Showing posts with label collaborations. Show all posts
Showing posts with label collaborations. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dome Poem NC

A film by Lee Ann Brown and Tony Torn

featuring poems by
Brown, Erin O'Neal, Cheryl J Fish, Timothy Dyke & Leah Souffrant

Friday, April 13, 2012

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Thursday, May 06, 2010

I brought The City Real & Imagined by CAConrad & Frank Sherlock with me first because I was planning to spend the afternoon in Bartram’s Garden, one of those only-in-Philadelphia destinations on the order of the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, the Duchamps in the Philadelphia Art Museum or Kellys Writers House. Bartram’s Garden is the oldest surviving botanic garden in the United States, having been founded in 1728 and operated continuously since then. Driving down the entrance path onto its 46 acres, located in one of the poorest nabes of Philadelphia, is rather like entering a time machine. The garden includes the only surviving member of the three original gingko trees first sent to America in 1785, and it was the Bartram family that rescued and cultivated a tree they named for a local small press printer, Ben Franklin, Franklinia Alatamaha, having discovered it in the wild in Georgia in 1765. Franklinia has not been seen in the wild since 1803 and today all examples of this lovely flowering tree in America are descended from this garden.
I also brought with me the only book I have that actually refers by name to this place, Jonathan Williams’ An Ear in Bartram’s Tree: Selected Poems 1957-1967. I knew of course of Williams’ special importance to Conrad, as a gay man with a wicked wit & the publisher who initially had planned to bring out Conrad’s Frank before Williams’ failing health got the better of him. The garden was pretty empty that afternoon – the weather was still oscillating between spring & late winter – and I got to sit & read awhile. Sure enough, an echo of Williams, his use of epigrams & quotations, jumps right out at me in the first five lines of this collaborative poem:
“Or I’ll tune out and put a
‘MEAN DOG’ sign in front
of all my communications!”
– Ryan Trecartin,
Philadelphia filmmaker
As openings go, The Cantos this is not. If Pound, say, was a modernist symphony that ran into the buzzsaw of history, The City Real & Imagined lets you know instantly that it’s going to be more on the lines of Lady Gaga as heard through the ears of Spike Jones, or maybe Weird Al as filmed by John Waters (or Elvis as impersonated by the late Sylvester of the Cockettes with costumes by Chris March).
Just the jackets of the two books gives you some sense of the difference, even against the poet of The Loco Logodaedalist in Situ (my favorite of Jonathan Williams’ titles & a brilliant book in itself). An Ear in Bartram’s Tree has as its cover image William Bartram’s drawing of the flower of the Franklinia, gray & white on a pale gray background, a classic instance of New Directions’ decades long fight against interesting book covers. The City Real & Imagined is navy blue beneath the black stripe of the Heretical Text series, with Zoe Strauss’ iconic photo of mattress sale – an imagine that screams or sings of the Philadelphia region every bit as clearly as the Liberty Bell. It’s deadpan, colorful & filled with humor, yet unmistakably communicating an orientation toward class that makes you realize how a photo of mattresses can be said to have a politics. It’s the perfect cover for this book.
In addition to Jonathan Williams, The City Real & Imagined has a couple of other patron saints hovering close by. One is Philip Whalen, especially of his riding around the city journal poems – more evident in On Bear’s Head than his other collections – whose death in June 2002 is marked in the composition of this book. The other is the collaborations of Ted Berrigan. This aspect is especially visible in the contributions of Frank Sherlock, whose lines step & dance across the page, making great use of white space.
But there is nothing faux New York School about this book. It could not have been written anywhere else, not just because of specific references – Thomas Eakins, Love Park, the Ben Franklin Bridge, Broad Street, City Hall, even (full disclosure)
We saw
Ron Silliman
on 17th Street and
walked fast to catch up
but it wasn’t him
Rather, there is a tonal shift across the 96 pages of this book, one that only David Shapiro among the NY School poets might have been able to make, from the “I did this / I did that mode” so familiar to post-avant poetics over the past half century toward something much darker & more political. It’s not, as one might imagine for a text crafted largely (entirely?) in 2002, a reaction to September 11, but rather because both Sherlock & Conrad are deeply political creatures, tho not in any way that would have been recognized (or at least greeted with open arms), say, in a union hall in the 1950s. Some of it is sexual orientation, but more than anything its class. Conrad is quick to tell everyone exactly how hard his youth was, & Sherlock was certainly no Main Line scion. Which means that they bring a tone to an already familiar poetics that really comes across as quite different. Contrast this, say, with another Berrigan-inflected lefty, such as Louis Cabri. Cabri’s work is theory rich, where Sherlock & Conrad could not care less. Their politics of instanteous reaction to insult & discrimination is far closer to the observational immanence one associates with Berrigan & Whalen (two poets, mind you, who were also always painfully aware of just how few pennies they had in their pocket).
These come together in the most startling of combinations, say, the choice of a word like “trustafarians” or something whimsical, like
Ben Franklin
(sexy nerd)
though I Love
him so
did NOT
invent the
In a work where Robert Indiana’s Love sculpture (and its surrounding park), and the subject of blowjobs (including the cost of blowjobs) are continually reiterated themes, this simple passage actually is dense with other layers, but it’s that final word in this stanza that totally sells it.
I’ve been quoting Conrad here mostly because his stanzas, which tend to cling tighter to the left margin are easier to yoke into HTML than Sherlock’s airy field poetics. But it’s true also that readers will very quickly learn to recognize the two voices – there’s no attempt at ventriloquism here. Sherlock’s is lighter in tone – he’s the one who reminds you of Whalen. Conrad’s stanzas are more dense, and more apt to be angry than sad at the world’s injustices. Between these two poles, tho, is where the magic in this book really happens. It can be loud, joking, rude, quiet, alert, brassy, smart, tender all in the course of a couple of pages. It’s a terrific read.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The success of The Reality Street Book of Sonnets, edited by Jeff Hilson, is such that it throws light on the limitations of other recent anthologies. One that I happen to like a lot, tho not without reservation, is >2: An Anthology of New Collaborative Poetry, edited by Sheila E. Murphy & M.L. Weber, recently published by Press. After the disappointment of the badly edited Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry, it’s instructive to see a major collection of collaborations that would not even appear to exist if one took Saints’ heavily blinkered view of history at face value. Which seems particularly bizarre since, regardless of how one conceives of it, contemporary collaborative poetry exists mostly on the post-avant side of the Grand Canyon of literary aesthetics.  (Hysteria does include work by Robert Bly, Olga Broumas & Ted Kooser, but they jump out as the exceptions they are.)

Yet here is a 200-plus book containing work from 41 different collaborative combinations that includes such well-known literary names as Mary Rising Higgins, George Kalamaras, Maria Damon, mIEKAL aND, Michael Basinski, Rupert Lloydell, John M. Bennett, Jim Leftwich, Penn Kemp, Alan Halsey, Jesse Glass, Nico Vassilakis, Geof Huth, Bob Grumman, Eileen Tabios, Nick Carbo, Vernon Frazer, K.S. Ernst, Juka-Pekka Kervinen, Erica kaufman, Anny Ballardini, kari Edwards, Steve Dalachinsky, Mark Young, Nico Vassilakis, Peter Ganick, Tom Taylor, Andrew Topel, David Baratier, jUStin!katKO, Tom Beckett & Thomas Fink, & many more. One wonders just how the three editors of Saints could have conceivably missed this much work by these poets. Of that list, Tabios, Fink & Carbo may be the only ones to appear in both books.

The happy thing about >2 is that it doesn’t seem bothered by this exclusion in the slightest. Rather, it presents the more experimental side of collaborative writing pretty much as it has occurred over the past decade. It’s fun & exciting, as a book like this should be. Not that it’s perfect. It takes great freedom with typefaces, because the poets themselves have, but the ones that use courier as a font look washed out & amateurish, because courier always does. Perhaps the book’s largest & most telling weakness is the exclusion is the work of Sheila E. Murphy herself, a primary practitioner within this terrain, but that’s a conscious decision discussed in her excellent foreword. Murphy traces her own interest in collaborative writing, interestingly enough, to Absence Sensorium, perhaps the finest extended collaborative project ever written, a book-length poem by Tom Mandel & Dan Davidson composed shortly before the latter’s suicide. Unfortunately, that project isn’t represented in either anthology tho Mandel contributes a blurb to >2.

Collaboration itself has existed in English-language literature since at least the days of Elizabethan theater (contrary to Hysteria’s genealogy, which extends back only to the surrealists), yet it has almost always been treated as the ugly stepchild of Western LitCrit’s focus on the individual. If the Allen anthology in 1960 had no prose poetry, it also had no collaborations, either by its NY School contributors (Ashbery, O’Hara, Koch & Schuyler are all in Hysteria) or the Beats (Ginsberg, Orlovsky, Kerouac & Welch also in Hysteria). Indeed, the taboo is significant. T.S. Eliot’s role as the apotheosis of the New Critical version of modernism largely collapsed once it was shown that virtually all of The Waste Land’s major literary devices were editing effects from that ultimate avant agitator, Ezra Pound. The whole notion that The Waste Land might not be a collaboration, frankly, reveals which decisions count as writing & which might not, even when they turn out to be the most substantial ones of all.

Collaboration has been nearly as prominent among the language poets as it has amid the New York School (or the Actualist movement of the 1970s, which is not visible in either of these collections¹). Langpo is included strictly on a token basis in Hysteria & referenced only in Murphy’s intro to >2, tho she gives a better sense of its role than the other book. A truly comprehensive anthology of the form would need to take in all of these different strains &, ideally, have some idea of historic drivers & aesthetic principles active in each.

For example, one might read the New American collaborations as part of a larger resistance to the rugged individualism behind New Critical theory in the 1950s, and on the part of the Beats as an element in an aesthetic that was actively looking to get away from the poet’s ego as sole proprietor of textual real estate, essentially for the same reasons that John Cage & Jackson Mac Low turned to chance operations in that same decade.

But the real distinction between these two books is social. In general, one might say that most of the poets in Hysteria used collaboration as a mechanism for cementing face-to-face relationships with their buddies while most of the poets in >2 are using collaboration as a means of transcending physical distance, exploiting the web’s capacity to erase geography.  One thing that is curious about >2 is that, while it includes the writing of many poets widely known for their visual poetry, there’s really no vispo here. Have we not yet learned how to collaborate in that genre? Or does a visual aspect to collaboration instantly move us over toward the realm of the conceptual or performance art? Here is Geof Huth in five different combinations with other poets – and no vispo?

There are other questions also that both books raise. What is collaboration’s relationship to poets’ theater? I’m reminded of Actualism’s relationship to physical theater & even contact improve, a version of dance, and the fact that Actualist Conventions were held in conjunction with Berkeley’s Blake Street Hawkeye’s theater troup, run by Dav Schein. Indeed Schein’s wife-at-the-time, Karen Johnson, took her work from the Conventions onto the stage successfully as a one-woman show under her then-emerging stage name, Whoopi Goldberg. Which leads to the question: what about spousal collaboration? Or between parents & their children? Spousal collaboration goes back at least to Alice B. Toklas' work with Gertrude Stein, and to Celia Zukofsky's “A”-24.

And then there is the question of invisible collaboration – Pound’s role in the work of Eliot, Eliot’s use of his own maid’s text, Dorothy Wordsworth’s role in the work of William, Ginsberg determining the order of pages in Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. My own editors at the University of Alabama didn’t recognize that the epigram at the start of “Engines” in The Alphabet, which reads with Rae Armantrout, actually signaled her role as co-author of that piece (the poem also appears in her selected poems, Veil).

We are still a long way from having a good understanding of what collaboration means & why it seems so powerful on one side of the divide between American poets while it is so muted & marginal among the School of Q. And we are still a long way yet from having a decent first comprehensive gathering of the historical field. What we can hope for, at best, at this juncture in history, is going to be projects like >2, which focus intently on specific parts of the overall spectrum without making too much of a claim to represent the whole. And on those terms, >2 is a job well done.


¹ The most prolific collaborator of that decade, Darrell Gray, died young of alcoholism & his residential hotel landlord simply threw his belongings, including 15 years of manuscripts, into the dumpster. Yet a search of the journals of the 1970s in particular ought to produce a collection of collaborations by Gray & such other Actualists as George Mattingly, Pat Nolan, Jim Nesbit, Victoria Rathbun & G.P. Skratz along with fellow travelers Andrei Codrescu & Jim Gustafson as large, & possibly even as impressive, as >2. Gray may have been the first poet for whom collaboration was a primary, if not the primary, mode.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

A great idea badly executed can be much worse than a bad idea.

My evidence for this assertion is Michael Benedikt’s anthology, The Prose Poem: An International Anthology, published as a mass market paperback, a Laurel Original, in 1976. When I first saw the little blue book, I bought it instantly, thinking At last! But when I got to the French section and saw that there was no Victor Segalen, no St.-John Perse, no Marcelin Pleynet, no Jacques Roubaud, my heart sank. Then I got, not quite at the very end, to the American section, which includes only the following:

Kenneth Patchen
Karl Shapiro
David Ignatow
Robert Bly
James Wright
W.S. Merwin
Anne Sexton
Russell Edson
Michael Benedikt
Jack Anderson
James Tate

No Gertrude Stein, no William Carlos Williams, no Robert Duncan, no Robert Creeley, no John Ashbery, no Ron Padgett, not one of the language poets. It was a debacle, a book that appeared to have been edited in the worst of faith, a deliberate falsification of the record. The British selection, containing only Peter Redgrove & Cecil Helman, was, if anything, worse. I felt nauseated & furious all at once. I realized two things almost instantly. One was that this volume, issued in a mass market trade format, was going to crowd out the marketplace for a truly comprehensive volume. The second was that a book this self-consciously false wasn’t going to do all that well. It would seem I was right on both counts. The Prose Poem appears never to have been reprinted – you can’t even find used copies on AddAll or BooksPrice, perhaps because the trade format used such cheap materials that even my own copy has to be held together now with a rubber band, its pages so acidic they’re almost smoldering their way to the illegible.

And to this date, there has never been a comprehensive anthology of the form. This one little terrible book both crowded out & poisoned the market.

Later, I did meet Michael Benedikt once and he wasn’t the cynical sharpie I’d envisioned from this project at all. If anything, he seemed a well-intentioned if somewhat bumbling sort of guy. I wondered later just how much of the disaster that was The Prose Poem was literally his lack of knowledge of the materials. Could he really not have known about Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, John Ashbery’s Three Poems, William Carlos Williams’ Kora in Hell, or Robert Creeley’s Presences? Or did he just lack the intellectual courage to step outside the confines of Robert Bly’s infinitesimal notion of what constituted a prose poem? Was he an active agent of the School of Quietude’s compulsive distortion of the record – his anthology certainly was – or merely its victim? He’s gone now, so I’ll never know.

I’d forgotten that whole deep sick-to-my-stomach feeling of a book that should be a great event but turns out just to be a mess until I acquired Saints of Hysteria: A Half-Century of Collaborative American Poetry, co-edited by Denise Duhamel, Maureen Seaton & David Trinidad, just released by Soft Skull Press. It’s a disaster, not on the scale of The Prose Poem, but a disaster nonetheless. If The Prose Poem warrants an F, Saints of Hysteria is more of a D+ affair. It’s not a malevolent book, but more in the tradition of Doug Messerli’s Language Poetries or Eliot Weinberger’s American Poetry Since 1950: Innovators and Outsiders, or, for that matter, Donald Allen’s attempt to “update” The New American Poetry, The Postmoderns, all of them examples of how you can make a bad book using only good poetry. That, for the most part, is the story here too.

Called by its publisher “first definitive collection of American collaborative poetry,” it’s anything but definitive. This volume is functionally incompetent as a historical record of the genre, and tho that may be the greatest of its sins, it’s not its biggest problem as a book. The three editors missed large swaths of collaborative work, yes, particularly among the language poets, the Actualists and among contemporary writers, but the volume’s largest hurdle – the one that makes it essentially unreadable as a book and unusable as a classroom text – is that it’s presented incoherently. With over 200 poets spread out over less than 400 pages, there is no index of authors anywhere save for an alphabetical list that mercifully takes up the rear cover. Presenting the material in what the editors claim is a “loose chronological order,” they’ve dated absolutely nothing. Allen Ginsberg turns up on page 3 alongside Neal Cassady & Jack Kerouac, then not again until page 59 when he collaborates with Kenneth Koch, then on page 75 with Ron Padgett, then on page 102 when he and Bob Rosenthal are working with an entire MFA class from Brooklyn College, then literally on the next page where he turns up with Lita Hornick & Peter Orlovsky. Hornick turns up again on the next page collaborating with Ron Padgett – it’s his first appearance since the Ginsberg collab & fourth in the book overall. An author’s index and end notes after each text listing any other pages each author appears on would have gone a long way toward making this book usable, but its present format renders it unintelligible. There are some interesting combinations here, but you’re on your own trying to find them. The occasional “process notes” serve to clutter, rather than clarify, what is already a mess. They should have been given their own separate section.

That overstatement from the book’s publisher that I quoted above continues, as follows: “ranging through the New York School, the Beats, Language poetry, to the present.” But when I search out the area I know best, langpo, I can find only three of the forty contributors to In the American Tree: Lyn Hejinian, Michael Palmer & Bernadette Mayer. And Bernadette appears here for her work with other NY School poets. Considering that language poetry uses collaborative methods so extensively that the process was used to call language poets “Stalinists” in venues from the Partisan Review to the San Francisco Chronicle, I’m startled not to find any excerpt from Legend, the first booklength collaborative poem in America outside of the New York School. Not only is it not present, not one of its five authors turn up anywhere. No Bruce Andrews, no Charles Bernstein? None of Ray DiPalma’s work with Paul Vangelisti? Rae Armantrout is another poet whom this anthology disappears – her poem “Engines” is a collaboration with yours truly (making her technically a co-author of The Alphabet). Also missing is any evidence of Hejinian’s booklength collaboration with Carla Harryman. The same is true for the extensive collaborations done by Alan Bernheimer & Kit Robinson. And there’s no evidence here of any collaborative work by Steve Benson. This book includes just enough to say that it’s not overtly excluding langpo, but the reality is that if it had thought even halfway seriously (and one percent politically) about this volume’s content, it would have recognized that language poetry’s use of collaborative tools is often quite different from the NY School standard that is dominant here, and that it would have been interesting, even important to explore those tensions. But there’s no way to even glimpse that from this volume.

Contemporary flarfists will I think have an almost identical complaint, tho with some different names (the token inclusion is Rod Smith). All forms of conceptual poetics are missing, such as the work Hannah Weiner did with John Perrault. Save for Keith Abbott & Pat Nolan, the Actualists – another Berrigan-inflected literary community of the 1970s – is completely absent. No Darrell Gray, no G. P. Skratz, no Dave Morice. It’s bizarre. No sign of Michael Lally anywhere. Is it really true that neither Jena Osman or Juliana Spahr have ever written collaborations? Sheila E. Murphy or Miekal And? Susan Schultz or Maria Damon? If they have, you can’t find out about it here. The editors have been careful enough to include smatterings of Robert Bly, Marilyn Hacker, Jim Harrison, Jane Miller, Reginald Shepherd, but it’s tokenism and easily identifiable as such. The result is that an unfamiliar or uneducated reader will come away from this book confirmed in the belief that the history of collaboration can be read as radiating outward from the writing of the three primary poets who dominate this volume and presumably the last half century of American poetry: Ted Berrigan, Joanna Fuhrman and David Lehman. That certainly is an interesting & curious history. I’m only buying one third of it.

So far as I can tell the title of this book must refer to its editors, given that what they have offered us is maybe half of an unedited manuscript. Actually, the cutesiness of the title is a way of deflecting attention from the actual proposition of the book – it’s a confession on the part of the editors that they know this book isn’t what it claims to be. The editors all have, or had until now, good reputations as poets & people. I can’t imagine why they didn’t do their homework, but it’s so manifestly absent throughout this misbegotten venture that this book easily is the disappointment of the year. Plus, as the example of the Michael Benedikt anthology demonstrates, what Saints of Hysteria means above all else is that we’re not likely to have a comprehensive or competent collection of American collaborative poetry for another thirty years at least. That’s tragic.

Saturday, March 01, 2003

David Shapiro on collaboration, the late John Hejduk, architecture, politics & the New York School:



About writing the history of collaboration: Kenneth Koch's issue of Locus Solus was the first that I know to pursue seriously a collection of French AND American and other (Japanese, etc.) collaborations. Do you have it? Also, I wrote on the aesthetics of collaboration for Denver Museum (Poetry and Painting) and I gave a kind of "theory" of the politics of collaboration for a show I helped with at the Corcoran years ago: with Hobbs and Cynthia McCabe: Collaboration. All of my books since January (l965) have had collaborations with my sister, kids from Bedford Stuyvesant (I worked there with Kenneth and edited an issue of Learn Something, America from a children’s museum). My idea had been since about l962 to collaborate with everyone I could or wanted to or who wanted to collaborate with me. One of the things I've been teaching architects since l980 at Cooper Union is collaboration.


I collaborated with John Hejduk on a Palach project in Prague. When you speak of the absence of politics in some NYSchool work, I always find it strange because my earliest book had poems against apartheid, my second book is filled with anti-war poems written at Columbia University, which I helped paralyze in resistance to its practices. A Man Holding an Acoustic Panel is a long work explicitly concerned with colonialism and empire, etc. Somehow, the politics of the work with children that I helped start (first footnote in Wishes, Lies and Dreams points to my work before Kenneth) due to the total left-wing tilt of my work since childhood. The idea that NYPoets were nonpolitical hedonists is a tiny part of the dogma that was useful, I always thought, to those who wanted to pigeonhole name-call and reduce. Even Kenneth's rather noble "Pleasures of Peace," maybe one of the best antiwar poems ever written and a critique of the kitsch of the "antiwar" poem --this work, so jubilant and political and explosive, never gets talked about. Anyway, I mention the Locus Solus issue and KK's whole love of the theme of collab, and my own for about forty years with children, as interesting. I'm not writing this well in collaboration with my son's computer. It's funny to have been on the FBI Lookout list for so long, humiliated at airports, and then belong to a history that is defaced of its politics.


I am always amazed at the boutiquing of Marxism in Lucio Pozzi's phrase, and I do indeed find it amazing, as a kid whose first and last poems are against empire, that hardly anyone finds politics or collaboration, for that matter, except in the voices they are close to...It reminds me of your skepticism about me because I was published in a "commercial" press. But you could have also seen me in C magazine and many wild publications. I too was skeptical of Holt, until I got them to publish Ashbery and got Dutton to publish the poems of Frank Lima, a poet with Puerto Rican roots whom I find completely disappeared from the 300 volumes I have read of L=A criticism. A poet who found it hard to get his books published until we begged Lingo to do a Selected, and I find absolutely no mention of him in the archives. He and I collaborated for the last 30 years.


Anyway, I'm not proofing this letter and probably I have it all wrong, bitter-sweet, sweet-bitter, the sting of the honeybee. Hejduk, my best friend, was called a nonpolitical fantasist until, in Prague, his so-called fantasies (seen again this year at the Whitney with my poems and completely ignored) were liberties beloved by the Czech. When I did an opera with Morty Feldman and creatures (winged) with videos by me and Connie Beckley about collaboration, as it were, between a architecture and poetry, it was never reviewed except by a few parochial architecture critics. Anyway, those interested in the Black Mountainous experiment should look to books published by Cooper Union and Monacelli and Rizzoli about the Cooper collaborations the last 30 years. Many of the most important architects--Libeskind, Tsui, my student Shigeru Ban, and others--come out of Hejduk and my idea of making a school that would synthesize architecture and poetry. Our students learned by having exercises in which houses were built in the condition of Rimbaud, Shklovsky or the pantoum. The work was centered in my own course around three revolutionary moments and three cities and three groups of poets: Moscow, Paris, New York, l848, l870, l9l7 and the present tense. Despite my constantly writing about this and Hejduk, I have never hardly been able to intrigue poets in the politics of this, though it has ended in such things as Shigeru's WT project and his paper houses for the poor in Japan, many books of criticism, etc. Hejduk poetry, which I selected for MIT, was hardly reviewed. All of this might intrigue you, or not. But it does inflect a sense of the political inside the city. Why is it that the participation of the Columbia poets like me is passed over without a sense that we were not only political but getting smashed and beaten and trampled. Hmmm. Just little pieces of history "disappeared."


To me, the idea of collaboration was a conspiracy, a revolt between two or more. I liked the collaborative nature of the blues. I believed in the rebellious intent of chamber music. I believed that in working with artists and others we could inflect education. I thought that Cooper and work with children could assist a new sense, not of NY school formulae, but of storytelling. Lopate agreed with this and has his own story. I continued throughout my whole life to teach and work for kids at various institutions like Cooper to create a political and formal consciousness at once. I resented being disappeared because I thought this work important. I see that architectural education now does use my "litertarypoliticalsymnbolist" approach and my students are the heads of Princeton and many other places. The work that Cooper kids did from l980-2002 is amazing. You might call Cooper Union Archives and ask to see some of the books. Hejduk's works are often dedicated to me, collaborations on anti-masques, film we did together, etc. The work is about community and includes Victims, perhaps one of the supremely severe meditations on the Holocaust. His work has been a great influence, but Muschamp usually puts it down as mere poetry and paper drawing. Hejduk had more real admiration for poets than I have met from any poet in my life. He had Calvino Ashbery and Hawkes at his school; he used surgeons like Selzer to explain the cuts in architecture. But what is most interesting is the amazing mood and mode of experimental collaboration in his school. There are now at least a few books about it. Another book that would intrigue you is The Road That Is Not a Road about a surrealist Chilean group in Valparaiso that used almost a decade or two before me many similar modes of teaching collaboratively the idea of surrealist art and architecture. An amazing group.  


In a more positive mode, thank you for reading my poem. Hope you found your review (by me) in an old APR, where I tried to rebel from within by underlining you, Hilton Obenzinger (another Columbia kid) who fought and fights) and Coolidge, etc. 


Yours, or am i?


 David Shapiro

Monday, February 24, 2003

Rob Stanton in the U.K. asks an interesting question:


Reading back through your blog's archive I notice that you've referred to Rae Armantrout a couple of times as a poet you feel has a very different writing process to your own (involving meticulous revisions, etc.). You actually give an example of this in your intro to Veil, comparing "Manufacturing" with an earlier version, "Veer." At the Factory School site I came across the recording of you and Armantrout reading Engines, your collaboration. . . . I am intrigued that the two of you should have worked together in this way, given the differences you pinpoint between your respective writing 'styles' (producing a poem Rae obviously likes enough/thinks is an important enough example of her work to include it in her Selected). I had not actually realised either, until hearing the recording, that Engines represents part of The Alphabet . . . . I was wondering if you'd mind telling me something about the thinking behind Engines, how it came to be written, and what the writing process involved. You seem happy enough discussing your work habits in your blog, so I hope you don't find this question too cheeky.


I'm writing this initially from a hotel room at a business conference without access to any of my books or manuscripts, so am forced to wing it, although I'm listening to the recording as I work. Armantrout might remember every single detail here differently.


Engines was written in the very early 1980s, at a time when the poets I knew didn't have access to computers & had never heard of email. The poem was published in Conjunctions 4 in 1983. Armantrout was living in San Diego & I in San Francisco. We had known one another already for over a decade &, although I would agree that our actual writing processes are radically different, I already knew that I felt closer to her poetry than to that of any other writer I had known. Nearly twenty years later, I still feel the same way. Possibly, it's because she's able to concentrate so many different kinds of intelligence into the smallest literary spaces, far more than I've ever been able to, but does so in ways that I find completely accessible & available to me. I always learn from reading her work.


I have never felt that there was one right way to compose a poem, and certainly never felt that if such a thing might exist that my own quirky ways came anywhere close to them. I already knew – I remember telling this to the graduate writing seminar I led at SF State in 1981 – that there were some things about poetry that could not be taught & that the metabolism of one's own process was one of these. I do, however, think that one can learn about one's own processes by exploring differences & variations. One part of the process of The Alphabet has been just such an exploration. Every section of the project is an attempt to push my work in a different direction. Even at the outset, I knew that one section of The Alphabet would have to be a collaboration. I don’t know that ever I thought for a second about anyone other than Rae with this in mind.


So we knew at the outset, particularly once we'd settled on the title, that this piece would be that, that it would become a part of my project, and that it would also have a completely separate & different existence within the framework of Rae's own writing. I actually think that this double life was one of the things that excited us – or at least me – during the process of composition itself. Another distinction within the framework of my own project was that this was my portion of the piece was written directly on the typewriter – the only other section of The Alphabet so composed are the prose paragraphs in "Force." I would type a paragraph and send it to Rae in the mail. She would add one and send it back. We suggested revisions to one another's paragraphs & played off of the themes as they arose – my helicopters were a direct translation of her angels, for example.


We also discussed paragraphs over the phone and, at one point, Rae simply rejected one of my paragraphs as too something, too tacky perhaps. I sulked for a few days, then wrote another paragraph (no, I can't tell which one it is today). Materials entered into the process at odd angles. For instance, the sentence that reads "How will I know when I make a mistake" was a comment that Bob Perelman originally made to me about my own writing processes – I was always bemused at Bob’s stance on this, as I’ve always wanted a poetry in which “mistakes” were includable – but I believe that it was Rae who inserted the sentence into the final text.


There is at least one noteworthy antecedent for a poet bringing collaboration into a longpoem, Celia Zukfosky's composition of "A"-24, using her husband's texts but without any other visible input from him into her process. In some sense, I always felt that she solved a problem that had stymied Louis. For me, that text has always raised a lot of issues, both for what it says about LZ’s incapacity when confronted with the end of a lifework and for the too-pat conclusion it gives to a work that really reaches its apotheosis in the great pair of pieces that are "A"-22 and -23. Maybe I don't know when I make a mistake, but I have some sense about Zukofsky in this regard.


Whenever I've worked on collaborations, dating back to the literary card games I played with David Melnick & Rochelle Nameroff back at UC Berkeley – one of which made it into my first book Crow – or later with Darrell Gray or later still in the composition of Legend with Ray Di Palma, Bruce Andrews, Steve McCaffery & Charles Bernstein – talk about writers with difference processes! – or with Lyn Hejinian, Barrett Watten & Michael Davidson in Leningrad or the larger collective process that has lurked behind The Grand Piano, I've been struck not only with a sense that a collaboration is always about what happens in a poem when the individual consciousness of a poet surrenders control, but also by the observation that almost all good writers are what we used to refer to back in the 1960s as raging control freaks, me most of all. This of course creates a certain shall we say tension in the age of reader participation in the construction of any text's meaning. What happens when this participation isn't simply only something that the poet "factors in" to the composition of a text, but actually shows up & plans to write the next line? The breezy collabs of the New York School always struck me as never confronting that particular issue – I'm sure they might say that this is because they were never half so uptight as I was – but for myself, these pieces have always been opportunities to explore the boundaries of self & other within the immanence of a textual "voice." Engines presented me with an opportunity to test this thinking with the strongest poet I know.