[Objects] in motion

A review of Frédéric Forte's 'Minute-Operas'

Photo of Frédéric Forte (right) by Margarita Saad Plasticienne.

Minute-Operas

Minute-Operas

Frédéric Forte

Burning Deck 2015, 136 pages, $14, ISBN 978-1936194186

Frédéric Forte’s mad, methodical Minute-Operas is broken into two parts: phase one, January–October 2001, and phase two, February–December 2002. Each phase is itself broken into five twelve-page sections.

Phase one

“one ear is not enough”[1]
You approach the book. It is lying on a table, it is slumping against other books and you feel the need to straighten its curve in your hands, it is buzzing beneath a pile of magazines and bills, it is where you left it, the room constructed around the book, a book of rooms and voices. 

You approach the book perhaps as you would a theater and you hear the audience buzzing, buzzing

[You can hear the
Strange call of music]
  Distant (13)

What do Forte’s operas
sing
or signify?

“emptiness enters” (18)
Poems are objects. Poems are physical things.
I think they make noise if you let them:

Our fingers on the paper.

Forte’s stage directions there in the wings, marginalia that intrudes on the text, become, often as not, the text, written for unseen actors.
For eyes.

Our eyes move from word to word, white to white, spanning spaces without words, defined by words or their absence, our eyes move across the stage.

We trace with our fingers the routes our eyes take.
In this way the poem and the reader
are in motion.

“and the extreme points” (30)
How many ways there are to build a space within space. I visited Dia:Beacon in New York recently. Once a Nabisco box-printing factory, the Dia in its enormity and light provides examples: build a space with threads, like Fred Sandback, or build a space with light, like Dan Flavin, or build a space with space, like Carl Andre.

Rather than cut into material, Andre began to consider the material itself as the cut, the cut in space. “Place is the finite domain of one or more cuts into space.”[2]

Andre used precut squares of metal, he used hay bales, he used firebricks, timber blocks, all elements, simple replicable elements. Now start thinking about it. Now put it in a room.

(wood and sacrificial materials) (31)

A page is the finite domain of one or more cuts into space.
Move the words around
like blocks of wood. Like a stage
set.

“this pyramid this pyramid” (42)
What are these words, Forte? Overheard conversations, perhaps. The voices in the crowd, the backstage managers fretting, old shredded scripts. A eulogy, barely begun, daybook fragments, old songs or nursery rhymes, some Oulipian instruction manual/poem generator (batteries not included).

Standard words. [But: All in translation, French to English.]

[Standard antics: Words running into each other, slapstick style; crumbling over each other; letters piled upon letters, squirming and twitching; words connected by lines; words swollen with font, with italics, with drama, humor, sorrow.]
Standard pages. [No details on recycled content of paper.]
Standard colors. [Black and white, save for the cover.]
Stack them.
Think at them.
Art.

“during the time of the poem’s construction” (54)
Or now, this is collage? This is Rauschenberg erasing de Kooning? This is erasure and the bits of eraser on the studio floor?

Some of these poems could be framed/could be pinned to the wall. Pithed, wriggling.

No — we’re looking for something more contemporary, more digital, more now: Each space (defined by a three-inch vertical line on every page) is about the size of my palm, the size of a smartphone screen. Of course!: the poem as app. Tap twice on the screen, as a conductor might use his baton on the stand: What blooms? Silence. Waiting.

We are waiting.
The crowd stirs, faces illumined by the ghostly phone glow.

Phase 2

“a system of folding screens” (68)
Forte’s screens, stages, scenes. We might be anywhere. We might be fantastically lost.

In the dark of the performance space (in the dark of the reading experience) we, restless, grope along the walls for a door: the vertical line is a hinge! each poem doubling as doorway.

Doors into the space beneath the space, a passage into the next page, between pages, catwalks, hidden ways behind and beneath the great rooms:

the whispers of the crowd now. Someone’s
saying something.

“but how much does your head now weigh” (80)
We choose our own adventure throughout,
words mixing with words, tumbling over each other, aching
with quiet, with the strain
of finding meaning, then drunk at the afterparty.

experience time as it passes. (89)

A buzzing. A rubbing: the silence of eraser-flakes snowing on the floor.

“atom after atom after atom meaning” (92)Pick up the book and begin turning it around, upside down, these movements are called reading
listening
watching

The poem and the reader (and the eyes) in motion.

I thought that the room grew up around the book. But the more I read, the more I see the book swallowing the room entire.

[And me: I put another finger to the (texture of the) text, but the tension of the paper gives way, and I slip through
— ripples sent across the typography, amplified, milky, shuddering —
missing now
for how long?]

Each day a new poem fills a new page.
The show goes on forever.

“the machine concerned” (104)
Minute-Operas
rattles to life, cranking out words or signs or glyphs or jangled lines or hand-drawn squiggles or empty rectangles or applause. Lean in: every word is a string of gestures, every letterform some flourish, some weather, an ox head or a woodpecker’s peak. (Language began in image, began in poetry.)

You don’t create space necessarily to make sense of space.

You don’t enter a room to understand the room.
It is a place to go and suddenly
there we are,
living.

I have walked these rooms for hours, in the changing light of the skylit galleries, Flavin’s buzzing light, opening the door from each to each uncertain space, all being born at the moment of discovery. I’ve nearly been crushed under block towers of words (poems), tripped or been caught, as in a spider’s spun web, by Sandback’s multicolor thread: imagine building a space out of thread!

What is the structural integrity of words you know well?
of fragments?

“what will happen on the train” (116)
We are all strangers, even after this time together. But in these rooms we are familiar, our tongues tapping along the inside of our mouths, soft familiar palate, the tips of our teeth, the smooth cool backs of our teeth, breath drawn from space into space, then given back, shared.

use
the void

[…]

the void
used (117)

We approach the book. It is where we left it, somewhere on the desk, under these bills, notebooks, birthday cards from our good sons, we approach the book,

we must haul ourselves out of it first, we must pull the desk and everything else from its depths buzzing, buzzing

And quiet [this is what we’re waiting for]
Something’s about to begin — something’s always about to begin:

First words:
                  Overture
: Evil. (7)

Last:
                   there is just this line, this verse / and then another one / another one /
                   another (127)


1. Frédéric Forte, Minute-Operas, trans. Daniel Levin Becker, Ian Monk, Michelle Noteboom, and Jean-Jacques Poucel (Providence, RI: Burning Deck, 2015), 6.

2. Carl Andre, qtd. in Carl Andre: Sculpture as Place, 1958–2010 (New York: Dia:Beacon 2014), exhibition catalog.