I had been engaged in a conversation with Fluxus artist-poet Dick Higgins about what he or I or both of us were calling "near poetry." In the course of it, it came to me that certain capsule descriptions of traditional rituals or parts thereof, which I had been jotting down while looking for poems to include in what would later become Technicians of the Sacred, bore a curious resemblance to what was then emerging as a new performance art. At Higgins urging I put together a small group of those event pieces, and he published them through his press Something Else with the title Ritual: A Book of Primitive Rites & Events (1966). Later, when I reprinted and expanded them in Technicians, I added the following note:
The editor has taken a series of rituals & other programmed activities from a wide geographical area & has, as far as possible, suppressed all reference to accompanying mythic or "symbolic" explanations. This has led to two important results: (1) the form of the activities is, for the first time, given the prominence it deserves; & (2) the resulting works bear a close resemblance to those often mythless activities of our own time called events, happenings, de-coll/age, kinetic theater, performance arts, sound-text, etc. It may be further noted that most of these "events" like the (modern) intermedia art they resemble are parts of total situations involving poetry, music, dance, painting, myth, magic, etc., as are many of the songs presented elsewhere in these pages. Having revealed this much, the editor does not wish to obscure by a series of explanatory footnotes the forms that have been laid bare. Although absence of such notes may result in some distortion, its precisely the kind of distortion that can have a value in itself. Like seeing Greek statues without their colors.
Additional "events" were composed for the subsequent anthologies, and some also made their way into books of my own poetry like Poland/1931 and A Seneca Journal.
Arnhem Land, Australia
(1) A man & woman looking for lilies.
(2) All the people going down to look for lilies.
(3) Mud taken up looking for lilies.
(4) Washing the lilies in the water to remove the mud.
(5) Washing themselves off after the mud has got on them.
(6) Lilies in a basket.
(7) Walking from the lily place "to go look for a dry place to sit down."
1. Pigs and chickens feed on the grass in an inhabited area until it is bare of grass.
2. Garbage is added to the area.
3. The participants defend the "abandoned beauty" and "town-quality" of the environment against all critics:
Critic. This place is dirty.
Answer. It is filthy.
Critic. Why dont you clean it up?
Answer. We like it the way it is.
Critic. Garbage is unhealthy.
Answer. The pigs feed better in it.
Critic. It breeds mosquitoes.
Answer. There are more mosquitoes in a jungle.
The men shave and fashion "Van Dyke" beards. The women paint.
Start by giving away different colored glass bowls.
Have everyone give everyone else a glass bowl.
Give away handkerchiefs and soap and things like that.
Give away a sack of clams and a roll of toilet paper.
Give away teddybear candies, apples, suckers and oranges.
Give away pigs and geese and chickens, or pretend to do so.
Pretend to be different things.
Have the women pretend to be crows, have the men pretend to be something else.
Talk chinese or something.
Make a narrow place at the entrance of a house and put a line at the end of it that you have to stoop under to get in.
Hang the line with all sorts of pots and pans to make a big noise.
Give away frying pans while saying things like "Here is this frying pan worth $100 and this one worth $200."
Give everyone a new name.
Give a name to a grandchild or think of something and go and get everything.
1. A shaman has a dream & names a child for what he dreams in it. Among such names are Circling Light, Rushing Light Beams, Daylight Comes, Wind Rainbow, Wind Leaves, Rainbow Shaman, Feather Leaves, A-Rainbow-as-a-Bow, Shining Beetle, Singing Dawn, Hawk-Flying-over-Water-Holes, Flowers Trembling, Chief-of-Jackrabbits, Water-Drops-on-Leaves, Short Wings, Leaf Blossoms, Foamy Water.
2. A person receives a name describing something odd about him, always on the bad side. Such names include: Grasshopper-Ate-His-Arrow, Gambler, Ass-Side-to-the-Fire, Pants-Fall-Down, Blisters, Fish-Smell-Mouth, Bed Wetter, Rat Ear, Yellow Legs.
3. A person receives a name describing something odd & sexual about the namer. Here the namer is a woman or a transvestite, who makes the name public by shouting it after the man named when others are present. The man invariably accepts it & is regularly called by it, even by his wife & family. Such names include: Down-Dangling-Pussy-Hairs, Big Cunt, Long Asshole.
4. A group of namers gathers around a dead enemy & shouts abusive names at the body. These names are then given to the shouters. They include: Long Bones, Full-of-Dirt, Back-of-a-Wildcat, Yellow Face, & Gold Breasts, the latter spoken of a girl.
5. A person buys a name or trades names with another person. For example, Devil-Old-Man exchanges names with Contrary, or Looking-for-Girls-at-a-Dance changes with Big Crazy, but has to give him four pints of whiskey in addition because of the desirability of the name.
Crazy Dog Events
1. Act like a crazy dog. Wear sashes & other fine clothes, carry a rattle, & dance along the roads singing crazy dog songs after everybody else has gone to bed.
2. Talk crosswise: say the opposite of what you mean & make others say the opposite of what they mean in return.
3. Fight like a fool by rushing up to an enemy & offering to be killed. Dig a hole near an enemy, & when the enemy surrounds it, leap out at them & drive them back.
4. Paint yourself white, mount a white horse, cover its eyes & make it jump down a steep & rocky bank, until both of you are crushed.
Vision Event I
Go to a lonely place & rub a stone in a circle on a rock for hours & days on end.
Vision Event II
Let the person who wants a vision hang himself by the neck. When his face turns purple, take him down & have him describe what hes seen.
Vision Event III
Go to a mountaintop & cry for a vision.
Originally published in Technicians of the Sacred (Doubleday, 1968, University of California Press, 1985). Scheduled for republication in J.R., Writing Through: Translations & Variations, Wesleyan University Press, 2004.