Friday, September 19, 2008

Christian Bök reads Darren Wershler Henry

from The Tapeworm Foundry
by Darren Wershler-Henry
House of Anansi, 2000


andor gather all the equestrian statues from the parks and squares of the world and then place these statues together in a desert in order to depict a calvary charge dedicated to the greatest massacres in history andor write what you do not know andor write a three volume novel in french about a man who falls in love with a cookie andor take everything that is sculpture out of your art because sculpture is simply what you bump into when you back up to look at a painting andor shoot a man in reno just to watch him die andor assume precisely what it is that you must be questioning andor tell it for a thousand and one nights in order to avoid having sex with someone particularly undesirable andor forge a scroll that tells the story of jesus revealing the game of bingo to the apostles and then slip this scroll into a case at the museum housing the nag hammadi manuscripts andor stroll on in whether or not you have studied geometry andor print everything on scraps of paper stolen from the dumpster behind the coach house andor proceed as though edgar rice burroughs not william s burroughs is the author of naked lunch


The Tapeworm Foundry is a volume-length poem that itemizes a series of witty ideas for potential works of art that the author Wershler-Henry has imagined, but has yet to complete, due to a lack of free hours and money, good tools and savvy. Wershler-Henry demonstrates that, for the aesthetic intellect, ideas often accumulate faster than the poet can dispose of them, particularly during a time of economic cutbacks, when the ambition of the poet begins to exceed the resources available. Under such conditions, the work of art must often become more conjectural, finding its resolution not in reality but in thought. The poet must propose a task to be done rather than produce a work to be read.

Wershler-Henry issues a series of orders, each one separated by the conjunction “andor”—a word that makes room in the text for the discretion of the reader, who can at all times decide between two judgements of taste: either eclectic inclusion or cliquish exclusion. The poem responds to the modern milieu of information bombardment by presenting itself as an unimpeded bitstream of data, from which the reader might sample a single phrase of specific interest, while ignoring the remainder. The poem emulates the experience of channel surfing, leaping at random from one cultural fragment to another in an effort to evoke the most diverse variety of argots and epochs, genres and motifs.

Wershler-Henry does not hesitate, for example, to imagine a Merzbau built out of Lego or a Mondrian drawn on an Etch-A-Sketch. In the above excerpt, he invites the reader to respond directly to the innovative precedents set by artists as diverse as Guy Debord, Marcel Proust, Barnett Newman, Johnny Cash, Scheherazade, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and William S. Burroughs. He presumes that, when confronting the immense archive of the Internet, the work of the poet must take on an encyclopedic polyvocality, deriving inspiration from the whole gamut of cultural activity. He imagines a more democratic, conceptual regime, where ideas are so cheap that no artist can monopolize poetic genius.

Poets who discuss imagined projects with their peers often keep secret the most novel ideas, holding such gems in reserve as a kind of mental equity for future writing; however, Wershler-Henry indulges in a literary potlatch, completely exhausting his reservoir of ideas in order to start again from scratch. He gives away his own creative activity as a kind of freeware that readers can utilize or improve for their own poetic agenda. He suggests that all conceptual endeavours thrive upon such parasitic exchanges of information, much like a tapeworm infecting a community of hosts. He hopes that, upon reading his poem, we too might be bitten by his bug and become artists ourselves.
Originally published in the Globe and Mail. Reprinted courtesy of Christian Bök.

Portrait of Christian Bok by Charles Bernstein
Christian Bök is Canada's favourite experimental, sound and conceptual poet. His pataphysical encyclopedia Crystallography (Coach House Books, 1994) was nominated for the Gerald Lampert Award. Eunoia (Coach House Books, 2002), a lipogram that uses only one vowel in each of its five chapters was awarded the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2002. Bök is also the author of Pataphysics: The Poetics of an Imaginary Science (Northwestern University Press, 2001. He is an internationally recognized performer of his own and classical sound poetry. You can read part of Eunoia here, and listen to Bok read Eunoia, and Kurt Schwitters' "Ursonate".

Darren Wershler Henry is a Toronto poet, writer and author most recently of The Iron Whim, McClelland & Stewart, (2006). A former editor at Coach House Books, he is now Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Wilfrid Laurier University. He recently published, with Bill Kennedy, Apostrophe: The Book, with attendant site.

You can find a pdf of The Tapeworm Foundry here. 

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