A few years ago there was a thrilling article in the New York Times about Will Self’s arrival in the city for some literary event. It wasn’t the fact of his arrival that was thrilling, but how he arrived: on foot. Having walked from his home in London to Heathrow, he sat on a flight to JFK and then proceeded to walk the twenty miles from the airport to Manhattan. This simple act of practical psychogeography, which would have produced such a radically different experience from that of most airborne visitors, was a perfect illustration of the perceptual potential inherent in pedestrian travel. Walking, one of the most fundamental of human actions, is ahistorical, which becomes apparent even through Rebecca Solnit’s rigorous attempt to document its history in her book Wanderlust.
In his 1951 preface to Paterson, William Carlos Williams writes that the long poem “is also the search of the poet for his language”: in the long poem Williams found a form whose discursive capaciousness lends an ongoing quality to that search both in speech and on the page, a search whose desired object — a text, a kind of speech — is never completely bounded. We search for a certain kind of text, but Williams also seeks to draw upon the rushing, watery noise of the Passaic Falls, which he says “seemed to me to be a language which we were and are seeking.” The Falls in their ongoingness mimic the modern search for language as much as they also teach us something about how we are constituted by that language.
This intersection of place and language could be said to inform the work of poet (and surfer) Stephen Ratcliffe, whose ongoing project to document, frame, and reframe daily detail now occupies thousands of pages in print and online, from 2002’s Portraits & Repetition to 2011’s CLOUD / RIDGE and in three 1,000-page books — HUMAN / NATURE, Remarks on Color / Sound,and Temporality — available at Editions Eclipse, and whose work Jacket2 here highlights in critical appraisals, reviews, interviews, photographs, and recordings.
I write this introduction after ten years researching sound poetry, two years traveling in Europe, North America, and Australia, and three months of heightened requests for me to speak publicly from the position of a “sound poet” about my work and the work of other practitioners. I write enthusiastically, with awe and love for this work and for its creators.