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On a Poetics of Choice

I have never seen a theory of poetry that adequately included a sub-theory of choice.

–Ron Silliman, from The Chinese Notebook


It’s not about inventing anything new; it’s about finding things that exist and reframing them and representing them as original texts. The choice of what you’re presenting is more interesting than the thing that you’re presenting.

–Kenneth Goldsmith, from “‘Against Expression’: Kenneth Goldsmith in Conversation”


I used a rhyming dictionary, but it only gives you options. The job of the poet is to say ‘This one, I guess.’

–Milhouse Van Houten, on his love lyric to Lisa Simpson, “Homer Scissorhands” (#22.20)

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Michael Leong is the author of the poetry books e.s.p., Cutting Time with a Knife, Who Unfolded My Origami Brain?, and Words on Edge. His creative work has been anthologized in THE &NOW AWARDS 2: The Best Innovative Writing, Best American Experimental Writing 2018, and Bettering American Poetry, Volume 3. His co-translation, with Ignacio Infante, of Vicente Huidobro’s long poem Sky-Quake: Tremor of Heaven is forthcoming from co•im•press in late 2019. His critical monograph Contested Records: The Turn to Documents in Contemporary North American Poetry is forthcoming from the University of Iowa Press in May 2020. He has received grants from the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses and the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches in the School of Critical Studies at CalArts.

3 thoughts on “On a Poetics of Choice

  1. Interesting. On this one, I’m most with Goldsmith, the notion of the arts as reframing what’s already in our ken, recasting it in a new shape. Even the the most cutting edge leaves a scar we sooner or later must recognize.

    1. John- Scar: leaves, has, both?

      I like the focus this puts on choice & how choice meets perspective w/ writing as a series of shifts in ways of seeing.

  2. I, too, like the idea of appropriating text and recasting it into new shapes though that might be too “interventionalist” for Goldsmith — he’s more interested in just the reframing and nothing more.

    I like your cutting edge/scar formulation, John — mainstream cultural production as scar tissue…

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