Friday, October 10, 2008

issue 1 anthology (part one)

over the past week, an intriguing experiment has taken place in the poetry community. a week ago today, on october 3 -- a friday, typically the day for the release of bad news that public relations operatives hope will be ignored by the mainstream media -- kenneth goldsmith posted to the poetry foundation's harriet blog an announcement of a "3,785 Page Pirated Poetry Anthology" and proceeded with a list of 3164 poets whose work the anthology, entitled issue 1, purportedly included. "Completely unpermissioned and unauthorized," the announcement proudly declared, "pissing off the entire poetry community. Either you're in or you're not." (download the 3.9MB PDF file here.)

the provocative taunting is part and parcel of the pitch that often sells the latest poetry movement du jour, with goldsmith* as conceptual writing's most visible brand name. and although the issues such taunting raises -- regarding authority, ownership, permission, exclusivity and poetry wars -- warrant both some tongue-in-cheek levity and some serious consideration in their own right, these i think are among the least interesting aspects of the project. that is, the significance of the issue 1 anthology far and away exceeds its conceptualist brand name.

think about it for a moment. visualize a 3785-page poetry anthology: even with the thinnest, norton-style cigarette paper or telephone directory oversized pages, this beast would still need to be bound in multiple volumes. practically speaking, it can only exist in digital format and makes an utter mockery of print and codex technologies.

and besides, who could possibly read the thing? the list of contributors alone is so formidable that a number have already claimed frustration at the difficulty of searching for their names to determine if they've even been included (even though searching a digital text is relatively easy once you know how).

so the first implication i draw from the simple fact of the issue 1 anthology as object -- and it obtains regardless of whether 3000+ individuals wrote the poems in question (they didn't) or a single computer program or programmer "wrote" them (it/he did) -- can be phrased as follows:

1) we are living in a moment of poetic production so abundant that attempts to document it and consume it have approached if not fully arrived at the patently absurd.

[to be continued]

*personally i like kenny quite a bit and find his writing at its best to be some of the most interesting and thought-provoking out there today.

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