TOM BECKETT Engages
WORLD0 by John Bloomberg-Rissman
(Leafe Press & Bamboo Books, Nottingham, U.K. & Culver City, CA, 2007)
NO SOUNDS OF MY OWN MAKING by John Bloomberg-Rissman
(Leafe Press, Nottingham, U.K., 2007)
Giving It Up To JB-R: An Engagement
Ecstasies (whether religious, political, artistic or sexual) often have the common denominator of self-surrender. Self-surrender, William James famously pointed out in The Varieties of Religious Experience, is a requirement of any conversion experience: the so-called giving up of oneself to a higher power.
Ideas of self-surrender are at the heart of my thinking about my relationship to John Bloomberg-Rissman’s poetry-writing, and at the heart of what I have come to believe about his method.
JB-R is the proprietor of the blog Zeitgeist Spam , a website where he mainly publishes work of his own which is derived from the work of others. Yes, Mr. Bloomberg-Rissman is an appropriation-artist, a writer who harvests notes from others to turn into music of his own.
He’s borrowed from my own work on occasion, perhaps most notably in the sequence which opens World0. All of the zombie references in that piece have in some way been culled from my “Little Book of Zombie Poems.” Which JB-R freely acknowledges. He cites that from which he has taken—both at his website (where much of the work first appeared)—and in the books.
I have to confess that when I first noticed JB-R was making use of my work I had qualms. Here’s the thing though: there was no disrespect in what he was producing. The poems he was writing were as good or better than what he was clipping from. That recognition gave me pause. It shook me a little that he’s so good at what he does.
John Bloomberg-Rissman is a remarkable poet who makes work anew from the work of others. Drawing from already existing writing to make one’s own poetry must function as both a constraint and as a liberating experience for him. In surrendering an idea of the self as author who creates ex nihilo, JB-R is freed up to participate in the potential communality of all thought and culture. And I, as one whose work has been dipped into, can learn a lot from him. For all my labors in the vineyard of poetry, it is not as if any of the words I’ve employed have ever belonged to me in the first place.
Tom Beckett is the author of This Poem/What Speaks?/A Day (Otoliths), Unprotected Texts (Meritage Press), and the curator of the E-X-C-H-A-N-G-E-V-A-L-U-E-S interview series (Otoliths). He is currently working on a year long conversation-in-writing with Geof Huth.