cover image Found Poems

Found Poems

Bern Porter. Nightboat (UPNE, dist.), $24.95 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-0-9822645-9-1

After working on the Manhattan Project separating uranium, Porter (1911-2004) pursued literary projects tirelessly, and moved about the globe. While his output includes a great deal of prose, his literary reputation rests on his “Founds”: images and text scavenged, altered, and re-contextualized. In this compilation (reprinted from the 1972 Something Else Press edition), one to five lines from ads, in their original fonts, stripped of their context, sometimes repeated in precise formation, and framed in whitespace, rub up against schematic diagrams, similarly presented without reference to the products whose innards they describe. The result falls somewhere between Duchampian, Concrete, Rauschenbergian, and Conceptualist appropriation chronologically, but seems here to be more connected to Porter’s own idiosyncratic brand of McLuhan-esque theorizing, which lies behind this work like a transparent eyeball, and to Aram Saroyan’s playful stonerisms, which feel like its direct descendant. McLuhan was in fact Porter’s exact contemporary, and the two shared a common interest in technology and its role in the rapid evolution of culture. The problem here is the intrusiveness of ’Porter’s vision: rather than getting out of the way of the selection and framing of materials, one can feel the poet’s process, and his delight in it, everywhere: the suggestively 70s font of “25mpg is lousy” en face with “Yes! please rush…” in 60s-esque heavy serifs never quite become the free-floating signifiers Porter seems to want us to see. What emerges instead are period artifacts that reveal a lot about the era and its givens, along with the vital energy of discovery. There is no question that no one was doing quite what Porter was doing when he was doing it, and that lots of people are doing versions of it now. (Sept. 1)