March at the Poetic Labor Project

We’re so pleased to announce that responses from Anne Boyer, Tyrone Williams, and Lara Durback are now up on the Poetic Labor Project’s blog. To download a pdf of all three, please click here. We’re grateful for these initial responses, which broaden the conversation around poetics and labor that was the subject of the gathering in the East Bay last Labor Day.  As part of our commitment to continuing that conversation, please stay tuned for monthly updates with new content. 

We want to open the space to as many people as would like to join – your comments and provocations are welcome. If you’ve got a more extended set of thoughts about any of the new writings, or the original presentations archived from the event, please feel free to submit those to:

Thanks for your interest and solidarity!

Steve Farmer, Lauren Levin, Alli Warren, Brandon Brown

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Homage to Homage to Keyboard Cat

How to Hex a Corporation

I would like to learn how to hex a corporation.  So I’m stealing this from Jared’s personal blog.

Once released, the Curse may only be removed by rectifying the wrongful doings of the Encircled.

Lizzy told me about a wrongful doing last night. She’s in Library School / I-School.  When she’s done, she wants to work on permissions.  All the little screens and boxes I don’t read and mindlessly agree to when starting up a new gadget.

But Lizzy let me know that even if I read them I wouldn’t understand them.  There’s no requirement to make them comprehensible or written in human language.  She wants to make them written in human language and unmissable, so that we know what we’re agreeing to.  For instance, agreeing to:

1) let the app we’re downloading turn on our phone camera
2) allow the downloading app to take continuous photos of us
3) let the app beam the photos to hazy third party.

Me (emblem of naivete in this exchange):  That’s legal?

Lizzy explains that the law is from the 80s, so everything they can think of that’s newer than the 80s is legal.

Me:  How horrible, how do they use the pictures?

Lizzy explains that (almost more horribly) we don’t know if they are actually taking the pictures.  They just mentioned it.  Just in case.  So maybe they are doing it.  Maybe they are thinking about it.  Possibly WORKING ON IT?

But, if Lizzy had to guess, the photos are probably in my profile. With everywhere I go (from GPS) and with all my emails that have been read and my Google searches.

This must be part of why detail seems so distasteful to me right now.  The corporate permissions I click through without reading are illegible and fuzzy but as a consumer I provide so much detail and I am so legible.

I suppose there’s learning and subverting the tools.  Don’t know if it is naive to even think about catching up.  Hexing the corporation.

But, I’m grateful that Lizzy is in I-School, and for her school project, Homage to Keyboard Cat.  Thanks, Lizzy, for letting me feature it here:

I love taking the Internet meme Keyboard Cat and making it into a object, with material heft and song-squeezability.  Hard for me to put it into words but I want to write something here about the “sensuous qualities” of medieval maps.

And the shift in maps when cartographers started rendering the detail needed to control terrain and extract profit.

That is, I want to write that squishy Keyboard Cat, is like reverse-engineering a medieval map out of a Google map.

The medieval map stuff  sourced from David Harvey’s The Condition of Postmodernity, which also says:

“The relative powers of working-class movements and the bourgeoisie to command space had long been an important constituent element in the power relations between them.  John Foster, in Class struggle in the industrial revolution, for example, recounts several incidents in which local mill owners found it difficult to control their work force because the local forces of law and order were prone to sympathize (if only through kinship connections) with the militants, and because it was difficult to summon external assistance with the requisite speed.

In the massive railroad strike that shook the East Coast of the United States, on the other hand, a different story was to unfold.  The railroad owners likewise found themselves facing a local militia reluctant to act.  But the telegraph not only allowed federal assistance to be summoned with great dispatch, but also facilitated the transmission of false messages to the effect that workers had returned to work in St. Louis or Baltimore, and the strike was collapsing at different points along the line.  Even though the press played an important progressive role during this incident (being rather more pro-labour then than now), the superior power to command space gave the capitalists an added advantage in what was an uneven but tense power struggle.”

Information / time / space asymmetries, you would like to prevent us from hexing a corporation.  Since, now, no distance is big enough to prevent force from being summoned from somewhere.

But, thinking that in Egypt, there wasn’t a force anywhere in the country strong enough to put down the protests. Or there was, the military, but it was “prone to sympathize”.

Maybe.  I know I’m simplifying things.  Yes I am ready to hear about my naivete.  Just wondering where I’m at.  And if we can become more prone to sympathize with ourselves.

What do you think satellites? What do you think GPS?  And you Google Sketch-Up model of Vladimir Tatlin’s Monument to the Third International?  And you beloved-and-helpful- Anne-Boyer’s-blog?   And you Keyboard Cat?

From Anne Boyer’s blog:  “A total revision of the world so that it may more accurately reflect the contents of the world”

Monument to the Third International

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Cuckoo Kookoo

wren feeding cuckoo chickStephanie Young and I have been writing about Black Swan.  I sent her this photo of a wren feeding a cuckoo chick.

Sent with caption, “My sense of self lovingly nourishes its culturally imposed gender insecurities.”

The things I think of as parts of myself and what they might actually be.  When it helps me to feel like a “good person” if I have self-doubt and if I feed it.

The cuckoo chick looks so amazing with its big blank eye.  The wren’s eyebrow makes it look worried.  Going around the thinking about decoy space, gender, doubt.

Worrying as a strategy, or a psychic economy.  Reading about the impostor phenomenon where various accomplished women feel like frauds, no matter what they do.

This self-injury as a strategy – allowing the woman who feels like an impostor to keep advancing and accomplishing, without feeling too aggressive.

With aggression you’re unfeminine, denaturalized or received as such.  But the amazing thing about the cuckoo chick is how it lets you hide everything not just from them but from yourself, too.

And all by renting space to the cuckoo chick!  Well, giving, not renting.  The wren is nice.

The large body of the cuckoo chick gets fed, a contented blank off the wren’s work.  Much like the maestro in Black Swan.

Maybe the cuckoo chick is plotting its definitive re-interpretation of Swan Lake.  The wren has a lot of practicing to do.  But worrying will only get you technique.

And, this cuckoo chick is particularly good at making the wren feel like the impostor: Just by looking so bored!

If I sound sarcastic, it’s because I’ve been watching Black Swan, which is like the cuckoo of terrestrial cuckoos, with its canoe of war-surplus gondola parts.

O Oysters, come and walk with us!/The Walrus did beseech.

It would be simpler if there were a nest, with something in it, so I could say, “Get out of my head!”  Instead of a me, which is also a that.

Dan Thomas-Glass, back to the question of what runs inside or alongside ideologies?

Space and decoy space beside, alongside, inside, shot-through, honeycombed, particulate, between, next door.

cuckoo kookoo

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SPT Maybe

One reason to say something out loud is to start seeing it everywhere.

Had a conversation with Jacqueline Waters a month or so ago that enters my mind most days.  One of the many things we talked about was the role of doubt in public space. Does anyone want to read doubt in public space.

Still have this question.  But at that moment I was wired on what felt like the endless proliferation of assertions in public space.  Or the assertive style of talking about doubt in public space.  And being so twitchy, not listening for the many moments of doubtful doubt in public space.  (Doubtful doubt as in, I like like it.)

This being a preamble to having gone to the SPT reading on Friday – Lara Durback, Laura Elrick, David Wolach.

Lara Durback’s piece I am familiar with, as it’s going to be in Mrs. Maybe.  And I was glad to know it because I could focus more on the way she performed it.

She set as a backdrop the larger bulk of the writing, a series of narratives about items of clothing and their personal histories.

This was recorded and playing in the background.  The writing also contains sets of opposite personal assertions or propositions or facts.


All my friends have college degrees or more. I don’t know anyone with a college degree.

My best friend grew up in a trailer. My best friend grew up in a country club.

I have had 100 sexual partners. I have had only one sexual partner, depending on what you define as sex.

My family knows everything. My family doesn’t know.

I always pay when I go to readings or art events. I never pay for art or poetry events, because they should be free, why should I pay?

The statements read as a punctuation or rhythmic element in part.  Lara read them aloud and also used them as punctuation in the social space.  She wrote them on Post-It notes and moved through the space to put them on the walls.

At first, as she read each statement she would shift her position facing the audience, then to the side, the back, making a circle.  I thought she was changing character by moving.  Or moving to different spots in the social space, that contained these facts.

Or saying that these various possibilities are contained in one person’s movement.  Some of them are histories, some could be positions along a trajectory.

Then, walking to different points in the room and sticking the Post-Its up as she spoke them.  Framing the space of the room by asserting the walls.  Interesting to see Lara walking toward me, with determination, with an assertion in her hand.

Then I was looking at all these blue Post-Its in the space and thinking that I was making the space through how she drew my attention.  By deciding if I felt guilty about my own assertions, or hemmed in by those histories, or by my histories, or curious, or otherwise.

Also thinking one way to question assertion is to double down on it.  And the construction of assertions as a type of clothing.  And that clothing has origins, histories (sweatshop, IGLWU) which can’t be changed by the time they reaches me.  But, my construction of my choices, around clothing, in space.

Ultimately, thinking about layering in L.D.’s piece, as a way of building one type of space into another.  Also what I got from Laura Elrick’s reading, in a way I’m mystified and dazzled by.

I keep thinking about writing or writing/performance that doubles space somehow to comment on it.  Laura Elrick’s writing did that for me – her writing felt so layered.  And all with language.   Well, with pause, and voice, and a sense of turning language against itself.  But I mean, without a clear division between language over here and gesture over there, or language over here and not-language over there, or narrative over here and commentary over there.

Since I’ve worked only with language to this point, and lately I seem to want it to do things I thought it couldn’t do, well – the possibilities!  The rethinking can and can’t do.

In my thoughts, I was calling the doubled & re-doubled spaces  in Laura Elrick’s work the space of ideology and the space of some micro-particles between ideology.

Or subjectivity showing itself as a space being constructed, and between it all the little robots running around doing the construction and all their roads.

And some kind of visceral voice performance thing, wrapping all of that.  Maybe the word visceral is completely wrong.  I’m thinking of, the real blood and the fake blood and the fake blood looks real and the fake fake blood and not at all real.  And the real blood.  And then, sheets of blood.

I owe some of this (not the confusing parts) to talking about it with Stephanie Young.  And still can’t articulate it.  I am new to L.E.’s work and excited to be starting in with it. Please tell me your thoughts, I so want to talk about it.

Some of the work she read is available on the page at Elective Affinities.  Or, lots of readings on her PennSound page.

I don’t think I’m articulating the relation to doubt in these readings.  Something about how both were engaged, saying, questioning.  Direct, in a way.  But then with a less or more, a too much.

In her Elective Affinities writing L.E. referenced trapdoors and stains.  And, “By useful I mean as a techne (one of many, especially now) for epistemological discovery, i.e. for the aesthetics of how to change, for other ways of changing. ”

That kind of doubt – the working through, in public, of the efforts of thinking a space. That doesn’t exist?  Isn’t seen?  Honey-combs the seen one?  Or the doubt that discomposes the space that seemed whole, but with the thought of how to change.

Or thinking again of Ultra-Red’s listening practice and A Megaphone, the voice saying “I’m I’m I’m confused” and how that voice is a performance.  Originating from a transcript of the words of a particular activist.  And from feelings while struggling against government indifference to AIDS and callousness to AIDS sufferers.  So that the performed “I’m confused” is embodied in voice and brings with it a genealogy of social space or listening.

In David Wolach‘s reading, in work questioning the hospital-industrial complex, a repeated moment of “I see” that I keep thinking about.  (In this case as all the others, citing from memory, so apologies for all the many, I’m sure, mistakes!)  I remember something like seeing bags of bodily fluids on a cart go by, and seeing curtains of industrial and dubiously “eco” plastic go by.

The pause in the middle of an important question to watch its objects go by – the feeling of that.  The moment of a living body watching an abstracted and dismembered body (the brown bags of fluid) go by.

And then Amber DiPietra and Kyle Yoshida came over for shrimp étouffée on Saturday night.  Amber told me that in thinking about her Write to Connect workshops, she has been thinking that when you go in for bodywork, a massage or energy work, there’s not a lot of verbal processing – you have the experience.  And that’s how she wants Write to Connect to be.

And, if I remember right, she said that she’s been holding that idea, of bodywork, as she goes into the workshops, not knowing precisely how it will impact her teaching, but using it as a guide.  I’ve been thinking about that also, as I think about how it is possible to listen.  What helps, how to use guides when you don’t know.

Feeling a little embarrassed about the floatiness of my writing here, but that’s what a blog is for, I tell myself.  Provisional blop and to later remember my provisional blop.

Michael Cross wrote about the SPT reading in a way that captures some of the social space I’ve left out.  His interactions in the room and outside and some nice metal and metal font moments.

Also, Jared, thanks for your writing about place and ambivalence here in our space.

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County Seat

Tomatoes, garlic. I struggle with whether to get close to people here. If it were about figures in a landscape. Want to stay at arm’s length. The neck tattoo on a sun-burned neck reading ‘redneck.’ It’s the echo in my ear of Diana Garcia. I don’t know who I am here. I don’t know who they are here. I could tell you about the gigantic, human-size fig sculpture that looked like a bruised scrotum, a cartoon character, and a piece of industrial machinery, simultaneously. To use my human eye, serviceable eye. To compile all the stories. Michael and I want to use a camera to put all the stories together. It began life as a whistle stop town. The WPA guide says the following about Merced and environs:

ATWATER, 100.9 m. (153 alt., 319 pop.), styles itself the “Home of the Merced Sweet Potato.”

BUHACH, 102.4 m. (155 alt., 100 pop.), is the trading center for a district of Portuguese farmers who specialize in growing pyrethrum (feverfew), the powdered blossoms of which are used in certain insecticides.

MERCED, 108.3 m. (167 alt., 7,006 pop.), seat of Merced County, is the principal rail and motor gateway to Yosemite Park. It is in a grazing and hay and cotton-producing area and has a cotton gin, cement factories and potteries. A rodeo is held in June and a district fair in October.

Of Merced its townspeople like to say, “It’s close to everything” – this is the selling point, and implies that the town itself is perhaps, like the dark matter that’s supposed to make up 70 percent of the universe, the unseen in-between. When people write of out of the way places, they tend to do so in terms of ‘escape’ or ‘refuge.’ Merced is neither of these. You might’ve seen this story, proclaiming Merced the 3rd most miserable city in the nation. I feel validated, but defensive. It’s miserable, but clearly these people don’t know why. Long story.

I need to try harder, to love the unloved little place. What is there to love? The grasslands? The Microscopic shrimp? The grasslands? The present is resinous. If Merced is the “Gateway to Yosemite” it is the exact opposite of that place, much beloved by German tourists…(Schama). As Kenneth Olwig writes, we can’t “lose the connection between the ‘nature’ of these uncommon places and the ‘nature’ of ordinary worlds where we spend our daily lives.” (Cronon, 408) In this formulation, the grasslands, their ‘cow-and-calf operation,’ the twin reservoirs, McSwain and McClure (Think Jetskis and Houseboats) and the town itself, its postwar subdivisions built in plum and fig orchards around a canal built by Huntington, one of CAs railroad infamous railroad barons.

When we first moved here, we had the benefit of friends who were genuinely interested in the place, and would explore it and introduce us to lots of people – it’s a hard thing to realize that you don’t have this skill. Once, Rocky (now a professor in Boston) took me to a bar called Carolynn’s. Approaching on my bike, I could see the parking lot was full: Truck, truck, truck, horse, truck. There was a horse in the parking lot. We spend a long patchwork night in this place, Rocky telling me about Hardt & Negri, about how he’d missed the boat on Dubai; all along we’re having this conversation, there are, I don’t think its terrible to say, derelicts milling about through and around the bar, eating steak sandwiches, playing dice, and, mercifully in a town married to the SF Giants, watching an A’s game on the television. The kind of alcoholics bar where people bring steak and whitebread, and each sandwiches together. I supposed you can’t get a DUI on a horse?

Paul said “The thing is, a lot of people in Merced just don’t give a shit.” There’s a remark with history.

To which I might add, this is the kind of fertile loam in which big box christianity flourishes.

The sun arcs, another knife used in a carjacking.

I’m not exactly sure why my mind tends towards the worry and fret of malice: I, like every American, am callow and flip about the distractions and real scary things that happen in the country, but in Merced, this is dailiness.

One day, heading out of Merced on my bike, I saw a lamb standing in the culvert alongside G. St, all alone. A man in a battered pickup with a large hat pulled over, and scooped up the bleating little thing. The whooshed off with a workaday rumble.

The city is situated at the Eastern edge of the San Joaquin Valley, and the river from which it takes its name flows well to the South, through Snelling and Cressey, about the only towns, unless you consider Yosemite Valley a town. On a clear day in March, you can see snow on top of the Sierra Nevada. On smoggy days in, say, August, you can see some grass. As you leave town on G. St, the tract houses quickly drop off, first into fields which are increasingly full of dense stands of corn in summer, but are more typically full of timothy or alfalfa or orchard grass. The summer wind is usually coming out of the northeast, right into your teeth and eyes, carrying dust coated in god-knows-what – if you could take a firehose to your lungs and dislodge that shit, you’d be wise to. In Spring, cropdusters fly over. You could think of the air as a commons, but that would be naive. What are grasslands especially when they’re prologue to the huge upthrust of the Sierras? Why would you look at them? The big rocks steal your eyes.

About the 2 mile mark, There’s a huge bramble of wild roses. Acres of it. I think of rats. Further on, in Spring, steers are corraled together, where the last vestiges of tree cover (eucalyptus cover) give them some respite from the sun. Steers, however, being gigantic creatures and accustomed to moving only when they want to move, rest their tonnage out in the full sun, in the tawny, crotch-high grass. I like to pull over and talk to them. Being prey animals, you can’t really look them square in the face because their eyes are on the sides of their heads. But there’s something hilariously calming about talking to an immense, haughty steer. They refuse to acknowledge you. They look like long sleek boulders. I have seen eagles strafe them, and they don’t move.

It really is detail country. Coyotes, for example, perfectly match the grass after, depending the amount of water, April. It’s tawny, with a gray-ish undergrowth – if you don’t keep your eyes on the grasslands, you won’t notice the coyotes. I like to talk to them. Cycling east, they’ll cross your path. By the time you get to the point where they’ve crossed, they’re maybe a quarter of a mile back into the grasslands already, running off. So I howl at one. It breaks its stride, turns around and looks at me – coyote, when you look over your shoulder it never bodes well. Dogs don’t get bemused, but coyotes seem to.

The birds. Kites, kestrels, red tail and Cooper’s Hawks, Kingbirds, Mountain bluebirds; in spring the Swallows nest under the canal bridges, and expertly pick off the massed crickets who live in the road. The crickets have a thing about jumping onto your legs and getting tangled into your leg hair. You start to see evidence of everyday super-slop: hollowed TVs the lid of a 5 gallon bucket square in the center of a former puddle, hieratic eye.

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Posts I Want to Write

Having no time, dreaming letters and posts in the hall:

1 – Post about A Megaphone

2 – Post about A Megaphone, The H.D. Book, and the hidden as the “boringly obvious.” Why we need to say obvious things.  Ask obvious things.  Repeat.  The ordinary as the deliberately hidden, the occluded.  Hidden, it becomes occult.  Yet, still, obvious.

Cee Lo Green at Grammys

Cee Lo Green & his suit, John Coletti said "Mardi Gras Indian" & I said "Yes!"

3 – Post about Cee-Lo at the Grammys and the occluding or revealing of cultural content as it filters up into pop life.  Cee-Lo as Mardi Gras Indian.  Mardi Gras Indians copyrighting their suits because for years their images have made money without them. Bounce and sissy bounce filtering into Beyonce’s Get Me Bodied video.  Whether Ballroom is revealed or occluded in Madonna’s Vogue.  And, what’s with the occluding?

For instance, why not footnote these appearances in some way. Not that it would make a big difference, but I wonder why not footnote.  Back to the HD Book and the occluding of women’s roles in modernism.  (Back to Pound talking about “spinsterly aversion” and “perfumed shit”.)    Same questions again. Hiddenness.  Obviousness.

(Bounce reference starts at 3:45.)

4 – Post about reading detail as a cultural practice.  Close reading as a hipster practice.  As in, the tireless excavation of layers of cultural detail. Uncomfortable relationship of this excavation to cultural tourism / voyeurism.

Make clear that this post is about me and my desire to tell people that Beyonce’s video is about bounce.  As though I know what things mean.  My cultural tourism of where I am from.  And the endless question of saying it doesn’t matter to know but acting like it matters to know.

Also about detail as a current practice.  Um, the Internet. Something to do with Josh’s article on TV criticism. Reading detail, so showing appetite for it, we ask critics to write it.  Something about the critical fetish for reading detail.  If the lack of an excavation occludes, can obsessive detail excavation also occlude?  Like what is knowledge for; what is detail for.

Does detail devalue that hidden obvious.  Something about Nabokov.  About master, mastery; author, authority.  Something about stuff I would have to learn about.

5 – Post about close listening as a possible alternative to close reading.  Back to A Megaphone.  And, from A Megaphone, Ultra-Red.

Ultra-Red’s Vogue’ology project.  Do I understand their idea.  Is their idea that people from outside Ballroom encounter not just Ballroom? But also encounter the terms people inside Ballroom are developing to describe and listen to themselves?  So that the people outside encounter the artifacts with a frame that the people inside are making.

Terms like learning, listening, teaching, reading, history, reception, archive in relation to this long quote from the Ultra-Red interview on Vogue’ology:

“Thus, for some, the performance of vogue and the viewing of vogue are methods of investigation. Vogue is a methodology of gender performativity. It is also, therefore, an epistemology, an embodied knowing. From this perspective we understand vogue to be conditioned by systems of racial, economic, gender and sexual power, which is to say that it brings into play many of the terms of inequality while contradicting their patriarchal and racist underpinnings.

In light of this, the archive becomes a venue for the critical examination of methodology and epistemology. As led by its founder, Arbert Santana, the aim of the Ballroom Archive and Oral History Project is to engage the community in critical discussions of the contradictions manifest in vogue performance and established by the community’s kinship structure and its many other activities, such as its cultural labor.”

Intrigued by the idea that a community should listen to itself and challenge or evolve its terms.  Wondering if I can find more detail on Vogue’ology project. Trying to get myself to read the critical prose and not just watch the Ballroom videos.

Intrigued by the idea that I, the person outside, maybe need to be bored a little bit?   Not just dazzled by amazing artifacts that I tour and mystify.  And by saying ‘be bored’ do I mean ‘think’?

Speaking of content as it filters into pop life, Vogue Evolution on America’s Best Dance Crew.  Wanting to watch dips all day instead of going to work.

6 – The next post I think I really might write:  post about Tupac Shakur’s “Dear Mama”,  Anna Vitale’s Pop Poems, and The HD Book.

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Fruit Cake

The Brunini* Family Recipe

INSTRUCTIONS FOR USE (found with fruit cake)

This is not a fruit cake.  Do not serve this cake to people who like fruit cake – they may be disappointed and fail to appreciate it.  Do not serve this cake to people who do not like fruit cake – they may suspect it is fruit cake and not eat it. This cake is adult food.  Do not serve this cake to children – they may not like it or, worse, they may like it.

This cake should be aged at least 21 days before it is eaten but, you can cheat.  Each week you must, over the top of the cake, pour one half oz. of fine bourbon.  When the cake is not being treated or consumed, it must be kept tightly wrapped and stored in a cool, dry, dark, quiet place.  This cake, or any part thereof, may be kept for up to six months.  After the first three months, bourbon need be added only once every three weeks.  The cake is best at three to six weeks of age.

If any part of the cake remains extant ten days or more after the first piece was eaten – you did something wrong or you are hoarding and refusing to share.

*The Bruninis sailed from Italy to New Orleans in 1974.  They then moved to Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1885.  Marjorie Brunini, my grandmother, was born in Vicksburg in 1915.  This recipe was, according to my grandmother, brought by her mother from Italy except, probably, the bourbon and the pecans – in Italy it was more likely almonds or walnuts.  The following version of the Brunini fruit cake was “slightly changed and perhaps or perhaps not improved” by my father in 1996. Continue reading

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