The Power of Naming and Other Pretenses: Frank’s Letter to the Workshop

Minor Histories

Frank Rubino’s letter of invitation and inspiration to the weekly Red Wheelbarrow Poets’ Workshop of March 23, 2021

Hi Everybody-

Spring is here! Just in the nick of time.This week I got a little deeper into the artist Mike Kelley, whose More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid I wrote about last week (https://redwheelbarrowpoets.org/2021/03/22/can-we-use-the-distance-between-sentiment-and-true-feeling-franks-letter-to-the-workshop/). Minor Histories (https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/minor-histories) is the second in a proposed five volume set of Kelley’s writing. This volume mixes humor, memoir, and notes on technique & materials Kelley used in his paintings, sculpture, installations, performances, photographs and other forms of spatial expression.

It includes a well-known 1991 essay, Some Aesthetic High Points, which, Kelley says elsewhere, had been taken as an earnest anti-aesthetic manifesto— but is really one of his jokes: a takedown of pompous artist bios. It includes his memories of winning a poster contest in grammar school, and seeing an Iggy Pop performance in a biker bar. Another takedown of what I would call a structuralist seriousness, masquerades as an essay on a collection of “sacred” American photographs Kelley childishly defaced (swastika drawn on Lincon’s forehead, etc.) (Reconstructed History, 1990)

In The Poetry of Form, Kelley writes about found naming systems: Geological formations like “The Frozen Cascade” and paint chip colors found in hardware stores. The color of my bedroom is “Soft Chinchilla” He says that he wanted to “stress the naming process… as the primary aesthetic characteristic” of the color or rock formation. He was also intent on the anonymity of the naming process, and He created many artifacts (photos, drawings) based on his research into these naming systems. I thought of the poem “Bad Rock Band Names” by Wayne Miller, which he read at this month’s open mike. (Forgive me if I screwed up the title, Wayne)

(One of my favorite naming systems is cannabis strains: Ghost of Leroy, Jilly Bean, Alaskan Thunder F**k…)

Another association of Kelley’s work to a workshopper is the section in Minor Histories called UFOlogy: Kelley lists, among other things, the many detailed UFO descriptions he came across in his research on the subject. It reminded me of Janet Kolstein’s poem, where the speaker describes a ufo.

So, we have in just this sample of Kelley’s work a list of artistic pretenses you can use to structure (or at least jump-start) a poem:

1. Fake bio (I use this one constantly)

2. Pompous exegesis (actually I’m thinking of Susanna Lee’s recent “Viking Love” poem as an example of this)

3. Found lexicons and taxonomies

4. Deep research into trivia

(Also I can think of Don Zirilli’s heartbreaking instruction manuals as well)(And John J Trause’s “future hagiography” of Marilyn Monroe)

What can you add to this list of pretenses?

Author: dzirilli

poet, cartoonist, editor of Now Culture