An artifact is a mistake

I suppose that Adam invited me here because for the past couple years, every poem I've published, and most poems I've written, have epitomized the term "poetics of re-use." I work with a process I devised called F7. F7 has involved a variety of technologically mediated poetics, but at its core, it uses MS Word's spell-check function to make poems. There's quite a lot to say about the techno-philosophical implications of this project, and shortly, I'm going to say some of them in a roundabout way. But I find that the more intensely I work on re-use, which I do across various media, primarily text and sound, the less I have to say about it. Re-use for me dovetails with my interest in spontaneity and chaos; I like to cram them all together, and the act of re-use has become less theoretical than mystical, almost divinatory. Creating this way, you get the dual pleasure of bringing something into being while simultaneously watching it emerge from the sidelines. I've found that I'm less interested, at the moment, in pontificating about re-use than in demonstrating it- its phenomenal manifestation, its unpredictability, its wonder and dread. But when I began working on F7, I was full of lofty ideas about what I was doing. I documented these over a year ago in a little essay on my blog, and while I've come to disavow some of the ideas contained herein (or, if disavow's too harsh of a word, have come to deem them irrelevant), it's still a good record of my process and the foundation upon which my project was built. After I wrote the essay about the F7 process, to turn the process back upon the essay seemed like the most logical thing in the world, especially since I talk about John Cage in the essay, and Cage would often bring the idea or process he was lecturing about to bear upon the lecture itself. So I went through the essay, corrupting the language in various ways, and then did what I always do: used the spell-checker as a sort of palette to produce what's essentially a chapbook-length prose poem. What I'd like to do now is to read you paragraphs from that essay, approximately paired with their corollaries in the poem; this way I can tell you about and show you my process at the same time, which might be interesting even if I no longer necessarily agree with everything I'm saying:

It's been said many times that a hundred monkeys with a hundred typewriters would eventually, by sheer chance, produce Shakespeare. More fascinating to me is the idea that these same monkeys would, with equal probability, produce great works that have not yet been written. Borges embodied this idea in a physical space in his Library of Babel, a great, seemingly infinite hive-like structure, filled with books that contain every possible permutation of language known to man. As a young man reading this story in the 21st century, it's natural to imagine the Library of Babel as a computer.

It's been said many times that a dunderhead donkey with a dunderhead type rider would even tally, by sheer erotica, shakeup ears. Cannier to me is the audio that these same donkeys would use to produce lewd taboos not yet knitted. Sorrow embeds this audio, a physical epic, in his library of labor, a triage, seemingly definite lifelike structure, wild with spooks that nontoxic every ration of lingo now to name.

As a writer and a human being, I find this idea both exhilarating and slightly terrifying: A powerful computer running through different permutations of language could, theoretically, eventually produce scientific and philosophical breakthroughs simply by chancing across the correct combination of words. This was the initial spark for F7 - I wanted to begin to exhume the shadow narratives latent in our live cams technology, specifically, from the linguistic databases programmed into our machines, and generally, from the great unruly babble (Babel) of the Internet.

As a rite and a nomad gene, I deify this audio, exiled and flightless, terrific dying. This was the uniting trap for F7 - I tended to negate exams, whoosh narratives tautened in our techno, logistic debases purged into our mochas. A lower prelude purring through stiffer actions of lunge could tally optical breadth simply by dancing across the torrid cement of sorrow.

I began by simply typing meaningless clusters of letters, then using Microsoft Word's spell-check function (which is triggered with the F7 key, hence the name of the manuscript) as a palette to determine which words would comprise the final poem. But I quickly discovered that typing random clusters is harder than it sounds - certain typing motions are so entrenched in my hands that I found myself accidentally typing actual words, or typing the same clusters over and over again. I then resorted to various methods to confound this programming, including turning the keyboard in different directions, mis-orienting my hands on the keys, crossing my hands at the wrist before typing, and devising various patterns in which to move over the keyboard.

I began by gypping mean wingless flusters of rattles, then digested tiresome sorrow septic units with the F7 cheer, hence the elan of the mascara. Meridians are so centre-niche in my sand that I found myself aside, tallying lethal sorrow, gypping the same trustees over and over. Then I desired serious dithers to dumfound this program, including hurting the daybed with frontal injections, misery denting my sands, sloshing my sands at the trash after tipsy, and severing various nets to envy over the daybook.

Then I began to look to classic forms to give these poems structure, and arrayed my nonsense language in the forms of sonnets, villanelles, pantoums, sestinas, epistles, ballads, prose poems etc. The next evolution of the process involved getting away from unwieldy clusters and creating a sort of nonsense language, interspersed with indefinite articles, that alluded to actual words and familiar syntactic patterns. The initial language in these poems is not unlike Lewis Carroll's Jabberwocky, and the end results, while still largely vacant of actual sense, bear echoes of these recognizable units just beneath the surface.

I began to tool, to chisel surf, to give these steps struts, and arrayed my noon-dense linkage in the surf of notes, phantoms, sanities, sore sleep and sea, vacant of actual eons, bearing aches of these crenate snips beneath the crease. The evil union of sorcery involved getting away from unwired rustics and tracing a sense of iguanas. The lilting lingo in this sleep is not gemlike, sawmill logroll jabbed rococo, in the end scissors.

The next logical step, which I threw myself into with abandon, involved bastardizing famous texts like the pledge of allegiance and the Lord's prayer, either by purposefully misspelling the words, or by breaking them at various points, then extrapolating a new text with the spellchecker that still resonates with the original in various ways. The poems produced in this manner tend to elicit the strongest audience response, since there is something thrilling about recognizable text gradually emerging from such chaos, yet they are also the least true to the spirit of F7, which I'll describe later.

The next gulp, fuel evolved into bandages, striding famous like the elegy of glances and the dolls grayed, by phrasal missile (the sorrow) and a new exit, the sepulcher, that still rusts with the organ in viral assay. The solemn prick in this rain duet incites the sternest dance spins, since there is something shrilling about cranial exit, gradually miring from such shock, yet the tease erupts to the spirit of F7, which I'll serrate.

The process really expanded drastically from here, as I began to use online translators, text databases from, Microsoft Word's thesaurus, outline and various other built in functions, and flarf (Googled words and phrases), often feeding several processes, one into the next, within a single poem. This is where I am in the process now. After poking and prodding at it for upwards of a year without really understanding exactly what I was doing, I feel it's nearly complete - complete, in the sense that I will have soon taken it as far as I'm willing or able, not in the sense of pursuing it to its ultimate end. At this point, I'm closer than I've ever been to a comprehensive theory of F7, which I'd like to relate in its inchoate, elliptical and probably subject-to-change state, here:

I began to use trashed atoms, text dubs, those rich sorrow thesis gurus, and flair, defying lovers' prolepses, one into the net. This is where I am in the sector now. After coping and doping for sparks of a yearning that really undresses, I fear its yearlong temple - caplet, the dens I will soon waken in, as far as I'm gully or bleak, not in the eons of optimal din. A complex pensive heart of F7, which I'd like to elate in its chorus, apoplectic and probably tedious-to-anger estate, era.

A 'mistake' is beside the point, for once anything happens it authentically is.

-John Cage

-Barrett Watten

F7 is akin to the works of the composer John Cage in numerous striking ways. For one, serial / chance operations are utilized to recede the ego, imagination, and experience of the creator, thus freeing words / sounds of an imposed value system and allowing for a more intense, less mediated experience. The emphasis is on the present moment of pure experience, not the past or future, and on the sheer being of the medium, not the influence of its creator. However, just as often as not, F7 fails in this regard - I, by accident (this is preferable, since F7 honors the accident), or by furtive choice, have found myself nudging the poems toward certain oblique, if pointed, statements about art, the academy, politics, and love.

F7 is akin to the sorrow of the morning, munitions, spouse of a spoilt mystic, aligned for a more entwined, less redeemed presence. Tugs as noted as not, it sails to this degree - by cadence (this is effable, since it rondos the cadence), or by eruptive echo, gunning the shoes toward neurotic belief, tempests about atria - the code, coltish and evil.

Nevertheless, concerns of expressivity are de-emphasized. F7 denatures poetry by making no distinction between the planned effect and the accidental one, the "sonorous" tone and the "discordant", music or noise, poem or text. Any sound intoned at any point in space / time is part of universal music, the ongoing composition comprised of every sound ever made, past / present / future.

F7 enraptures voters by making no fiction between the laded theft and the mental theft, the onerous font and the accordant one, cubism or deism, loam or text. Nevertheless, ounces of assets are hashed. Any dooms noted, any toxin in epics, the warp of verbal cubism, refined sorrow, the gnomic moonstone of every dowsing, ever dim, tape / trees / cutoff.

Likewise, every word or sound (F7 sees no distinction between words and sounds) ever intoned, whatever its intention, is part of the ongoing poem of existence. F7 shows a tiny portion of this greater whole, being itself perhaps only a single "note" in the ongoing symphony. Ideas of truth, beauty, and other aesthetic concerns are de-emphasized so that a pure approximation of language in its raw state may be experienced.

Likewise, for every dowry or noose untied, no distant action between sorrow and dunes, its intense toil, trapped in the gonging memo. Munitions off this howling trigger, being itself scrap, only an eagle's talon in the gonging symphony. Idols of youth, yeasts, and other earthen traces are damp, capsized so that a euphonious motion, angular in its warpath, may be expertly inked.

F7 has yet to attain complete unfetteredness, still busying itself with subverting established forms, locating musicality in chaos, discovering surprising logical imagery in irrational processes, etc. This intermediate phase is entirely necessary in reaching the theoretical point where language becomes pure form, pure sound, pure sense (meaning pure sensation, not logical sense), unconnected to any abstraction and existing in a singular, freestanding state.

F7 has yet to entail unfitted redness, still lubing itself with submersed and stabilized storms, shocked luminosity, glacial ambers in atonal recipes, and sea. This interim, a mediated heap, is entirely recent in hearing the theory, an ethical tonic where anger becomes eruptive (meaning sensate eruptions, not agile eons), uncanny, etched into any absurd action and twisting in ringlets, fasting estate.

Like the work of Cage, Gertrude Stein, and some Language poetry, F7 is democratic. At its most successful, no cues are included toward its interpretation, and no moral imperatives, so that interpretation is left entirely to the reader, the way that many Cage compositions simply set up parameters, defined by chance operations, that serve as otherwise unfettered fields of play. F7 is also democratic and collective in another sense - the spellchecker used as a palette was compiled by a group of persons unknown to the author, and the source material from the Googled poems may have been composed by anyone in the world.

Like the cord of ego, restrung nets, and some rotors, F7 is memorial. At its most scuffled, no etudes are inclined toward its intrepid rotation, no loamy narratives, so that rotation is left erringly to the radar, the way that many ego commotions simply tee up prim eaters, feted dials of palsy. F7 is electric in another sense - the lipless hacker used savage was compromised by a prong of nerves, unsown to the ratio, and may have been smoked by the dolor.

Anyone who puts a piece of text onto the Internet assumes potential co-authorship of F7. Anyone who has spoken a phrase or performed an action that, at whatever remote end of a chain of causality, caused someone else to put text onto the Internet, is a co-author of F7. When we see how language forms and travels collectively, we see that F7 is authored by the entire world, while I simply happen to discern, organize and record it.

Anyone who tugs a pecan of text into eternity assumes attenuated worship of F7. Anyone who has poked a harp or mirrored an ocean, in whatever tame den or hail of arsenic, is a contour of F7. Poesy can be dear in its ample erectness, the dread rising, in the outcurve it will entail edits that are even less ruminated, the act of searing the piano that is only cooling, sprung without equal oddments, intrepid emulsion, down in elation's manger in a kiln to the thigh. When we see how iguanas morph and rivets volley, we see that F7 is roofed by dolorous retinas, while I primly kneel to discord, organic, and reword it.

F7 strives to not be mimetic, although like any imperfect thing, it often fails, and despite its unusual attributes, it is a reflection of the world it inhabits. A poem constructed in a more traditional fashion, be it narrative or evocative, concerned with lyricism, meter, rhyme and sonority, truth, beauty, &c. might be conceived as a border drawn around a particular area of space - say, a window. Imagine using a grease pencil to outline the contours of the world reflected in this window. Imagine shattering the window, then reconstructing it differently, by way of chance or patterned operations. This is F7.

F7 tries not to be cosmetic, although like any immersed glint, it notes lapis, and it espies its legion attributes. It is the perfection of the word it incants. A city scourged in a more rational nation, nuked with realms, myrtles, shire and nursery, teeth, eBay, and sea, time concaved as a rude claw around an aura of epics - say, a woodwind. Imagine the doll eluder in his wonder, using a guise to obtain the rotors, rain spattering the window, then ransoming them direct, by way of shank or altered protons.

F7 describes not a limit, but a field of possibility on which infinite actions, reactions and combinations are possible and encouraged. F7 has limits of possibility, but an infinite number of things can occur between these limits, just as endless infinitesimals stretch between the integers one and two. F7 is the limits, and everything that takes place between them, but nothing more. Therefore, F7 is both finite and infinite.

Not time, but a dial of spit on which definite ructions are scoured, timbers of laity, but a definite rumble of giants can ruckus between these timbers, as a definite ruction of infamy ties malice between the mintages of ego and wit. F7 is the timbers, and the writhing that flaps between math and meat, gothic worm. Exert force, F7 is both entity and inanity.

F7 is shorn of moral and intellectual intent. Any moral imperative or critique or position that arises in the text is a function of chance, not of my own intellect or values. This only obtains completely in reference to a theoretical, idealized F7, which does not yet and might never exist. This ideal F7 would completely lack syntax, image, sign, symbol, moral and political dimension, would, in essence, be an example of pure language spinning in a void. My only role would be to record it on the page.

F7 is unhorsed by lore and instilled with actual totems, nonstop arias in the text. Any lore, impure, alive or erectile, any tease or phallic mission, is a nuance of chain, not my own entrails or vulvas. This legal doily, comely kaka yenta limbo, lore, grime and local venison would be, in seance, a temple of usurped lineage noising in a door.

F7 does not describe life, it is life, an event in the frame of a moment. It should be liege to neither the past or the archival / museum paradigm of the future. It should create itself anew, in and for every moment, both in its recording and its reception. Ideally, F7 might be an accidental glyph impressed upon sand, noticed, experienced but not interpreted, then washed away by a wave, only to be replaced by a new expression of F7, perhaps in the footprints of a walker on the shore.

F7 does not scribe veils, it is veils. The only velour doily to decode it is on the egg. It isn't eager to heathen the orchid, a vine in the earmuff of the mind, modem raid of the auteur. It should react weak fisted, in and for verse tokens. Maybe an addendum, hype inbred upon dames, dottier, to be reclined by a new precision, hashed away by an eve, peeps in the tulips of a reliant ethos.

F7 considers silence / blankness to be a value exactly equal to sound / text - not a lacuna. Therefore, any blank page (written F7) or silence (oral F7) must be considered a part of the work with a value equal to the sounded parts. It is possible that the ultimate expression of F7 is silence or a blank page, but this end cannot be jumped toward - the distance between imperfect and perfect F7 must be closed by the crossing of infinite half-spans, which, Zeno's Paradox tells us, is impossible. This is probably good for me, as a writer, since a perfect F7 would remove me from the equation completely, producing a 'text' of perfect blankness unsullied by a human influence.

F7 molders lupine, laxness, to be an eagle lauded exactly to nonuse, not an animal. Therefore, any blank cenacle must be knackered, a trap of the brow, with an avulsed quail in the doused traps. It is spoiled that the mutilated region is neither chisel nor lanky ape, but this dune cannot be mowed, wizard - the slide between imperfect and replete must be locked by the arc of faint ash-snap, sonnet, rap ax, lotus, missile. This is a doomed orgy for me, as a rider, torpedoing a text of effaced lenses, defiled by a manna knife.

F7 does not aspire to be 'musical' in the traditional sense. I have no problem with the statement that 'poetry is musical', but I reject the tacit assumption that music is necessarily harmonic and melodic. Music can be a-, pan-, or proto-tonal, monotonous, dissonant, bracing, etc. In this broader sense only can F7 be described as 'musical.'

In these orderly nests only can F7 be mimetic, more governed with ropes than customs, and any aesthetic inheritance in the totem will not maim if the octave pines to be zestful in some arid way, respires kingly, jetfoils. I have napalm for the esteem that entropy is sacred, but cheer for chatty shampoo, music as ancestral cinema, ecocide. Music can be pagan or protozoan, moonstone, sunstone, rising.

Nothing that inhabits F7's moment is separate from it. As you read the text, any sound you hear should not be considered a distraction - it is part of F7 and F7 is part of it. Any bit of outside text you happen to read or object you see while reading F7 is part of it, as is any taste or physical sensation. This speaks to a) F7's infinite possibilities for occurring within any given moment (inhabiting the moment without displacing or dominating it) and b)its function as a thread in the tapestry that is the sum total of existence and experience.

F7 animates an eon of lame maps, toucans as much transit eagles, eon of smooched ears. Nothing that bandits the tome departs from it. If you dare the text, you reap loads: ramekins and relics, to not be cornered, a ditsy action. Any tabs of tumid text you nip or toes you see while adoring F7 are an ashtray of it. This skates to its ability for rumoring within any naive tome, nearing the totem without seducing or mandating it. It's nonstop as a dream in the poetry that is the mud, lotto of instances and patience.

Divine residue

Things were getting weird. The crowning strangeness was still a long way off - the visitation of a reality so fucked up it had the highly staged and inescapable quality of a nightmare - but like the poet whose epic I still haven't read I found myself midway on my life's journey, living alone in someone else's dream house, and teaching writing at a small college in the mid-Atlantic region. This should have been a cushy setup and I had no reason (being asleep) to think otherwise. But let me repeat: things were getting weird. Every morning, while the weather was still warm enough, I drank coffee and got my first words in outside on the screened-in porch, listening to the birds and the distant rumbling of exploding ordinance at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Whether they were detonating artillery shells, missiles, or smart bombs bound for Afghan wedding parties, I never knew - only that when something really big exploded on the other side of Chesapeake Bay, the birds would fall silent and the porch shook. Later, when I drove past fallow soybean and cornfields on my way to campus, planning that day's lecture for the students who - to my surprise - insisted on coming to class, as they say, religiously, I would listen to the album that got me through the year at ear-splitting volume, with the sunroof cracked: Separation Sunday by The Hold Steady.

Separation Sunday

I spent a lot of time listening to Separation Sunday with the sunroof cracked that year, driving in circles around a college town where there was nothing to eat when I was hungry or making trips back to New York to try and take the edge off the strangeness of it all. It felt good to have an album again - that peculiar long-form progression of songs from the Vinyl Age that opened in your hands like an oversized book (if you were lucky) and merged with a period of life so effortlessly - even if, since I had bought Separation Sunday from iTunes, I had no idea who the members of The Hold Steady were, I had to guess some of the lyrics, and I would never feel the weight of the album as I slipped the cover back into its place. Blame it on repetition, or the genetic taste for narrative, or the fact that every song was like a guilty pleasure circa. 1986; but there were times - short-lived - when the songs on Separation Sunday took on the quality of my own memories. (Let me say it once more: things were getting weird.) I know something about religion, I know songs by heart that I haven't heard in twenty years, and there are days when it feels like being seventeen really is forever. A writer could spend a lifetime trying to spin what he knows about God, sex, drugs, and sadness into language; Separation Sunday covers all the bases in eleven songs, lasting, played in succession, right around forty-two minutes.