Communications & External Affairs
Subject line: Donate your poetic trace to a worthy cause
Dear fine writers, artists and thinkers I admire,
I’m embarking on a two year conceptual writing project--and I need your help. It’s participatory! This fall I will be entering The New School MFA in Creative Writing to work on my fifth book of poetry. The story behind that weird decision is long and at times boring boring, but the gist is my partner Kate got a job at The New School in 2008 and because of the U.S. Defense of Marriage Act, I was not allowed to move with her from Canada. I have “visited” Kate and the lovely NYC this year, but that is no longer tenable and I need status at the border, which being a student brings for a couple of years.
Okay, here’s where you come in. As far as I can gather, part of The New School MFA involves writing poems each week—sometimes in specific forms and on assigned topics--and bringing them to class for critique. What I’d like to do is gather “poetic” material from you fine folks for a textual archive from which I will draw elements to create poems for the MFA. For example, if the assignment is to write a sonnet in the style of Petrarch on the colour purple, there’s bound to be something inspiring in the archive, even if only a hint of blue in a Fitterman tome or a yellow Levitsky sigh on the page. I will likely have to mash together multiple pieces of donated poetic material to fulfill the parameters of the week’s assignment, so there’s no worry that plagiarizing--that scourge of university campuses and influence anxiety everywhere--will come into play here. What you define as poetic material is up to you. It can be your favourite poem from your salad days in the MFA, it can be a grocery list, a picture, a philosophical treatise, a confession, manifesto, tweet to one of your thousands of friends—in short, it’s your poetic DNA, define it as you wish.
What I offer you is a chance to hear real feedback on your work from my fellow MFA students* and our instructors. What I offer you is a chance to take part in what could be the first collaborative MFA thesis ever imagined! What I offer you is a chance to help out a queer poet** who might just blow her head off if she has to look out her window and wait for poetic inspiration to come to her each week. How’s that for a good cause, eh?
Each poetic trace that you give me will receive a barcode that I will give you--you’ll see it on your donation receipt, which you can attempt to get a tax break for (good luck!). Starting this September, each week I will post the poem(s) I brought to class, plus the feedback I received, on a blog created for this project. Maybe it will be called The Tolerance Project, because, as Wendy Brown and the Museum of Tolerance have taught us so well, it’s important that we tolerate neighbo(u)rs and lifestyles and other things that we hate!
The pieces of poetic DNA used in the poem and their barcodes will also be posted on the blog, so you’ll know when your trace has been activated. I will include a comments section on the blog too, so you all and anyone else can put in your two cents toward creating the perfect MFA poem. I will then attempt to revise the poems according to all comments received and get closer to that messianic MFA perfection myself.
For my final thesis, I will collate the poem versions and responses and such and make something beautiful and grade A-worthy that everyone will want to publish. What else is an MFA in creative writing for?***
So, I’m offering you participation in something pure, something purely conceptual, a collaborative idea that may not work but may be fun, an idea that will help me tolerate MFA school (and it me). Your assistance in this matter would be greatly appreciated.
Please send poetic material to firstname.lastname@example.org that you think would help me create the perfect MFA poem (come on, most of you have taken and/or teach in these programs!). At the end of the project, all barcode IDs will be revealed on the blog and in print, if it gets that far. Of course it’s fine if you’d rather remain anonymous too. I promise to only create poems from the project archive and to use at least an aspect of every piece of poetic DNA donated--so bring it on, bards!
Yours in canonical perpetuity,
*I want to assure everyone that NO MFA STUDENTS WILL BE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF THIS PROJECT. They won’t be identified by name, and some may actually enjoy the project, since it won’t be a secret. We’re all collaborators in this grand Ponzi scheme, aren’t we?
**If the queer thing isn’t clear, the point is I can’t enter and live in the U.S. on a spousal visa (even if my partner and I swallowed our political aversion toward institutions like marriage, held our noses and took the plunge in Canada, the “event” wouldn’t be recognized at the Amerikan border). Why take the MFA and not a PhD or something else? Well, like a number of your favourite Canadian poets, I don’t have a BA, and no one’s going to let me into a PhD program without one. Going to The New School for the MFA was basically the only viable option, because the tuition will be largely covered, since I’m recognized by the school as a “domestic partner” of professor Kate Eichhorn. Yep, there are different rules for queers at the federal and state level. Pretty boring boring, eh?
***In initial focus-group testing, some concern has arisen that this project may have a stink of the smug to it. Perhaps people think I am going to create deliberately “bad” MFA workshop poems. This is not the case. The reality is that all of my work is based on collecting archives of material and drawing from them. And all of my work has a self-conscious “meta” element to it. Tolerance and the MFA is the project because tolerance and the MFA has to be the project. The poems I create for The Tolerance Project will be real poems that will be critiqued and improved upon by real students and teachers and people like you who read the blog religiously and comment religiously. How much more open to ridicule can I make myself?
Dear Bob Grenier, I don’t know if you remember but we read together at New Yipes in Oakland a couple years ago. I think you called me a revolutionary and said I reminded you of Allen Ginsberg. Anyway, here is a call for a new project of mine. I would love it if you would donate, particularly because I have to take a Minimalist Mystique class this fall and don’t have much talent in minimalist forms!
I might only add that I don't know if I see the logic in the equation of "idea" equals maker/romantic. I think there are other paradigms at work here--the question of "labor" and making art is a complex one. Is there more of a maker when the craft is involved or less or is it impossible to escape or is it even a different question (tho certainly not the *wrong* question). Some of this is the cult of personality/celebrity--but I find that any poetry written these days that bucks the myth of "voice" to be in an engaging dialog. Is the readymade as macho as the abstract painting? for me, no.
I'm sure you are anticipating the resistance you'll encounter... and it's also possible that you'll want to abandon the idea at some point because you'll get inspired by the other people in the workshops. And it might not be as workshoppy as you think! But in the meantime, this sounds like a great idea for how to keep yourself sane. Too bad I'm not there with you - I don't have an MFA and was considering going back to get one myself. You'll have to let me know how the program goes.
Here are two poems that recently got rejected from The New Yorker - perhaps the workshop participants could help me figure out why! I think they're probably not elliptical enough.
I love your logo! Your co-optation of the design is so much more meaningful in this context than the recent New School identity/logo redesign that introduced those weird pixellations for no apparent reason...now it looks like it's either enacting the idea of tolerance, dissolving identity while keeping it "readable," incorporating a field of possible narratives, or any number of allegorical readings.
I went to Parsons for graphic design. Everybody always said that I think too much about things. Conversely, I thought most of the designers were not saying anything when they opened their mouths to praise the "clean," "elegant" and "modern" solutions to many advertising problems!
i hope it's not too late to contribute to your MFA mission. i love this idea...however, in a way i'm hoping that the classes are better than you expect (i.e. you get a prof who just wants to sit around and chat about interesting things rather than demanding mechanical productions). in any case, i look forward to checking the blog as you earn your right to be in the U.S. by submitting yourself to a serious poetry education.
i've attached some text--basically notes from a stack of materials that happen to be on my desk at the moment. hope they can be of use.
I think I had a mixed reaction. I didn't think it was going to be ridiculing your fellow students but I felt like you were foregoing having a real process in that community because of the political realities that are making you feel forced to go to graduate school. Maybe some of the contempt for the mfa seems unwarranted. It's just a container for your asylum in a way but the poetry experiment seems a way to isolate yourself from the actual community you might find there. Maybe I wondered how the poetry you write could have anything intrinsically to do with being queer. It doesn't I think though if you were writing a poem that directly confronted the institution of marriage, or rights, or thanking (ironically) the school for giving you free partner tuition. It seems like the form of the poem should engage not block political meaning. That's where I question the project. Does it help.
I'm really fascinated by The Tolerance Project and would love to hear what you have to say about it. I don't have an MFA myself but I'm generally intrigued by the phenomenon of the MFA in poetry. The Ponzi scheme analogy might seem a little harsh but it's obviously relevant. And the fact that every single student and/or teacher I know involved in the MFA system has serious reservations about it is amusing/disturbing. It calls to mind politicians in the U.S. government who make careers by being "against big government." I remember being initially excited about Kenny Goldsmith's "uncreative writing" concept as a good and possibly necessary intervention in the world of institutionalized "creative writing" but it seems to have quickly turned into another one-dimensional dogma competing with the "find your voice" dogma. That's probably inevitable since it is coming "from the top" so to speak-- Kenny being an Ivy League professor and all. I especially like what you're setting out to do because I see it as claiming the MFA itself as a poetic form. Since you are in the inferior role of "student" in this particular institutional hierarchy I view your use of the entire MFA process as your own poetic form as wresting control from the institution.
So I think the project is clever and would make for an interesting experiment. Yet here's my reservation: you expressed concern about others' strange reaction to this. I don't think that should necessarily be a reason not to embark on this but I do think you have to be prepared that there might be people who are snickering on the sidelines. Mainly, there could be some classmates who object and I don't think the fact that you keep their names anonymous is the antidote. I imagine there will be some very earnest students there who are pleased as punch they are in an MFA program and feel that you're project and the way it indirectly comments on instutionalized writing programs, is an assault on their own decison. I'm sure you've thought of this but I just wanted to put that out there. Also, from a teacherly standpoint I think you could possibly have a teacher(s) who also takes offense. I imagine some of your teachers might find you threatening to begin with: an older student w/ many publications, who doesn't hold back her opinions and whose partner teaches at the same university. I think if this teacher saw you had this project, an agenda, from the get go, it could come across a bit smug. I'm thinking of a time when I took a class with ___. I brought in a poem about a teacher having a meltdown as she was unable to teach writing. ____ got really pissed off because she thought I was parodying her and told the class "Class, we need to teach _____ how to write." I was naive about it b/c the writing project was actually based on my own failures as a teacher and I was using found text from student evaluations.
Other thoughts--I think you already confirmed this for me, but does this program really assign weekly exercises? That would be very different from the MFA program I was in where we were able to take on our own projects.
Also I was a bit worried that the project could potentially become somewhat rote down the road. I think if the email unpacked a bit more what you're intention was, what you hoped to discover, I'd be able to see the makings of the experiment a little more clearly.
Last, I didn't understand the "boring boring." references in the email.
Anyway, that's my two cents, I think this could be a lot of fun, and of course I'd want a barcode.
So here's something for your project (I know, way earlier than you need anything, but then I wont forget). It's probably pretty goofy--I came out of a recent panel discussion wondering about two terms--two descriptors for poetry--that had been used--the poem as a "container" and the poem as a "vehicle"--and I'm still not sure they are "opposable" terms, but I wanted to possibly write a poetics piece using them. So the "poems" (attached) came from a simple google search as I tried to start thinking this through.
I don't write poetry but I want to participate. What can I do without making you fail out of your program?
Thanks for your message and the invitation to participate in your
struggle (poetic and political). I apologize for the U.S. (heavy sigh).
I don't believe we've met and I'm curious as to how I got on your mailing
list -- but I'm glad I did, so it ultimately doesn't matter. Here is some
poetic DNA for you:
Here is my trace. I found it on the internet (photographer unnamed) and have held on to it partly because of the image and partly because of its title: "picture of an unknown intersection."
I pulled something from my vault for you. I think this piece has finally found the right occasion.
As you will probably be able to tell, it's derived from a Google search for the phrase "dogs are gay." There's also some colorful Canada-bashing in it!
I didn't know that there was such a thing as the "Defense of Marriage Act". I'm never surprised to find something like it exists in such a place as the U. S. of A but I am always surprised that they take such blatant Orwellian titles for these things. Fail better.
okay, i'm thinking about the whole thing.
help me out here though, in this sentence '...a self-conscious “meta” element to it" what is 'meta'?
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Hope all is well. I've attached my trace for the trace donation bank. This has become my favorite song of the summer-- with lyrics profound beyond our wildest dreams.
Use it in good health!
Conut me in!
And i assume i can actually send you some of my favourite interpolated and untranslated Petrarch sonnets, right?
I don't know if the attached DNA will be useful--it sounds like you are hoping for something other than literary writing. But,ince you mention "words on a prescription bottle," you can regard what I'm sending as instructions that pharmacists receive when they are taught the key to composing instructions for the taking of prescribed medications.
I'll do this this week. But some queer poet asked for some of my poetry to plagiarize, so that's going to tie me up for the near term. Things were so much easier when they just marched topless in parades...
Though I don't have a MFA myself I know plenty of folks who do. I
thought at first you wanted to use some poems by me, but now I see
you probably want "poetic material," and I have a secret supply of
pet loss poems, that I read whenever one of my pets dies, or in fact
when a human dies. One of them, "I am not there," we learned by
heart practically during the days when AIDS took away half of our
friends and we would go to one funeral a week minimum. The others
just accreted in my file. You can find them (and more) all on line
(google "pet loss poems"), these are just some of my favorites.
A guilty pleasure indeed, and so sad! But maybe you will be able to
make use of them in some conceptual way,
Somehow, and you may or may not see it this way , your inclusive vision somehow connects with a Nonsite talk yesterday by Michael Davidson - which was implicitly about the theoretical questions and/or consequences raised by mixing up DNAs and progenerations on all levels of human kind.
I wrote about it probably not very well on my blog.
I will see about contributing to your project. Life a bit fractious at the moment. As ever.
Am I first?
Second, my dear, but good and sloppy seconds.
I'll be happy to participate, also for selfish reasons, since I think it will give me inspiration for my own poetry, as well. Have you talked to Tina Darragh about her plagiarization projects? I tried it with my class at Naropa and was surprised how much resistance the students had to overcome in plagiarizing a text that the author had explicity asked them to plagiarize (not that you're plagiarizing, but just an interesting tanget.) Oops, I____ just took off his diaper in bed--gotta go! (so much for my poetry moment of the day).
Thanks for your response and interest. I’m collecting all summer--I have to start writing poems in the first week of September so will need my archive by then! Have fun with the lesvians. Do you know Aristotle’s Lesbia Regula, as cited in Erasmus?:
"By the Lesbian rule (Lesbia regula). This is said when things are done the wrong way round, when theory is accommodated to fact and not fact to theory, when law is suited to conduct, not conduct corrected by law; or when the ruler adapts himself to the behavior of the populace, though it would be more fitting for common people to conduct their lives according to the will of the prince; if only the prince himself has right conduct before his eyes as his rule and aim. Aristotle mentions this adage in his Ethics, book 5: 'For the rule of
what is indefinite is also indefinite, like the leaden rule used in Lesbian architecture; the rule changes to fit the shape of the stone and does not remain a rule.'"
And since you mention Petrarch, here's "Metropolis 28"--each of these "sonnets" takes the title from the Petrarch's Dialogues and then goes online, etc.
I've attached a selection from Disclosure, a conceptual manuscript that's a paper profile made of found documents.
I tried to choose from among the pieces that mirror (in a loose way) some of the concerns of the MFA project as described in your email...
Very odd. The night before I received this, you made a cameo appearance in a dream- either coming out of or going into your home. This (your idea-- )sounds intriguing and - not surprising from you....
I will get back to you in a few days about this....
Your email was great to receive--and your project sounds wonderful. I'm in an MFA program now too--wow, it's a challenge to my patience. But it's up at ___ so I actually don't have to be there except twice a year. Just trying to get that credential that will lend itself to better chances of secure health benefits and better pay--who the hell knows. My last ditch effort, I suppose!
So I'm happy to donate material to your worthy cause. I have attached a handful of confusing, random, unrevised verse. Good luck using it! I feel happy knowing it will have a new home.
I've come to read "progressive" as a code word for something like "neo-con-cork-flooring": in other words, conservative repression but with the "right" packaging. Oh well--veils are lifted! (Have been for a while but what can you do?)
If I can grow a brain and figure out what kind of submission you would like,
I would be happy to send. I seem to have developed some kind of permanent brain-cramp. It is not due to a lack of clarity on your part; it is more that
I have to have everything explained to me in the simplest of terms. I gather that you want to set up some kind of poetry data bank, but how would I know what to
submit, and when?
The program you are in sounds fun and I would love to trade your reading list
for a submission on my part. An poetic-intellectual exchange, of sorts :)
found it! it is just an unadulterated 3 pages of MacProse... well, adulterated just by my underlining one sentence, and as you will see when you get the book, it is reproduced just like this at the end of the book, just to give an example of unadulterated MacProse (and since MacP doesnt work with OSX, it is a program of the past.... so this is a wee artefact)... hope it is useful (i await my criticism from the class, heh heh heh)
Here are two poems and a bit (a 'poem' if you will, from the midst of
"Iflife"). Do what you want with whatever. Don't worry about the poetic
DNA. No barcodes needed, from my p-o-v; if it's part of the project, fine.
I am writing to donate some very dry material to your archive. It is the first 1000 words I translated this morning, from a Teaching Guide, an accompaniment to the textbook for grade 11 history in Québec.
Everything I write is scrutinized by a copyeditor at the ministry; I must not change a word of the already sanctioned French-language text, and thus it is to be very literally translated (as government documents are). I uphold its authors' perspective on history. I follow terminologies established by the Ministère de l'éducation. I get paid well.
In a week, I will hand in my last text for this contract which has been ongoing for two years. I would be so happy if you could salvage something of the time and energy I have channelled into this labour. The attached text is about the worst of it, in terms of blandness... If it is too awful for your archive, I can send something less bleak. Let me know.
The MFA project sounds good, intriguing, and promises to take on the
instituionality of MFA in a way that I haven't seen before. It's a great
idea. I am sorry I am unable to participate -- I am overwhelmed right
now. But I do want to follow the blog.
Well, here's something. Its not poetry. My editors asked me to write a statement for my book. So I'm sending the statement. Cut it up please. I sort of hate this statement, but was "in it" when I wrote it.
I will be away from Evergreen and Evergreen business till mid-September.
If you would like to submit a portfolio for the fall academic program Logopoesis please mail a hard copyof ten pages of creative or critical writing to Leonard Schwartz, The Evergreen State College, 2700 Evergreen Parkway, Com 301, Olympia, WA 98505.
Dr. Eamon and I will be checking our mail once in late July and once in early September when we will meet to discuss portfolios.
I will be in a remote location and unreachable by e-mail until August 1st. Thanks for your message. I will try to answer it as soon as I can on my return.
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i'm trying to imagine the person who is moved by a course syllabus. perhaps i haven't found the right course syllabus yet.
Here's my trace: chapters 1 and 4 of the "academic renewal" process that my university is engaged in (ch 1 because it makes bold and ridiculous claims and chapter 4 because of the pretty graphs that look like flowers and/or cancerous tumours).
Maybe you can find something here...
How does a month's log of my blood sugar levels count?
A statistical month in the life of a Type I diabetic.
Thanks for the expansion of information. I do have some old poems
that I found last year but I don't know what I have done with them.
I would appreciate the anonymous critique.
I hope your visa is now in proper order.
Glad to hear you are legal. The illegal is not good as J___ and my
cleaning woman has been in the lock up for a month. She was to have
a hearing today. I don't know what happened. She wanted J___ to act
as her guarantee, but that would have meant exposing the fact that
she had been working underground and not paying taxes. J___'s dad's
89th birthday was the same day as the hearing.
I don't know where I put the poems. I through out all the stories
last summer and need to take another look at the poems which I didn't
have the heart to examine at the time.
I am in between blood gathering and seeing the doctor, so antsy. I
went to see Les vacances de M. Hulot tonight and laughed till I
cried. And at last at 10 pm I heard that the city counsellors had
voted 21 to 17 in favour of the deal negotiated with the unions.
People are angry because they didn't do away with the sick day
banking for current employees but grandparented them, as Hazel did in
Mississauga and rt wing Holloday did in Etobicoke. Still, he was
one of those opposed this time round.
Garbage collection means I can start doing a big clean up.
I am now (and have always been) happy to contribute in whatever way to this/your/their/our? project! But I was so embroiled in fiction last year, that poetry sort of fell to the margins. Also, I have a few pieces I was working on, and wanted to really get into them, once I had time this summer.
So, now I have, and find that I've come to a dead-end with this piece. There's something about it that I can't let go of, but also something to Dewdney-ish or bpNichol-ish, or somebody-ish that I can't shake. I'm happy to let you (and your fellow students) run wherever you want with it. I'm assuming that classes begin with a vengeance in about a month, and you may have many more complicated pieces, so use or don't use as you wish. And I'm glad you're finding a way to stay down there and to keep yourself amused at the same time!
I heard that [Ponzi] term just as you did -- through the grapevine! I actually think it is ____ who said it to me at the AWP. We were talking about how the whole thing is destined to come crashing down... I'd recommend just pretending that you came up with it.
Further to our brief discussion Tuesday, below are the anonymous constructive comments exactly as I had originally placed them on The Tolerance Project blog before my poems. So Poem 1 post would start with the feedback paragraph, then go to the poem, then the barcodes.
Please let me know individually by emailing me:
• If you don’t want me to post your anonymous constructive feedback on the blog
• If you’d prefer that I post your comments on Facebook, which is deemed private
• If you don’t want me to post your comments on Facebook either
• If you don’t mind where I post the comments
Please get back to me by email or in person by the end of class Tuesday. If I don’t hear from you by end of class Tuesday, I’ll assume that you don’t mind my using your anonymous constructive comments, and I will put them back up on the blog and continue.
I have posted the note I read out to you Tuesday on the blog, so you can read it more carefully if you wish. In it I explain the importance of the comments to the project.
ps—The posts below aren’t consecutive because poems 5, 6 and 8 (and the initial Fragments post) were for my literature class, which doesn’t do feedback
pps—And if you guys didn’t notice the newsletter today—congrats to A____ for her first book!
Poem 1--A limit laid down
So the assignment was to meditate on a single word using the Oxford English Dictionary. One could probably guess what word popped to mind. Unfortunately, the class didn't have time to converse about our poem last night, but a few constructive comments on the page were: "blah first line," with an arrow pointing to line two; "the poem seems too dense, too varied";"to a certain extent requires tolerance of someone used to straightforward grammatical notation"; "it might be cool to have a way (a narrator, perhaps?) to engage with the multiple definitions here"; and "isn't 'dancing girls' a euphemism?"
Poem 2--the Tradition
Some comments on Poem 2: “Poem has too much repetitions. It grates on listener’s/reader’s ear”; “a little preachy...look at tuning some passages of melodrama”; “I almost wanted to see some less robotic mixing in the beginning”; “I think plain, clear language could make it stronger, ie cut the repetition of not really me and simply refer to it as a child…it gets worn from overuse”; “hmmm very both motherhood and sex, lube and oils, perhaps just my reading”; “'economics and labor time and biology' could be too direct”; “reminds me of The Talking Heads’ 'Heaven'”;“'Hand this over./Pass this on' feels a little chain-letter like to me”; “'raisons' as intentional misspelling?”;“Follows some directions of the 'contemporary' canon, but explosive”; “Suggests the speaker is a kind of machine, so the speaker is the engine oil, what needs the additive.”
Poem 3--Untitled love poem
One MFA student/colleague thought the notion of expecting "relates a little to the last poem [the Tradition] on offspring and what we leave them." A number of commentators wanted a title. The hiding under the sofa line was "discordant" to one reader. Some wondered how the Xs were "functioning," found them "confusing"; "the Xs get heavier, though I can't place why"; "Since we can make out the words beneath the Xs I would encourage you to make more uniform and profound use of the deletions – some of them seem a bit arbitrary." One student thought that "more could happen at the end, this statement feels almost too vague, or empty." Also, "radical honesty is an interesting (and frightening – to me) idea."
The assignment was to "take a classic text and construct a poem by Whiting-out [sic] most of the text, leaving nuggets of suggestive language that work on the page to form a new resonant text excavated from the old." Besides a couple of persistent requests for a title, and the fact that one student "wasn't sure how to read the words framing the picture," there isn't much constructive criticism to work with, as folks generally seemed pleased with the result, particularly the "Dada playfulness and transgression" of the "Duchampian (?right?)" or "Hitler" moustache.
Poem 7—Adrienne Rich used the Communicating Bad News template....
This poem prompted a range of epistemological reactions: "I don't know what this is about – I am pretty sure I am not part of the target audience"; "I can't find much to hold it together beyond its instruction manual style tone"; "I'm confused by the poem"; "doesn't seem to hang on its own"; "I don't get it; or I don't see how these things are related"; "I can tell some of the expressions are meaningful, to someone – but I can only read them and read on"; "I don't get it"; "I don't think I 'get' it." Other comments: "flarf?"; "C3I = Church?"; "a bit cynical, in a way, how certain things are unquestionably negative"; "do you not want a title!?"; "particularly don't understand 'communities of meaning'"; "not convinced with the W. imagery, it's an easy out,..."