An Intelligent World

You are an intelligent school child walking along train tracks and notice a break in one of the rails. You know what Turpentine is, you know what Rayon is, you know the answer to the question 'How many pounds in a ton,' and you have investigated and understood the average height of the American man. But now you are confronted with this entirely new problem. In the distance the train sounds its whistle. You look between the tracks and the train. What do you do?

According to the Wechsler-Bellevue Intelligence Scale, published in 1946 by THE PSYCHOLOGICAL CORPORATION, running is not an option. Moving into safety or calling the police for help are also not very smart choices. As any intelligent child from the 1940s knows, the correct answer is to take off your shirt and, without moving off the tracks, wave it around.

Although psychological examinations of this sort were the standard for many years, they have since become something approximating objet d'art, a rediscovered mindset that reads at times like a Ben Marcus novel.

Lets try another one. You are a child walking the streets of a city when, all of a sudden, a beggar steps out and asks you for money. He (for “he” is the only pronoun ever used) looks hungry. Do you give him money or do you donate to a charity?

Correct Answers:
2-Credits: Beggars may not be on the level.
1-Credit: Street beggar may be a drunkard. Beggars may be a racket.
0-Credits: It's not nice to beg.

I found my first intelligence testing kit four years ago in the free bin outside the Allan Ginsberg library. At the time it seemed like harmless kitsch, but I soon found myself consumed with interest in the freakish mindset that decided, and probably still does, to deem itself the standard by which intelligence is to be measured.

For years I have been playing with the language and images of intelligence tests to eke poetic absurdity out of the odd pedestrian scenarios.

[This is one such manipulation entitled, "And what a funny sound it makes."]

Let's try another one. You are a ten year old boy. You know what a harrow is. You know what the stomach does. And you know how many miles between New York and Chicago. You are also, however, an illiterate from a culture too poor to have libraries (yes, this is actually in the book). The problem is this: You have borrowed and lost a watch. What do you do? Looking for the watch will earn you no points. Trying to find the watch will earn you two points. (What is the difference between 'trying to find' and 'looking'? It's probably best not to ask.) The basic gist is to not assume you'll be able to find it. The only 'intelligent' solution: you must purchase a new watch.

If you do come from a culture with libraries you can substitute watch for book, and rather than look for that encyclopedia you were using to research the capital of Cuba, simply buy them a new one!

If the child can answer this the Examiner says: “I want to see how many words you know. Listen carefully. When I say a word you tell me what it means. What does__________ mean?” The words: Pound, Scissors, Mountain, Plumb, Beer, Cat, Piano, Paper. If Subject is actually literate, you may show them the words and let them read along.


I came across the Wechsler-Bellevue Intelligence Scale last week in a used bookstore in Brooklyn. Every bookstore I visited seemed to have either books or entire testing kits, including incomplete wood and paper cutouts of objects and people used to test concepts of mutilation. The clerk at one of the stores told me the sets were selling like hotcakes to graphic artists, writers, and poets.

While it certainly seems rich ground for concrete poets, I wonder how other writers are using such materials in their work? Anyone out there working in this area?

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