statement: Are avant-garde practices still important to you?
Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. Every good artist paints what she is. Art is either plagiarism or revolution. Through others we become ourselves. When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other. Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery – it’s the sincerest form of learning. Invention, using the term most broadly, and imitation, are the two legs, so to call them, on which the human race historically has walked. There is only one thing which is generally safe from plagiarism — self-denial. Successful is one whose imitators are successful. Imitation is criticism. Imitation is human intelligence in its most dynamic aspect. Poetry can only be made out of other poems; novels out of other novels. There is no such thing as intellectual property. I am just a copier, an impostor. I wait, I read magazines; after a while my brain sends me a product. Writing is a public act, we must learn to share our work with a readership. See our work as worth sharing, our voices as worth hearing. Share. Publish your own work. Publishing builds community through gifts and exchange, through consideration and generosity, through the interplay and dialogue with each other’s work. You are out of excuses. Readers are a book’s aphorisms.
Art is a conversation, not a patent office. If you don’t share you don’t exist. Nothing is original. Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work will be authentic. Authenticity is invaluable; originality is non-existent. And don’t bother concealing your thievery – celebrate it if you feel like it. It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to. Poets are now judged not by the quality of their writing but by the infallibility of their choices. Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal. Don’t protect your artwork, give it away. For every space you occupy, create two. I am quite content to go down to posterity as a scissors-and-paste man. Publish other people. Give your work away. Post your writing online for free. Embrace the unexpected. Encourage circulation over restruction. Give it away. Generosity is always sustainable. In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. But, in practice, there is. Rules are guidelines for stupid people. Poetry has more to learn from graphic design, engineering, architecture, cartography, automotive design, or any other subject, than it does from poetry itself. The Internet is not something that challenges who we are or how we write, it is who we are and how we write. We measure success by how many people successful next to you, here we say you broke if everybody else broke except for you. The rest of us just copy.
project description: you are out of excuses
original (letraset on paper) and variations (photocopy manipulation)
23 years ago, I published my first chapbook. A collaborative edition with a then friend in Brampton, Ontario, William S. Burroughs: Ghost of Steel was produced in an edition of 26 signed copies. Each page was designed and laid out in MS Publisher, printed at home, folded and inserted into hand-printed covers and sewn using needle and thread. Most copies were given away, I haven’t seen one in years. That same format – printed at home, folded and assembled by hand, sewn and given away – has remained my modus operandi ever since. William S. Burroughs: Ghost of Steel became the first of 268 editions that I published through the housepress imprint, followed by over 350 more under No Press.
For 23 years I’ve averaged a publication every two weeks – each one made by hand as a means of distributing the news to a fluctuating community of readers. Writing is a public act, we must learn (even the most introverted of us) to share our work with a readership. See our work as worth sharing, our voices as worth hearing. It doesn’t have to be a huge public gesture; it could be 10 copies among friends. Share. There are a growing number of online print-on-demand publishers like Lulu and Blurb, and many photocopy shops will do collation and binding – but those are far from the only options. Anyone who has a desktop printer or access to a photocopier (or a typewriter, or a silkscreen or rubberstamp letters or any number of intriguing possibilities) can produce her own work. Paper, printer, stapler, scissors.
A challenge to my peers: publish your own work. Start a small press. Find the material that your colleagues are making that impresses you and publish it in pamphlets, in leaflets, in chapbooks and broadsides, posters and ephemera. It is all too easy to rely on other people to do the work for you – to allow the means of distribution to remain with book publishers, magazines and journals. Small press builds community through gifts and exchange, through consideration and generosity, through the creative interplay and dialogue with each other’s work. Small press publishing allows authors to present their work in a way that physically responds to the content – texture, size, shape, colour and binding all become aesthetic decisions that the author herself can shape. The internet is rife with instructions on how to hand bind books. Make stuff, hand it out, talk to people. You are out of excuses.