an exploitative (capitalist) system. Navigating through Paris with a map of London, rebuilding office space into aesthetic space etc.


2) If a metaphor is a balcony, is the view it affords measurable in terms of a paraboloidal function (for example: x2/a2+y2/b2 = 2cz [where a, b, and c are constants]), or is that just gibberish? Justify. I’ll always admit my ignorance. 3) What is an Author? Is she an Architect? Think hard. One author most certainly is, Madeline Gins. However, to what extent she is the architect in her partnership with Arakawa, I have no idea. You may have noticed that for most projects they sign their work Arakawa and Gins, but for the recent Architectural Body, the order was switched, Gins & Arakawa. Certainly Madeline plays a significant role in publicizing their work.. To really answer these questions we have to define some set of parameters so you are reading from the same book as me. What is an author? Is she just someone who writes books? In the C20th there was an overwhelmingly strong push for the ‘author’ or ‘artist’ to exclude herself from the actual production of the artwork, my favorite is Duchamp’s Three Standard Stoppages (is Duchamp there?). What these experiments should have taught is us, as Jackson MacLow has said, that it is virtually impossible for an author to remove herself from the production of a text. Kent Johnson, the author of this quiz I’m so slowly answering, has argued persuasively for the public removal of the author through the undermining of the actual identity of the writer (I very much like this idea, but think it an odd practice on a large scale). Moreover, the Yasusada poems (it is beside the point speculating about the extent of Kent’s involvement with the works), in an inverse but similar manner to Duchamp’s Stoppages, demonstrated that a large part of the reception of a work is actually channeled though a social and emotional constructions of the author. In other words, our idea of who the author is (bio, sex, name, etc) feeds into our reading of the author’s work. It would be interesting to play with this idea on an editorial level, for example by misattributing all the works in an issue of a magazine or an anthology. So is the author an architect? We could be cliché here and say that no, the reader is the architect, the author is just a construct etc etc. However, the author, whoever chooses to commit words and ciphers to paper (or digital display), does play a part in architecting (to be Ginsesque). Of course, the author’s identity alone creates a certain space through which we inhabit a work. But also the directions words can take us into architectural environments, or at the very least, color these environments, is also to some extent the doing of the author, who is really more like a helmsperson (a cyberneticist).. 4) Can a security alarm system be built into a poem? Name it. John Cage heard Brancusi in the car alarms of New York. I heard certain poets want copyrights for their poems. Quiz #5 1) Is the cultural space that forms the writing even as the writing (of experimental Authors, that is) attempts to probe its dimensions the space of a certain Flatland? Refer to Bachelard and the Japanese folktale about the mice {sic} and the elephant. Very funny! It’s been a while since I took the elephant to work. He was sadly retired to Ueno zoo, but I have visitation rights on the weekend. To read of the sad demise of the Japanese elephant, and the ensuing experimental writing… 2) Can architectural acoustic theory (reflection, diffusion, refraction, decay of sound, and the artifices of its absorption) serve as an heuristic tool for imaging the institutional interpolations (not obvious ones like the Academy, but those at more inaudible frequencies) inhabiting the cultural structures of avant-garde poetry? If Yes, build a cardboard model of such a tool. If No, try to build one anyway. I’m not sure, but I heard someone stole this from a prominent Language Poet: This is a prototype for a series of architectural sites:


Heroditus: Take Michael Riffaterre's book Semiotics of Poetry, where he argues (as described by the American poet-bridge builder Henry Gould) that the poetic involves a dialectic between mimesis or representation, on the one hand (which creates what Riffaterre calls meaning), and significance, on the other. The architecture game of poetry, then, would seem to involve deciphering a significance that is always deferred by the parabolic indirections of transforming meaningful observation into architectonic structure. Does this suggest that a poem --the kind that is written on a two-dimensional page-- is necessarily and merely a kind of deceptive *faciatta* through whose apertures an interior content is fleetingly and deceptively glimpsed against what is, in the most material sense, a swarming particle space? * Socrates: A very challenging question Heroditus; one which I may be unable to answer. Heroditus: Socrates! We know better. You don’t give up so easily. Socrates: Very well, then. We’ll leave to the side for the moment that I suspect this dialectic of which you speak may undermine my theory of the Forms, and begin with the relatively simple question, are you a poet? Heroditus: As mythologizer of histories, Socrates, yes, yes, I am. Socrates: And are you aware of that which you write? Heroditus: Socrates, we’ve all heard that one before. You can’t sneak out of this one by claiming that poets are unaware of the meaning and significance of what they write. Socrates: Indeed I cannot, and I would not consider dishonoring my good friend in such a way. To answer your question, let’s consider the infamous wax tablet that Ovid used to woo his dear Corrina. Heroditus: ah, “To Venus, from Ovid, for services rendered, one cheap wooden writing-tablet – now beyond price”. We are extremely prescient, Socrates. Socrates: Now, according to your little formulation, the meaning or mimesis stems from the interactions of this couple, does it not? Heroditus: It is beyond my remit to disagree. Still, if we’re talking about the words on the page, yes, there is some relationship. Socrates: Good. And the significance, so-called Heroditus: can be found in the form, an inscription, and locale, Venus’s shrine Socrates: You are much too quick for me. Thus, when the wax fades… Heroditus: The material object, the writing-tablet, returns back to itself and occupies a simple space as an object of devotion. Socrates: I have this effect on people.. * Answer yes or no via a parable in the style of Plato.


1) In poetry, what is an arch? Explain and draw a model. The villain in Paradise Lost (who was the villain again? I haven’t met anyone who liked GOD). 2) Take Le Corbusier's somewhat forgotten Savoie house as analogy: Can the body of a poem be hollowed out in every direction: from above and below, from within and without, so that a cross section at any point will show inner and outer space penetrating each other inextricably? Think hard, keeping in mind that form in poetry has a long and unconscious history as a category apart, despite sporadic seminal announcements to the contrary. If you want a poem to do that, it would seem that Roussell has already achieved it (though we shall have to wait until the next Chicago Review to see for sure). 3) Is it possible, in a move of boldest conceptual elan, to build a poem over a waterfall? Confirm or deny, then, if the former, say what you would title such a poem. (Remembering that Wright's most famous building is a physically flawed structure, and that the roaring of the water forced the inhabitants to abandon the house.) Indeed, we may call such a poem “abandoned house”. I could drone on and on about droning and drowning and droning. Water drops and Loud Symphony 4) Is the incipient turn of new poetries to architectural/spatial theory symptomatic, in any way, of the generalized crisis of the current poetic avant-garde? Insert a compass as metaphor (or metonym, if you desire) in your answer. O.k. this may be brashly arrogant. It’s a charge I’m not immune to.
3) Can concepts of architectural acoustics (reflection, diffusion, diffraction of waves) be applied to poetry? Specifically, is the turn toward spatial rigor in concert hall structures by acoustical architects like Leo Baranek, Harold Marshall, and Michael Barron (the isolation of orthogonal parameters so as to fine tune sound reflection and reverberation via the control of initial time delay gaps) an argument of sorts for further (and urgent) investigations in strict prosodic structure, without which poetry is fated to continue its downward spiral into incomprehensible sonic and semantic muddle-- investigation, that is, not in the banal sense of traditional Western forms, but in the sense of Oulipean mathematical rigor. Whether yes or no, explain. aside: Sorry I’ve been so slow to update the quiz. It’s just been one thing after another! I’m hoping this week’ll be better What we’re being asked here is to do with the planned construction of the poem, the poem made within certain constraints in order to achieve certain (sonic) effects (or affects). I’m not sure to which “muddle” Kent is referring, however. The greatest ‘muddlle’ I have encountered of late is in the poetry of poets like Billy Collins or Dana Gioa who seem hard pressed to write poems with any discernable sense of sound. I’ve read Collins poems that have a syllable count, but that’s no ersatz rhythm. At any rate, my answer to this question is yes, concepts of architectural acoustics can be applied to poetry. One of the most exciting aspects of applying architectural acoustics to poetry with “Oulipean rigor” is that the possibilities seem limitless. I would argue, however, that people like Dick Higgens, Yoko Ono, John Cage, and most of those flux people have already set the architectural acoustic ball rolling (terrible mixed metaphor, I know). Certain instructions in Ono’s Grapefruit, for example, are wonderful examples of a type of architectural poetry. I’ve told Sawako Nakayasu that some of her writing is also oddly architectural/ acoustic (she agrees that it’s musical). Basically, architectural writing is not, as far as I’m concerned, an imitation of architecture or a borrowing from architectural ideas (necessarily). Rather, architectural poetry/writing would approach, in one way or another the perception of architectural space (which space is not architectural?)... I don’t feel I’m doing a good job here of explaining myself. I’m trying to say that architectural poetry is not poetry of communication, but poetry of perception. To quote John Cage on music: music “ was dealing with conceptions and their communication, but the new music being created has nothing to do with the communication of concept, only to do with perception. Thus, the flux writers, with the odd instructions that cast the reader back into her environment has something to teach the architectural poet. 4) Are words in a poem a) rooms b) furniture c) walls d) vestibules e) windows f) corridors I don’t see why not.


Quiz #2 1) Is a dactyl a brick or a gargoyle? Justify. I like this question; very funny! It is essentially written in anapests (anapest being the inverse of a dactyl), which of course adds to the playful tone. Also, there is a very odd mix of ‘materials’, dactyls and gargoyles (?!). A dactyl, as I remember, is more frequently used in Latin versification, though Byron used it effectively; a gargoyle is more of a medieval feature, but again these too have more ancient roots. What can we make of such an admixture? Really, the question appears to be asking whether meter is a building material or a grotesque ornament. So why questions about poetic architecture would be concerned with meter of all things is the greater puzzle. In the discussion over at Kasey’s blog on the Line in Space, there was a sense from certain individuals that meter could be considered the architecture of the poem, as if, indeed, meter were a brick (or probably the structural foundations). In fact, there is no reason why we can’t consider poetry in these terms, but if we do go that route we have to come up with some serious justifications for the transposition. I could discuss the furniture of a poem; however the vocabulary we have on place should suffice. My take is that a dactyl is neither a brick nor a gargoyle – it is a dactyl! On this count, I agree with Christian Bok, recently, and John Cage, historically (see below): if we are trying for an interdisciplinary art, the mere appropriation of specialized vocabularies is wholly inappropriate for the late 20th and now 21st century (I’m coming back to this). 2) What is the relationship of engineering to poetic architecture? Is the architect-poet responsible for designing a structure that can actually be built? If so, why? Questions getting noticeably tougher.. cough. Poetic architecture may have a similar relationship to engineering as poetry has to poetics, viz: engineering tells us in practical terms what can be done (without causing injury and collapse), poetic architecture speculates as to what might be done or even exists on its own as a kind of speculative non-fiction (I do not have a dim view of poetics, incidentally)… My slight problem with the first question is that there is a lot of architecture one could call poetic. Of recent architects, Daniel Liebeskind’s architecture is often a series of phrases and repetitions, echoings and views that I would call poetic, or resembling the structure of a poem (I will resist discussing Arakawa and Gins’ work in this context). Of course, the relationship of engineering to this sort of poetic architecture is not at all like the poetry/poetics relationship above. Engineering certainly dictates what is possible and will partially limit the structure of an architectural formation according to the specificity of the site. Thus the architect cannot even begin designing until she understands the intricacies of the site (from soil content to faults and municipal works). (!!) Look where this question has taken us! We’re back with site specificity. Perhaps there is a lot an engineer can teach a poet about location: not to describe it in technical terms, but how to build on it.. Well, is an architect-poet responsible for designing a structure that can be built? In part, yes, she is. If she did not, we may be tempted to say that she did not understand the site or architecture in the first place… We could go into noetic models of built/not built… This architect poet is also not responsible for designing architecture that can be built if his/her designs are the construction themselves (then the question is are they or are they not built). Poetics (theories of construction) should be viewed as constructions themselves. Tzara’s poetry rarely lived up to the odd acrobatics of his poetics, but perhaps his failing can be viewed as a new(ish) art. One of the great things about people like Kenneth Goldsmith is that his art (like Day, or even his radio show Anal Magic) is the theory, in a way, of a non-event. It’s a kind of poetry without poems.. {next two questions later}


Kent Johnson’s Poetic Architecture: 11 Quizzes

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be looking at Kent Johnson’s Quizzes because Kent brings up some very important issues for the field of Architectural Poetics. Along with cognitive/biological sciences and theories of sound, regular readers may know that theories of architectural space are one of my main theoretical concerns. Kent’s questions are provocative if you are accustomed to thinking of poetic architecture in terms of lines and spaces in a book; and if you are you might find my responses to be provocative because I tend to agree with the sentiment he expresses in the quizzes. Kent adds a nice set of intro questions: Is poetry ever distinct from architecture? Can it exist, in the most material sense, without it? Think of writing practices and their technologies: pens, paper, computers, printing presses, conferences, academic offices, the reading space, and so on. Again: Is poetry ever separate from architecture? One might protest: But architecture is a form of poetry, really, which, if true, would not cancel the possibility that there is an always/already macro-historical conflation of practices. What do you think? I think one may also like to consider Gins and Arakawa’s taunt to poets in their Mechanism of Meaning News (available in the WE HAVE DECIDED NOT TO DIE Guggenheim monograph) that once we are aware of the tactile/kinesthetic procedures and sites inherent in the body’s interaction in the lived environment “poets will jump up and down and learn to see”. Ok. On with the questions: Quiz #1 1) Can a poem have a blueprint? The easy answer to this is yes but a poem does not just have a blueprint, but is a blueprint depending on how one defines poem. Remember Lefebvre’s Representations of Space, essentially the conceptual, planned realm of spatial production? These are our town plans, drawn into grids, seen first on paper. I would argue that different poems have different sorts of blueprints. The sonnet form, for example, could be considered a type of foundational plan for a sonnet. But of course there are always variations in stress, accents etc. There are literally hundreds of variations on the sonnet, just like our prefab cities with their own little themes and variations. A poem’s blueprint is not only in its form, however. A poem, aside from the spontaneous and unrecorded type, is a blueprint of sorts. As I was arguing on Kasey’s blog, the poem as blueprint, as a representation of space so to speak has a different life when read, silently or out loud. In part, we all know that everyone has a different way of reading or interpreting the music of a poem. But what else is going on when we read (not just a poem)? We are in space, presumably a lived space with codes operating on a number of different levels – for shorthand, I’m speaking here of representational spaces and spatial practice in Lefebvre. In part, what I’m arguing is that there is no such thing as a poem itself, but different instances of a poem. {I’m going to let this stand and add to it a little later} 2) Does a door connect the inside and outside? No. A door is complicit in the creation of inside and outside. A door is more like a Cartesian evil deceiver. 3) What kind of door should it be: swinging or sliding? Collapsing. Not an option, I know. 4) Is there plumbing and where does it go? This question doesn’t allow a negative response. {to be continued}


Kenny Goldsmith aired an excellent 1963 interview with John Cage on the last Anal Magic program. I highly recommend tuning in. Just click here, and navigate your Real player to about the 1 hour mark. Below is a picture from an earlier show.
Thanks to Josh Corey for the link to this rather silly quiz that has me as Jacques Derrida - perferable to Althusser perhaps, although I always prefered Althusser to Derrida. HASH(0x88c2308)
You are Jacques Derrida! You founded
Deconstructionism in 1966, and have been a
thorn in people's sides ever since. You argue
that texts cannot be reduced to a single
meaning, among other things. You are dense,
impenetrable, and not dead.

What 20th Century Theorist are you?
brought to you by Quizilla


I’m having some trouble kicking open my voice these days, what with all these interviews and other such malarkey, who has time to say something?? Point one (irrelevant): Since Noah Gordon ‘lost’ the first incarnation of Human Verb, I’ve often wondered why, in the second incarnation, the layout changes on a daily basis. One day we’ve got the links on the top, another they’re at the bottom etc. etc. Well, I may have worked out the problem: this crazy CSS coding blogger uses with the templates. I’m still putting together The Interview and last night had the damnedest time getting the links into one column. Any good links to CSS the fast, easy, and fun way are greatly appreciated! Point two: Ever have one of those periods when no matter how much you write or how hard you try, everything is utter shit? Aside from some very silly ditties and such like, I didn’t write any poetry last year and my attempts this year are embarrassing to say the least. My test of good writing is to produce something that I can’t recognize as my own. Ben’s poetry 2004 is growing his stubble.. Point three: The discussion on Kasey’s blog on the Line in Space (a better title may be appropriate; I hear the “Pigs in Spaaaace!” from the muppets) is, IMHO very important. It has me wondering though how poets (we?) are using the term “space”. The space between words and letters on the page is certainly an important feature of typography; isn’t also what we might call the field or canvass of the poem. When we speak of space, I think of Lefebvre’s “space”, architectural space, the environment etc. I’m running out of time and I intend to continue this thread next time I feel like it J , but I should say that these concepts of space inject a certain amount of spontaneity and variability to individual poems as I was trying to suggest in Kasey’s feedback box. Perhaps Kent Johnson would agree?? I don’t know. One of the things on my to do list though is to counter the letter sent to Kent about his little game on architectural poetics (you know, the one beginning “poetry is not architecture”). But alas! I have (paid) work to do…


Ben: There are so many different directions to take here and many of them too big for a mere interview. I’m going to try to articulate a digestible question here, but if it’s too much feel free to narrow it down. Thinking about your comment on poetry’s relation to history, community, and tradition, one question that looms over me, especially when looking at the work and writings of people like Kenneth Goldsmith, Christian Bok, Kim Stefans et al., is where is poetry going if it clings too closely to the ‘traditional’? If, as Bok said in an interview, the extent of poetry’s engagement with the other arts including music, remains limited to a simple borrowing of other vocabularies and discourses, I wonder how can it really address social, technological, ideological, paradigmatic, etc. changes. That is, I don’t think that there is a need to entirely jettison tradition, but I wonder if we shouldn’t be moving away from the type of representational lyric and actually start to explore from inside. Although I have serious misgivings about his work and projects, I think August Highland’s persona spam is one example moving away from the representational into the repetitive (the apparent Geist of contemporary times), but on a very conceptual and abstract scale. So what I’d like to ask you is in which directions do you see poetry going and who or what are strong indicators of these directions? Chris: Ben, let me make clear, first, that I am no expert. I know well enough what I like lately, although I am always aware of how subjectively formulated my preferences are, even if formulated with infusions of education and experience. I think it a self deception to think that what we do with language by way of evaluation is based on a supposition of objectivity and/or objectively formed criteria. But with that said let me contradict myself to say that I also greatly value an emphasis on study, which are attempts to derive objective means of knowing. I guess the difference is one of noting that such things are never based in certainty. A big problem in aesthetic valuation--a fundamental epistemological problem in aesthetics--is that individuals and the judgments they create, as individuals per se, about art, are too minglingly dependent on a false hegemony attributed to the authorial “I”--ego and authority (she said, realizing that she is pontificating, the very thing she is criticizing, but that language is so porous, or perhaps the term is fluid--choose your fave analogy, indeed, choose any!--that this is unavoidable and so wags it’s tail toward proving the point in the end, that authority in language is crapola on yesterday’s front page daily). That supposed authority always seems to make itself at home on the overstuffed furniture in the living room of the mannered Cartesian I . Alas, poor I. We’re all affected by this. It is one goal of expository writers: to learn to wield this authority. That point somewhat laid out, then, I will say that there are some things by which I am most fascinated, and I will say why but not necessarily in that order. I am a great fan of John Berger’s, all of his work, but Ways of Seeing is a staple influence for me. The visual is important to my thinking, or I should say, it is important that sound and visual matters should be integrative and not segregated in the art of poetry. The opening statement to Berger’s text, “Seeing comes before words,” is one of our contemporary greats in terms of paradoxes to unlayer, so to continually learn. Roman Jakobsen would have a field day with it, structurating it two dimensionally, I mean. Imagine the great Venn diagrams that could balloon from that statement! “Seeing” is of course meant in several ways that do and do not pertain to vision, ways that are both obvious and eventually contradictory to the point of zero sum, very effectively demonstrating how ineffectual metaphoric (use and interchange of representational symbols) thought is--yet at the same time, metaphoric thought is fundamental, and is magnificently--well, fun. So that is also why it is the basis for the poetic, no? Poetry likes to be fun and we like it that way. So next in Berger we find the action term: “comes.” Hmm. Well. Let us now move on to some, um, modifiers. Then to the other ballast in this statement: “words.” My point is that once this seemingly simple statement is dislodged from its apparently conventional soundings, it becomes not only resonant but quite alien. It says many more things, mixing literal with figural pieces of implied meanings, things like, “Knowledge derived from vision or eyes (not ears) arrives prior to language.” And one could write volumes about the various ways this statement might mean anything. So, I’m conceptualizing poetic eco-systems, as it were. The visual, the auditory, and the poetic, do comprise a kind of system that can be conceptualized holistically, but only when the parts are understood to be so intimately intertwined that we cannot find adequate ways to separate them even to study with any definitive result, what they separately might be, or what they do alone. We may not want or need to do so. To do so might be overkill in the most literal sense of that term. These things are not discretely individuated--although we are taught from early-on to think of them that way because that is a useful way to negotiate learning about life and community. No, these things exist interdependently together in a kind of poetic ecological system, if you will. Language does that to and with things. So, that imagistic and philosophical kind of skeleton begins to sketch out where my interests are. Structure. and motion. Space and time. This is nothing new; it’s the same pie a la mode that most thinkers about poetry today are consuming and variously making use of, I suspect. And it’s happening in electronic poetic discourse more than anywhere else. I love print on paper. But I don’t know for how long it will last in the innovative climate fostered by electronic writing today. Print is more and more becoming archaic, unfortunately. There are some very good examples of electronic poetry working within something like an ecosystem that integrates modes of knowing (Berger’s “seeing”). You mention Brian Kim Stefans. I like his site(s) and vision. Along with that I will mention some others I find particularly compelling. I really like Alan Sondheim’s attitude: he’s continually tinkering and pushing poetic limits. The result is fun and often profound. And I really like what Jayne Fenton Keane does. Her emphasis on dramas of sound and image via her website, and in her poem writing, make good use of wildly combinant of lyric and then pieces of narrative with links to history and literature. This work holistically forms a kind of poetic ecosystem that will serve future readers who will be very adept at reading as an inter-activity, I think. Here is a clip from “Ophelia Becoming Moon”: 53,760 kilometres of apostrophes in her eyes. Mean velocity of abandonment. His eyes an exclamation mark of bird. Sharp, volatile edges of calling. She has a rendezvous with subtraction. Her madness, his madness.--Jane Fenton Keane, Ophelia Becoming Moon, Post Press Well, HD and Laura Riding would have loved to be able to do what JFK does here, with words, but also with words in space and time, her visuals and sounds that do invite a physical poetic response. It’s quite unnerving in its drama to be, and comprehensive yet its work is never complete. I do not mean to say parts forming a predictable, resolvable whole. By holistic I mean integratively open as a sign system and as motion, ongoing, though not emptily repetitive. It is just not possible to get to the same sense of holistic poetic in other venues, means, modes. Or if possible it takes a lot of unlayering of inhibited imagination--think of what it would take to do so in the privacy of reading a book, where physical interaction is severely repressed; one would need a stage, actors, or film or video, and orchestras instruments, producers, & etc. Yet here in one web presence it’s all there. What a reader does with that is another matter--dance anyone? But what I mean to point out is that the imagination seems, I think, a little more free in such use as Fenton Kean makes of poetics. Others to watch who work interestingly with sound/visual poetics but not only as web or web+text+image materials are Sawako Nakayasu with her collaborative performance work through Factorial dot org; Lanny Quarles with vast historical knowledge applied to thinking about and commenting on what I read as an integrative art of theory / theory of art(s); and Chris Sullivan working with basic textures, the materials and apparent discards of everyday life and place, in what he has termed “Language Photography.” They each have a great respect for traditions, yet are breaking our old used-up words and ways with words, out of the binds of semiotic-linguistic limits, finally and appropriately for this moment, and yet in socially aware and committed ways. Very admirable, in my estimation. A difficult and long overdue task of overhauling, thus expanding poetics via aesthetics and socially minded “... ideas... in things” (to cap it off with WC Williams). That only begins to unlayer the surface of multiple, integrated, forward-looking approaches to poetry/poetics today, though. And this has not addressed any of the intricacies of what is called “the poem.” In that regard, I will say one thing: in my opinion, the poem, not the writer, comes first and always should. My opinions on poems by particular poets vary, but I can say that the course I will start teaching this week at UTA, a seminar in poetry writing, is built off of a list of books by poets I find interesting in differing ways. For the sake of expediency, I here list poets names, but it is particular qualities of their work that I find compelling. This past year I find that I keep returning with renewed curiosity to the work of a few: Robert Creeley, Dale Smith, Hoa Nguyen, kari edwards, Chris Daniels, Kent Johnson, Stephanie Young, Stephen Vincent, Eileen Tabios, Mark Weiss, Brian Clements, Jordan Davis, Anny Ballardini, Guillermo Parra, Jill Jones, Patrick Herron. Added more recently to my list of faves are Hannah Craig, Clayton Couch, and Harry K. Stammer. And there are many others I also enjoy reading. Each on list list is very different in their own way, yet all doing things that continually interest my readerly senses. Ben: You mentioned that you raised your children while getting your degree. This issue of balancing family with academic and creative callings is very interesting for me, not least because I am in a similar situation. Mina Loy said that she wrote her best poetry with three children screaming behind her in a boiler room. I think that there is a certain amount of sense in that (I find the noise and odd insights from my three year old can get me writing), but there are responsibilities with kids and one can easily wear out and lose ones nerve with writing (Loy ended up leaving her kids in Italy when she went to New York). How have your children affected your writing and academic choices? Chris: I have to qualify this answer, Ben, by first explaining that I do not discuss my children much on line or in my work, or at least not without their prior knowledge. They do not like to feel objectified in the way that is necessary for expository language-use to describe who they are and what they do or have done in their lives with me. I respect that and refrain from details and from objectifying them. I will say they are my favorite joy in life; I have written with and around them all their lives; they are my first and best audience. They are my companions in life. It is good in life, I think, to struggle to find ways (again, this term:) to integrate what are potentially contradictory influences and elements, than to adopt a course that would segregate (correlations to the history of the U.S. south also intended here), compartmentalize (thinking here of Bachelard), abandon, separate, resist, or enflame (correlation to the usage in terms of web-based communication) them, which are all actions that lead to painful loss and often, irretrieval. Better, at least initially, to aim for integrating. I see the Loy description above as a situation where integration of differing elements could not be effected. I am lucky in that I have had enough stamina to complete my professional goals and desires even though my other responsibilities to persons loved have been a little unusual. Humans are actually very amazing and resilient--they can accommodate a lot of change and integration, perhaps easier than the alternatives leading to painful loss listed above. Though I should also say perhaps it was the best way for all concerned that Loy did not stay with her children--they may have been better off without her, much as I admire her poetry--though again, the loss must have been painful for all on some level that might have been avoided with a different way of conceptualizing the situation. I do not know, except, again, from my subjectively formed sense of it. Ben, thank you very much for this opportunity to think in writing about poetry. Best of luck to you in everything, especially in your fascinating blogging (did I mention how much I like your blog?--it’s way cool!), and in future interviewing endeavors --Chris Murray (19 January 2004--Martin Luther King Day--Dallas, Texas, U.S.)--


This Week on Luminations:

An Interview with Chris Murray of Texfiles

Ben: Thank you, Chris, for agreeing to be interviewed on Luminations. To start off, I'd simply like to ask you to tell me (and everyone reading) about yourself. Although a well-worn adage, I'm curious about what you choose to include in your brief bio and what direction that will take us in this interview. Chris: I teach writing and theories about literacy and culture, in the English Department at University of Texas, Arlington: courses in rhetoric/composition, literature, and creative writing. I’ve been teaching college level writing for eleven years. Here, I’m also Director of the Writing Center, which is a very busy place at UTA, because this is a big campus. Through the Writing Center I employ and keep 25 or so fine tutors trained and busy, one grad student for an assistant, and one or two lab tech sys-admins for the Writing Center computer lab. We see about 9,000 students per school year over their writing--of all kinds of course work--and also maintain our own computer lab. It’s quite a little hive, actually, so between it, the teaching (one course per semester), and a homelife as a single parent, I stay kinda busy. As for my views on writing, basically I am fascinated by all kinds and aspects of literacy, reading, writing, art, and cultural interchanges with the political, both present and past. That is not unusual, of course, just the way thinking evolves when studying eclectically with a focus on what happens with the literary as literacy, a cultural and historical phenomenon. My PhD areas fall under the umbrella of a study area called history of rhetoric--a broad scholastic-disciplinary region where all kinds of basically hard-to- categorize stuff is packed in so that universities can still make a buck off student needs and interests (although universities hardly profit at all... but that’s another matter. Creative writing is one area easily housed under history of rhetoric, as well as are other less readily innovative, or more traditional, genres such as rhet/comp. I also teach literature courses, and lately my most fulfilling area there is American studies. I guess I either am spread too thin or just nicely eclectic. I am fortunate either way, as I see it, since I do have work I like and I am able to give something back to community through my work. I’m pretty simple about it that way. I worked in service jobs much of my life before returning to college, and I much prefer this work to serving coffee. Most days, anyway! But I guess that must be why I paid all that money in student loans so I could reach a certain level of competency and acquire professional degrees in literary areas of knowledge so I could serve something a little more substantial than coffee. In creative writing and other areas, I teach courses, sponsor or assist with student groups and activities. Mostly I teach upper level courses right now, eg., advanced expository writing, or history of American literature. In the spring, an advanced creative writing-poetry-seminar. If I had a tenured position where I felt more secure or assured of a job (as many academics do have), I think I would devote my teaching more to entry level courses so to focus on the teaching of writing as a way of knowing--via literacy studies-- courses like freshman composition and intro to lit or creative writing. That’s where a decent teacher can still come out feeling like the work was worth it both for teacher and student. That is not to say it doesn’t happen in other levels of teaching, it’s just a little more necessary and yet less stocked with experienced teachers, so perhaps more vital. On the other hand, universities tend to overload those who teach such courses, because those are harder or more time-consuming courses to teach and few with tenure prefer to teach them, so in effect it can be a lot more work for what then amounts to less pay. As for my devotion to poetry, which is a primary motivator for me, I came to understand how central is poetry to western literacy only after discovering how poetry influences so many other ways that reading and writing can be thought about or conceptualized in relation to community. Although in education I range through many interrelated areas of literacy and literary study, I am and have always been a poetry writer first--been writing since I was 14 or so, published a little at 18-19, then stopped sending things out until fairly recently. When at college I determined that I also like to think about literary matters in meta ways, as well via traversals of multiple genres, then a wide sweep on rhetorical studies seemed the best available category of study for me. But if I had to claim a favorite of only one, it would be poetry--the reading, writing, singing, playing, drawing, dancing, painting, darning, weaving, funning, living, composing in all ways, and then the studying of, poetry. It has a special position of influence in every culture; it’s also the master genre of the western history of rhetoric, the genre (along with drama) from which all others evolved. Those are reasons for its significance in relation to tradition, history, and community. For individuals, poetry is significant because it is of breath, and breadth of music, of rhythm and melody of vocalizing--very much a material development, then. Voice is not expressionistic, it is dynamic, interrelational instrumentation (thus not instrument or strictly tool, either). Instrumentation, as in voice as dialogic and in concert with others, symphonic, choral, musical in the literal and then in the more widely disseminating symbolic senses. It is the one source and route that can be taken personally so to attend and to commit community as an action, to be tapping into thus maintaining tradition, to be a part of the on-going, everyday aspects of life in art, art in life--all very fluid matters and concepts. Nothing to do with taxonomies right now. And even machine generated poetry has its interrelations, spontaneous grammars and syntaxes, its music. We have not yet made the categories that could adequately be used for this wondrous thing, poetry, though yeah, sure, we try, and adjust, and fine tune, and lose pitch, and carry on, trying to find or create adequate categories. That’s part of it all too. So that’s my answer about myself: just trying to be a part of something fluid, * quick * musical, and wondrous as in: *quickening.* Ben: I have this faint memory of you writing somewhere that you are not Texan, but have been in the Lone Star state for around 10 years, is that right? I am actually not Texan by the strict standards Texans tend to apply ( I was born in Tulsa, but my vote still goes to Harris County); however, having spent the first 11 years of my life there, the longest I've ever lived in any one place, I have an odd connection to the place. For example, I recall crying and feeling homesick after watching Lone Star in a Piccadilly theater many years after I'd even visited. Could you tell me about your relationship with Texas? Chris: My relationship with/ to Texas as a place is that I am often ambivalent about it, mostly due to environmental hazards like severely neglected civic problems such as air pollution in a community mindset full of excessive reliance on and ignorance about motor vehicles, and what I perceive as negatively different from other places I have lived, such as New York (upstate, Rochester), Arizona (Grand Canyon, Flagstaff, Sedona-Verde Valley, Navajo Reservation-Tsaile), and California (long time ago!--Death Valley, Long Beach, Napa Valley), in terms of ideologically driven civic management. But given a choice, I would not live in New York again, either, for some of the same reasons. In short, Texas is a top-down kind of place, ideologically, that in governing seems very bullying to me--the public schools are one big example I may one day write a novel about through the voices of my 3 children. And all this is true of my experiences here, let alone that politically this region’s oil henchmen have now taken over the rest of the country. It’s such a cliche! And I don’t like it. My vote in the last prez election?--how could it have counted? But I will add with some sense of relief that Texas has almost nothing to do with my writing and other life and/or professional interests. I am from New York and Arizona. I came to Texas because that’s where the work was--I’m nomadic academic at this point: 16 years of wandering and lucky to have been able to do so--another long story, raising children while getting successive degrees to be able to support them. On the whole, it was the best opportunity that occured when I had need for opportunity. I wrote well before I did all this, and I still write well (um, well, when I pay attention, that is!). If I were ever to try to write about or from a focus on place, it would only be Texas if I were here at the time and if the events in my life seemed over-drawn in my Texas account, if you kno what I mean: if there were too many “Don’t Mess With Texas” signs on my taxpayer funded freeway. Not that people should litter, just that an mere conceptual sense of region, or an instutional state apparatus, such as what is called Texas, should be a little less bullying about addressing the warm beings who created it lock stock & etc. Look at New Mexico, which borders Texas on one side, so you end up going across the state line, for instance, and find road signs that say “Please” on any given issue. I prefer that sensibility. I’m kind of old fashioned that way.