Archive for the ‘innovative poetry’ Tag

For the Record: “Reading Dudek’s The Caged Tiger”

One of the ironic aspects of the digitization of cultural artefacts and the blissfully ignorant acceptance if not celebration of this process is, apart from those documents excluded from the process in the first place, the inevitable decay of links and websites and the consequent disappearance of the works they hosted. Such was the case with the poem below.

When Louis Dudek’s penultimate volume of poetry The Caged Tiger was published, I read img20171218_14235601it with some irritation and sought a way to express it other than in a review. The compositional answer was to write poems that intervened in the original, engaging in a kind of dialogue; the relation of the new poem to the original is underlined in [28], below. The words in bold are Dudek’s; the numbers in [] are the page numbers of his original book.

The novelty or singularity of this formal maneuver to contemporaneous and subsequent compositional practice I leave to the determination of the learning of the reader; the poem was written the year of the publication of Dudek’s volume, 1997.

 

Reading Dudek’s The Caged Tiger

 

[10]

 

The transcendental then is merely the unknown

—No: how what’s known is—

inside out:  no silhouette

no eidos no idea:

The transcendental’s how you know

you’re facing the mirror

 

 

Aside from yourself

the world

things

How it all happened

to come

together

‘s beyond you

 

 

Neither this nor any mystery’s gnawed

The mystic’s “the tight-lipped”

Tongue’s quiver locked up

 

[3]

 

Art is a dead god’s tongue

whose words

we still like the sound of

“the music of the spheres”

night’s white noise

the whole spectrum

of electromagnetic radiation

visible and audible

only to the radio-telescopes’

timpani tipped to listen

idle humming

“I-am-I”’s sound poem

 

[8]

 

Time’s transcendental

A watch

 

[15]

 

As one of those

in downy feathers

mouth open

happened on

spring mornings

 

[39]

 

in the cage too tight to lie in

a small pot nobody empties

wire mesh hardly a reach up

nights icy rain

days the sun throbs

the face in the cool mud

 

[28]

 

The bass beat faster than a raver’s heart at daybreak

shudders the whole body in the spot and strobelit dark

College boys and girls in their personal fashion statements

each writhe alone in cigarette smoke fog and pheremones

 

[99]

 

The old are removed

to their graves

and the young come up

to fill their places

i.e., as a “[f]ine bod”y

closed in a dipping casket

Old Heracleitus

renewed every sun

 

 

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Carmina non grata & divination

What prompts this post is a long-simmering irritation brought to a boil that prompts me to splash the following scalding aspersions on the naked Emperors and Empresses who preside as comptrollers of the means of literary (re)production.

What dialed up the heat was actually the lucky and all-too-rare chance of having been provided some insight into the responses of a publisher’s editorial board to a manuscript I submitted and that in the end it chose to refuse. Just to be clear that the spleen I’m venting here isn’t a dyspeptic symptom brought on by chewing on a bunch of bitterly sour grapes, I hold absolutely no resentment against the editors:  they’re liking or disliking the manuscript, their electing to accept or reject it is their prerogative and theirs alone. Rather, this occasion provides me with the opportunity to call out and call up a dogmatic, blinkered, squinting aesthetic that strikes me as being at odds with (in this case) the editors’ presiding over a press explicitly devoted to what today gets called innovative poetry, an attitude, if not universal, then met with more often than not, among members of the self-styled avant-garde. I find myself, therefore, weirdly, in the position of too many other “innovative” artists, who have had to don the pedagogue’s mortarboard and undertake to educate their potential audience. Happily, a quick survey reveals my fellow faculty members include William Wordsworth, Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and John Cage, among many, many others, living and dead.

The manuscript in question was composed of two texts, Swim or Sear and Seventh Column, samples of the first being readable here. In Summer 2001, a friend made me a gift of an anarchic text,  FEHHLEHHE (Magyar Műhely, 2001) by the Hungarian musician, archivist, editor, writer, and cultural worker Zsolt Sőrés. FEHHLEHHE deploys a wide, wild range of linguistic disruption: disjunctive syntax, polyglottism, collage, sampling, homophony, and a delirious lexicon of portmanteau words, among other means. I began writing what eventually became Swim or Sear in an attempt to engage Sőrés’ text in kind, wrighting an English that would imaginably answer his Hungarian, what Erin Moure might term a gesture of echolation.

I am told the board found, essentially, that these texts repulsed more than invited the reader. Serendipitously, earning, as I do, my bread as an English instructor at a Quebec Cegep, tomorrow I am teaching a class on structuralism; our text is the most basic and introductory, Raman Selden’s Practicing Theory and Reading Literature, and what do I read on page 50?

…throughout literary history … writers have produced works which have been regarded as nonsense by readers unfamiliar with the developed reading practices demanded by innovative texts. However, the assumption remains that all literary works should be readable in principle, and that, if a work resists the reader’s efforts to make sense of it, the writer is at fault. A more sophisticated response to this problem is to say that the readers have to be patient with innovative writings and try to discover the mode of reading which the texts demand.

Now, I’d hazard a guess that my imagined interlocutors are familiar with the more canonical engagements with the hermeneutic challenges posed by the modernist or innovative work, Julia Kristeva’s Revolution in Poetic Language, Roland Barthes’ “From Work to Text,” The Pleasure of the Text, or S/Z, or even Charles Bernstein’s “Artifice of Absorption” or Steve McCaffrey’s “Diminished Reference and the Model Reader” among many other possibilities. All these works might be said to argue that those works that resist “the reader’s efforts to make sense of” them do so, paradoxically, as a way to invite or require the reader’s active participation in the production of sense rather than a passive reception along lines so well-known as to be subliminal or reflexive. What is required of the reader is what the German Romantic philosopher and theologian Schleiermacher called (in English translation) “divination,” that positing of meaning that is a kind of educated guess or salto mortale, precisely the playful risk the infant takes to learn its mother tongue or that conversation partners take constantly in the fluid, open-ended back-and-forth of their dialogue.

But, in all seriousness, how could anyone oriented in the tradition of literary innovation be stumped by the compositional gestures of Swim or Sear? Admittedly, the waters of the text are choppy, moving between crests of writerly opacity and troughs of readerly transparency. Compositional attention varies in focus, from the word to the sentence to the passage, these units joined along a paratactic vector, arguably an archaic mode of composition (c.f. many examples in Jerome Rothenberg’s assemblage Technicians of the Sacred). In other words, the reader is asked to “swim in language” (c.f. the imperative in the text’s title) as Kerouac so famously advised the writer of spontaneous prose to do, an image played on, often, metapoetically, throughout Swim or Sear. Does the reader get out of breath, fear drowning? A distorted echo of Beethoven answers this anxiety:  “You think I care about your lousy hermeneutic when the language is speaking to me?!” But Swim or Sear is no mere paddling on the surface of textual semiosis, but, like the sea or ocean constantly evoked, it possesses a depth—of reference, to both a personal and world history, overflowing the word into the world in a gambit to overwhelm the necessary but too-often perversely scrupulous vigilance of language characteristic of much innovative poetry of the past four decades for the sake of a poetry that without a loss of reflection comes to grip with, for lack of a better word, life, the dizzying maelstrom of experience where there is no bottom to plant our feet, where “All answers will be questioned…”.

That a reader might not find this writing to his or her taste is understandable and allowed for:  perhaps the reflexive acceptance or rejection of a piece of writing based in the first instance on taste is a reflex the very compositional gestures of the text might imaginably challenge. But that a text should be rejected by “the present knowers” because it indulges, explores, retools, and complicates, if not exceeds and escapes, precisely the compositional means developed since the early, heady days of literary Modernism (among others), means whose end is to challenge,  and demand the collaborative labour of, the reader out of  social, political, and, yes, even aesthetic concerns is, frankly, jaw-dropping.