Why you should care about conceptual poetry

To put it simply, conceptual poetry is about caring/highlighting what concepts constitute the poem—especially/most often, the concepts of process.  The way that the poem is made is as integral as what the poem is; in other words, making = being.

I see this as relating to the view that the essence of a thing/being cannot be isolated from the making of its existence, and its existence is always being made (a living organism continues to react to its environment; a thing likewise is subject to its environment, becoming eroded, moldy, whatever.).  And yes, I do see a poem as constantly being made, as it is stimuli composed of language—the language and the reader’s mind make the poem….  In my opinion, conceptual poetry is analogous to a metaphysics that seems true for the world.

But perhaps I am digressing from (or making tangential maneuvers beside) what I want to convey: conceptual poetry, in itself, should be of interest to you.  (Though this phrase “in itself” is a bit troublesome for me [such isolation doesn’t seem possible] it seems justified for colloquial purposes.)

As a reader, consider this: conceptual poetry invites you to not be a submissive, passive reader, or a reader whose primary activity is to follow a narrative.  You participate with the concept; you become integral to the poem (which is, I think, true for all poetry, but it seems especially blatant in conceptual work).

I am speaking in generalizations, though.  Every conceptual work is different, has different demands/suggestions/etc.

As a writer, consider this: this is one mode of making poetry go beyond yourself, or exist laterally/correlatively to yourself.  Even if something empirical or an attitude of yours sparks the poem or is a part of what is ‘going on’ in the work, bringing in conceptual elements makes the poem more dense (in a good way—I don’t mean thickheaded!  I mean richer, more infused.  Delicious, no?).

To give a personal example, I recently wrote a group of poems that engages with living in a household that includes Alzheimer’s and Brazilian Portuguese…empirical details.  In between each of these empirically-influenced poems, I inserted a poem whose title reversed the last line in the previous poem, and then anagrams, lipograms, and palindromes were derived from this title.  I saw it as a way to diffuse language until it becomes mere visual patterns.

Someone might also say that this diffuses the semi-narrative of the other poems, and I agree, and I don’t think this is a bad thing.  Infusion and diffusion are needed, and alternating between the two can be an exciting movement—and, diffusion of one thing simply means infusion of another.  There is always some sort of infusion present (even if it is an infusion of diffusion?  Language enables spritely contradiction).

For further reading (especially if you haven’t read any conceptual work yet), I’d like to recommend this Anthology of Conceptual Writing at Ubu Web.  The introduction is great!

Do you care about conceptual poetry?  What are your reasons?

Do you not care about conceptual poetry?  What are your reasons?

How do you define conceptual poetry?  Can conceptual poetry be defined?  Are definitions a form of conceptual writing?  Why not?  Why am I asking why not?  What do you think my stance is?  Why do you think I have a stance?  Why am I asking such questions?