Tuesday, August 04, 2009

some history

Paula Green started the idea of poetry on the pavement in 2005, along
with some students, by painting poetry onto the pavement. Being paint
this was of course removed soon after, although for some reason Paula
Greens own poem has never been removed. There seems to be no other
explanation for this other than that the people told to remove the
poems either knew who organised the event and saved Paulas poem , or
just liked it and decided to leave it there. Michelle Leggot carried
on the idea in early 2006, using chalk instead of paint. As a student
of english 347 I was part of this group chalking poems around Albert
park and around the art gallery. The chalk, much more than the paint,
was a true expression of Transient art for me. The idea of creating
something that is not expected to last for much longer than the moment
of activity was inspiring. Unlike bombings and taggings or paint on
the street we are not making stains on the city environment, rather we
are creating a moment of poetry which you can pay attention to or walk
right over.

The second event was organised by myself , which involved mostly
students and poets from Poetry Live. The idea was to raise poetic
awareness at Uni , on university ground. This was conveniently done
on market day and on the same day as a STRATA reading. Inspite of the
rain we managed to fill up most dry surface of ground at uni.

The third event was the one on Poetry day, where Renee offered to
organise it with me. We took guerilla poetry to the streets, starting
off in Aotea Square and moved on to Albert Park. The group of
guerilla poets that showed up was now three times the size from when
it started. We decked out the square with poetry before the
protesters made it there and did some recitals as they were warming up
before moving on as they got louder.

intend for this
to be a regular event to protest the drone of slogans and
advertisement and bring poetry to people walking the streets ..rather
than this notion of the precious , untouchable and exclusive poem
hidden away in books.

much transience

Monday, July 13, 2009


ed dorn - the poet lets his tongue hang out


i would enquire of you

who are the barbarians

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Vacana of Between
Eye of Horus, Tounge of Siva,
Feet of Asir(Isis), Hands of Vishnu
mind of Thoth, heart of Hanuman
(ode the the Virasaiva, Kannada and Sanskrit poets )

You spirit of between

the unmediated vision,'
the unconditioned act, the unpredictable experience

The Virasaiva saints -- unlike exponents of other kinds
of Hinduism, and like other bhakti movements in India --
do not believe that religion is something one is born into.
An orthodox Hindu believes a Hindu is born, not made. With
such a belief, there is no place for convention in Hinduism;
a man born to his caste or faith cannot choose and change,
nor can others change him. But if he believes in acquiring
merit only by living and believing certain things, then
there is room for choosing and changing his beliefs....

Why did the vacanakaras [Virasaiva poets] (and certain other
bhakti traditions in India and elsewhere) reject, at least
in their more intense moods, the 'great' [that is, the Pan-
Indian, Vedic] and the 'little' [the regional, folk religious]
traditions? I think it is because the 'great' and 'little'
traditions, as we have described them, together constitute
'establishment' in the several senses of the word. They *are*
the establishment, the stable, the secure, ... in the social
sense. In another sense, such traditions symbolize man's
attempt to establish or stabilize the universe for himself.
Such traditions wish to render the universe manipulable,
predictable, safe. Every prescribed ritual or magical act
has given results....

..The 'great' and the 'little' traditions organize and
catalogue the universe, and make available the price-list.

But the vacanakaras have a horror of such bargains, such
manipulations, the arrogance of such predictions. The Lord's
world is unpredictable, and all predictions are false,
ignorant, and worse.

Thus, classical belief systems, social customs and super-
stitions..., image worship..., the caste system..., the
Vedic ritual of *yajna*..., as well as local sacrifices
of lambs and goats... -- all of them are fiercely
questioned and ridiculed.

Vacanas [the poems themselves] often go further and reject
the idea of doing good so that one may go to heaven.
Righteousness, virtue, being correct, doing the right things,
carry no guarantee to god....

et we must not forget that this fierce rebellion
against petrification, was a rebellion only against
contemporary Hindu practice; the rebellion was a
call to return to experience. Like European
Protestants, the Virasaivas returned to what they
felt was the original inspiration of the ancient
traditions, no different from true and present

Defiance is not discontinuity. Alienation from the
immediate environment can mean continuity with an
older ideal. Protest can take place in the very
name of one's opponents' ideals.

There are many varieties of bhakti; here we refer
only to the kind exemplified by the vacanas. In
the Northern traditions, Kabir's poems would be a
parallel example. The 'great' and 'little'
traditions flow one into the other, as in an
osmosis. They together constitute the 'public
religion' of Hinduism, its 'establishment' or
'structure'.... Bhakti as anti-structure begins
by denying and defying such an establishment, but
in course of time, the heretics are canonized;
temples are erected to them, Sanskrit hagiographies
are composed about them. Not only local legend
and ritual, but an elaborate theology assimilating
various 'great tradition' elements may grow around
them. They become, in retrospect, founders of a
new caste, and are defied in turn by new egalitarian
movements.... Saivism in general, and Virasaivism
even more so, has been rightly described as 'a revolt
from within, while Buddhism and Jainism were revolts
from the outside'.... Some Virasaivas, however,
disclaim all connections with Hinduism.

_Speaking of Siva_, from the intro. by A.K.Ramanujan,
Penguin Books, 1985; pp. 27-36.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Inverted panopticon

Back in the late 18th century, Jeremy Bentham was trying to devise a prison that would ensure the maximum degree of order among its inmates. He suggested that the most order could be had if the inmates were under constant surveillance. That not being especially practical, second best would be when the inmates thought they were under surveillance at all times or at least they might be. So, he proposed an architectural solution he called the Panopticon. It was essentially a doughnut where the inmates were all in backlit cells with big windows facing the center. In the center was an observation tower where the guard could see into the cells but the inmate couldn't tell whether he was being observed at a given time.

Focault describes the Panopticon this way:

“The crowd... a collective effect, is abolished and replaced by a collection of separated individualities. From the point of view of the guardian, it is replaced by a multiplicity that can be numbered and supervised; from the point of view of the inmates, by a sequestered and observed solitude.”


'Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers. To achieve this, it is at once too much and too little that the prisoner should be constantly observed by an inspector: too little, for what matters is that he knows himself to be observed; too much, because he has no need in fact of being so. In view of this, Bentham laid down the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable. Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so.

The Stanford Prison experiments (by Zimbardo) is a good example of a psychological expriment that shows us what panopticon does to the human mind. There was made a movie out of this , called the experiment or something like that, if anyone is interrested in an easily digestable and well made filmatisation of this. The bound to be opposition of master and slave. This experiment and movie is a disturbing glance into the human psyche - how normal people are affected by enclosed and specific situations - how the captor becomes brutal and bizarre and the captive becomes reclusive, introverted and with a great feeling of powerlessness. When we look at alot of society and they way it is heading, towards this ban everything , report everything, fear everything and the big eye in the sky, ivory tower, big brother who could be watching you from a sattelite spy cam or from the house across the road. But this is not because of some inherant evil, or some evil brought on by living in great groups.. We did it .. to ourselves .. not them .. not they .. but we .. you .. I .. i .. and only we can change it.
Mini Metro Matter

Poetry on the pavement 2006
(associated with 'Mini Metro' and the edits into 'Mini Metro Matter'

Jorge Rodriguez de Gerada, a New York based artist, could be found on a Sunday morning one day, perched on top of a high ladder, ripping the paper of a cigarette billboard. A child’s face painted in rust with a fluorescent green frame around its face: as if years of cigarette, beer and car ads had been scraped away to reveal the rusted backing of the billboard.

-Charcoal portrait by Jorge Garcia de Gerada, New York based artist and social commentator.

An adbust group in Norway recently did a culture jam that was surprisingly effective. All over Oslo the put up massive poster backsides over all of the ads that are on each side of the bus shelters. The intention was to cover up the advertisement and for people waiting for the bus to write on them. This was a simple idea yet a massive effort, but most of the cards got filled up, almost all of which was supportive to the adbust.

Transient art in the form of social commentary, as far as I am aware, has been an effective tool to reach the masses since the early days of society. Socrates used to fear the poets and artists for their loose use of philosophy and disregard of censorship which did not benefit the State. It is perhaps the excessive effort from the ad companies, to stifle and stop the adbusters, show that this fear of the social critic is still present and strong in our society today.

Over the years multi media and the constant competition from the advertisement companies has made it hard for the adbusters to get their message across to a desensitised population. The poor rustic activist is now battling against the ruthless corporate companies that want to sell their product at any cost. Entering the race man on man is like entering a duel with a rusty spork; might be noble but a sure suicide. Sometimes etching a message on the ground with the spork, or chalk, is far better than entering the high horse race.

-Tui ad campaign, sending the message that social issues and culture jamming criticism is pointless, might as well leave it alone and have a beer. -

Although these are examples of adbusts, specifically targeting advertisement and the companies behind them I see many similarities to the intentions, spirit and motivation behind the idea of poetry on the pavement and the pioneer adbusters. The adbusters fall under a broader category of activists: the culture jammers. Although the use of culture jammers might have come from the controversial British TV series 'The prisoner', in the episode 'it's your funeral' in 1967 who tried to disrupt the Orwellian dystopia around them, culture jamming is thought to come from the term radio jamming. This is when public frequencies are pirated and subverted for independent communication, or to disrupt dominant frequencies. So how is 'Poetry on the pavement' culture jamming? Adbusters use the established media of advertisement, jams the message and sends a personal message through it. More like radio jamming, written words on the pavement jams the public pathways. If we look at the ground as a public medium used mainly for government signing(roadmarks etc) or advertisement from various organisations and companies it might become more clear how chalking a poem on the ground becomes a culture jamming activity.

Like the culture jammers we are raising a piece of chalk and a written voice against the hollow drone of media slogans, catchy phrases from coke or burger king ringing like a jingle in the back of your head and the pointless piss markings of someone’s name in sloppy tag. Like a colourful bump in their road we were there to pull passers by out of their clouds, jamming the culture of empty drones to give any and all the opportunity and moment to stop and think, reflect or furrow that critical brow. Like adbusters, whose work constantly gets covered over by the advertisement companies, our chalked poems are transient art.

This is an element that separates what we are doing from the stain on society that tagging and bombing is perceived as. We may be unraveling thought provoking riddles right in the face of people that will get offended, but come rain those people will have no objects to raise their scowling fists against. .

Unlike bombings (the artistic aspects of graffiti in my mind) we do not have to hide away in alleys, hidden parking lots or walls along the railway tracks. Although there is great value in this expression in the shadows, its voice only carries to those that seek it out.

Another important aspect to further this perceptual separation is that we kept all the writing off the wall. Many people are used to ignoring and possibly blocking out the spray painted images on the walls. Moved to the pavement, where eyes are often retracted in a busy society, we are able to catch their minds attention again. The effect is slightly different on a uni student, who is used to seeing messages on the pavement around university. But contrary to advertisement slogans or tags, these are actual messages from societies around uni which makes it natural for many students to pay attention to what is written on the ground.

Seeing the lack of active culture jamming in Auckland and at Auckland university, the realisation that this could be done in such a direct, simple and effective way through poetry has been very motivating. Raising the voice of poetry and jamming it in like a wedge in the issues of society seems a worthwhile effort. And people with a voice seemed to enjoy it too.

Crouched down in a corner near the art gallery, next to a metallic sculpture, softly changing with the wind, I carefully chalked out the title of Dylan Thomas’s poem ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’.

The irony did not seem apparent at the time, but as the stanzas unravelled on the pavement its message shouted louder in my subconscious.

Each line and each stanza slowly became bigger until large flowing red letters where Raging, raging against the dying of that light.

Many people outside the gallery stopped to watch the unraveling. Some just passing by, yet others there to see art (from the gallery) , but most not shy to approach and ask questions. There were not only questions of author and motivation, but some delving into the meaning of the poem and its poetic devices.

While tourists and fellow students took pictures, the raging of a poetic voice stayed strong and settled in a lasting memory.