I love to look "at" things that I would normally look through or beyond - Ed Ruscha

Bern Porter, Found Poetry, and the History of the Present

In this dissertation chapter I take up the questions of how history is written, what found poetry might have to do with writing history, and how one particular person can be read as a historian of the present. The subject of the paper surrounds the life and work of Bern Porter, particularly three of his books published between 1972 to 1982: Waste Maker, Found Poems, and The Book of Do’s. Experimental by nature, all three of these books are compilations of collaged material, most of which comes from newspaper circulars, magazines, and the waste bin at his local post office. Porter began his career as a nuclear physicist and helped develop the Cathode-ray tube and worked on the Manhattan Project for four years. After renouncing himself from the militaristic pursuits of scientific research, Porter focused his efforts on writing, publishing, and art. Throughout his lifetime Porter was a thrifty collector and archivist of any printed matter that crossed his path. The use of found materials, especially those of an ephemeral derivation and bound for the waste bin, become the fleeting objects of history that are archived into his collages, or what he preferred to simply call “founds.”

Suburban Poetics and Robert Fitterman's Sprawl

The everyday landscape in America is inscribed as detached houses, unpeopled sidewalks, and strip malls surrounded by vast oceans of asphalt that pierce the memory of a once pastoral countryside. The infrastructure of suburbia probes the surface and depth of the environment as well as proposes a reorientation to social cohesion and the possibility for a new poetics addressing the seemingly banal aesthetics of commercial centers. If we are to address the problem of suburbia, then we are required to perform an environmental and ideological reorientation. In my paper on Robert Fitterman’s book Sprawl: Metropolis 30A, I offer a potential site for intervention within the demise of commercial spaces through an act of resignification in the process of writing poetry. Sprawl is a collage of brand names, sales brochures, corporate signage, and online reviews that come together to reveal how the textual production inside a commercial space operates in conjunction with commodities to interpellate individuals into consumers. By reframing the text produced by companies and consumers as poetry, Fitterman reveals how the material conditions of a capitalist space can be reterritorialized and resignified as a site for artistic practice. Inserting his self as poet into this place, Fitterman reinterprets the mall as a social medium built out of commercial interests and moves about it like a suburban flâneur. However, Sprawl does more than just teach us how to see the double image of the material surface. The writing of Sprawl gestures towards the potential to create new meanings out of corporate material conditions and gain agency by affirming an identity against the surrounding landscape. The seemingly culturally empty site of a mall, in other words, contains fertile soil for mimetic practice and proposes an alternative engagement with the changing everyday landscape in America.