Archives for posts with tag: conceptual writing

Four videos of my performance May 29, 2011 in Calgary’s Riley Park as part of the filling Station / Pooka Press Pub Crawl (as recorded by Helen Hajnoczky):

Ara Shirinyan’s Your Country is Great: Afghanistan – Guyana (Futurepoem books, 130 pp., $15.00) is a poetic engagement with travel writing and geopolitics, where every country from Afghanistan to Guyana (I assume there will be a second volume for the remaining countries) is defined solely through the flattened language of the internet.

Your Country is Great mines online citations of each country’s qualities and gathers them into mind-numbing scripts of unceasing inanities, “instead of accepting current notions of language as a medium of differentiation” Shirinyan “demonstrates its leveling quality, demolishing meaning into a puddle of platitudes.”

Your Country is Great is composed of 81 different poems, one per country, each of which is written solely through internet searches on “[country name] is great.” The results—with all the typographic and syntactic errors intact—are then simply arranged. Shirinyan’s only concession to the ‘poetic’ is enforcing line breaks.

Shirinyan empties the word “great” of all context and force, flattens it to the level of punctuation – suddenly every place on earth is “great”: “I don’t need no dude to say / that Barbados is great / for me to know that”, “”Belarus is great and amazing”, “”Brazil is great; amazing food, intelligent people”, “Canada is great!”, “Ecuador is great!: / ‘don’t be afraid.’” The platitudes are unceasing, but this communal writing also undermines itself.

The barrage of ‘greatness’ empties as the internet’s choir of voices offers such caveats to praise as “’living’ in Belgium is great, / although the deathmetal scene is / not that big over there” and “the need to reduce fat intake in Belgium / is great / and a thorough approach / is desirable.” The rhetoric of travel narratives, and even postcards home from wandering tourists (the mindless prattle of “Having a great time, wish you were here!”), are flattened into a sameness where every destination no matter how mundane is “great” simply because “The people are great, / a lot like us.”

Shirinyan’s Your Country is Great: Afghanistan – Guyana poeticizes the mundane, and makes the language of hyperbole tangible by emptying out its strength. This book is great.

Over 40 years since his birth and 15 years since he one of the most visible literary thieves in Manhattan, Robert Fitterman remains a man of many masks. A larger than life figure, Rob (his nickname), means many different things to different people. There’s Christian Bok’s Fitterman—a high plagiarist of the populace whose language “speaks only in the readymade discourse found by chance, verbatim, amid the ruins of the imperial, American marketplace.” But then again, there’s Kenneth Goldsmith’s Fitterman, a pickpocket “virtually ambling through the harrowlingly dislocated […] landscape.” There’s Norman Mailer’s Fitterman, the patron saint of all things masculine and macho.
Who, out of those writers, is right?
All of them are.
Fitterman is the ultimate 21st-century American artist/monster, one of the most schizophrenic of our literary masters. His biases shackle a great deal of his work to his time, but they are part of a total package intractable from the man himself.
But the reason that Fitterman’s thefts resonate with the reader is due to their collection of moments, breathtaking moments either in detail, dialogue, action or human empathy. In addition to the poetry, this kind of evocation is also reflected in his métier—the stolen story, where, with his soaring use of plainspoken diction and speech, Fitterman, along with Ernest Hemingway, Louis Zukofsky and all of the American Poet Laureates, kicks down the door that Mark Twain opened for the American demotic to come into our literature.
I’m not saying that Rob the Plagiarist is a classic, nor am I saying that it’s great or even very good. All that I am saying is that it’s a good collection that shouldn’t be totally thrown away.
The Fitterman sentence, the particular cultural trademark that established him in the world’s consciousness for so long, is here and it is as advertised. The beauty of Fitterman’s sentences didn’t come in any biblical/Shakespearean prose rhythms (Faulkner) or obsession for perfect lyrical beauty (Fitzgerald, although Fitterman is just as obsessed about writing, maybe more so). No, the poetry in Fitterman’s thievery lies in it’s succinctness, it’s clarity, it’s austerity, it’s lack of excess or pretense—and the way he lifts a product, a scene or a setting—also contributes to his greatness.
Whether the scenes takes place in suburban drive-thru coffee shops, or the beautiful landscapes of middle America, or the mini-mall at the exact tension-filled moment where the shopper and the mall-cop begin combat, one marvels on how he can say so much in such a small space, and do it in such a unique and beautifully American manner. His language in itself makes him indispensable, and its beauty is in abundance here.

OK, turn the clown off. This is who was in the White House. This is the, uh, this, this is what I’m giving you an example of what the Obamas have done to America ah culturally and socially. They bring a tenth-rate clown like this in who boasts about that he teaches his children how to, uh, his students, so to speak, at the once ex University of Pennsylvania. It’s become a cesspool, uh, what’s happened there. And talks about uncreative writing and how to plagiarize, you hear? Now, when you have a, uh, uh, plagiarist in the White House you would think having a plagiarist pretending to be a poet in the White House in a poetry event … what is this, like, Abbie Hoffman 2? I mean, this is what I’m talking about here, this is not poetry; this is the debasement of our culture. It’s part of the Marxist class warfare. This is what he does and this is what he does and this is how he does it. You say “what are you going on about?” All right, bring it on, I’m showing you who he had there. It wasn’t just the rapper, he has this putz there talking about teaching children, uh, you can’t write anything creative and original, you have to plagiarize everything you turn in. This is a teacher in a college. This is what’s going passing now for a college teacher. It goes back to Obama inviting a so-called college teacher who teaches children to te- to write uncreative writing, where you’re not allowed to write anything original you must plagiarize. It’s the same mentality. It’s the destruction of western civilization. In that sense Obama is acting in a rather s-schizophrenic manner to have a poetry event and invite someone who teaches children that that they must plagiarize. You follow where I’m coming from here?

Right. Yeah.

Alright, it’s a little too esoteric, I get it.

Seen of the Crime, my first collection of essays and criticism has just been announced by Montreal’s Snare Books for Fall 2011. Snare is one of the best emerging presses in Canada and every title they make is worth the price of admission…

The City of Calgary Announces Short List for W.O. Mitchell Book Prize

The City of Calgary, the Writers Guild of Alberta and Uptown 17 BRZ are pleased to announce the short list authors for The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize, one of 17 awards presented as part of The Calgary Awards.

The three finalists include Derek Beaulieu for How to Write(Talon Books), Weyman Chan for Hypoderm (Talon Books), and Clem Martini and Olivier Martini for Bitter Medicine (Freehand Books).

In How to Write,Derek Beaulieu writes an indexical, playful and innovative “how to” manual like no other. Derek is a Canadian poet, publisher and anthologist who studied contemporary Canadian poetics at the University of Calgary.

Hypoderm is Weyman Chan’s third collection of poems subtitled “notes to myself” which is a compilation of observations, intimations and recognitions of mortality. Weyman is a Calgary-born poet whose writings have appeared in many Alberta anthologies over the last two decades.

In Bitter Medicine, award-winning playwright Clem Martini chronicles his family’s 30-year struggle with schizophrenia that has plagued those closest to him – his brothers Ben and Olivier. The book is complemented by Olivier Martini’s childlike yet expressive drawings. Both Clem and Olivier reside in Calgary.

The City of Calgary established the W.O. Mitchell Book Prize in honour of the late Calgary writer W.O. Mitchell to recognize literary achievement by Calgary authors. The $5000 prize is awarded each year for an outstanding book published in the award year. The 2009 recipient was Gordon Pengilly for Metastasis and Other Plays.

The winner of The City of Calgary W.O. Mitchell Book Prize will be recognized at the Calgary Awards presentation on June 15, 2011. The Calgary Awards will be televised live on Shaw TV.

PennSound has just created an author page for me, featuring my reading at the Kelly Writers House March 31, 2011.

“Clearly we are beginning to get nowhere.”
—John Cage

On April 7, 2011 I sent The Bury Museum and Archives an empty box.

I purchased the box for $3.95 (£2.50) and received skeptical looks from the UPS employees when I requested to send the box—devoid of any content—to Bury.

UPS also instructed me that they would not ship an “empty box” and that they needed the contents of the box to fit within one of their predetermined categories. We agreed to enclose within the box a single sheet of blank A4 paper. With this content—as unwritten as it was—UPS could now categorize the contents of the box as “documents” and could continue to process the application for transportation.

Their consternation was compounded with my request to insure the box and its contents to a value of £25,000; the same amount as the yearly wage of an arts worker in the UK (before the current government’s arts funding cutbacks).

UPS, not unexpectedly, refused to insure the parcel for more than $2,500 (£1,500). They would not guarantee the safety of a box of “nothing” and refused to insure the safety of “artwork” (even an empty box) as it was shipped to the UK. For insurance of the amount I requested would have to seek a rider for an independent insurance provider.

I was then asked to complete a Parcel Shipping Order form that included check-boxes which inquired “Are the contents of the parcel breakable?” (Yes) and “Are the contents of the Parcel replaceable?” (No)

Upon my completion of the form, I was invoiced a shipping cost of $135.90 (£86.23) and the box was assigned a tracking number and a series of bar-codes and QR Codes to expedite the box of nothing as it cleared various processing centres and Canadian and British Customs.

These bar-codes and QR Codes are included in The Bury Museum and Archives’ exhibition The History of Tradestamps.

Tradestamps were the cotton industry’s hand printed labels used to indicate the contents of their shipping bundles in order to appeal to their (often illiterate) purchasers. The tradestamps “often depicted scenes, emblems, animals or figures” and the industry “employed hundreds of designers to create these trade marks as an early form of branding.”

The resultant bar-code is the symbol of nothing. In light of the current administration’s draconian cutbacks and their lack of willingness to insure the growth of social programs and the arts, to quote John Cage, “Nothing more than nothing may be said.”

Cork, Ireland’s The Enclave Review (ER) is a review sheet focusing on the visual arts but with additional texts relating to the greater sphere of contemporary art and thought. It has just archived its first 2 issues online, and has a PDF link to my article “It Quacks like a Duck: Conceptual Writing” here.

Steven Zultanski’s Pad (Los Angeles: Make Now Press, 2010) hilariously foregrounds the propensity of masculinist experimental writing.

Zultanski builds on the work of Georges Perec (in An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris in which he describes everything he observes from a café window over 3 days in October 1974), Tan Lin (in Bib in which he obsessively enumerates all of his reading materials and the length of time spent on each) and Daniel Spoerri (in An Anecdoted Topography of Chance in which he maps the histories of every item spread across his kitchen table).

Perec, Lin and Spoerri catalogue the random assemblages of the mundane, creating a level of significance simply through their application of choice. The resultant manuscripts are both socio-historical mappings of possessions, habits and behaviours and conceptual novels in which the authors abandon narrative intention in favour of compositional intention. The act of recording behavior and observation borders on the obsessive and yet frequently yields observations of strikingly tender quiet contemplative moments.

A frequent criticism of books of this style (and conceptualism as a whole) is that it is a male-dominated field, where author’s works are judged not by grace or subtlety but by muscular exertion and literary “heavy lifting.” Zultanski fully embraces the masculinist trope of conceptual “heavy lifting” and takes it to an absurd new extreme. In Pad Zultanski not only obsessively catalogues all of the items in his pad; he also lists the items according to whether or not he could life the items with his penis:

My dick cannot lift the small Holmes rotating fan sitting on the windowsill facing the bed. My dick cannot lift the windowsill. My dick cannot lift the bookcase filled with mostly unread books. My dick cannot lift the pile of mostly unread chapbooks sitting on top of the bookcase filled with mostly unread books. My dick can lift the cat postcard from Bob. My dick can lift the 2006 Turtle Point Press catalogue. My dick can lift the book A Little White Shadow by Mary Ruefle. (2-3)

Much as Kenneth Goldsmith’s colleagues pored over his Soliloquy in search of details on how they were discussed behind their backs, Pad includes an obsessively detailed list of all the books in Zultanski’s pad which he can lift with his dick. I imagine that Zultanski’s coterie will similarly search Pad in hope for evidence that their book was submitted to his phallic sorting. Zultaski’s reading list is catalogued by whether or not he could dislodge books from its shelf (and implicitly, from a canonical position) through the muscular force of his own phallocentrism. This canonicity uncannily echoes most libraries own retention criteria:

My dick can lift can lift the book The Maximus Poems by Charles Olson. My dick can lift the book Collected Poems by George Oppen. My dick can lift the book The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen by Wilfred Owen. My dick can lift the book Notes for Echo Lake by Michael Palmer. (120)

Zultanski gives overt voice to the masculine in Pad by literally associating everything he owns, everything he touches, with his penis. In Pad, the phallic is not implicit it is explicit. Everything in his apartment is included in Zultaski’s tome, and thus he (and his cock) lay claim to everything in his purview. Zultanski surveys his empire and all within it; his schlong becomes the embodiment of the male gaze, and all that it can touch it can own and define. Zultanski’s girlfriend’s possessions are treated to the same disturbing taxonomy:

My dick can lift the girlfriend’s green Gap t-shirt from the plastic bag of clothes. My dick can lift the girlfriend’s navy blue Suzy jeans from the plastic bag of clothes. My dick can lift the girlfriend’s red belt from the plastic bag of clothes. (34)

Interestingly, while Zultanski categorizes all of his possessions according to his own penile acrobatics, he avoids grammatically claiming his girlfriend as ‘his’, preferring the definite article ‘the’ – and while the text opens with Steve’s dick lifting all of “the girlfriend’s” clothing from a “plastic bag of clothes”, by the end of the book he declares

My dick can lift the plastic bag stuffed with the ex-girlfriend’s clothes. My dick cannot lift, all at once, the entire pile of the ex-girlfriend’s clothes. My dick can lift, one at a time, each article of the ex-girlfriend’s clothing (164)

Which suggests that while there is a great deal that Zultanski’s dick could lift, it “cannot lift the doorknob on the front door […] the front door lock […] the eyehole” and ultimately “still cannot lift the door” (165). The litany of products and items that Zultanski’s dick struggles to lift closes with a castrated moment, where Zultaski and his dick are left alone and his “dick cannot lift the floor.”

Zultanski, with Pad, is a phallic King Midas: all that he touches turns to dick.