Art is Crime

by on Mar.31, 2011

[When I was down in Louisiana over spring break, this undergraduate student James Bellard got picked up by campus police because a copy of his poem imitating my poems had come to the attention of the authorities, so I asked him to write up his own version of the events.]

Luck of the Irish

It was late at night when I got the e-mail for the assignment to write an imitation of Johannes Göransson. I was sick and really didn’t feel like writing a poem that I wouldn’t finish till 11:30 that night, but I hated being sick more and to change my routine would be to let the virus win. So, I read a few of Johannes’s poems. I picked out some elements of his style (killing, doll penis’s, and demons to name a few). The overall feel of his style was that it was quite disturbing. I set out to make my imitation even more disturbing—like the ramblings of a schizophrenic before some terrible act—and after the events that transgressed shortly thereafter, I’d say I’d surpassed my own expectations in that. This is the poem:

Dear, Lucifer

i opened up my refrigerator, and thought, who should i kill today, or maybe someone should kill me because something really only has meaning when its wrapped up, because there needs to be a moment that sUMmarizes it all up. so give me the super-freaky super-nunchuck from outer-space. let the death-scythe Carve my pain into my soul. but i didn’t have a death-scythe in my refrigerator, only a bottle of tooth-paste that i could use to slowly slit my wrist, only I couldn’t do it because that wouldn’t be as sexy… not that i want to be dead, but to die. Hey, look there’s a doll in here with a penis.


***
It was 8:55 the next morning when I went into the LSU library to print out my poem. To celebrate the holiday, I was wearing a green leprechaun top hat. To add to the effect, I had my side-burns poking out like Wolverine. I had even been going to buy spray paint to make my hair green, but I was pressing the clock and didn’t have time to make the stop. My first class would start in 15 minutes.

Once I managed to get the slow computer to start printing my poem, I found myself standing in line behind a person who must have been printing a whole book. Nonetheless, I’d given myself a little time to spare, so I stood there for a few minutes. That’s when the printer ran out of paper and my impatience won over. I tried another printer, this time with success.

I went back to log off of the computer, but someone else had gotten on it. I didn’t like that because they might be able to mess up something of mine. I don’t like to cause trouble, though, for anyone, so I said not a word to him, and just hurried to class.

***
I was in Tureaud hall walking towards my last class of the day, when a man walked up behind me and said in a voice like my high-school teacher that had always stood by the school entrance and inspected everyone’s uniforms, “Excuse me sir!” I turned around to see what he wanted (faintly annoyed by the association), then I saw the badge clipped to his belt. “Put your hands on the wall!” He commanded.

“There’s the leprechaun.” Another officer said smugly as he walked up with a third “Good eye!”

“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be held against you in the can and will be held against you in court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, an attorney will be appointed to you by the court of law. Do you understand your rights?”

A leprechaun… yeah, I guess I had the luck of the Irish.

***
The situation didn’t feel quite real as I rode in the SUV to the LSU police department. All manner of explanations for why I’d been taken in for questioning went through my mind. I could only think that there’d been some mistake, though I couldn’t imagine what it was. Nonsensical thoughts drugs being planted on my body wandered through my mind.
They pulled up beside the station, then led me inside to a room where I sat down across from Detective Morris. After I’d signed the document saying that I understood my rights he began the questioning. “Tell me everything you’ve done today.” Morris said.

I told him everything I’d did since that morning. I told him because I was innocent and wanted to clear up my name. Besides, being cooperative itself should relieve some of their suspicion. When I got to the part about when I’d gotten off of the computer for a bit to came back and find it taken, I thought to myself that someone must have got on then and done something illegal under my name. I didn’t say this out loud. If a virus had been uploaded onto the computer, I didn’t want my guess to be right, because it would seem to them like I knew something I didn’t.

“Do you know why you’re here?” Morris asked when I’d nearly gotten to the part where they’d spotted me.

“No,” I said, glad that we were finally getting to this. I wasn’t sure if the feeling in my stomach was just my nerves or the stomach virus I’d had since yesterday, but the shaking in my legs was definitely the nerves. I was anxious to prove my innocence and get out of there.

“No idea?” Morris asked again.

“No idea.” I repeated.

“A disturbing letter was found on the printer in the library. Are you familiar with this?”
I realized now what it was, and had to keep myself from laughing at how seriously the people who found this “disturbing letter,” and the cops now, were taking this. “That was a poem.” I said. “I’m not going to kill anyone or commit suicide. It must have printed out when they reloaded the printer with paper, I was running late for class, so I just printed from the other printed.”

At first they didn’t believe me. It was a weird mix of feelings, trying not to laugh, and being scared they might not believe me at the same time. But, it was mostly my trembling body that was scared. My mind was more reasonable. Once I showed them the e-mail for the assignment, and they read about killing, terrorism, and dolls on Johannes’s site (Officer Morris was actually really good at reading poetry), they were obliged to release me.
Later Dr. Lara told Johannes about my experience, and he said that it meant art was a crime. With this in mind, I added a new title to the top of my poem above “Dear, Lucifer,” something that should keep me from almost getting arrested in the future:

This is a Poem, Not an Act of Terrorism

A lot good did end up coming out of what could have been a catastrophe. I got to delay a quiz I hadn’t studied for, for one thing. For another, Johannes talked about what happened to me for two days before we actually met, then told me he wanted to have my poem and the story published on hiss blog. I guess I have the luck of the Irish.

14 comments for this entry:
  1. “Art is Crime” | HTMLGIANT

    […] Montevidayo, an interesting post from a student who was picked up by campus police after they discovered what he’d written for […]

  2. Amish

    Excellent! Wow- that’s pretty hilarious but not super surprising.

    I wonder if Lucifer ever got the letter…

  3. Lara Glenum

    James, you are total dear to be so game about everything that transpired.

    As I now recall, we’d actually been talking about Johannes’s scattershot terrorist aesthetics in class that day, the way he mobilizes terrorism as a poetic strategy.

    I esp. like that Officer Morris is good at reading poetry.

  4. jackie

    AMERICA IS AFRAID OF CRAZY PEOPLE!

    there’s this weird hysteria in the air about people who are perceive to be “disturbed” OR “mentally ill”

    school administrators always looking for “warning signs”
    etc

    weird crackdown on weirdo behavior.

    this horrifying. the policing of everything.

    i’m waiting for the day a sane person shoots someone and then everyone gets hysterical about sane people and rounds them up. that would never happen. SANITY IS NOT MARKED!

  5. Rawbbie

    this is an act of terrorism, not a poem.

  6. coleen

    Arrested development

  7. Aaron

    This is amusing but I don’t see anything inherently unjust or indicative of some kind of police state, anti-art mentality. I mean, real-life school massacres do happen and a lot of the time the killers leave behind crazy manifestos. It seems logical that the cops would want to investigate and maybe prevent something terrible.

    I am willing to concede that hauling him into the police station was over-zealous. A quick questioning where they first found him would have been sufficient.

  8. NEG

    Thanks for posting this, amazing!

  9. Joyelle McSweeney

    Hey there, it seems to me that what’s interesting in the post is not whether we live in a crazy irrational campus police state (does the student make that charge?) but the way 1)paranoia is contagious and makes copies of itself– the paranoia of the speaker of Johannes’s poem is copied over into this student’s poem; Johannes’s own poems were inspired by the letters of crazy people to (the dead) William Randolph Hearst which it was his girlfriend’s job to read when she worked for Hearst Publications in the 90s. Then the cops read the poems aloud, so the cops are playback devices for paranoia. So this poetry and paranoia is infecting everything; poetry is the vehicle of infection and the symptom too. 2) Another interesting thing about it is the degree to which this is a scripted drama, crime is like a crime show. The cops play their role, and the arrested student plays his role. Everything is scripted in the whole exchange. the student actually writes multiple versions of ‘the plot’ in his head (what could have happened, the virus, etc) but doesn’t utter them for fear of entering those thoughts into the script of the drama and having them be enacted.

  10. nliu

    Aaron, did Johannes or James make any of those claims? I mean, I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if they did, nor would I necessarily disagree with them. But did they in the first place?

    On another note, this line:

    “like the ramblings of a schizophrenic before some terrible act”

    is not very cool. Try harder, James.

  11. Aaron

    nliu- I don’t know of Johannes or James making those claims, but I wasn’t trying to refute their claims or anything. Just sort of a statement about the event. I guess I could see this incident being interpreted as a “thought police crackdown on subversive art” type thing but maybe not and I don’t really know why it matters anyway. Just tossed out my first reaction to reading the piece and maybe a mild rebuttal to Jackie’s comment.

    Move along, nothing to see here.

  12. Aaron

    Also this piece is titled “Art is Crime” which might be a bit hyperbolic. Not sure the art was the crime but rather the art was misinterpreted as warning sign of a potential crime but I understand that “Art Misinterpreted as Warning Sign of Potential Crime” doesn’t have the same snap.

    I do think Joyelle’s point about the echo of some threatening letters to Hearst reverberating through Johannes and a college student and then causing paranoia in police officers is interesting. Seems like maybe it somehow created some message board paranoia as well (is he disagreeing with Johannes/potentially defending the fascist police state’s response to art?!). Seems like once threatening language is born unto the world it has endless potential for conflict creation.

  13. Josef Horáček

    This story illustrates nicely how art is only art if we choose to recognize it as such – the defining markers are often purely exterior to it. So in this instance, the poem was not recognized as such simply because it was encountered in an untypical context for poetry.

  14. James Bellard

    Joyelle, your scripted interpretation is interesting. I actually was comparing what was going on with what I’d seen on TV as I went through this (since I had no real life experience of this sort to draw on). TV was surprisingly helpful in this case. I think the cops have been influenced by it as much as I have. There was one part (which I left out) where they even tried the good-cop bad-cop thing on me.