An issue of illiturature, the journal of avant-garde work published by Michael e. Casteel’s micropress Puddles of Sky, is, plain and simply, an event. It is up to seven issues, and I have been honourned to be published within the pages of the last two. Number seven, which I will be looking at today, is a collection of found poems from eighteen writers and/or visual artists. Issue six was a collection of one word poems, while issue five was a masterpiece of Casteel’s editing in which the reader finds visual, asemic writing, and textual images of the contributors composed into an abstract graphic novelette.
Of the latest issue, number seven, which collects a variety of different forms and approaches to the found poem, I could comment on each piece within the covers, but will only look at a few pieces which, to my mind, present the greatest challenge to the idea of the found poem, or remark on it, succeeding in sending me further in thought than some of the pieces. And it is not all positive, which is good, as that is too often the case.
The first piece I am commenting on is the one which gives me the most trouble, the one I am least able to read. On page 25 there is a piece by the late David Fujino (January 28, 1945-May 6, 2017), which occupies the upper half of the page, and less than that. A markedly stylized lettering, very scratched, which reads, all in uppercase letters, WE BAD. I imagine I’m not the only one who on first encountering it feels at a loss at how to engage it. The grammar is incorrect, and anyway, it seems more concerned with the visual than the syntactic, yet there is nothing one can gather from the visual qualities besides the description I already gave. But there is more to the issue than the presented pieces. There are descriptions of sources and, in the case of WE BAD, process. But what kind of process can there be when it is a found poem? Fujino’s description reads,
From page 74 of “Lines” published by ee.no books, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 1990 ISBN 0-9692715-0-6. The submitted image was re-manipulated. The poem was first imagined as a street poster printed in a book format, then re-manipulated as a ‘found’ or concrete poem, then scanned.
This description at first confuses me. Are we to assume that “Lines” is by Fujino? Without assumption, it is by anyone. He gives the reader ample information so that we can answer that. Onto google. Yes, “Lines” is by Fujino. But still, no light has been shed onto WE BAD. Reading it, not a visual piece, it is a statement. Are we bad? OK. A moral judgement. Or, bad can be taken as rebellious, or radical (in the sense of extreme, or cool). But even with this, I can engage the poem very little. Back to the description Fujino has given. It turns out that the found poem which Fujino has submitted is his own poem, which makes me curious as to how it relates to the found poem. He found his own work–and then changed it. I am now more confused than ever. To top it off, Fujino seems to equate found poetry with concrete poetry. These two categories are not mutually exclusive. The fact that Fujino encases the denomination found within single quotation marks, and not the word concrete, seems to suggest that he is more comfortable with identifying the poem as concrete. In which case, I agree. Is WE BAD a radical approach to the found poem which affirms that we can indeed rediscover ourselves, and in doing so, approach a former self as an other? Is this the WE? What is ‘found’ here?
While Fujino’s ‘found’ poem led me in circles, circles I appreciate for how lost I have become, and for the questions met on or off the path of his piece, one of Elisha May Rubacha’s (who is part of bird, buried press) contributions, very straight forward, not confusing (when her description is read), continues to hold my attention.
Rubacha’s piece reads, Found between machines, and beneath the text there is an arrow pointing right. Her description goes as thus, Note found to the left of my sock in the laundry room. The arrow had pointed at her lost sock now found (absent in the piece, significantly), the note had been left by a roommate, housemate, family member, partner or stranger in the laundry room of her house, rented or owned, or the common laundry area in an apartment building. How this piece performs pivots on Michael Casteel’s editorial choice of placement. Rubacha’s piece is placed on the left-hand page, while on the facing right-hand page is an envelope, the contents of which are a found poem by Michael e. Casteel, taken from a TV series, so, found presented in a machine, or between many machines. Read in communication with Casteel’s piece, Rubacha’s could be seen as merely an introduction–but, the gutter of the journal saves it, opens another avenue of reading, but again, this pivots on Casteel’s editing, not necessarily on the piece as an independent text. Casteel’s seems to have found Rubacha’s piece all over again. The arrow, pointing to the gutter, points to the space between pages, the space that two pages makes, points to materiality. It references, then, the process of printing, the machines Casteel’s used to produce the journal itself. Also, it suggests the search or chance encounter with material that the writer or artist has experienced to come upon a found poem. While the material has been complied, arranged and printed, between the machines of our lives, there was/is the movement of bodies in the material world that leads to encounter.
I mentioned above that on the page facing Rubacha’s piece is an envelope containing a poem contributed by Michael e. Casteel (The Last White House at the End of the Row of White Houses, Invisible Publishing, 2016). The found poem is a small booklet which contains within it four images. This poem takes its title, Perchance to Dream, from the title of an animated Batman episode (the writer of which borrowed the title from Shakespeare’s Hamlet), the episode in which the images that make up the booklet were found. Here, as in Fujino’s piece, the found poem is also a concrete poem, while this time is confident within both categories. The first image finds Bruce Wayne reading a newspaper, on the pages of which are a text consisting of letters upside down, right-side up, jumbled, crammed together, rising, falling–a garbled text, to be sure. The following three images zoom in on the text and the text itself intensifies its dramatics. It is really a visual pleasure, and considered as an intentional concrete poem, in the lineage of the concrete poem, it doesn’t skip a beat. This raises some worthy questions. First of all, who created this concrete poem? Not the writer of the episode. It was the illustrator/s. And while the text arrives driven by the narrative of the episode, it is amazing to see how comfortable the concrete poem (certainly not originally presented as such) is on public television during the 90’s. It has already been digested and re-presented as a device. This leads me to think about value. If an illustrator or group of illustrators can whip up a concrete poem, while quite probably not even considering it as such, and if it can rival that which is produced seriously by current and past poets who have championed the form, the poet who tackles the concrete poem better keep in mind how ordinary it now is, more than two decades later, and how invisible it is likely to be. On the other hand it is encouraging to witness the influence of the vernacular of art forms spreading throughout culture at large (i.e. popular), that the strangest language resonates and has an effect, becomes part of the literacy of the general public, when so often is seems so ignored. The yin to that yang is an addition to W. S. Burrough’s famous line: The word is image and the image is virus… and the virus is quotidian.
Note: I had mistakenly attributed a poem to Gary Barwin which was in fact by Michael e. Casteel. This had been corrected.