Follow Harriet on Twitter

About Harriet


Conceptual Poetics: A Practicum

By D.A. Powell

I love this idea of valueless, unoriginal poetry based on junk. I’ve been trying to write poems, and now it turns out that I could have just been assembling them. I mean, I’ve done some avant-gardist things in my time (let us call them, for lack of a better term, “poems”), but I think I spent way too much time worrying about making “sense” (who even knows what that means anymore?) So today, since I’m, like so many effete bourgeois Americans, absolutely burdened with leisure time, I went out to see how this concept of Conceptual Poetics might liberate me from the senseless drudgery of writing.

Sure enough, in two hours and fifteen minutes, I had gathered enough words to make a poem. Method: I combed the streets and sidewalks, looking for a pedestrian vocabulary. All I had to do, as they say at the rifle range, was shoot it. Then I spent another 70 minutes figuring out how to “arrange” it. (I could have finished in 20 minutes, I’m sure, but I got bored in the middle of making poetry and decided to skim through an anthology, looking for interesting words I could steal).
I wanted to be careful not to impose any of the hierarchies by which I’d been colonized, so I decided I’d use an element of randomness. I chose from my list blindly, zip zip zip, never pausing to entertain arcane thoughts like “Does this mean anything? Will anyone read this? Hasn’t this been done before?” Heedless, I pushed on, in pursuit of art: art, art—wherefore art thou? Oh, here it is, at my feet, covered in poo and leaves. Good old art. Yes…
I call this poem “Leap of Faith,” which is also the title of the autobiography of Jordan’s Queen Noor. I like the title because I didn’t have to do any work; it was just sitting here on my desk.
Leap of Faith

Comments (19)

  • On June 10, 2008 at 7:51 pm Mary Meriam wrote:

    I particularly enjoyed the preamble of this fine concrete poem. The sense of place is strong. Reptition, rhyme, and sidewalk construction all combine in a felicitous harmony that suggests walking. Random stains, and withered leaves, made me weep with the poignancy of life and death. But the lone ciggy butt is the most complex of this poem’s many ineffable moments. I will call the number provided to voice my approval.

  • On June 10, 2008 at 8:43 pm Travis Nichols wrote:

    I’m very happy about this.

  • On June 10, 2008 at 9:29 pm ashley wrote:

    Dear Doug,
    This is why I was happy to see you had joined Harriet. Well, one of the reasons anyway. I took a crowded seminar with you once where you were a visiting instructor, and these years later some of your bemused observations–one about metaphor in particular–there’s something in your tone–will still creep into my head and make me burst out laughing if I think about them. This post cracked me up. Thanks for the levity.

  • On June 10, 2008 at 9:33 pm Joseph Hutchison wrote:

    Very funny! I only wish the “Obey” shot sported an image of Ken Goldsmith or Charles Bernstein instead of Uncle Sam….

  • On June 10, 2008 at 11:16 pm Kenneth Goldsmith wrote:

    Excellent job, Mr. Powell! Now, does this mean I have to try my hand at real poetry?
    Along the lines of your piece, check out the Dieku’s (haikus constructed entirely from the words on tombstones, photographically):
    Yer pal,
    Kenny G

  • On June 11, 2008 at 1:30 am D. A. Powell wrote:

    Dear Kenny,
    Real poetry, schmeal poetry. To quote the great Billy Joel, “don’t go changing to try and please me.” I really do like you just the way you are.

  • On June 11, 2008 at 9:03 am Doodle wrote:

    I think K.G. ought now to try his hand at memoir – conceptual techniques are arguably what artists like James Frey engage in. Or better yet: journalism.

  • On June 11, 2008 at 10:08 am C. Dale wrote:

    Hilarious. I love this post.

  • On June 11, 2008 at 11:58 am Oliver de la Paz wrote:

    This made me smile. A lot. Thanks for this, D.A.!

  • On June 11, 2008 at 12:44 pm howard junker wrote:

    i know concrete poetry when i see it. and it’s not carved in stone.

  • On June 11, 2008 at 1:13 pm Tom wrote:

    I think we’re ready for the post-conceptual now. It will no doubt involve appropriating other people’s appropriations.
    And, of course, it will have to be effable.

  • On June 11, 2008 at 1:15 pm Jonathan David Jackson wrote:

    Lawd Hamercy!
    Kelly Clarkson!
    Eddie Murphy!

  • On June 11, 2008 at 1:40 pm Don Share wrote:

    By coinkydink, maybe?
    Geof Huth’s “Textual Imagination in Albany.”

  • On June 12, 2008 at 4:35 am Steven Waling wrote:

    I actually rather like it, and actually, I’ve made poems by wandering round shopping arcades, raiding newspaper adverts and assembling lines taken from a horoscope.
    I didn’t know it was called “conceptual poetry”, though. I always thought it was the grand old tradtition of “collage…”

  • On June 12, 2008 at 10:57 am Mary Meriam wrote:

    Collage, or mosaic. I like this “thing” too. It reminds me of a high school art assignment I had: make art. But I was lazy, so here’s what I did. I found an old board, spread glue on it, and placed a glass jar on it. Then I threw a cinder block out a second-story window onto the board and glass. Voila – mosaic. The concept was? Laziness.

  • On June 12, 2008 at 1:51 pm Henry Gould wrote:

    This is really nice, but I have to say it doesn’t quite meet the criteria for genuine Conceptual Poetry. We at the CPC (Conceptual Poetry Consortium) have established certain guidelines for appropriate appropriation – and we have designated a number of apropos proprietary “sites” where such poppiations may legitimately take place, or, as they used to say (when machines could talk) “happen”.
    My dog Fluffy has kindly emailed me the list of these “sites”, which I will just paste in here, as soon as I get my Deluxe Titanium-Alloy 4-D Cut & Paster up & running (I borrowed Fluffy’s can of WD-40 to do this – Fluffy, I promise I will get this back to you! Don’t bark right now! I’m appropriating! Outside!)
    OK, here are the “sites” :
    Holiday Inn, Tahoma CA
    Marriott Inn, Phoenix AZ
    4 Seasons, Denver CO
    2 Seasons, Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
    Marriott Inn @ Hasta Lumbago Resort, Puerto Vallarta Mexico
    Holiday Inn, San Diego CA
    4 Seasons, Duluth MN (wait – I mean 2 Seasons, Duluth MN)
    As you will note as you peruse this brief note, these “sites” do not include the approved “times” when your potential pre-conceived in-embryo Concept Art may take place. This is because the exact dates & times of the Conceptual Art Consortium Approved Conference Events have not yet been determined (pending funding, funding pending).
    So as you plan your next Conceptual Art piece, please keep in mind that official approval of your project will depend on appropriate “siting”, based of course on pending funding pending; and so as you prepare your Concepts for Art, please keep this in mind – if there’ still room in your “mind”.

  • On September 10, 2008 at 5:43 pm EKSwitaj wrote:

    Personally, I tend to believe that the only poetry that is truly and definitely bad poetry is that which it bores the poet to create– but maybe I’m a snob.

  • On September 10, 2008 at 8:19 pm Doodle wrote:

    “Life, friends, is boring…” sayeth St. John Berryman. You know hard work just might be boring, and yet just might result in work whose goodness is hard-earned. Is poetry for people with short attention spans? Maybe so nowadays.

  • On May 3, 2009 at 9:52 am Jean Marie wrote:

    I am new to this site, delightfully devouring much of what is here. 🙂 My own rediscovery of myself led me to write a poem titled Still Waters…that describes a desire for stillness, while knowing I have to get up, get up and do something. I gather from the date of your post and corresponding comments, that you have found your boredom has passed. Congratulations! The one word stuck out for me was:


    restless quiet
    fear of nothingness
    breeding ground
    finding quiet
    stillness is
    more than ok

    oh, how I love to be bored!

Posted in Uncategorized on Wednesday, June 11th, 2008 by D.A. Powell.