#BlackLivesMatter Scrolling Infinitely

I wrote this piece in the summer of 2016 and never published it. I wanted to post it:

I’m curious about the phenomenon of a .gif: #BLACKLIVESMATTER scrolling infinitely— I’ve seen this .gif circulating across social media platforms, the frequency with which I encounter it increasing, as I commit my little downtime to the good void of a dark social media spiral. Gimmicky, my friend Muriel and I agreed while discussing the subject—scoffing at the ease of a ‘share,’ the dysfunctional hashtag hyperlinking to nowhere, its popularity, and its market-tested virality. I imagined its proliferation across Facebooks worldwide. I would hiss—because I’m plagued by demons—seeing it on the page of a person I thought rather silent on issues of representation or tokenization in their immediate (ahem… professional) communities. When I first saw the .gif, I dismissed it as a #corny way by which the less melaninic among us share and reshare a text object so as to project and receive immediate solidarity, albeit in the safest of ways. And yet—



#BLACKLIVESMATTER scrolling infinitely— There arises an impulse I know—the shadow wearing three skinned fox faces, the one who sneers—to identify[1] this .gif as a poem, a poem scrolling infinitely. Does regarding the .gif as one might a poem, cheapen or transform it into another type of text object? Can that be, when the significance of those characters in alignment is so great? Does applying this lens shrink the object? It feels gross to call to this a poem, yet, look at its formal elements: fourteen lines of refrain moving upward, without apparent beginning or end. Does this echo in form make it a non-sonnet? Does each black character of text against white space defy erasure? This object, both authorless and authored by every—

And then, the inner one, the one who sneers, locates it in discourse of concrete poetics, and whispers. #BLACKLIVESMATTER. In “Pilot Plan for Concrete Poetry” Augusto de Campos, Decio Pignatari and Haroldo de Campos argue “…concrete poetry begins by being aware of graphic space as structural agent.”[2] In concrete poetics, “typographical devices” are regarded “substantive elements of composition.”[3] I think of Ronaldo Azerado’s deceptively relevant “velocidade”[4], “The Fall of the Tower of Babel” by John Furnival, Ferdinand Krivet’s incredible circles of text, Edwin Morgan, Tom Phillip’s A Humement, and Marjorie Perloff’s analytical work and racist biases (YIKES) etc…

I say this demon whispers because little to nothing I’ve read of concrete poetics acknowledges blackness and many who celebrate the movement, celebrate concrete poets’ tendency to appropriate and erase “found” text. If concrete poetry is named “a product of a critical evolution of forms,” then hasn’t there occurred another rapid and critical evolution of forms, presumably due to the rapid evolution of typographical technology, design software, and social media platforms? Haven’t “evolved” poetic forms proliferated concurrently with the platforms that increase visibility of the ongoing and violent oppression occurring in our sick, cisheteropatriarchal white supremacist nation? Both the .gif and the concrete poets disallow the dimensions of a page to determine how a poem appears. If concrete poetry emerged in reaction to then-novel concepts of time-sharing computing technology and the visual-spatial arrangement of ideograms, if a concrete poem effectively communicates its “own structure,” if a “concrete poem is an object in and by itself, not an interpreter of exterior objects and/or more or less subjective feelings”, then the .gif of #BLACKLIVESMATTER scrolling infinitely would appear to fit into this literary tradition.[5] And yet, despite all of this, when encountering this .gif of #BLACKLIVESMATTER scrolling infinitely, you know who isn’t relevant or in any way central to my interpretation of the text? White Modernists.

Is this phenomenon what happens when the technological ability to produce moving text is no longer wielded by the celebrated few with access to prestigious institutions? By framing this .gif in this literary tradition, am I being subversive of the canon or am I being revisionist and exploiting the ongoing cry in response to black death by juxtaposing death’s textual product against a white backdrop? Am I forcibly integrating blackness via revisionism or am I highlighting anti-blackness and exclusivity in literary traditions as they reflect what’s happening in the streets? If Aram Saroyan could upset everyone with “lighght” in 1965 then, what’s good with the .gif?[6] I tell the one wearing now, the face of a white fox, “This cannot be a concrete (or post-concrete) poem.” What facets of the dysfunctional hashtag hyperlink communicate irony? Is #BLACKLIVESMATTER no longer a statement to address the ongoing violence against black and brown bodies, but one that highlights instead an emergent political movement (a movement still fractured by transmisogyny, misogyny, and homophobia)? I hope this .gif emerges as a staple of a new literary phenomenon. As a poetic form, the .gif poses the biggest risk to the definitions of prestige, which riddle so many institutions that capitalize (on) that P on that “Poetry.”[7]

This infinite #BLACKLIVESMATTER scroll is aging with us—I’ve seen it repeatedly for at least a year—and the ongoing violence from which it emerges has created a single poetic .gif, perhaps, in some way, of the most indicative poetic texts of our moment. What about the repetition as endless refrain makes it so viral? clinical? Hypnotic? The rate of the moving text, bodies running? It’s sudden appearance on a timeline, which is itself an infinite spiral… Is it its successive appearances on the timeline that eventually draws enough focused attention to it as a text-object and is that a part of the form? Perhaps this .gif is the echo of visceral sound. When I asked a friend her thoughts, she said, “It makes no noise but it’s there — it was always there — it persists.” #BLACKLIVESMATTER scrolling infinitely. One thing I love about being from New York City is that whenever I’m out, defiantly reclaiming public space with my body and my voice, I find myself surrounded by family both chosen and biological and we shout those words “Black Lives Matter,” we embrace each other and we hear each other’s voices. Despite the deaths that have brought us to that moment, that experience of community is marvelous. And so I remember those sounds and banish (for a time) the shadows as they plague me.

[1] Perhaps the problem, in and of itself.

[2] Augusto de Campos, Decio Pignatari and Haroldo de Campos, “Pilot Plan for Concrete Poetry” in Noigrandres 4 (Brazil, 1958)

[3] de Campos (et al.) “Pilot Plan for Concrete Poetry”


velocidade.jpegRonaldo Azerado“velocidade”

[5] de Campos (et al.) “Pilot Plan for Concrete Poetry”

[6] Long story short: people got mad because Saroyan won money; haters were like, “‘lighght’ isn’t a poem.” And it was news.

[7] A million shares makes the .gif a poetic phenomenon. I want to see an institution with mad money contribute to Black Lives Matter by awarding #BLACKLIVESMATTER *scrolling infinitely*, with all that big prize money.


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