Monday, April 07, 2008

poetry and technology

Technology alters perceptions. That's one of the most fundamental elements of 20th century avant-gardism (perhaps best expressed in Benjamin's "shocks"). If you are then interested in art that alters perception, then you may very likely be interested in bringing technology into your art (and the other way around). The historical avant-garde broke with the bourgeois notion of beauty as autonomous by introducing technology into the art (read more about this in any number of books like Huyssen's After the Great Divide).

Way more unusual/odd than contemporary poets' interest in technology is their interest in chapbooks/broadsides and Romantic ideas of sincerity and aura. The whole chapbook culture to me seems so arts-and-crafts-influenced, and many participants I've aired this hunch to seem to agree. But all in all I don't know much about this side of things (I have a chapbook from Dos Press and I like it).


Blogger Jeremy James Thompson said...

I appreciate the clean, glib logic of your first paragraph. I also agree with your observation(s).

I don't follow the logic of your second paragraph. What is unusual or odd about contemporary poets' interest in chapbooks and broadsides, and how is this interest necessarily associated with the "Romantic ideas of sincerity and aura?"

There are, of course, poets who laud a kind of modern romanticism, seeking out sincerity and aura in everything, but why suggest that chapbooks and broadsides are their natural tools?

Chapbooks have been around since the 16th century, as items sold by Chapmen: street vendors of cheap wares. In fact, Chap comes from Old English "Ceap"... which came round to "Cheap." They were cheap books: almanacs, remedies, smut, religious and political tracts, and poems.

When I read your claiming associations between chapbooks and Romanticism... I think of the 1960's, beat-culture and its long lingering tale up to the end of the century. But Chapbooks were also proppogandistic tools of the Constructivists and Furturists, self-publishing possibilities for illicit Surrealists and Dadas, and they are more recently, in my observation, increasingly common among language poets, conceptual poets, and fringe writers attempting to connect/publish amidst a specific community, having no need to publish anything larger.

Chapbooks are directly associated with the technological altering of perceptions of which you speak. The act of making them is phenomenological: a poet considers an audience more immediately, rethinks each poem in relation to its spread, its place among the pagination. The responsibility of packaging the poem(s) is assumed by the poet(s). These factors, in turn, potentially affect the actual manufacturing of subsequential poems, as the poet is exposed to various software programs, devices enabling new ways of addressing the page, reshaping the text, renegotiating scale.

It's true that Broadsides are often instilled with a dispicable kind of aura. My primary occupation is perhaps the production of broadsides, each of which I produce in collaboration with a poet. My collaborations with Joan Retallack and Edwin Torres were based on various restrictions. The point is to focus on the process and allow the product to remain more an artifact of said process (ephemera). Again, the technology used in the production of broadsides also alters perceptions for the typographer, the poet, and the reader/viewer.

I must say that I am very glad you mentioned all that you did in that second paragraph. More than anything, I'm simply pleased to know someone is even bothering to mention these issues.

All that said, there are still poets who behave just as you have said.

5:35 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...


Thanks for your entry. I didn't mean my Romantic comment as a put-down. I meant it more like a sweeping statement covering all kinds of attitudes.

I actually think this is very interesting. "Odd" is good - as in curious, peculiar, something to think about.

I also don't think of Beat/mimeograph as negative. The current "chapbook culture" seems to come pretty directly out of Beats/Berrigans/Neo-Avant-Gardists/
0to9/BAM etc of the 1960s. Nothing shameful about that.

I like your comment about poets working with software. My awareness of book production has fundamentally changed he way I think of writing.

I should explain - perhaps it was not obvious - I was responding to some conversation I saw somewhere in the blog world (maybe Harriet - I was baby-sitting today and often I surf through blogs in a zombie-like fashion when I do that), where someone was wondering why poets were so interested in the Internet and technology. That seemed so obvious to me (thus the "glib" tone).

I do find the chapbook interesting as a format for a lot of different reasons. Especially the arts-and-crafts connection. In particular I think the connection to "community" is interesting to me. There seems to me an implicit arts-and-craft anti-alienation involved in - as you say - publishing only for one's "immediate" community. As if there was a natural connection between people.

I feel some ambivalence about this notion of community. On one hand I think it's a fundamentally important to see art as community/dialogue (not submitting to the Great Tradition); on the other hand, it can also easily lead to insularity. This of course depends on the particular community in question.

6:35 PM  
Blogger Johannes said...

Here's the original I was responding to:

6:48 PM  
Blogger Jeremy James Thompson said...

Thanks for the point by point response.
I especially share your concern for potential for insularity among poetic (or any) communities. I suppose that is where the focus should shift from what to whom(s).

If I seemed defensive in responding to your post, it's only the aftermath of having just returned from teaching a workshop on independent publishing and chapbooks at the University of Miami. The topics were still hot in my head.

I've been following the post your referenced, which actually found its way (in part) onto my own blog by way of comparing comments made by Linh Dinh in regard to his (not) "squaring" Reginald Shepherd and Kenneth Goldsmith. Complicated it seems. I suppose that is what draws me to it.

All this talking about technology by way of technology. Reminds me of typical conversations associated with juvenile drug use. Still, so much of it seems important, relevant to my own life, and to lives of my colleagues and friends around the country.

Anyhow, thank you for your response.

7:25 PM  
Blogger Jordan said...

It's not aura that attracts poets to chapbooks, but the relatively defensible unit of time they require - a half-hour, say. (Why do sitcom theme songs always feature a double clap, by the way.)

It's another question altogether whether the chapbook form allows some necessary illusions (of unity, of coherence) to go unquestioned.

A chapbook allows a poet to publish and therefore remain (temporarily) visible, without adding as much to the supply-side as a full-length collection.

Also, they can be made for next to no scratch with widely available rudimentary machines.

As a plus, they're nearly impossible to distribute except among networks of friends.

2:32 PM  

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