The First Avante Garde Wave
Well, it looks like its that time again to talk about
the roots of my work. To show you that I am part of an artistic
lineage that has now been in force for at least a hundred
years and that has come in three waves. I am speaking of course
about the avante garde movement that broke out in the late
19th century and which mirrored a cultural revolution in the
West not seen since the Renaissance. Harvest of Gems and Two
Short Stories is part of this powerful legacy and I am proud
to be a part of it. So lets get started. Lets
plunge into this modern mandala and look at it from as many
angles as possible.
The first wave of the Avante Garde emerged out of the 18th
century enlightenment and into the seedbed of radical romanticism.
It reflected a tension between these growing totalizing nation
states and these repeated declarations of the rights of the
individual. Poets were the first transformers of the avante
garde, but artists and musicians would also soon enter this
new fray. Poetry became the instrument of change and the change
would start in the poem itself. It was all about the very
questioning of language and of the poetic structure it was
embedded in. Aswell, as a related and all-connecting vision.
The avante garde decided to re-invent language and thus many
new pasts were fashioned in the process. Multiple mind polarities
were being PUSHED and at the core of every true modernism
was the seed of the latest post-modernism.
Revolutions in word, and mind, and the world began to break
out within the last two hundred years. The order of the poetic
line was challenged. Variety was stuffed into every poetic
line too because the UNKNOWN demanded new forms. Free verse
finally led to prose poems. Blake, Holderlin, Baudelaire,
Rimbeau, Poe, Lautreamont, and Emily Dickenson were artists
who were all caught between the old and the new. Dickensons
recognizable metric was accompanied by a revolutionary sense
of off-rhyme and by the use of hyphens/dashes to call her
own set rythms into question. Walt Whitman then turned to
free and open rhythms in the vernacular language. Something
that Wordsworth working in England had advocated earlier.
Something that was finally pushed to extremes by Hopkins
sprung rythms and soundscapes. Mallarme finished the 19th
centurys fade-out into an overly aestheticized symbolism
that marked the 20th centurys relentless transformations.
Indeed, America and Europe cross-fertilized each other. The
Shock of the American Civil war foreshadowed the war of the
trenches in Europe. Speedy mechanized slaughter would have
its own strange momentum and the art world would have to adapt
The collapse was on. After Mallarme, artistic barriers began
to crumble swiftly clearing the way for the discovery of these
NEW FORMS, the exploration of new kinds of behaviors, and
the opening of new literary possibilities. Stein, Apollinare,
Cendrars, Reverdy, Jacob, Picasso, Dario, Huidobro, Pessoa,
Rilke, and Pound were all bold experimentalists pushing towards
a new dispensation, aimed at a drastic change of both poetry
and mind. Futurism was followed by Expressionism, then vorticism
which culminated in the Dada explosion which in turn attacked
all artistic and political movements. Marinetti, Trakl, Benn,
Khhlebnikov, Mayakovsky, Pound, Tzara, Arp, Kadinsky, Klee
and Schwitters soon followed. By 1922, with the first world
war shaking the very foundations of western civilization,
Eliot, Joyce, and Rilke broke-out with The Wasteland,
Ulysses, and Duino Elegies. Revolution and war were shaking
up the world and the transient nature of reality was being
forcefully felt. Surrealism then followed Dada. Breton, Soupault,
Aragon, Peret, Eluard, and Desnos culminated finally with
Artaud. Freuds dreamwork led to a Zen here and now feeling
as Pound, Zukofsky and later Olson trail-blazed new literary
Freedom from the canonic past and also from the degraded present
was being demanded. There was an urge now to decalcify old
literatures, to just strip them of their high cultural gangue
and to return/advance them to this new spoken language
ideal. By the 1920s Avante garde poets began
to link themselves more and more with social and cultural
liberation movements and often with disastrous results. Lorca,
Desnos, Jacob, Wen Yiduo, Radinoti, and Mandelstam were all
killed. Hikmet, Akhmatova, Schwitters, Blaga, Sachs, Neruda,
and Brecht were all persecuted. Western progress and worldwide
power were being seriously questioned. Even colonialism itself
was being attacked by colonials with western avante garde
literary tools. The Negritude movement in the Carribean exemplified
by Cesare is a good example. The western universe was de-centering
itself and art was reacting to this historical explosion.
Pilfered Asian and African masks which had inspired Picasso,
Apollinare, Tzarza and Deran were beginning to start their
way home as a global civilization began to now violently stir.
The very boundaries of art were now being questioned. All
authoritative reality began to be deconstructed.
Nothing was being taken at face-value. Cultural and artistic
elements were being separated and realigned. The art work
was experimental, the outcome of the experiment was UNKNOWN,
and the process itself quite crucial. Structures, ideologies,
materials, and technologies were all being reworked. The artistic
experiments of the 20th century would perhaps one day be the
realized workings of the 21st century. Language had become
a medium . Not just a transparent window towards an ideal
reality that beyond itself. Spoken language became the vehicle
for personal and cultural transformation. Free verse then
led to free words.
The boundaries between poetry and prose were collapsing. This
is something I myself know well and approve. Even boundaries
between the arts were dissolving thus opening an age of blended
media. Words, pictures, action and text had now fused. We
are still living with these big developments today. High and
low art have merged. Primitive chant and pop song are also
merging with verse. This recognition of moveable boundaries
has allowed elements in art to become regenerative. Indeed
the boldest art works question their own shapes and forms
and those that preceded them.
were the main features of the new artistic revolution?
experimentation and reinterpretation of the entire human past.
breakdown of conventional boundaries between the arts.
Experiments with dream-work and altered states of consciousness.
experiments both with sounds and fonts. Abstract poetry and
explorations of sub-languages on the fringes of accepted literature.
Ethno-poetics: a broadening of cultural terrains with ancient
and underground traditions with poetry at its center.
Shifting social and political conventions.
A sense of excitement and play.
The art of the avante garde was about pushing boundaries until
you got into a more open psychic field. Art was reflecting
a global and totalitarian speed-up even as the atomization
of the individual was also accelerating. A simultaneous fragmenting
and unifying was occurring on our planet. Things were spinning
faster and art was simply mirroring this. My own development
is part of this process. My first works before Harvest and
Forty Immutable Parables were radical collage experiments
with different typographies, texts and photos. Inside
the Prince and The Endless Geisha have
even been smuggled into China successfully to spread this
new style and message.
Today much American poetry has been radicalized and just ignored
by conservative academia. Also the very global nature of the
various literary avante garde waves has been dismissed and
thus a world of endless possibilities has been denied. A global
the result of the avante gardes pushing of cultural
boundaries. It has become a series of bold new acts of experimentation
with it bold discoveries across the widest range of human
My own work is also a continuation of these bold avante garde
waves. It defines a de-centering that just pushes deeper and
deeper into bigger spaces of the mind. In Harvest of Gems
and Forty Immutable Parables Tantric Buddhism is the unlikely
vehicle that ultimately plunges the reader into strange extra-terrestrial
and shamanic landscapes. It could easily have been Hopi or
African religion, but the karma turned out differently. The
spiritual dimension of this literary odyssey is also lurking
in the background.
The violent explosions of the last century have forced every
artist to push the limits of his or her medium in order to
explore unknown cognitive spaces where answers to todays
serious problems maybe found and thus by doing so forcing
the mind to open up to deeper parts of itself. This is the
challenge we all face now and I welcome it completely.