Concrete Poetry and Conceptual Writing are entwined around the issue of negotiating the “thicket of language,” reframing our language back to us, only slightly askew. Conceptual Writing, like Concrete Poetry, embraces the plastic. Conceptual writers look to Land artist Robert Smithson, Conceptual artist Sol LeWitt and Pop artists Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns for their rallying slogans. Johns’s instruction to “[t]ake an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it. Do something else to it” cannily reflects Conceptual writing and its response to the contemporary bulk of language.
There are few Conceptual Writers who engage with the non-semantic, visual implications of language. With flatland: a romance of many dimensions (information as material 2007; UBUWeb 2010) and Local Colour (ntamo, 2008; Eclipse 2011) I focus not on semantic content but on the physical arrangement of source texts embodying Smithson’s “[l]anguage to be looked at and/or things to be read.” My flatland: a romance of many dimensions is a page-by-page translation of Edwin Abbott Abbott’s 1884 novel of the same name. Over a year I mapped the occurrence of each unique letter on the first line of each page of the 1991 Princeton University Press edition of Abbott’s Flatland. The process for creating flatland, by hand, with light-table, onionskin paper, ruler and pen, resulted in a series of diagrams that contain no repetition and no discernable information; they are purely “an exercise in sameness and difference.”
Local Colour (ntamo, 2008; Eclipse 2010) built upon my explorations of the combining of Concrete poetry and Conceptual writing. flatland: a romance of many dimensions is a black and white charting of alphabetic occurrence, applying an awareness of the flatness of the page to the description of the fictional “Flatland.” With Local Colour I apply similar reading techniques to Paul Auster’s 1986 novella Ghosts. Local Colour is the result of a strict, constrained, reading of Ghosts based not on plot, character-development or a readerly urge to solve the mystery of the novel, but rather, like flatland, on the occurrence of words—as material objects—on the page. Once again, reading is a cartographic feat; Local Colour maps the location of each chromatic word in Ghosts.
I invite writers, musicians and performers to create digital sound performances (song, composition, collage, etc.) of my #erasingwarhol project.
Posted on twitter at @erasingwarhol are the ongoing manuscript pages of my efforts to erase all the words from Andy Warhol’s 451-page 1968 novel a: a novel, leaving only the fields of punctuation and the sound-effect words. I invite you to create a sonic interpretation of any piece in that twitter feed, save it online and tweet out your results with the hashtag #erasingwarhol. This is a community-based generative project and every-one is welcome.
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Derek Beaulieu is the author of the collections of poetry with wax, fractal economies, chains, silence, kern, frogments from the frag pool (co-written with Gary Barwin) and Please no more poetry: the poetry of derek beaulieu (Ed. Kit Dobson). He has also written 3 collections of conceptual fiction: flatland, Local Colour and How To Write (nominated for the W.O. Mitchell Award). He is the author of two collections of essays: Seen of the Crime and The Unbearable Contact with Poets. Beaulieu co-edited bill bissett’s RUSH: what fuckan theory (with Gregory Betts), Writing Surfaces: fiction of John Riddell (with Lori Emerson) and Shift & Switch (with angela rawlings and Jason Christie). He is the publisher of the acclaimed no press and is the visual poetry editor at UBUWeb. Beaulieu has exhibited his work across Canada, the United States and Europe and is an award-winning instructor at the Alberta College of Art + Design. Derek Beaulieu is the 2014–2016 Poet Laureate of Calgary, Canada.