Monthly Archives: March 2016

Further Evidence of the Jersey City Volée, ca. 1880


An associate of ESTAR(SER) who is a bookseller in Ohio (and who wishes to remain anonymous, but who tells us he was connected, until two years ago, with the midwestern Ausonian Fellowship) writes with a find:


Dear Sir or Madam,

Into my possession came lately a copy of an uncommon volume: Echoes of the Aesthetic Society of Jersey City (New York: Thompson and Moreau, 1882).  I include a snapshot of the cover here:

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 7.25.26 PM

I had heard of the body, and had come to suspect that the patroness of this salon-association, Mrs. Erminnie A. Smith, was in fact a devotee of the Order, having come under the influence of Susan Elizabeth Blow, who will be familiar to your readers. I therefore perused the volume closely, with an eye toward uncovering any Birdish “Easter Eggs” it might secrete.  I have persuaded myself that I have been successful, and wish to test my hypothesis by means of this informal correspondence with your “Notes and Queries” — in the hope that, should my argument withstand scrutiny, I might elaborate it into a contribution to the Proceedings.

Initially, I must confess, I was disheartened to discover, in these yellowed pages of high-quality paper, a quite conventional assortment of poetic appreciations and Victorian-sentimental chapbook squibs.  I caught no glimpse of any substantive texts that might be read as allegories of the Practice or as veiled allusions to its rites and forms.

But my persistence was, I believe, ultimately rewarded.  It was on examining the frontispiece…

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 7.12.55 PM

…with a high-powered loupe that I discovered two highly suggestive vignettes, which I believe confirm our longstanding suspicions about Mrs. Smith and her aesthetical acolytes of Jersey City.

First, then, take a closer look at the left hand margin of the (inert) inset of the poetaster’s labors:

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 7.15.27 PM

A close look reveals a rather mysterious aggregation of figures:

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 7.12.10 PM

Could it be doubted that this is a “formation” of the Birds — indeed, something very close to the traditional “Phalanx”?  I think your readers will, on spending some time with the image, come to agree that it must be this and nothing else.  Though questions do remain.  First, the screens that the figures are holding before their faces strongly suggested the “reduction screens” heretofore thought to have their origin in the work of Inyard Kip Ketchem.  But if I am not mistaken, this image (from 1880) predates the existing terminus a quo for the “Ketchem Screen.”  In light of this discovery, more work is clearly needed on the history of the use of this optical prosthetic in Bird exercises. Second, it is difficult to deny that the group looks very much as if they are “attending” on the top-hatted figure to the left.  He does not appear to be a statue, much less a painting.  Rather, he seems quite wholly to be a human person.  To the best of my knowledge, the only Protocol that positions Birds in attendance on a human being is the so-called “Prosphorion,” on which much ink has been spilled in ESTAR(SER) circles of late (I allude to your recent three-part series on the “renaissance” of this Practice).  Needless to say, if the image above can be taken to represent a Prophorion, the entire extant history of this Practice will need to be re-written — since to date it is associated closely with the work of Erich Auerbach, Istanbul in the 1930s, and the now well-known “Boğaziçi Rolls.” More work is evidently in order.

Nor, I think, does all of this exhaust the document in question, as far as the history of the Order is concerned!  Since a closer look at the lower right hand corner of the same page…

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 7.14.12 PM

…reveals another highly-suggestive scene:

Screen Shot 2016-03-20 at 7.11.38 PM

Modern devotees of the Practice will here descry a nearly shockingly blatant depiction of the commencement of an “Action” (the easel/print-stand to the right looks ready to receive the “object” in the hands of the bearded gentleman-caller; the well-appointed table in the lower right has clearly been arranged for “colloquy”).  It would seem that Mr. B. B. Chamberlin — a well-known draftsman-naturalist and collector of minerals in the Hudson Valley — chose to be surprisingly explicit in his celebration of Mrs. Erminnie Smith’s gracious hosting of her volée!

Thank you for your attention,



We are ourselves, I think, largely convinced here — but critical responses are welcome, and may be addressed to the corresponding secretary:


On the Amateur, and other Fledglings: A Correspondence

       The Secretary Locotenant of the Order of the Third Bird has recently asked if we at Communiqués would have any interest in publishing a selection of the Locotenant’s vast correspondence with various members and practitioners of the Order. The enthusiasm of our response cannot be overstated; the following will be the first in a punctuated series reproducing choice fragments of this archive.

       The first letter in the correspondence reproduced below (spanning 9 months) was originally addressed by a member of the Order to the community of Birds at large, and the Locotenant appears to have stepped in on behalf of the Order. These documents reach us “as is,” with little comment or explanation (some of the redactions and paraphrases are the Locotenant’s, some are our own), but they do also speak clearly for themselves, and include tantalizing allusions to the Order’s internal affairs, including the choosing of “Bird names.”

       Several things should nonetheless be mentioned: the July 15 letter makes reference to a lecture that ESTAR(SER) itself delivered on the “traveling attention artist” Inyard Kip Ketchem (1847-1919) and his famous “reduction screen.” It also refers, quite puzzlingly, to the Order’s “founding myths,” and even more so, to “invented progenitors.” Most likely, this is a subtle jab at some misunderstanding perpetrated by ESTAR(SER) itself, its inevitable ignorance with respect to the arcane doings of the Order, or the incompleteness of its historical knowledge. May we only comment that, if our knowledge of the Order were not incomplete, we would hardly have reason to continue our loving pursuit of its mysteries?

July 15, 2015

July 29, 2015

August 3, 2015

January 13, 2016

March 10, 2016

An early New York Prosphorion?



An ESTAR(SER) researcher based in New York recently submitted the following query, which follows up on the recent series about the “renaissance” of the Prosphorion in the United States:

“Perusing a recent collection by the poet Rachel Hadas, I came across ‘Attention,’ originally published in Per Contra in the Spring of 2007 (I enclose a copy). Even a superficial reading places firmly in evidence Hadas’s debt to the Practice of the Birds, and the poem would seem to be an affecting evocation of a specific (outdoor) Action in Midtown Manhattan. I thought the work captured something of my own experience working with a group with Villareal’s work entitled Volume at 1133 Sixth Avenue (the Durst building) many years ago — the notion that “attention is…communicable, spreads through crowds” beautifully specifies something many of us have, I think, discovered in a very visceral way in the course of Actions (particularly those outdoors, in public spaces, where the “punctum” of a volée can draw a crowd merely on the strength of the vectoring attention of the phalanx). All that seems relatively transparent in the poem.  Less obvious, perhaps (and the reason for my sending along this note), is the gesture, in the final stanza, toward the ‘reciprocity of the gaze’ (here indexed by the Hopkins quote) — which I read as strongly suggesting the dynamic of Veillance (the remarkable final phase of the Prosphorion). Those familiar with this Protocol will recall the phrasing: ‘There is no such thing as absence. See: The Absent Thing attends to you.’ For those who have attended on a Representative for thirty minutes or an hour, there is indeed something uncanny in that sense which can emerge, in the final phase, that the object is indeed ‘staring back.’ If indeed Hadas’s Attention references not merely an ordinary Action, but a Prosphorion, it would be, I think, the earliest instance of a Prosphorion of which I am aware in the New York City area.  (Though I have heard of earlier instances on the West Coast of the United States). Insights from those with further knowledge on these matters would be very welcome.”