In Uncategorized on May 24, 2010 at 8:26 pm

Image: Neil Gray

From June 2-4th I will in West Bromwich, working on a writing commission as part of Black Country Creative Advantage, curated by Monika Vykoukal.

My project builds on a previous contribution to the BCCA seminar that took place in September 2009. For this earlier project – a scripted dialogue written and presented with Pippa Koszerek– I gathered a set of quotations and materials from histories of experimental art practice, exploring their possible connection as method both to urban regeneration issues and Pippa’s own intervention work on this theme. The handout/ reading list for this session is here.

For the visit in June, I am interested in exploring more specifically the role of investigative poetics. BCCA have gathered an archive of texts, which are currently on display in the local marketplace (as well as on the project website). A wide range documents and notices create a space that  seems a mixture of  archive, notice board/ newspaper  and project space. 

I will be spending two days both reading the documents – quite what “reading” involves is one of the issues of the project – and, through conversations with Monika, visitors, and other collaborators, seeing how they function within the project and the stall. I will then produce a piece of writing that both functions as a guide to the stall and works as an autonomous investigative poetics/essaying.

Much of the specifics of this will depend on the documents and conversations I have in West Bromwich. But already, in discussion with Monika, I have been thinking about how such a writing could occur, be published and distributed, in such a context. 

The project, for example, has a number of existent sites, including blog and web site, the market stall, printed newsletter (also available online). Each has both its own possibilities for text, and its own audience. Each will also continue to change and develop as the project continues. 

So I have been thinking about some modular form of writing – a set of materials  that can be re-arranged for different situations, and also be unfolded (by myself and others) as BCCA continues.

I have also been gathering a number of books and materials which offer methods and examples for this project. The first is a gathering of texts around the idea of “documentary poetics,” including works by Mark Nowak, Kaia Sand, and Brenda Coultas. Sand’s remember to wave , for example, begins with the following statement of method:

How do I notice

what I don’t notice?


How do I notice

what I don’t know

I  don’t notice?


Inexpert, I

notice with the attention

and drifting inattention

of poetry


Inexpert, I



Inexpert, I

walk, and walk.


Such texts offer a variety of methods for how poets can approach the complexity of places, then represent those texts in written form. Developing the poetics of Charles Olson, the poet-songwriter Ed Sanders, for example, has suggested a model of the poet as an historical scholar, working through all forms of documents, experience, and information, transforming them into “High Energy Verse Grids” or “Data Clusters”.

Kristin Prevallet, adapting Olson/ Sanders methods into her own practice, has suggestively summarised this position as follows: 

The poet is a researcher, investigator, interpreter, singer, and prophet who engages in an active relationship with the political, social, and cultural forces around him or her. The poet is a manifesto-creating, opinionated, ranting, perpetual surveyor and tireless investigator of history. The poet is busy creating verse grids out of whatever materials are present before him or her at the time: the poet is an appropriator of sources, a thief of facts, a collage-creating scoundrel in a hyper state of awareness and inspiration. Flowcharts, newspaper articles, photographs, etymology, and ethnography become the raw materials for the poet’s unique assemblage. (115-116)


Kaia Sand, double page spread from Remember to Wave, Tinfish Press, 2010


The Poet Brenda Coultas, meanwhile, adapts for her own writing the notion of “public character” in Jane Jacobs classic study of urban planning, The Death and Life of American Cities. Coultas writes: 

Jacobs defines a public character as the person on the street who knows everyone and whom everyone knows; this person serves as the eyes on the street, and thus lends cohesion to the community and serves to prevent crime… So I began to think about the possibility of leaving the anonymity of the page and becoming a public character, that is, a public poet. (11)

How does public character apply to the project in West Bromwich? To working with an archive of texts? 

The Wayward Plant Registry, Brixton Village Tree Drop-Off Shop, 2010


…and another useful statement of poetic-investigatory-documentary method from the poet-film maker Abigail Child:

Someone is thinking/ speaking to herself. Analyzing beat of energies, of digression, remembering. Memory and this question: What is the relation between narrative and history, between art and memory? Articulate the relation between witnessing/ events and speculation/ fiction. An attempt to see how issues of biography and history are neither represented nor reflected but are translated, reinscribed, radically re-thought. History as a translation, through which is created new articulations of perspective. Acknowledge the conceptual and social prisms through which we attempt to apprehend. (248)

The other set of materials I have been gathering concern practices of appropriation in which the poets work is often less concerned with the generation of new material than with the selection, organising and placing of material in new contexts and constellations, thereby producing new meanings and emphases.  

Simon Morris, The Royal Road to the Unconscious, front cover, 2003


Here I have been thinking of, to give but two examples, Vanessa Place, poet and attorney, who, in her essay “Lawrence Weiner said that language is material” – the full text of which is here  – writes of: 

a self-appropriation project in which I take statements of facts from some of my cases and re/de contextualize them as conceptual works… I do nothing to the writing except change the font. (TNR to Calibri). 

Place describes the effect of this act as follows:

It is a Samzidat project, an act of triple-alienation in which I use the product of my paid labor to produce an aesthetic work that removes the case from its subsumptive and utilitarian function as the root or origin of the law. A function that depends in large part on its mimetic fidelity. In this regard, my project is not subsumptive, but creative, not disjunctive, but deterritorialized, not really real but overtly represented. It could work as a book project or function as a visual project. It is an indexical project that betrays or negates the index as it destroys its ethical reason for being, what Kant might consider its categorical imperative.

 …and, too, Kenneth Goldsmith’s bookwork transcriptions of weather forecasts, traffic reports, and the New York Times as part of a practice of “uncreative writing”, some aspects of which he unfolds in the short essay “Uncreativity as a Creative Practice” here. A similar territory is also explored by Simon Morris and his Sheffield based Information as Material project.

Of course, all these projects are embodied in particular practices, moments, histories, and locations. I am not sure how, if, and whether they will apply to the archive material and the broader project in West Bromwich. They certainly highlight one aspect of my project which is to find ways of actively responding to material, working with it, in ways that answer and develop the needs of your own work and those with which you wish to communicate. 

Also thinking of the project as a guided textual tour of the material at the BCCA stall. In “Hidden Cities” the poet Geraldine Monk writes a tour of Manchester. I cite it here as example of how the materiality of one’s subject can enter into one’s own language, form, linguistic and physical adventuring, working out of the materiality of an encounter with words and places to open up a distinctive imaginative territory:

Welcome to all of you… involuntary ghosts of tomorrow… scoring future imprints down the roads and junctions of unmarked time… welcome to the imperceptible slice between now and now… the progression of idle nanoseconds.

Welcome to Manchester… Funchester….Gunchester… Madchester…

Journey with me now and regain a return to where we almost started… journey through the making of each suspended sentence… spectral word… half breathed comma… shifting metropolis… through these unofficial urban arteries of time-ticking creatures… glossed out histories… contrived artefacts… accidental spaces.


SOME SOURCES: Abigail Child, This is Called Moving: A Critical Poetics of Film (University of Alabama Press, 2005); Brenda Coultas, A Handmade Museum (Coffee House Press, 2003); Geraldine Monk, Noctivagations (West House Books, 2001); Kristin Prevallet, “Investigating the Procedure: Poetry and the Source” in Mark Wallace and Steven Marks ed. Telling it Slant: Avant-Garde Poetics of the 1990s (University of Alabama Press, 2002), 114-129.

  1. […] In June I spent two days in West Bromwich as a writer in residence with the Black Country Creative Advantage. Some notes on the origins of this project, particularly thinking through  and around ideas and practices of INVESTIGATIVE POETICS can be seen here. […]

  2. […] Some notes on the origins of this project, particularly thinking through  and around ideas and practices of INVESTIGATIVE POETICS can be seen […]

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