I Love Roses When They’re Past Their Best reviewed

, 25 April 2014

The structure of a thing is both its skeleton and its cage, the bones around which the meaty content settles and the enclosure under whose provisions it sprouts. Structure gives shape; it creates the contours within which meaning is born, casts the shadows of context across the plain.

In her 1976 essay ‘Why I Write’, Joan Didion declares that the meaning of a sentence lies in its arrangement, its structure. A decade before Didion, philosopher Marshall McLuhan, in his seminal essay ‘The Medium is the Message’, states that the meaning of anything lies in its medium, at the time referring to the expanding cultures of television. Exactly twenty years after Didion and almost thirty after McLuhan, the Internet as we know it was born and the structure of language, that of the very cultures that produced it, was once again irretrievably transformed.

Before all else, I Love Roses When They’re Past Their Best is a book about structure. In its opening pages, editor Harry Burke writes:

“This anthology is an attempt to question the discrete borders of the poem as object, and to welcome the ways in which the poems within act as springboards to other lives, languages and politics. The poem is the textual residue of the encounter.”

Installation view, I Love Roses When They're Past Their Best Launch & Event Reading. Image courtesy Harry Burke.
I Love Roses When They’re Past Their Best Launch & Event Reading. Image courtesy Harry Burke.

The encounter of which Burke speaks is that of our existence, of our lives; a poem is the ashes that remain after all else has been alchemized and spent. As graphic designer David Rudnick said in a recent interview: “Art is the zip file of hundreds of thousands of human lives.”

Perhaps this better explains the reasoning behind the book’s title, adopted from Sophie Collins’ cento poem ‘perfection’ (found within the anthology), which in turn borrows the line from Mimi Khalvati’s ‘Overblown Roses’. When Sophie Collins elsewhere in ‘perfection’ writes that “nothing was perfect or as it should have been”, it as though she is stating her case, literally and figuratively. Nothing in language is perfect or as it should have been; all is fluid, dynamic, conglomerate, its actors merely vessels through which the structures of language are perpetuated.

Nowhere is this more true than on the Internet and its seemingly bottomless ocean in which all content floats as anchorlessly as debris. Here, the invisible structure is paramount, creating the context for its content, the systems of information distribution and creative production by which culture is created. To understand the poetry born of the Internet, one first needs to understand the medium as the blueprint of culture.

As Burke considers in his introductory essay, following the leads of Kenneth Goldsmith and Marjorie Perloff before him: “the focus of avant-garde writing after the widespread introduction of digital editing and reproduction tools is not on the production of “original” writing, but in the managing, parsing, organising and distributing of pre-existing information”. Given the exponentially increasing reserves of recorded text, the true parameter of creativity becomes not in creating new or new-seeming content but rather “negotiat[ing] the vast quantities that exist”.

Echoing Perloff, Burke offers up the cento-like approach of which creative culture on the Internet is made as “the most avant-garde cultural producer in the digital age”. After all, if everything is sacred, then nothing is. **

I Love Roses When They’re Past Their Best is now available to order through Test Centre.

Header image: installation view, image courtesy Rózca Zita Farkas.