conscientious conceptualism

Andy Verboom calling for submissions on conscientious conceptualism.

Six times a year, the Town Crier hands itself over to a guest editor. Curators are free to publish for a month on any literary topic of their choosing. Andy Verboom will be curating the Town Crier blog in the month of April. His call-out for submissions follows.

While I am agnostic about many things, I do believe Conceptual Poetry is bullshit. (I believe, I should say, that Lyric Poetry and Formalist Poetry are bullshit in the same way.) Yet during the past couple of years—even as online media has become the motel-room crime scene and town hall tribunal of Conceptual Poetry—I’ve found myself softening to processual tactics in my own practice, not with delight at their ease and easy provocativeness, but for the pleasure of their generative difficulty and of their tendency to surprise. In that distinction, I hope to invoke a difference like that between factory farming and sustainable, sustenantial rearing or hunting.

To put it more agonistically, I worry about being conscripted into big-C Conceptualism and would like to declare myself a conscientious conceptor. That sort of declaration may be in response only to my own paranoia, and so it matters only if there’s precedence for, and a community of, what could be called “conscientious conceptualism.” Is there? I’m seeking short essays, interviews, accounts, and minor debates about conscientious conceptualism, or—put more broadly—about how you, and other poets, prioritize ethics while engaging in conceptual tactics and practices.

What follows are not line items in a “mini-festo” but propositions regarding what might be at stake in the phrase, if it ends up being useful:

  • Conscientious conceptualism puts ethics before aesthetics because “conceptual conscientiousness” is either an implausible phrase or as meaningful as “abstract philanthropy.”
  • Conscientious conceptualism is ethical-tactical rather than political-strategical because “strategical” is not a word.
  • Conscientious conceptualism acknowledges that most conceptual poetry written by white, straight, cis, male poets is presumed to self-position as blithely apolitical while most conceptual poetry written by “other” poets is assumed to have a reparative political agenda, meaning that the contours of ethics are largely forgotten in the susurrus.
  • Conscientious conceptualism is anti-archival/anti-museal because ethical archival/museal access is that which objects to the codes of conduct required for and by preservation. (As you might suspect, conscientious conceptualism is not properly curatorial because curation is some pretty high-end, small-batch strategical stuff.)
  • Conscientious conceptualism is more pleasurably experienced as negative utopianism (describing what good futures don’t resemble to us) than as positive dystopianism (describing what bad futures do to us).

Send me an email ( with a notion, a pitch, or a preliminary or complete draft any time before March 1st. Complete submissions should be between 500 and 2000 words. Collaborative pitches and submissions are strongly encouraged. If you have a collaborative idea but no collaborator available, I’ll match you up with another interested party. 

Andy Verboom hails from subrural Nova Scotia and currently resides in London, Ontario, where he edits the Word Hoard, a literature and humanities journal, and organizes Couplets, a collaborative poetry reading series. He is co-author of Full Mondegreens, a recent winner of the Frog Hollow Press Chapbook Contest, and author of two other chapbooks: Tower (Anstruther, 2016) and M speaking W (Baseline, forthcoming 2017).

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