Chris Vitiello author photoAlternate cover for Obedience by Chris Vitiello
  • Series: New Series 45
  • ISBN-13: 978-1-934103-26-5
  • ISBN-10: 1-934103-26-8
  • Pages: 108
  • Size: 6 x 8 x .5 in
  • Price: $17.50


Chris Vitiello

From its dedication “for the word ‘this’” to its cascading sentences that demand “Explain yourself to this dot • ” or observe “The first word was a command,” Vitiello’s unique Obedience creates a reading experience of poetry that borders on the compulsive. This book can be read forwards, backwards, and laterally. “The title of this book should be the entirety of the text of this book over again,” the author suggests before urging the reader: “Go on.”

from Obedience


You know the meanings of certain concrete nouns without having directly experienced the things they refer to

You may feel this disappearing, unraveling, or dissipating

This is your decision’s result

This was your decision’s result

Look at your reflection

This is a point of possible closure •

This is the beginning

This happened

This line is being read and has now been read

Relocate that point of possible closure to the start of this book

Align your rituals with this

Take this opportunity •

Hold a noun

Write the first adjective you learned in the space below

Some things are invisible

This is the beginning of anything

Measure this effect

You can’t get away from this

Fear subjectless verbs

Write the next line(s)



Copyright © 2012 by Chris Vitiello

"Taken from a conceptual poetry standpoint, Chris Vitiello’s newest book Obedience, out from Ahsahta press, offers a strongly humanist rejoinder to the institutional dominance of uncreative writing. Conceived of as one long project in statements that ask to be read a variety of ways, Vitiello’s text turns the “conceptual” in conceptual poetry to an explicit interest in philosophy and reason. This turn is apparent in his interest in statements, meaning, and mirroring—all of which suggest a strong engagement with and response to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Wittgenstein’s work explores the possibility of a logically perfect language, one in which a sentence can mean something quite definite. His short treatise works in grinding detail through how such a language could operate, and develops propositionally from one statement to the next. In such a project, the boundaries of language and of logic are coterminous for Wittgenstein, and our position as rational agents is immutably at the center of these realms. . . . Yes, we are at the mercy of potentially rigidified conceptual structures. But isn’t the work of conceptual poetry to draw our attention to this? In Vitiello’s hands, this stance is surprisingly beautiful and lively. Whether one feels that beauty to be an opiate or a liberatory gesture, I’ll leave up to his readers. Regardless, Vitiello’s newest work makes a strong contribution to such conversations, and I’m excited to see what comes next." —from Sueyeun Juliette Lee's review at Constant Critic


"Like the ambiguity-savoring Gertrude Stein, Vitiello seeds his field with as many flowers as weeds. Some of his best shoots are barbed, the wordplay cloyingly pertinent. A few checked favorites, which I get to by spinning the pages, maybe turning the book over, maybe not:Every line or sentence in Vitiello is given equal space—one line, one vote.

            A poem is not an idea but is often said to have ideas in it
            Some of the numbers will never be used
            Water has no color but always appears to have a color
            Stairs contain stairs
            One’s usage of words depletes no resource or supply

The substance of Obedience is watery: putting your foot in is to touch its placelessness, its anti-narrative, its nowhere (utopia) of unnumbered, often lookalike pages, which I flip-flop my way across, more awake than I am with many books of contemporary poetry. Vitiello’s is a wonderment." —from Thomas Larson's review in Triquarterly (scroll down)

Chris Vitiello author photoI have a biography. I was born on the day the first lunar astronauts splashed down. I grew up in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D. C., and spent a lot of time messing around in a creek between subdivisions and playing with matchbox cars in the dirt with friends. I used to memorize sports statistics, baseball and football box scores, and developed formulae for ranking players at their positions. I liked to sit in the tiny space under a desk in my room because the heating vent was there, and I would tuck a blanket in the desk drawer so the space would become stifling, and I rigged some Christmas lights under there, and I would read Ray Bradbury and those poetry anthologies of the “child’s garden of verse” ilk. I could run really fast. Also I used to watch the Charles and Ray Eames film Powers of Ten over and over again in an alcove in the National Air and Space Museum. I saw a lot of visual art in the museums in our nation's capital and really imprinted on Louise Nevelson, Joseph Cornell, Alexander Calder, and anything modern that my parents really didn’t like very much, frankly. Like the Rothko room at the Phillips Collection. Or really messy Jean Dubuffet and Robert Rauschenberg things. Eventually I moved more into the Jasper Johns and Marcel Duchamp trajectory. I remember really putting a lot of things together in my head in a John Baldessari retrospective. So I got heavily into irony as production. As much as one can be said to struggle with such a thing, I’ve struggled with default ambivalence ever since.

Along with that Eames film, the two other big things for me were reading the chapter on self-referential sentences in Douglas Hofstadter’s Metamagical Themas and the Sesame Street book There’s A Monster at the End of This Book. In high school I wrote tons of one-page poems in spiral notebooks. They were all pretty much the same poem. I would sit in a friend’s basement listening to Led Zeppelin and King Crimson and Miles Davis, writing poems and playing air hockey. Not bad.

In college I read a lot of William Carlos Williams and then John Ashbery and then discovered the Language Poets. I went to the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, for an M. F. A. and started Proliferation with Mary Burger and Jay Schwartz. We would play with Kinko’s photocopiers through the night, making books and artifacts. Francis Ponge’s “Notebook of the Pine Woods” really impacted me then.

All this writing about myself makes me really uncomfortable. My wife Vicki and I married and moved to Durham, N. C., where I still live. We have two daughters—Iris was born in 1999 and Sadie was born in 2006. Everything before this paragraph can now be erased.

I am concerned with, among other things: clarification, light, stars, the sky, clouds, wind, trees, birds, deduction, eyes, leaves, people and their observable behaviors, grasses, the soil, flowers and their growth, description and representation, vegetables, skins and peels, seeds, nuts, cross-sections, dictionary definitions, synonyms and antonyms but especially synonyms, utility, analysis, skepticism, kindness, goodness, quantity, measurement, direct commands, questions, and fact statements.

I always want to pay close attention to everything and to remember as much as possible. So I thought to make Obedience to store all that in a way that could be useful for another reader, or for me later. A how-to book for experiencing, without being patronizing, reductive, or boring.

Sometimes I get distracted and over-busy and rush through everything and my attentiveness (as well as goodness) is lost and all shattered and time passes like that and it hardens and hurts after a while, hurts everything. Obedience was a way to make something external to help resist shattering. It became akin to an actual location, after I ran it over a good stretch of time.

I just needed a touch-place in which to be clear and thorough—with a pervasive Wittgensteinian and Heisenbergian doubt. That sounds a little bit like bullshit but it was the project.

Clarity isn’t an aesthetic choice in Obedience. The most precise way of describing an object is to list its elemental makeup and structure (e.g., water is a configuration of two hydrogens and an oxygen). The most essential way to express a quantity is through its prime factors (e.g., 30 is 2 × 3 × 5). But these are not the most useful ways.

Talking about the physical world in Periodic Table terms isn’t particularly relevant to experience unless you have an electron microscope bolted to your skull. And 30 is best spoken of as 30. Precision can go incomprehensibly long or too technical. There’s a middle area with many gradations between excessive clarity and vagueness. I tried to define the edge between reasonable/useful clarity and excessive clarity in every line of Obedience. So there were formal decisions up front. Textually, it had to be spare. Most poetic conventions go unused. Obedience lacks line breaks, figurative language, use of the page as a field. There aren’t really “moves” in it. It is, rigidly, a sentence and then a line of space, a sentence and then a line of space. The text comprises exactly four kinds of sentences: fact statements, descriptions, definitions, and direct commands.

Then there were decisions about the book object. Stripped down to these few variables, the text risked going overall flat, which could override the implications of any individual line, as well as the current between proximate lines. Read aloud, at a certain pace, it was affecting but when people read it off the page they went too fast because sentence-space was like drinking water. So I doubled the text, writing an equivalent line for each line in the book. A line that means the same thing, or deals with the same concept, or is a textual variant, or contradicts. And the doubled line sits upside-down, directly across the page spread. The spine’s a hinge.

The book can be read forwards, backwards, and laterally back and forth across the spread. The portion of the poem that sits in the right-side-up text on the right-hand page flows line-for-line backwards through the upside-down text on the left hand page. This is pretty self-evident to the eyes; explaining it makes it sound complex. Anyway, the poem is not the text; it’s in the text. Texts. And the texts could have been different.

Obedience is dedicated to the word “this” because it’s the fundamental tautological pronoun, a prime word, the language's Periodic Table: “This is this.” / “This” is a one-word language. And this is a one-word language. / That’s all. /