Posts Tagged ‘investigative poetics’


In Uncategorized on August 30, 2010 at 10:32 am

PHOTO: David Berridge, West Bromwich, June 4, 2010


In her essay “Language in the Landscape” Johanna Drucker observes:

“Language in the landscape, whether roads signs, billboards, or graffiti, shapes our relationship to the landscape in many ways. Language can be explicit (DO NOT ENTER), deceptive (THE ONLY REAL BEER), enigmatic (EDY’S CHARACTER CANDIES), confusing (PARKING THIS SIDE ONLY BETWEEN 4PM AND 6PM ON ALTERNATIVE TUESDAYS EXCEPT WHERE INDICATED), and elucidating (WINDOW 6 FOR TAX FORMS ONLY). In every case, written language represents an invisible conversation: someone is speaking, someone is being addressed, the message has a purpose, and the message is delivered in a particular way. Language is a symbolic system, full of implication. It allows us to discuss things that are not present. We cannot dismiss language in the landscape as auxiliary or duplicative. The relationship between linguistic statement and physical object influences every encounter we have with out environment.” 

Drucker’s essay, originally published in Landscape. Vol.28, no.1, 1984, offers a preliminary classification of language in the landscape. Drucker begins by focussing on the forms of written language itself:  “The forms of written language are twofold: first, the visible features of the method of production, such as the style of typography or calligraphy, and medium employed; second the forms of the language per se, such as current slang, obsolete jargon, newly coined words, and unconventional spelling. Form affects meaning.” She then considers language in the landscape by means of the following categories:


Beyond Information

Instructive Language

Language as Advertisement

Language as Identity

Language as Evidence

Language Creates Speculation

Language as Edification

Language as Context

Drucker’s comments on this final category also serve as the essay’s conclusion. They relate, too, to the photographs above, which were taken on walks around West Bromwich on June 4 2010, as part of my residency at the Black Country  Creative Advantage. My written response to the language in the landscape can be seen here. As Drucker observes:

“Landscape serves as the context for the language in it. Written language does not simply identify objects in the landscape. Language changes our perception of the very situation in which it acquires meaning. As we observe words in the landscape, they charge and activate the environment, sometimes undermining, sometimes reinforcing our perceptions. For us, language is full of culture and history, but it is also full of ambiguity and enigma. Because it is a set of symbols we use to invoke concepts, we may  find it divorced from the very objects it aims to identify, posing the issues of definition and identity as distinct from the material in which they are embodied.” 

SOURCES: Johanna Drucker, “Language in the Landscape” in Figuring the Word: Essays on Books, Writing and Visual Poetics (Granary Books, New York City, 1998), 90-99.



In Uncategorized on August 29, 2010 at 10:15 am

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.

During the residency it was decided that I would write an issue of the BCCA CREATIVE REPORT newsletter, whose format comprises a 20 page A4 publication stapled into cardboard covers. 

My text has now been published as CREATIVE REPORT #2. It can be downloaded as a PDF here. If you are in West Bromwich then you can pick up a hard copy at the BCCA stall  (stall 42, New Market Hall, King’s Square) or at the following locations:

African Caribbean Resource Centre; Charlemont Community Centre, Beaconview Road; The Fox & Hounds; Guru Nanak Community Centre; Hill Top Library; Kenrick Park Community Centre, Glover Street; Lodge Road Community Centre, Lodge Road; Sandwell College Student Association; Stone Cross Library; The Vine; Yemeni Association; YMCA; Wood Lane Community Centre, Greets Green.

This project offered the chance to think through a whole set of questions about relationships of writing to site, and the role writers can play in urban regeneration projects. 

What kind of intervention could I usefully make in the time I had been given? What did it mean to focus on my own writing and poetics as a way to explore a location and issue with which I was unfamiliar? 

I decided to focus on the role of written language, encountered, both in the streets and in the array of printed documents on the BCCA stall in which the debates of urban regeneration are partially conducted. I read through this material – how exactly such documents are read or not  was one of the questions that interested me – and gathered material on a series of field trips throughout West Bromwich. 

The resultant 20 page document includes notes, micro-essays, one word poems, poems awaiting development, pages cleared like areas awaiting development, street notations, quotations, scripts for plays and an opera, along with resources/ quotations from a range of other art projects/ poets/ thinkers….  unfolding the intention of an object of use, provocation and entertainment….

Language in the urban environment, West Bromwich, June 4, 2010


BCCA have commissioned the actor/writer Suzan Spence to record her own one person version of the text. I’m interested how one voice could approach the polyvocality of the text, assembling and re-assembling its components in each read through. When Suzan contacted me by email about her project I replied:

…I think of the text as batch of material/ ideas for use. I think some bits of it are likely to be more suitable read aloud than others, and perhaps a structure for the recording can be found by moving backwards and forwards in the text, following your interest. 

One thing that interests me about this kind of script is that the normal categories get confused – so anything could be stage directions, dialogue, notes and so on. Anything could be read aloud or not. 

In projects since – such as the serial writing project I am doing for BEYOND THE DUSTHEAPS exhibition – I have continued to think through INVESTIGATIVE POETICS, both as a particular way of working with language and within a broader realm of performative gesture and forms of social relation. 

OTHER SOURCES: Sat in my room in the West Bromwich Premier Inn I also watched the video of Laura Elricks’s STALK  – see here – and read David Wolach’s essay on the project and its “poetics of spatial practice” in JACKET magazine here. Also valuable here was Elrick’s “Poetry,Ecology and the Re-Appropriation of Lived Space, published in Brooklyn Rail here

Finally, whilst all this reading relates to a distinct constellation of concerns, wanting last night to list the books that have recently informed my unfolding sense of what is at stake in an INVESTIGATIVE POETICS produced the following diverse range of titles:

Falke Pisano, FIGURES OF SPEECH (JRP Ringier, 2010).

Geof Huth, NTST: The Collected Pwoermds of Geof Huth (If P Then Q, 2010).

Raqs Media Collective, SEEPAGE (Sternberg Press, 2010).

Viktor Shklovsky, Knight’s Move (Dalkey Archive Press, 2005 [1923]).

Pierre Guyotat, COMA (Semiotext(e), 2010).

Sean  Reynolds and Robert Dewhurst, WILD ORCHIDS: HANNAH WEINER (Issue 2, 2010).

Thanks to the BCCA curator, Monika Vykoukal, for her help and support on the project. Each issue of the CREATIVE REPORT takes for its cover an element of the West Bromwich city emblem. The full set of newsletters, published throughout 2010, will offer a symbolic, methodological, and literal reconstruction of this emblem ,and the urban realm it both visibly and invisibly delineates.


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.