Spring 2018: students viewing "Meadow" (1997) by Alex Katz at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta
Fall 2017: students engaging in a collaborative exercise based on Joe Brainard's "I Remember"
Spring 2017: students in Skype conversation with poet Anselm Berrigan
Current Book Project
I'm currently writing a critical book on the poetry of Ted Berrigan.
My interest in Berrigan can be traced back to my undergraduate thesis on Allen Ginsberg and the intersections of Cold War-era politics and poetics.
In 2014, I began researching Berrigan's out-of-print novel Clear the Range, a cut-up, transformed Western that stands out in Berrigan's oeuvre not only as his only published work of extended prose but as an unmapped formal accompaniment to his seminal work The Sonnets. Clear the Range is currently in the process of being republished with the guidance of the Estate of Ted Berrigan.
An excerpt from Clear the Range:
“Ten years ago Cole Younger first came into the mountains. Ten years ago, The Sleeper could eat venison and sell beets. There’s nothing more pleasant than that. He was getting rich. Yes, he was getting rich. He was rich. Then Cole Younger came along and told The Sleeper that there wasn’t any room for any cows in the hills. The Sleeper laughed. So one day Cole Younger said to The Sleeper: “Clear the Range.”
The Sleeper laughed some more. Next day Cole Younger passed away.
We all expected that The Sleeper would kill himself. But he didn’t. No, his mind seemed to ‘cease fire.’ For ten years it has always been two months since then. And in the meantime the hills are covered with night. When you look for things, they seem hollow and you can see through them. But when the hills come up, they are red.
No harm in that.
You wonder, however, why? Well, I have heard that it is because strangers come to a strange country and they have passed their bounds.
“Yes,” said The Sleeper, “I remember that hazy something. I didn’t. I went on. Now I am here."
“Yes, how do you do?” said Cole Younger.
“No, that is not what I mean,” said The Sleeper. “It isn’t the dying man that runs from his dope.”
“What do you mean by that?” asked Cole Younger.
“Perhaps you will see, before long,” said The Sleeper. “Tell me about this town. How old?”
“Old.” said Cole Younger.
“It is very old,” said The Sleeper.
“Well,” said Cole Younger, “it is this way. There is only one town. That is why they built it.”
“Are you sure?” said The Sleeper.
“There is only one way to be sure,” said Cole Younger.
“Well?” said The Sleeper, anxious to draw out more information.
“Get moving.” said Cole Younger. “When you get there, you’ll find a big wall. In the big wall, is a small door with a round top. Beside the small door with the round top in the big wall is a wire bell. When you pull the wire, you will ring the bell.”
“Ah so,” said The Sleeper.
“Then,” said Cole Younger, “Open the door. If the door is not opened at once, it never will be. Then you will never get inside. But if it is opened at once, go in, and someday you will know why. You go inside and you never come out.”
“What do you mean?” said The Sleeper.
“Senor,” said Cole Younger, “you are my friend. I have told you more than words.”
Ted Berrigan in Amsterdam, 1978
portrait of Berrigan by Joe Brainard, circa 1964
Joe Brainard's cover of The Sonnets (C Press, 1964)
cover of Clear the Range with collage by Berrigan (Adventures in Poetry & Couch House South, 1977)
Sturm with poets Anne Waldman and Carrie Lorig at opening of exhibit "The Dream Machine: The Beat Generation & the Counterculture, 1940-1975" at Emory University
Crystal Setis a blog that traces and collects my research, archival work, and critical interests in innovative American poetries.
The "Crystal Set" series is a personal catalog that documents rare and out-of-print texts from the mimeograph era to the present. Work from the series has been featured at Locus Solus and Poetry Foundation.
The blog takes its name from a comment by Jack Spicer in his lecture, "Dictation and 'A Textbook of Poetry'" on June 13, 1965: "And I would think that we probably will always be crystal sets, at best." Spicer's "crystal set" is the poet as radio, a technology of the voice that links to another world, and also the poem itself, a magical arrangement. Since first reading Spicer's Vancouver lectures, I've adopted "crystal set" as a way to describe those wayward, necessary texts that constitute one's aesthetic and historical devotions. The spirit of the blog adapts Spicer's casual yet idiosyncratic idiom, re-reading wayward texts, charting archival research, and collecting the imperfect.
My book of poetry, How We Light, was published in 2013 and reissued in 2018 by Big Lucks Books. I have also published a number of chapbooks, including Beautiful Out, A Basic Guide, What a Tremendous Time We're Having!, I Feel Yes, and the audio set Flowers and Money, as well as the collaborative chapbooks I Was Not Even Born, with Wendy Xu, and Nancy and the Dutch and Labor Day, with Carrie Lorig.
My manuscript-in-progress, Another Mona Bone Jakon, about family, music, gender, and pop culture, is forthcoming.
"Poem after poem of Nick Sturm’s is the embodiment of pure benevolence and joy. Filled with virtuosic surprises at every turn, this, my friends, is the poetry of the future." - Noelle Kocot
"Nick Sturm proclaims in the first poem of his collection, “I’m going to keep laughing until something gores me,” and proceeds to startle every page with his scaldingly funny, delightfully reckless linguistic breakdancing. How We Light is also a deeply moving book, a litany of heartbreaking assertions of what it means to be alive and mortal and surrounded and lonely and joyous and melancholy, at the same time, all the time. Sturm’s “basic guides” to autobiography, history, growing up, friendship, emergency, success, decision making, science, and truth will teach you more about how to be human than any self-help book. The instructions are that there are no instructions: “The pamphlet contains no information / regarding how little a bed can be or what / you are doing with those teacups.” Full of emotion and tenderness (and a kind of controlled anarchy), this is a book that will make the blood rush back into your brain." - Michael Dumanis
"The enthusiasm for Nick Sturm's "I Feel Yes" made me want to attempt a quasi-epic poem. My publishers should consider themselves warned." - Daniel Handler, editor of The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014 in SFWeekly
"Nick Sturm’s full-length poetry collection How We Light is an interesting foray into the mechanics of grief. At its heart, the majority of the poems concern a failed love affair. They ask questions of how and why we communicate even when that communication fails. While there are other minor themes replete throughout the volume, none of them surmount the near constant repetition of mouths, lips, faces, throats, and voices united in their inability to do what they were designed for. Referenced in almost every poem, they point to what becomes fetishism over loss, a sort of leitmotif for giving grief language." - Hannah Rodabaugh, review in Pank Magazine
"In Nick Sturm’s latest collection of poetry, How We Light, we awake in a field, strange with knowing. Or maybe we “climb into the machine and spend / two days thinking about lemonade”. This is not your standard conversation. We are not here to sit down feebly and speak in a quiet monotone. There is something much more vibrant at work here, something more avian and endless yes. Because of this, we are indoctrinated into Sturm’s unusual world almost immediately." - Dillon Welch, review in Heavy Feather Review
"Reading I FEEL YES is a small sadness in one way, in that its unabashed revelry makes apparent to me the myriad of little wrecks, tiny collapsings that have worked their way into me and people I love over the ensuing near-decade, how easy it was to get far removed from that precious internal space, because the ecstasy of it can seem distant. But it’s also an incredible joy, a lightning storm of wonderful news, in that one route back is so easily, poignantly available: a poem written and physically given to you by a friend." - Layne Ransom, review of chapbook I Feel Yes at Vouched Books.
View the BOOK TRAILER for How We Light, filmed and edited by Dave Carulli.
Scholarship & Research
My scholarship explores the interdisciplinary poetics of post-WWII innovative American poetries with a particular focus on the "second generation" New York School poets, 1960-present.
I am currently conducting research in the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library in Emory University's Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library. My research has been supported by a Short-Term Fellowship at the Rose Library in the summer of 2016. My past archival work includes research at Stanford University and the University of California at San Diego.
Recent scholarship and critical work:
ESSAY: "'Fuck work': The Reciprocity of Labor and Pleasure in Joe Brainard's Writing," forthcoming in The Aesthetics of Joe Brainard edited by Yasmine Shamma (Edinburgh University Press, forthcoming)
These collaborative posters explore unique connections between Ted Berrigan's The Sonnets and Eileen Myles's Chelsea Girls, books in two different genres, published 30 years apart, that act as touchstone texts of the New York School aesthetic. Using geocritical analysis to map urban space across generational lineages and graphic models to visualize nonlinear formal techniques and the complex relationships between time, repetition, and order, students examined how visual representations of aesthetic concepts offer fresh perspectives on literary analysis. By working to visualize their theses, students found that literature includes data that can be transformed into compelling cultural critiques. This student work meaningfully contributes to scholarship on both Berrigan's and Myles's work, showing how research-based mediums such as posters, typically associated with STEM-related fields, can present students with the opportunity to become co-creators in our discipline.
In groups students created 8-10 minute podcasts that investigate the aesthetic, cultural, political, and/or historical importance of a single piece of visual art created by a New York-based or New York-associated visual artist. Using the podcast "The Lonely Palette" as a template, these educational, entertaining documentary conversations act as audio snapshots of an artist and their work. The primary goal of this artifact was to develop a competent, functional aesthetic vocabulary in order to describe visual art in an oral medium. Students used their experiences visiting the High Museum of Art in Atlanta to consider the relationships between viewer, curator, artist, and the art object itself. This rhetorical awareness of the aesthetics of making and looking, and how art affects public and personal space simultaneously, allowed students to produce insightful podcasts in which, as first-year engineers and computer scientists, they become art historians.
This artifact allowed students to pick a New York-based artist and create an original research project investigating a particular facet, concept, or theme in the artist's work in the medium and genre of the student's choosing. A series of research support documents, including a research proposal, outline, and progress report, aided in the artifact's completion. Each artifact was accompanied by a 1000-word Research Statement that articulated the project's purpose, research findings and analysis, and contribution to the field of study.