Still thinking about Sina's post on offal-elegies, the "factory turned performance space."  I thought I would test something with it: [her] Manifesto of Lyric Conceptualism.  I want to test a poem by Laynie Browne.  I will test her piece in REVOLUTIONesque, A Very Lovely Matchbox against lines from the manifesto.  The manifesto is in pink:

The Lyric Conceptualist is most often a spectator, though not necessarily in retreat.

"I’d been living in a very lovely matchbox for years, a box of my own making and it was covered with gold leaves, strung beads and meditational symbols.  The matches kept me company."

The Lyric Conceptualist is an excessive elegist.

"The document in front of me previously, at the desk of a very large-boned reptilian administrator sitting in front of me with blotchy scales and other eruptions of skin—the document I was holding which had been penned by he wearing the mask, this document all but obliterated my little matchbox."

The Lyric Conceptualist is a trough that catches the excess, the off cuts, the remnants, the offal of language.

"They thought I was a hoarder. I sat in that chair and the document trembled in my hands and the reptile across from me panted in her thick suit..."

Lyric Conceptualism is interested in fun but not wedded only to the ironic, the distant and mocking.

"The man with the mask was still human and because he treated me as  human I appeared to him in human form."

Lyric Conceptualism’s goal is to create openings rather than closures. It offers itself as a courtyard, stadium, meadow, and variously, a reclaimed parking lot, a battlefield made food coop, a factory turned performance space, a transitional space, reclaimed land, an idea with no end.

"But earlier I had received something, a document in another meeting with someone else which was composed of words that he had written that placed me into a particular box.  It wasn’t an unpleasant or dishonest or poorly regarded box, but it was not at all the box in which I had been dwelling.  Instead it was a box about assumptions with no physical form whatsoever.  In this box I would have to assume new dimensions, body parts and priorities.  It was difficult to fathom."

As a result of this test, I find that Laynie Browne is a lyric conceptualist.  Wait!  I will write to Laynie right now and interview her.

[Several days pass.  I attend The Shape of the I conference, during which Vanessa Place says: "The reception of conceptual work is untethered from the site of its emergence." ]

Early this morning, Laynie writes back and gives me permission to publish our brief correspondence in full.  It appears below as a compacted paragraph rather than the spacious and elegant e-mail it once was.  Similarly, the formatting of the manifesto statements (above) is a little off.  Even the pink is the color of a digestive tonic available in bulk and travel sizes at local supermarket pharmacies.  In a post-0ffal encounter, perhaps that's not a bad thing.

Me: "Laynie, did you read Sina's manifesto on Harriet?  Do you think of yourself as a Lyric Concepualist?  Please respond with reference to the manifesto of Lyric Conceptualism if possible."

Laynie: "Dear Bhanu, You ask if I think of myself as a Lyric Conceptualist poet.  While I admit that I will gladly move beyond “all gestures that have made pleasure the enemy of reading” it is also true that my pleasure may be another’s sorrow.  Still, I find the manifesto a very useful addition to the many responses swirling about questions of Conceptual writing, mainly because it complicates, extends, and calls into question certain assumptions regarding Conceptual writing. Are the impulses of “lyric” and “conceptual” poetics entirely separate? Not necessarily.  I am fascinated by the response, almost violent, to embrace or reject Conceptual writing- to say it is “dead” as opposed to the impulse to listen.  Both reactions ignore the work in question.  I very much appreciate Sina’s statement: “Lyric Conceptualism suggests that to argue for the death of anything is not really that interesting”  To argue for death is a ploy in the ongoing performance which is often a part of Conceptual writing, and always a part of literary history— of claiming territory which is deliberately not intact.  And yet, clearly, this stance represents only one facet of Conceptual writing.  Perhaps most memorable to me is the way Sina ends the manifesto:“Lyric Conceptualism’s goal is to create openings rather than closures. It offers itself as a courtyard, stadium, meadow, and variously, a reclaimed parking lot, a battlefield made food coop, a factory turned performance space, a transitional space, reclaimed land, an idea with no end.”  The Lyric and Conceptualism want to clash, which is why they are a  natural combination. “An idea with no end” is obviously not a finite “meadow” or “reclaimed space.”  Lyric Conceptualism wishes to extend a boundary which may ultimately be more challenging to delineate. However, that should be of no consequence to the Lyric Conceptualist poet who “continues to bask in the reverie of solitude.” Vanessa Place writes “If poetry sprang from the void, conceptualism is the void.”  One untold secret is that  the void is where everything—including conceptualism—emerges.  The void is a destination as well as destitution and possibility. To inhabit the void is one way to consider writing as endeavor.  I like to think of the void as gestational space, to use a feminine metaphor.  The blankness of beginning nowhere is the depth of darkness we require. "

More on the void  in a future post.  I wish I could write into Laynie's line about the secret of the void as a Hindu, but I am barely a Hindu.  I'm a low-key, pagan Buddhist who worships Shiva on Mondays, which it is.  (Monday.)  Time to drink a glass of boiled milk and turmeric, then go to bed.  Now I want to ask Laynie—an accomplished yogini and herbalist with a faith practice grounded in mystical Judaism—about the void.  Is a conversation about the cosmic egg at odds to the one about the tether?


Originally Published: April 17th, 2012

Bhanu Kapil lives in Colorado where she teaches at Naropa University. She also teaches in Goddard College’s low-residency MFA. She is the author of a number of full-length works of poetry/prose, including The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers (Kelsey Street Press, 2001), Incubation: a space for monsters (Leon Works, 2006), humanimal...