A response

A response from Sam Sampson to "Shadow Stands Up #10".


Just read your 'Shadow Stands Up #10'. What a great read. The Ashbery translation of Rimbaud's Illuminations is up there on my reading list, not just for the translation, but Ashbery's introduction. His Selected Prose, edited by Eugene Richie is, to my mind, essential reading for the Ashbery take on an array of writers and artists.

I was interested in your views regarding Goldsmith, and additionally, Perloff's support of the appropriation model. I like Goldsmith and think his uncreative model is, if used at the initial compositional stage a way to reinvent (maybe even reinvigorate?) the subjective, rather than shut it down. His poetry is boring (as he himself admits) but his conceptual framework is not, and does a lot to dismantle the overt subjective nature of what many believe is 'personal' poetry. I see Goldsmith as being poetry's equivalent of Richard Dawkins. The logic is sound, the intellect and argumentation hard to fault, but the absolutism can tend toward a form of reductionism. By this, I mean there's a directive toward a categorical imperative, the Goldsmith credo: select all / copy / paste, with his proviso: ‘the secret’... suppression of self-expression is impossible.

For me, as liberating as it sounds, and it is liberating – to devolve the self not just from its poetic centre but cut the reflexive self from the poetic – it still seems a somewhat circular argument. The imagination, and conscious memory, is present, and ever prescient – it's just to what degree you want to remix / repurpose / or reframe the final product. I also can't see how copying a pre-existing text could not be original. The Goldsmith body of works are original, and are sui generis... it’s just the conceptual framework has done most, if not all of the work, and is more tangible than the finished product.


I think the more important point relayed by Goldsmith and Perloff, via the artist Brion Gysin (who in 1959 claimed writing was 50 years behind painting) is the question of whether writing is still catching up to the art world? Their premise, that in the art world, the avant-garde has been mainstream and innovation and risk-taking consistently rewarded. While in spite of the successes of modernism, literature has remained on two parallel tracks, the mainstream and the avant-garde, with the two rarely intersecting. Now, both Goldsmith and Perloff believe the two have unexpectedly (and fantastically) collided through the conditions of a technology-driven digital culture.

Having a foot in both camps, working as much with visual artists as writers, this seems to me an important distinction and also a correct observation. I’m just not convinced, that ultimately, digital culture will reframe the writer-self, or reprogramme the reader-self. The fact is, words are not like paint or musical notation, however language is moved, cut, sampled... etc. it still rubs up against actuality at every point, and as Samuel Beckett would say, is ‘tainted’.

It may be old fashion late-modernism, but the meanderings of Beckett still hold a conundrum for the writer today, as Rimbaud’s did, and still do. Beckett, is closer to the Rimbaud you mention, and Ashbery’s assertion, that for Rimbaud, ‘the self is obsolete’ reminds me of Beckett’s struggle ‘to create a work that is totally autonomous, since it refers to nothing but itself’... he goes on... ‘Is literature alone to be left behind on that old, foul road long ago abandoned by music and painting?... Is there any reason why that terrifyingly arbitrary materiality of word surface should not be dissolved...?'


Personally, I’m excited by, and use both Goldsmith’s and Perloff’s mixed model of ‘moving information’... this includes: appropriation, elaborate constraint, visual and sound composition, and a reliance on intertextuality. When asked in 2010 about my own practice, I tended toward this mixed model – trying to find ways out of the ‘plain language loop’.

(here's a selection from the 2010 interview text below):

'Although appropriative writing and list poems intrigue me, I’m more interested in striking up a conversation, taking another writer’s words as departure points, whether that includes breaking them up to create rhythmic tension, or responding to the words in the writer’s mode through a rearrangement of their words.

The way the lines are arranged on the page (I’ve subsequently discovered) have a number of parallels with Mallarmé. Cole Swensen talks of Mallarmé’s preface to 'Un Coup de dés', where he states: “nothing new except a certain distribution of space made within the reading.” Swensen also talks of his inherent move towards a fusion of sequential perception and simultaneous perception, to fully engage the eye and ear, as a result pushing poetry in two directions – toward visual art and toward musical performance. I like this distinction, how the physicality of the language – this chopped nervousness, how the line is broken, the spatial repetitions, cause and effect, conflict and displacement – is essential to how the poem is laid out. I feel some of my longer works allow the reader to access the poem at many different points, but once inside the poem, the sonic components, whether it’s a single word filling a gap, or a vowel or half-rhyme sitting directly below a corresponding sound structure are complete in themselves – the idea of a beginning or end neither here nor there. This is not to say I felt poetry (my poetry especially) should ever purely be of the sound poetry tradition. I felt meaning inherently tied at the initial compositional stage, but this structure could be extended, until in some cases only a shimmer of the original meaning was left behind. I always hoped (if interested) the reader would work to solve conundrums, to supply transitions, to make out of a haphazard assortment of building materials, a habitable dwelling.’


As with your Rimbaud spectre, I recently had a similar experience while reading Keats’s ‘Hyperion’. A sense of how sincerely modern Keats could be. How the Keatsian aestheticism and intellect seemed prescient, and (as you say) ready to jab at the surface of the modern...‘the horizon in noise’. It seems Michael Parekowhai was also inspired by John Keats, and his sonnet – 'On first looking into Chapman’s Homer' – with its intimations of departure and return. Parekowhai borrowing the title for his 2011 show at the Venice Biennale, allegedly to give viewers another entry point into his work, and potentially, a contemporary entry point. One line, ‘He star'd at the Pacific’, seemed especially poignant, how it talked to Parekowhai ‘about the positional relationship, of standing on a peak in Darien (Panama), looking across the Pacific in awe of the possibilities – and if they could see that far, they'd see us looking back at them.’


Rimbaud, Ashbery, Keats, your poem... I agree there is the tidal wash, the back and forth; the present recreating the past, but also realigning the past in the present moment. I also think, the resolute vanguardism of Perloff’s (and Goldsmith’s) neomodernist progressive time (as you call it) cannot, and hasn't come ex nihilo, they are also in the wash; reframing, investing in what they believe to be the future of poetry.

Thanks once again for a thought provoking and interesting read.

p.s. a poem of collective memory?


history in a nearby tree
isolated sightings (aligned by absence):              huia extinct                                

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