Bernar Venet and the History of Conceptual Poetry

weatherIn writing about Language to Cover a Page: The Early Writings of Vito Acconci (2006), edited by Craig Dworkin, Marjorie Perloff remarks on how much Acconci’s writing practice foreshadowed the so-called “uncreative writing” of Kenneth Goldsmith and other contemporary conceptualists:

How uncanny [. . .] that thirty-five years before Goldsmith produced his book The Weather (Los Angeles: Make Now Press, 2005), a transcription of a year’s worth (December 21, 2002-December 20, 2003) of hourly weather bulletins on WINS (1010), New York’s all-news radio station, Acconci should have produced a numbered text called “Act 3, Scene 4,” that begins like this:

1. The sun rises today, Thursday, December 26, 1968.
2. At 7:18 A.M., sets at 4:34 P.M., and will rise
3. tomorrow at 7:18 A.M. The moon sets today at 11:49
4. rises at 12:10 P.M. tomorrow and will set tomorrow
5. at 12:38 A.M. Warmer weather and clear to cloudy skies
6. will cover most of the eastern portion of the nation
7. today while snow is expected to fall on the western
8. lake region, the Northern Plains States, and from
9. the upper Mississippi Valley to the plateau region.

And it goes on in this vein for another ten pages…

Perloff goes on to say that Language to Cover a Page “provides the missing link between the first forays into a non-representational, non-expressivist poetics and its current incarnations.”

Yet Acconci wasn’t the only conceptual writer in the 1960s who appropriated weather reports. Bernar Venet, who is most well-known and celebrated as a sculptor, has done similar works.  Continue reading

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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

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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”

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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)

Travis Macdonald’s Conceptual Triple Threat

Travis Macdonald (of Fact-Simile Editions) has impressively dropped three new chapbooks this spring.  All of them are great examples of what Kenneth Goldsmith might call “uncreative writing,” and two of them, BAR/koans (Erg Arts, 2011) and Sight and Sigh (Beard of Bees Press, 2011), are available as free PDFs.  Hoop Cores (The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2011) is available for £5.00.  Check them out!

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Hoop Cores continues Macdonald’s play with prophecy (his latest full-length book N7ostradamus  subjects the seer’s quatrains to N+7, the famous Oulipian procedure) as he anagrammatically “translates” extremely conventional horoscopes by astrologer Jacqueline Bigar into lexically lurid and ludicrous texts (“Hoop Cores” is, of course, an anagram of “Horoscope”).  The chapbook itself (pictured above) is much wider than it is long (at 8″  x 3 3/4″) and opens up, quite neatly, like a check book.   Here is Gemini:

Yo-ho–Amputate your non-equality catcalls. Shhh! Recant your prudishly obscured pig beauty. Good. Eunuchise your psychopathic sainthood’s spluttering heat rash erections. OK. Now eloquently avenge that sensitive lechery. Continue reading

WTF is The Source? WTF is Conceptual Writing? WTF do I do with The Source?

The Source by Noah Eli Gordon, 144 Pages, 6 X 8, $16.00

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WTF is The Source?

The Source celebrates both prostitution and the life of letters. It is a touch sadomasochistic because it suffers a sense of its own belatedness, hates fussing with nature, and would like the world to be all weeds. Some think it the forerunner of what may be the international style of the coming decade, because it is secretive but hides nothing, requires an all-inclusive symbolism to determine its interpretations, while paying little attention to the complexity of mixed reverie and memory.

Continue reading

The Unpublishables

Here’s a link to Publishing The Unpublishablean incredible project that’s “edited” (although I would call it curated) by Kenneth Goldsmith. Goldsmith writes:

What constitutes an unpublishable work? It could be many things: too long, too experimental, too dull; too exciting; it could be a work of juvenilia or a style you’ve long since discarded; it could be a work that falls far outside the range of what you’re best known for; it could be a guilty pleasure or it could simply be that the world judges it to be awful, but you think is quite good. We’ve all got a folder full of things that would otherwise never see the light of day. 

Invited authors were invited to ponder to that question. The works found here are their responses, ranging from an 1018-page manuscript (unpublishable due to its length) to a volume of romantic high school poems written by a now-respected innovative poet. You get the idea. 

The web is a perfect place to test the limits of unpublishability. With no printing, design or distribution costs, we are free to explore that which would never have been feasible, economically and aesthetically. While this exercise began as an exploration and provocation, the resultant texts are unusually rich; what we once considered to be our trash may, after all, turn out to be our greatest treasure. 

The series will conclude when the 100th manuscript is published. 

Please note that the series is by invitation only. 

Continue reading