Poems for America

by Triple Canopy

Dispatches from the intersection of contemporary poetry and visual art.

“Poems for America” was produced in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, as part of Triple Canopy’s contribution to the exhibition “Postscript: Writing after Conceptual Art,” curated by Nora Burnett Abrams and Andrea Andersson and on view from October 12, 2012 to February 3, 2013. “Poems for America” was also published as part of Triple Canopy’s Internet as Material project area, which receives support from the Brown Foundation, Inc., of Houston, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts.

ON THE AFTERNOON OF SEPTEMBER 15, 2012, Triple Canopy held a symposium, Poems for America, at which six participants—Michael Corris, Aaron Kunin, Margaret Lee, K. Silem Mohammad, Ken Okiishi, and Matvei Yankelevich, with moderators Lucy Ives, Katie Raissian, and Gretchen Wagner—discussed the ways in which strategies inherited from conceptualism continue to shape contemporary writing and visual art.

Titled after Dan Graham’s 1966–67 photo-essay Homes for America, Poems for America presented a series of conversations with artists and poets about how they employ systems of language and thought to investigate the construction of identity, even while rejecting traditional modes of self-expression. Much as Graham’s essay interrogates the economics and aesthetics of the housing development, Poems for America questioned what might constitute a poetics in light of the history of conceptual art. The symposium also asked how an understanding of such a poetics, a conceptual poetics, might render other modes of cultural production more legible, both historically and with reference to contemporary experience.

Moving between images and words, participants considered the usefulness of the impossibility of translation, proposed histories of conceptual art, and explained Google-sourced rebuses, among other topics in unoriginal composition. Triple Canopy’s editors meanwhile plied attendees with comment cards, requesting a candid response. The audience-authored cards that follow are a selection from a series that will be reproduced in full in Triple Canopy’s book Corrected Slogans, designed by Franklin Vandiver and forthcoming in January. These responses correspond to the first session of Poems for America, “À Rebours,” a talk with poet Aaron Kunin and artist Ken Okiishi about the distance between translation and accurate representation.