My only motive was the wish to see what so great an elevation had to offer.
—Petrarch, letter to his father on the 1336 Ascent of Mont Ventoux
The reader has doubtless been asking all along exactly what do I have to do, what do I have to change to address environmental degradation? Can I dim my lights, ride my mower less, avoid fur coats, buy organic food?
All of these activities are in your future, but we must also focus on changing the way we humans relate to the rest of the planet and to each other as part of it. We approach the problem this way because it’s impossible to implement the difficult changes in resource utilization without reorienting our perceptions and our culture to more appropriately position people on the planet. As Albert Einstein said, “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Finding specific examples is difficult, because I’m not sure that I have sufficiently changed my own perspective to be able to see the path clearly.
But we have been at this kind of juncture before, and it would be well to look at the humanism we intend to displace. Petrarch’s letter to his father describing his 1336 ascent of Mont Ventoux explores reasonable expectations for environmentalism. Petrarch’s goal was merely to represent a view from a different perspective. He was fairly safe with this metaphor, and his description of the ascent did not give the Church much to fear.
Most of the letter relates a Dantean ascent of the soul, but on a human scale. His ascent was simply a walk for its own sake, paving the way for a humanist path to progress. The revolutionary point of view was that Petrarch traveled without a higher purpose, just for the hell of it. That was enough to represent a changing world view. His faux naiveté represents a complex protective strategy that we must eschew to improve our integration with the biosphere.
I do not fear that changing the way we view our position on the planet appears too modest a goal. It is, rather, the practical size for the initial step of our effort to avoid extinction. I do, however, assume that we need overt projects on the road to sustainable activity even as we clarify our position in the environment.
Problems with automobile emissions, heating and cooling require both new technology and a postural change by manufacturers and energy producers. The problem is not that we don’t know what to do; we simply can’t act effectively without changing the will of people at all levels of society. What can accomplish that goal?
According to New Scientist (January 26, 2008, p. 28), “between 5 and 8 percent of global CO2 emissions are the result of cement production. With demand for concrete set to double in the next decade,” geopolymer concretes release just “10-20 percent of the greenhouse gases associated with making the standard stuff.” Fly-ash and slag waste are removed from power stations and steel production. Aluminates and silicates are extracted from waste. Alkali, gravel and sand are added to make geopolymer concrete. “Researchers…plan to capture the CO2 released from roasted limestone during cement making, and from the fuel combustion that heats the cement kilns, and use it to feed micro algae,” which will produce biodiesel to power the cement kilns in a closed-loop system, or be turned into fuel for transportation.
Industrial ecology and closed-loop processes are similar to the way nature supplies its own engines with body and power, although I want to stress that none of these descriptions or solutions fully avoids the risk of unintended consequences. Such technology must be applied over time to assess its impact. Nature’s method of trial and error, with a pinch of forethought on our part, provides a reasonable expectation of a successful symbiotic relationship.
But, you will ask, why wasn’t this considered before? In fact the technology wasn’t available, and earlier versions of geopolymer cement hardened too fast. New ideas do from time to time appear; before, we weren’t looking that way. Invention and creativity do have a value, but applying them like a deity when writing poetry misses the point of the complexity involved.
Recent discussions of “uncreative” art by Kenneth Goldsmith address this issue. In his article “A Week of Blogs for the Poetry Foundation” (The Consequences of Innovation: 21st Century Poetics, Roof Books, 2008), Goldsmith suggests that “conceptual writing…is a poetics of flux, one that celebrates instability and uncertainty.” Oops! Sounds like an environmental essay.
Goldsmith’s notion of uncreative poetry acts primarily as a critique of current art and poetry, with their premium on the essentialized act of creation. One of his concept pieces was to collect all of the weather reports for New York and Baghdad for a given period. Reading these placid paragraphs raises the specter of destruction more vividly than citing body counts on the daily news. Oops utilizes conceptual strategies such as rewriting a biology text by substituting poetry nouns for biology nouns, see “How Language Poetry Got Its Period” (1995, later published in Critiphoria 2). Goldsmith’s work is “framed through the discourse and economy of poetry” as is this essay.
The idealism inherent in Goldsmith’s notion is “Freed from the market constraints of the art world or the commercial constraints of the computing & science worlds, the non-economics of poetry create a perfectly valueless space in which these valueless works can flourish.” Goldsmith’s “value free” poetry is an idealized, asymptotic notion, and hence essentializing itself. But it makes the point clearly.
In the environmental model we need a concept of art that accepts uncertainty but pursues the reincorporation of the poetry into the larger society. Further, Goldsmith’s claim that such poetry is “uncreative” is a stretch. Conceptual writing uses creativity when it “conceives” of the work, and less so in the execution. Like serial composition in music, the “creative” part of composing a poem is limited and relocated; it is not eliminated. The same is true of environmentalism: we reduce human inputs to our surroundings; we don’t eliminate them; we encourage each component to operate in its own terms accepting less efficiency to encourage sustainability.
Pursuing an environmental model of poetry, the flarf poets apply a method similar to the chance operations of Cage and MacLow using contemporary technology. Works by Nada Gordon, K. Silem Mohammad, Drew Gardner, Gary Sullivan, and others have addressed the conceptual realm of poetry in its the ability to step through its veil to other poetic methods. K. Silem Mohammad says, “In Drew's case, for example, he has taken a source text, or bits of different source texts, and arranged and changed them with the same intentionality that someone would use in selecting and combining words that are to be constrained by iambic pentameter, or rhyme, or whatever.” (http://lime-tree.blogspot.com/2006_02_01_archive.html) But the flarf poets have been careful in defending their work against charges of automation and uncreativity, rather than vigorously proposing their methods and poetry as an alternative in the way Goldsmith addresses the topic. And in fact flarf poems are usually heavily edited from the initial Google searches.
Flarf poems conceptualize the initial process and then rework results, using a variety of tactics to produce an ecology of language that can adapt to various niches and changes of cultural climate. Although there are as many strategies to flarf as there are practitioners, it works something like this: a poet conceives or finds a string of words and puts them in a computer search engine. The search engine generates a limited vocabulary that then acts as a resource for writing the poem. Usually a group of themes propose themselves in a series of paragraphs/stanzas generated by the search engine. The poet can manipulate those paragraphs generated by the search engine in a variety of ways, depending on a set of goals or merely by look and feel. The net result is not constrained by a specific politics, although a politics of resistance is implied. The economy is described by the method. The psychology is adaptive. The industry is both labor intensive and technology dependent. Yes, I’m building a case for flarf and conceptual poetry as an environmental writing.
Most innovative poetry has an environmental slant to it because the most thorough critique of contemporary society addresses human over determination of the objects of its attention. This does not mean everything in nature is good. The danger of natural pietism looms among many ecological theories including ecopoetics. If we separate ourselves from nature we become prone to a quick if flashy finish.
Recently I took one of the chapter titles of this book “Passive Voice: Forcing Amaryllis” and put the four words into Google. The search engine returned 687 paragraphs of information from various sites and blogs. Using these resources, I built the following poem.
Passive Voice: Forcing Amaryllis
For the diarist in search of a life
The passive voice tastes good during breakfast.
It somehow lends my work authority,
Freedom’s foundation, hope-flack,
That jumping spider, that achy-breaky organ
Crawling to middle ground
She had forgotten how the passive voice
Multiplies your syllables.
II. An EKG Addressed to Monody’s Cloven Hoof
Forced change is climate’s government.
Poverty has paid our citizens passive,
Strangely, yet some of the men join
As founding member and second violinist.
In further financial suppression
It’s all they can do wop.
The women vivify
A figure of endurance, ululating
Where the living operate as segmented thought,
And all the Dead know is storytelling.
Humans are active in space but passive with regard to time,
And now dates pile upon us as has been.
Sweeter far than earthly strain,
Ourselves be bling:
If you refuse to follow the spoor, it’s quite useless to force you.
III. Shall Pull Us To Glory Like Bricks
This project gives public voice to submerged questions.
Thus the voice of reason cries with winning force,
The power of one organism fails.
Couching ontology as mathematical bundles and cross-sections,
You can’t get less vague from here.
I leap to March beneath shriveling swords
And capture intuitions
Such as Bruce has been existing for a long time,
And Harryette is exactly what one would call a role model.
Science, that vast left wing conspiracy,
Shifts l’obéissance passive, le lot quotidian,
To moral force only occurs as part of a word—am, amar, rill.
Being misconstrued as the whole highlights the limit
Of the analysis, e.g.
Adding moving word fields that interact
With all the news
My schooled and slangy boy speaks.
IV. To Act On With (Apparent) Centrifugal Force
(meek. o’pasiv.o, voice calling;
debt (owed to another), liability (communication
As non-violent aggression,
As re-domesticating women after the revolution).
My voice spins out. For what can force or guile,
Their march loose from the rapid cars,
Do to make the world safe?
Long before Origin of Species appeared
Evolution had been reconciling the tangled bank with disciplined thought.
A person : an organism = an idea : a discipline = a poem, an ecosystem.
Gone from a passive pursuit to no longer a voice in the wilderness,
We were the agency and audience to reversing evolution.
V. Font Dog Handbrake Virus!
Dedicated to the one whose
Spelling hours transformed eyes measure,
Whether as vital force or communicated wave,
Cells make markets.
But I-tunes does not play unemployment.
Western tears fall in lyric bullets
For my valentine’s ringtones
While delusions of reference stream in retribution:
Welcome to the Subscription Center and enhancement plan.
Tamales in Sparta built worldwide:
SIM-kortin PIN-koodin antaminen
Tuottaa ongelmia, joten koodin kysely on poistettava
And a free ebony sex judge advocate group
Of Derbyshire girls hugging cranky seniors,
Living in fencing, are some of the causes of sequined incontinence.
VI. Vodka Gift Baskets for Pre-Med Nic Patches
Faceless Female Persona as Their “Other”. A title
Everywhere you look these days
Electronic orgasm kick ass illustrated lovemaking techniques’re
Bustin’ out cheat codes for Xbox realty.
Are all the risky nodes in art networks included?
Does novel poetry cheat happy sport street?
Where can I report a bad decision?
Funny pregnancy wrestling cake decorations
Disappoint the gun lobby and drain the effects of sound on plants.
Giving-no-quarter ignores we’re all in this together.
Art as if I’d filter failing members’ efforts.
In the culture of personal taste, the rough parts are phased out,
Civil cases files against conceptual low-protein diets.
Old kosher firmware loudly leans on over-digested results,
Animated girl wallpapers flock the museum, personal data assistant
With permanent digital self-effacement published each week inside.
I don’t know about you but I really gotta have one.
VII. Loose Coupling of Theory and Practice
Looking for poetry in all the wrong places,
Fixed connections come with a good time
And extended warranty,
So it’s not easy to break those links
And take a risk. Word up, you all:
Frequent glass for welding grands prix verbs.
Penile implants, the women’s perspective!
John the Baptist training teaches you not to lose your head.
Some are images, some are not; can you control it? Does it matter?
Well, what happens when you release control
Of yourself, of your relations, of your views?
L-bloom node 1 maker, node 2 presenter, node 3 user node 5 funeral home,
Loose coupling of theory and practice reuses connectors,
Fit for purpose rather than pinning the pining forever to the page.
Subwoofer pet tags for example.
Forced lactation, inadvertent ejaculation, casual poetry gesture,
How does the human brain infer from little information?
The angel’s bended knee humanizes assembly.
VIII. What Did Lewis Carroll Do in Mathematics?
Our prophetic mariner walking shoe
Maximizes the likelihood of ideological validity
With the method trees use to estimate
And because it’s already been done.
The first time’s often, of course, sketchy.
Conscience free creations rule
In Kevin Killian coloring book.
Just how much thought is required?
Dancing deer coupons pose with vintage prose connectors
And paralyze lawyers in Orlando labor flickr pose.
The former head of the NEA still having sex alone,
Used Costa Rica facts improve the end rhyme;
You think arbitrary is a problem? Arbitrary is a solution!
Look around you!
The Four horsemen juicer amaryllis toxicity,
The art object disappears.
I’ve got spurs at the Depleted Uranium High School
D.U.H., the wireless popover belch.
IX. Command-Operated Sheep Cruise (Cardamom spoofing)
Large blooming amaryllis will have been forced.
The Missouri compromise would have been mapped
By the Knicks Albanian hair removal art faction, if not
By the Hindu clownpenis, safe and alert for orders.
The kingdom of god suffers Epsom salts.
Then we’re all set for a ride on the Martian passive voice.
Teaching liar mechanics to undergrads
Grievous coloring books
Dream of Jeannie anti-glare coating
And so learn to write like Alan Davies?
How to accept multiple solutions!
To government health care
To diarrhea tractors
To feeding 9 billion amaryllis
Cheap, free, dual-channel, diesel-driven, nutrition-labeled, hackneyed, anti-theft, Ciceronian, amplified, framed, double, mobile, absolute, inevitable, ideal, long-stemmed amaryllis