a decantering of steely ghosts, and pulse-check at the heel of a dying elephant
11:00 am
Klammer in hand, hazpashing the music skrand, thuda-reatening to crip apart a Miró on the sfwall (the sfwall as a sfwall on the sfwall a sfwall after all), srkelted out “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism” in tones unkrimmen! With hizzzzzz braulding boki-boke, ka-taldering the space, to some 3, 000-5, 000 polycarbonate contempro performative A-Holes (like u!) pasking and pasking to and fro, (MOMA arrived in tow) and pauzing, “being there”, being, in fact, nowhere, aka C-U-R-I-O-U-S (note: you can very easily find the manifesto on-line, between your de-potentializing of every thing you touch, O Browser, throughout your bedraggled day (you should go home! you should sign off! you should quit!)). A-maaaaaaaaaazing cHARLES bERNSTEIN—red. I wuz wuh-waiting wuh-wankshussly fur die paart boot hate them the feminine everything futuristi, you know, that airborne fascist germ in your avant-garde coffee still. Whooooooooo—cHARLES, laid into, double-xtra, as by louder! How else? Exposé! Left me noivuhs-noivuhs, though. Later C.B. (phew! xlnt! kewl, shifter-moment) read the entire not-enough-known Mina Loy’s “Aphorisms on Futurism!”—in tones inkrummen! [note: do look up said manifesto at some point, which kicks hidden-close fascist arsies all over]. Then, was then; now, is now; C.B. laid it on us, raw.

11:30 am
A.E. Stallings was/is a someone super somebody else. She read “The Destruction of Syntax/Imagination without Strings/Words-in-Freedoms” by F.T. Marinetti. One of the planks from that text: “Acceleration of life to today’s swift space. Physical, intellectual, and sentimental equilibration on the cord of speed stretched between contrary magnetisms. Multiple and simultaneous awareness in a single individual.” In short, everything that’s making you sick,—at every turn! Why don’t you quit! Why are you still on-line! Why, look at you up and about spending money you don’t have and over-eating, over-drinking and getting more scattered by the moment. Good stuff. To hear. How new. It was. Then. A.E., who is fluid (a fact), read fluidly, A.E., (who, btw, can make Lucretius dance on the rectangular contour of a USB plug (look up her all-rhyming couplets translation on-line)), then read “The Paintings of Sounds, Noises, and Smells” [manifesto titles, O WREADER, read one by one, can indeed get boring pretty quickly; so read faster, why don’t you! Aaah, you stopped reading years ago! Still, you might-can start, again, slowly]. My favorite “rejection” (as in the “we reject” manifestoey style a’ speaking) was “all muted colors, even those obtained directly and without using tricks like patinas and glazes. The banality…”, etc. So instead of these “patinas”, these futuristi called (and still do? through the fog of marching time?) for “Reds, rrrrreds, the rrrreddest rrrreds that shouuuuuut”. Pretty horny stuff, eh? MOMA didn’t just walk away at that point. MOMA, in fact, “stayed.”
12:00 pm
“The Futurist Synthesis of War” and the “Futurist Reconstruction of the Universe” was read by Joshua Mehigan in a cool-blue post-awards dinner manner. The “synthesis,” with its church bell-tower constructive manner of smushing national “characteristics” onto certain aesthetic “foundations” (“Germany: Philosophical Fumes, Constipation of Industrial Camelots”; “Austria: Clotted Blood, Bed Bugs—Priests”; “France: Spontaneity, Explosiveness” etc) was skillfully re-toned by J.M. into a state of “Exposé”. That is, from our contempro (perverted functionalist) “viewpoint,” it made no sense (thank goodness!). But MOMA didn’t walk away, then, at that point, either. MOMA stayed. Mehigan. Mehigan! Mehigan! Mehigan! Intone for us the cell’s essence—in inglese. “The Milanese Cell, September, 20, 1914…We glorify war, which for us is the only hygiene of the world…”-etc. Signori, we also, work rather underpaid “cultural” jobs too (thanks to the essence of “it”). I forgot to mention that oodles of people stopped and listened. And that oodles of semi-somebodies (like me) don’t know what anybody thought of such goings on. Words bubbled to the surface of emotions-in-stasis, words “kicked” a cell or two out of stasis perhaps. MOMA stayed. Mehigan was kewl. What can I say?
12:30 pm
T.S.E, Thomas Sayers Ellis, is a public-poetic silver foam un-foaming and emulsifying into a see-through formica sheet you can smash into if you’re not careful. He reads, you glisten. That’s the script. Me, I hit the pane, and it felt very good indeed. T.S.E read from “Multiplied Man and the Reign of the Machine.” The line that stuck out the most for this WAUTHOR, was, “One can say of the great French railway strike that the organizers were unable to persuade a single mechanic to sabotage his locomotive…to me this seems entirely natural. How could one of those men have been able to wound or kill his great faithful devoted mistress with her quick and ardent heart his beautiful steel machine that had so often glowed with pleasure beneath his ardent caress?” BUT THEN (“thens” comes in droves at “events”), T.S.E. read from—or out of—or through, the “Manifesto of the Futurist Dance”. No manner of typing can describe the live poetry readings—so listen to the podcast! But in a word, let’s just say, that Futurism felt (Europeanly) over-lean, or just plain fat (hard to judge) next to T.S.E’s warpings of their warpings (readings are tests of poetry! not “demonstrations”). And with that “test”, T.S.E. wrapped up the Futurist Manifestos section.
11:00 am - 3:00 pm
All the while Luca Buvoli’s installation pulsed out a maximum intervention during the whole event. Quoting here (whole clothe—as the ride is so well worth it) (but first peer into L.B.’s futuro-futurist eyes):
“The centrepiece is the video animation Excerpts from: Velocity Zero, in which sections of the Futurist manifesto are read out loud by people with speech difficulties. The halting, difficult speech of the readers is contrasted with the values of speed and efficiency espoused by the Futurists. As the artist explains, “Marinetti’s original celebration of velocity and aggression from his Futurist text is neutralised by its readers’ speech disorders and my subsequent hand-drawn animation of the footage, which at times delays and overlaps images in mimicry of the Futurists’ representation of motion. The result is a sense of fragmentation and incompletion that parallels the struggle of the readers to capture the original text. The purpose of having the manifesto read by people with speech disorders was to utilise the difficulty of communication and the slowing of language in order to symbolically critique the rhetoric of velocity, aggression and violence in our society.”
I submit: Is that the merda, or what!?
2:00—2:30 pm
The rest of the event consisted of the >readers bouncing out their own excellent manifestos, which you can read here (go!)
Rodrigo Toscano latest book is Collapsible Poetics Theater (Fence Books) , which was a National Poetry Series 2007 selection. Toscano's experimental poetics plays, body-movement poems, polyvocalic pieces have recently been performed at the Disney Redcat Theater in Los Angeles, Ontological-Hysteric Poet’s Theater Festival, Yockadot Poetics Theater Festival (Alexandria, Virginia), and Links Hall (Chicago). His radio pieces have appeared on WPIX FM (New York), KAOS Public Radio Olympia, WNYU, WFMU, and PS. 1 Radio. Toscano in lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Originally Published: March 9th, 2009

Raised in southern California, experimental poet, playwright, and labor activist Rodrigo Toscano's experimental work often takes the form of conversation and physical movement that interrogates, and crosses, borders: the border between poetic and political action, between the made thing and its making, between speech and theater, between languages, between social...

  1. March 9, 2009
     K. Lorraine Graham

    Rodrigo, it's good to read/see you here. I feel like the universe has altered. Probably not, still. Thanks for the photo of L.B.’s futuro-futurist eyes, and am glad to know that Charles read Loy's "Aphorisms on Futurism"--the text that made me, when I was 22, decide to not hate the Futurists.

  2. March 10, 2009
     Tyrone Williams

    Co-signing K. Lorraine--a smouldering torque-song of report-de-Age...

  3. March 10, 2009
     Kent Johnson

    I admire Rodrigo Toscano's work a great deal (I wrote a brief note about his last book at Silliman's blog a week or so ago), and in Chicago, a couple weeks back, he gave one of the best readings I've ever heard.
    But here, a comment I posted elsewhere, in comment to Bernstein's "Manifesto" reading, seems apropos to repeat:
    >Truly, one can think of NO gesture more richly suggestive of our Language/Post-Language “avant-garde” moment than this: Charles Bernstein declaiming Marinetti’s manifesto in the MoMA, while *carefully* wielding a hammer…

  4. March 10, 2009
     Fred Sasaki

    Listen to Thomas Sayers Ellis read F.T. Marinetti's "Manifesto of the Futurist Dance":

  5. March 18, 2009
     Kent Johnson

    And... As I was saying...
    [from the Poetics List]
    On Friday, April 17 the Whitney Museum of American Art presents eight
    poets associated with two cutting-edge movements in contemporary
    poetry: the Flarf Collective and Conceptual Writing. The followers of
    both movements employ technology to create their works, often using
    strategies familiar to the visual arts: appropriation, falsification,
    insincerity, and plagiarism. Fusing the avant-garde impulses of the
    last century with the technologies of the present, these strategies
    propose an expanded field for twenty-first century poetry. This new
    writing is not bound exclusively between pages of a book; it
    continually morphs from printed page to webpage, from gallery space
    to science lab, from social spaces of poetry readings to social
    spaces of blogs. It is a poetics of flux, celebrating instability and
    Featured poets are Christian Bök, Nada Gordon, Kenneth Goldsmith,
    Sharon Mesmer, K. Silem Mohammad, Kim Rosenfield, Gary Sullivan and
    Darren Wershler.
    This event was conceived and organized by poet Kenneth Goldsmith on
    the occasion of the Jennny Holzer exhibition PROTECT PROTECT.
    Reading begins at 7, and is free with Museum Admission, which is pay-
    what-you-wish during Whitney After Hours on Fridays from 6-9 pm.
    Advance reservations are recommended. Tickets may be reserved at the
    Museum Admissions desk or online at http://www.whitney.org.
    Inquiries: (212) 570-7715 or [log in to unmask]

  6. March 19, 2009
     michael robbins

    "To the museums!" was of course the battle cry of the historical avant-garde. The whole point of refusing the salon was to cause such a ruckus that the salon begged you to return. Hell, forget irony. That a group of poets should simultaneously claim the title of "avant-garde" & display their wares in the most hallowed institutions of established culture isn't even ironic. It's just an indication of vast confusion, on everyone's part. To the barricades, to the bedposts, to the barnacles, to the box office.

  7. March 19, 2009
     Don Share

    And... To the Finland Station?!

  8. March 20, 2009
     Michael Sorrento

    What does the historical avant-garde's position regarding museums have to do with anything in 2009?
    Hasn't Rodrigo performed in the Walt Disney Concert Hall at Disney Red Cat?
    Kent, Michael, is this really a substantial argument of some kind about venue that you're attempting to make?
    Or is it just sour grapes.

  9. March 20, 2009
     michael robbins

    Uh, are you suggesting I'm clamoring for a place at the Whitney? Thanks, I'm pretty happy with my career. But then, I never claimed to be "avant-garde."
    An argument about "venue"? Really? It's not about venue, as if I'd suggested that the Whitney's architecture is too tony to host such malcontents.
    The avant-garde's position regarding museums -- obviously metonymical for institutionalization per se -- is relevant because these poets want to claim an oppositional position within the field of production. They are the ones who call themselves avant-garde, not me. The word either has a meaning or it is a fancy label for people who want to play at being radical outsiders while hoping to reap all the benefits afforded to insiders. Can't have it both ways. I'd suggest a look at Bourdieu or Bürger on these matters if you're still confused.

  10. March 20, 2009
     Michael Sorrento

    Uh, you seem to be saying a lot more about these poets' position within the field of production than they ever have. They've already read at The Walker. As did Goldsmith. And Johnson. I don't think venue is an issue for them. I also don't see why it should be.
    Or, if it should be, then you need to think about why Toscano would perform at a Disney theater, given his own position, and, more to the point, why you don't seem to have your knickers in a twist about that.
    I'll pick up Bourdieu and Bürger in the, uh, Whitney bookstore when I'm in town some day.

  11. March 20, 2009
     michael robbins

    I don't wear knickers, but you're the one obsessed about the Disney theater. You continue to refer to "venue," & you continue to imagine that the point is whether the poets themselves feel any contradiction. This can only be because you haven't bothered to swing by the Whitney bookstore yet, but I'm not sure you get the problem in the first place, because if you imagine that I am saying more than they ever have about their position within the field of production, you've been seriously selective in yr reading. Or possibly asleep. Just about all they talk about is their position in the field of production. I mean seriously -- just go read some of Kasey's or Kenny's posts on this site (or some of the posts on Nada's or Kasey's blogs) & then try to maintain such an absurd claim. Only someone who knows nothing about these poets or who writes in bad faith could say with a straight face that they have been a bit reticent to discuss their position within the field of production.

  12. March 20, 2009
     Kent Johnson

    Michael Sorrento said:
    >I'll pick up Bourdieu and Bürger in the, uh, Whitney bookstore when I'm in town some day.
    That's a pretty good line!
    I thought my superbly clever comment was going to go completely unnoticed. Too bad this post is going over the edge any minute now.
    I think *both* Michaels are right here: It's the What that one does with the "Museum" (using the term metaphorically), as MS says... But the rub is that the What of the moment is what the "Museum" is doing TO the poetic "avant-garde," since, say, ca. First Gulf War, as MR suggests.
    Though probably more accurate to say the poetic "avant-garde" transparently LIKES what gets done to it by the "Museum." It wants it, and wants it bad. Come get me Mommy.
    "Impropriety" with a twist...

  13. March 20, 2009
     Michael Sorrento

    I've been reading Nada Gordon's and Kasey Mohammad's blogs for years now, and I've been reading their poetry for about as long.
    I have to be honest, I think you're completely off base about their positioning and any supposed contradictions with respect to where they read or publish.
    You seem weirdly obsessed about them, actually, about flarf, popping up here and on Don Share's blog and elsewhere when people mention flarf, to have a go at them.
    I've seen no contradictions over the years with respect to what they write and where they read and publish.
    If you'd like to point to something on one of their blogs, or somewhere else where they've done that, that might help your case. You'd still of course have to contend with the work itself, which is pretty terrific, no matter where they read or publish.
    "Howl" still resonates, despite the Gap ads. _Naked Lunch_ still kicks after the Nike spot.
    And reading at the Whitney is a far cry, with respect to some possible litany of supposed compromises, than shilling for Gap or Nike.
    So I guess I just don't really get your point.

  14. March 20, 2009
     michael robbins

    As you know, Ginsberg donated all his Gap $, so that's not really to the point, but then, my point wasn't about "compromise," as if there were real substance to avant-garde claims & the issue were whether one were truly oppositional enough. My point has always been that poetry is too circumscribed a field now to admit opposition; gambits like railing against the instituionalizaiton of poetry while participating in same just point that up. I don't care if someone "sells out"; "selling out" ceases to be an accurate descriptor when there's no alternative, or when the stakes are so low that Poetry magazine occupies the same cultural position within the field as Octopus.
    I'm hardly obsessed with flarf. I'm obsessed with poetics, which is my field, as scholar & poet & critic, which naturally includes the avant-garde. I'm obsessed with debunking the notion that there are now two competing models available, one of which performs analogous functions to the historical a-g. If you don't believe that's the flarfistes' position then you've been reading rather more creatively than I.

  15. March 20, 2009
     Michael Sorrento

    Kent Johnson wrote:
    "But the rub is that the What of the moment is what the 'Museum' is doing TO the poetic 'avant-garde,' since, say, ca. First Gulf War, as MR suggests. Though probably more accurate to say the poetic 'avant-garde' transparently LIKES what gets done to it by the 'Museum.' It wants it, and wants it bad. Come get me Mommy."
    Not sure what the museum is doing to the poetic avant-garde since the first gulf war. Spell it out, maybe?
    Meanwhile, is "Come get me Mommy" what you said, Kent, to get your reading at the Walker?
    What did the Walker do "TO" you by giving you that venue?
    Having a hard time understanding the hoopla here.

  16. March 20, 2009
     Michael Sorrento

    I'd love to see some of your writings on poetics, Michael. But all I've seen is your comments fields "debunking."
    So far as "railing against the institutionalizaiton of poetry," I have never seen either Kasey Mohammad or Nada Gordon ever doing that.
    I'll even go further and say that I've never seen Kenneth Goldsmith doing that, either.
    Goldsmith did have a post here a while back about the extent to which the institution had relatively little interest in the avant-garde, and I think that position is completely aligned with his work on the ubuweb site. Not finding what he wanted out among established institutions, in the form of a place for all of the work out there, he put his money where his mouth was, and created one. And maintains it to this day.
    I think you may be hung up with slogans from a European avant-garde of a century ago ("Tear down the museums!") and less clear about what the concerns are today, at least so far as institutional support goes.

  17. March 20, 2009
     michael robbins

    Michael, it's hardly difficult to find my writing on the internet if you're truly interested. Google comes to mind. I review for Poetry, Boston Review, & Chicago Review, & am writing my first review for The London Review of Books. I have interviews in the Village Voice & am working on my first article for them. It's true that my academic work remains unpublished -- I'm working on my dissertation now -- but it's not as if my comments are the most available form of my work. You can even read my poetry in The New Yorker. Sorry if this sounds a bit narcissistic, but really, it's not my fault if all you've seen is my "comment fields debunking."
    Won't respond to yr ongoing distancing of Kasey, Nada, & Kenny from their public pronouncements, because it's easy enough for anyone who's interested to check out the record for themselves.

  18. March 20, 2009
     Kent Johnson

    The thing at the Walker was a talk-- roughly on ways standard modes of Authorial staging enable rapid institutional assimilation, etc, giving us, for example, our current 25-cent poetry coin: the head of Bernstein, say, on one side, and the head of Kay Ryan, say, on the other. Something like that. I began with a refutation of Bernstein's lame attack on Yasusada. It was in the midst of a spectacular show by Richard Prince.
    The First Gulf War thing is a phrase I've used before. It's just a little handle for roughly marking the beginning of the turn of Langpo into the Academy (by whcih I don't just mean poets becoming academics).

  19. March 20, 2009
     Kent Johnson

    Micheal S said:
    >I think you may be hung up with slogans from a European avant-garde of a century ago ("Tear down the museums!") and less clear about what the concerns are today, at least so far as institutional support goes.
    OK! Now we're getting somewhere... What are those "concerns today"? What's the "concern" of Flarf, for example?
    What we're saying is that you're going to have a hard time separating out those "concerns" from what happened to the "avant-garde of a century ago," as you put it. Or from what happened to Langpo...
    You have read the early manifestoes, polemics, theoretical pronouncements, etc, of early Langpo, right?

  20. March 20, 2009
     Michael Sorrento

    I'll check out your work, Michael, I did see that poem in the New Yorker and I've seen other of your poetry elsewhere--La Petite Zine, I think. I thought it was well crafted, but maybe a bit stiff.
    Would be more interested in reading some of your criticism. Might help contextualize what still seems to me like a poet going off on another group of poets--fairly common in poetry land, of course. I'll give it a look. Can't blame me, entirely, though, when you do seem to get around in the comments fields relative to flarf. Adds up.
    I'm not distancing Mohammad and Gordon from their stances, by the way. I'm simply more familiar with their stances than you seem to be. Of course you can't point to anything they've said that would weigh in as evidence here to support your case; it simply doesn't exist.
    Kent, I watched that talk on the Walker's Web site. It was well done. But your agreeing to do it, and given your own oppositional stance, I am at a loss to understand your earlier statements about others reading at the Whitney.
    Are you guys covertly doing Flarf's PR work for them now?

  21. March 20, 2009
     michael robbins


  22. March 20, 2009
     Kent Johnson

    Speaking of Michael Robbins's poetry, Michael Sorrento wrote:
    >I thought it was well crafted, but maybe a bit stiff.
    My my!
    I guess you haven't read "Alien Vs. Predator"?
    Sasha Frere-Jones went wild over it. It caused the Village Voice to do an interview around it. I hear that it's being turned into a hip-hop piece (do they still call it hip-hop?). My son's noise band (very sophisticated young guys) might do a piece on it.
    After the run of Langpo pastoralist poesy The New Yorker had been doing, it was quite an event! Check it out.

  23. March 20, 2009
     Michael Sorrento

    Michael Robbins wrote: "OK! Now we're getting somewhere... What are those 'concerns today'? What's the 'concern' of Flarf, for example?"
    They have numerous concerns, and can speak for themselves. Here's an older interview with Nada Gordon:
    Here's a more recent interview with K. Silem Mohammad:
    And for good measure, here's Rod Smith:
    and two of Gary Sullivan:
    a recent one with Sharon Mesmer:
    and an old one of Benjamin Friedlander:
    More than you'll care to read, no doubt, but there's quite a range of approach and concerns, from fairly serious to fairly silly.

  24. March 20, 2009
     Michael Sorrento

    Oh, I did read Alien vs. Predator. I didn't personally go wild over it, but could see that it was well-written and somewhat bobbing above the usual white noise of poetry that they publish. It didn't seem quite flukish, though, if that's the word.
    That could have happened when they published Sparrow ... but they chose his absolutely blandest work, alas.
    I loved his protest, though.

  25. March 20, 2009
     Dale Smith

    Actually, I can’t imagine a better collaboration in American arts today than one between Flarf and the cynical marketplace of contemporary art. I’m sure this momentary union will be spun to each participant’s benefit, and the audience in attendance at the Whitney should easily lap it up, as they say. Not doubt the revelry in tastelessness and badness and oh-so-careful moments of inappropriate jocularity will win the evening. Please, someone record this for quick Youtube distribution. Kasey, as usual, will link to the event from his blog as he’s quick to announce such things, though some of us wait patiently to hear more about Flarf and what it is besides another semi-fashionable marketplace hoax. But, hey, it's America, and it's who we are--market revelers--and Flarf will see to it we won't forget.

  26. March 21, 2009
     Kent Johnson

    Michael S:
    It was I who asked the question. Yes, I'd seen most of those things. Mohammad's interview with Beckett is probably the most useful piece. KSM says, therein:
    >The key word here is “affective,” which has everything to do with content. What’s at risk for me in a poem is, I assume, pretty much the same as for anyone else: what meanings will people get from it, how will they feel about it, and what (if anything) will they do as a result of reading it?
    In a long, revealing debate carried out on a number of blogs a few weeks ago (Possum Ego, Thinking Again, and Lime Tree, mainly-- a discussion I'm afraid didn't go so brilliantly for the Flarf poets), all the above people were repeatedly invited to speak about the writing's modalities of affect in relation to techniques and intentions and so forth. The issue of affect, actually, was directly raised in context of some hard ethical questions, none of which were ever really addressed (questions similar to those raised by Joshua Adams in a recent, quite balanced essay on Flarf in the Chicago Review). The fact of the matter --it became clear in process of the exchange-- is that the Flarf poets really have little to say about the purposes and meanings of their works beyond banal generalities and jabs of hipster-ish irony. The campy, jejune pose was effective for a while, but it's grown a bit old, like the poets themselves, who now at 40-something seem to think they are still in their late-teens.

  27. March 23, 2009

    Wow, a lot of energy expended in bad-mouthing popular poets here.
    Michael Robbins is right: Sour grapes seems the dessert of the day.
    Bernstein, Ellis, Toscano, Mohammad, Gordon, Goldsmith--these poets are all really doing something. Weird to see them dismissed here. Loved the Koeneke / Sullivan interview and the Friedlander, which I had not seen before.
    Is there really a Conceptual and Flarf reading at the Whitney?