The Reading Series: Brandon Downing's 'The Institution'

In Brandon Downing's video poem we see Boris Karloff's character in Black Sabbath wandering around as a new vampire, and trying to invade his family estate. This trance-like video, solidly energized in part because of Kishore Kumar's song, epitomizes a failed institutional structure. You could almost hear the lines of the poem being chanted by a crowd, so strong is their reality: "There's a lack in myself I'll address, / A zeal that lights up cigarettes, / With the planets in my spiral / It all comes off as peaceful, / That's why I'm at this institution." Except in this case it's not a crowd; it's a single person. A person whose power makes it possible to collect his son, "make him a rainy artist by May," and discard him into the night. When this happens, Karloff is placed again in his everyday life with which he can only proceed, maybe even by repeating the same situation. This reminds me of John Ashbery's poem "The Instruction Manual," in which the speaker takes a break from work and daydreams about the buildings and people of Guadalajara, a place he's never been to. The antepenultimate line reads: "What more is there to do, except stay? And that we cannot do." And in the case of Karloff who encounters himself with every turn he takes, that's all he does: stay. And this vampire guides us into his world.

Brandon Downing is a writer and visual artist originally from California. His books of poetry include The Shirt Weapon and Dark Brandon, and a monograph of his literary collages from 1996-2008, Lake Antiquity. A long poem, AT ME, was released by Octopus Books earlier this year, and his latest collection, Mellow Actions, is out from Fence this month. In 2007 he released a feature-length collection of collaged digital shorts, Dark Brandon: Eternal Classics, with a 2nd volume forthcoming next year. More video poems can be seen at his online channel,