Yesterday, my lovely friend Meaghan took me (along with our friends Bree and Adrian) to the most remarkable place. It’s called “the Cathedral of Junk,” and it lives in a backyard in South Austin.
I can’t explain it. I have pictures, which I’ll post below. If you want to read about it, you can go here: Cathedral of Junk article.
However—while this spectacle is unique, perfectly representative of Austin and, yes, dumbfounding—the reason I’m posting about it here is because it reminded me a little of my last post about where artists get their material. That post, of course, discussed personal material as inspiration.
This one will be about junk.
Or, as some people call it, “found” material. As poets, so many of us use other people’s words while creating our own pieces. Whether beginning with an epigram or including a line from a book, movie, or bit of conversation we overhear into our work, whether using other writers’ lines in a cento or, like some more experimental poets, simply transcribing some other linguistic piece (I’m thinking Ken Goldsmith’s project of transcribing the New York Times, and other such endeavors), “found language” is so common in poetry that I don’t even really think about it much.
But it’s hard not to, sometimes. Poetry has a dismally small audience (I’ve mentioned this before, yes) and sometimes it’s hard to remember that we intend our poems as conversations…with other poems, at the very least, since what came before us informs what we do. But more than that, most of the poets I know are trying to speak not only about, but with, the world around them, asking readers to see everyday things as extraordinary. The fact that some of those everyday things are actual bits of language the people themselves produce, well, that’s a sort of a gift, isn’t it? Here—the act of creating this way seems to say—here’s something you’ve said on the subway, or that exists on your bookshelf, or in a pamphlet, or on a bathroom wall or a graffiti-scrawled train car—here, let me show you how cool it is. Everything, anything, can be wonderful.
That seems to me to be the project of the Cathedral of Junk. It’s a pretty fantastic one, actually. But if you read that article I’ve linked to, you’ll see that neighbors complain. The city tries to shut it down. It’s basically a mess, right, but that doesn’t stop people from coming, climbing, loving, being utterly awed by it. How very, very cool.
Pictures follow. But, your question! Which, today, is only partially a question:
Have you tried to work with found language? Maybe you’ll post a little of it here, in these comments, for us to read?