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Notes on Conceptualism

By Alan Davies

5-2-13_Davies

What does conceptual poetry have to do with conceptual poetry?
Is conceptual poetry conceptual poetry?
Is conceptual poetry poetry?

Conceptual poetry is mainly about unearthing neuroses in the minds of the people who make it.

By far and away / the most common of these is obsessive-compulsive disorder.

*

Hunting and gathering is its primary mode. For this reason / people who make using those methods are (understandably) jealous (protective) of their findings (gleanings). What is hunted and gathered is (generally speaking) no more the property of one person than another. This is made evident by the fact that whoever gets to things first / and possesses them / quote owns them end-quote.

With things that are produced (on the other hand) / the phenomena are somewhat different. People who produce something are also (to a point) hunters and gatherers – they first look for and gather together the materials and persons and energies required by/for the making – and then / and in-that-process / the making begins.

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The neuroses unearthed in the process of making conceptual poetry / might (also / or alternately) be neuroses in the language.

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Conceptual poetry consumes more energy than it produces. Hunting-and-gathering is strenuous work – what is hunted / what is gathered / is usually soon consumed in its near-entirety.

Attending to this consumption of energy is also enervating. Watching (watching) others at work is seldom edifying.

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All language decays.

A conceptual poem is essentially a collection of samples of language / relocated from within certain boundaries / to within the boundaries of the text. So / one of the slight levels of interest that such a text can raise / is this matter of how long that particular set of samples (a radical subset of language) will survive.

Usually / structure is used (in part) to keep the language that it structures alive longer. In the case of conceptual poetry / the main structural element is the parameter of selection (a boundary). How long this simple / and banal / structural element (a matter of enclosure / not composition) will serve the life interests of the language sampled is uncertain. (My own guess is that (in most cases (at least)) we will know within a few years.)

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A concept is an idea.

A concept is an idea with a built-in framework. Is it more inclusionary or more exclusionary? – it is more inclusionary / but (by-being-that) it is rendered all-the-more exclusionary.

The conceptual poem is essentially acquisitive.

The materials are acquired / signed / and sold. As such / it’s not surprising that it’s occurring just as capitalism turns into fascism here and elsewhere.

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Words are chosen / not for their intrinsic values (emotive / intellective / sonic) but because a concept has been made that includes them in its purview.

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A conceptual poem is an environment – a closed ecological system.

Whether the system can support (for any length of time) its particulars (words) is something that would have to be asked in each instance.

My hunch is that they will (fairly) quickly become relics.

They have / already / all the makings of a relic – they still have some form / with some (relatively inert) content / but with no use.

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The concept of a conceptual poem is a diagram made out of words.

It’s a way of getting out of where we are / and going (and being) somewhere else (a much smaller space) / and knowing (in advance) what it’s gong to be like when we get there.

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Concepts tend to try to sustain themselves by posing as rational.

They’re more a (temporary) effort toward a (hoped-for) solution.

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The concept precedes the conceptual poem.

The poem is its residue.

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Concepts are always warped. They exist in order to distort reality.

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After reading a piece of writing or seeing a painting (for examples) / people sometimes says – If I’d had that idea I could have written that.

In the case of conceptual poetry / that’s pretty much the case.

In the case of other types of poetry that’s not the case. Other types of poetry require – nerve / emotional commitment and energy / something to say / and then something more to say / a varying set of word skills variously and skillfully employed / a breadth of personality capable of expressing that breadth / some intensity of focus / diligence / the willingness to be vulnerable in the pursuit of whatever / empathy with others (as potential readers / or not) / all of the senses present and employable / compassion / an open and constantly revolving mind / at the same time capable of infinite focus / the need and the intention to share / an awareness of the current scene (social and political and otherwise) / an abiding sense of time (and times) / the ability to relax into the moment (with all that you’ve got) / the willingness and ability to let yourself feel whatever you’re doing makes you feel / structural and formal ideas (and the ability to combine them) / passion / a sense of style / a flair for style / honesty (with oneself / with “others” / with the words) / a full range of feelings / a sense of urgency / a relaxed writing hand –

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Conceptual poetry is a kind of cleaning / a clearing-away. Words of a certain sort are gathered up / and (in that way) disposed of.

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It seems at times that we ought to be able to come up with a formula for any given conceptual poem.

Or to diagram them in some way. Maybe Anthony Braxton (eg) could come up with something (of that sort).

This mathematical “tendency” of the conceptual-poem-form is really only a recognition that mathematical language and the (form of a) conceptual poem are both (in their way) conceptual.

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People tend to work from an aesthetic of monotony when they find that their work is (becoming) monotonous.

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One wishes that someone would come along and issue a (massive) spoiler – One Thousand and One Ideas for Conceptual Poems – so that those ones at least would not (have to) be written.

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All writing requires the writer to make judgments as their work goes along. In conceptual writing / these judgments are severely reduced (if they are present at all) – the process (if it can (still) be called that) is rather more like coloring inside the lines.

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Conceptual poets seem (seem) to be searching for something (eg / the next example of x) / but they are (in consequence of the directive(s) of their (guiding) concept) manufacturing the inability (the inability) to find anything else.

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It might be said (thought) that the conceptual poet is actually engaged in a reading (a close reading (narrowly focused)) of the world. The closeness is being produced (the experiencing is being limited) by the wearing of blinders / out of which have been cut holes that peculiarly correspond to the “shape” of the concept – what is perhaps more peculiar is the reliability with which those holes correspond to the (shape of the) writer’s ego.

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A concept is not a feeling.

A concept may be accompanied by a feeling – it may provoke one – but it (itself) is devoid of feeling.

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It would be possible to assert that all poems are conceptual poems – certainly the concept of form plays a large part in ways poems are made – sonnets and sestinas / quatrains and tercets and couplets / haiku and tanka / alexandrines and odes and epithalamia – all of these forms motivate the poems of which they are a part. They contribute something to the poems that they help to structure – the poems themselves amass deep feelings and vibrant thoughts / exquisite bits of imagination / tropes of energies curtailed and dispersed / knowledge and wisdom / life energies / heresies and delights / (and more).

In the case of conceptual poetry / the concept harnesses much more than the aspect of form – in a conceptual poem / the whole thing (whole (the whole thing)) lives very tightly within the boundaries that the concept has proscribed.

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The constraints that the Oulipians work with would seem to bear some relationship to those in evidence in conceptual poetry. In my experience / the constraints used to make Oulipo texts contribute to put something into the world / those in conceptual poetry contrive to take something out of it.

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Conceptual art calls (as it were) reality into question – but in small ways / often in ways that are almost meaningless. To say that the literary art of poetry goes far beyond this is to beg the statement of the undeniable (and of the undeniably obvious).

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The conceptual aspect of the conceptual poem is not derived from (or coeval with) it – the concept is applied to the poem. The poem is derived from the concept.

The concept is the frame / not the poem’s content – the content (within it) is rather that of a blank or largely monochrome (uniform) canvas.

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Conceptual art as a movement began in the late 60s.

“Writing is fifty years behind painting.”
– Brian Gyson

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Why do it?

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Writing that depends on extra-writing elements is dependent.

A concept can be (can be) integral to the writing written – but in most of what poses as conceptual poetry / it is not.

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Mediocrity is not a beneficial direction for literature to be going in.

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Conceptual poetry is not very rigorous.

It may appear to be – but it is the concept that has rigor / not the (materials of the) poem.

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A concept is its own satisfaction (when it is).

Poems are a form of longing.

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Conceptual poetry is constructed primarily by tools – by reason. There is relatively little in it of the less blatant faculties – imagination / emotion / memory.

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Conceptual poetry should have been allowed to remain the oxymoron that it is.

Poetry uses concepts. When concepts use poetry / (the) poetry falters / fails.

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Many concepts are recognizable as such because they live outside of lived experience. Or there is (at any rate) the pretense that that is where they are.

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Conceptual poetry tends to produce an overwhelming similarity (conformity) of surface.

Unfortunately / the concept usually denies any event that would break this rather staid surface tension.

To admit it would be to begin to write poetry.

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A concept is (generally speaking) a concept about other concepts.

We choose to see them as if they are about the so-called real world. But if we look at (at (if we look at)) the words / and also beneath (beneath) them / the actual functions and relationships are evident.

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Concepts contain (demand) the possibility of mistakes.

Poetry accepts the possibility of failure / but not of mistakes.

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A list of the most frequently used words –
is a concept.

Beauty –
is a concept.

She walks in beauty like the night –
is a poem.

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Concepts tire easily.

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The half-life of a concept is determined by the types of words it contains.

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If only a concept were more like a mental gesture.

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A concept is a structural device – only.

It takes rather more than that to make a habitable space.

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Posted in Featured Blogger on Thursday, May 2nd, 2013 by Alan Davies.