Poetry News

At The Believer Logger Ben Fama, Andrew Durbin, and Dorothea Lasky on Censorship, Surveillance, and (of Course) Poetry

By Harriet Staff

The Anthology of Surveillance Poetics is out now, courtesy of Black Ocean. At The Believer Logger, the editor of the anthology, Andrew Ridker, speaks with contributors to the anthology, Ben Fama and Andrew Durbin. A poetic erasure by Dorothea Lasky follows. Check it out!


ANDREW RIDKER: I wanted to start out by thinking through a possible working definition of ‘surveillance poetics.’ Put most simply, it can encompass works of poetry written in response to America’s surveillance state, which opens up some interesting questions about the intersection of art and politics. But there are conceptual possibilities as well; given that the very idea of surveillance involves poetic techniques like repurposing language, observing/overhearing others, ‘keywords,’ etc., it seems that an institution like the NSA and a working poet have overlapping interests that could affect the artistic practice itself.

BEN FAMA: A form of surveillance-as-text I think of often is Rob Fitterman’s piece “Now We Are Friends.” It’s a sharp, funny look at how the subject being watched allows himself to be complicit in their own conscription. Rob follows what seems to be a random person—Ben Kessler, first reproducing his personal website copy and ‘about me’ as poetic language, then contacting him, explaining what he has been doing, and inviting him to engage in the content he has created. Rob will be discussing the project formally at the Kelly Writer’s House, and he asks Ben Kessler to attend. Ben responds, he won’t be in town, but he’d “love to see some details on the project it sounds fascinating. Feel free to ask any questions or whatnot.” This was in 2009. I think it would be different now.

ANDREW DURBIN: Surveillance has been a part of art practice since at least the mid-60s, but it’s become especially important since the internet introduced chat-rooms, webcams, and easily searchable records and social media. Similar to (and in response to) that documentary surveillance culture, the best work being made right now is oriented toward and relies on surveillance tactics. The poetry I am most interested in is usually embedded in other practices, in other media, in other methodologies (prose, visual work, music) that—again: like the NSA itself—surveys from a point of obscurity. While it’s pretty ridiculous to compare an art form to a pernicious instrument of our security state, I think it’s important to note that poetry does operate under many of the same, all-inclusive assumptions about what can be a subject (anything, that is), trawling and “witnessing” history and lives for “material” that can be arranged into a record. [...]

Ja, gut! Read thyself into the future, at The Believer Logger.