”A Heap of Language: Robert Smithson and Poetry”

Date: Thursday, 18 November 1999
Location: The Whitney Museum, New York

On November 18, 1999, Cabinet and the Whitney Museum of American Art at Philip Morris presented “A Heap of Language: Robert Smithson and Poetry.”

Best known for his “earthwork” Spiral Jetty, the late Robert Smithson was also a prolific writer. Drawing freely on history, science, philosophy, fiction and poetry, his writings broke down the distinction between the poetic and the analytical. Smithson approached language as he would any other material and this established a new kind of poetics that continues to exert influence on contemporary poetry.

The event featured readings by poets Tan Lin, Pamela Lu, and Lytle Shaw, all of whose work is in an explicit or implicit dialogue with Smithson’s sculpture and writing. In addition, Gary Shapiro, Richard Sieburth, and Eugenie Tsai gave presentations that provided a literary and philosophical context for Smithson’s project and discussed the relation between his writings and his work.

This event was organized by Brian Conley and Sina Najafi and offered in conjunction with the Whitney’s “The American Century: Art & Culture 1900–2000.”

About the Participants
Tan Lin is a poet and critic living in New York. His books of poetry include Lotion Bullwhip Giraffe and BOX (both from Sun and Moon Press) and individual poems have appeared in many journals, including New American Writing and Conjunctions. He holds a Ph.D. in English Literature from Columbia University and has taught for three years in the English Department at the University of Virginia. He will be visiting poet-in-residence at the California School of Arts in the fall of 1999.

Pamela Lu was born and raised in a provincial region of Southern California and studied mathematics at the University of California, Berkeley. Since 1995, she has worked as a technical writer in Silicon Valley and co-edited Idiom, an online journal and chapbook press. In addition to a book of fanciful non-fiction, Pamela: A Novel (Atelos Press, 1999), she has had prose and poetry published in a number of journals, including Chain, Chicago Review, Clamour, Explosive Magazine, Interlope, Mirage, and Poetics Journal. She lives in San Francisco.

Gary Shapiro has written extensively on the philosophy of art and on European philosophy of the last two centuries. His books include Nietzschean Narratives (1989), Alcyone: Nietzsche on Gifts, Noise, and Women (1991), and Earthwards: Robert Smithson and Art after Babel (1995). He is currently Tucker-Boatwright Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Richmond.

Lytle Shaw was born in Ithaca, New York. After studying architecture and literature at Cornell, he wrote a dissertation on Frank O’Hara at Berkeley. His poetry and essays have appeared recently in Qui Parle, Poetics Journal, Explosive, and The Chicago Review. Author of two chapbooks and several pamphlets, his Cable Factory 20 was recently published by Atelos Press. He now lives in New York City where, with Emilie Clark, he co-edits Shark, a journal of poetics and art writing.

Richard Sieburth is professor of French and comparative literature at New York University. He has published widely on Ezra Pound, including the books Instigations: Ezra Pound and Remy de Gourmont (Harvard, l978) and an edition of Pound’s Walking Tour in Southern France (New Directions, l992). In addition to various scholarly publications in the area of modern French, German, and American literature, he has published a volume of poems Weights and Measures (Plombières-les-Dijon, l998), and has translated Friedrich Hoelderlin’s Hymns and Fragments (Princeton University Press, l984), Walter Benjamin’s Moscow Diary (Harvard University Press, l986), Michel Leiris’s Nights as Days (Eridanos, l988), Michael Palmer’s Sun (Plombières-les-Dijon, l988) and Gerard de Nerval’s Selected Writings (Penguin Classics, l999).