Vanessa Place has suggested that, if Conceptual Literature is dead, it is so, only because poetry itself is dead—persisting, like a spectre, which does not yet know that it must keep its rendezvous with the afterworld, preferring instead to malinger in the a shadow of its own demise. "If poetry is dead, act like a zombie," she advises. I really admire the wit of her salvo in this conversation—(and I wish that I might have said half of her epigrams myself…). I think that, in contrast to Drucker, who feels the regret of a coroner, declaring the time of death at a crime scene, Place gleefully confesses to the murder, holding out her wrists to be handcuffed. I admire the willingness on her part to take the rap for the rest of us—(and besides, nobody typically remembers who gets to perform the medical autopsy in the story of the crime anyway…).

Conceptual Literature argues that whatever passes for creativity in workshops on poetry has now become entirely moribund—and thus all our acts of both wearisome discipline and shameless plagiarism set out to perform a kind of spectacle of "uncreativity," meant to highlight not only the deadness of the lyric voice, but also the boredom of a modern milieu, whose word processing and data management have forever altered the concept of writing itself. I often joke with my students that, given their experiences, the word "microwaveable" needs to appear more frequently in their lyric poems (since I cannot easily tell, through diction alone, whether or not such poems have, in fact, been written before or after the invention of television—let alone YouTube…)—so I suggest that this fact may be potentially problematic….

Conceptual Literature responds to a modern milieu, where poetry has only begun to adopt, in earnest, some of the most basic ideas of appropriation, now de rigeur in nearly every other artform (be it plastic or musical); moreover, Conceptual Literature suggests that poetry itself has yet to respond quickly enough to the technological circumstances of its own production (since poets have tended to resist the robotized automation of creativity, the aggregate delegation of handicraft, and the digitized networking of readership); finally, Conceptual Literature suggests that poetry has yet to regard, as crucially necessary, any expertise in skills outside the catechism of literary training (including, for example, expertise in programming skills, in typographic skills, in engineering skills, etc.…).

Vanessa Place suggests that I am simply aching for such a "jubilee" of crises in poetry—(and I must admit that I am…). Darren Wershler has noted that, like Elvis, "poetry has left the building"—but oddly, the poets are still offering their standing ovations to the empty stage. Poetry may have expired among the poets, but it might be thriving elsewhere, incognito, unrecognized as poetry (because of its context), despite the aesthetic potential of its merits—(for example, avant-garde poets, like Jaap Blonk and Paul Dutton, may be the most preeminent performers of sound-poetry in the world; however, the future of the genre likely exists, not in poetic salons, but at auction rooms or at beatbox slams). How do we write poems in a world where a spambot, like @horse_ebooks, gets to write all the great lines…?

Conceptual Literature is wrestling with the question of what constitutes the poetic at the utmost limits of writing itself, and we may not thoroughly appreciate what permissions such a literary movement might make possible for other writers—until some poet is cheeky enough to recite traffic reports to the President of the United States….

Originally Published: April 9th, 2012

Christian Bök is the author of Crystallography (Coach House Press, 1994), a pataphysical encyclopedia nominated for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award, and of Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2001), a bestselling work of experimental literature, which has gone on to win the Griffin Prize for Poetic Excellence. Bök has created artificial...