Further explorations of found poems in card catalogues

Or: fighting against fear

photograph by Meredith Bergmann

Ever since I saw the photographs associated with Erica Baum's book of photographed juxtapositional found poems, Card Catalogue (1997), I've been rather obsessed with the project. I've taught it to my students many times. I can't think of a better way of extending forward the lessons they and I learn when encountering imagism and other radically condensed juxtapositional language at the beginning of poetic modernism. Baum of course has often photographed the language she finds out there and is especially attracted to categorizing systems, such as the codex (Dog Ear) or the catalogue. This conceptualist consciousness — and devotion to words in the ambience (as in: who needs to create them? they're there) — I find extraordinarily teachable and infectious. One of my students is a young autistic man, Dan Bergmann. Readers of this ongoing commentary will surely have heard of Dan’s feats of talking (writing, really — or, still better: spelling). What is even more remarkable is the way in which Dan becomes aware of categories and meaning-systems.

Before the holiday I gave my students the assignment of doing one of Bernadette Mayer's famous writing experiments. Dan wrote "the longest sentence you can write." But his family went out in search of the card catalogue, in honor of their wonderful encounter with Baum's work and, I think, in honor of the ending of our semester together exploring this sort of category-challenging art. So they found a vast library catalogue (in the reference room of the New York Society Library on East 79th Street in New York City) and then went looking for a card in one of the drawers that would indicate me. If it were an aleatory project, I'd call the catalogue and the card describing my book the sourcetext and the accidental alphabetical categories on the drawer front noting the beginning and ending of the cards in the drawer I'd call the oracle. The result reads


That is just about the most evocative poem I've read in a long time.

photograph by Meredith Bergmann