Octet for My Fellow Prisoners of the Avant-Garde

Fellow prisoners of the avant-garde! We have nothing left to fear but our own co-opting by the establishment, which may turn out less grandly than we dream. Say that, days before your death, some unlettered twerp gains international fame by doing exactly what you did twenty years before without any recognition at all. Will you wish you had died without witnessing it, or stall your final breath until you’ve burned down the world in revenge?

 Fellow prisoners of the avant-garde! I have seen us create small, precise, inscrutable works of genius, and I have seen us create unwieldy, tendentious, ponderous, pendulous, overgrown, belabored works of genius, and they have all saved me from oblivion by giving me hope that the ineffable is expressible. Looking at them, I have seen the faces of my own personal angels.

 Fellow prisoners of the avant-garde! Please don’t lie to me and claim that you don’t think about fame and money. I have consumed various beverages with many of our champions, and heard them complain about their wranglings over fame and money, and in fact wrangled with them over money myself a few times, and the stench nearly choked my personal angels to death. The money must be delivered on time, or else! The money must be of a sum greater than that which an obvious rival received, or else! Sometimes it made me want to flip them the double bird and go work for Disney.

 Fellow prisoners of the avant-garde! If only we could bottle up those moments when we are perfectly at ease with our simple acts of creation and our place in the ecosystem of artistic commerce, we would all live and die happier. Bottle that feeling, I say, the next time it passes over you. Save it for the next time you obsess about money and fame, or—better yet—share that bottle with another of our kind who has fallen into the insoluble labyrinth of greed.

 Fellow prisoners of the avant-garde! Let us stroll through our streets tonight jabbering about mundanities like football with those we might (on other nights) scorn as uncultured. For are not all our inscrutable and pendulous works of genius also acts of communion, and is not listening to another human an act of communion that can teach us something?

 Fellow prisoners of the avant-garde! After we’re done with that chore, let us paint our faces blue and dress like lunatics from another century and disrupt every conversation we possibly can with talk of our craft and sullen art. Let us refuse to even acknowledge the existence of football, so that our fellow citizens will know exactly how we feel about the mundane.

 Fellow prisoners of the avant-garde! Let us occupy every museum and bookstore and concert hall and theater and fall on our sides at the appointed hour like Roman aristocrats about to gorge themselves. Let us demand wine and delicacies from those who arrest us, even as we are carried away and stacked into waiting vans for processing.

 Fellow prisoners of the avant-garde! I love you and I fear you. Love because we are siblings, made of the same querulous DNA that cannot stop asking questions and living on the edges of questions and growing ourselves in the centers of questions. Fear because I know that you and time will not count me among your number. That you and time will find me too square, too monogamous, too religious, too bourgeois. I will understand. I will not even feel there is any crime to forgive. But please, take this poem first. Take it and laugh, at it and with it, in all the ways you are able.




Steven Wingate is a multi-genre author whose award-winning and internationally-exhibited work ranges from fiction to interactive digital media and gaming. His short story collection Wifeshopping was selected by Amy Hempel as winner of the Bakeless Prize in Fiction from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference; it was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2008 and translated into Bulgarian in 2012. His interactive memoir daddylabyrinth premiered in 2014 at the ArtScience Museum of Singapore, and his interactive film Talk with Your Hands Like an Ellis Island Mutt premiered in Hong Kong in 2016. His interactive novel Boulderpeople is forthcoming from Choice of Games in early 2018. He is currently an associate professor of English at South Dakota State University.