Poetic Nonaction
by Anne Boyer

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On December 14 and December 15, 2006, I began to feel there was too much of everything: bodies, blogs, waste, war, wealth, writers, images, inequalities, tumors, toxins, technologies, carbon emissions, culture, but most of all, there were too many poems.

On December 16, 2006, I began to imagine a way that poems, of which there are clearly too many, might once again become scarce, and through this scarcity, become ridiculously valuable.

At first, the concept was to execute difficult ways to publish poems, at the rate of one poem per year, until my death at approximately 83, giving me fifty published poems across my life span. The difficult publication would therefore have to be difficult, but not impossible.

A day or so later, I began to think of difficult ways to publish poetry which went well beyond the parameters of the possible: I had ventured into the realm of the ILL ADVISED, THE DANGEROUS, THE MUCH TOO COMPLICATED, and THE FAIRLY AWFUL TO THINK ABOUT. The more difficult the difficult ways became, the more they seemed to be the poem of the NOW: and this realization led me to what I am asking of you, or at last those of you who are post-avant poets: I am asking not for poetic action, but for poetic in-action—not more, and not more’s shabby cousin “less,” but indeed, for nothing at all.

As I am community minded, I wish to do something with these very difficult techniques, and I needed to share them with other poets so that you, too, might have a strategy against the age of excess, or better, a strategy to tell excess and its empire to fuck off.

My first thought was to set up a difficult-poem-publication workshop with work stations providing the essential materials for each method. For example, I would supply a cage of hamsters, miniature splints and foot binding materials in a cubicle. It was pointed out to me that not only would this workshop have fairly expensive overhead, but that people would be unlikely to travel to Des Moines, Iowa, where I now live, to work on difficult publication of their poems.

I then decided to make dioramas of difficult poem publication techniques, but even though we live an age of excess, I did not have an excess of shoe boxes. Thankfully, Lara invited me to take a seat on this panel, so I am able to share these ideas in person with the poets who sit here today.

Breed a race of small rodents whose feet are shaped like letters or use rodent-foot-binding to fashion letter shapes. Ink rodent feet with saffron ink grown/harvested by hand. Train rodents to walk in shapes of poems on paper made of sloughed skin cells of celebrities.

rodents, splints, rags, (and/or radioactive material to cause genetic mutations), saffron crocus, land on which to grow saffron crocus, rodent training manual, loofahs of celebrities, papermaking screens


Fashion individual bits of metal type into the tips of bullets. Sit with a variety of different rifles and the type-laced bullets on the roof of a tall building. Have human target-holders emerge in the windows of an apartment building across the street. Most will be holding slates on which poems will be bullet-printed. Every fiftieth target holder will be holding not a slate, but a sheet of explosive metal. You must hit the right target at the right time, imprinting your poems.

guns, bullets, metal type, bullet/type merging materials, people, slates, tall apartment buildings, defense attorney


Collect mason jars at garage sales and thrift stores. Take in five stray black cats. Befriend a large group of lower elementary students. In June, invite children over and hand them mason jars. As night falls, send children throughout the city to collect fireflies. Serve cookies as a reward. Use contents of fireflies to create phosphorescent tattoo ink. Sedate black cats. Shave patches on the sides of cats. Tattoo poems onto cats. When cats wake, send cats into the city. That night, in the darkness, watch as poems glow.

mason jars, razors, cats, cookies, needles, phosphorescent fixative, sedative

4. Hang out at the Pioneer Hybrid campus. Cause insecure but very bright genetic engineer to fall in love with you. Also befriend genetic engineer’s coworker for intelligence purposes (the spy).

Toy with genetic engineer 1, withholding and then offering affection in random and terrifying patterns, at least until he/she is willing to do anything to win you. Suggest, indirectly, that you would commit myself fully to someone who would genetically alter seed corn so that the corn kernel gradations/shading spelled out words you use in your poems. Over regular beers & an expensive gaming system, ask spy for the lowdown. Listen to the spy’s reports on the progress of genetic engineer as he/she labors secretly in the lab, hoping to surprise you with a poem grown under husks in a field of seed corn.

Finally, one mid-summer a few years down the road, drive with genetic engineer to a test field. Strip husks of corn to find your poem. Pretend to be surprised. Take a photo. Put photo on Flickr. Tell genetic engineer it won’t work out.


gym membership, lip gloss, expensive gaming system, beer, camera, Flickr account

Design large floating inflatable polymer trays in the shapes of letters/words. Have these manufactured. Take a cargo ship to sea. Inflate and drop trays into the ocean. At the same time, convince unhappy oil company workers to empty the holds of their tankers into the trays. From the air, the poem would look black and slick like an oil spill. Maybe try to set it on fire.


inflatable polymer tray manufacturing capability, cargo ship, crew, sea, oil company workers, matches(?)

Cause squirrels to swallow plastic word shapes. Tag squirrels (so you don’t forget). Wait for squirrels to die. Arrange corpses in the order of a poem. Wait for carrion/decomposition. Take photo of plastic word shapes.


squirrels, pleasant yard with trees, plastic word shapes, squirrel-attracting flavor, tags, carrion, camera


Join terrorist cell. Encourage terrorist cell to blow up dams/create dams on major waterways. Control the flows of creeks, streams, and rivers so that they sculpt the United States into your poem.


mock ideological fervor, dynamite, concrete, map

(alternate strategy: forgo terrorists, enlisting beavers to do the same)


Now it is not as simple as one might think to have suitable artistic thoughts for the “difficult ways to publish poetry” project. For example, I have been advised not to speak of my ideas about infecting the pores on your declared enemies’ bodies so that the blemishes might spell out the words of poems. Apparently, this idea had at least two problems: 1. the feelings of your enemies might be hurt, and 2. people do not like to hear or think about infected pores.

As well, I have written, and then blocked out with thick black permanent marker, many difficult ways to publish that involve overt sexual content, like two or more attractive amateurs on film groaning out words / finishing with a punctuation mark of fluids. Indeed, I have decided not to make public any difficult ways to publish poetry that involve human or animal fluids, including but not limited to ejaculate, urine, saliva, gushings, and leakages. I have not included any ideas about using the heat-fluids of fertile racoons. I have not included my many ideas about Stallions. This is due not only to a general squeamishness about bodily fluids, but as I am disheartened by our culture’s excess of poetry, trash, information, etc., I am also experiencing increasing dismay at the culture’s excess of sex.

Any artistic project, including a project of artistic thoughts, involves a mediation between the vulgas and vulnus, the crowd and the wound. Thus, I continue to hold back from you these most painful and potentially unpopular of my ideas. Luckily, you yourself can quite easily make as many difficult ways to publish poetry as you wish, or better yet, develop your own forms of poetic-non-action.

The poet Stan Apps rewrote the Vienna Action’s Group Eight Poet Proclamation of the Poetic Act to make an eight point proclamation of the poetic non-act. I find eight points excessive, so I have rewritten Stan’s rewrite into a three point proclamation, which I will leave you with here today:

  1. The poetic non-act refuses to be poetry. It is not frozen like a godforsaken mime begging for attention. The poet’s work is to create as many obstacles, constraints, and impossibilities as needed to make certain a poem will never occur.
  2. The poetic non-act is the pose in its most blatant and irretrievable form, free of every vanity, and among the most admirable masters of the poetic non-act we count in the first rank the nameless and countless innovators of every generation who have refused to articulate the poem.
  3. The poetic non-act, which is forever incomplete, fills our memories with a thick blur worth not remembering, and it is, as it does not exist, one of the few riches of our time which we need not fear will be snatched away.

Click here to discuss this essay at ACTION,YES FORUMS




Other essays on EXCESS in ActionYes #5:
Lara Glenum
Johannes Göransson
K. Silem Mohammad
Jed Rasula