Poetic Architecture: A series of eleven quizzes with two unexpected pieces of correspondence

by Kent Johnson

(Andrew Felsinger's "answers" in red. Help him w/ these quizzes, send your own "answers" via email, and they may be displayed.)

Read a response by Joshua Schuster

[Warm-up question. It is not necessary to answer this one, only to think about it (in the sense of setting the mood) before tackling the Quizzes below.]

Is poetry ever distinct from architecture? Can it exist, in the most material sense, without it? Think of writing practices and their technologies: pens, paper, computers, printing presses, conferences, academic offices, the reading space, and so on. Again: Is poetry ever separate from architecture? One might protest: "But architecture is a form of poetry, really." In which case, if true, it does not cancel the fact that there is an "always/already" interthreading and macro-historical conflation of practices. What do you think?



Quiz #1

1) Can a poem have a blueprint?

The easy answer is: Every poem written can act as a blue print for every other poem. Even an easier answer would say, flatly, NO. But the spirit of the question begs for an affirming answer. I suggest that a poem can have a blue print & that we could draw one. It may look something like this:

improbable statement

inconsolable question

insertation of personal factum

made-up word (rhymes w/ kazoo)

syntactically tangled phrase (call)

syntactically tangled phrase (return)

absurd conglomeration of images

repeated statements of fact

rhetorical statement presencing an hitherto unpresenced utterence

water / darkness

obvious cliche that illuminates the *knowingness* of what had seemed like *thrown* text / or a *thrown* example of a cliche that shifts what had become *a thought* into the *light* of *thinking.*

Is the above rendition a "blue print"? Or just a cynical view of contemporary writing? Or, merely, a bad translation of someone else's work? Your work? Or is this not a "blue print," but a poem? How can we have a "blue print" of a poem, which then, is not, itself, a poem? Seems improbable; yet, the above does not seem to want to be a poem(?) Why not?

2) Does a door connect the "inside" and "outside"?

Yes, a door does. Just like in a house or an office. The major difference being that we feel claustrophobic upon entering the outside, and, just as importantly, bounding within the great indoors.

3) What kind of door should it be: swinging or sliding?

It swings out, like a door to a French window, or those used in Western American saloons-- swinging out from the middle. On a windy day it slams repeatably, if not properly fastened.

4) Is there plumbing and where does it go?

There is plumbing that looks like capillaries linking word to word; ideas and sounds transporting the excretion of meaning on through to the porcelain abyss.


Quiz #2

1) Is a dactyl a brick or a gargoyle? Justify.

With Dactyl we might build, either through math or through the structure of brick. Gargoyles might be said to hang off the structure like a dactyl. What is a dactyl?

2) What is the relationship of engineering to poetic architecture? Is the architect-poet responsible for designing a structure that can actually be built? If so, why?

The relationship is conditional. There is no "responsibility" per se to actually build a designed structure. The two are separate until that time they are brought into relation. What is meant by the word "built"? Is Gaudi's Sagrada Familia "built?" If a building is drawn and not built, can we say that it does not stand? If they don't *function* as a building, but instead are only looked at, are they not to be said to be standing in relation to something that is not drawn, but exists as a conception?

3) Can concepts of architectural acoustics (reflection, diffusion, diffraction of waves) be applied to poetry? Specifically, is the turn toward spatial rigor in concert hall structures by acoustical architects like Leo Baranek, Harold Marshall, and Michael Barron (the isolation of orthogonal parameters so as to fine tune sound reflection and reverberation via the control of initial time delay gaps) an argument of sorts for further (and urgent) investigations in strict prosodic structure, without which poetry is fated to continue its downward spiral into incomprehensible sonic and semantic muddle-- investigation, that is, not in the banal sense of traditional Western forms, but in the sense of Oulipean mathematical rigor. Whether yes or no, explain.

Ambition is something that must be looked at. How can an author have such a word hanging around, any longer? To create semantic muddle is to challenge aspects of seriousness w/, ironically, a pretense toward seriousness. The word itself becomes neither itself, nor another's. What do we mean by muddle, where is the mathematical in the synthesis of things that could be said to be w/out muddle? How are we serious? Is this an argument between Mozart and Cage? Need we go to a restaurant and order a bottle of Bandol? Math eats my shorts.

5) Are words in a poem a) rooms b) furniture c) walls d) vestibules e) windows f) corridors g) other? Explain.

I think of words as packages, that are discarded once they are opened up. In this manner we might say we throw away language. It is wasted on, and by, us. Language is in the service of servicing itself, is docile, is where I go to lie down and forget the act of meaning. Can I attempt to know these packages better? Can words be recycled? This is a question.


Quiz #3

1) In poetry, what is an arch? Explain and draw a model.

An arch is when you finally get back to what you were talking about originally, and having come to a point in the trajectory that, at last, you say what you had previously said. In this way we *experience* the transfiguration of attempting to step into the same river twice.

2) Take Le Corbusier's somewhat forgotten Savoie house as analogy: Can the body of a poem be hollowed out in every direction: from above and below, from within and without, so that a cross section at any point will show inner and outer space penetrating each other inextricably? Think hard, keeping in mind that form in poetry has a long and unconscious history as a category "apart," despite sporadic "seminal" announcements to the contrary.

Yes, but then we need to discover a way to visit what is said and the words themselves in order to examine what we mean when we mean "form." Can these words create, through their own condition, a dizzying example of their being at the point of not being. At this point we might confuse ourselfs for the poem. Furthermore, we might say that the *somewhat forgotten house* is indeed the only house we will ever remember.

3) Is it possible, in a move of boldest conceptual elan, to build a poem over a waterfall? Confirm or deny, then, if the former, say what you would title such a poem. (Remembering that Wright's most famous building is a physically flawed structure, and that the roaring of the water forced the inhabitants to abandon the house.)

No, waterfalls are guarded by little gnomes that demand riches no person can pay. Whomever paid for that house messed w/ forces larger than buildings, or the ego of their makers. What to call a poem built over a waterfall? This question, like many questions, seems far too open to answer, and requires a *move of the boldest conceptual elan.* To name this concept would be to perform a duty, or rite, toward its creation. I can only waiver over these falls.

4) Is the incipient turn of new poetries to architectural/spatial theory symptomatic, in any way, of the generalized crisis of the current poetic avant-garde? Insert a compass as metaphor (or metonym, if you desire) in your answer.

The poetic avant-garde is itself an expression of its own crisis. A compass is used by girl / boy scouts on camping trips; this too is an expression of the generalized crisis w/ in the poetic avant-garde.


Quiz #4

1) Take Michael Riffaterre's book Semiotics of Poetry, where he argues (as described by the American poet-bridge builder Henry Gould) that the poetic involves a dialectic between mimesis or representation, on the one hand (which creates what Riffaterre calls "meaning"), and significance, on the other. The "architecture game" of poetry, then, would seem to involve deciphering a "significance" that is always deferred by the parabolic indirections of transforming "meaningful" observation into architectonic structure. Does this suggest that a poem --the kind that is written on a two-dimensional page-- is necessarily and merely a kind of deceptive *faciatta* through whose apertures an interior "content" is fleetingly and deceptively glimpsed against what is, in the most material sense, a swarming particle space? Answer yes or no via a parable in the style of Plato.

Yeah, well, you know there is this guy Socrates who like knows stuff, or really is totally skeptical about, like, everything. That is he thinks, like, I dunno... Wait.... That is, he doesn't think anything, about anything. He got into trouble doing things w/ young boys. But that wasn't it. He told a bunch of smug mugwumps that they didn't know anything, either. Which, well, pissed of all these dudes. Who then made Socrates drink some bad GHB or something. Bummer. Still, I think that parabolic indiscretions are bad. I mean, I looked faciatta up on the web, and like google didn't have anything, 'cept this page about some Italian castle. So, again, I dunno. Anyway, this kinda relates to Socrates, in that he was at his most meaningful or whatever, when letting others know how little was actually known. At this level, I think, we could almost say that a poem, that's what this is about, right?--okay, (deep breath), Where were we? Um. Yeah, that poems might mean their most directly in the moment of their greatest escape. In this way, the essence is said to have fled the battle at the moment of its victory. How, then, is this just like that odd experience of looking waywardly, or otherwise, into a mirror? That psychological shock of personal recognition, wherein we witness our own impossibility. Our own daunting content peering back into the blank and "swarming particle space."

2) If a metaphor is a balcony, is the view it affords measurable in terms of a paraboloidal function (for example: x2/a2+y2/b2 = 2cz [where a,b, and c are constants]), or is that just gibberish? Justify.

The view it affords is that of mystery, since it can't afford the same view consistently, or across readings. In this manner we might say it eludes the act of seeing it. The metaphor is the balcony into which we see our own backyard.

3) What is an Author? Is she an Architect? Think hard.

She is, inasmuch as she stands in for all of us.


4) Can a security alarm system be built into a poem? Name it.

Wordstar Security Systems


Quiz #5

1) Is the cultural "space that forms the writing even as the writing (of experimental Authors, that is) attempts to probe its dimensions" the space of a certain Flatland? Refer to Bachelard and the Japanese folktale about the mice and the elephant.

Does this *flatland* you refer to represent the Post-Modern "flatness" of expression / meaning? A kind of commercialized talk. If this is the case, then contemporary writing is, indeed, of the moment and inside its subject as a socially determined and flawed public space that realizes itself within the larger frame work of this social *flatness.* How then is this experimental?

2) Can architectural acoustic theory (reflection, diffusion, refraction, decay of sound, and the artifices of its absorption) serve as an heuristic tool for imaging the institutional interpolations (not obvious ones like the Academy, but those at more inaudible frequencies) inhabiting the cultural structures of "avant-garde" poetry? If Yes, build a cardboard model of such a tool. If No, try to build one anyway.

See me try.

3) The following question is two questions, really, so points are double (tripled if the two answers are seamlessly melded into one): a) What is a "flutter echo"? Provide one example from the current English Poet Laureate and another from one of Jack Spicer's "translations" of Federico Garcia Lorca. b) Was Kurt Schwitter's Merzbau a visionary and mystical poetic text or a meaningless shrine to garbage, insanely imploding into an ever-more claustrophobic post modern space? Justify, being careful to note the possible irony in the question.

The imploding flutter echo of the English Poet Laureate as written of by Lorca, translated by Spicer. Or is that written by Spicer and translated by Lorca?

4) What is more relevant to avant-garde poetry's possible coextensiveness with architecture: The Brooklyn Bridge or the ruins of a university after a riot? Explain.

Up with ruins and riots! Bridges are fine, but today's avant-garde is, despite their stock portfolios, down w/ ruptures within the social being.


Quiz #6

1) Is it possible that the recent desire amongst innovative writers to build analogic skywalks into a discipline of power and social utility such as architecture may be impelled from below by a hidden structure of ideological tensions and undergirdings that parasitizes and eats from within, thus shaping it as it consumes, the very social space of "avant-garde" aesthetic practice? Answer yes or no, and then rewrite this question into a syntax that is less onerous.

Writing can be seen as an illness when pressed up against utility &/or power. Nonetheless, to build could be equated w/ writing. I can see how it might serve for while to think of these ideas in relation. Allen Ginsberg said _Howl_ was built like a brick shithouse. Talk about ultilty.

2) As partly evidenced by the November, 2000 Language/Poetry/Performance Conference in New Dehli, contemporary innovative poets have become influenced by recent architectural theory's critique of "Total Design", a concept that has two meanings: a) the "implosive", in which design takes over all interior space (Sullivan, Wright, Taut, the Vienna Secession, etc.) and b) the "explosive", where architecture is destined and authorized to move outward beyond discrete structure to encompass all scales (the Harvard School of Design via Gropius, the English Designs and Industries Association, etc.). The former resists (in petit-bourgeois/aristocratic fashion) industrialization and mass culture; the latter (in futuristic/avant fashion) seeks to become its very spirit. The former is most famously embodied by the Weimar School of the Arts and Crafts, under the leadership of van der Velde; the latter by the Bauhaus, under the inspiration of Gropius. Now, one could see the "implosive school" as analogous with the circumscribed ontology of mainstream, workshop verse, including recent conservative expressions of formalism: the Architect-Poet is the Hero of Interior Design. But one can also see, as Mark Wigley, head of Princeton's School of Architecture points out, that the "explosive school" is founded on an "...explosion of the designer. Not only are objects designed, mass-produced, and disseminated; the designer himself or herself is designed as a product, to be manufactured and distributed. The Bauhaus produced designers and exported them around the world. The vast glass walls of the Dessau building which, in Gropius's words 'dematerialize' the line between inside and outside, suggest this immanent launching outward of both students and their designs. Even the teaching within the studio was a product. Gropius said that he only felt free to resign in 1928 because the success of the Bauhaus was finally established through the appointments of its graduates to teaching posts in foreign countries and through the adoption of its curriculum internationally." Write an answer of at least 300 words drawing parallels between the Bauhaus as described by Wigley and Language poetry, with particular attention to the latter's accelerating absorption by the academic institution. Be rigorous in your answer and avoid servile timidity.

Hmmm... Does the product of language based poetics translate into solely an academic apparatus? Is this apparatus the only thing that can be made from Language based poetics? Are these structures creating what you call the *semantic muddle*? What about the semantic middle?

As for the past (mainstream poetics) vs. a heralding of the future (avant-practice), it seems to also ring w/ the idea of an aristrocratic view of Art vs. what may loosely be called a Proletarite version. But, too, how do these visions conflict? Certainly there are aspects which underwrote the aristocratic approach that need not be repeated. But is this *muddle* you refer to the *muddle* of the middling classes in persuit of their desires? How is this to be redeemed, on both sides?

Can the future be said to be Los Angeles, and the past Paris? Do such comparisons do more harm than good? If the future that we are building w/ this semantic muddle is a Los Angeles, how can we say that is a good thing? Should we write a Los Angeles poetics of No Return?

How does this relate to teachers and MFA programs... and Bauhaus? Sure, we now have star avant-poet/teachers. Many of them in fact. It has become a thing to have on campus. Everyone *needs* one.

3) Is the Anglo-American Modernist long poem "explosive" or "implosive" in its architectures? Or is its largesse, rather, impelled by a dialectical tension between these two poles? If the latter, what does it mean that such a "synthesis" has resulted in the canonical ossification of the genre? And is this ossification analogous to the sacralization of those classical ruins to which millions of tourists every year make pilgrimage? Use The Cantos, The Wasteland, Patterson, Briggflatts, Cornish Heroic Song for Valda Trevlen, and The Anathemata as examples in your answer. This is a very complicated question, so don't leap to the obvious (i.e. "Of course the Modernist long poem is 'explosive'!"). You should think so hard that your very head catches fire.

The poetic architecture of such works seem to stand like monuments that neither implode nor explode. They reverberate, like a tree, or a wall. They contain a kind of fancy Winchester Mystery House attic feel-- in places you can run your hand over them. They tremble, between exploding or imploding desire(s).

4) "The architects who talk about chaos, absence, fragmentation, and indeterminacy usually work hard to assure that you know that a design is theirs by using signature shapes and colors. Arguments about the impossibility of 'the total image' are employed in fact to produce precisely such an image-- a signed image that fosters brand loyalty. Clearly, the dream of the total work of art did not fade in modernism's wake. On the contrary, all of the issues raised by architects and theorists of recent generations that seem, at first, to signal the end of the idea of the total work of art turn out to be, on closer look, red herrings that thinly disguise the traditional totalizing ambitions of the architect." Relate this quote (5 extra points if you can identify its source) to Michael Palmer, Susan Howe, Jorie Graham, and J.H. Prynne. After doing so, briefly discuss the meaning of the Signature and its role as limen within Poetry's institutional architecture.

My guesses are 1) Palmer, 2) Prynne, 3) Graham, 4) Howe. Yes, can we avoid not creating a new *in* language which is used to tell who is truly who? In this manner a space is provided to those who are *known.* At some level the operation on the author has created more loopholes than had, perhaps, previously existed? It is just a matter of refining the language. This happens in any clique that develops. Especially within an *out* group.


Quiz #7

1) Consider this thought experiment: You are a Poet, and although you cannot imagine it, you are always in a diorama. The diorama is inside a museum. The museum is located in a city. The city is in a 21st century country. The diorama changes according to the scheduling of exhibits: Savannah plains, Arctic ice, Rainforest verdure, Academic conference... Unaware of your placement, (for your reality has always been *here*) the limits of your Poetic world are obviously the limits of your diorama. Assuming this scenario, what is the spatial relationship of cutting-edge Theories of Space to your spatial predicament? Now close your eyes. Explain.

I am a poet and I already live in a diorama w/ "Theories of Space" taped to my forehead. Perhaps you can tell me what they say?

2) Please think of professional wrestling: Are the sounds the wrestlers make (the grunts and yells and body-against-canvass sounds) to the hoaxed fight as theory is to poetry? If so, is architectural theory, when quoted by poets, a kind of theatrical scream of "pain"? If not, why not? Think hard.

This may be a fair appraisal. The back is firmly on the mat.

3) Let's assume that Western accentual-syllabic prosodies are a kind of white stucco wall: a paradigm of a will to order, a thin layer of periodically bumped plaster that hides the real materiality of the wall so as to produce a simulacrum of ideality and cleanliness uncontaminated by the foul fullness of history. The conceit drawn here is full of holes. Deconstruct it.

I think you are stating that "Western accentual-syllabic prosodies" are *containing* or *giving order* or *reason* to a history that would otherwise confound and terrify. Sure, *progress* is also a part of this paradigm. Is artistic *progress* then also there to attempt to *justify* the "foul fullness of history"?

4) Please consider Lenin. In 1920, in the midst of raging civil war, and shortly after a Social Revolutionary wounded him in an assassination attempt, he spoke before a Moscow conference of revolutionary architects, poets, and Constructivist artists, including Mayakovsky, Rodchenko, and Tatlin. "It is dangerous, comrades," he said, "to believe that Soviet art and architecture in the era of the dictatorship of the proletariat can outstrip the present and model the future." It is rumored that many of the petit-bourgeois intellectuals in the audience snickered at the ironic "obviousness" of such a remark. Mayakovsky, drunk, opened his trousers and produced his flacid penis, saying, with a dead-pan matter-of-factness, "Look, it is a cloud." Christian Rakovsky, later to become a leader in Trotsky's Left Oppostion, laughed, and so did Brik and Mandelstam and Lunarcharsky (the latter who, in democratic spirit, had chosen to sit among the artists). Stalin, sitting across the aisle, two rows back, inhaled, blew smoke, and took note. It is said that Lenin was unusually lethargic and hesitant in this speech, perhaps due to his recent gun wounds. Taking the above scenario as starting point, make up a relevant question relating to Poetic Architecture, and then answer it.

As Archie Bunker would sing, "Those weeerrrreee the days."

In what fashion can we say that poetic opportunity exists to outstrip current history? Is it enough to be contemporary? What do more dizzying arrays of poetic archetiture mean? Are we only reifying the word, in a misbegotten service to late capitalism? Maybe so... It will depend on the twists of history to determine which latent charctheristic is emphasized.

(How is this a cop out?)


[First interregnum: E-mail from an Architect in Russia]:

My greetings from Gymnasium of Architecture to all people who

will VOTE in Russia. Dear Kent. There was a

question to say to my Russians not

to be capable to Vote. FUCK YOU> This is ridiculous and insulting, not to

mention ignorent of communist tradition in Golden AGe >

before twelfth Congress.>>For example, Tatlin, which man you cartoon,his tower to Third International: do

you think Eiffel tower could lean like a SS20?? (So boring and predictable

you of the West.))I give Kronstadt as an example where "Great

Bakunin" was dismembered his body (and agents of Prussia) because of

Russian people's Love to their >country,their families and their Lenin. Also

Trotsky, destroyed fortunatelyby David ((muralist and Architect))

>>Siqueiros, And this tradition continues inspite >of "terrible "conditions some

Muskovy people found themselves when "Freedom >Came Upon" in October (*hah* what Ironi, Mr.Architect!!!). It is
fucking capitalism you New York and Sheffield petit bourgeosie, you keep saying space, Bauhaus, diorama to be success
in in for some decadent fucking city, do you know a child who is >hungry for freedom

*and also bread*??? You said that you were writing about >Russia. FUCK

YOU. Did you mention that it was not the right time to strive to Freedom yet. Shachtmanite!!! Harvard Boy!!!The nation
was not wet in it yet. Too much

of in it, wetness created nothing but more >of cruelty

tie me down petit!! When

I will put my first plastics phallic of >"Our Lives In Space And Time"

online I will let you

know .FUCK YOU. May. be thenyou will understand a

little bit more about Russia, my wet hair.

I.ve already mentioned once that Diane >Sawer's mistake

and Barbra Waters also (bitch)>was that she should had study sex in her wet

MANCUNT (do you know this expression?) before she announced Boris

Yestsin a hero . Drunk Bastard!!!, And she would >not know about necessary Cruelty which happened

under that Lenin who was a true man against Whites and Social Revolutionryes(I am talking about the best people of Russia
who wanted a bit of

>>Freedom for Russian people similar to what was happening before in Paris,,, >not Mensheviks.

FUCK YOU.And that is called the vote of all! What is your life with no

COMPUTER??? Vote for Nasser. Don't waste it.





Quiz #8

[This Quiz contains only one question. Therefore, your answer should be four times as long as usual.]

1) Derrida has said, in speaking of deconstructive architecture (Tschumi, Eiseman, Johnson, Steven Holl, COOP Himelblau, and others): "First of all, they do not only destroy, they construct, effectively, and they construct by putting this architecture into a relation with other spaces of writing: cinematographic, narrative (the most sophisticated forms of literary narration), finally experimentations with formal combinations... all of this is something other than a restoration of architectural purity, even though it is also a thinking of architecture as such, that is, architecture not simply in the service of an extrinsic end. So, I am now increasingly tempted to consider this architectural experience to be the most impressive "deconstructive" audacity and effectivity. Also the most difficult because it is not enough to talk about this architecture; one has to negociate the writing in stone or metal with the hardest and most resistant political, cultural, or economic powers... It is these architects who come up against the resistances, which are the most solid ones in some way, of the culture, the philosophy, the politics in which we live." Doesn't this quote suggest to you that as soon as Derrida leaves the ethereal sky of Continental philosophy and enters into discussion about matters concerning everyday technology, that he comes across as a banal blabbermouth?

He betrays us all, in that sense.

In any case, consider, because he has a point: As long as innovative poets do not bring the imagination solidly up against the category of Authorship, that "hardest and most resistant" of ideological powers in the cultural field, will they ever succeed in constructing a truly new poetic architecture? Answer and speculate, in Piranesian fashion, what a revolutionary Archi-texture might be.



Quiz #9

1) If architecture is merely sculpture that bodies can enter, then is poetry merely prose into which certain tunnelings and orifices have been chiseled? If this definition is valid, would you qualify it as an effective materialist definition of poetry? Write your answer in block letters.

No, I think that it is not suffiecint to call chiseled prose the materialist definition of poetry. Poetry may be thought of as the poignant reach of the alienated masses toward a space of dignified agency. Unless, of course, otherwise...

2) Assuming that there is something to the above definiton, consider the following: Recent research into Egyptian pyramids has found that the famous and heretofore puzzling secret passageways that rise from the burial chambers toward openings at the outer walls are in fact precisely pointed (when the movement of the heavens through reversed time is factored into astronomical calculations) at key constellations, especially Orion. What seems clear is that these tunnels were intended as a sort of launching ramp through which to shoot the mummy-spirit to the stars. Without losing the materialist definiton we have set forth above, would you say that poetry has a like purpose, in any way? If not, would you say that there are particular objective historical forces (beginning with 17th century English copyright laws) that have progressively accreted to seal over the launch-openings with a kind of viscous substance? Reflect, please, avoiding vagueness.

I would say that poetry may have a like purpose, yes. But I have a problem w/ the heavens, as such. Perhaps this goes to the issue you're tempting me with? Perhaps it is this substitute value, namely fame, that today seals over, as you say, our appreciation of the desire to be so projected into the starry sky?

3) If architectural theory has any utility for innovative poets today (careful: this is still an open question! [see, for example, Peter Riley's book, Architectural Analogies in Poetry: Comparing Apples and Oranges in Elysium]), then what happens when Steve McCaffery, for example, writes a poem under the influence of Vitruvius and Alberti, both of whom insist that the ordering and structure of their respective theoretical treatises perfectly match that which they prescribe for building ("theory as art work")? Does the poem then take shape *around* the ideological Poet-space from which it is secreted, or does the poem instantiate itself as a kind of discrete space or chamber, like an hexagonal cell in a honeycomb, built by a bee who is, for all intents and purposes, blissfully blind to his Queen? Answer, please, in 300 words, via the technique of Automatic Writing..

You are my apple, my orange, my fruitful and dangerous thoughts. You break my homeland into a tattoo. Your information becomes me, becalms me, is insistent, is otherwise. At the end of my arm is a hand, at the end of that, fingers. Nothing. Doodles. You escape the rendition of time. Your place or mine? There are blue round berries, belies, mechanisms, things. Words eating their diamonds in the raw sun light. We meet in the dust of difference. There are no agents, "Yellow is dirty." You are an insistent lamp. You are as vexed as a greyhound. Bred like bees are bred. Toward this phrase. Nothing into which the sky involves us. Note this worshipful phase. See the vast uncollected space. See the villas and the vistas. See everything and leave. Do not step on the ladder. There are not enough of you. We sit together crying in the shape of a crown. There was nothing, nada, no body. In the space between we shouted-out words. There was nothing. We grew up shadowed. We threw up the shadow of light. In this we sat on the ground beneath the stars and thought nothing of it. The sound of October is nothing. I welcome all the three's and five's into my heart. The ground beneath your feet is for sale. The thing in between your toes is for no one, but you. There is this down side, to which the plants grow like light. There is the adjunct to the down side, to which the plants grow to like light. There is the past which is a pasture we once called home. The instance remains throughout the fabric I track you in. The instance remains in the fabric I think you in. The instance remains in the blank you blank me in.


[Second interregnum: E-mail from Australia]:

(To: Mr. Kent Johnson)
Dear Mr. Johnson;

I have been answering the tests you have given on the british-poets discussion group, which I read through the Archives pages at Jiscmail. I also read other lists on a daly basis there-- there are a good lot of them at JiscMail.
I live in the desert in Australia. If you do not mind, I would like to send you my answres. But I cant do so on e-mail since my answers have the diagrams and cardbord constructions where you have required them. But I don't know your adress, of course. So if you dont mind: Could you male if to me Please? I think that even although your questions are sometimes funny (<grin> X 7! ) I have done my best to be serious because architecture and poetry is important.
Do you know how I would mail my poetry to Mr. Jacob Trantner at Jacket Magazine? I know he is in australia, but with the internet what are countries when you think about it? I am sending an ARS POETICA I have written, for your enjoyment. And below it is a poem, as a sampel, one of over probably 10,000 that I have composed.

Sincerely, John R. O'Brien


My Reasons For, My Love of Poetry

My Poetry is written for two main reasons, one is to express my feelings and the other is to tell a story. Expressing my feelings with poetry is probably the easiest way I can tell someone I love and care for them, also, at the same time I can relate within my poetry my innermost feelings of what matters most to me in life. Telling a story within my poetry is a unique way for me to tell a story of something homorous or dramatic that I have experienced in my life. My poetic antidotes of fictitious people, places, strange animals and creatures are mostly built on fact, (but I have of course stretched the truth a bit.) So for these reasons, I believe that, correct spelling, proper punctuation and good grammer is not necessarily a requirement for the writing of humorous, light hearted or serious poetry.
--John Rodney O'Brien (Australian poet)

~~~ A Red Rose ~~~

My dearest darling I reveal,
Within my heart the love I feel,
For you my sweet I do suppose,
Your beauty is a red, red rose.

The red, red rose you gave to me,
It gave to me the ecstasy,
The ecstasy of pure bliss,
Whence my love we first did kiss.

That was the most amazing thing,
Within my heart that kiss did ring,
It rang into my very soul,
My emotions, I'll not control.

I'll not control my greatest fear,
My fear is to lose you dear,
For if I loose you I should cry,
Within my heart then I shall die.

I shall die and not return,
To let my heart forever burn,
For if my heart should burn and fade,
I'll not be there to love again.

It's not right to love and stray,
Too another every day,
I must keep your love so true,
And give my love to only you.

I'd need to give you all my love,
The love it comes from up above,
I send it darling straight to you,
Like a bolt of lightning from the blue.

©R.J.O'Brien ~ March 30, 1998


Quiz #10

1) Go back to Quiz #6 and review the outline given there of Total Design as insistent concern in 20th century architecture, in both its implosive and explosive traditions. Now consider the following dictum/ars poetica of Barrett Watten, an experimental poet and theorist who has been as interested in issues of architecture and social space as any American poet since the Vietnam war: that poetry is, in its essence, the manifestation of "a mind in control of its language." What is the relationship between the connotations of such a terrifying pronouncement and the overall look of Architectural Digest magazine? Illustrate your answer with photographed interiors of three corporate conference rooms in the magazine.

2) What is a "thematic house"? Define this with reference to Charles Jencks. And what kind of design, inner and outer, would you give, if you were the architect, to a multi-million dollar commission for a "House of Poetry"? Would you spend all the money on the building itself?


3) What is the security alarm system that is likely to keep a poet like the Australian desert dweller John O'Brien from being published in a magazine like Jacket (if, indeed, he gets around to sending his work there)? In other words, think of Jacket as a sort of Bauhaus house. Would having O'Brien's decidedly naif "Red Rose" poem there mess up the interior design? Would its appearance there embarrass the guests at the cocktail party, like, what... say a velvet portrait of Elvis next to the Julian Schnabels and Sally Manns? This question is about axiology and the way its messy wiring is cosmeticized by facadical architectures and floor plans. In other words, would O'Brien be rejected because his poem is "ugly," or would he be rejected because the poem doesn't "fit" into the Total Design (a concept whose ideological vectors remain virtually uninvestigated within the institution of "avant-garde" poetry)? This is a very important question. Answer it at length.

I think the obvious case of pathologic need arising out of Mr. John O' Brien's work will keep him out of nearly all literary magazines, (save this one). And yes, it is a cocktail party--that is healthy to remember. I think O'Brien's display of affection, while unquestioned, remains, for him, obviously, a source of continuing disturbance. Which maybe points to something altogether interesting: How does hackneyed and earnest expressions of entrenched gender / romantic mores coupled w/ hackneyed and entrenched poetic devices become an instance of self-questioning in the the desire for a new poetic future? What remains in O'Brien's work that we *feel* may have been lost? Is there a thing within what this work represents that we sense is missing? How does this question link up to Jean-Luc Goddard's movie, "Alphaville?"

4) How high can a poem be built? Can it have elevators? Can the cable on the elevator in a high-rise poem snap so that the elevator drops for hours, crashes through the ground floor, and keeps going all the way down to Hell? What do you think the architecture is like in Hell?

The architecture in hell? I think there are many examples, in many cities, across this land mass we call home.


Quiz #11

This final quiz contains only one long question. Your answer will need to be at least equally as long... It would be easy to rewrite each of the "architectural" interpolations in the quote below to describe the current ideological Other of the poetic field. (In fact, we will place "poetry" in parentheses, in nominal or adjective form, where appropriate.)
So: Is such social/economic magma poetry's repressed but elemental ground? If not, why not? What would be needed to move beyond its big suck so as to loose poetic production into a truly autonomous and liberatory field? Here is the quote. Five extra points if you can identify its source: "The institution of architecture [poetry] is clearly more than buildings [poems] and the practices by which they are produced... The building [poem] "itself" is no more than a specific mechanism of representation. In fact, there is no such thing as a building [poem] outside of a large number of overlapping mechanisms of representation: schools of architecture [poetry], professional codes of ethics, critical practices, historiographical methodologies, academic protocols, pedagogical techniques, curriculum structures, the strategic role of the author's signature and project credits, legalization of the word "architect" ["poet"], designated safety factors in structural [prosodic] calculations, standardized drawing [writing] techniques and conventions, building [attributional undergirding] codes, aesthetic codes, zoning codes, clothing codes, school admission standards, faculty classifications, fee structures, hiring and firing practices, rhetorical conventions, examination structures, model-making techniques, various forms of etiquette, legal contracts, copyright law, the structure of the slide lecture, strategic control and dissemination of ideas through conferences and publications, ritualized master worship, theoretical and graphic commonplaces, copy-editing protocols, interview and presentation formats, photographic techniques, the institution of the architectural [poetry contest] jury, portfolio construction and circulation rituals, competition formats, official and unofficial club membership control. Funding patterns, the structure of the architectural [poetic] monograph, the biography and so on, to name only some of the most obvious ones. All of them are mechanical systems of reproduction whose ritualistic, if not fetishistic, repetition constantly affirms the presence of architecture [poetry] rather than analyzes it. Indeed, the very intensity of their repetition seems to mark a nagging but suppressed doubt about that presence. They are the real mechanics of architecture [poetry]. The building [poem] is literally constructed by these mechanisms of representation."



Read a response by Joshua Schuster