Thursday, April 28, 2016

Summer Reading

Read this link to the MoMA exhibition catalogue for Ecstatic Alphabets: Heaps of Language.

Study it closely and be prepared for an online examination to take place sometime in the calendar year of 2020. You have plenty of time to study.

My Idiot Friend

My sworn frenemy, Mick Williams, wrote this hate poem to me and sent it to my inbox, where he knew that I would find it. People like him think they can write disjunctive poetry just by turning on the spigot. How wrong!  Then he writes me back and tells me to read down the first letter of each line. This does not redeem the awfulness of this poem, especially since he forgot the line beginning in "R". What an idiot!

Society Axe
Timber Image
Onto Others
Pleasing Myself
Wedding Plants
Red Sutures
Ignorant Fool
Touchy Subject
Interior Ripe
Notice Stung
Garage Sails
Period Stains
Eye Soar
Title Town
Yearly Dues
Organ Grinder
Race Baiting
Curtain Balls
Absurd Departure
System Wide
Eager Fools
Young Framing
Western Pies
Inside Lanes
Losing Patients
Learning Portal
Kids Drooling
Inept Colleague
Large Details 
Little Death
Your Mother

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Upload Documents in Blog Folder Titled "Final Projects"

Please remember to upload your final projects into the shared folder on this blog: look down a little and to the right. There it is. 

Everything is due NO LATER THAN FRIDAY, APRIL 29, at 5 pm.

Send me an email message if you have questions, problems, concerns, etc. Thanks.

And so the semester ends....

... and so we go back to the beginning, to Aristotle, arguably the first literary theorist. He had an expansive idea of what poetry was. From his Poetics:

Speaking generally, poetry seems to owe its origin to two particular causes, both natural. From childhood men have an instinct for representation, and in this respect, differs from the other animals that he is far more imitative and learns his first lessons by representing things. And then there is the enjoyment people always get from representations. What happens in actual experience proves this, for we enjoy looking at accurate likenesses of things which are themselves painful to see, obscene beasts, for instance, and corpses. The reason is this: Learning things gives great pleasure not only to philosophers but also in the same way to all other men, though they share this pleasure only to a small degree. The reason why we enjoy seeing likenesses is that, as we look, we learn and infer what each is, for instance, "that is so and so." If we have never happened to see the original, our pleasure is not due to the representation as such but to the technique or the color or some other such cause.

We have, then, a natural instinct for representation and for tune and rhythm—for the metres are obviously sections of rhythms—and starting with these instincts men very gradually developed them until they produced poetry out of their improvisations. Poetry then split into two kinds according to the poet's nature. For the more serious poets represented fine doings and the doings of fine men, while those of a less exalted nature represented the actions of inferior men, at first writing satire just as the others at first wrote hymns and eulogies.  [1448b]

I really like the idea of inferiority-based poetics. That's my kind of game. The work that we've been studying/examining/ critiquing all semester thinks of language as a contested space, not a neutral signifier of denotative reference. I think that once we start to understand language in this way, it's fair and just to call any work that foregrounds this contestation "poetic". This doesn't discount other usages of the word, but I think it's important that we dissociate the chain that connects poetry to poetic. One way of doing this is to reclaim the word "poetry" from its narrow academic sense. I hope that this seminar has exposed you (students) to a broader sense of possibility for "language in action," "textured language," "sculptural language," and on and on. 

Read an excerpt from David Antin's reflections on what it means to be avant-garde. He looks a little bit like depictions of Aristotle

Lastly, I'll leave you with these words from Russian Formalist critic, Viktor Shklovsky:  "The technique of art is to make objects unfamiliar, to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged."

I very much enjoyed leading this seminar, thank you. 

Remember to call on me if I can be of help to you in your future endeavors. Maybe it's something easy like a recommendation letter, maybe something else. Let me know. Because employment is uncertain, you can always reach me at

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Penultimate Seminar

This is how I feel now that our seminar is almost over. Every Thursday afternoon this semester I presented and discussed innovative practices at the intersections of language and art. We also carried out our own experiments.... And now it's almost over. Crying buckets.

Remember for next week, our final session:

Have your project ready to present. It could be in the form of a video, website, computer game, straight text, images, sounds, etc. You might have to read/present an excerpt if its duration is longer than ten minutes.

Crucially, don't forget the one-page single-spaced text/essay that situates your project amongst the kinds of art/language we've explored this semester. How does your work fit (or not fit) in historical and theoretical terms with the movements we've studied? Be sure to revise and edit this document carefully. Details matter.

All work: your two short essays (still some of these have not been submitted), and your final project + supporting document are due next Thursday, April 28, at the start of class. This deadline has been extended to Friday, April 29, at 5 pm.

If anyone would like to consult with me at any stage, send me an email message at     

The Truth of Poetry: Abbreviated Haul Video

Can you handle the 52 minute scholar's version?

If you can't, try the 7 minute abbreviated version.

Password: poetry

Good luck. You have been warned. 

MockingPencil Part 1

Even though it's only 34 minutes long, it feels like hours:

The Truth of Poetry, MockingPencil Part 1

Password: TOPNYC

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Ou Li Po

On the left is a picture of perhaps the most famous and most fun Oulipian writer, Georges Perec. He was indeed a puzzle.

Take some time in the next week to peruse some of the work on these sites.
Hundred Thousand Billion Poems
Some Oulipian Exercises
Drunken Boat Oulipo Feature


It's time to really start thinking about your final project, which is due on the final day of class, April 28. The door is pretty open; I want to assiduously avoid a prescriptive prompt. It should have something to do with language that is seen, spoken, heard, felt, smelled, tasted, or experienced through one of the other unknown senses. You will "activate" your project on the 28th. (If it's really long, you'll have to use an excerpt.)

So... there's the project itself, and then there's the supporting text. This will be a single-spaced one-page essay (shoot for around 300-400 words) that situates your project in the context of the history and theory of some of the work we've been exploring all semester. Revise, edit, and proofread this document with care. 

Both the project itself and this supplementary paper are due at the same time. Because grades need to be turned in right away, no extensions will be granted.

Questions, as always:

Ad Hoc Class Project for the Corcoran Literary Festival!

Class Project(s): to be determined by members of the seminar.
What might it be: to be determined by members of the seminar.
What must it be: something related to or associated to ideas discussed and explored in this class.
In other words: language liberated by the strait-jackets of convention and generic expectations. Instead of "regular alphabetic text", think in terms of: image-based, intermedia, video, satire, collage, culture-jam/hack, sound, performance, web site, participatory event, etc. I'm thinking that in terms of the reading on the 13th, the piece shouldn't have a duration longer than about ten minutes.

For about twenty minutes, I want you to brainstorm ideas in groups of three. Somebody should be the secretary or recorder. Copy down all ideas, especially the ones that seem totally unworkable. When we reconvene, we'll hear all the ideas and choose one or more. The rest of the class period will be devoted to executing our plan(s). 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Extension for Second Essay

I've decided to grant an extension to the entire class for the second short essay. It is now due no later than Monday, March 28, at noon. Papers submitted after that date will be penalized. Write to me at if you have questions.

Upload your paper to the shared folder on the class blog

What is Conceptual Poetry?

On the left is an illustration of Kenneth Goldsmith that accompanies the October, 2015 New Yorker essay, "Something Borrowed"  about conceptual poetry. Read this essay before coming to class next week. 

Also read the Anthology of Conceptual Writing on Ubuweb. Choose one of the 36 entries, write a paragraph about it, and be prepared to speak briefly in class next week about it.