September 15, 2009

Together: We Will Attempt to Write a Book about Tuscaloosa.
a workshop I'm attempting this week at U of Alabama.

Guy Debord wrote that in the derive "one or more persons during a certain period drop their relations, their work and leisure activities, and all their other usual motives for movement and action, and let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there." We will attempt this; attempt to write something that captures the flow of acts, the gestures, the strolls, the encounters of Tuscaloosa. I have never been to Tuscaloosa before so I will merely provide some example works, some writing exercise, some discussion, some eye and ear. You will provide the local knowledge of all sorts: celebrations, critiques, complaints, memories, stories, inventories of plants and animals, histories, spells, maps, incredibly personal information. I am hoping that together we can write something about Tuscaloosa that the Tuscaloosa Convention and Visitors Bureau would never want to distribute as it will get at the psycho in psychogeography. The first two sessions will be discussion and in workshop writing (so bring pen and paper and legal stimulant of choice). I’m thinking of the last session as “editorial” where we together attempt to write a book about Tuscaloosa but it might look more like a “workshop.” We will assemble what we’ve done in some sort of order and then talk some about what sort of Tuscaloosa we’ve created and what sort of Tuscaloosa we did not yet create but might. If you want, feel free to check out Bureau of Public Secrets ( especially key works like Debord's "Theory of the Dérive" or Chtcheglov's "Formulary for a New Urbanism") or Historic Waikiki ( or Deep Oakland ( or _Here is Tijuana!_ (by Fiamma Montezemolo, Rene Peralta, and Heriberto Yepez; Black Dog Publishing) or... But none of this reading is "required." All writers and other sorts of thinkers welcome.


We are here to together attempt to write a book about Tuscaloosa. Hold this in your mind.

There will be a series of prompts. The prompts might be examples. They might be a word. They might be a poem. Do with them what you will, just do it interestingly. They are meant to be provocative and not mandating.

Please write legibly.

Please write on one side of paper only.

Please begin each prompt on a new sheet of paper.

You do not need to put your name on the piece but you can if you want.

This writing might be in any genre or form. Please don’t feel obligated to stick to a genre.

I mandate that you fail on at least one of these assignments and I invite you to fail at all of them. The point is not your individual perfection. It is that Together We Will Attempt to Write a Book about Tuscaloosa.

Feel free to trade if you do not have the right prompt at right moment.

Feel free to redo a prompt any time you want. Just write something different.

At least once, do a prompt and then take a 10 minute break where you think about the prompt (no phone, no checking email, etc.) and then redo the prompt. Submit both pieces of writing into the written stack.

I have given all of you a card where you can add a prompt. Please feel free to use at any moment if the mood strikes.

I have provided you with crude map print outs. Use as you desire.

Do not hold onto things. Place what you have written in the written stack. Place your prompt back in the prompt stack.

Please physically stay in the general area.

Some advice…

Strive to do at least 5 each meeting? I’m thinking of each prompt as good for about 20 minutes of writing. (Again, the point is not your individual perfection. It is that Together…)

Because we are here to together write a book about Tuscaloosa, try to write things that will add to this book. The prompts should lead us to write something that is multivoiced and multiconcerned.

Advice that could probably be productively violated: avoid character-based he said/she said fiction.

Because Tuscaloosa is, like all places, a complicated place, keep thinking about what else we need to know to get a sense of this complication and then write it for us and we will thank you.

You might want to spend some more time on some prompts and/or concerns and less on some.

You can go through as many prompts as you want all super fast and should you do this, just start over again once you’ve done them all.


It would be lovely if you did these things:

On your own, made a map for each day that this workshop is ongoing of some sort with at least five points on it and then submitted it into the general stack.

Brought a bit of found text or a list of something (all the trees on a certain street; all the color reds you saw in five minutes; open the window and turn on the light at night and list all the bugs circling the light; last night’s dream; etc.) for the stack.

Prompts for first session...

park bench
[see attached David Buuck, “Bench, Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge”]

areas that need further research, further investigation

[see attached list of “Largest Slaveholders from 1869 Slave Census Schedules and Surname Matches for African Americans on 1870 Census”]

show the money
[see attached Joshua Clover, “Cheria”]

things to do in Tuscaloosa
[see attached Ted Berrigan “Things to do in Providence”]

the thing to do in Tuscaloosa

garbage, shit, pesticides, bombed and smoldering cities,
microchips, cyber, astral and biological pollution
I cannot stress enough how much this mechanistic world, as it becomes more and more efficient, resulting in ever increasing brutality, has required me to FIND MY BODY to FIND MY PLANET in order to find my poetry. If I am an extension of this world then I am an extension of garbage, shit, pesticides, bombed and smoldering cities, microchips, cyber, astral and biological pollution, BUT ALSO the beauty of a patch of unspoiled sand, all that croaks from the mud, talons on the cliff that take rock and silt so seriously flying over the spectacle for a closer examination is nothing short of necessary. The most idle looking pebble will suddenly match any hunger, any rage. Suddenly, and will be realized at no other speed than suddenly.
--CA Conrad

big giant metaphor

The first person who gets this card should write three questions below that might help us better understand Tuscaloosa.
1. ___________________________________________________________
2. ____________________________________________________________
3. ____________________________________________________________
Please also place a copy of these questions in the written stack.
If you are the second, or third or…, person to get this card, answer the questions. Please copy the questions that you are answering on your own paper.

map of a walk you tend to take, might take at some point

ghosts, castles, endless walls, little forgotten bars, mammoth caverns, casino mirrors
All cities are geological. You can’t take three steps without encountering ghosts bearing all the prestige of their legends. We move within a closed landscape whose landmarks constantly draw us toward the past. Certain shifting angles, certain receding perspectives, allow us to glimpse original conceptions of space, but this vision remains fragmentary. It must be sought in the magical locales of fairy tales and surrealist writings: castles, endless walls, little forgotten bars, mammoth caverns, casino mirrors.

free card
Write below a prompt you might add to the set. Put the card back when done.

intimacy: either or both imagined and real
I have taken ‘contact,’ both term and concept, from Jane Jacobs’s instructive 1961 study, The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Jacobs describes contact as a fundamentally urban phenomenon and finds it necessary for everything from neighborhood safety to a general sense of social well-being. She sees it supported by a strong sense of private and public in a field of socioeconomic diversity that mixes living spaces with a variety of commercial spaces, which in turn must provide a variety of human services if contact is to function in a pleasant and rewarding manner. Jacobs mentions neither casual sex nor public sexual relations as part of contact—presumably because she was writing at a time when such things were not talked of or analyzed as elements contributing to an overall pleasurable social fabric. Today we can.
--Samuel Delany, Times Square Red Times Square Blue

interclass contact
Astute as her analysis is, [Jane] Jacobs still confuses contact with community. Urban contact is often at is most spectacularly beneficial when it occurs between members of different communities. That is why I maintain that interclass contact is even more important than intraclass contact.
--Samuel Delany, Times Square Red Times Square Blue

mass observation
Mass Observation was an organisation was founded in 1937 by three men, who aimed to create an “anthropology of ourselves.” They recruited a team of observers and a panel of volunteer writers to study the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain. This original work continued until the early 1950s.


a map of dreams that you have had that include various locations in Tuscaloosa


AMERICAN poem, AMERICAN poet, the roots the roots the roots there are roots
[You are sitting in a government building.] Go to a local government building or monument, courthouse, statue or prison, but a government structure, one paid for by all tax payers. This monument or building is something you paid to create, something you pay to upkeep. It stands for the collective stronghold of our nation, as Americans, as America moves and removes our collective fingerprints around the world as a military, as a business, as a structure of faces supplanting trust and empathy with a guise of trust and empathy under the guise of one flag. This is not to say an angry poem must ensue. This is just saying LET'S GET CLEAR. This is not to suggest you read up on American assassinations of leftist governments in South America, this is just saying KNOW what you already know to be true when coming to this poem. We're here as Americans. It's an American poem in a way that has roots, literally roots. Study the plants if there are plants. Study the grass around this government building or monument. Smell samples of the soil. What's around? See everything as best as you can, sit very still and look closely at the world as it always is around this structure you have come to today. DO NOT ENGAGE IN COVERSATION WITH OTHERS. You're here for how you see it, how you see this structure, how you see our country. This is personal. The date presently is April, 2009. We are at war on more than one front, millions of lives have been lost, and who knows how many more are at stake as our tax dollars purchase bullets and bombs, prisons and worse. Look at this structure you have come to, and know you are paying for its upkeep. You have a claim to it today. Take a list of notes about the structure, but these will be the notes you glean from later, as these are not the real notes for the poem. Take another list of notes while investigating the plant life, the soil, the natural surroundings. Take yet another list of notes about the government structure, only this time take notes about WHAT it is made from. Is there wood? Is there metal? Write in your notes about trees and rocks, iron and oil. Write about the elements all these parts of the structure originated from, and how they arrived here by boat and truck. Take the notes of the government structure broken down into the finer notes of the natural elements the structure originated from, and combine those notes with the notes of the natural world surrounding the structure today. Weave these notes, as this is an exercise in weaving notes. Now with the FEELINGS you have of being an American TODAY, whose tax dollars continue to pay for the cost TRUE HUMAN COST of two wars, form these final notes into a poem BUT WITHOUT EVER mentioning the government structure. And without directly involving America by name. Write a poem as a poet of the world with feelings for our collective human costs of war. Write this poem through THE GRASS AND TREES you see around you. Now take all your notes, and using THE FILTERS "ALERT" and "EXILE" shape your poem.
--CA Conrad’s (Soma)tic Poetry Exercise

story of a specific often overlooked place in Tuscaloosa
[see attached “Oral Alley, Oakland" by David Buuck]

possible commemorative plaque
Near the concession stand a commemorative bronze plaque narrates the park’s civic historical status: “Here Vancouver began. All was forest towering to the skies. British Royal Engineers surveyed it into lots, 1863, and named the area Hastings Townsite…Everything began at Hastings. The first post office, customs, road, bridge, hotel, stable, telegraph, dock, ferry, playing field, museum, CPR Office. It was the most fashionable watering place in British Columbia.” We shall add to this inaugural mythos an additional fact: the site also compromised the first real estate transaction in what was to become our city. From its inception New Brighton has remained emblematic of colonial economies: primary industry, leisure, and real estate find here their passive monument.
--Lisa Robertson, “Site Report”

emotion map
[There are numerous examples of this. See attached “Circle of Fire” renga map that uses haiku.]

tell a specific narrative story of someone included in the attached “Selected Social Characteristics of Tuscaloosa”

[see attached “Alabama croton” and “Alabama snow wreath”]

[see attached “interview” from This is Tijuana!]


[see attached CLUI description of Bryant-Denny Stadium.]

[perhaps the Emelle Hazardous Waste Mound?]

University Avenue as a dividing line
Hand draw a map that centers around University Avenue. Present at least five different points of information about University Avenue.

childhood memories of Tuscaloosa, if you’ve got them

The 'Black Warrior Village' has been in existence as early as 1580, although it was abandoned at times. The village was unoccupied circa 1750-1760 according to several historical sources. The primary native tribes of the area were the Choctaw and Creeks. The Creeks resettled the old village around 1800. By order of General Andrew Jackson, General Coffee and his men attacked the Creek village in 1813 during the Creek War. The village was burned as retaliation to the kidnapping of a Mrs. Crowley at Duck River, Tennessee, leaving few Creeks in the area. After the Creek War any remaining Creeks were removed to land in eastern Alabama west of the Coosa River. The Choctaw Indians removed to lands west of Tuscaloosa, although some remained in the area. By 1836 President Andrew Jackson had decided that all Indians must be moved to the Indian Territory, a move which we all know as the 'Trail of Tears'. According to several sources, the first permanent white settler of the Black Warrior Village was Thomas York, and family, who came to the area in early 1816. By late 1816 several families were in the area. The county seat was established in the town of Tuscaloosa, which was incorporated 13 December, 1819 from the 'Black Warrior Village'. Tuscaloosa was 'laid out' by Collin Finnell in early 1821 for the government. Lots were sold at auction in November 1821. The initial delay in laying out Tuscaloosa by the government caused another town to be established, known as New Town.
-- Tuscaloosa County History

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