Rob Halpern and I have spent the past couple months revisiting a correspondence/collaboration that we started in 2007, working title "The Birds Know, So" after a line of Monica Vitti's in Michelangelo Antonioni's Red Desert.

This past February we generated a series of questions and prompts about "commons" in hopes that this might yield material towards the final section of our manuscript, "Remains." Just in case any should like to play along, I will include those questions and prompts below. You can also email me with your responses at tadonovan [at] hotmail [dot] com. I would love to hear what people are thinking about, if not eventually integrate some of the responses into the texture of the manuscript. Especially with regards to how poets/poetry help/s to create conditions for commoning.

To track some earlier conversations about commons with regards to poetry/poetics check out the Nonsite Collective's website, as well as an article that just appeared in Jacket2, which tracks the concept through the poetics and scholarship of Fred Moten.

More to come on "somatic poetics," curricular poetry, Corollary Press, and much else....

Prompts and Questions for (What) Remains (Common):

What if waste were all that remained of the commons? What might this waste potentiate?

Write a narrative and/or prose poem from the position of waste. What would waste say if it could speak?

What organs of perception will we need to invent or reinvent in order to encounter the world as common?

What might it mean to share an organ of sensory perception in common?

What is use? What is exchange? How is a commons defined by use and exchange? How is a commons defined by using and not using, exchanging and the refusal to exchange?

What is obstructing the creation of a commons currently? What means exist to facilitate commons?

To what extent is the creation of a commons a re/distribution problem? To what extent a problem of something that needs to be created, which doesn’t yet exist or only exists virtually?

How can a commons be created around the least valued social members, the members of society or among a community of beings whose existence is most devalued? What structures would need to exist for these beings to speak? For them to become a part of a commons?

What can never become common? How can a commons be founded on what never can become common?

If being in common or commoning presents an event of one’s sociality—their being with others—at what point do we cease being common and at what point do we begin?

What are our contemporary estovers? Things that would become waste were we not to collect and use them? If we were not to apply our intelligence and effort to them so that they could be made use of?

What if a law was passed to be common: how would this law be enacted? How would it be enforced?

To what extent is the commons a bodily function?

What is the difference between commons and community?

Can a commons function non-exclusively?

What is the absolute point of not being in common? What is the absolute point of being in common?

If you could draw an ideal commons what would that drawing look like?

What is the most common word you can think of? The most common note? The most common action? The most common concept?

How does a commons extend to non-human animal life and organic life? To what extent does the fate of the commons rest on non-human being?

What sense organs would need to exist which do not already exist for a commons to come into being?

Is there a pragmatism of commons? A Marxism? A Feminism? An anti-racism? A pro-queer, gay, lesbian, trans commons? A commons for the disabled? A commons for the stateless/homeless/itinerant? How can identity still function within a commons? Does identity still have a place in commoning? What is the relationship between commons and identity formation? How can a functioning commons appeal to difference? How can it negotiate the fact that difference is operative in nearly all moments of social life?

Does the “self” still exist when a commons is operative? How is this self different than the self which functions in experiences that are not common/in which the commons is not operative/existent/active?

Narrate the commons: from the position of the least and most powerful social members, members of species, animal existents.

Make a work of art that is common.

Draft a building that enables the commons to function.

Make a series of sounds that are common.

Make a dance that is common.

Make a photograph, sculpture, clothing ensemble in common.

Narrate the history of ways you have been in common.

Narrate the history of ways you have not been in common.

Name the most considerable obstructions to ways you would like to be in common.

How do you commonly use and enjoy (usufruct)?

To what extent is common use and enjoyment denied to you or others?

What daily actions would most contribute to a commons?

What political and legal formations?

What economic transactions within an existing economy?

How is a commons immanent within a current economy and to what extent is it latent or yet-to-come?

Where do you locate conditions of possibility for what you would consider to be a functional commons, a commons that works?

What teaching methods and methods of instruction most nourish a commons?

When, if ever in your life, have you felt a genuine sense that a commons existed? What were the conditions under which this commons existed? Who contributed to this formation, however briefly?

What would it take to abandon reference to the discourse of commons? What set of terms would have to be used? What concepts would one have to invent/imagine?

How does the poem mediate and potentiate commons? How can it create conditions of possibility through which a commons may emerge? Through which it might exist?

Originally Published: April 10th, 2011

Thom Donovan lives in New York City where he edits Wild Horses of Fire weblog ( and coedits ON Contemporary Practice with Michael Cross and Kyle Schlesinger. He is a participant in the Nonsite Collective and a curator for the SEGUE reading series (NYC). He holds a Ph.D. in English...