Anselm Hollo
from Caws & Causeries


Some Aereated Prose for a Panel on "Experimental Writing"

Anne Waldman: How do you go about constructing & conducting writing "experiments" (is there a point of reference)? Are there philosophical considerations?

Anselm Hollo: In an experimental culture,
based on the experimental,
secular, sociopolitical ideas
proposed by the French Revolution —
ideas which evolved
into the two dominant systems of this century:
one, socialism, two, capitalist democracy
all art works
are bound to reflect that larger experimentalism,
by reactions ranging
from the participatory or complicitous
to the critical or rebellious.
Artists or not,
we are surrounded by those points of reference.
When the medium of the art is language,
as it is in writing,
we are also obliged to know
(in the sense of being aware of)
everything (or just about)
that language has been used for
in the past, in other cultures and civilizations.
This awareness may be employed
to decant contemporary subject matter
into old bottles (our "New Formalists,"
our "Cowboy and Cowgirl Poets")
—and who is to say that they
do not see their works as "experiments"?—
or it may lead to
the construction of new kinds of vehicles
or, simply, a new kind of nerve.

AW: Do you utilize experiments for the sheer technique?

AH: The short answer to this question is "No."
Since pedagogues at all levels
from grade school to Ph.D, programs
as well as your average book reviewers
still tend to classify all poetry
not written in textbook (or "old bottle") structures
as "experimental"
my own work has had that label tacked onto it.
As far as technique goes
I write things I'd like to read
and even read again. Years ago
a very bright younger student-poet
expressed surprise
tinged with some moral disapproval
at his discovery that almost none of my works
bore any classifiable textbook similarity to each other.
They came in bottles of all kinds of weird shapes & sizes.
The methods I use to make my poems
are various. I write lines,
I edit, I cut and paste, I rearrange;
I have incorporated into my writing
found / appropriated,
rearranged, otherwise altered, or re-contextualized
written material;
I try my best to get out from under
the ever-threatening Specters of the Obvious,
the Programmatic,
the Humorless,
the This-Will-Make-Me-Cringl'-a I) ,t';ld ·-from-Now,
so that if there is any 'sheer tCl'llniqu(" ill my stuff
it's just survival technique,
get-it-out-there technique.
(Which is not say
those Specters haven't
caught up with me time & ag,lin
to drool and stomp on my Sclf-I'~SlCCIIl.)

AW: Are there concerns for "accessibility "? Should "methods" be known and

AH: Some books
(and, yes, I am biased in favor of books)
some books are transparent ice cubes of amusing narrative
in what the French call the invisible style
and they can be terrific, like radio,
with the pictures much better than those on Tv.
Some books are high-density constructs, thus more opaque,
and they, too, can be terrific, like Ulysses
or Lunar Baedeker
or unbelievably boring, like certain religious texts.
Those, I think, are the edges,
and most books exist somewhere inbetween.
I have always found the term "accessibility"
a little condescending: condescending both
to the book, and to its potential reader.
We now have "access" to more books
than any previous civilization.
We have more potential readers, too.
I trust readers
to become aware of the methods
they need to employ
to read what they find
and to have the desire to go on reading.

AW: Is there a ''politics'' of experimental writing?

AH: Historically, in this century,
"experimental" writing
has been associated with anti-authoritarian ideas.
In recent decades,
this anti-authoritarianism
has expressed itself in a rebellion against
the supreme authority of our civilization,
i.e ., Corporate
increasingly non-democratic
and its built-in tendency
to turn each and every product
of the human brain
(or should I say
every product of a collaboration
between the human brain and the universe)
in to a commodity.
In every realm of art,
the United States
(not the late Soviet Union!)
has created the best art for the masses
that is,
the most commercially successful product for the masses -
the "masses" to be understood, here,
as masses of consumers.
It has also created a considerable amount of art
for an elite, or elites,
not necessarily defined by their wealth (which is power),
but by their high levels of
curiosity, eccentricity, and jadedness
-all of which I, personally, consider positive qualities.

Kerouac School summer session, 1 July 1996