Proposal for CHOICE BITS, a chapbook or a portfolio of short pieces (none more than a few pages long)

As a critic, my principal interest has always been, simply, what has not yet been done (and, behind that, the tradition of work that was radically new in its time); and so it is scarcely surprising that my creative work has subscribed to the same principle. To my mind, the initial measure of the success of any of my poems/stories/works of art is their distance from what is already known (and what everyone else is doing). A related measure, in my own mind, is a sort of audacious unacceptability.

It is not unreasonable to characterize my way of working as experimental, which is to say that I often start with a conscious hypothesis, a radical premise, that will shape my creation and, incidentally, insure that the resulting work will be radically unusual. In the pieces collected here, it can be observed that I have tried to discover whether it would be possible to make:

  1. poems not with syntactical structures but individual words that are visually enhanced;
  2. a poem composed of overlapping words, so that each new word would contain at least three letters of its predecessor;
  3. skeletal fictions whose paragraphs have no more than three words that are not syntactically sequential;
  4. fictions composed not of words, the traditional material of literature, but abstract, geometric drawings and, in another example. photographs;
  5. fictions composed of overlapping words;
  6. a film that does not "adapt" an unusual literary text (Epiphanies) but duplicates visually and aurally its scrupulously disconnected form;
  7. video art composed exclusively of electronic lettering and holograms likewise composed only of words;
  8. poems that depend upon the discovery of short words within longer words;
  9. minimal fictions no more than three words in length and often less;
  10. ballets that are meant to be read, even if never performed;
  11. animation scenarios that are meant to be read and seen, even if never filmed;
  12. texts of continuous words that are not syntactically related.
  13. other unconventional moves that are not so easily defined, some of which may have escaped my memory, others of which I may not be so fully aware.

Perhaps the most puzzling departure is the numerical work, which is really not as forbidding as it looks initially. In Two Intervals, for instance, it can be observed that every number relates to those adjacent to it, either vertically or horizontally, by the interval of either one or three, plus or minus (bearing in mind that, in this ten-digit system, nine plus one is zero, or one minus three is eight). To "read" such pieces, it is true, one must be numerate, just as the prerequisite for reading poetry is literacy. One heuristic question to ask of this and other numerical works of mine is whether it is poetry or fiction or something else--perhaps an art composed exclusively of numbers, which is to say a numerical art? Though the work is original, it is not obscure--not at all; indeed, here and elsewhere the work reflects a taste for conscious propositions, rational procedures, and verifiable perceptions.

Another departure is experimenting with literary abstraction, or discovering whether an idea so acceptable in modern visual art and music can be applied to literature. After working for over a quarter century in this way, I still find it odd that sophisticated people who can understand painterly abstraction without blinking can sometimes claim, when confronted with my versions of its literary analogy, that such work is "meaningless" or "trivial" or some other pseudo-critical obscenity. To such objections there are, of course, two sides; for if they were not made, that silence would indicate to me that this (or any other) work of mine should, in principle, be destroyed as unacceptable.

Especially in America, writers who do conventional poetry and fiction customarily limit their "writing" to the medium of print; but perhaps the fundamental experimental hypothesis behind my creative career has been discovering not only whether initially literary ideas can work in audio or video or film but, more important, whether I can work, either as the sole artist or as an equal collaborator, in media other than printed pages. And by so doing what no other writer is doing (or has done), I hope to expand our sense of what is possible not just in art but in imaginative literary life.

One quality I wish for my activity, as well as individual works, is that they be neither common nor predictable (except perhaps for their capacity to surprise), and yet make sense in retrospect.