Towards a Poetics of Shoplifting
First, what is the “criminal act” so feared, the prospective deed that has reduced your overall range of joyousness to a ball of quivering nerves? Let us be clear as day about this. The crime (for which there are unwanted consequences only if detected) is transporting an item past the barrier that designates an “outside” of the place for item viewing without the requisite (force of law) exchange of value.
I have a grainy, black & white movie memory of Leslie Scalapino (over an early morning coffee at her home in Oakland) telling me how she had submitted a poem to the New York Times. Her submission (not meant to be submissive in any way) was ignored. She wasn’t able to get her poem past the requisite barrier of newsworthiness (when did that become one word?) She tried though, and though I thought it was frankly weird, I thought it was gutsy for sure, total stickup style. Leslie then told me that she later found out that the Times editorial board had held a special meeting to consider the poem’s publication. Poemworthiness—nearly pinched.
Second, it is not a crime to transport an item from one place to another when done from the “inside” of an area designated for item inspection. “Staging” an item (in the interest of cloaking it or positioning it for more efficient barrier crossing) is not a crime itself (look it up, try it). When you see an item / produce a poem, you need not begin “stealing” it from the position where you first “saw” it—that’s amateur, and usually brings on unnecessary risk of being apprehended.
Rod Smith’s style of cut-n-splice shuffling through a reading set is a near criminal act. Considering that each audience member has two eyes and two ears—that’s four points of detection! That being the case, pieces that are building towards resounding resolutions are suspended midstream; lines are extemporaneously inserted from other writings; poems that are in progress remain in progress; improvised interjections take on the charged quality of verse lines. Any expectation of a sequential order to the evening perished within minutes of its commencement. In other words, Rod Smith stages items—for you. I’ve seen it up close (so to speak). People often party hard after his readings.
Third, the least expected place for an item to be cloaked for later absconding is at the place of value exchange—right in their face. That place (remember always) is a happy place—for everybody. There are great expectations that gather there, there is a rush of relief over the anxiety of value exchange that waits in store. This penultimate barrier has such a fabulous aura about it that it is darn near confused for the ultimate barrier that lies ahead. Poets might consider designing specific rehearsal sequences to sharpen their sense of fluid movement when working this place. Toiling on two poems at once, publishing two books at the same time, belonging to two poetic vanguards at once, submitting to the value exchange place for one and absconding the other—all these, keep it moving.
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...