No, Wait. Yep. Definitely Still Hate Myself by Robert Fitterman. Brooklyn, NY: Ugly Duckling Presse, 2014. 78 pp. $16.00.
Rob Fitterman’s latest book comes without any jacket burbs or prefatory material except for an epigraph from the late New York School poet James Schuyler (1926-91) – from the title poem of his 1980 Pulitzer-prize-winning collection, The Morning of the Poem. An alert reader will likely notice that the line structure of the six-line excerpt is similar to the line structure of each two-line unit of the Fitterman.
However, in the publisher’s on-line catalogue, and reprinted from there by Amazon and other on-line booksellers, is this note:
Robert Fitterman's new book-length poem borrows its poetic form, loosely, from James
Schuyler's The Morning of the Poem, to orchestrate hundreds of found articulations of sadness
and loneliness from blogs and online posts. A collective subjectivity composed through the
avatar of a singular speaker emerges. But the real protagonist of No Wait, Yep. Definitely Still
Hate Myself is subjectivity as a mediated construct-the steady steam [sic] of personal articula-
tions that we have access to are personal articulations themselves already mediated via song
lyrics, advertising, or even broadcasters. No, Wait ... blurs the boundary between collective
articulation and personal speech, while underscoring the ways in which poetic form participates
in the mediation of intimate expression.
Fitterman is of course a well-known writer of conceptual and flarf poems, so perhaps his publisher was assuming that anyone who picked up the book in a bookstore or library would recognize that this was a book of “found articulations” – or perhaps they were assuming that all copies would be marketed on-line and that the purchaser would encounter the catalogue blurb.
No, Wait helps map the wide range of conceptual/flarf ‘transparency’ practices, with Kenneth Goldmith’s 2005 The Weather at one end, unabashedly acknowledging its source as a transcription of the the hourly weather bulletins on 1010 WINS, New York City’s all-news radio station, and Lisa Robertson’s 2001 The Weather at the other, with only a remark she made to surprised interviewer Kai Fierle-Hedrick that it was “all lifted” (Chicago Review 51/52:4/1 [Spring 2006]: 40) to reveal that it has been constructed of “found articulations.” In one sense it shouldn’t matter whether
With most Goldsmith poems a reader knows precisely the source, date, times, and ‘rules’ of the composition. These are procedural conceptual poems that build on Jackson Mac Low’s and John Cage’s poetries of chance operations. With Robertson’s The Weather a reader can know little except the year and place that the material fits into Robertson’s biography. The procedure is not foregrounded and thus not thematized. Chance does not seem to be an element, except for what books Robertson has ‘chanced’ to read or what books have chanced to be in the Cambridge University Library. Somewhere between the two is Peter Jaeger’s Rapid Eye Movement, which -- through its cover blurb -- is open about its uses of "found material" and "constraint" but is otherwise closed about its sources and about the decision-making that underlies how they have been sequenced. That non-disclosure is similar to that of the lyric poet, who might – if asked – claim that “artistry” or “craftsmanship” or “inspiration” led her or him to place an image or phrase before or after another. Presumably something of this kind of decision-making is operating in Fitterman’s No, Wait, and also in Rapid Eye Movement.
In making the internet-sourced poems of my Bardy Google in 2008 I chose to foreground the process, noting in the preface, for example, that “all sequenced sentences [appear] in the order found” and that shifts in tone had been created by changing the search-engine protocol. I had been interested in making evident how internet searches unfold from the commonplace toward the less common, from the cliched to the less cliched, and are unique to moment of the search. The next year in writing Lack On! I included at the end of each text the search terms used, the search date, and the rules I'd applied for inclusion and termination. Fitterman in No, Wait appears to be portraying – if his publisher can be believed – elements/“subjectivities” that are more enduring and pervasive on the current internet, a “steady st[r]eam of personal articulations” “already mediated” by commercial media” – with emphasis perhaps on “steady” as well as “wait.”
In 2013 I submitted a manuscript to Talonbooks not all that dissimilar from No, Wait, titled “The Fears of Charles Darwin as Confessed by the Blogosphere,” and received in response from then Talon poetry editor Garry Thomas Morse the politely-phrased suggestion that this would “be a project more suited to the Internet. That is not so much a valuation of the material in question,” he continued, “but an observation based upon the medium the text appears to be seeking to engage and reflect. I am not denying there is a fair amount of aesthetic value to this text in a conceptual sense, but I do not feel it warrants printed book form.” It was an odd argument considering that Talon had been the publisher of Bardy Google, and also odd in implying that one should not “engage and reflect” on one medium within a different one. That is certainly what Fitterman is doing here, and with a different medium in his Holocaust Museum – with the support of his print publishers. I suspect that embedded in Morse’s response may also be the view that found, crowd-sourced, internet-sourced literary material might not be worth (re)printing.
It is perhaps to counter views such as Morse’s that No, Wait is published with such reticence about its textuality. The poem reads equally strongly and amusingly as a critique of the commercialization of individual self-consciousness no matter whether read as newly phrased or as a collage of the previously expressed. The epigraph from Schuyler operates to normalize the flarf lines – one set of lines looks and reads a lot like the other – and to mischievously imply that the latter too may be of Pulitzer prize quality. They also expose by contrast the latter's lack of restraint as self-reflections. And of course both sets of lines have been appropriated by Fitterman, one conventionally, one less so – as in that bartender’s “hurry up please it’s time.” But I’m not sure that it’s still the morning of the conceptual poem.