Find A Grift

Feeling sad?—Take Lexapro or pray.

The church kicked me out.—I guess the minister shouldn’t have been so obvious.

Writers block?—Be an elitist and use useless rhetoric.

Everybody upset with form.—Relax, they’re always going to rhyme.

Can’t find no peace in D.C.?—Try being black.

Constant recalls, variants, social unrest, and reality television.—Thank God for the Kardashians.

Oh, you think I’m lauding them.—Good luck figuring out who them is.

Need therapy?—Try BetterHelp, they won’t help.

Daddy’s facing prison.—I can’t read between the bars.

Everybody’s mad at Biden.—Bipartisanism is the true goat of comedy.

Voting for your conscience?—Try being black.


Lizzo plays a racist’s flute.—Suddenly, we’re all 1st chair flautist for the orchestra.

Got your webcam covered?—Wear that foil crown with pride, privacy is just fake news.

Pardon my simple possession.—Weed out the non-voters.

What is form?—Something exhaustively discussed amongst scholars paying inflated tuition.

Who gone check me?—The red pen.


I found a lot similarities in the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E school of poetry and the schools of Black Mountain, the Beats, and New York. A lot of poetry was seemingly engaged with the technique of free association, humor, and at times projective verse. I hesitated on trying to decipher meaning with the works of poetry from L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E due to a sense that meaning was secondary to the other poetic devices at play. For example, in Charles Bernstein’s “Self-Help”, the poem is in a call and response format. This form is illustrative of an orator and audience engaged in this type of communication. In that way, this poem becomes its own world that exists within the form and language created by the poem. Simon Perril describes this phenomenon as, “Language poetry’s avant-garde lineage is evident in its scrutiny of the naturalness of Realism. Realism, in this instance, refers to the uncomplicated belief that the words on the page offer a transparent window onto the world of everyday life.” (Perril, 222).

In my own poem, I echo this call and response form. However, I modify and manipulate the form by introducing the interrogative while Bernstein’s “Self-Help” deals only with the declarative. By using the question in this form, it prompts the reader to fill in the blank with their own answers.—How would you answer these questions? Were your responses drastically different from my own? What does that say for the language of my poem?

Much like Bernstein’s poem, I situate the narrative inside some pressing pop culture moments and current events. By doing this, I wanted to at least ground the poem in something concrete while experimenting with avant-garde of language poetry. I also wanted to use some deep imagery akin to the style of confessional poetry as it lends itself to the uniqueness of language poetry in how it confesses something intangible, and obscure, but somehow within grasp.

Finally, I decided to tackle the concept of “the person” within language poetry. Perril describes the concept as following, “The concept of the ‘Person’ in Language writing is far from confessional…Such a concept of the person is heavily informed by contemporary theory’s replacement of traditional notions of the self as something stable and autonomous, by the unstable category of an unfixed subjectivity.” (Perril, 228). I believe Perril was saying the self must be removed from poetry, and instead poetry must function as something that is completely subjective. Although I use “I” in my poem, I am not specifically speaking for my individual experience—I’m allowing the reader to inhabit that “I” and place their lens onto what the language of my poem infers for them.

One Response to Find A Grift

  1. Prof VZ October 12, 2022 at 8:18 pm #

    I think you’re right when you write that “meaning was secondary to the other poetic devices at play.” I sense a lot of the same contrastive energies in your poem as I do in Bernstein’s. You adapt the same dual format, what you describe as call and response, but like Bernstein your tone shifts from serious to sardonic and many shades in-between. And even as you follow the language poets in displacing the sovereignty of the “I,” your identity also comes into play here in important ways that highlight the difficult status of embodied experience in language poets. They often risk dismissing identity as a fiction just because it is “constructed,” but constructed identities, and the bodies that house them, are no less real. Your line–Voting your conscience? Try being black”–was one instance where I felt your critique of language schools dismissal of identity politics.

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