The Operating System


For this, the 6th Annual iteration of our beloved Poetry Month 30/30/30 series/tradition, I asked four poets (and previous participants) to guest-curate a week of entries, highlighting folks from their communities and the poets who’ve influenced their work.
I’m happy to introduce Janice Sapigao, Johnny Damm, Phillip Ammonds, and Stephen Ross, who have done an amazing job gathering people for this years series! We’re so excited to share this new crop of tributes with you. Hear more from our four guest editors in the introduction to this year’s series.
Hungry for more? there’s 150 previous entries from past years here! You should also check out Janice’s piece on Nayyirah Waheed, Johnny’s piece on Raymond Roussel, Phillip’s piece on Essex Hemphill, and Stephen’s piece on Ronald Johnson’s Ark, while you’re at it.
This is a peer-to-peer system of collective inspiration! No matriculation required.
Enjoy, and share widely.

– Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, Managing Editor/Series Curator [/blockquote][/box]
Every time a WRITER sees another WRITER on the street, WRITER # 1 yells the following question:
“Who are you reading?”
WRITER # 2 answers, also yelling, and at the first word, EVERYONE on the street stops walking, presses hands over mouths of cooing/crying babies, slams down car brakes and hurriedly unrolls windows.
EVERYONE listens, the world not allowed to resume until WRITER # 2 stops yelling.
Keep everything exactly the same, except make sure that WRITER # 2 is a talented writer, a fascinating writer, that WRITER # 2 is the present or future of what literature should be.
Hush, y’all. Listen as Colette Arrand, Stephen Emmerson, Vanessa Angélica Villarreal, E.G. Cunningham, Douglas Luman, Travis Sharp, Raquel Salas Rivera, and Terri Witek yell into the street. [line]
Johnny Damm is the author of The Science of Things Familiar (The Operating System, 2017) and three chapbooks, including Your Favorite Song (Essay Press, 2016), and The Domestic World: A Practical Guide (Little Red Leaves, forthcoming). His work has appeared in PoetryDenver Quarterlythe RumpusDrunken Boat, and elsewhere. Visit him online at [/box]



[blockquote] Perhaps the most famous member of the Oulipo group, Georges Perec composed his singular work through the use of rigid constraints. In La disparition (A Void), he offers a novel without a single use of the letter e. In La Vie mode d’emploi (Life: A User’s Manual), Perec chronicles the same moment of time, 8:00 P.M. on June 23, 1975, in each room of a Parisian apartment block.
Enacting the process by which influence becomes (re)creation, Terri Witek writes into a passage of Perec’s puzzle-like masterwork, her words (in bold) colliding—colluding?—with Perec’s (translated) own.
From the David Bellos translation. [/blockquote]
further down, another maze of ducts, pipes, and flues; drains winding among main and
lateral sewers; narrow canals edged with black stone parapets; unrailinged
stairs above precipitous voids; a whole inextricable geography of stalls, backyards,
porches, pavements, blind alleys, and arcades, a whole subterranean city organized
vertically into DO NOT USE THIS neighborhoods, districts, and zones: the tanner’s
quarter with its unbearable stench, its faltering machines fitted with sagging drive
belts FOR ANY EVIDENCE, its stacks of pelts and leathers, its vats brimming with
brownish substances; THAT HAS the scrapyards littered with mantelpieces of
marble and stucco, with bidets, bathtubs, rusty radiators, statues of startled
nymphs, standing lamps, and park benches; the WET/DAMP quarter of those who
deal in waste metal, the quarter of rag pickers and flea merchants, with its jumble of
old clothes, its stripped-down baby carriages, its bails of surplus fatigues,
worn shirts, army belts and Ranger boots, its dentist chairs, its provisions of old
newspapers, lensless eyeglasses, key rings, braces, musical BODY FLUIDS, table
mats, light bulbs, laryngoscopes, retorts, flasks, lateral nozzles, and various types
of glassware ON IT; the wine market and its mountains of demijohns and broken bottles,
its staved-in tuns, its FULL NAME OF cisterns, vats and racks; the street-
cleaner’s quarter full of overturned dustbins spilling out VICTIM cheese rinds,
wax paper, fish bones, dishwater, leftover spaghetti, used bandages, its heaps
of refuse endlessly shoved from one place to the next by slimy bulldozers, its
unhinged dishwashers RELEASED BY its hydraulic pumps, cathode-ray tubes,
old radios, its sofas losing their stuffing; and the quarter of government offices,
whose staff quarters swarm with military personnel in impeccably ironed shirts
moving little flags across maps of the SIGNED BY world, its tiled morgues peopled with
nostalgic hoods and the open-eyed bodies of the doomed, its record offices filled with
bureaucrats in gray smocks who day after day look up birth, marriage, and death
certificates, its telephone exchanges and their mile-long rows of polyglot operators, its
machine room full of crackling telexes and computers that spew
forth by the CUT second reams of statistics, payrolls, inventories, balance sheets,
receipts, and no-information statements, its paper shredders and incinerators
endlessly devouring quantities of out-of-date forms, brown folders stuffed with
press clippings, account books BELOW-bound in black linen with pages covered
in delicate violet handwriting;
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
and at the very bottom, a world of caverns whose walls are black with soot, a world
of cesspools and sloughs, a world of grubs and beasts, of eyeless beings who drag
animal carcasses behind them, of demoniacal monsters with bodies of birds, swine,
and fish, of dried-out corpses and yellow-skinned skeletons arrayed in attitudes of
the living, of forges manned by dazed Cyclopses in black leather aprons, their single
eyes shielded by metal-rimmed blue glass, hammering TO OPEN their brazen
masses into dazzling shields.
[box][textwrap_image align=”left”][/textwrap_image] Terri Witek is the author of five books of poems, most recently Body Switch–her work has been included in American Poetry Review, Poetry, Slate, Hudson Review, and many other journals and anthologies. Her poetry often traces the breakages between words and images: she has collaborated with Brazilian visual artist Cyriaco Lopes ( since 2005.  Their works together include gallery shows, video, performance and site-specific projects–these have been featured internationally in New York, Seoul, Miami, Lisbon, and Rio de Janeiro.  Collaborations with digital artist Matt Roberts ( use augmented reality technology for smart phones to poetically map cities and have been featured in Glasgow, Vancouver, and Orlando. With Lopes she team-teaches Poetry in the Expanded Field in Stetson University’s low-residency MFA of the Americas, and she also runs Stetson’s undergraduate creative program. [/box]
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