[As I approach the seven-year mark of Poems and Poetics, I thought it appropriate to re-post the initial offering in the series, first posted herein on June 7, 2008. Published later that year as a small book from a resuscitated Hawk's Well Press (my own first press from the 1960s), two of the images appear here and here on the internet, and copies
The poetry phonotext is at least as old as the earliest mechanical reproductions of sound. In 1860, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville’s attempts to capture the human voice with his phonautograph – a machine meant to record sounds visually, yet not to play them back – offer up two instances of poetic recitation: the first – “Au clair de la lune / mon ami Pierrot / prête moi—” – from the French folk song, “Au Clair de la Lune;” and the second – “S’il faut qu’à ce rival Hédelmone infidèle / Ait remis ce bandeau! Dans leur rage cruelle / Nos l
At first I thought I would use this Commentary space to read through an online archive, but in the end such a gesture felt adjacent to my current preoccupations. What I hope to do instead is to elucidate a narrative of my own search for an adequate poetics, one that begins and ends with two very different theories, though each proposes “freedom” as the ultimate aim of poetic production. I want to attempt to rehearse an evolution of thinking around poetics that begins with Immanuel Kant’s The Critique of Judgment and ends with Hurston’s Mules and Men, though I’ll make some detours.
Ted Berrigan’s “The Drunken Boat” — a mimeograph publication from 1974 with drawings by Joe Brainard — exemplifies a different type of insouciance towards the source text than any we’ve seen thusfar. Berrigan passes off his seemingly straight, utterly conventional translation of Rimbaud’s “Le Bateau Ivre” as his own work. He calls his translation a “homage” to Rimbaud — which, while usually a humble gesture acknowledging influence and gratitude, in this case could be possibly interpreted as a form of naked aggression and erasure.