In Uncategorized on October 4, 2011 at 8:59 pm



Emmett Williamssweethearts, first published in 1966, is an erotic love poem made entirely from permutations and arrangements of words and phrases found using the eleven letters of its title. Reprinted in 2010 in a facsimile of its original edition, it has to be in this square format so the reader can flick through the pages of its first section and see this coupled erotics of story and type unfolding through proto-cinematic letter patterns. Further on, declamations are found within a grid of sweethearts 11 letters wide and 11 repetitions deep. The swart seether that sears her wet wheat, or he heats her wee sweet ears.

I first read these pages, too, as typographical patterns, like those with which the book begins, words growing and shrinking, when suddenly the sears and wet wheat of it emerges, the proximity of Williams’ painstaking word search to flesh and sweat. Re-issued in 2010 sweethearts enters into and creates a history and practice of minimalism as one site where art and poetry converge. Not that this convergence is straightforward. sweethearts, with nested hearts of Marcel Duchamp’s Cœurs Volant on its black covers, has its back cover on its front and vice versa, highlighting the reversals and disruptions that such fusions may necessitate.

Aram Saroyan’s coffee coffee, another strictly lower case book title, is also recently republished, by New York based Primary Information. Many pages of coffee coffee comprise a single word centered on the page: though, for example, building, or ring, to quote three with which the book commences. Other times a word is repeated, Saroyan exploring how often a word needs to be repeated to get the balance of type and page, word, idea and space. Bird is a three line block of bird/bird/bird and cigarette needs four repeats. There’s the title, too, of course which, like sweethearts, is another poem.

In Saroyan’s Door To The River: Essays & Reviews from the 1960s into the Digital Age, poems in coffee coffee emerge as in part as a stoned poetics: “I was getting stoned and looking very hard at things because I was going too fast, I felt. I wanted my writing to slow up, and the one-word poem finally gave me the feeling that it wasn’t going by too fast.” This wasn’t, of course, the only way to response to the moment or practice a minimalist poetics. Saroyan’s close friend Clark Coolidge later commented: “I couldn’t understand how there could be just one word. One word always led to another in my mind, helplessly.” [1]

Then and now, coffee coffee articulates movements between scenes and practices of art and poetry. In 1967 coffee coffee was published by Vito Acconci and Bernadette Mayer’s 0-9 Press, an offshoot of 0-9 magazine, in which Saroyan also appeared, which in retrospect seems to function as an intersection between conceptual art, performance, New American poetry, and experimental music. In 2009 Primary Information republish coffee coffee, despite Saroyan’s books being downloadable online, and a hard copy publication of Complete Minimal Poems by Ugly Duckling Presse. For Primary Information it seems necessary to have a hard copy of this book, not to make its contents available, but as an object/ statement/ proposition about publishing and PI’s own practice.


General Idea: AIDS Stamps (1988)

General Idea: AIDS Stamps (1988): Offset on perforated paper inserted in Parkett magazine, no. 15, 1988.


Reception changing decades after something is made is part of Gregg Bordowitz’s essay on General Idea’s Imagevirus in Afterall’s One Work book series. In 1987, General Idea rearranged the A-I-D-S acronym into a logo: a neat box with the first two letters on top of the second two, the format and the red, blue, and green colours appropriated from the LOVE logo of a 1966 Robert Indiana acrylic canvas. The negative space between colours could be varied and the logo reproduced in different formats and sizes. Between 1987 and 1994 it appeared in gallery exhibitions and the covers of medical journals, as wallpaper, on billboards and public transport, as street sculpture, jewellery, and on lottery tickets.

Simplicity contributed to its repeatability, Bordowitz highlights, although, in these early years of the AIDS crisis, the work functioned differently depending on the viewer’s proximity to the virus. If you had AIDS, Bordowitz writes, then Imagevirus “is an extension of you. You are the word made flesh, a representative of the virus, and your reach extends deep into the atmosphere. Breathe in, feel your powers.”


General Idea's famous AIDS logo, an appropriation of Robert Indiana's LOVE sign of the 1960s. The artists created the logo as a form of branding, and then applied it to media and advertising strategies, callign the infiltrations that followed Imagevirus.


In 1987, when Bordowitz was a direct activist with ACT-UP, Imagevirus and the relationships of art and politics it demonstrated, was harder for him to appreciate: “many of us felt like we had to abandon the conventions of modernism to better link our art directly to the protest movement against government inaction.” In 2011 Bordowitz can see how General Idea did not do this, but “re-figured the styles and tactics of a homosexual avant-garde using the threat of viral infection as their model for identity politics.”

Bordowitz also understands this shift of the last twenty years through a turn to poetry. He cites dictionary definitions of poetry without which, he says, Imagevirus cannot be understood. Poetry brings a “special intensity… to the to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm… something regarded as comparable to poetry in its beauty.” Quoting Wallace Stevens ‘Anecdote of the Jar’ Bordowitz writes how poetry “plays with these varying positions to create constellations of experience.”

It is in a more general discussion of language that Bordowitz comes closer to the experimental devices of sweethearts and coffee coffee. AIDS could stand for other things, he observes, although habit and repetition “compels me to read this as the acronym for a fatal disease.” A minimal poem is where materials and means of language become inseparable from both the message and its own mechanics, potentially viral, code-like and tweet, a piece out of time embedded within it. If poetry is apposite for the age, let’s check with the poets.

Published by the Manchester based poetry press If P Then Q, ntst: the collected pwoermds of geof huth comprises 775 one word poems or pwoermds.  The form unfolds most directly out of Saroyan’s own explorations of the form, including – in his 1968 collection Aram Saroyan – lighght, eyeye, and morni,ng. Other sources include Ian Hamilton Finlay’s one word issue of Poor. Old. Tired. Horse magazine in 1967, in which the title could be any length, and Simon Cutts’ Coracle gallery and still-operative press, where minimalism becomes a utopian neo-pastoral proposition about fusions of form and content embracing book, space, and conviviality.




Huth’s pwoermds have no need of titles. Mixing playfulness and studied manipulation, Huth adjusts the materiality of a word to bring together its sound, typographical presence, and felt meaning(s): twinns, say, mmssft, thingk, woeird, and voluptuouuousness. Humour of the individual words becomes a foil for a psychic intensity and ambition evident when pwoermds agglomerate into lists revealing the jagged ambitions of their entanglements and re-makings. Take this 2007 sequence which first appeared on Huth’s dbqp blog: thevolution, complext, educution, onwed, nelsewhere, couldn’t’ven’t, uition, questiong, ideaghless, nothingng, o)ught(s, emember, an/swer.

ntst mostly spurns the white space and one word per page of Saroyan’s coffee coffee, preferring archival lists of words organised by previous publication (mostly on Huth’s blog or in small press and self- published poetry chapbooks and magazines). Pwoermd has a sense of occasion, as in two sections that compile writing that ocurred during International Pwoermd Writing Month. Pwoermd is so immersed in manipulable printed language that this itself provides the most appropriate taxonomy. There are collections titled the woords and wreadings, for example, the sequence of the later fusing word and book form, by beginning foreward, then proceeding through pairs of narrarator/ readear and memeory/ kmowlwdgw.

Attuned to their own organicity, pwoermds also turn to nature, aware that their manipulations can offer new ways of perceiving that combine object, environment, and experience into sunbrook, toothwood, shadowl, toadmud and pondsun. Each pwoermd wants to be a tactile, literary-edible experience, providing the reader with their own wthrd woord phlesch pflesch wr;t:ing organasm, to summarise ntst via one quick reading-movement through it.

There’s a pwoermld out there. In April 2010, Jonathan Jones’ The Sticky Pages Press published from Brussels the fullcrumb series: 20 small booklets, some a single sheet of folded A5 card, others small 4-6 page chapbooks. All an arena for a particular category of near edible pwoermd. The pamphlet or/th/or, for example, offers pwoermdists excavations of literary history from shapesphere through wordthwordth via kakafkafka; whilst nulojism focuses on the errhotic – one page invites the reader into the intimid/ fungle/ nurdge/ sighz/ growns/ shuther. The poeworms booklet lists procedures, which can only be detailed via further pwoermds, paired methods of: un(ear)thed/ exwhom; sourceaura/skullership; psychedlicate/ inksense; vampyhrric/ extinkt.


The Sticky Pages Press, The Fullcrumb Series (2010)


Jones wrote a note on his Belgian Waffle blog in May 2010 which elucidates how he sees the pwoermd, and from which I’ve extracted the following: “The pwoermd is trespass… Frankenstein language… The pwoermd is disobedience… The pwoermd is physical. Skeleton language. Bonus letters. Work out! Flex and articulate those joints! The pwoermd is a word made of machines. But what makes it go? The pwoermd is old. Gnomic and riddled… The pwoermd is unspeakable… Think is to thong as tongue is to thing. The pwoermd is joyous. Textual excess… Language full tilt. The pwoermd is toothsome… Pop it in your mouth… The pwoermd is Now. And then. And still coming…. It forces you to do time. The pwoermd … IS.”

Heimrad Bäcker’s transcript, was published in German in 1986 and in English in 2010, and, presenting the holocaust through the language of its remaining archival documents, offers a more directly applicable example of minimalist methodologies. The text comprises fragments of this archive, each page of transcript a presentation of an archival fact: the first transport departs from the aspang train station on friday 10/20/39 at 22.00 hours. Another: later a man named kerper came as the authorized representative from berlin for the gold teeth.

Bäcker’s archival sources are numerous, including maps, letters,  minutes, legal documents, statistics and registers. In seeking an appropriate method of response, transcript rejects inventing language: “It is enough to quote the language of the perpetrators and the victims. It is enough just to stick to the language preserved in the documents. Concurrence of document and horror, of statistics and dread.” Bäcker accounts for the artistry of transcript as follows: “When I quote, there is nothing literary about the quotation (except in sequence, repetition, omission; except for the system of transcribing). This is what makes it different from narrative.”

Applied to other historical moments, the need to invent reappears. Jeff Derksen’s choreographed sequences of aphorisms model how these contrasting engagements with mnmlsm could be related, particularly as a part of a practice spanning art and poetry (Derksen is part of the art collective Urban Subjects). In Transnational Muscle Cars, the opening pages of “But Could I Make A Living From It” contain the following, among many others: “That’s a nice sunset you have there”; “I’m three years younger than the term Third World”; “Canadian dollar?”; “It’s the apex where the sexuality’s spiced in”; “Afghanistan, Angola, Bangladesh, Benin”; “1976: 0.0961.”

Like Bäcker, Derksen wants to present not describe, but his 21st century neo-capitalist Canadian world order finds documents warping between discursive categories, writing and speech, under pressures of position, mass media, sexuality and capital fluidity. Neither the white space of Saroyan or the condensed word manipulations of Huth seem possible strategies for Derksen. Transnational was published in 2003. In relation to Saroyan, Huth, Jones, and Williams, as well as our current financial crisis, its literary strategies both critique and elucidate.

Throughout all the texts here the minimal unfolds as a contradictory form: found-invented, formulaic-aesthetic, embedded-critical, rooted-nomadic, evidencing a (micro-) complexity that justifies the renewed appreciation and publication in 2011. A place to focus and act in discerning precise relations of art and poetry, word and thing, the pressures of being both meditative icon and tweet, pwoermd and corporate acronym, balancing extreme pwoermd condensation with uncertain linguistic flux.



New possibilities in the present unfold as new historical texts are brought back into distribution. Republished in 2010 Inserate/ Advertisements by Dieter Roth is a collection of texts that first appeared as small ads in the Anzeiger Stadt Luzern und Umgebung newspaper in 1971-2. Anzeiger published 114 ads before it decided to discontinue publication. Roth observed of the pages of advertising: “Those pages are brutal, they’re like a gigantic junkyard. So I thought I’d just stick a little tear in them.”

Roth’s “tears” put both possible readings of that word into play through combines of casual and affected, daily and sequenced, both an alternative to the selling all around and a transposition of such transactions into faux fabular lyricism and subjective opacity. To start at the beginning of the project, with texts appearing on 17, 19, 24, 26 and 31 Mar 1971 respectively: A tear is better than an evil word!; Two tears are better than one tear!; A word is almost as good as a tear!; A tear is not a word!; A stone is not a tear.




[1] Clark Coolidge in Lee Bartlett ed. Talking Poetry: Conversations in the workshop with contemporary poets (University of New Mexico Press, 1987).


This essay first appeared in Issue 12 of Kilimanjaro magazine.  My CLOSE/ LANDSCAPE/ OPEN/ READING/ BOOK (REPEAT), an essay on Roni Horn, appears in Issue 13.

  1. […] IMAGE VIRUS DO-POETRY, with more on Dieter Roth, Emmett Williams, Ian Hamilton Finlay and others click here. This entry was posted in Uncategorized by helen. Bookmark the […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: