Amy Lawless on the conceptual collaborative nature of Ben Fama’s Mall Witch.
Conceptual poetry has, in the past, made my skin crawl. I used to want to open up a book, approach it from my limited (non-omniscient) perspective, and read it on its own terms. I wanted to think, but was chiefly concerned with the (groan) fascinating bounds of my own mind’s processes as related to a connection with the work I was reading. I figured I’d read criticism or not read criticism later on. This is, of course, naïve. One can never read a book without previous knowledge. Usually, some prime move in your universe caused you to buy, borrow, steal, or even get a PDF of a book. Maybe the author looks kinda hot and do-able in the author photo. Maybe the historical significance of the work caused you a moment of autodidactic-narcissistic-self-flagellation-cum-PayPal-drain. Maybe you respect the press. Maybe you keep hearing a name at lit parties or in that gently annoying banter before a reading. Maybe you see quotes of it Tweeted or posted to Facebook by friends or by people you respect. Maybe your dead mentor told you to read Dryden, and you’re carrying that on your shoulders until you read some Dryden. Maybe you like feminist work. Whatever it is, we move toward things. We are impacted. We glide. We read. We are part of a literary community whether we identify as writers, readers, critics, or a softcore pullulating mix of roles. We ride. But does that context matter? Yeah it matters. It sticks like a burr in your brain and can help you understand the work. You can’t rid yourself of it. Sometimes that context is a history or school of poetics or maybe it’s a series of linked ideas (concept) as expressed in the book Mall Witch.