Getting ready for Ashbery Home School. (This is by John Ashbery and it’s called “Late for School,” 1948.)

Getting ready for Ashbery Home School. (This is by John Ashbery and it’s called “Late for School,” 1948.)

On Surveillance Poetics



A Conversation with Andrew Durbin and Ben Fama, and an Erasure Poem by Dorothea Lasky  

Over the course of a few days, I spoke with poets and Wonder editors Andrew Durbin and Ben Fama about poetry, surveillance, and the Internet on a Google Drive document. Dorothea Lasky then “censored” any unwanted text from the conversation to create an alternate version of the interview in the form of an original poem.

Durbin, Fama, and Lasky are all contributors to the collection Privacy Policy: The Anthology of Surveillance Poetics, a compilation of new poetic works on surveillance. The Google Drive privacy policy states that the worldwide license of any work produced using their services—including this interview—belongs to Google.

The interview is presented here, with Lasky’s poetic erasure below it.

—Andrew Ridker


ANDREW RIDKER: I wanted to start out by thinking through a possible working definition of ‘surveillance poetics.’ Put most simply, it can encompass works of poetry written in response to America’s surveillance state, which opens up some interesting questions about the intersection of art and politics. But there are conceptual possibilities as well; given that the very idea of surveillance involves poetic techniques like repurposing language, observing/overhearing others, ‘keywords,’ etc., it seems that an institution like the NSA and a working poet have overlapping interests that could affect the artistic practice itself.

BEN FAMA: A form of surveillance-as-text I think of often is Rob Fitterman’s piece “Now We Are Friends.” It’s a sharp, funny look at how the subject being watched allows himself to be complicit in their own conscription. Rob follows what seems to be a random person—Ben Kessler, first reproducing his personal website copy and ‘about me’ as poetic language, then contacting him, explaining what he has been doing, and inviting him to engage in the content he has created. Rob will be discussing the project formally at the Kelly Writer’s House, and he asks Ben Kessler to attend. Ben responds, he won’t be in town, but he’d “love to see some details on the project it sounds fascinating. Feel free to ask any questions or whatnot.” This was in 2009. I think it would be different now.

ANDREW DURBIN: Surveillance has been a part of art practice since at least the mid-60s, but it’s become especially important since the internet introduced chat-rooms, webcams, and easily searchable records and social media. Similar to (and in response to) that documentary surveillance culture, the best work being made right now is oriented toward and relies on surveillance tactics.  The poetry I am most interested in is usually embedded in other practices, in other media, in other methodologies (prose, visual work, music) that—again: like the NSA itself—surveys from a point of obscurity. While it’s pretty ridiculous to compare an art form to a pernicious instrument of our security state, I think it’s important to note that poetry does operate under many of the same, all-inclusive assumptions about what can be a subject (anything, that is), trawling and “witnessing” history and lives for “material” that can be arranged into a record.

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(Source: elosilla, via jordiepea)

(Source:, via bottomofcolor)

Calling all HS poets!

Tell your HS students about this Studio 360 Show summer poetry contest. I’m the judge! 

More info HERE. 

@ecpettit  (at Western Massachusetts)

@ecpettit (at Western Massachusetts)

@ecpettit  (at Downtown Amherst)

@ecpettit (at Downtown Amherst)

Kinda weird. I’m writing in Emily Dickinson’s room. (at The Emily Dickinson Museum)

Kinda weird. I’m writing in Emily Dickinson’s room. (at The Emily Dickinson Museum)

Dorothea Lasky on Many Literary Mothers, A Violin Case, And A Woman on the Subway



I first started writing poems when I was 7 because I couldn’t sleep and needed something to do and poems were the things I could write to, to an unnamed friend in the nighttime (sometimes her name was Molly, sometimes her name was Blue, sometimes she was people I knew). 

But when I was 14 and 15, I gave up on poetry. I don’t think it was that I had lost the word. It was as if I simply closed the door to the voice that spoke to me. I had a severe depression and had lost the ability to care if I talked to my unnamed friend in the night anymore. I think she stopped caring about me, too.

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