An introduction to and dispatch from the PRB, a literary service in the public domain.
The Poetic Research Bureau is a nonprofit storefront library and adjoining pocket theater situated at 3702 San Fernando in northeast Los Angeles. As a nonprofit organization, it serves as an irregular literary umbrella for projects such as Ara Shirinyan’s house of constraint, Make Now Press; occasional poetry journal The Germ (’97–’04), edited by Andrew Maxwell and Macgregor Card; and the art-lit mag Area Sneaks, edited by Rita Gonzalez and Joseph Mosconi. As a literary service, the PRB attempts to cultivate composition, publication, and distribution strategies that enlarge the public domain. It favors appropriations, impersonations, “compost” poetries, belated conversations, unprintable jokes and doodles, “unoriginal” literature, historical thefts, and pastiche. The publication emphasis is on ephemeral works, short-run magazines and folios, short-lived reprints and excerpts in print-on-demand formats, and the occasional literary fetish objects of stupidly incomparable price and value. The Bureau also hosts a reading series that invites writers whose work lacks the “commercial tendency” while harboring the bright, high-minded intentions that often lead to broad panic, righteous perversions, improbable arguments, and the ill-served cul-de-sacs of genius.
Here, Triple Canopy presents a dispatch from the directors of the PRB, followed by poems from Joseph Mosconi’s series “Personal Affects” and Ara Shirinyan’s book Your Country Is Great (Afghanistan–Guyana) and samplings from two of Andrew Maxwell’s “literary product trials,” “Rookies” and “Didactic Nickelodeon.”
The PRB lives among the present, but shares with its 1848 model the aspiration “to have genuine ideas to express,” much as uncreative writers find the idea the most important aspect of the “work.” Our central concern is that ideas should rarely need (and seldom heed) authors or owners. Nor need they act only as either machines or methods that merely precede and/or instantiate texts. A text can situate an idea perfectly well. Indeed, a text should have as many ideas and situations as it can bear. The world is replete; we do it the honor of forgoing novelty and canning it, Warhol or no. And when we talk (happily) of sampling, borrowing, appropriation, impersonation—we join writing to research to arrive at a place and moment where “make it new” is of less import than make now and quotation is increasingly unlikely or unnecessary. What are important are findings, and findings are as rare or general as any caprice arrived at through motivated labor.
Poetic research, and unoriginal literature, shall follow the Lethem-Lessig political and moral vector that would make of the archive creative commons and free culture. “The beauty of second use” rescues “what is direct and serious and heartfelt in previous art” not as anachronism or sham pastiche, but as lived experience and vivid ideation. To live to repeat, with all these uncorrected sympathies—on the one hand, like Diogenes, we have come to debase the coinage. But only because, as the custodians of protocol and literary empire would have it, “they” have come to debase the coinage with both hands shaking.
The PRB uncomfortably stands astride the corporatist model of literature, with its serialized avant-gardes, its franchised novelties, its marriage of progressivism and privatization. We’re comfortable with the postmark of the author, but less the peerage system that would subscribe a perfected roster of Flarfists to the grand historical narrative. Standing astride as we do, we’re also happy to take it cheap for a ride. The economy of scale is such that theft is happily possible and often permissible, and the methods of production and distribution increasingly low-cost or sufferable, and worth these casual experiments of waste and improvisation. Waste and improvisation are undiminished as the surprising protégés of poetic research, now less luxuries than staples.
Thus kind to accident, the PRB is predictably investigative (as researchers are native to abuse!). It favors the altered states arrived at under Oulipian duress, Bretonian derangement, political embarrassment, and contemplation of the Fortean exception. But it also has predictable symptoms of several other community models: a perfect-bound press, a journal of literature, a reading series, a storefront, a folio and pamphlet series. So perhaps the PRB is at least also supremely fictional. You’d be right to wear the monogram, but wrong to suggest it perfectly legible. Luckily, we’re not the first to try it on. That grants us a certain clumsy assurance to make a fiction of our wont and a wont of our fiction: The accidents of history are hungry for patronage. Stumbling into good fortune, a blind alley, or a bad way, poetic researchers enjoy to live the improbabilities that fiction permits, not as proprietors but as pioneers, where no pleasure is surrogate, and where each discovery is unashamedly repeatable.