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.