There’s been a flurry of discussions lately (or maybe there always is) over the importance of critical writing for poets and poetry. However, most of these discussions are focused on the writings of poets on poetry. Of course, there’s a long parallel tradition of poets writing on art, and we’re posting on two recent examples today.

Poet Dana Ward, on the SFMOMA blog, writes on Cory Arcangel’s video piece All the Parts from Simon and Garfunkel’s 1984 Central Park Performance Where Garfunkel Sings with His Hands in His Pocket, which is exactly what the title implies. He writes:

So, what Cory’s done in this piece is edited the concert film made on that occasion so we only see the shots during which we find Art singing with his hands in his pockets. The narrative flow of their performance, the emotional calibration of the set list, is broken up & restructured along the axis of this one increasingly enigmatic gesture. Who spends so much of their performance with their hands in their pockets, & why? It’s a perfectly fine thing to do of course, but Cory’s easy act of ostranenie made the question compelling & it wormed its way into my psyche, so whenever I had a free moment I found myself turning it over in my mind.

The sort of work Archangel is doing - reframing and archiving pre-existing material, obviously resonates not only with current poetic practices (as in flarf, conceptual, and documentary poetics) but also with contemporary debates around theory and canonization. Furthermore, as Ward points out, the work yields an unquantifiable emotional response, perhaps based on the targeted defamiliarization of the original material. Like much contemporary writing, Ward argues that Archangel’s work is both art and research:

In that way Cory’s work for me constitutes some really crucial research. The information it yields gives an affective pattern, a prosody, to that which one never knew one desired to know, & not needing to know it, found the body of that knowledge all the lovelier, & new. It reminds me that reverie is the scholarship of unproductive time, & that inquiry undertaken there is hard won & precious & just what the world of work seeks to undo.

Originally Published: December 1st, 2010