Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Avant Writing Symposium, Columbus, Ohio, Part One

I don't get out much. Occasionally, though, I step outside my routines; and sometimes really good things happen as a result.

I'm thinking to make at least a couple of posts about the Symposium (August 19-21, 2010). It was so good to be in the same room with Geof and Nancy Huth, Sheila Murphy, Nico Vassilakis, Miekal And, Camille Bacos, Maria Damon, Crag Hill, and on and on. It was a generative experience which I'm going to feed off for awhile.

I performed on the first day, the last slot before lunch. I was introduced, walked to the side of the podium, unbuttoned my shirt, dropped it to the floor, revealing a black tee shirt with white block printing. On the front of the shirt: WHAT DO I KNOW? On the back of the shirt: WHAT SHOULD I DO? (Yes, they are Kantian questions. The Englightenment wasn't all bad.) Here's what I read:


What should I do?
Have I exposed myself yet?
Is revelation on this morning’s programme?
Am I in the right register?
Aren’t we all registrants?
Are we defined by separations?
Our attributes are what?
How much of what we are is about erasure?
Is one inside or outside?
Are you as preoccupied with shadows as I am?
Is the philosophical expression quote always already end quote meaningful for you?
Do you locate yourself at a certain position on the sexual continuum?
How about on religious and/or philosophical continua?
Location, location, location?
Do you ever think about your life as a series of newly encountered,
maybe often re-encountered crossroads
(or roadblocks)?

If you had to signify what is singular about yourself with a list of keywords,
what shape would that list take?
How big or small would your list be?
Does, he asks, size matter?
How would you express your sense of the relationship(s) between word and world?
Does the word “dialectic” resonate with you?
Does your intelligence skew in an unusual direction?
Do you have strong feelings about “individualism,” “capitalism,” “dissent?”
What would you do for yourself
that you wouldn’t do for anyone else?
What might you do for another which you couldn’t or wouldn’t do for yourself?
Why am I I and you you?
Have you ever really thought about time and discontinuity?
What does surrendering mean to/for you?
Do you see food in political terms?
What are your political boundaries?
What are your textual/linguistic/cognitive boundaries?
How does staring at something work on you and/or the object being attended to?
If I stand before you, afraid, and speak…what the hell should I say?
And why should anyone listen?
Confidence is lord and master of the dance, no?
Writing: what is it?
And isn’t speech something different?

Do you see what I am doing?
Do you see what I am saying?
Do you hear me?
Do you want to?
Or do you only want to be heard and/or seen?
Is life precious?
Is anyone here prescient?
Could there be something I want to tell you?
What can be assumed?
What can’t be questioned?
What am I willing to answer for?
Who would I willingly answer to?
Who wants to stand up and tell us a secret?
To what degree
is the way you speak,
the ways in which you assemble your thoughts,
a consequence of desire?
Is all poetry amorous?
Who do you love?
Is timing everything?
Where was I when?
Is consciousness mappable?
Did I already ask that?

Have you given much thought to repetition?
In how many different ways can one be said to repeat oneself?
How do you feel
about this continuous dystopian present
that is happening NOW
all at once?
Do you believe in hierarchies of experience?
Is hegemony a word you’ve ever said out loud?
What troubles your sleep?
Do you ever want to be overwhelmed?
Are you preoccupied with somehow controlling your experiences?
How important are the choices one makes?
Art and attention: could we think a bit about that?
Just how important are boundaries?
How often have you thought about what it means to blur something,
for what it means for something/someone to be
Who doesn’t love the work of Nick Piombino?
What does it mean to name names in a poem?
How much TV do you watch?
What constitutes enough of anything?
When one speaks is one projecting anything more than one’s voice?
Could a voice be said to be something akin to a shadow’s cousin?

If one adds letters to a word or takes some out, is that a poem?
Are declared intentions sufficient (in art or in any human exchange)?
Do you trust what I am attempting here?
What do you want from a poem?
Where did/does poetry begin for you?
Is writing a form of substance abuse?
Where are we now in this moment?
Are we together here?
Are you with me, Columbus?
Isn’t this a talk?
What’s your favorite musical instrument?
What’s your favorite sex act?
How do you feel about lists and collage as forms of artistic practice?
Should I disrobe now?
Do you, by the way, like my t-shirt?
Would you blank me if I asked politely?
Why is it that right wing ideologues are such mean-spirited bastards?
Is chicken your favorite protein?
How come I am so often confused by my feelings?
Why is it that I think in terms of binaries?
Are you going to offer to explain me to myself now?
How can the frames of a cartoon be related to the experience of life?
Why would anyone invite me to speak anywhere?

David Baptiste Chirot, when you rub your art into life, what do you feel?
Is evidence a word you’ve ever used in a poem?
What about vocabulary?
Why are words weirdly wired into one?
Why don’t I have rhythm?
Would you step back a little?
Would you give me some space?
How do you see yourself extending in time now?
Is your extension, in any way, a matter of anxiety?
What do you wish might be different?
How might your hopes, desires, be categorized?
Why am I reluctant to take off my clothes and stand before you?
Does anyone here want me to do something in particular?
Does being the speaker right before the break for lunch
carry with it any special responsibilities?
Am I an asshole?
Can we be friends?
Do you prefer white or red?
Soccer or football?
Is sucking a situational term?
Are you overly invested in certain speech acts?
Who wants what and why?

Do all objects together do anything sequentially?
Who’s there?
Is a blank as a place holder, or improbable place-setting,
such a worrisome thing?
How can nature be said to abhor anything?
Is language
the “house of being?”
True or false?
What divided your house?
Does anyone here want me?
Does anyone here want me to shut up?
Does anyone here want to shut me up?
How do you feel about punctuation?
Is philosophy important to you?
Have you ever really thought about kissing and what it means to you—not just, I mean,
as a pleasurable activity, but in onto-epistemological terms?
Is “onto-epistemological” a useful term for you, or does it just seem like the usual academic horse shit?
Do you believe poetry has social value?
Does the expression “cultural capital” evoke poetry economics for you?
Do you love the blues too?

Might there be said to be many kinds of language environments? How would you describe
the language environments you inhabit and move through?
Are you saving questions and/or answers for me?
What sorts of things irritate you the most?
What irritates you the most about my “talk” today?
How do you feel about quotation marks and semi-colons?
Whom among us isn’t an Other’s mirror?
Are you familiar with the psychological concept of projection?
What do you think noise is?
How much credence do you give to rhymes?
Do you think Language Poetry is the Antichrist?
How do letters and phonemes figure in your scheme of things ?
What am I to do?
Did you hear that Hinge-Music?
Do you feel penetrated too?
If I could ask you only one thing, what would you want that question to be?
What might you collectively ask me by consensus?
A question for Miekal And: would you write something for me about how you feel
about names and naming?
What right now would constitute a revolutionary act?
Have you ever thought seriously about the writing of Karl Marx?
Do you know the work of Brecht, Benjamin, Eagleton, Marcuse, Adorno, or to get really retro, Debs?
Would you have liked to have had a drink with Guy Debord?
What if sexual difference isn’t what we collectively thought?
Does the word “interlude” rub you the right way?
How do you like to be rubbed?
Can I rub you now?
To borrow a phrase: “Who’s zooming who?”
Has anyone ever adequately approached a description of the beauty of vowel sounds?
No one?
Why are so many of you looking at me and so many of you looking away?
Why are we here?
What are we doing?
Is there something I can get for you? Maybe a cookie?
Are you familiar with the linguistic slash philosophical expression “performative?”
How do you feel about fart jokes?
Would you rather watch a documentary or a fiction movie?
What’s your secret pleasure?
How complex is your attitude toward narrative?
Am I, this gimpy graceless person standing before you nervously espousing, structured like a language?
Could I just for a second hear you say something back?

What now?
And where to go from here?
What would you like to know?
How, where, do you find poetry?
How do you find the ways
to do the things you do?
Do ghosts figure as realities for you?
Do have any idea how preoccupied I am with pronouns?
Do you feel as if you’re being interrogated?
Where haven’t you been that you’d like to be?
When am I going to be done with this?
Why can’t I reconcile myself to routine?
Geof, can you forgive me for subjecting you to my weaknesses for an entire year?
Do you have any idea how hard I’ve worked to achieve a few small things?
Do you practice self-erasure?
Do you think you know what makes me tick?
Is desire a word that figures importantly for you?
How is it that I feel everything is shaky and in question?
Why don’t I know right away what to say?
Why do I feel so thoroughly mediated by everything/everyone?
Why do I long to be pierced again?
Why have I spent so much time thinking about refrains?
Would you tattoo me with your idea of me if I tattooed you back with my idea of you?
Is reciprocity important to you?
When I think about Utopia I think about something approaching a sort of ongoing social orgasm, a kind of universal pleasuring. How about you?
Who reads what?
Why are you angry?
How is it that we’ve come to this particular impasse?
I want you if not to want me to at least tolerate my need for being needed, OK?

In one of her poems Norma Cole asks: “Where does the first person plural begin?”
Isn’t that a fabulous question?
Truth or dare?
What is the ethical responsibility of a poet to its audience?
What role do you allow for nostalgia in your life?
Is this sentence the rough draft of a train wreck?
What certainties are possible?
Are there words you won’t say out loud?
Are there images and scenarios you think about obsessively?
What’s your position on appropriative strategies of writing?
Are you a fan of outright theft of another’s words?
Or do you feel obligated to transform what you have taken into something which is yours?
Is, as Charles Bernstein once riffed, intellectual property theft too?
Am I wrong to think of my texts as desiring machines which you really ought to plug into?
Am I wrong to conflate poetry, philosophy and stand-up comedy?
Is language a parasite and humanity its host?
Where’s my laugh track when I need it?
When’s my theme song gonna cue up?
Who’s gonna remember me (or whatever) when this season’s over?
What are the memes of the moment?
How can one not see repeating me’s in meme?
Is cooking a lot like making a poem?
How fixated are you on the alphabet?
Crag, what’s the SCORE? What is it to be scored, marked?
What do you fetishize?
Whom among us can be said to be fully present now?
Have you watched every episode?
Have you sussed out spectator culture?
Do you want any part of me?
To borrow a question from Zizek: “ So where is the parallel with capital here?”
So where is the parallel with the view from here?
What about all of the questions unasked, unrecognized?
Do you feel at home in your body?
Do you think you would feel at home in mine?
What might it mean to be possessed?
Do you consider your thoughts to be your own?
Do you think of yourself as a unified Subject?
Are you consciously inside of the picture you see?
Am I bugging you?
Do I appear to be some sort of outside agitator?
Am I boring you?
Are you moved?
Are we moving on?
Do waves truly crash against a shore somewhere?
Am I under water?
Am I—old nervous speaker trick—imagining you in your underwear?
That’s supposed to help how?
How much faith can be put in a gesture?
How much does faith figure in the scheme of things?
Is less more?
Do you have a habitual way of doing things?
Do you have a habit of trying to mix things up?
Do you lack a sense of physical orientation?
Are you easily lost?
Do you usually have a sense of where you yourself and the exits are?
Do you have good “muscle memory” or muscle Alzheimer’s instead?
Do you have survivor skills?
Are you fatalistic?
Are you frequently moved to tears?
How do you feel about subtitles, subtexts and fleeting emotions?
Are you hormonal now?
Is your humor “edgy?”
Is what separates us ideological, aesthetic or sexual?
After my blather is over, would someone tell me a story?
Does anyone feel like interrupting me now?
Has anyone, apart from Brecht, the Situationists and the ( I am required to insert “so-called”) Language Poets
succeeded in enunciating an aesthetico-political theory of praxis
as interruption?
What, in your experience, has intervened to change your world view?
Do you think you, as individual, matter?
Do you see anything when you see the putative me?
Is there a collective reality which can be articulated and recognized?
What is the role of History in everyday life?
How is it that we are here, anxious for lunch, before the next speaker?
What are you thinking about?
Are you attracted to things you are afraid of?
How about people you are afraid of? Are you attracted to them?
Do you fetishize scenarios or metonymies?
What derives from sensation?
Is this a palimpsest?
What for you constitutes revelation?
What do you consider to be your most fundamental belief?
What roles have friendships played in your life?
What responsibilities are owed to our neighbors?
From what do you feel yourself to be inseparable?
Would you abandon everything to follow a charismatic leader?
Do you ever worry about the politics of language?
Does “reception theory” trouble your sleep?
Are you preoccupied with heuristics?
Would you participate willingly in being colonized?
Have you ever seen pictures of intestinal parasites?
Have you accepted the inevitability of your own death?
Do you think of philosophy as an academic concern?
What constitutes everyday life for you?
Is one one’s routine?

Sheila, and I ask this in all seriousness, are there moments as a poet when you feel a need to work against your gift of access, against your virtuoso abilities?

What is the responsibility of an artist?
What have I nailed myself to here doing this?
Is it intelligible to ask if one subscribes to something like a ladder of forms?
What are the contradictions you live within?
What are the contradictions you can’t live without?
What makes sense?
What makes you hum?
Do you ever seriously wonder about your own reality/irreality?
Aren’t we all becoming Avatars?
What’s going on?
Where are we now with this thing we’re doing here?
Do you ever feel stranded?
Do you ever feel as if you’re speaking in a false accent, with bad papers, on the verge of arrest?
Have you ever really thought about ideology, per se?
Do you know many show tunes?
Are there disconnects between your inner and outer lives?
Do you have strong feelings about the subject-object opposition?
Is it accurate to posit a subject-object opposition?
Are you a theory person?
Where was I?
Who are you?
To what degree is empathy a problem?
Who mirrors who or what and why?
When are microcosms and macrocosms most likely to collide?
Do you yearn for continuity?
Or are you obsessed with this moment, with this moment, with this?
Or are you preoccupied with the big F future?
What doesn’t disappear?
Am I the product of symptoms?
What is called understanding?
What are the stories you won’t say out loud?
What do you see when you look out at anything, anywhere?
What do you worry about most?
How do you feel about being lost?
Have you given much thought to slant rhymes like “lost” and “lust” for example?
Is punctuation something you obsess over or something you try to avoid having to think about?
Are you awake?
Am I the sum of my misunderstandings?
Or am I an irreducible reminder of something I myself don’t know?
What sort of vehicle is a relationship?
What makes us go?
Do you think most often in terms of subjects, the Subject, objects, or of the Thing as such?
Or of none of the above?
What sorts of presences can we be for one another?
Is consciousness a language effect?
How about amorousness?
In the name of what?
In the name of whom?
Are all human exchanges essentially asymmetrical?
What does it mean to establish something?
Are you interested in absence? Interested, I mean, in how absence figures in your own life, and perhaps the lives of others?
Is absence foundational?
Are there gaps in your personal history which you can’t or won’t account for?
When one appears before you and speaks, as I am speaking now, what determines your level of attentiveness?
What do we owe one another?
What is the purpose of poetry?
Can language ever be said to exist apart from experience?
Do you really believe that there’s such a thing as asemic writing?
Shouldn’t asemic writing have so-called attached to it?
Isn’t meaning inescapably present in all manifestations of expression?
What’s your social project?
What’s the one image indelibly imprinted in your consciousness?
What’s the sense-memory that you can’t shake?
What haunts you?
What arouses you?
Is there a question which I’ve asked today that particularly pisses you off?
Are you going to let me know about it?
What would an image of thought look like?
Is the truth gendered?
With what doxa are you most preoccupied?
Toward what and whom do you perform most irresponsibly?
Where do our obligations lie?
To what degree when one speaks does one speak to oneself only?
Do you think about style?
Do you imagine that what you do has consequence?
Do you imagine that I don’t realize my failures, over and over again?
Ever feel like a Frankenpoet, repeatedly lurching from laboratory to graveyard? Ever get tired of being chased by all those torch carrying villagers?
Is a sentence always a potential zombie, robot, angel, dominatrix, or bottom?
Am I entitled to feel the way I do, think the thoughts I do?
Is anyone entitled to anything?
And what about consequences?
What about what happens or doesn’t happen after one does what one does?
How do you think/feel about expectations?
How many among us know the sound of their own voice?
Ever feel ghostwritten?
Ever feel like a palimpsex?
How many sexes are you? How many would you like to be?
How many sexes are we? Has anyone even bothered to count?
What is becoming now?
Is the dissolution of the self a language effect?
Is reincarnation a syntactic exercise?
Is a poem a prayer, or what?
Am I asking you for something?
Is there something that you want from me?
Do you believe that I exist apart from you?
What’s to be done about us?
What’s to be done?
What do I know?

More about the Symposium later, I hope. It was a great experience for me.


  1. I will have to spend some time with these questions. A lot of time but yes cooking is like making a poem. I love the shape of it too. Like an alien body.

  2. Thanks, Rebecca. Aren't all bodies alien?

  3. The delivery was brilliant, just as the content is! And what a JOY to meet you face-to-face and talk, Tom!!

  4. Ahh, Sheila,

    So many great moments at the Symposium. But it was a singular honor to finally meet you after all these years.