Arts & Culture

Tan Lin shares poetry, film in Literary Arts event

Poet, filmmaker considers methods of poetry readings methods, presents work inspired by Getty Museum

Contributing Writer
Monday, December 3, 2018

Poet and filmmaker Tan Lin presented selections of his work in the McCormack Family Theater Tuesday night. Though the event was labeled as a poetry reading by the Literary Arts Department, much of the hour was spent watching films that Lin had made, which presented his poems as pieces to be both read and watched.

Theadora Walsh GS, a second-year graduate student in the Literary Arts Department introduced Lin. “Tan Lin wants to remind us all that reading is a durational exercise, that it is a physiological exercise,” she said. In a previous presentation at the University, Lin had emphasized the difference between reading a text in a book, where one sits with a hunched posture, and reading a text on a wall, “where your back is straight, and your chest is open,” Walsh said. Lin’s writing, she added,  “radically opens and interrogates perception (and) reading.”

During the presentation, Lin introduced the first of his films, in which one of his poems appeared one word at a time on a blue screen as a robotic voice narrated the piece. “I did this because I really dislike poetry readings,” Lin said. “I don’t like reading too much, and I thought, ‘oh, I’ll make something that will read for me.’” The film ran for 11 minutes, presenting the beginning of Lin’s 2010 poetry book “Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking: AIRPORT NOVEL MUSICAL POEM PAINTING FILM PHOTO HALLUCINATION LANDSCAPE.”

Despite Lin’s proclaimed dislike of poetry readings, he also presented some of his poetry in a more conventional and familiar form, reading some of his work without visual accompaniment. The inspiration for the book came from time he spent at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles doing a project on Andy Warhol’s shadow paintings, Lin said. While he was there, the Getty “had come up with a … controlled vocabulary system they could use to categorize works of art.” This inspired Lin to consider what a similar system would look like for poetry. “If poetry is a kind of genre,” he asked, “what would the controlled vocabulary system for poetry be, and how would it overlap with other genres like painting or photography?”

One part of his response to this question was another film that presented the bibliographic materials of a dissertation as poetry with an accompanying soundtrack. “Movies have soundtracks,” Lin said. “Why can’t bibliographies have soundtracks?” The resulting film was a fifteen-minute-long bibliography, presented in colorful and varying fonts that slowly appeared on the screen through a variety of slideshow-style transitions. It was accompanied by a rhythm-heavy medley soundtrack reminiscent at some moments of experimental rock, at other times of indie pop. The poem itself varied in character, with some slides consisting entirely of a long HTML link and others including more legible text, such as “Norwegian architectural review volume 36…”

As the presentation finished and Lin took questions, he played a video in the background which also presented a poem as a slideshow. He explained that the video was 24 hours long, adding that “this should really be a six-month piece.” After being asked how he generated content for a piece of that length, he explained his process of sampling other texts. Some of the text was bibliographic and “paratextual.”

“I’m really interested in the exterior elements of textual production and authorship,” he said. Some of the sampling was more spontaneous. “I put a vacuum cleaner manual in,” he added.

Miller White ’20 attended Lin’s presentation after reading “Seven Controlled Vocabularies” for a class. “I thought it was a fantastic display of what I would consider the most contemporary version of poetry … that approaches interdisciplinary subject and form,” White said. Lin’s poetry studies “the identification and the examination of the poetics of another discipline,” he added.

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