Where are we going with narrative? Part 1

Conceptual poetry/literature takes many shapes and forms.  Lately, the big, radical statement seems to encompass lifting words/text from primary sources (newspapers, novels, sidewalk advertisements, etc. ) and re-imagining/restructuring/shuffling them to create new art.  (See conceptual writing.)

Again, this is a form of sampling, which—as I have already noted—is virtually de rigueur in the wild world of hip hop.  It’s been practiced, of course, in fine art as well, for decades (i.e. Warhol). Now that narrative tricks like meta-fiction, stream of consciousness and rotating points of view have all been depleted and overused, there’s nowhere else to go for the enterprising young (or old, in my case) writer/scribbler/appropriator/artist/mad scientist.

What I propose is a radical hybridization to blur the lines between narrative/prose/verse and the visual arts, thus creating a completely new form/genre of art.  One idea: long poetry novels/narratives filled with pattern/concrete poetry and graphics.  We have seen this in a very limited scope so far—with concrete poetry of the 1950s, and the more recent short visual poetry pieces (last vispo).

Visual poetry and conceptual writing, in general, have pushed the envelope, and innovated far beyond what most of us thought was possible.  But I think we need to be more radical in our approach.  Why not, for instance, a thousand page vispo/pattern piece narrating the history of European anarchism (seemingly prosaic and sectarian, I admit, but pregnant with possibility)?  Some might say this idea is closer to the graphic novel (comics) genre—but there’s hardly any poetic lyricism, for instance, in Alan Moore or those of his ilk.   This is not to say that that genre is without merit, but only that it is not poetry per se.  Perhaps, someone could argue it is, in fact, poetry, though that seems a reach to me.

I’ll try to flesh out my ideas in upcoming posts. I’m still formulating what I think might be a radically new artistic genre.

Killing Literature

The computer will not kill the book, but liberate it. By relieving the book of its lexical responsibility, the computer will do for the book what photography did for painting two centuries ago; allow it to become a self-reflexive discipline, an investigation of medium and format and content and history whose resonance deepens and complectifies, spawning experiments and arguments, contradictions and unanticipated pathways to entirely new artistic possibilities.–Peter Frank from The Last Vispo


For a few decades, I have asked myself, over and over, like a daffy automaton: where the hell is literature/writing going?  Where are the innovations?  Was modernism, with a capital M, the last gasp of innovation?

Of course, the so-called mainstream–and my friends–were quick to disabuse me of the notion that “literature is dead.”  But wherever I looked, I didn’t see much innovation going on. Indeed, whatever could be done with narrative ( the potentiality of narrative, so to speak) had happened a very long time ago.  Joyce basically killed traditional literature with Ulysses, but a lot of folks can’t see it. The same thing happened to poetry with the advent of free verse and the L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets. And I totally understand.  Who wants to admit you’ve hit a proverbial dead-end, and  that, heaven forbid, ART IS DEAD? It’s damn depressing.

We’ve been scrambling ever since to prop up the corpses of prose and verse (literature), but to no avail. The traditional word-on-the-page narrative looks, well, so antiquated compared to the new vibrant electronic technologies that are developing now. 

And that’s why, I think, the quote above by Peter Frank makes so much sense. Let’s admit, finally, that traditional word-on-the-page narrative has been pushed to its logical end, and that we must find other ways to resurrect it. Or, even, destroy it!  It may be a different art form altogether.  It may not resemble what we have come to accept and recognize as “literature.”

Whatever the outcome, I, too, believe the computer is the key to our dilemma.  It offers us so much. It points the way forward.  It’s a tool we can use to innovate.  And that can’t be bad.

Appropriation, or Stealing Stuff

When I think of “appropriation” the first person I think of is Kanye West. Regardless of what you think about the man’s music, or his chops, he’s a master of appropriation.  I’m not even sure he’s familiar with some of the music he’s sampling. But let’s forego such bourgeois sentimentality for a moment, and call it what it is– stealing. And, that’s okay. I know it’s been drummed into our heads that stealing is wrong.  Yet, we all steal stuff, if we are honest with ourselves.

Literary innovations, such as they are, are mainly a series of very covert appropriations over time. In this milieu, no one will admit to stealing an idea, or technique.  In the hip-hop milieu, it’s the exact opposite. It’s pretty much okay to steal stuff. It’s even encouraged. That attitude, luckily, is now making its way into the rarefied halls/sectors of the “Arts.” The conceptual poet and literary showman, Kenneth Goldsmith, has made a livelihood advocating for poetic appropriation.  He’s gotten tons of push-back from defenders of the status quo, as you might imagine.

Yet with the advent of the Web, and the appropriation of language the Web promotes, there’s no going back to the so-called halcyon days.  Like it or not, stealing stuff is the new normal. We need to get used to it.

For starters…

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

This “blog” is basically a dumping ground for my thoughts. Pure narcissism. Like the rest of the Web.  Spitting in the wind, so to speak.

This won’t be a place where I’m too self-indulgent–that’s basically reserved for my visual/concrete poetry. But once in a while, I guess, I’ll get abstruse and abstract.

Mostly, I’ll be commenting on stuff I’m reading, and how that affects what I’m trying to do with my work.

I’m not a poet.  I’m an anti-poet. There are so many self-described “poets” out on the inter-tubes. I really don’t see the point of adding to the great mountain of artistes.

Really, I’m just an amateur trying to get off on the creative process. We all have that urge.