Proc[edur]ession, a cross

Stephen Collis at North of Invention (click here to view his performance).

Steve Collis emphasizes the point that elements of practice that conceptualist writers identify as their own are not “new.” Ron Silliman makes the same observations in his reception of Notes on Conceptualisms, remarking that “constraint-based practices are as old as time itself”; that Vanessa Place’s 50,000-word feat of syntactical suspension in Dies has, if one thinks of its concept in procedural terms (say as a kind of biggering and bettering of the Joycean long sentence) been done before; and suggesting that the kinds of conceptual disruptions achievable through strategies of appropriation were long ago realized in the logic of the readymade.

12.6            “It’s been done before”
3.14            hardly being a reason not to do a thing again, especially 

9,11            an art thing,

Collis is particularly resistant to a Goldsmithian conceptualism that got trend-conscious folks all busy-beed about the Boring, boasted of an ethic of plagiarism, and took a tone that propped up “creativity” as the new overearnest-kid-with-the-bad-haircut that we were all going to laugh at. But it’s not the mean-girls manner of the making of the conceptualist club’s code that raises the stakes/hackles, it’s the code-making itself. Collis’s urging toward:

x/y            a dialectic poetics is a warning against (re)

#.#             codifying practice that has such deep roots in avant-garde
REF            tradition [“as new”?] 

Making it new has always been about setting trend by introducing [                   ]* into recognizable modes. Recognizing that we think and write within a communication of poetics, where participation involves a consistent production of and through recognizable poetic terms, Collis cannot fathom imaging this “distribution-oriented sign system” (as Jeff Derksen flashes it in his talk) outside the material systems in which poets’ bodies find themselves. So when the pitch of certain conversations around conceptualism, open-source ethics and empty signification hit notes of claiming that poetry circulates within the “non-economics” of a closed system of poetic readers, that the ineffability of this poetic commerce to the logic of capitalism is the same as being “freed from the market constraints of the art world or the commercial constraints of the computing and science worlds,” and that this “non-economics of poetry creates a perfectly valueless space in which these valueless works can flourish,” Collis understandably reacts.

Interestingly, the stance toward appropriation one sees in a poem like Vanessa Place’s “Miss Scarlett” suggests that at least some conceptualisms share Collis’s perspective on language as a mimetic instrument of belonging-ing, and his perspective on the archive, which Collis insists on calling “The Commons.” Collis follows a post-Derridiean conceptualization of the archive, where the book, the library, or even the concept of “all digital trace in the material of global information systems” are organizings of accumulated masses of information, the readings of which have been streamed and controlled by disciplinary or professionalization systems of affect-cum-capital.

1.1            i.e., This toning of veritas belongs in a museum or a legality.

Collis envisions language as belonging to everyone, as a commons, yet understands the full network of lines of code, the material wealth of information, as having been enclosed, under strategies of capitalist ownership, into intellectual properties and documental forms. As such, the wealth of language is variously accessible to poets as material to re-insert to the frame of poetry, or — more pointedly — variously accessible to people to lay eyes on in the first place, who might from there to learn strategies of expression, critique, or the luxury of ironic appropriation — in the first place.

Place excises lines of text mimetic of African American speech from a canonical screenplay: “She sadness cyan’t be expressd in no pretty essay, neida” (Globe and Mail, 23 Feb. 2002). She places them on a page charged by the historicizing and genre-fying enclosure-frame of the placiest of places in American poetry, a page of Poetry magazine. Place’s un/respect of codes of copyright and ownership is a challenge to the lines of text that enact legal framings of the “source” text but also is a branche of the excised lines to from one set of historico-structural lines of mimetic gesture (Hollywood screenwriting) to another that enforces/expects the genre of poetry, planting cuttings from one estate into another. See how they thrive?

Edmond Jabès: “The book breaks off from the book only to rejoin it farther on. So the empty space between two pages or two works is the place and non-place where our limits of ink and screams are set up and broken down” (381).

Both Place and Collis see the entire field of textuality as undifferentiated in its presence. Both ask what of the material language is in fact the poet’s to “own” under the banner of her “authorship?” Place asks from a place of thinking the guerilla snapshot and the crop; Collis asks from a place of thinking an anarchy of lineages and this moment’s history of leftist anti-homage investments of avant-gardes. If Collis, Kootenay Old School style, might support a manifesto of poetic:ethic:poetic:ethic, is that the same as aesthetic:ethical:aesthetic:ethical?

In Place’s poem, at least, the tones of its dissonances are dependent on the contiguities and discontiguities of discourses from which the “appropriated” language is taken with frames of poetry. The enclosures matter. The thicker the thicket of tonal and proprietary lines “crossed” to be brought to a centre of framed [poeticized] attention, the stronger the offensive charge. Dear reader, I ask:

what work
this poem would do
appropriated by a Black
[                   ]*
on a page of Callaloo

Collis wonders.
Enclosures matter.
             One. Point. Too.



* you are here and now