The artist and poet Vito Acconci has died at seventy-seven. Acconci is best known for his performance pieces, which shocked audiences in the early seventies—especially Seedbed, which a New York Times profile last summer described with admirable concision: “he constructed an angled false floor at the Sonnebend Gallery in SoHo and hid himself beneath it with a microphone, speaking luridly to the people who walked above him, masturbating as he spoke.”
Before he became an artist, Acconci was a writer, and in this line, too, he excelled at provocation. The Paris Review published a pair of eyebrow-raising poems by him in our Summer 1968 issue. At that time, Acconci would’ve been fresh out of his M.F.A. program at the University of Iowa, where, as the Times tells it, one of his short stories “provoked a minor riot.” It featured a dismembered man who became a living sculpture, and it started like this:
They cut him up and since the chairs had just been varnished for the celebration, he was set down on a giant floor urn. The chalice-shaped jar was waist-high for most people, but not for Rockram, because he had no legs.
That same deadpan grotesquerie courses through “Using a Trot,” one of his poems from the Review, reprinted below in his memory. As a postscript, consider his answer to Richard Prince, who asked him in 1991 interview, “What kind of sex do you like?” “The kind,” Acconci replied, “in which two people use every part of their bodies and every secretion of those bodies and every level of pressure those bodies can exert.”
Using a Trot
He said: “Straight from the horse’s mouth.”
He said that was straight from the horse’s mouth.
He said it straight from the horse’s mouth.
The horse was large, strong, with four legs, solid hoofs, and flowing mane and tail.
(Something like it was what he sat, rode, or was carried on.
There was a frame on legs to support something.)
And something or other was uttered through the mouth, which contained the teeth and the tongue.
There was a wry expression!
There, the water emptied into another body of water.
The body, then, developed by means of food.
He had been mentioned before.
Now, not bent or crooked, he was coming out of the opening.
He was no longer on his high horse.