Photo credit: C.J. Smith

[Note: Each month we feature a guest post from a contributor to Poetry’s current issue. Rodrigo Toscano’sAt a Bus Stop in El Barrio” appears in the May 2014 issue. Previous posts in this series can be found on the Editors’ Blog.]

“Increasingly, American poets with a range of aesthetic sensibilities have begun to describe their writing in terms of the project. This panel will investigate the predominance of the project poem and examine the social demands to frame poetics as project.”


You all know the pyramid of Giza, right? At the time of that project’s completion, it was the biggest structure up to that time (and for 3,800 years thereafter) … a marvel, still today.

—Question: what was bigger than the pyramid of Giza?

The ramp … it took as long to construct and required as much continual rebuilding as “the piece” itself.

Long-since lopped away, this ramp … what can we can say about it now?

“The Ramp of Giza.” Like, who cares right?

But if we say, the “Ramp of Giza”—many times, at different occasions, pondering its planning, logistical demands, but most of all, projecting its ablated physical structure and social occasioning, it changes the way we think about

The Project.


When a finger lands on middle C on the piano, the tone one hears—we say (routinely), is “C."

At .45 seconds an F tone (after tone), takes flight from C, and sounds as G—in echo, within F (that’s within C), so that when the one octave higher C (at 1.2) resounds (for .05), the succeeding A—lightly, and almost inaudible, nearly crushes the E above it into oblivion.

Hen to a peck that Monk (upside down, spinning on his head, though to us appearing to be sitting at a bench) could hear that distant E (at 2.3) as he ferociously sliced into it with three B flats, ding ding ding.

The correct, physical placement and alignment of piano keys onto a key frame, from the lowest A-0 to the highest C-8, is a project requiring a precise sense of scalar proportion. Playing Chop Sticks à la Monk is—something else.


Sir Shackleton, in the midst of abandoning the HMS Endurance, which was trapped in pack ice en route to the Antarctic pole, ordered Boatswain, Chippy McNish, to construct a makeshift sloop that could sail the crew to safety towards South Georgia Island. Blown way off course, they landed on Elephant Island, a place devoid of plants and animals.

As a small party set out to sea again in a skiff made of wood scraps, Shakleton had the rest of the crew pile round sea stones into random patterns along the beach, only to have the impromptu sculpture dismantled every morning, starting from scratch every day. This project initiated a steady routine of null labor. It maintained order among the men, preventing them from slipping into fantasy and/or mutual predation.


When the semi-semi-semi pro runners from North Brooklyn signed up for the New Speed America Project (NSAP), it was the project’s subtitle, “Run like a Kenyan,” that spurned them on.

“The morning long run,” one participant wrote back by e-mail, “winds along the Alduvi Gorge, and is so slow as to encourage one to read a newspaper along way, which one of our facilitators actually did.”

Another wrote, “The midday ‘workout’ consists of uprooting squash next to the camp and hand washing our gear while eating Ugali—no talk of racing, nor speed, nothing.”

And yet another, reported: “Tailing the Toyota mini pickup at sundown, dirt flying everywhere—400 meters stop and go, potholes, dogs, cheering children—nearly killed me.”

The Brooklyn delegation’s team leader wrote: “My comparative rundown of workout metrics—when I displayed it to the instructors—was met with bemusement.”

That same team leader later wrote: “At the end of the week we were each asked—not what our goals were, not what we had achieved while at camp, but instead, were each asked why we ran. Each of us gave our answers, differing versions of improvement strategy. No comment was forthcoming from the instructors.  I then asked why—please—should we run.

One of them calmly answered:  ‘Run because your heart wants to.’”


Pozole—a stew made of hominy kernels, meat, and chili peppers—consumed during the holidays, was first mentioned by Fray Bernardino de Sahagún’s “General History of the Things of New Spain” in 1500.

El Pozolero—Santiago Meza López, aka “The Stew Maker”—lieutenant of extortionist, kidnapping drug cartel, boasted of having streamlined the disposal of over 300 rivals, dissolving them in sodium hydroxide.

El Blog del Narco—site that gets 3 million unique hits per month, started by a one anonymous, “Lucy,” as a hobby, accepts anonymous submissions of graphic media of virtually every form of violence that can be dreamed of. The site has become the go-to place for law officials, cartel operatives, curious teens, and artists. Lucy employs dozens of servers, and spends her time between Mexico, the U.S., and Spain.

Projects, projects, projects.


So, the “Ramp of Giza”—alright, lopped away, quadrillions of orders, haggles, injuries, end of shift quaffing of honey mead, complex evolving handshakes, domestic shiftarama drama, techniques, techniques of transport, techniques of storage, techniques of rearing, song composition, fireside dance moves, alright.

But we want to know about the pith-seed, or, “seed-pith.”

We want to know about the Who as It by When as Where cut by How.

This King/Man-God, seed-pith, hunkered holy in a hollow hall hale and whole—for the Next Life…

What a project, yo, fuck.


If it twern’t frr Chippy McNish we wouldn’t be talkinaboutit.


If it twern’t frr Chippy McNish we wouldn’t be talkinaboutit.

Come again.

If it twern’t frr Chippy McNish we wouldn’t be talkinaboutit.


The prroject.

Which part?

The whole thing, man.


Mr. Tinfarb, after contracting a firm in Mumbai to purse up a contingent of computer casual laborers to transcribe into a single sentence the Federal Code of Regulations for General Industry (667 pages of materials specifications and work process procedures) publicly basks in his personal “labor-intensive” efforts in order paint flesh onto the cold aluminum frame of his projected cultural earnings.





“Daddy, when my finger lands on middle C, I get a shock in my—how Granma says, ‘nether parts.’”

“That’s alright, honey.”


Menudo—a stew made of hominy kernels, meat, chili peppers plus lemon—consumed after wicked hangovers.

Menudo—an insurmountably complex Latin teen vocal pop project.

Menudo—Ricky Martin.


Pick a saint you know nothing about. Proclaim the saint yours, a protector, intercessor, project case manager, after-life travel agent.

Paint a picture of your saint in Crayon; hang on wall next to bed.

Crayon insists on a capital “C,” give Crayon its big “C.”

Next: pick a monarch—from any era, absolute monarchs are best.

Compose a dialogue between your saint and your monarch relating to your cultural ambitions, how to make them sync across the domains of being and non-being.

Jack—hard—upon completion.

Record jack session for later use as back round to panel presentation.

Don’t worry about projecting your Inner Life, it’s

Not possible.

Originally Published: May 13th, 2014

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...

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