Imagine me a pen to write this down? Impossible!
What the avant-garde is not: a Supermarket for all of poetry to fill its baskets of word product. 15 poets sold 15 poems in as many days = superheroes. It’s not a dry cleaners, or a Bookies. The avant-garde is not very poetry trending right now on Twitter. If it’s avant-garde, we may not know it yet.
I ask the avant-guard to name names - it’s says, Wait for the 2091 Census to see who is left off the list in the normal houses (servants, whores, bin men) the visitors who birthed poems out of wedlock. Never sell your bastards.
Kenneth Koch admired the French surrealists and William Carlos Williams. So many men hiding weird women under Exquisite Corpses. I keep all those women in a precious cabinet along with Mallarmé. Koch made up a few extra poets to enjoy. If there are poets missing in your life, translate them. Remember the bravery of Cahun on Jersey photographing her resistance of dummies, pocketfilling protest into German soldiers - read her poems and risk your life, get arrested, be naked where naked hurts most. Be sentenced to death.
Why is the avant-garde so short? Probably because it ends so abruptly such as Mew, Wickham or Rimbaud, or the falling old ladies of starved, imprisoned Daniil Kharms - “Well, to Hell with him. Instead, let me tell about Anna Ignatievna. But it is not so easy to tell about Anna Ignatievna. Firstly, I know almost nothing about her, and secondly, I have just fallen off my chair.”
There’s no harm in deception, the avant-garde comes alive like in the film of Pinocchio. Oh those poems made of wood telling lies used by the power hungry to string you up for a show. No mention of a wooden boy.
Be kind. Be uncool. Don’t give a fuck what any magazine or institution thinks. Write without consideration or conformity- confuse your poetry neighbours who say, “carrots would never say that, or do that.” - Pedant! Carrots do whatever they like! Remember, your grammar is on the back of a tractor spelt like Mina Loy (that’s not her real name). Your career is over in a hairstyle. Be as intellectual as the self-checkout (which is also avant-garde because technically you can get away without paying) - take no receipts - reject all payments for the stupid books you locked your poems in. Punish every poem in a shrink-wrap stanza - lie them on the floor like a spoilt child: scream them, rise them to the sound of naked lights illuminating her final words 100 years ago, and still as missing:
“She was right to be bright. Edith was right. Scenery is a valley in moon-light.” Gertrude Stein.
Thank you to Caleb Parkin for asking me to think about this for his recent Poetry School Class, 'Letting Your Avant Garde Down',
“For you, what even is 'avant-garde'? “
“Does it exist anymore, or has it ever?”
“If there's anything that is avant-garde right now, what would you say it is?”
“What would you say your own 'avant-garde' is - how do you try to push beyond, become a 'pioneer', in your own writing and language? (Is this important - and if so, why?)”