Thursday, June 28, 2018

“the primitive pleasures of serendipitous art”

As a teen I discovered found poetry, and I quickly became infatuated. I have kept my eye out for source texts ever since. First line indexes of poetry anthologies can be fruitful. Back in the early 90s when I was an undergrad at the University of California at Berkeley the first line index in An Anthology of New York Poets edited by Ron Padgett and David Shapiro really got me excited. I was working at the university’s main library. Perhaps it was the New York poets anthology that inspired me to turn library search results into poems. I compiled as many title lists as I could think of. Some worked as poems immediately; some worked with massaging; most, frustratingly, refused my efforts. But it was a lot of fun, especially when I was assigned to the desk and there was dead time. I could even print out some of the lists, which saved my writing hand.

In his essay about his boyhood obsession with Classics Illustrated comics Gary Giddins talks about his hunt for some of the adaptations that he knew only by their appearing on a list in the back of issues he did own. The more obscure titles (Mr. Midshipman Easy, The Black Tulip, for example) just weren’t available. Attempts to order them from the publisher could net an entirely different issue, too often one that Giddins already had. Left only with the titles and no other information, the young Giddins found some distraction in reading the lists for themselves, as though they were stories, or maybe poems.

William Gass has written that ‘lists are juxtapositions, and exhibit many of the qualities of collage.” They may, in fact, offer the primitive pleasures of serendipitous art. A computerized list, for example, of the popular songs published during the first half of the twentieth century reveals an infinite treasury of found poems: Flip to any page, put your finger on any title, and track the first ten songs upward or down, and voila, instant lit. Lists of artworks are serendipitous and canonical, too … also publishers’ catalogs and individual work-lists.”

I have gotten some of the library database lists published as poems.

source: Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers: writers on comics edited by Sean Howe