Review of Dream Poem!



Here is a review of my book Dream Poem by Marc Nash. He is a very strong reviewer ( watch his podcasts) and a writer himself. So I am so pleased he really liked my collection! He gave it 4 stars on Goodreads. The review will be on his April podcast as well.

Dream Poem
K.D. Rose (Goodreads Author)

Marc Nash’s review
Apr 22, 2018

I read KD Rose’s first collection “Heavy Bags Of Soul” which oscillated between quantum science and spirituality, but I feel this collection is far more focused and far more personal. The science is still there, but the human scale rather than the nebulous divine is far more in focus. Political poems, poems of rage about the indignities of ageing, poems about time all carry you off in contemplation of your own fate(s) ahead. The poem “Just Shy Of Eighty” about the poet’s hospitalised father craving a cigarette, because, well what difference would it make at his time of life? was particularly poignant.

From “The Immensity Of Moments” –
Time is the poetry of devouring. It eats at emotions with delicacy. Time wears a facade of lace doilies and proper table manners. Like frogs boiling in water, too late before you realize it, time devours all feeling from memory.

This was a stunning poem. I also really liked the opening poem, an homage to Ginsberg bleeding and dripping with assonance and a political urgency. And the poem “Who And What We Are” mixing our gross fleshy materiality with our higher, creative souls and the uneasy symbiotic relationship between the two in one’s art.

There are several poems expressing the impotency of the poet and artist to effect and serious change on the world, on our fellow man. There’s a poem for the death of the Artist formerly known as Prince, Nirvana & Joy Division – two bands whose lead singers took their lives – are also referenced.

The collection ends with an interesting essay, containing a key to this collection, “Slim volumes on the other hand—poetry is a key example— build vertically, with ever expanding circles, tangents, and some linear thrown in. Dense.” And finally a short story “The Empath” about seeing the emotional tinge of other people’s speech in colours betraying their true meaning.

All in all a strong collection.

Branding and the Brain by Kristen Lamb


Branding & The Brain: How Social Media Changes but Humans Never Will

by Kristen Lamb

brain science of branding, branding and the brain, somatic markers and branding, how to make ads more effective, Kristen Lamb, Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, science of advertising, how to sell more books, how to create an author brand, Kristen Lamb Rise of the Machines,

Branding is a word that seems to have one day—POOF—appeared out of the ether. In fact, when I began blogging in 2006 almost no one in publishing used the term. The rare few who did were hard-pressed to properly/clearly define what a ‘brand’ was.

In fact, many authorities believed authors didn’t need to be bothered with silly passing fads like ‘the Internet’ and ‘social media’ until about 2013. Why would authors need to build a brand?

All a writer needed was a good book. Facebook will last a year at best.


Today, in 2018, the words ‘brand’ and ‘branding’ seem to be tossed around daily. Everyone and everything is or has or needs a brand. What’s funny is that branding might seem completely new, yet has been around since…people.

Granted how important a brand is, the need for one as an author, etc. is a fairly recent development. Yes, we need to craft excellent books (product) but we also must begin building our author brand EARLY.

***As in the first day we believe we might one day want to sell a book.

Ah, but calm down. There’s a lot of confusion regarding what a brand actually is. Many assume ads, marketing, and promotional campaigns are ‘branding.’


We can build a brand, but alas we cannot buy one. There are no shortcuts. Ads, promotion, marketing can help expand an existing brand, but cannot be substituted for one. This approach is akin to ordering a wife on-line from Russia believing one can buy true love with Visa.

In some areas of life, shortcuts end up a) a waste of time b) a bigger waste of money c) an episode of Dateline.

Branding Basics

brain science of branding, branding and the brain, somatic markers and branding, how to make ads more effective, Kristen Lamb, Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, science of advertising, how to sell more books, how to create an author brand, Kristen Lamb Rise of the Machines

I wrote my book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World to be evergreen information. In my POV, social media changes daily, but humans never change.

Just read Shakespeare or look at your ex’s Facebook page *rolls eyes*.

That’s why my social media/branding guide focuses a lot more on the science behind what creates what we recognize as a brand. What captures our attention? What turns us off? What renders a brand invisible (thus a non-brand)?

How can one brand launch into the stratosphere with little to no budget when another fails miserably no matter how many millions of dollars are poured into ad campaigns and celebrity endorsements?

Obviously, my book delves into far more detail about the science behind branding. But a little common sense goes a long way. Thus, today we’ll simply touch on why our everyday on-line behaviors collect into a larger pool we call ‘author brand.’


Branding is NOT New

brain science of branding, branding and the brain, somatic markers and branding, how to make ads more effective, Kristen Lamb, Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, science of advertising, how to sell more books, how to create an author brand, Kristen Lamb Rise of the Machines

The thing is, humans have always had a ‘personal brand.’ Branding, in its simplest form, is what descriptors we attach to another person. It’s an innate habit we use to organize and transition the fuzzy and inchoate into the dramatic and memorable.

In the series I’ve been doing about story structure, I’ve reiterated over and over how we humans are wired for story. Branding is simply an extension of story.

That guy/that gal is too amorphous for us to remember. It also doesn’t provide enough detail for us to know how we should respond.

But, ‘That guy who’s been married four times, loves hunting, and collects sports cars’ provides a narrative (a story) that will either resonate or repel depending on the audience.

Humans dig labels, now more than ever before. It’s how we make our increasingly larger world somewhat manageable. Thus, people we ‘know’ are frequently tethered to a variety of descriptors—vegan, sports enthusiast, triathlete, cat lady, Cowboys fan, craftsy person, the comedian, etc.

There’s the perfect, put-together Pinterest moms and then there’s me….

brain science of branding, branding and the brain, somatic markers and branding, how to make ads more effective, Kristen Lamb, Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, science of advertising, how to sell more books, how to create an author brand, Kristen Lamb Rise of the Machines

This, in a nutshell, is ‘branding.’ Humans have been doing this ‘branding’ thing since the dawn of time. The only difference in a ‘personal brand’ and an ‘author brand’ is that the ‘author brand’ should eventually drive book sales. Also, branding is now more vital than ever before because of the sheer volume of information, people, choices, etc.

This is why author brands are essential, since a brand is basically a beacon drawing people (readers) to something they find familiar and that they already know they like.

Here is where science comes in handy.

The Neurological Shortcut

brain science of branding, branding and the brain, somatic markers and branding, how to make ads more effective, Kristen Lamb, Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, science of advertising, how to sell more books, how to create an author brand, Kristen Lamb Rise of the Machines

Our brains are remarkable organs that have the ability to adapt to our environment. Before the invention of the written word, our memory centers were far larger because we had to pass down information orally.

In fact, if you took an MRI of a tribesman from some isolated Amazonian tribe, his brain would look and act very different from yours or mine.

Then, with the advent of the written word, our memory centers shrank but we gained even larger areas for abstract thinking. This was around the time we start seeing major explosions in science and engineering.

Now we are in the Digital Age, and we’re bombarded with stimuli. Internet, television, radio, smart phones, pop-ups, etc. etc. We’ve lost our stellar memory centers and our ability to focus for long periods of time and have gained an unprecedented ability to multitask. Our brains must process massive amounts of information faster than ever before.

Think about it. We see ads on Facebook all the time. Or do we? Our brains have literally learned to un-see. We cannot manage all the input. So, if we (authors) are eventually going to advertise our books, how do we make our content visible? 

Branding with Intention

brain science of branding, branding and the brain, somatic markers and branding, how to make ads more effective, Kristen Lamb, Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, science of advertising, how to sell more books, how to create an author brand, Kristen Lamb Rise of the Machines

Since our brain is much like a computer processor, it must come up with ways to effectively manage all this input in order to maintain efficiency. To do this, it relies on what are called somatic markers.

Somatic markers are neurological shortcuts and are one of the most primitive functions of the brain because they are uniquely tied to survival and procreation. It’s the same shortcut that tells us the stove is hot. We don’t need to sit and ponder the stove. We likely learned when we were very small not to touch.

To give you an idea of how somatic markers work, let’s do a little exercise. Is there a perfume or cologne you can smell and it instantly transports you back in time? Maybe to that first love or even *cringes* that first heartbreak? A song that makes you cry?

Perhaps there is a food you once ate that made you sick and even though there is no logical reason you shouldn’t eat it now, the mere thought of eating it makes you queasy.

These are somatic markers. When it comes to branding, somatic markers are vital.

The Pepsi Challenge

brain science of branding, branding and the brain, somatic markers and branding, how to make ads more effective, Kristen Lamb, Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, science of advertising, how to sell more books, how to create an author brand, Kristen Lamb Rise of the Machines

If you are around my age or older you can remember The Pepsi Challenge. For years, Pepsi had been trying to gain an edge over Coca Cola, which had dominated the soda industry for generations. Pepsi—figuring it had nothing to lose—came up with the idea of setting up a table in stores and shopping malls and encouraging people to take a blind taste test.

The results were astonishing…to Pepsi more than anyone.

In a blind taste test, people preferred the taste of Pepsi. Coca Cola was rattled by this news. They performed the same test and it turned out, people preferred the taste of Pepsi…and this led to brilliant ideas like ‘New Coke’ which was one of the most epic brand failures in business history.

Why did New Coke fail?

Coca Cola reformulated to make the drink sweeter. In blind taste tests, New Coke was a clear winner. So then why did it tank so badly?

Somatic markers.

What Happened? Branding Basics

brain science of branding, branding and the brain, somatic markers and branding, how to make ads more effective, Kristen Lamb, Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, science of advertising, how to sell more books, how to create an author brand, Kristen Lamb Rise of the Machines

Years later, neuroscientists decided to see if they could demystify what happened in The Pepsi Challenge. They conducted the exact same experiment, only this time they hooked participants up to an fMRI machine so they could witness what areas of the brain lit up.

They held the taste test the same way it was conducted in the 70s—a blind taste test. To their amazement, participants preferred the taste of Pepsi in almost the exact same numbers. According to the fMRI, the ventral putamen, the area of the brain that tells us something tastes yummy, lit up like Vegas.

*Some have speculated that when it is only a sip, people will prefer the sweeter drink.*

The ‘Human Factor’ in Branding

brain science of branding, branding and the brain, somatic markers and branding, how to make ads more effective, Kristen Lamb, Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, science of advertising, how to sell more books, how to create an author brand, Kristen Lamb Rise of the Machines

The scientists then decided to try something a bit different. They did the test again, only this time they told the participants what they were drinking. This time, Coca Cola won BIG.

Ah, but something strange happened in the brain. Not only did the ventral putamen light up, but so did the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain associated with emotion and memory.

See, when it was based on taste alone, Pepsi won. But, when the brands were compared, Coca Cola won. The human brain was in a wrestling match between two very different regions—taste and emotional.

Coca Cola had the advantage because of the vast reservoir of fond memories associated with the brand. In short, Coca Cola had a STORY for sale.

Norman Rockwell Americana, cute polar bears, I’d Like to But the World a Coke, every BBQ, summer vacation, rollerskating parties, Friday nights with pizza and on and on all were part of the Coca Cola arsenal. The fond memories (positive somatic markers) associated with the brand literally changed the taste and gave Coca Cola the winning edge.

Somatic Marker Meets Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

brain science of branding, branding and the brain, somatic markers and branding, how to make ads more effective, Kristen Lamb, Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, science of advertising, how to sell more books, how to create an author brand, Kristen Lamb Rise of the Machines

Ever run into a term you KNOW you’ve never heard in your life, then hear it at least four more times in the next week? Or see something you know you’ve never seen before, then suddenly it’s everywhere? Reverse-harems? Punk-Rockabilly-Zydeco? Kombucha?

I’d never heard of Bikram Yoga until a friend told me about it and then…it was everywhere. Following me with sweaty mats…and Kombucha O_O .

The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon is also known as the frequency illusion or the recency illusion. At first glance, one might think this is why it’s a great idea to automate everywhere! Churn out lots of ads! Exposure! The more people see me, my name, my face, my book, the BETTER!

Follow them to the BATHROOM!

Not so quickly.

The Baader-Meinhof phenomenon seems to kick in strongest when there’s some kind of an emotional response tethered to the ‘thing.’ Interestingly, the stronger the emotional response (positive or negative), the more likely we will see that car, food, book, name, that we suddenly believe is now everywhere, surrounding us.

Ah, but when it comes to OUR brand, what emotional response are we creating? Are people seeing our name because of some good encounter? Or do they see it and silently rage because we keep crapping up their feeds with automation? Are we all take and no give?

Ads That Pop-Up & Ads That POP

We see ads all over. More than ever before in human history, which is why our brains are getting so clever with shortcuts. Most ads we literally do not see.

I could take any random person and have them click through twenty pages of BuzzFeed memes and they’ll remember the memes (emotional), but are unlikely to remember most of the ads plastered all along the sides. Though most ads will be invisible, some are not. Some might even leap off the page. Why?

What makes us ‘see’ the advertisement?

When we have a highly positive or vastly negative experience, we’re far more likely to notice the ad.

brain science of branding, branding and the brain, somatic markers and branding, how to make ads more effective, Kristen Lamb, Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, science of advertising, how to sell more books, how to create an author brand, Kristen Lamb Rise of the Machines

If we see an ad for a book, we may or may not notice. But what about an ad for a book written by someone we know? Someone perhaps we talked to and liked? The ad practically leaps from the page. We might even buy it because we SAW her ad and OMG! I know her!

Ads alone have very little power to compel a purchase. But, couple them with a brand (story/narrative/emotional experience), and the odds of a sale greatly improve. This is why ads and promotion alone do very little to impact sales. Until there is a narrative (emotion) attached to the name?

It’s white noise.

Keeping the ‘Social’ in Social Media

brain science of branding, branding and the brain, somatic markers and branding, how to make ads more effective, Kristen Lamb, Baader-Meinhoff phenomenon, science of advertising, how to sell more books, how to create an author brand, Kristen Lamb Rise of the Machines

Now that y’all have had a Neuroscience 101 crash course—and I guarantee you will see Baader-Meinhof OR Kombucha at least three times in the next week—let’s get down to what’s most essential. Branding is all story. It’s a collection of emotional experiences that tie our name to some set of descriptors (hopefully positive ones).

Eventually, with love, care and nurturing, followers can become friends and even FANS.

So have fun. Relax. Show up. Be present and engage authentically. Find your tribe and bond. And a great tip for on-line as well as in life?

It is far better to be interested than interesting 😉 .

Feel free to ditch the non-stop jazz hands. It’s all good. Go write more books and enjoy the people you meet along the way.

What Are Your Thoughts? 

Do you now feel way better now that you know why you’ve also heard the term ‘reverse harem’ six times in the past week? Feel extra sassy that you know the term ‘Baader-Meinhof phenomenon?’ Are you already planning ways of using this word in everyday conversation?

Does this take some of the pressure off ‘creating an author brand’?

Guest poet: KD Rose – Dream Poem, a new book

Sue Vincent's Daily Echo


I saw the best minds of my generation

starved into servitude, strides for recognition

unheard by ears listening to another word,

forthright regals regaling unwittingly

about pond scum to bigger fish.

They moved with surety once but

never again, with age, their pages lost,

their songs unsung except to one another,

temple to temple all night long, cost

again by Burning Man and outre suave

signs o’ the times and Y2K like

the best minds produced exiles in rivers

damned by those who bar the crossings.

I saw the best women of my generation

struggle to become both woman and man,

fight against one another with tea cups and

soirees against reason for reasonable lives

and Jumbotron kisses raising daughters

who dare to bare in instagrammatic spheres.

They lost to no lunches and fast food,

diets and airbrushed mini malls, pork

size poker faces every day in halls

View original post 649 more words

From the Jack Kerouac School of Writing


The Nameable: On Experimental Writing

Eugene Lim

I hear the word “experimental” and reach for my revolver. I don’t consider myself an experimental writer because experimental writing is about the experiment, and that doesn’t interest me.—Steve Erickson


In the summation of his poetics as “An integral / Lower limit speech / Upper limit music,” Louis Zukofsky is suggesting a metaphoric area, the southern region of which is made up of pedestrian utterances and the northern, “upper” region—and by upper I think there’s at least a notion of aspiration—a place where the poem tends to be more than mere function, that is, it tries to become music. Language near this loftier border wants to be ordered, formal, and at play with abstraction and connotation. (“All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music,” says Walter Pater stating a similar, if more dogmatic, idea.) Everywhere between these two limits, between speech and music, exists the potential space for the poem.

I’d like to propose a definition that modifies Zukofsky’s metaphor to clarify and broaden the term of “experimental writing” and which thus hopefully rehabilitates it from the censure of the many—including a formally daring writer like Erickson—who view the province of experimental writing as a naval-gazing warren, an unpopular gymnasium occupied solely by the effete.



Here’s my idea. Experimental writing is an integral whose upper and lower limits are symbolized by two quotes, the first by William Carlos Williams and the second by Audre Lorde. First the lower limit:

William Carlos Williams in 1923 attempts to write a novel, but he finds he is deeply dissatisfied with what seem to be its formal possibilities. He writes in the accurately titled The Great American Novel that all one must do to have a novel is “catch up a dozen smelly names and find some reason for murder, it will do.” But if a writer were to do this, the implication goes, she would be merely creating something hackneyed, some form of cheap entertainment. Williams has greater ambitions. He wants to do better than just build a “pyramid of words, tombs.” But he cannot seem to realize his ambitions to transcend the novel’s formal limits. And in an almost throwaway moment of frustration, Williams writes, “Progress is to get. But how can words get… Words. Words cannot progress. There cannot be a novel. Break the words. Words are indivisible crystals. One cannot break them—Awu tsst grang splith gra pragh og bm…”



Williams seems to do what every writer, in a moment of frustration, has done: bang a fist a few times on the keyboard. William tries, as literally as he can, to break the words.

He finds he can’t do it. Well, he can do it, but the words are useless then, won’t work anymore as elemental pieces of language. By severing the language sign from its denotational ability, this recorded, seemingly simple, everyday moment of frustration hides a profound aspect of language: i.e., that it acts connotatively and denotatively.

For example, if I speak the word “pencil,” an idea will form in your mind. Each of you may picture a variation of this idea, but the utterance denotes so that some variation of a fairly particular writing instrument appears, so to speak, in your mind. Simultaneously, there are connotations occurring in your mind as well: latent swirling ideas about school or standardized tests or perhaps a general nimbus of childhood glows around the word “pencil” in your consciousness.

This basic semiotic principle of language’s denotational and connotational aspects is a unique condition of the writer’s medium. Music in particular can be wonderfully abstract and is capable of delivering an emotional response almost entirely through connotations. A major chord might be “happier” than a minor, Debussy may evoke the ocean, and your cell phone ring might signify that your boyfriend is calling—but, in general, music is relatively free of the very particular denotative function of language. Similarly in the visual arts, there is a commonly used taxonomy that shows that, apart from figuration, a work of visual art can be a non-denotative abstraction.

Why is this important? I think there are several reasons, ranging from the theoretical to the perhaps immediately useful. One conclusion that follows is that the literary arts are made out of a socially constructed material. Language works (as much as it does) because we agree on meanings. And because it is made out of a socially constructed material, the literary arts inherently have both a normative aspect and—something less frequently acknowledged—a hard constraint on its form: i.e., it’s very difficult if not impossible to use language to think outside of language and, as Williams discovered, one can’t really break it from its signifying function and try to repurpose it. Investigating this fundamental aspect of language is a primary (and well-trod) project of Modernism—cue spotlights on the busts of Gertrude Stein and James Joyce.

(Another conclusion of this is that—IMHO—since this lower terrain of our metaphoric space has been so cleverly tracked by not only the high modernist masters but by artists in an unbroken line to the present (e.g., Language poets, Oulipo, Flarf) that perhaps that vein of the mine is tapped out. Obviously people disagree with this (and I frequently disagree with this) but my tentative advice is that in your work if you find yourself enamoured of deconstruction, obliquity, and engineering—why not do some fooling around with construction, emotion, and clarity? False dichotomies no doubt, but this parenthetical to serve as time machine to the young MFA student I never was.)

Finally, what this lower boundary of the land we are calling “experimental writing” might help us understand is why not only Steve Erickson but many formally risky writers eschew the label. There is often in the committed anarchist project a hidden but fundamental solipsism and cynical terminalism, which, by various philosophical justifications, also shows disdain for the emotional payoff, the cathartic or epiphanic goods. ‘Overly cerebral’ or ‘too clever’ are common complaints.

A metaphor then: The traditional novel is like a car whose purpose is to deliver the reader from point A, through an emotional Freytag path, to point B. But the experimental writer here, too clever for her own good, has taken apart and reassembled the auto, repurposed its chassis, catalytic converter, spark plugs, etc., in order to make a sculpture, which she displays proudly and dedicates—so says the plinth on which it is placed—to revolution. Or maybe The Revolution. Erickson et al. complain upon seeing it: Phooie, now we’ll have to hitchhike.



But our strawmen I think are reacting to (as they know) a partial definition, only the lowland of the Experimental Writing nation. So let’s turn to Audre Lorde, whose quote represents our aspirational upper limit. Lorde writes that her poetry is “to give name to the nameless so that it can be thought.”

(A digression. The quote that might have typically occupied this space instead of Lorde’s, say, in your undergraduate symposium of late last century, would have been Pound’s maxim: “Make it new.” But as recent research reveals,[1]  Pound’s saw celebrating novelty was actually ancient dictum, third-hand appropriation of a Shang dynasty inspirational motto. Not that new, in other words, and the phrase’s etymology likely says more about Pound and the colonial impulses of canon formation than it does about revolutionary praxis.)

In order to understand Lorde’s functional definition of her literary art as that which “gives name to the nameless,” the key question to ask is: What makes something nameless?

The shortcut answer is to invoke the semi-amorphous concept of ideology. I’ll just give two perhaps reductive examples to illustrate ideology. This hopefully will also illuminate what Lorde might have been trying to get at in her concept of the “nameless.”

The first example—one you are probably now familiar with—is the concept of white privilege. Privilege in general can be seen as an invisible allowance. As Peggy McIntosh describes in her famous essay, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” which was written over thirty years ago (and a mere twenty after Althusser), privilege consists of gifts and conditions almost secretly given and usually unconsciously accepted. Such advantages are structural and in general do not require an overt, conscious racism from its beneficiaries to nonetheless be taken. Ideology here can be said to refer to the network of tacit (nameless) assumptions participants make—often mindlessly—to both reinforce and continue a process of hidden advantage. McIntosh’s list of invisible privileges include:

  • I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  • I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  • I can arrange to protect my children most of the time from people who might not like them.
  • I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider.
  • I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will be facing a person of my race.”

Very similarly if a bit broadly, a second illustrative example that may shed light on Lorde’s idea of the “nameless” is the ideology of capitalism. Ideology is notable not only for its insidious norming of certain values (e.g., media reinforcing ideas of white beauty) but also for its subtle hiding or obscuring of facts that contradict these values. Think of the shiny and powerful devices in your pockets. We all want, in fact we think we all need, these devices in order to participate in contemporary society. On the one hand we may “know” that these devices are built through modern slavery and child exploitation,[2but these facts are obscured to us, are hidden from us, by an ideology that tells us to ignore such information in the face of our desires. If such an ideology—if this apparatus of forces and assumptions—didn’t exist, it very well might be unconscionable for us to be so exploitative, but ideology makes such evils overlookable, and our tacit avoidance becomes an everyday, sinisterly banal, evil.



What does this have to do with experimental literature? Since ideology acts as the veil over our eyes, Audre Lorde, when requiring her poetry to “name the nameless,” is pointing to the revelatory function of the literary arts to pierce through that veil, to show ourselves our hidden assumptions.

What experimental literature has the potential to do then is to name and subvert or destroy the many literary, psychological, and social ideologies that are hidden from us. Perhaps the most obvious way literature does this is by its history of churning through aesthetic ideologies. In fact, one history of contemporary poetry can be read as a dialectical progression between competing aesthetic ideologies (e.g., meter versus free verse, confessional versus image versus objectivist). However, there are other significant ways that literature can be revelatory about ideology. To make this clearer, it’s useful to read the rest of the quote from which the Audre Lorde phrase is taken:

For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought…*

A self-identified “Black Lesbian Feminist Warrior Poet Mother,” Lorde is defining the revelatory act of poetry for women because poetry for her is a matter of naming the invisible structures that a dominant group constructs or reinforces which oppress. (Also, note that the act of writing is imbricated in a revolutionary process that leads to action.) So here is another way to think about the aspirations of experimental writing: one of its key functions is to reveal invisible habits and structures of aesthetic, psychological, and social domination.

(Arguably, this is what all art does—and what separates it from entertainment. Art expands our concept of the known, names the nameless, reveals hidden structures, and articulates the unsayable. This also why at first sight significant art often seems “difficult” or “ugly.”)

One ambition then of this attempt to re-define experimental literature is to rehabilitate and expand its definition to include those whose efforts have been historically erased—as well as a continuing examination of those forces of erasure. In an essay that deserves reading in full, titled “New Ideas about Black Experimental Poetry,”[3] poet and professor Elizabeth Alexander writes:

We name the experimental, as we name any quality, moment, school, or movement in literature, in large part from the vantage point of today. So what appears to be doctrinaire, even hegemonic, from here and now, might well have had to fight to make its space in its time. We now take for granted Langston Hughes’s forging poetic form from jazz and the blues. There have been so many practitioners in the jazz/blues poem mode, from the sublime to the ridiculous, that its status as a form is now a given. But when a young Hughes was making those first poems in the 1920s, the forms, the vessels that brought those musics into the muscle and bone of poems, simply did not exist. Hughes was a radical innovator who made poems that managed to sound natural, inevitable, and almost artless, in their very artfulness.

In addition to Langston Hughes, Alexander goes on to cite African-American groundbreakers Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Hayden, and Jean Toomer as writers whose revolutionary contributions have been similarly discounted or distorted.

In addition, Alexander writes “The names Will Alexander, Harryette Mullen, Erica Hunt, Nathaniel Mackey, Ed Roberson, Claudia Rankine, and Tracie Morris are often cited as experimental, and with obvious cause. But to discuss these writers without including a peer discussion of African-American writers who are not placed under that rubric or without placing them in a historical lineage of African-American writers which redefines the experimental is to lose a richer sense of what they are doing.” Alexander is bringing our attention to another tacit assumption of what is innovative or considered “avant-garde.” From the perspective of valorizing that which exposes the invisible rules of hegemony, the definition of the experimental should be expanded so as to note the historical erasure of groundbreaking writers and to describe and thus reclaim their writings as revelatory projects, but also, from the similar but opposite perspective of fighting the stultifying label and placement in an avant-garde prison/pedestal, we should simultaneously strive continually to be unsettled by and to interrogate the forces that define the experimental canon. Indeed Alexander writes, “Anthology after anthology makes it clear that, as with so many other accounts and schools of American arts, black styles, mode, content, and approaches have been poached but not credited, but that in their real theorization, the white avant-garde was not thinking about black writing in a significant way. Thus it is clear to me that, to put it plainly but I think usefully, a theory of black experimental poetry is going to look different than a theory of white experimental poetry.”



After a poetry season riddled with notable acts of variously ingenious racism, a great deal of soul searching and public and private discussions occurred around the issue of prejudice in contemporary poetry. One such panel took place at the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church where several poets, including Simone White, Christopher Stackhouse, Cheryl Clarke, Ariel Goldberg, and Mahogany L. Browne, took part. Writing about this event on the website Hyperallergic, Alexis Clements writes:

Stackhouse …offered a number of insights and provocations on aesthetics, speaking about his own ambivalence around becoming a “well-trained poet,” and about “acculturation and training your vocabulary.” In response to his comments, I couldn’t help thinking about areas of the arts that attach terms like “avant-garde” or “experimental” to themselves — about how so many young writers aspire to be “avant-garde” by trying to mirror the behaviors and artistic mannerisms of past, often European, artists. … So what “avant-garde” or “experimental” means to me, when I hear it today, specifically within institutional settings (i.e., from people who have some measure of access to institutional arts in the US), is precisely the opposite of the words’ meanings…[4]

I think this is a very wise and grounded warning. Here we are, in the walls of just such an institution, discussing what the “experimental” means. Fight to name the nameless and make visible that which is hidden. If we have such a calling—that’s the job. But let us encourage each other also to not discount the blinding power of ideology. Let us be skeptical of what we think we can see.



And lastly—narrowing the scope significantly and so somewhat apart from the previous—I wanted to talk specifically about fiction, that particular range among the integral with which we’re defining experimental literature.

A traditional idea of narrative consists of two elemental parts: character and plot. From these basic ideas flow the problems and solutions of most novels and short stories: e.g., Who is my hero? What occupation do they have? What is the conflict? How do I create a rising sense of action? What is the character’s emotional voyage? What is their epiphany?… However, not conceptualizing its form using these two elements is what has in large part been the defining feature of experimental fiction. Instead, what experimental novelists—either intuitively in some cases or with radical premeditation in others—have done is to choose different foundational concepts to create narrative.

Experimental fiction I think is fighting a much more deeply entrenched and perhaps more organically hardwired orthodoxy than poetry. This may be because there is an (arguably illusory) locus of perception through which we have a, by definition, prejudicial and subjective lens to experience the world, that is: our sense of self. Another way to say this: it is nearly impossible to have a narrative without a sense of “personhood.” However, I would argue, this actually describes a far wider possibility than fiction’s traditional dependence on the concept of “character.” (Another way to say this is to suggest the narrative arts need to recognize an understanding of consciousness as more of an emergent and interdependent phenomenon than we’re used to admitting.)

As well, like Williams and his desire to “break words” there have been, among the historical avant-garde, attempts to valorize or even ratify an abandonment of another traditional element of narrative, that is: plot. Writing in 1954, Robert Creeley writes:

The story has no time finally. Its shape, if form can so be thought of, is a sphere, an egg of obdurate kind. The only possible reason for its existence is that it has, in itself, the fact of reality and the pressure. There, in short, is its form – no matter how random and broken that will seem. The old assumptions of beginning and end – those very neat assertions – have fallen away completely in a place where the only actuality is life, the only end (never realized) death, and the only value, what love can manage.*

What Creeley is trying to defy here is a traditional sense of plot. He says the story has no time, and its old purpose—to deliver moral lessons or the consolations of a redemption fantasy—has been challenged and is being replaced by something else, no matter how random and broken, that has “the fact of reality and the pressure.”

Prose narrative—as writers as diverse as H.T. Tsiang, Nathalie Sarraute, Clarice Lispector, David Markson, Gilbert Sorrentino, Harry Mathews, David Antin, Ishmael Reed, Steve Katz, Kathy Acker, Gail Scott, Diane Williams, Lydia Davis, Lynne Tillman, Jean Eschenoz, Nathaniel Mackey, Enrique Vila-Matas, César Aira, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Gary Lutz, Carole Maso, Percival Everett, Tan Lin, Trey Ellis, Evan Dara, Pamela Lu, Renee Gladman, Miranda Mellis, and Evelyn Hampton, to name only a few—can depart gorgeously and ferociously from traditional ideas of “character” and “plot.” However, even in its wildest iterations, fiction maintains some sense of personhood—even if at its outermost limits this is the ghostly authorial presence in the prose’s construction—and event—likewise even if this is what Edward Dahlberg taught Charles Olson when he said that a perception “MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION.”

My argument then is that “plot” and “character” as traditionally viewed hide unwanted formal constraints so that an understanding of experimental fiction requires an abandoning of these ideas as the foundational building elements of narrative. Instead we replace them with: a) a sense of personhood and b) events or perceptions in series. This might seem just a semantic shift, a different naming for the same concepts of character and plot, but I think these actually expand the possibility, freeing fiction from hidden and historical obligations of the genre. It’s as simple and difficult as this: If a writer makes different assumptions about the basic elements of her genre, she will immediately confront different problems, recast the field of composition, and—if successful at confronting this new field and these new problems—create revelatory work and expand our notion of what can be named.

Adapted from a talk given at Naropa University on October 4th, 2016.