Commentaries

A few words on Tracie Morris

A thought today on the way in which Tracie Morris looks forward and back simultaneously. Morris takes us into a future in which the various arts become indistinct not just programmatically (and disciplinarily) but in every single art piece, wherein the piece is a convergence of  imagination, throat, song, history, movement, and improvised word-signifying – and somehow at the same time she returns to a past of the poem as a fundamental song of human culture as it emerged before the mere page did its dominating and excluding.

TRANSLATION CONTROLLER, NEUTRAL

First page of the Apollo 11 onboard voice transcript, courtesy of NASA.
First page of the Apollo 11 onboard voice transcript, courtesy of NASA.

While the transcripts of the recordings of the Apollo 11 spaceflight mission to the moon were released in the mid-1970s and have been publically available on the internet for years, NASA has digitally released the recordings of the spaceflight mission as MP3s, available here. Ken Hunt published Space Administration (89+/LUMA Foundation, 2014) using the transcripts of the recordings, including some of the numeric time signatures for each speaker. Hunt’s book brings poetry in conversation with one of the greatest scientific achievements that humans have accomplished as a species.

Since the actual voice recordings were recently released, I wonder if a next step could be for Hunt to make a recorded audio collage of Space Administration, complete with a sampling of the sonic unintelligibility and charming equipment static in the NASA recordings, taking this literary project from printed form into an audio landscape—considering that NASA just released the audio—and thus conceptually speaking to one of the book’s aims as stated in the description below to perform “an elegiac call to Apollo, the god of poetry” by having his listeners receive that call.

 From Poetry will be made by all! 

Space Administration plunders NASA’s voice transcription of the first day of the Apollo 11 moon mission, uncovering a book of conceptual poetry that reimagines the erasure process as “spacecraft” (which is to say, the “crafting of space”). The book envisions its writing process as a venture of space exploration. Readers encounter a void populated by columns of numerical time-codes and by constellations of words. These textual “star-charts” evoke the materiality of the page’s empty space. The text performs an elegiac call to Apollo, the god of poetry, integrating every occurrence of “Apollo” (along with all deific terms such as “fire” and “hell”). Temporal and authorial language signals the text’s self-reflexivity, while optical language and direct address call out to the reader. The text reimagines Apollo as an alien entity dwelling in the empty spaces of the text, and efforts to contact Apollo transform the page into an event horizon, enfolding both reader and author into a space where time might seem eternal. The author can spend an eternity creating different erasures of the same page, erasures that the reader might spend an eternity reading. The time-codes add a temporal dimension to the empty space of the page. By timing silence, they draw attention to the absent text, enhancing its “hauntedness.” The numerical columns are juxtaposed alongside the organic constellations of words, evoking the tension between numeric discourses and lexical discourses, all of which sustain life aboard machines needed to survive in space (where amounts of fuel and oxygen must be constantly monitored and announced). A triptych “drop-poem,” created from the word “CONFIDENTIAL” precedes the erasure, and a series of asemic visual poems follow the erasure. The asemic poems invent a form of calligraphy out of the strikethroughs used to cross out the word “confidential” on the opening page. This calligraphy exemplifies the creation of a new text through the re-censorship of the declassified transcript. The book’s rectangular cover page image (derived from the NASA logo), 1:2 page size ratio, and solid black flyleaf pages mimic the monolith from Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s film Space Odyssey: 2001. The black flyleaf pages perform the re-censorship of the document, suggesting that, by reading the erasure, the reader accesses an alternate censorship of the original text.

* * *

Also see Hunt’s Daisy Knell, published by derek beaulieu’s No Press in June 2014: “This poem isolates letters from page 98 of NASA’s voice transcription of the Apollo 11 moon mission, uncovering (in sequential order) the musical notes of two chorus lines from Harry Dacre’s ‘Daisy Bell’ (‘A Bicycle Built for Two’). These chorus lines famously appear as the death knell of the computer HAL in Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.”

4th person narration

Wang Hao at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Photograph: Oded Balilty/AP. Courtesy of
Wang Hao at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Photograph: Oded Balilty/AP. Courtesy of The Guardian.

In my new novella I experiment with point of view by developing a question—“Is there a 4th person narration?”—posed by Shanxing Wang in his extraordinary work, Mad Science in Imperial City (Futurepoem, 2005). In physics, the fourth dimension of space is time. In the context of string theory, where our universe is thought to be one of a wilderness of universes comprised of infinite dimensions of space and time that are made up of vibrating membranes of energy, I imagine 4th person narration as a site for considering narrative mode in relation to higher dimensions in physical reality. To intentionally and/or unintentionally engage in a narrative mode within or beyond the fourth dimension might be to read, write, or construct texts outside of time, or in all times, making nonlinearity and simultaneity points of view and spacetime a literary device.

Wang, a former mechanical engineer, is from China and now lives in New York. In 2008, during the Beijing Olympics, I spoke with him about Mad Science in Imperial City while teaching it in my Naropa graduate seminar, “The Imaginary Present,” named after a phrase by Alfred Jarry in his essay, “How to Construct a Time Machine.” Wang and I discussed the book, poetry and science, and his ongoing interest in table tennis, which I now see as integral to his understanding of spacetime, on and off the page. With his permission, I sampled sentences—the molecular matter of our conversation—and constructed a new sequence using table tennis as a model in what I thought of then as a nanotechnological form for a review I wrote of his book in an attempt at rethinking the conventions for how we respond to the work of others.

* * *

Amy Catanzano: I found Mad Science in Imperial City at the AWP Conference in New York City, read it on the airplane home, and felt like I never landed.

Shanxing Wang: I began to read the Wall Street Journal a week or so ago for the first time. I think I am witnessing the formation of a supermassive black hole right before my eyes.

AC: Also, the body: historical memory, the physical markers of memory, and the performance memory of both the athlete and the writer.

SW: Like the much-hunted dark matter which shapes the large-structure of the universe? Then what is visibility?

AC: Do all galaxies (and poems) have supermassive black holes at their centers?

SW: If only you are in a techno session or a real table tennis team tournament.

AC: I saw on your blog that the Large Hadron Collider is going operational in a few days.

SW: My experience tells me that thinking and dreaming seem to be more quantum-mechanical while memory is more classical.

AC: We thought about the surface of water never being ruffled.

SW: Before 2002, I never dared to dream to be a poet.

AC: “Is there a 4th person narration?” 

SW: The quantum supercomputer must work at the center of the supermassive black hole to battle its singularity. This is just my conjecture.

AC: You subvert the realism of scientific inquiry by integrating it with personal, political, and historical contexts. 

SW: Science seems to be the true progressive and impact-making force in the modern world, in addition to some arts.

AC: One student introduced vectors and differentials.

SW: Yes, as you observe or write about them, you change them inevitably.

AC: Your book made me reconsider image, that the equation is an image, too.

SW: The gendered human body can be a fascinating thing, manifested in modern dance, body arts, and pornography.

AC: A writer constructs gravity.

SW: Poetry mediates between parallel universes of the physical, personal, social, political, artistic, poetic, linguistic, philosophical. It is in and not in all of them. The poetic object/subject and poetic spacetime emerge from them.

AC: Like you Jarry uses equations (for the “surface of God” and other “imaginary solutions”). 

SW: I am obsessed now with the relationship between critique and lyric.

AC: I feel this, too.

SW: My favorite player lost in the semi-final. He got second Bronze in Men’s Single.

AC: Your pressing present?

SW: What are we when we are reading poetry? This is a great question. We are living to the fullest extent when we are reading great poetry, maybe even more than writing, which is a hard fight all the time.

AC: At tremendous speeds.

SW: I always feel I have to fight at least on two fronts at the same time.

AC: What are the attributes that make a table tennis player a favorite?

SW: That also speaks of the speaker in relation to characters and community and construction of the struggling subjectivity.

AC: T Square as the drafting instrument, Times Square, Tiananmen Square.

SW: I really like your formulation of imaginary present. By imaginary you mean the rejection of the actual, the construction of the alternative?

AC: I have a friend whose grandfather was a world champion in table tennis.

SW: How does quantum mechanics work at the center of a black hole? How does an individual poet function and act in the center of an unprecedented empire?

AC: One entry is metaphor.

SW: My question is, how can we change or effect changes of the actual? 

AC: Especially matter appearing in multiple states of space and time simultaneously.

SW: So not exactly an epistemological foil.

AC: Like the text’s body politic?

SW: I certainly like your idea of invisible community.

AC: The students read your book.

SW: Anything predictable is a failure.

AC: [note/for later: how does table tennis relate to light speeds like a Cubist painting or Stein/object? isn’t spacetime curved? look up.]

SW: As I wrote somewhere in the book, Something didn’t really happen unless we can write about it. Happening is not just an instant in the historical sense but an infinite process/period for us to bear all its consequences (and causes). And this process constitutes our subjectivity. Think about our first love. Think about our lost love.

AC: Speed and time. She/he identity (te). 

SW: Writing seems to be the best way if not the only way to know it. Not just “an aid to memory.”

AC: But I am also interested in the hard science. 

SW: Technically it’s speed and accuracy. 

AC: You say the inventor of the word “quark” came up with the spelling from Finnegans Wake.

SW: At the highest level, table tennis is about the quickness and strength of the mind, but a well-trained and fit body is a prerequisite.

AC: A student talked about wanting to communicate and called it “reclamation.”

SW: Poems can definitely be constructed based on forms of nanotechnology.

AC: How can narration be conceptualized in the higher dimensions of the multiverse?

SW: Does a poem have a supermassive black hole? This is work-in-progress.

First reading of Sophia Le Fraga's 'W8ING 4' (2)

Ann Vickery

I considered Sophia Le Fraga’s “W8ING 4” as a conceptual video-poem. I immediately placed it as a contemporary revision of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot by the opening phrase, “nothing 2 b done.” Le Fraga’s work also seemed more play than poem in its use of the mobile phone screen as a stage and deployment of texting as a means to update Beckett’s famous exploration of meaning, modern alienation, and the nature of human bonds. Le Fraga’s dramatizes an exchange between the owner of the phone, “Soph,” and another while they are waiting for an unnamed third party. Whereas “Godot” referred to a source of meaning or truth that was invariably deferred in Beckett’s play, in “W8ING 4” “Godot” becomes either the word “word” or an icon of a figure, that is, unnamed, right up until the end where one messenger refers to “god.”

Used as a substitute for face-to-face conversation, SMS heightens the sense of alienation of Beckett’s original yet captures something of the snappy banter between his two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon. In Beckett’s play, Vladimir and Estragon fill their days with endless mundane chatter while struggling to remember the past and desiring some form of resolution or closure. Le Fraga’s messengers fill their day with texting, similarly about nothing (“normal shit, nothing rlly,” “nothing in partic”). As with Vladimir and Estragon’s, their conversation could be taking place anywhere as the two messengers contemplate the passing of time and refer to “tonite” and “tmrw.” The conversation is a means to confirm existence even as there is a struggle with thinking; the Cartesian principle becomes transposed to “one texts therefore one is.” If anything, Le Fraga’s work is even more pared back than Beckett’s. In Beckett’s play, there were symbolic additions to the stage like a tree and a stone/low mound, as well as other characters like Lucky and Pozzo coming and going. There was a sense of development as the play divided into two acts with minor differences taking on heightened significance. In Le Fraga’s work, there is only the exchange between the two messengers, the audience’s attention being drawn to the arrow and their grammatical and digital selections. The choice of phrasing, spelling, and icons generate a sense of the personality of each, with one more prone to anxiety and the other more able to “chill.” Action is reduced to typing out and sending messages. Part of the sense of the poetic is the visual dance of letters as they are typed into a word or message.

I was reminded of Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of “liquid love” in which he sees affective relationships altered substantially by the social media age, sped up, shortened and fractured through technologies like texting. In Le Fraga’s work, the messengers are disembodied and the dialogue plays out in real time as a series of highly abbreviated messages packed with texting colloquialisms like “lol.” Colloquialisms like “lol” and the use of emoji (icons of facial expressions) condense emotion to a reduced, instantly recognisable range. Spoken conversation becomes simulated through the use of upper case to denote shouting or heightened tones. If viewing the work as a poem, each SMS could be read as a line.  The continuation of sentences over several messages focuses attention on particular aspects of the conversation or slows it down such as “I guess/living is like/not enough” and the response, “We have 2 text abt it.” There is a generated sense of segmentivity, of being typographically registered in ‘bits.’  While the messengers bemoan the feeling of boredom and having nothing to do, it is their process of messenging which demonstrates both meaning and creativity. Rather than “what’ll we do what’ll we do,” one messenger types, “What’ll we do what’ll we doOO0o,” using different keys on the keyboard to play around. While Beckett was a polyglot and slid humorously across punning and wordplay, the language in Le Fraga’s work is social media-speak, a shared mobile language that is less resonant with past cultural meanings, fittingly more empty. As with Beckett’s play, there are moments of mimicry and moments of both sly and farcical absurdity. There are light examples such as the jinx of both texting at the same time. Yet the black humour that marked Beckett’s work and theatre of the Absurd more broadly also creeps in as one messenger responds to “how about a little deep breathing” with the declaration, “I’m tired of breathing.” 

Where am I as a reader in all of this? In “W8ING 4,” the audience reflects the messengers’ state of expectancy and is moved to moments of boredom by the circuitous, repetitious, and shallow nature of the messengers’ conversation. Such roundabout, endless exchange is broken occasionally by a pathos of recognition at its emptiness. The video-poem ends with one messenger questioning “Do you think god sees me?” and being directed by the other to close one’s eyes. The shift to the internal is registered through a zoom or magnification of the send space and a paste that then results in closing down the exchange. In this respect, truth or meaning is suggested to be off-screen.

References

Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts. London: Faber, 2006.
Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds. Oxford: Polity, 2003.

Ann Vickery is a Melbourne-based writer. Recent poems have appeared in Overland, Otoliths, Rabbit, and Steamer. She is the author of Stressing the Modern: Cultural Politics in Australian Women’s Poetry (2007) and Leaving Lines of Gender: A Feminist Genealogy of Language Writing (2000). In 2011 she published several poems in Jacket2.

Peter Quartermain: “Incompletable Text,” a view of Jerome Rothenberg’s Eye of Witness (Part Two)

[Part One of the Quartermain essay can be found here on Poems and Poetics.  His complete view of Eye of Witness will appear early in 2015 in the twentieth issue of Lou Rowan’s Golden Handcuff’s Review, a major repository of poetry & poetics moving from one century & millennium to another.]
 

There is indeed a politics in this, the politics of a “work intended – above all – to question and disrupt the power of dominant European discourse” (169); it underlies the whole of Eye of Witness and is a well-spring, and the rhetoric, embodying as it does Rothenberg’s persistent late twentieth-century Romanticism, is persuasive. In October 1961 he commented on “the poetic image struggling with the darkness. The image rescued from the lie of the unthreatened. Not as a literary prescription, for writing better poems or nurturing the language, but from an impasse in the soul, in which the protective ‘reality’ & false emblems of the inherited past have drawn a blank” (59).  Thus Eye of Witness is a purpose-driven book which eschews, utterly, the literary: it is driven by a sense of loss closely linked to its sense of the incomplete. It is that sense of the incomplete that propels the symposium of the whole, a symposium from which, ideally, nothing can be omitted. Such expansive inclusiveness is very close to Whitman’s resolve, in “Eidólons,”  to “put first” the ever-mutable range of human activity in its entirety:
 

Of every human life,

(The units gather’d, posted, not a thought, emotion, deed left out,)

The whole or large or small summ’d, added up,

In its eidólon.

 

Whitman, another constant in this book: his encyclopaedism informs the whole of Rothenberg’s activity.

So if one of Rothenberg’s aims is, as he says, to “open up to voices other than our own,” then it’s essential that those voices not be separated out, compartmentalized off  from the welter of human speech and art and music, essential that we read this book as a single work, whether that work be composition, compilation, or performance, albeit a work in progress and in process. Rothenberg’s poetics demands a mingling of his voice with others – “my own words interlaced (collaged) with theirs” (391) – in an encompassing never-definitive text, unindexed and unclassifiable, always tentative, always of the moment. We are invited to view the book as a continuum, all of a piece, even while discontinuities remain and are preserved and even emphasized, and tentativeness persists. The book thus out of deep need challenges not only empty conventions and emotional and social-political habits, but also long-held and seemingly ineradicable assumptions. Those assumptions are based on a syntax and ways of seeing which determine that the world can be understood, and that such understanding can be certain and true; which is to say, immutable. But incompleteness has its own necessities.


Eye of Witness
challenges deeply-inscribed patterns of belief, and works to undo those “monotheistic habits of thought” which Pound called “the curse of our time.”[1] Such motives, I need hardly add, carry their own dangers, for purpose-driven writing, like thesis-driven poetry, drifts rapidly into monotone. It fosters listless reading and is not to current taste. That’s the risk, but Eye of Witness successfully counters it through playing, or rather, plying a centrifugal move against a centripetal, an outward move against an inward, each folded with, against, and into the other. This is as true of the prose as it is of the poetry – and there is indeed a lot of prose here, over 200 pages of essays, letters, manifestos; much of the work reaches out to other cultures, other voices, other realms “which only a colonialist ideology could have blinded us into labelling ‘primitive’ or ‘savage” (Shaking, xxi) – the archaic, the ancient, the autochthonic. At the same time many of the individual poems (the Lorca poems, say, or the Goya), though they none of them behave like a conventional lyric, are tightly focussed; they push inward, the move is centripetal. For instance, there’s the quite extraordinary and lovely charge of the repeat in these lines from “The Wedding” (214-215), the opening poem of his early book, Poland / 1931:

 

thy underwear alive with roots o poland

poland poland poland poland poland

how thy bells wrapped in their flowers toll

 

There’s comedy here, but there is also great affection, and the poem is, in its psalmodic and liturgical rhythms and vocabulary, its management of long vowels and repetitions, a ritual or ceremonial lamentation whose power arises from its mildly surreal comedic elements. Whoever the speaker might be, male or female, that speaker is individual (but not by that solitary); the voice might be reflective, directing its monologue to the self; it preserves its private elements, it moves inward. The voice is personal, and its ironies largely gesture outward, as do the “poland poland” repetitions (they appear several times) especially if voiced in something approaching a cry (as Rothenberg does, in some performances). In this poem such ironies are primarily social, suggestive more of the comedy of manners than of any romantic lyric. The poem, then, calls to and invokes a more-or-less definable and familiar group, nicely balancing the life of private feeling with an implied public and social order.


In their deployment of repetition the lines I quote have discernible kinship with such radically different work as Frank Mitchell’s horse songs or Richard Johnny John’s songs. Here’s “A Song About A Dead Person – Or Was It A Mole?” (325), John’s poem-song written with (rather than by) Rothenberg. Citing Haroldo de Campos he calls this process “transcreation” (137): outsidering the work lest we think we “understand” it. I quote the poem in full:

 

                                     YOHOHEYHEYEYHEYHAHYEYEYHAHHEH

g thru the big earth

                                     YOHOHEYHEYEYHEYHAHYEYEYHAHHEH

                                                                                                                     I went thru this b

                                     YOHOHEYHEYEYHEYHAHYEYEYHAHHEH

                                                          I was going thru the big earth

                                     YOHOHEYHEYEYHEYHAHYEYEYHAHHEH

                                                            I went thru this big earth

                                     YOHOHEYHEYEYHEYHAHYEYEYHAHHEH

                                                                                                  I was going thru the big ea

                                     YOHOHEYHEYEYHEYHAHYEYEYHAHHEH

I went thru this big earth

                                     YOHOHEYHEYEYHEYHAHYEYEYHAHHEH


                                     YOHOHEYHEYEYHEYHAHYEYEYHAHHEH

                                      YOHOHEYHEYEYHEYHAHYEYEYHAHHEH

                                      YOHOHEYHEYEYHEYHAHYEYEYHAHHEH

                                      YOHOHEYHEYEYHEYHAHYEYEYHAHHEH

 

It might be tempting to skip, but the song warrants close attention: Three blank lines of silence between the final four lines of upper-case chant; seven lines of rather bald let’s-call-it-prose narrative somewhat irregularly and unevenly marching thru the block of uppercase, its claim not always completed, and indeed, without clear beginning – in medias res, then. With its two (or more) voices – and one if not both of them emphatically out loud – the song’s ritual and ceremonial elements are much more prominent than they are in “The Wedding,” and they beckon the group. The song almost irresistibly calls for performance, moving towards the shared speech of chorus. It also moves toward simultaneity, not just of voices in chorus but lines spoken/voiced together in simultaneous overlap, a public act which affirms an identity in, for, and of the group; a shift towards communitas in which that isolate “I” of the fourteenth (otherwise silent) line is perhaps subsumed into the group-voice of line fifteen, but equally perhaps absorbed into and thus constructing, well, constructing what? Maybe it reflects what Rothenberg calls “self-othering,” wherein “there are many ‘others’ in me” (161). Where does the “big earth” come into all this? How do we account for it? I run into difficulties here because my own habits, my own cultural baggage, get in the way – my own cultural baggage rests uneasily when matters are not explained – but the poem folds one culture into another with that in medias res and that ply of narrative and chant and refuses accounting. The lines fold ear into eye into ear in quite complex play, story into chant, single voice into multiple voices, and that repeated “thru the big earth” – with its variants, and the shifts in the verb -- gestures towards, even invokes, an apperception beyond words, an apperception of a physical world and, yes, to western eyes an imagined experience.

The physicality of the world thus sung is crucial, in much the same way as Rothenberg’s conjuration and invocation of the body and the life of the senses (not always pleasant, not always celebration) are central to his more conventional poetry. This poem, with its foldings, is in what Velimir Khlebnikov might have called a “beyondsense language.” Rothenberg, quoting that phrase of Khlebnikov’s in his 1990 talk on “The Poetics of the Sacred” (169), sounded a principal theme, constant throughout his poetics, that we must return to, recover, an understanding of language (and hence meaning) as motivated rather than arbitrary. This is what we have lost. An essential step in such recovery is to move outside our language, step outside our cultural norms, which all get in the way. We must somehow find a means to see our language as Other. For the last century or more, or at the very least since the publication of Ogden and Richards’s The Meaning of Meaning in 1923 and Leonard Bloomfield’s Language in 1933, it has been fashionable to believe that meaning is entirely a social construct: Bloomfield’s pronouncement that “the connection of linguistic forms with their mean­ings is wholly arbitrary”[2] has more or less the status of gospel. Any sound, in this view, can be attached to any referent, and the meaning of any given word is necessarily a matter of social convention. So, if there is nothing in a word per se that reveals its ineluctable meaning, then our perceptions are filtered by and through language, itself an inevitable and unavoidable screen between us and the world: language mediates; it hides the world from us. And there’s a price attached, for such a view takes us at least one remove from the world of direct feeling and direct apperception, and the world in its very reality is hidden.


The alternative view is that a sign really does designate what it signifies, that words actually do mean what they say; it sees language as unmediated, what linguists call motivated. In this view, our experience of the world and the things in it is immediate. Words say what they mean, and the essential connection between words and things not only provides or confirms an essential and sympathetic concordance between humankind and the world of what might be called nature, but in addition makes language itself a significant agent of discovery and the word itself a thing, contemplation and investigation of which opens the hidden world to view. Whence Ferdinand de Saussure’s dictum that in symbol “there is the rudiment of a natural bond between the signifier and the signified,” and his work on anagrammatic composition as the basis of poetic texts.[3] In Michel Foucault’s account (in Chapter Two of The Order of Things), words “once had an absolute, primary, initial relation to the world,” and a sign once really did designate what it signifies, much as might those repeats of “poland” and yohoheyheyeyheyhahyeyeyhahhah (the lower-case or upper case bringing eye to bear on ear. Rothenberg’s somewhat puzzled first response to Jackson Mac Low’s “aleatory / chance experiments,” that “something real & important was taking place” (158), points to the possibility that a “natural bond” between words and the real can be restored, Mac Low opening up even in a tentative way the world of the hidden, obscured as it is by habit and belief. The motivated and the arbitrary are not, of course, mutually exclusive; they can exist side by side in a single practice, and even in a single utterance, but it is our daily habit to linger with the arbitrary. Most English poets, at least since Blake and Wordsworth but also before, write as if the words they use were indissolubly linked to things, and were things in their very nature. The poem is a means by which to discover / recover that bond; it is sound, along with its rhythm, that gets you out of the arbitrary and into the motivated.


In a 1976 note, on Tristan Tzara, Rothenberg described ethnopoetics as “a positive work of recovery & return to the lost basis of human poesis” (141); he had elaborated  that sense of loss fifteen years earlier, in October 1961, writing about “deep image”:

 

The world as it existed for the first man still exists. It taunts us & breaks into our dreams. The poet dares to face it without hope & to create from pure desire, from pure love. The world as it existed before man. The primal world, not yet hardened into the mold of law, but a new law to be imposed on it in the daily encounter. A return to the beginning. A struggle to shape the world . . .Poetry as a total & desperate act (59).

 

That’s not far from Jack Spicer’s desire, in After Lorca, to “make poems out of real objects . . . a real lemon like a newspaper in a collage is a real newspaper . . . . make a poem that has no sound in it but the pointing of a finger.” But, perhaps unlike Spicer, Rothenberg does not succumb to a sense of loss but seeks in its place to assert and rediscover hope in a language which has a “true” connection to the “real,” however that real might be construed, imagined, imaginary.


So primal is a favourite Rothenberg word, and you have to pay attention to what the words say: “As a way of making the poem I must still come on the source directly, as a head-on confrontation, . . . I can’t build it up yet through intermediaries, but have to create it new in order to accept it” (56).  But that’s an impossible dream, and it derives as much from the Romantic poets as it does from Pound’s make it new. Writing about Picasso, Gertrude Stein talked of the difference between “things, things seen, and things known,” and thought “things” were unknowable, even unperceivable. Wordsworth sought to restore the immediacy of language and thought the language of ordinary men would rescue poetry from the artificiality of literary convention. It would thus open up the hidden real. Rothenberg’s determination to escape “the protective ‘reality’ & false emblems of the inherited past” (59) and open up the hidden real leads to the great range of his sources; his strategy is encyclopaedic: the sum total cumulative mass of all human (and other?) discourse might possibly add up to an unmediated relation with the real. Ostranenie: each strange voice, each step, however incomplete, into another culture, makes it possible to step, no matter how briefly, outside one’s own language and culture. So almost the last poem in the book, dated 30 August 2011, (it is followed by a coda) closes with:

 

the book of witness

opens      all the words we have

are theirs & lead us

eyeless whispering

the years themselves

a miracle

over against a world of pain. (575)

 

[NOTE. Peter Quartermain taught contemporary poetry and poetics at the University of British Columbia for over thirty years, retiring in 1999. He was the first Mountjoy Fellow at the University of Durham, UK, in 1990, was Resident Fellow at the Villa Serbelloni, Bellagio Study and Conference Centre, Bellagio, Como, Italy in 1997, and was awarded a Killam Research Prize at the University of British Columbia in 1997. He has written or edited numerous articles and several books, including Basil Bunting: Poet of the North (1990) and Disjunctive Poetics (1992); with the English poet Richard Caddel he edited Other: British and Irish Poetry Since 1970 (1999), and, with Rachel Blau DuPlessis, The Objectivist Nexus: Essays in Cultural Poetics (1999).]



[1] Ezra Pound, "Studies in Contemporary Mentality . . . XIX.--? Versus Camouflage," New Age 22.11 (10 January 1918): 209.

[2] Leonard Bloomfield. Language (New York: Holt, 1933), 145.

[3] Ferdinand de Saussure.  Course in General Linguistics. Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye, ed.; Wade Baskin, trans. (New York: Philosophical Library, 1959), 68. For his work on anagrams see Jean Starobinski. Words Upon Words. Olivia Emmet, trans. (New Haven: Yale UP, 1979.