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Jena Osman

Is Poetry the News?: The Poethics of the Found Text

This piece is about 23 printed pages long

I. Introduction to the problem

paragraph 1

Joan Retallack has described the poethical art form as


a form of life in which we would, in our most enlightened moments, want to live — which makes the intricate complexity of the intersecting intentional and accidental that is our world known to us though the sensory and imaginative enactment of complex forms. [1]


I’ve been thinking about this concept in relation to a comment Anne Waldman made at the Kelly Writers House in Philadelphia in response to the war in Iraq. She said that now is a time of “outrageous metaphor and terrible misnomers,” what she called a kind of “interior terrorism.” She said that the best thing we can do right now as writers is study euphemism.


Along these same lines, Barrett Watten said in a talk called “War=Language” that


We need to take the mechanized hardware of the language of war apart by locating alternate evidence in multiple media, by questioning the pseudo-objectivity of its delusional conclusions, by unpacking its embedded metaphors and narrative frames, by thinking otherwise. [2]


In an essay called “Trying to Breathe” Argentinian writer Luisa Valenzuela states that the writer’s task is “to acknowledge contradictions, to play with them, to pull them out in the open so as not to fall prey, for example to our present president’s discourse.” She goes on to say “I want to play with contradiction as a cat would with a mouse; I want to appropriate the toy, see how it works, stop it from playing with us.” [3]


The linguist George Lakoff has argued that we need to unpack and recontextualize the big metaphors behind political rhetorics. Phrases like “rogue state,” “friendly nation,” and “just war,” are based in narrative frames that remain static (some people are good, some are evil, taxes are bad, etc.). He says “The frames are in the synapses of our brains — physically present in the form of neural circuitry. When the facts don’t fit the frames, the frames are kept and the facts ignored.” [4] And so we need to switch the narrative strategies that dominate.


In all of these statements, there seems to be a necessary hope that pointing to language itself (particularly the language of war, media, and politics) is a first step toward action and change. But in what ways is that pointing poethical? Are there ways to point, to critique the topical world, the world of events, while at the same time maintaining the complexity of alternative “poethical” forms? Is there a way to have a poem do political work without preaching, monologing, speechifying, shutting down dialogue, or making use of absolutes and essentialisms? In other words, in what ways do words in poems make war, and in what ways do they make peace?


I believe it’s the experimental text — with its emphasis on the relations of form to content, and its conscious agreement to lay bare its own devices — that can best address these questions. But “experimental” can mean a wide range of things. For the purposes of this essay I’m going to focus on the experimental text that discovers, appropriates, and plunders the rhetorics of war and topical events. I’m going to look at found poetry, or what poet David Buuck has called a “re-articulatory practice” which interrogates “the politics of [historical] rhetorics, as well as make such histories live and breathe again, in new contexts for new times.” [5] And for the sake of narrowing it down, I’m going to focus particularly on poems that plunder news media for content. Can poems that use the newspaper as source text be both political and poethical?

II. The forced dichotomy


I want to make my way into these questions by looking at two contemporary visual artists, both from Chile but now living in New York, and who both work with materials found in everyday circumstances that speak to the topical political realities of our times. Let me be the first to acknowledge that the dichotomy I’m about to make is forced and not entirely functional.

Figure 1


The first artist is Alfredo Jaar, and this is a billboard he designed in 1997 in Toronto. The quote, “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there,” is from William Carlos Williams’ Asphodel That Greeny Flower. Jaar’s website [6] , which also opens with this quotation, documents the projects that have developed out of his travels to many of the world’s political hotspots, such as the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, Haiti, Mexico, Brazil, and Angola. His work has appeared primarily in two contexts: in gallery installations and in public spaces usually reserved for advertising like this billboard. An example of the former can be seen in this piece:

Figure 2


This is from a 1989 installation at The Brooklyn Museum which takes its title from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. For this piece, Jaar placed UPI and Bettman news photos from the 1960s documenting confrontations between black citizens and white policemen in light boxes. In a later piece, “Lament of the Images,” Jaar notes how Bill Gates now owns the rights to all UPI/Bettman photographs, and in 2001 decided to archive the images in an old mine in central Pennsylvania. So the coffin shaped boxes in this 1989 piece were quite prescient.

Figure 3


Another example of his use of the advertising context can be seen in his Spectacolor light animation called “A Logo for America.” Installed in Times Square in 1987 above the news tickertape, it’s a sequence of five images which serve as a corrective for defining “America.”

Figure 4


Figure 5


Jaar’s piece called “Rushes” juxtaposes images of Brazilian gold miners in the gold rush of 1985 with quotes of international gold market prices in the Spring Street subway billboard spaces.

Figure 6


In many of these pieces the discourse strategies of public media and commerce are being used to critique the assumptions behind those very same strategies. The language of capital is being used to critique capital. Jaar highlights the power, the monumentalism of the visual commercial sign and forces it to expose the bodies buried/forgotten underneath.

Figure 7


The second artist I want to bring in here, Cecilia Vicuña, is both a visual artist and a poet. She takes a different approach to cultural critique than Jaar, entirely rejecting the commercial imagery that ordinarily invades our sight. Rather, she proposes a discourse strategy based in disappearance (or, anti-monumentality), that not only serves as a model of resistance, but also as a suggestion for how to move toward future possibilities. Figure 7 is an early “precario” — a small ephemeral sculpture made of debris and found objects.[7] As the text reads here, the precario represents the belief that “maximum fragility” can work against “maximum power.”

Figure 8


Another early example of this theory can be found in the piece “Glass of Milk,” which Vicuña performed while in exile in Columbia in the late 70s. The piece was a response to the fact that more than a thousand children in Bogota were dying every year from contaminated milk without consequence to the distributors. Street posters announced the spilling of a glass of milk under a blue sky.

Figure 9


The shape of the spilled milk on the pavement was accompanied by a poem that asks “what are we doing with life?”


Similar to Jaar’s “Logo for America” project — yet completely opposite in scale — this piece attempts to make visible what our news-mediated habits have erased from our perceptual field.

Figure 10


In routine circumstances, the scraps and pieces that make up the precarios would be considered detritus, but Vicuña has reinvented them, re-released them as fantastical forms.

Figure 11


They are precarious in that their material existence is ephemeral and entirely dependent on the angle at which we approach them. But these works are not in any way nostalgic; they use the past in order to see the present, for the present is defined by how we see our past, how we treat it, how we ignore it or attend to it.

Figure 12


In an interview with Susan Briante [8] , Vicuña discussed how our “unwillingness to see” is becoming more powerful now than ever before:


The perception of people outside of the United States is that the American people don’t want to see reality. It is patriotic to ask: Why is this happening? What happened to American democracy and the will of people to question? Democracy is like a poem, if you don’t use it, it disappears. The media and the [political, social, and economic] powers have found a way to speak about democracy as if it were a given, something that is already here. That’s a substitution of reality. It represents a desire to see an image instead of what is real.


This statement is echoed by David Levi Strauss in an essay on photography and politics: “It’s not that we mistake photographs for reality; we prefer them to reality. We cannot bear reality, but we bear images....” [9] In light of this problem, Vicuña’s work tries to redirect our eyes towards what is real. In her poethical world, seeing what is actually before us — before it is disappeared in the face of a fabricated image — is the charge.

Figure 13


The street work titled “Constellation” was made (or “discovered”) more recently in Manhattan. Vicuña has said that there are certain places that need only a signal to bring them alive: “two or three lines, a mark” (or marbles in this case), “and silence begins to speak.” Much of Vicuña’s work is about creating those signals. As with the work of John Cage, Vicuña’s pieces ask the viewer or reader to become aware of the rich interior of the ambient, to shift attentions, to read seemingly insignificant objects in a different way, with the idea that a more connective reading that joins past to present and the monumental to the ephemeral might lead to different acts in the future. As she puts it, “Debris, a past to come: what we say about ourselves.” [10]

Figure 14


Years ago, I asked Vicuña via email what she thought of the work of her countryman Alfredo Jaar. She said:


On a superficial level I agree with his anti-imperialist politics, but not with his aesthetics. I don’t see the point of utilizing the language of publicity to go against publicity. For me, his visual approach simply gets absorbed by the current system of knowledge. Shiny photos of pain do not question pain. The fact that the work is so palatable to American centers of power demonstrates this.

Figure 15


I’d like to put this sentiment up against a quote by Joan Retallack in an essay on John Cage:


If complexity is the source of our freedom, it is also the source of our terror. We live in a culture which is so driven to desperate simplifications that it has given over most of its thought processes to the facile imagery of mass media. It is this flight that has produced the media event which is our so-called ‘30-second’ politics—our growing inability to tolerate the intricacies of what we take to be time-consuming matters. [11]


Now certainly Jaar’s works aren’t “desperate simplifications”; however, there is something in Vicuña’s critique that I keep mulling over. I find his works extremely compelling, and yet I do suspect that the international happenings and circumstances his work documents are in fact being made palatable, filtered through the softening lens of an art practice. Jaar’s more recent works answer Vicuña’s critique somewhat by rejecting the pictorial altogether, forcing the onlooker to be more aware of what it means to consume images.

Figure 16


This is his 1996 piece “Shelter (Please Close Your Eyes)” at the University of Washington in Seattle. Once again he has appropriated space usually reserved for advertising, but this time the bus shelter light boxes are blank except for small blocks of text. The texts consist of photo captions, quotations and brief narratives referring to three Nigerians who used their international reputations to critique the Nigerian government: Ken Saro-Wiwa (the writer and activist executed in 1995 for speaking out against big oil companies), Chinue Achebe (the novelist), and Fela Kuti (activist and musician). One of the Achebe quotes states: “Art is man’s constant effort to create for himself a different order of reality from that which is given to him.” The empty boxes which frame the absent photos are credited “Photograph by Alfredo Jaar.”

Figure 17


As with Vicuña, Jaar seems to be paying more attention to the act of disappearance caused by everyday forms of capital discourse and consumption. And as with Vicuña, disappearance is a result of disaster at the same time as it is a foundation for possibility. Jaar’s “Shelter” not only announces how easy it is to “close our eyes” to the world outside of ourselves (the tremendous distance between the beautiful college campus and the stories of the men described in the bus shelter is starkly drawn), but it also seems to suggest that the only way to really see is to close our eyes, without letting an image do the work of seeing for us.

Figure 18


A similar strategy is employed in his later work, “Lament of the Images.” In an interview in conjunction with its exhibition at Documenta, Jaar critiques the way images are controlled by the government and the private sector. But at the same time that the piece emphasizes and “laments” how images are kept from us, Jaar concludes “I believe that we have lost the ability to see and be moved by images. Nothing moves us anymore, nothing has meaning.” [12] Jaar’s judgment seems to coincide with Vicuña’s belief that certain kinds of pointing and revelation create an anesthetized response. Although this dichotomy that I’m trying to force here is actually starting to collapse in light of Jaar’s more recent works, I might crudely simplify the split I’m trying to identify by saying that it sets

Figure 19


monumentality, polemic, authorial power and passive viewer observation, against

Figure 20


reciprocity, recycling, participatory recognition and reconnection.


But even that reductive description doesn’t accurately get to the heart of the problem. What I’m trying to figure out is whether the very compelling and charismatic strategies used in Jaar’s projects can be combined with the complex response demanded by Vicuña’s projects.


Which leads me back to my starting question. What are the ways in which a poem can do political work — pointing out dangerous euphemisms, taking apart the “mechanized hardware of language” — that enable/deepen our powers of response? Or as Retallack has put it with elegant urgency:


The question is not whether but which form of life a literature enacts. If not serial killing, or sentencing of some terrifying kind, if not romantic escapism, if not ironic sprinting in place, then what? [13]

III. Found Objects


For the remainder of this essay, I want to look at a number of poems that use the language, form, and content of news media as a source text, in order to see what kinds of activity they ask of their readers, and how they answer to the poethical charge. Edward Said has said that “The news is a euphemism for ideological images of the world that determine political reality for a vast majority of the world’s population,” [14] so it’s no surprise that so many writers have looked to this source for recontextualizing and re-seeing. Of course there are many poets who could have been included here, but I’ve chosen the following examples because they are for the most part “complete” found poems, without any text added by the poets themselves. It could be argued that these poets are more “recontextualizers” or “reframers” than “writers” in these particular instances.


It’s the spectre of reification — of “ironic sprinting in place,” of aesthetic detachment or anesthesia in the guise of political engagement — that I need the experimental text (especially the found newspaper poem) to address and defy. In looking at how these poems point at the topical world, I’d like to consider what kind of poethical world their strategies create.

Example One


William Carlos Williams said that it is difficult to get the news from poems, but it seems not so hard these days to get poems from the news. Hart Seeley found this poem which he titled “The Unknown” in a Donald Rumsfeld Department of Defense news briefing and subsequently re-presented it in Harper’s Magazine in June, 2003:


As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.


But what is a found poem like this one asking its readers to do? Does it repeat the problem that Vicuña pointed out in Jaar’s early work? Is it a “shiny picture” that leaves only a residue of irony in its wake? At a conference at the University of Pennsylvania called “Post Invasion Poetics: Poetry and Empire,” those of us assembled were asked


Can poetry challenge militarized language and propaganda? Are textual critique, parody, and satire adequate responses or do they reify these abuses?


These questions come from the same territory that Barrett Watten’s essay, “The Bride of the Assembly Line” stakes out when he notes that


...much recent experimental writing ...turns toward a skeptical or defensive abstraction that presumes a critical value for its use of language but that refuses cultural engagement in more explicit terms. [15]

Example Two


Bern Porter was a scientist on the Manhattan Project in the 1940s. In the wake of his work contributing to the bombing of Hiroshima he quit his job and became a kind of “research artist.” He is perhaps best known for his mail art projects and his “founds,” a literary version of Duchamp’s ready-mades, collected in books such as The Wastemaker, The Book of Do’s and Aphasia (pictured below).

Figure 21


Porter has explained the impulse behind these founds by stating that in the face of tragedy “the bombed buildings, the concentration camps, the gulags, artists had the choice of saying nothing or transforming anything that came to hand into something new.” [16]

Figure 22


He claimed that the founds could cleanse the commercial atmosphere, and like Vicuña, he was intent on recycling what was considered to be cultural waste. Porter worked with the textual equivalents of Vicuña’s precarios — many of them discovered in the waste basket in his local post office in Belfast, Maine.

Figure 23


His pieces make use of mileage tables, indexes, used-car ads, obituaries, etc. The materials are not manipulated in any way, but rather, with Porter’s questioning attention, they are released from their (con)textual confines. His writings and interviews show an earnest belief in the power of looking at old things in new ways. Whether it was in regards to restructuring the 40 hour work week or modifying national ideological systems, he believed that a simple alteration of attention could cause a paradigm shift.

Example Three


A more recent and in some ways more radical recycling and recontextualization project can be found in Kenny Goldsmith’s book Day. Day is a literal retyping of an entire issue of the New York Times from Sept. 1, 2000. In its retyped form, the document which began as an everyday object traditionally destined for the recycling bin, now fills a book of monumental stature at over 800 pages. All of the visual cues that are used to separate content — fonts, columns, borders, illustrations — have been removed. All that remains is a vast stream of uninterrupted “content.”


Whereas Alfredo Jaar took the advertising space and supplied new content, Goldsmith’s Day takes the content of ads and gives them new form. The juxtapositions are startling, as the ad copy for Rolex watches listed for $14,550 segues seamlessly into a news summary announcing the delay of missile testing; the shift from a bombing in the Philippines to “the original razor scooter / hot @ bloomingdale’s / adjustable. collapsible. six pounds” is barely visible.

Figure 24


What becomes apparent is that the New York Times is predominantly advertising copy, interrupted only by the endless pages of numbers (as shown here) from the stock pages of section C: a monumental centerpiece if there ever was one. The only other section of the paper even remotely close in retyped bulk is the one for the movie listings.


The most poetic pages — not surprisingly — are the crossword puzzle clues and the horse racing statistics. The lyrical meets the topical with horses named Furydance, The Parting Glass, and Silver Colony racing alongside horses named Missile Defense, Western Justice and Political Folly.


Within Goldsmith’s defamiliarizing frame is an echo of Jaar’s more recent work. Without images, all we get are the captions — such as the one which describes “trucks in Britain awaiting access to the Channel Tunnel yesterday after French fishermen ended a wave of protests and port blockades.”


It’s also interesting to compare this project with Gerhard Richter’s illustrated book War Cut. This book juxtaposes details of an older Richter painting with newspaper articles from a German daily newspaper from March 20th and 21st 2003, the beginning of the war in Iraq.


Richter has said that War Cut


...only very indirectly involves reality. Even the facts in the newspaper articles somehow become unrealistic in this context. I removed the headlines and bylines from the articles. I respect writers. But I like to think that maybe by removing the headlines I contributed towards having these texts read as literature. It would be like taking a newspaper photo and putting it in a museum as an oil painting, which is I suppose what I did with was fun to have produced something beautiful. ...It was good to produce something like this. Something storylike, something fantastic. The absolute opposite of war. [17]


Is Goldsmith also turning the newspaper into literature? Into something beautiful? Or is a different kind of work happening? In a work like Day, the newspaper is torn down into a series of paratactical chuckles, but I would argue that its previous form is never completely erased. Although we may be reading with a different attention, our former habits of framing information remain in the background as a counterpoint — and it’s that counterpoint that allows for critical consciousness, which I would argue is more accurately the “opposite of war.”

Example Four


Counterpoint also exists in the 1965 poem by Jackson Mac Low called “Marines Defend Burning of Village.” The poem is created using a New York Times article of the same title, and reconfigures and repeats exact phrases by means of a procedure. It begins:


spokesman outlined today for
the first time some of the com-
bat rules set down for Ameri-
can marines fight in South

marines’ be-
havior in military operations
had raised questions about
their treatment of Vietnamese

“Marines do not burn houses
or villages unless those houses
or villages are fortified,”
sweeping through the village of
Camne south of Danang,
marines had first
considered that the village was
Communist controlled.


The poem continues for four more pages (the full text can be found here: page 2). Mac Low has acknowledged that this is “an interesting example of how an impersonally written poem can function as a strong political work. Because of the fragmentation and repetitions of sentences and sentence fragments in the poem, the horror of the bland description in the New York Times is borne in on the readers/hearers.” In discussing his methods, Mac Low says “It has been borne in on me that the last half-century of my artmaking has been the ‘site’ of a dialectic between making and letting be.” [18]

Example Five


That dialectic — what I’m recasting here as the dialogue between the aesthetic and the topical — is also at the heart of Hannah Weiner’s book Weeks published in 1990. Weiner composed the book during a period where she was no longer “seeing words” (the formalized clairvoyance on which her previous compositional processes had relied). The television news became an alternate source. Each page in Weeks consists of material culled from a week of viewing, and many of the weeks are accompanied by photographs of the television set.

Figure 25


This excerpt is from the last week represented in the book:


Tourists afraid of terrorism tended to stay home this year We couldn’t wake her We’re homeless in Grand Central These are his memoirs that he’s sharing with the audience She was born in South Carolina 116 years ago today I think it will be a moderately successful Christmas for the toy industry as a whole Casey is now fully conscious and able to sit up The cause of the sinking is still not known The miracle of one day’s oil burning for eight days Blessed are those that are satisfied And then the weather was a killer the whole time Child operated instead of battery operated Police have yet to identify the man who was shot He was scheduled to visit Israel on New Year’s Day Seven years ago today Soviet troops rolled into Afghanistan I don’t think we know precisely what the President did know


In his introduction for this book, Charles Bernstein asks “What do we make of our everyday lives: make of them, make out of them? What do we make of, that is, these materials that we can nowhere (not anymore) avoid, avert our ears as we do, or, as in poetic practice, hide behind the suburban lawns of laundered lyricism?” [19]

Example Six


Kristin Prevallet’s poem “Lead Glass Poppy” (from her collection Scratch Sides), proposes a possible answer to Bernstein’s questions about what we do with these found materials. Prevallet calls this poem an exercise in “synchronous thinking.” She describes its construction as an active seeking out of coincidences,


forcing connections between images in dreams and images in the street, seeing the link between ideas in one’s head and stories in the news, reading the connections between different newspapers on different days. [20]


Her note explains that this poem began when an article in the New York Times (about charred corpses found in France) coincided with research she was doing on Anselm Kiefer’s charred books. And then other coincidences from the newspaper began to appear, later to be synthesized in poem form.

Figure 26


Although this project is much more “written” than the re-framing projects of Porter, Goldsmith, Mac Low, or Weiner, it is reliant on found text. There is something about the seeking of connection and coincidence that links Prevallet’s project directly to that of Vicuña, while maintaining the topical realism of Jaar. The concept of synchronous thinking — where multiple tracks of time and events are seen as simultaneous and linked — seems foundational to the poethical drive to create within the world of the poem a model for the kind of world in which one would like to live. [21] The experimental text, as rendered by the found poem, can encourage the making of connections — lines drawn, strings strung — between an ignored or discarded past and what sits in our current and future sightlines.

IV. Overly Optimistic Conclusion?


The call for papers for the 2006 “Pressure to Experiment” conference in Southampton posed a set of provocative questions, including “What are the contemporary aesthetic, political, and cultural pressures on experimentation?” and “How might innovative writing practices address the social issues facing us at the start of the twenty-first century?” These questions could be read as a polite way to phrase the cruder question of whether experimental writing matters at all. And this question reminds me of a talk that Juliana Spahr gave at a panel called “Poetry and Crisis” where she recounted how much of her graduate school life was spent debating the merits of Auden’s phrase “poetry makes nothing happen.” She goes on to say that sometimes such questions can function as a kind of blinder, that they let us off the hook from having to discuss how it matters and what to do now. In her words


We couldn’t figure out the now what because the question about whether poetry matters or not somehow so occupied us that we couldn’t get to the next stage...The question led us somewhere, it led us to think that we could fracture English’s power by fracturing its syntaxes, by stuttering through its words, but then it stranded us there. It didn’t lead us to alliance. It let us think that we could do it alone, just with words. [22]


I’m decontextualizing her argument here, but what I’m trying to propose as a counter (in the way that Spahr’s own work proposes a counter) is that the experimental does not have to maroon us like some kind of sinking — or worse yet, stationary — syntactical ship; it can in fact model connectivity to the world in a way that usefully informs our choices as we move forward.

Special thanks to Alfredo Jaar and Cecilia Vicuña for permission to include images of their work. — J.O.


[1] Joan Retallack, “Accident...Aeroplane...Artichoke,” New American Writing. 10 (Fall 1992), p. 122.

[2] Barrett Watten, “War=Language.” The full text can be found at

[3] Luisa Valenzuela, “Trying to Breathe” in The Writer in Politics, eds. William Gass and Lorin Cuoco (Southern Illinois University Press, 1996), pp. 85-109.

[4] George Lakoff in “Metaphor and War, Again,” AlterNet March 18, 2003

[5] David Buuck as quoted by Rob Fitterman in a lecture he gave at the Poetry Project on 27 February 2006 entitled “Identity Theft: My Subjectivity.”

Images that follow are reproduced from It Is Difficult: Ten Years (Actar, 1998).

[7] Vicuña images are reproduced from The Precarious: The Art and Poetry of Cecilia Vicuña /Quipoem (Wesleyan University Press, 1997). This is a double-book with one side consisting of essays on Vicuña’s work (edited by Catherine de Zegher) and the other—Quipoem—documenting Vicuña’s visual works and texts.

[8] Susan Briante, “Seeing and Gathering.” The link to Briante’s interview with Vicuña is here:

[9] David Levi Strauss, Between The Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics (Aperture, 2003), p. 185.

[10] Vicuña from her essay “Arte Precario” in Quipoem (Wesleyan University Press, 1997).

[11] Joan Retallack, “Poethics of a Complex Realism,” in The Poethical Wager (University of California Press, 2003), p. 214.


[13] Retallack from “UNCAGED WORDS: John Cage in Dialogue with Chance” in The Poethical Wager (UC Press, 2003), p. 236.

[14] Edward Said, “Opponents, Audiences, Constituencies,” in The Anti-Aesthetic, ed. Hal Foster (Bay Press 1983), p. 157-8

[15] Barrett Watten, “The Bride of the Assembly Line: Radical Poetics in Construction” in The Constructivist Moment: From Material Text to Cultural Poetics (Wesleyan University Press, 2003), p. 106.

[16] Bern Porter quoted in James Schevill’s Where to go, What to do, When you are Bern Porter: A Personal Biography (Tilbury House Publishers, 1992), p. 295. A number of Porter’s “founds” can be found on Ubuweb:

[17] Richter quoted in the article “A Picture Is Worth 216 Newspaper Articles,” New York Times, July 4, 2004.

[18] Jackson Mac Low from the “open letter” issue of Open Letter 1 (Eleventh Series, No. 3, Fall 2001) in a response to a letter from Kristin Prevallet.

[19] Hannah Weiner, Weeks, Xexoxial Editions, 1990. Weiner can be heard reading from this book at

[20] Kristin Prevallet, Scratch Sides (Skanky Possum Press, 2002), p.15. Another excerpt from this poem can be found at

[21] Although not a poem, it is interesting to compare the digital text-game “Newsreader” to Prevallet’s concept of “synchronous thinking.” It can be found at the Textual Instruments website at
Created by Noah Wardrip-Fruin, David Durand, Brion Moss, and Elaine Froehlich, the Newsreader is software that lets you re-write the news. A reader can choose from headlines of the day from a Yahoo news feed; a second screen provides content from alternative news stories that use similar syntactical phrases to the original story. With a click of the mouse, lines from the alternative news story can be inserted into the original, creating some surprising and disturbing juxtapositions. The Textual Instruments home page explains that these kinds of programs “provide ways to perform William Burroughs’s injunction to ‘cut word lines’ — to break the chains of conceptual association that say this follows from that.”

[22] Spahr’s talk, given at a conference at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 2004, can be found here: