Posts Tagged ‘Gertrude Stein

02
Nov
16

Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): New School; or Double Vision; or WWI (Writing While Intoxicated) & Its Repercussions

POETRY ASSIGNMENTS

Brian Warner's The Cave

“The Cave” by Brian Warner. Used with the permission of Brain Warner.

or 100 Jackhammers for the Poet with Writer’s Block;

or 100 Ways to Jumpstart the Engine;

or 100 Pencil Exercises;

or 100 Ways to Stimulate Your Next Wine, Cheese, & Poetry Night

//

Table of Contents

Introduction

  1. Finding the First, Discovering the Middle, & Chasing the End
  2. Imaginary Worlds
  3. Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions
  4. Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages
  5. Forms: Obscure, Updated, & Invented
  6. New School; or Double Vision; or WWI (Writing While Intoxicated) & Its Repercussions
  7. Miscellany; Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here
  8. Stupid Money, Dumb Politicians, & Celebrating America
  9. Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity
  10. It’s All About You

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New School; or Double Vision; or WWI (Writing While Intoxicated) & Its Repercussions

Verbal Cubism

Here’s a phrase that probably exists, & if it doesn’t, it should. I’m sure it’s from somewhere. Let me know if you know.

One of the aspects of cubism is using multi-perspectives in space & time on one canvas. Consider Pablo Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. Paris, June-July 1907. Oil on canvas, 8' x 7' 8". Acquired through the Lille P. Bliss Bequest. (333.1939) Image licenced to Tom Holmes HOLMES, TOM by Tom Holmes Usage : - 3000 X 3000 pixels (Letter Size, A4) © Digital Image (c) The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Paris, June-July 1907. Oil on canvas, 8′ x 7′ 8″. Acquired through the Lille P. Bliss Bequest. (333.1939)
Image licenced to Tom Holmes HOLMES, TOM by Tom Holmes
Usage : – 3000 X 3000 pixels (Letter Size, A4)
© Digital Image (c) The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource
Picasso, Pablo (1881-1973) © ARS NY. Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. Paris, June-July 1907. Oil on Canvas, 8’x7’8″. Acquired through the Lille P. Bliss Bequest (333.1939). The Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, U.S.A. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA / Art Resource, NY. Pablo Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” © 2007 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Can we do this in poetry? Consider the following Natasha Sajé poem from her book Bend (Tupelo P, 2004):

   I See 

   the cats playing with a rose fallen
   from a wreath: a stiff silvery stem 

   topped by a dark pink ball.
   How curiously they bat the rose, 

   sniffing it with glee, and that’s what
   makes me bend, and see that it’s really 

   the long dried tail and entrails of a rat.
   I laugh: If rose & rat are not so far 

   apart, then what can’t be mistaken
   for something that it’s not? 

   The turn’s a way of telling me
   to make each breath a self-revision.


   “I see” from Bend by Natasha Sajé, published by Tupelo Press. Copyright 2004 by Natasha Saje. All rights 
   reserved. Reproduced by permission of Tupelo Press.

The assignment then: Bend as many perspectives as you can into a poem – a poem to not exceed one page in length (consider it your canvas). And please, don’t rely too heavily on line breaks.

Helpful hints to achieve this assignment: pretend you are inside Picasso’s mind or Einstein’s mind.

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GemALEgedicht – The Pintist School of Poetry

Let me tell you a story of the forgotten school of poetry that Ralph Black & I (Tom Holmes) have recently discovered. This school arrived in the late nineteenth century & early twentieth century in a few dank, town pubs in Northern England, Scotland, & on the outskirts of Dublin, Ireland. This poetic movement wasn’t a response to anything, it grew organically from the hops & yeast in Pints of Ale.

The Pintists, as they were called, believed in writing poetry whilst drinking pints of ale. Though they preferred to call their composing of poetry in this manner as Pinting. This school of poetry held firm in their beliefs of Pinting: everything could be explained by using only objects in the bar as a metaphor for the human condition; they believed the bartender was a high priest, or priestess; and their muse, their god, was represented in the below picture painted by Brian Warner.

Brian Warner's One More Time

The painting “One More Time” by Brain Warner is from the collection of Tim and Trinity Barnosky and is used with their permission.

Yes, the Pintists held strong til they read these lines from The Waste Land:

   HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME
   HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME

These lines shook many Pintists to the core. They believed they had been stagnating by drinking only one ale. The Pintists slowly fractured. First came the experimentalist who started binging on the German Ales. Then some of them even split into a smaller group of fringe avant gardists who downed Indian Pale Ales whilst writing their poems (& they were sure to use “whilst” as often as possible in their poems because they believed “whilst” had etymological connections to “whistle”, which they thought keen because they were always wetting their whistle, which later became their underground, hip word for pencil, because the pencil, they believed, couldn’t create unless it was wet with ale. (Some deep-hearted, avant garde, IPA Pintists actually took this literally, & dipped their pencils into their pints of IPA, like a fountain pen into an inkwell, as a ritual before they wrote. A few years later, these poor soles, these writers in the primes of their youths & artistic expressions, died from lead poisoning. This sorrowed all Pintists, & they slowly vanished like the sputtering of an empty keg.)).

At the same time everyone was reading the lines “HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME”, & whilst the avant garde IPA Pintists were slowly killing themselves, feminists got involved in the movement. They believed, & rightly so, that they too could drink as much & write as well as any of the male Pintists. This group of women would become known as the Ale-Wives. And whilst they believed in the Pintist school of poetry, they also believed the words “HURRY UP PLEASE IT’S TIME” was a good suggestion to all that it is time to go home. The Ale-Wives stressed the importance that there are certainly a few things outside of the pub that are important to consider. They also stressed the cyclic nature of life – all good things must come to an end, but tomorrow is just the beginning of more good things.

Around the time of the rise of the Ale-Wives, Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, & Gertrude Stein were in Dublin, Ireland, trying to raise rent money for James Joyce. They met Joyce in a bar in Dublin to give him rent money so he wouldn’t be evicted & so he could concentrate on his writing. Joyce was so touched by the love & concern that he started buying drinks to celebrate this act of love. Eventually, when the rent money was almost all gone, Joyce started buying drams of ale instead of pints. He was trying to conserve what little money he had left. At which point, Ezra asked Joyce if he had heard or read anything of the Pintists. Joyce responded, “Yes, they are so dramatic & grandiose in their expositions. What they need to do is start drinking these drams, like us!” Soon the minimalist school of Pintists was born, & they called themselves the Pintalists. The Pintalists lasted the night, & the school was never heard from again. Though one poem was recently discovered by a Pintologist from Brockport, NY. This Pintologist was in SUNY Buffalo’s library of archives doing research on Ezra Pound. Whilst going through Pound’s journals, he found a cocktail napkin with a poem on it. He believes the poem was written during the night of the Pintalists. The poem reads:

   In a Tavern in Dublin, Ireland

   The apparition of these faces –
   bubbles on a dram of ale.

Ok. Your assignment is to revive the school of Pintists. You will find a bar & compose poems whilst drinking pints of ale, um, I mean, you will involve yourself in Pinting.

Go forth.

Oh, one last thing, all Pintists believed in good tipping practices. They believed it healed the soul. They believed the better they tipped their high priests & priestesses, the less hungover they would be in the morning.

Ok. Now, go forth.

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Katzenjammer Poesie, Jeg har tommermenn Poesi, Katza Poezja, Mamurluk Poezija, or Hangover Poetry

There’s a somewhat new & most unique book out: The Wrath of Grapes: A Complete Hangover Cookbook & Guide to the Art of Creative Suffering (XOXOX Press, 2004). In a smart & fun & creative manner, the author, Patrick Meanor, educates us in ways to deal with our hangovers. And it will be most useful for us poets, since this book is culturally aware & informs us through poems, poets, writers, movies, music, etc.

One of the things The Wrath of Grapes notes is that there is very little written about the hangover, creatively or medically. But it does note that Peter Fallow, the anti-hero from The Bonfire of the Vanities, is “the first official Hangover Hero in American literature.”

Your assignment is not to get drunk & hungover, but to be on the forefront of a new genre: Hangover Poetry. This will be a poetry that deals with the hangover on some level: as a starting point for a metaphor, a place to turn a metaphor towards, a launching point for something else – but it must include the hangover. We need to see what we can learn from the hangover? how can it inform us? etc. . . .

A sub-genre would be poems that were written while hungover, but this is not advised.

Here’s an excerpt from an early part of The Wrath of Grapes that suggests something you should not do when hungover:

Don’t study the physical habits of your pets, especially the dog. Cats are mercifully enigmatic and won’t evoke too much paranoid response from you, although their piercing stare could unnerve you if you observe too long. Dogs, however, especially their incredibly quick eyebrow movements, should be avoided. Their eyebrow activity may pull you into the emotions that they seem to be expressing and will exhaust your mind by trying to follow their quickly changing feelings from sadness-to-happiness-to-fear-to-illness-to-daffiness, and so on ad infinitum. This is called “dog’s eyes syndrome.” It’s the old problem of what poets call the “pathetic fallacy”; that is, projecting human emotions into simple animal actions that mean nothing – which is really pathetic. Their eyebrows are probably adjusting to light refraction since most dogs are half blind anyway and they’re simply trying to see you. But don’t think about that too much, either.

(Patrick Meanor quote from The Wrath of Grapes is used with permission of XOXOX Press. Please visit their website at www.xoxoxpress.com.)

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28
Oct
16

Poetry Assignments: The Book (Online): Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages

POETRY ASSIGNMENTS

Brian Warner's The Cave

“The Cave” by Brian Warner. Used with the permission of Brain Warner.

or 100 Jackhammers for the Poet with Writer’s Block;

or 100 Ways to Jumpstart the Engine;

or 100 Pencil Exercises;

or 100 Ways to Stimulate Your Next Wine, Cheese, & Poetry Night

//

Table of Contents

Introduction

  1. Finding the First, Discovering the Middle, & Chasing the End
  2. Imaginary Worlds
  3. Science, the Universe, Time, & Other Evolutions
  4. Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages
  5. Forms: Obscure, Updated, & Invented
  6. New School; or Double Vision; or WWI (Writing While Intoxicated) & Its Repercussions
  7. Miscellany; Trying to Relate the Unrelated; or These Gotta Go Some Place . . . So Here
  8. Stupid Money, Dumb Politicians, & Celebrating America
  9. Responses; or Calling All Poets (Dead & Alive); or Talking to Eternity
  10. It’s All About You

//

Fun with Letters, Words, Language, & Languages

New Meanings

Take a poem you have written (preferably a dead poem, a poem you have given up on), find a word within the poem (a pivot word/an important word), change its meaning, & make that the title. For example, in the following Emily Dickinson poem:

   Faith is a fine invention
   when gentlemen can see,
   but microscopes are prudent
   in an emergency.

I will choose “microscopes” & make it mean “love.” The title of the poem will be something like – “If Microscopes Meant Love” or “Read Love for Microscopes.”

It’s a bit of a language thing, but hopefully it will bring to life a dead poem, at which point you should chase that life & play with the poem until it sings anew!

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The “Dialouges” Experiment

This one is a result of Thom Caraway’s fine eyes & ears. “Dialouges” is pronounced (die ya loogz). The word doesn’t exist. The poem is to make this word exist. If you can work Plato into the poem, then even better.

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The Bernadette Mayer Experiment

I am stealing this from Bernadette Mayer’s essay “Experiments” [here’s a version of the essay: http://www.writing.upenn.edu/library/Mayer-Bernadette_Experiments.html] in The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book (Southern Illinois University Press, 1984. pp 80-83.).

“Using phrases relating to one subject or idea, write about another (this is pushing metaphor and simile as far as you can), for example, steal science terms or philosophical language & write about snow or boredom.”

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The Tod Marshall Project

I’m stealing this from Tod Marshall, or making a variant of a Tod Marshall experiment.

In this assignment: describe an abstraction to a noun.

For instance, Marshall has a poem called, “Describe Custody to an Omelet,” which I think is in his new book, Dare Say (University of Georgia Press, 2002).

(9-2-06 addendum): I heard Tod Marshall read some of these poems at a reading with Nance Van Winckel in Sandpoint, ID. It was a late-afternoon reading that was done by candlelight, after the town lost electricity. I wrote the assignment before reading Dare Say. The poems do not appear in Dare Say, but appear in a forthcoming manuscript of Tod Marshall. Nonetheless, Dare Say is a kick ass book, & the assignment is still a good one.

(11-16-06 addendum): Here are some examples. With permission of Tod Marshall.

   Describe Entertainment Tonight to HDT

   I went to the woods because I wished to live celebrities,
   to suck the Mia Farrow out of life, to know Katie and Tom,
   Bennifer and Brangelina, to chat with Hugh Jackman and Jessica Simpson,
   to feel the inner turmoil of Mariah Carey and the desperate plight of Bobby Brown,
   to corner life and find its meanness, to eat woodchucks and wildness,
   to plant beans and catch pickerel, to read and walk and deliberate,
   but mainly to live celebrities.
   How soon arguing with Tom Cruise becomes tedious,
   how awful in my small cabin to listen to the musings
   of Kid Rock, to bump my head continually
   against Pamela Anderson’s boobs.
   How tiresome Ben and Jennifer and their brat.
   The deep pathos I feel for Lindsay Lohan’s emaciated frame
   fades when she leaves prescription bottles in my bean rows,
   when she and Paris drunkenly drive a Range Rover through the garden
   and let that fish-bait nipper of a dog
   yip at the stoic deer. Can I say it again? Arguing with Tom Cruise
   is like chewing bricks, listening to another speech on the merits of slavery,
   on the necessity of this or that war,
   taking ice picks, slamming them into your temples,
   and wiggling them around until you hear the metal clicking.
   Next time I walk to Concord I’ll have a few things to say about quiet desperation,
   and I think that I’ll bring Ralph Waldo
   a copy of Glitter, the unrated version of Dukes of Hazzard,
   dvd season three of American Idol,
   a year’s subscription to People, and Ashton Kuchar arm in arm with Demi Moore
   to prove my case about the stars
   and how hard people work not to see them.
 
 
 
 
 

   Describe Haiku to the Labyrinth

   Autumn,
   a woman loves
   a great white bull.

                               (old stone pond)

   Winter, nothing blooms.
   But in the maze
   mushrooms erupt on rotting bodies.

                               (frog jumps)

   Spring means forgive.
   The string wound
   in a ball,  the gate.

                               (sound of water)

   Summer.
   Lupine  and pearly everlasting:
   be lost.

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a: Crackbrains, Cranberry Trees, & Everything in Between; or a Slice of the Lexicon

You will need a dictionary for this. (My favorite, without exception, is The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. (Third & fourth editions, especially [or http://The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language Fifth Edition].))

In most dictionaries, a header on each page contains two words: one word indicates the first word alphabetically listed on the page that will be defined, & the other word indicates the last word alphabetically listed on the page that will be defined.

Your assignment: randomly flip to a page in a dictionary & use the two words in the header as starting points & ending points of your poem. Between those words, use all the words listed on the randomly-turned-to page. I suspect a few interesting things will occur as a result: the poem will have harmony, the poem most likely will have meaningful connections on an etymological level, not to mention the imagination that will be riding those two elements, & a few other surprises.

This poem, however, does not have to begin & end with the header words, but they should be near the beginning & end. For instance, with “crackbrain” & “cranberry tree”:

   Fernando Pessoa was not a crackbrain
   for not obeying his mother’s crack downs
   . . .
   he ate too many raw cranberries
   from the cranberry tree in back
   & the savory sourness
   puckered his mind
   til it split into two –
   the poet & his critic.

Ok. Get cracking.

The Criticb: The critic, or “It stinks!”

Thinking of Pessoa – who actually did write poems under one name, & then criticized them under another name, but who had multiple personalities. . . . After completing your poem, you are to write at least a one-page literary criticism of the poem. And to make it fun, pretend you are someone else. Perhaps write in the voice of Marjorie Perloff, or I.A. Richards, or Derrida, or Robert Bly, or Jay Sherman, or even John Lovitz (ug). Ok.

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A rose is a rose is a symbol is a something Moses supposes erroneously; or putting the BIG back in ambiguous; or no more hijacking/taming the language

In the last three or so years of my writing poems, my main focus has been clarity: Make certain the poem is understandable, at least on the surface level. Well, I think I have basically achieved that clarity . . . but along the away sacrifices were made. I became a reductionist with the language. That is, I ended up reducing words: One word has one meaning & can be in only one syntactical position.

(Saussure says something like: Language is like a game of chess & each word is like a chess piece – each word has certain roles, can only do certain things, & can only move in certain directions. And the rules of chess are like the grammar/syntax of language.)

That type of thinking, which on the other hand deconstructionists rightly or wrongly will say is fine thinking/presentation, limits the magic/power of the word. Almost all words have either more than one meaning or associations or innuendos or homonyms, etc, & the metaphor relies on the magic of the word: however deconstructionists don’t trust the metaphor:

“Derrida equates metaphor with usury, saying in effect, that it ‘promises more than it delivers’ while exacting a terrible, hidden, bankrupting interest on the ability of language to pay off, to signify without succumbing to ‘epistemological ambivalence.’ This is metaphor as loan shark.” (From Peter Sharpe’s new book The Ground of Our Beseeching (Susquehanna University Press, 2005). A great study on metaphor in contemporary American poetry.)

I’m not picking on the deconstructionists or those who use the language as I have, but it is in thinking about the subtleties of the word/metaphor, in part, where poetry can be fun.

So despite what Gertrude “Gerty, Gert, Gewürztraminer” Stein thinks, we are going to loosen up the language. We are going to make poetry fun again. We are going to purposely write as ambiguously as we can. And by ambiguous, I mean multi-meaning – plurisignative. I mean a phrase/sentence/metaphor suggesting more than one idea/thing/moment at the same time, & as a result, we are going to make so many associations & suggestions & hints with our ambiguities that we are going to connect everything in the universe, or as much as we can, into one poem.

“A diminishment of reality takes place when our experience is negotiated without ambiguity. . . . This ambiguity [in poetry] permits the spectator to insert details of his or her own, niches of perception left undetermined or open by the artist” (Tess Gallagher, quoted from William Heyen’s essay “Ambiguity” in Pig Notes & Dumb Music.) Heyen continues, “(Hemingway and others, of course, have spoken of the writer’s need to have a feeling for what to leave out.)” [Quote from “Ambiguity” by William Heyen published in Pigs Notes & Dumb Music by BOA Editions, Ltd., in 1998 © and used with permission.]

“The poet, no less than the scientist, works on the assumption that inert and live things and relations hold enough interest to keep him alive as part of nature.” – Louis Zukofsky

We are going to make metaphors that breach time – that connect the past, present, & future. We are going to create time!

You can even be fragmentary if you want to suspend time, like Franz Wright does in Walking to Martha’s Vineyard.

So what do I mean by all of this? Here’s a good example of what I mean by ambiguity, in part. We will continue with Franz Wright & move to a poem of his from Ill Lit: New and Selected Poems (Oberlin College Press, 1998).

   The Forties

   and in the desert cold men invented the star

What could this poem be about. With the title, I’m led right away to the 1940s & quickly after to the nuclear bomb. “the star” is the nuclear bomb. It was created & detonated for the first time in the desert in the 1940s. So we got that going.

But let’s consider more. Since there is no punctuation in the poem, we kind of have to figure out where some punctuation could be. So let’s put a comma after “desert”. How does the poem read now? Well, according to history, the a-bomb was exploded in the early morning, so the men who dropped the bomb could have been physically cold. But also, & here is where the ambiguity & metaphor works, the men could have been cold in another manner – as in cold, heartless men, since so much destruction, death, & a “cold war” will be created after WWII concludes with the dropping of the bombs on Japan.

Now let’s remove that comma & reposition it after “cold”. In this case we get more of a creation myth story – men invent the star, but most important to this poem, & this assignment, it still ties back to the nuclear bomb. The star is a star is a nuclear bomb.

With the underlying creation myth, & with the desert & with the star, & with the men, there are some religious undertones to the poem, too, perhaps. And with the title, “The Forties,” & religion & forty days & forty nights, how far off from another creation story are we? It echoes of the birth of Jesus a bit. Perhaps that it is stitch. But if you read the poem in low, deep-toned voice, like the voice of god, then it comes across better, maybe.

Also with the creation myth in our minds or not, by starting the poem “and” we are instantly put into epic mode – in media res. (Think of Pound’s The Cantos, Homer’s Odyssey, H.G. Wells The Outline of History, etc.). Then with no period at the end of the poem, we are lead to think of a continuing story. This poem is a pivotal moment between what was & what will be – it divides history in to what was before the cold war & the cold war that follows. (Does “cold” act as foreshadowing, also?)

Also note the power of these nine words. Four words are small & almost inconsequential. And there are only five big words that our minds can grab on to.

So, what I’m suggesting is: Be vague, be subtle, be suggestive, be inclusive & exclusive. Be a metaphor.

I think this assignment can also be done on an ambiguous tonal level, too. Can it be done on a melodic level, too? Let’s try & find that out, also!

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Etymological Rotisserie

This idea came to me from reading Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wallace Stevens, & most recently Natasha Sajé. First go back in time & find an Indo-European root word. (They are all in the back of the American Heritage Dictionary). List all its derivative words, & then try to get all those words into one poem.

For instance, kailo-, which means “whole, uninjured, of good omen.” Its derivatives (words that came from it) are: whole, hale (as in “free from infirmity or illness”), wholesome, hail (as in “to salute or greet”), wassail, health, heal, holy, halibut, halidom, holiday, hollyhock, hallow, Allhallowmass, & Halloween.

Those are the words to try & work into the poem. Not all have to be in, but give it a go.

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Leaping

This one comes to my attention from Laura Stott. We do not know the original creator.

Use the words below to write a poem that makes leaps (kinda like Deep Image poetry). You do not have to move straight across from the first Noun to first Verb to the first Other, but use the nouns in the order as they come & fill in the spaces. When you are inclined to use a verb, pick the first verb & do likewise with the “Other” words. Force yourself to make jolting connections in a similar fashion as a deep image poem. Think “emotive imagination” & make what leaps you have to create an experience through your intuitive self. The following words come from W.S. Merwin’s poem “For the Anniversary of My Death” in The Lice (Atheneum, 1971), which can be found in The Second Four Books of Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1993).

Nouns Verbs Other
Year Knowing Without
Day Passed Last
Fires Wave Tireless
Silence Will Lightless
Traveler Surprised Strange
Beam Love Shamelessness
Star Writing Three
Garment Hearing Cease
Earth Sing
Woman Falling
Men Bowing
Today
Rain
Wren

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Vowels & Consonants; or Vowel Movements

I suddenly just awoke from a really deep, deep sleep after several days of very light sleep. It was so deep that it took my mind a second or two to figure out where it was, & it took my body, especially my limbs, at least seven seconds to make the journey back to this more physical/conscious world.

After a few more moments, I said to my self “I am so tired.” (As I look at that phrase now, it seems so short compared to how it sounded.) But what I realized, or was reminded of, was my hypothesis I’ve been carrying around for some time now. My probably, improvable hypothesis which states:

In the poetry of the English Language, vowels carry the emotion & the consonants carry the meaning. (And it’s usually the long vowels that provide the emotional content & schwa’s act more as consonants.)

Using the above example, “I am so tired,” I can elaborate. Each word has a long vowel, & because I was so tired, the “a” in “am” was dragged out quite some way to make it sound & act long, & the “o” in “so” was the longest vowel & “so” the longest syllable. (Yes, sometimes & usually, the content dictates how to read syllables.) Each syllable in that phrase was dragged out to emphasize my tiredness. But what made the sentence move forward was the turn of the consonants. Those consonants provided the meaning to the emotion. The consonants framed, or gave the vowels a context in which to work – in which the emotions could gather/find meanings.

Ok. Here’s the assignment. Write two poems about the same thing. In one, be heavy handed with vowels. In the other, be heavy handed with consonants. Then compare & contrast to see if any of what I said above may be true. You could also translate, or replace, an English poem’s words by substituting more vowel induced words in one case or more consonant induced words in another.

Poets to read that might be helpful in this assignment: maybe Campion for vowels, & an Old English alliterative poet for consonants.

If anyone discovers anything fascinating, or has their own ideas, please share.

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Tonal Dialectic

This one invaded me last night/this early morning (Thursday, December 18, 2003, around 4:30 a.m.) as I couldn’t sleep, & I started thinking about my recent poems & what I may try to do with my new poems to better reflect my thought/emotional processes. Also, I’m doing it because I came up with a cool phrase/coined a cool phrase in those wee hours, & now, I want to give the phrase some context.

I’ll start like this, I guess. In metrical poetry, a poem moves forward in part because of the stressed & unstressed syllables, or the long & short syllables, or both. (It also moves forward by tone, images, rhythm, line breaks, narrative momentum, etc., but mainly the syllables.) There’s an interplay and a tension between the stressed and unstressed syllables.

Ok. Here’s the assignment: do that with tone!

I thought of the term “tonal dialectic,” & I think it works in a similar manner as metrical movement. Shifts in tone. A tension can be made there. Meanings can surface!

So perhaps stanza one is in tone A, & stanza two is in tone B, & stanza three resolves them with tone C. Perhaps even more stanzas & tones. Or tone changes with lines, or whatever you see/hear fit.

So the assignment is to write a poem with different tones rubbing against each other to create something! But hopefully the tones will work in a progressive nature, not an arbitrary one.

It’s a bit abstract, I suppose, & I have no advice except to read Donald Hall. His poems ride on tones, as I hear them. Or listen to Schoenberg.

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Tonal Dialectic, part two – Using a Separate Language

I just finished reading David Budbill’s wonderful new collection of poems While We’ve Still Got Feet (Copper Canyon Press, 2005).

In this book, Budbill is basically reflecting on life/living. In part this is how he does it: because he’s an American but seemingly deeply influenced by ancient Asian poets, Budbill writes poems that have an ancient Asian tone about them but with a contemporary American linear language.

So what I mean is that the tone of the poems is similar to the tone you would expect to find, for instance, in a Muso Soseki poem or a Li Po poem or in The Kokinshu. And then he uses American language, because that is probably what he grew up with & how he thinks, to push the poems forward. For example:

   Gama Sennin

   Gut hangin’ out
   Stick on shoulder.
   Toad up on me
   head.

   Singin’ me songs
   on Red Dust Road,
   headed toward
   dead.

You can see the American language in “hangin’,” “Singin’,” & in the use of “me” instead of “my.” And the tone comes through, in part, I think, from the images & the last three lines & the title.

There is also this:

   Ryōkan Says

   With what can I
   compare this life?
                Weeds floating on water. 

   And there you are with your
   dreams of immortality         
                through poetry. 

   Pretty pompous – 
   don’t you think? – for a
                weed floating on water?


   (Quoted poems are by David Budbill as they appear in While We’ve Still Got Feet (Copper Canyon P, 
   2005)©, and they are used with permission of Copper Canyon Press.)

There he begins with a one of Ryōkan’s poem then responds to it.

So here’s the general dialectic of the poems. He rubs the tone (thesis, if you will) up with the language (antithesis) to synthesize a resulting poem, or understanding of life, love, ego, politics, poetry, etc. (Please note my reductionary “dialectic” description of these poems is very insulting to the poems, & I’m only using it to generate a poetry assignment. However, the tone/language is genuine & impressive.)

Your assignment is to write a poem with a very certain tone but in a language that is quite different than the tone. So perhaps you may want to write a poem in an Allen Ginsberg tone but while writing with the language (words/grammar) of Alexander Pope. Or this might be fun: write a poem with scientific language but in a religious tone. Or whatever you can come up with. And the poem should be a reflective poem, though not necessarily meditative or lyrical.

a: Tonal Dialectic, part three – Is the tone; or Tone the Is; or Is “Is” the Tone or Does Tone Tone the Is?

So I was watching the news – zoning in & out of it – and a commercial came on. Now I’m mostly zoned out until the end with its written, printed slogan on the screen:

   ACE
   The Helpful Place

(I dig how John Madden’s voice balances the helpful tone, but I didn’t realize until just now.) What I did realize when watching the ad was the line break, or what the line break has inside of it. It has the verb of the sentence. It has “is”. I thought that odd because if I remember my commercials well, they tend to have a subject & predicate, the objects, subjects, & verbs are not implied, & the verbs tend to be emphasized – but I could be remembering wrong. But nonetheless.

I then drifted to this thought. Can’t we, as writers of poems, do the same? Use the line break to carry the implied. I mean we do, but how often? How does it affect the tone?

Consider these lines from Margaret Atwood’s “Manet’s Olympia”:

   Above the head of the (clothed) maid
   is an invisible voice balloon: Slut.

Couldn’t it have read:

   Above the head of the (clothed) maid
   an invisible voice balloon: Slut.

And some us may even have put an em dash after maid.

But the poem could have done the line break with no “is” or em dash. But, really, it couldn’t. Not in these poems from Morning in the Burned House (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1995 (first Canadian edition, which precedes the first English Edition (London: Virago, 1995) & the first American edition (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1995))). Not at this point in the book. No, at this point, these poems are too sassy, up front, blunt. And I’m not sure if it is because of the poem’s tone or because of the uses of “is” within the poem.

In later sections, the use of “is” becomes less frequent, but the sassiness & bluntness are still there, but not as up front as later poems. And in those poems the tense changes & wavers between future & past tenses (or future perfect & past perfect, or whatever those terms are that I can’t remember but intuit).

So I wonder: Is the verb responsible for the tone, or the tone responsible for the verb? Is it that age old question: which came first: the tone or the verb? Ug.

So what we will do to find out is:

  1. Write a poem that uses “is” a lot. Make sure “is” happens at a line’s end or a line’s beginning.
  2. Rewrite that same poem, but replace each “is” with an empty space, unless the “is” happens to not be at the line’s end or the line’s beginning.
  3. Rewrite the same poem with different verbs. Replace each “is” with “would have” or “would be” or “had been” or “was” or “could be” or “could have been,” etc.

Now as I look back at those lines, that colon is doing a lot of work, too. The colon replaces something like “that reads” or “containing the word,” or something like that. So now:

b: Colonial Imperialism of Words; or Colonizing Ellipticism

Let’s explore how we can use the colon to replace words in a manner similar to the previous assignment, part a. But instead of finding a relationship with tone, we will find a relationship with ellipticism.

How far can we push that colon before we lose/distance our reader? How much information can be stored in a colon? Find the brevity inclusive/exclusive breaking point of the colon.

Is this what Alice Fulton & others are trying to do when they use “::”?

//

Call & Response; or The Line of In-Between; or Silent Echo; or I Always Forget the Title of a Poem by Line Three, Except in this Poem

I have just had my first encounter with Ray Gonzalez. Oh, man! This guy is good. There is one poem, “Emerge,” I find myself returning to for two reasons: one, it’s a kick ass poem (& there are other kick ass poems, too – & by kick ass, I mean, they kick you so hard in amazement, you fall on your ass, even when you’re sitting down, Oi!); two, he does something unique. I’ll explain after you read the poem, which is from Consideration of the Guitar: New and Selected Poems (BOA Editions, 2005).

   Emerge

   As if the sacred is the only way
   and desire is fortune spilled across the desert
   where no one has stepped in years.

   As if the fever lifted from rage could change
   the world and stir the holy water
   tinged with blood.

   As if the fallen song was a great mystery
   and its rhyme came from the unfed mouths
   of those who promised they would not weep.

   As if the willow tree was a warning of green
   and falling things resisting the broken ground.

   As if listing the very heart of truth was outlawed
   by a summer afternoon impossible to breathe.

   As if each thing accomplished was taken away
   by those who don’t speak, but rearrange
   the candle to ward off the starving spirit.

   As if music in the fingers was played in time
   to hear the heron rise, its flapping wings
   changing the river into a pond.

   As if a thousand rocks left one stone to emerge
   through the decaying monument where no
   one said anything as the mountain arrived.

   As if the one thing we believe was finally
   played on a guitar carved from the wood
   of our father’s crib.

   As if the darkness is the beloved teacher
   and its tool the mightiest reason
   to go there together, unafraid.

   As if the sacred is the only way
   and the difficulties are lined up on the shelf
   decorating the hallway into the interior

   where the names we are called
   are the names of those who emerge.


   (“Emerge” by Ray Gonzalez published in Consideration of the Guitar: New and Selected Poems by BOA 
   Editions, Ltd., in 2005 © and used with permission.)

So this is how I hear the poem when I read it in my head. I hear “Emerge” between each stanza, except before the last stanza. It’s like in between each stanza is a brief meditation on “Emerge” – emerge is like what . . . . It’s a calling in the empty space between the stanzas. The next stanza is the response. There’s no real silence in this poem, that is, when you read it in your head.

But Gonzalez was smart enough to not put “Emerge” between each stanza, for to read the poem aloud with “Emerge” between each stanza, doesn’t seem to work. “Emerge” would steal too much energy. “Emerge” would dominate the poem. The poem would be overly dramatic. No, “Emerge” needs to be silent, but understood – understood to be there between the stanzas. And I think this poem succeeds in doing that.

Now, your assignment is to succeed. Create a call-&-response poem with the title intuitively understood to be heard between the stanzas. If you can manage to pull it off, actually put the title word, or words, between the stanza so they are read aloud, then, please, do so.

And then, or prior to writing the poem, wonder what type of poem this would be successful in. A contemplative poem, meditative poem. Could a narrative poem work with this? – I think it could. Maybe even lyrical.

But alas, go forth. Talk to yourself. Talk to the poem. Let the poem talk . . . & respond.

NB: The first section of this book: Consideration of the Guitar: New Poems reads as its own book. So really, you are getting a book & then a book of selected poems. How often do you get that?

//

The Miguel de Cervantes Experiment

“The Prologue” begins Don Quixote, & it offers some good advice on writing, especially on the use of allusions.

The next section is called “To the Book of Don Quixote of La Mancha,” which is filled with poems to & about Don Quixote, Rocinante, & Pedro Panza. The first poem, “Urganda the Unrecognized,” is in a form called versos de cabo rato. The footnote explains the form as follows:

This comical form is called versos de cabo rato (translated: “lines with unfinished endings”). The dropped syllable is the one after the line’s last word’s stressed syllable.

I will quote the beginning:

   ON SANCHO

   I am the esquire Sancho Pan--
   Who served Don Quixote of La Man--;
   But from his service I retreat--,
   Resolved to pass my life discreet--;
   For Villadiego, called the Si--,
   Maintained that only in reti--
   Was found the secret of well-be--,
   According to the “Celesti--:”
   A book divine, except for sin--
   By speech too plain, in my opin--


   Translated by John Ormsby. Quoted from Project GutenbergTM License. 
   http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/world/readfile?pageno=33&fk_files=84486

Have fun!

a: Linear Palindrome

This one is for Dan Morris.

This assignment is based on Natasha Trethewey’s poem, “Myth”, which appeared on the Poetry Daily website on Saturday, January 22, 2005. I have given a name to this form as I do not know what else to call it. Since Poetry Daily’s archive doesn’t go back far enough [I shake my fist at them and ask why not?], you can read it here: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/55930You can also read it in Pushcart Prize XXXI: Best of the Small Presses, 2007. [It also appears in Native Guard (Mariner, 2006).]

As you can see, this poem reads as a palindrome but on a line basis, not a character basis. That is, line one & line eighteen (the last line) are the same, lines two & seventeen are the same . . . & lines nine & ten (the middle lines) are the same. The poem thus reads the same backwards as forwards, not to mention it travels the same ground, but in reverse direction – thus, a new perspective on the same event.

Your assignment then is to write a linear palindrome. To be fair, I think the poem should be at least eight lines long. I think fourteen is a good length. If you go fourteen lines, then why not try to make it a rhyming sonnet, & if you can, write it in iambic pentameter & try to get a volta in there. If you do that, then you will be a linguistic genius.

Thinking of linguistic geniuses. . . . The longest palindrome I know is by Georges Perec. (To read it, go here: http://home.arcor.de/jean_luc/Deutsch/Palindrome/perec.htm.) Georges Perec, who likes to make crossword puzzles for fun, is the author of Life: A User’s Manual, which is a brilliant & wonderful novel whose structure is based on how a knight moves on a chess board. This novel was translated from the French to the English by David Bellos. Perec also wrote A Void, a novel in which the letter “e” is not used. It was amazingly translated by Gilbert Adair from the French to the English without using the letter “e”. Perec has a sequel novel, W, or the Memory of Childhood. This novel only uses one vowel, the letter “e”. And this too was amazingly translated from the English to the French by Bellos. It’s a crazy novel to read because you can just see how much struggle goes into saying the simplest thing, & how new events must arise & intercede between the beginning of a simple action & its conclusion, such as getting a book off a shelf.

I am thus inspired to have three sub-assignments:

b: “A Dan acts Niagara war against Canada”, or
“A Dan, a clan, a canal – Canada!” or “Poor Dan is in a droop”

Still tippin’ my hat to D.Mo.

You are to write a palindrome, but on a character level.

c: A, I, O, U, & always Y

You are to dust off an old, failing poem, & revise it so it no longer contains the letter “e”.

d: E, E, E, E, E, & E

Using the same poem from the first sub-assignment, revise it but use only the letter “e” as the poem’s only vowel.

//

Lost in Translation, or Perdu dans la traduction, or For Shits & Giggles, or Pour des merdes et rit nerveusement

It’s spring break for many of us, so this one is for fun. So please have fun!

Type in a poem into a translator (like world.altavista.com/ or babblefish.com/babblefish/language.htm or  https://translate.google.com/), & choose, for instance, the “English to Spanish.” Then, take what it has translated & translate it BACK to English, & watch the hilarity ensue.

//

Translation

I heard about this one somewhere. Translate an English poem from English to English. I imagine this can done on a word-to-word basis or a line-to-line basis, or the music/melody could just be carried over, or the syntax could be carried over. Whatever you think translation means.

//

03
Mar
14

Thing and All: Reading W. C. Williams Spring and All Through a Thing Theory Lens

Below I read William Carlos Williams Spring and All through a Thing Theory lens in an attempt to understand “Thing Theory.” My understanding of Thing Theory may not be complete, so if you have suggestions and/or want to clear up any of my misunderstandings, please leave a comment below.

//

Thing and All 

A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American LiteratureIn Bill Brown’s “Introduction” to A Sense of Things: The Object Matter of American Literature, he makes a comment about Williams Carlos Williams and Williams’s Spring and All when he writes, Williams “seems to understand the process of wresting things away from life and experience to be the essential dynamic of the artist’s endeavor” (2). Later on, however, Brown misunderstands the meaning of Williams “no ideas but in things,” a quote from Williams that appears a few years later than Spring and All in the poem “Paterson.” In that misunderstanding, Brown also misses out on an opportunity to read Spring and All through a Thing Theory lens. By reading Spring and All through a Thing Theory lens, and asking some of the questions Brown asks in “Introduction” about how to read literature, Thing Theory can illuminate how Williams enables the reader of his poems to see things as aesthetic items devoid of utilitarian value and to objectify latent pleasure within the thing as beauty.

Thing Theory’s main focus is on things, especially in relation to objects, or how things transform into objects and objects into things. For Brown, a thing can be encountered in two manners, and in either manner “we only catch a glimpse of things” (Brown “Thing Theory” 4) before they are transformed into objects. One way is to encounter an item is to interact with it as a percept, or thing, before language intervenes and transforms the thing into an object with meaning. Perhaps this can best be explained by seeing something for the first time and not knowing what it is, or imagining a baby first perceiving an item, or even imagining how an animal might witness an item for the first time – all occurrences are in a sudden pre-linguistic state. It is from this “amorphousness out of which objects are materialized by the (ap)perceiving subject” (5). The other way to encounter a thing is to “imagine things [. . .] as what is excessive in objects” (5). That is to say, objects are things that have accumulated meaning (whether from culture, tradition, history, etc.) or have a use value, and to strip away those meanings and utilitarian values is to find or encounter the thing as it really is. Brown points out that “We begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us” (5). For instance, if a person has a flashlight and the batteries in it die, then the flashlight can no longer beam light. Instead of a flashlight, the person now holds a cylinder of plastic with no use value. As a result, the relation between the object and subject change, where the subject is the perceiver of the thing/object, user of the thing/object, or the person who gives the thing meaning or name. With a flashlight that doesn’t beam light, the subject has to create a new relation with the plastic thing, which the subject could render useless or transform into something new, like a hammer. In other words, as Steven Connor points out, “Objects are what we know, objects are things that know their place, and whose place we know” (1), and once the subject no longer knows the object, it loses its use value, or the object loses its place, the object becomes a thing. Much of Modern poetry is also concerned with the thing, and it tries to rediscover objects or relocate them into environments where they have new meanings and aesthetic values. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as using the mythic method or through non-representational means. As a result, Thing Theory becomes a useful tool for reading poetry from the Modernism era, especially in order “to imagine a work of art as a different mode of mimesis – not one that serves a thing, but one that seeks to attain the status of thing” (“Brown “Introduction” 3).

The fundamental impulse of Modernist poetry is to find or create utopia. For some poets, such as T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, this utopia is found in the past, and for other poets, such William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens, this utopia is in the future or what can be created now. These poets who find utopia in the past, or mythic poets as Roy Harvey Pearce calls them, see history as static and believe that there are a set of beliefs that hold true everywhere and at all times. Without these beliefs, T. S. Eliot’s objective correlative could not exist, because its underlying premise is that there are symbols that speak to all people in the same way. For the mythic poets, the past is something a person wants to return to because it holds an existence as it should be. These poets use objects and all the cultural, linguistic, traditional, mythic, and historical residue that has accumulated on them over the centuries as a means of expression. For Eliot, to use an object or symbol is for him to use all the meanings and allusions that are associated with that word or object and then relocate the object into a new environment. For him, the rose, for example, will carry all the symbolism and tradition that comes with the rose.

The poets who see utopia in the future or as a form of creation, however, think differently. These poets, or the Adamic poets as Roy Harvey Pearce calls them, want to break from this tradition. These poets want to scrape off all the cultural, linguistic, traditional, mythic, and historical accumulation and residue that has gathered on an object in order to see the thing again and then to recreate the thing into a new object in order to create and direct the foundational terms of culture. The poet wants his/her audience to feel a rupture from their expectations of art and how they live. An example of this rupture happening occurs with William Carlos Williams’s Spring and All.

Spring and AllSpring and All is collection of poems and prose pieces that was released in 1923 from Contact Publishing in a print run of 300 copies, and it acts and often reads as a manifesto to what poetry should do in the modern era, at least what Williams wants to do, anyway. It acts in a manner to support what Williams will say a few years later in his poem “Paterson” (which precedes by a number of years the epic poem Paterson), “no ideas but in things,” and this “no idea but in things” is at the heart of Thing Theory despite Brown’s misunderstanding of it in his “Introduction” to A Sense of Things, where Brown writes:

Williams’s creed [“no idea but in things”] violates his own poetic practice of rendering things – “a red wheel / barrow” – in their opacity, not their transparency. “No ideas but in things” should be read as a slip of the pen: a claim – on behalf of replacing abstractions with physical facts – that unwittingly invests objects with interiority, whereas Williams meant to evacuate objects of their insides and to arrest their doubleness, their vertiginous capacity to be both things and signs (symbols, metonyms, or metaphors) of something else. (11)

Since Brown refers to the now very well-known poem “The Red Wheelbarrow,” or “XXII” as it appears in Spring and All (see “Attachment A: ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’”), I can point out Brown’s misunderstandings while at the same time viewing the poem through the Thing Theory lens. Just prior to this poem are three other poems and a little over two pages of prose. In the prose sections of this book, Williams sets up points of his manifesto for a new poetry and/or how the old poetry is no longer adequate. The prose sections are then followed with an example of what he means or wants to accomplish by presenting one of his poems or a group of poems that perform what the prose has said it wants poetry to perform. In the prose section before “The Red Wheelbarrow,” one concern for Williams is to mark the distinctions between prose and poetry and between fact and imagination. For Williams, prose is a “statement of facts concerning emotions, intellectual states, data of all sorts – technical expositions, jargon, of all sorts – fictional and other” (219), and prose “is the accuracy of its subject matter” (219). Poetry, however, is a “new form dealt with as a reality itself” (219) and is “related to the movements of the imagination revealed in words – or whatever it may be –” (219). Natalie Gerber explains Williams’s distinctions more clearly:

Poetry’s organization frees words from their usual discursive burdens of making and securing meanings. Whereas the form of prose is determined by its need to present an exposition of facts, poetry situates words as the transcription of immediate perceptions that are serially considered and modified, and yield in turn to further clarifications. (13)

In other words, Williams is rendering things, and the rendering is accomplished through the imagination rendering things physical as they are, or rendering their opacity and not their transparency. Turning back to “The Red Wheelbarrow,” we can see Williams’s idea in practice. The first two lines of the poem open in abstraction, “so much depends / upon” before it turns to the physical world. So on one level, Brown is partially correct, as Williams is replacing the abstractions with physical facts. However, Williams’s poem is actually moving like the imagination through words. The opening of the poem, and the prose that precedes it, is actually cleansing the reader’s lenses of perception in order to see new again (to re-see) and not necessarily replacing abstractions with the physical. As Brown says in a different essay, “Thing Theory,”:

The story of objects asserting themselves as things, then, is the story of a changed relation to the human subject and thus the story of how the thing really names less an object than a particular subject-object relation. (4)

This is what Williams is doing. He is changing the relation of the subject and object. And what’s being named are not the objects but the reader coming out of abstractions (“so much depends / upon”) and then seeing, as if for the first time, a red wheelbarrow. Actually, first the reader sees “a red wheel” and then, after the line break (“a red wheel / barrow”), the reader sees a red wheelbarrow in full. The reader’s relationship has changed thrice. Twice by looking at the thing before and after the line break and once by looking though the dependency – “so much depends / upon” (“The Red Wheelbarrow” 1-2). In addition, the reader sees the wheelbarrow in a stationary position. It is not being used to carry or move anything, such as mulch, feed, or seeds. The wheelbarrow has no utilitarian value. In fact, one could say, as Brown does, “You could imagine things [. . .] as what is excessive in objects, as what exceeds their mere materialization as objects or their mere utilization as objects” (“Thing Theory” 5). In other words, an object becomes a thing when the object loses its use value, as the wheelbarrow does here. But the wheelbarrow does gain another value – an aesthetic value – and not only because it is in a poem. It is because it is red. There is no need to paint a wheelbarrow, unless it is made of metal so as to protect it from rust. This wheelbarrow from 1923, however, was most likely a wooden wheelbarrow, and would not require coloring, except for aesthetic reasons. In fact, the paint, adds to the opacity of the thing, and not the transparency that Brown thought, as mentioned earlier. In addition, the wheelbarrow acquires value but not of a productive labor value, but it acquires the value that arises from the new subject-object relation, and this relation is an aesthetic relation. In addition, Williams redefines the object of the wheelbarrow, he strips it of its traditional use value and associations as a tool of labor, and returns the wheelbarrow to its thingness. Then, because he is a modern Adamic poet, Williams transforms the thing into a new object, or rather, Williams enables the reader to transform the thing into an object.

Thing Theory has other issues it is concerned with besides transforming objects into things and then into new objects. Some of the concerns can be addressed by answering the questions Brown asks about literature but by rephrasing those questions as questions concerning Williams’s Spring and All, such as: what does Spring and All do “with objects” (Brown “Introduction” 16)?; how does Spring and All “reinvest the subject/object dialectic with its temporal dimension” (16)?; does Williams turning things into objects, as a result, objectify the subject (17)?; and “how do objects mediate relations between subjects, and how do subject mediate the relation between objects” (18)? A reading of the poem “The Rose,” the only unnumbered poem in Spring and All (see “Attachment B: ‘The Rose’”), will help to answer these questions in relation to Spring and All, as a whole.

The first line of Williams’s “The Rose” is “The rose is obsolete,” but before the rose can become obsolete, Williams first must make the world surrounding the rose obsolete in order “[t]o refine, to clarify, to intensify that eternal moment in which we live” (Spring and All 178). Williams realizes “[t]here is a constant barrier between the reader and his consciousness of immediate contact with the world” (177), and much of the barrier comes from cultural, linguistic, traditional, mythic, symbolic, and historical barriers, and most of these barriers come from Europe. These barriers, according to Travis Timmons, prevent “us from making contact with and engaging the rose. So Williams’s poem [“The Rose”] seeks to recover this sort of encounter with the rose” (41). To accomplish removing the barrier, Williams declares war on Europe:

Tomorrow we the people of the United States are going to Europe armed to kill every man, woman and child in the area west of the Carpathian Mountains (also east) sparing none. [. . .] Kill! kill! the English, the Irish, the French, the Germans, the Italians, and the rest: friends or enemies, it makes no difference, kill them all. The bridge is to be blown up. (178-79)

When “the annihilation of every human creature on the face of the earth” has occurred, when this “holocaust” (179) is completed, when the destruction of the bridge to the past and European cultural values, symbols, and meanings, “[t]hen at last will the world be made anew” (179). The imagination previously “intoxicated by prohibitions” (179) will be freed. A new spring will rise, a new spring witnessed through the perception of poetry and seeing the thing blossom and “with a full realization of the meaning of ‘art’” (181).

As a result, Williams has established a world of things. A place where objects no longer have use value or meaning, and a place with a new subject-thing relation and the potential for a new subject-object relation. Williams has established a place where “The rose is obsolete” (“The Rose” 1). Meaning, the rose with all its European cultural, traditional, sentimental, symbolic, etc. accumulation and residue on the rose have been removed, so the rose is just a rose, which recalls Gertrude Stein’s a “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose” (“Sacred Emily” 187). What follows in Williams’s “The Rose” is the reconstruction of the rose, and as a result, the relation between subject and thing is reconstructed and “the oneness of experience” (Spring and All 194) is revealed.

In order to accomplish this, the reader needs to know how to re-see, or to see things as if for the first time. The prose section preceding the poem helps the reader understand how they can now use their imagination as a “means of expression, the essential nature of technique or transcription” (193) of reconstruction. The imagination, however, is only a tool. There is also a process of how the “subject mediate[s] the relation between objects” (Brown “Introduction” 18). This process, the process Williams will use in “The Rose” and other poems, uses the new Modern art techniques of Cubism and artist Juan Gris, as explained in the paragraph before “The Rose,” where Williams says, “the attempt is being made to separate things of the imagination from life [. . .] by using the forms common to experience so as not to frighten the onlooker away but to invite him,” (Spring and All 194). Notice how the paragraph ends with a comma before the poem begins. The comma separates, but it also invites. A period would be an end, but the comma suggests to the reader to continue. This comma is the first hint at the new technique of seeing anew – the collage method. The comma acts as place to begin the juxtapositions. On a literal level, it’s the juxtaposition of prose and poem, but it also hints at the workings of the poem, where the passive is juxtaposed with the active, and nature is juxtaposed with the mechanical, mathematical, artistic, metallurgy, romance, and the metaphysical.

After the opening line, the rose becomes active. Each rose petal’s edge is “cementing,” “cuts,” “meets,” and “renews / itself.” The rose through its actions is trying to define itself. In fact, at this point, the subject is a passive observer watching the rose redefine itself. Soon the subject’s passiveness becomes active and is actively perceiving the rose, “so that to engage roses / becomes a geometry” (12-13). In just these first few lines, the thing has imposed on the subject and then the subject has imposed on the thing. However, neither has redefined the other. The rose is still a rose, as the subject has not attached value or meanings to it. The rose is just asserting opacity through action. The subject while engaging the rose geometrically, realizing how its shape interacts with space, how its shape defines space and space defines the rose, the subject has still not recreated the rose. The rose is still a rose, and the subject is still learning how to interact with a thing, and to interact with the thing in the moment. The subject has not imposed old meanings and symbolic associations on to the rose nor has the subject made assumptions about the rose. At this moment, perhaps subject and thing are both things. The subject, yet defined, is only perceiving, and the thing, without meanings, has only begun to enter the new space. This new space will be collaged, and as we will see later, will become a place of definition.

“The Rose” begins with descriptive terms borrowed from the world of construction: “cementing,” “columns,” “metal,” and “porcelain”; then the poem brings in the mathematical term “geometry” (and later “infinitely”); moves to artistic terms, such as “majolica,” “plate,” and “glazed”; then moves to metallurgy with terms like “copper roses” and “steel roses”; then moves to romance with “love”; and eventually will end in the metaphysical world as the rose “penetrates / the Milky Way” and then “penetrates space.” Each one of the description presents a unique way of encounter the rose. It’s a collage of encounters, but each encounter uses the “forms common to experience” (Spring and All 194). Each encounter repositions the subject to have a new relation with the thing. That is, the subject can now choose how to interpret the rose. This is especially true in the fourth stanza, where the impression of a rose is given:

     Sharper, neater, more cutting
     figure in majolica –
     the broken plate
     glazed with a rose
                         (14-17)

On this plate, was a mimetic representation of a rose, and it was an even more precise rendering of the rose, as it was “Sharper, neater, more cutting” (14). This representation was made by a person (or subject) or a machine programmed by a person, but now the plate is broken and so is the image of the rose. Much like the war Williams waged on Europe, this broken plate has freed the rose from another form of representation. The mimetic rose is shattered. Its broken self is now only a collage of fragments. As a result, the plate no longer has use value and it no longer has aesthetic value, or it has the potential for newly rendered aesthetic value but without use value. The broken object, now a thing because its use value has been removed, forces the subject to interact with it in a new way. More important, though, is that the poem has forced the reader to interact with a mimetic rose stripped of its “glazed” context as well as a natural rose stripped of symbolism, tradition, cultural, and historic contexts. As a result, “Williams’s solution [to creating a thing] in this poem is to disavow the ‘crude symbolism’ accrued around the rose by creating a present moment in which the rose happens to us as an artistic event” (Timmons 41-42). The subject-thing relationship has changed for the second time, and it will change a third time, too.

Before the third transformation, however, the rose needs to be stripped of its only remaining association – its romantic associations. The rose needs to have the heavy symbolism of love removed from it because “love is at an end – of roses” (22). The rose can no longer be associated with love, at least not in same ways it has been for centuries. This love is now “at the edge of the / petal” (23-4), where the petal cuts into space, the space of renewal, as indicated in the first stanza. And while love waits there, in the next stanza it’s as if the rose has finally lost all its virility and is now impotent:

     Crisp, worked to defeat
     laboredness – fragile
     plucked, moist, half-raised
     cold, precise, touching
                                (25-28)

It’s delicate, limp, and without passion. All the accrued meanings of the rose have finally been removed and removed using mechanical, natural, and sensual word descriptions, which are the same types of words that tried to re-render the rose in this poem. In Gerber’s words, “Instead of confirming words in their emotional implications, this organization liberates words from their emotions. Words no longer convey ‘facts’ but are experienced as facts in themselves” (13). And this leads to the third transformation – the rose as poem.

In his “Introduction,” Bill Brown wonders: “The question of things becomes a question about whether the literary object should be understood as the object that literature represents or the object that literature has as its aim, the object that literature is” (3). In other words, is the poem a symbol of literature, much like the rose is a symbol of love, or is the poem a thing waiting to be rendered a literary object with meanings? Is the literary entity, such as a poem or collection of poems, mimetic, representational, or creative? To begin answering these questions, “The Red Wheelbarrow” needs to be revisited.

“The Red Wheelbarrow” is a 16-word sentence, and as Hugh Kenner points out in A Homemade World: The American Modernist, it is without rhetorical situation (59-60). It’s not a sentence, he thinks, that anyone would ever say, and if it was said, the person who heard it would “wince” (60). This sentence is really a collage of three items (wheelbarrow, rain water, and chickens) and one abstraction (the opening stanza) and is held together by three prepositions (“upon,” “with,” and “beside”). The poem has linguistic elements, though it lacks punctuation and rhetorical situation. In that sense, it’s not a traditional literary item, at least not in 1923. It has no symbolism or meanings. It is a thing, or as Kenner says:

But [“The Red Wheelbarrow”] hammered on the typewriter into a thing made, and this without displacing a single word except typographically, the sixteen words exists in a different zone altogether, a zone remote from the world of sayers and sayings.

That zone is what Williams in the 1920’s [sic] started calling “the Imagination.” (60)

In other words, Williams has created a thing from words. When these words are arranged, they are non-referential other than to themselves. That is, they have no allusive content, symbolism, or culturally imposed expectations, especially since they have no exterior or outside context. The reader can only assume the scene is on a farm, but the assumption is without certainty. In addition, the words do not create any meaning. They have no use value, other than to enter that “zone” of the imagination, that “Somewhere the sense / makes” (“The Rose” 18-19) things into objects and makes objects of aesthetic value. This poem does its best to take language and things out of a context, so they can be reinvented new by the reader. The poem has, thus, changed the subject-thing relationship and subject-object relationship, but on a slightly different level than mentioned in the earlier discussion of “The Red Wheelbarrow.”

“The Rose” is also redirecting the reader to see the rose as a poem. For instance, the poem “The Rose” begins to draw attention to itself in lines 29-31: “What // The place between the petal’s  / edge and the.” The poem in its collage descriptions of the rose interrupts itself to ask “What do you mean that love is between the petal’s edge and air? What do you mean the petal’s edge cuts without cutting?” These questions become self-reflexive as we can now see the petals as the lines in the poem. Each line cuts into nothing, or into the page’s white space, and sometimes this is dramatically rendered with the em dashes at the ends of lines. Even the incomplete sentence, “The place between the petal’s / edge and the” (30-31) cuts into the white space and into the expectations of a completed thought, but the sentence is cut short. As a result, as Timmons points out, the actions of the poem and its lines:

encourages us to simply notice the poem happening on the page, rather than reducing the poem merely to a vehicle for meaning. Readers experience these words free from the conventional expectation that the edge is meant metaphorically. The edge happens in reality on the page. Thus, the poem happens as something that undoes any prepared knowledge of what is rose is that we might bring into the poem. (43)

The poem is reduced to a happening, an artistic event like watching the rose become. The poem has become a thing. The poem is not the traditional meaning container of a literary object. It is a container waiting to be filled from the imagination of witnessing the happening. The rose is not its petals and thorns, but it is what penetrates space. To return to the earlier question, “Is the literary entity, such as a poem of collection of poems, mimetic, representational, or creative?” the answer is none of these. The poem is a happening. It is a thing cutting into the space of a page, with the potential for beauty to be projected on or in to it.

In “Thing Theory” and “Introduction,” Brown quotes Leo Stein, who says, “Things are what we encounter, ideas are what we project” (“Thing” 3, “Introduction” 11). In “The Rose” and in “The Red Wheelbarrow,” as well as Spring and All, Williams has created things through words. He has created artistic events wherein the subject and thing can recreate each other through an act of the imagination. The reader does this by objectifying the latent pleasure within the poem/thing through projection, and the thing or poem through various decontextualized linguistic endeavors transforms the subject’s relation with it and, thus, enables an aesthetic object to be created, whether or not it has any utilitarian value.

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Works Cited

Brown, Bill. “Introduction: The Idea of Things and the Ideas in Them.” A Sense of Things: The  Object Matter in American Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003. Photocopy.

—. “Thing Theory.” Critical Inquiry 28.1 (Autumn 2001): 1-22. JSTOR. Database. 18 Oct. 2013. PDF.

Connor, Steven. “Thinking Things.” Textual Practice 24.1 (February 2010): 1-20. Ebsco. Database. 17 Nov 2013. PDF.

Gerber, Natalie. “‘The Movements of the Imagination Revealed in Words’: Williams Poetics in Spring and All.” William Carlos Review 24.2 (2004): 11-17. Literary Reference Center. Database. 14 Oct. 2013. PDF

Kenner, Hugh. A Homemade World: The American Modernist. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975. Print.

Pearce, Roy Harvey. The Continuity of American Poetry. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1987. Print.

Stein, Gertrude. “Sacred Emily.” Geography and Plays. New York: Something Else Press, 1968. 178-188. Print.

Timmons, Travis P. Spring and All: Foraging a Link to the Present Moment. Diss. The Florida State University. 2008. DigiNole Commons (The Florida State University). Database. 12 Oct. 2013. PDF.

Williams, William Carlos. Spring and All. The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams: Volume I: 1909-1939. Eds. A. Walton Litz and Christopher MacGowan. New York: A New Directions Book, 1991. 175-236. Print.

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Attachment A: “The Red Wheelbarrow”

     XXII

     so much depends
     upon

     a red wheel
     barrow

     glazed with rain
     water

     beside the white
     chickens

//
//
//

Attachment B: “The Rose”

The rose is obsolete
but each petal ends in
an edge, the double facet
cementing the grooved
columns of air – The edge
cuts without cutting
meets – nothing – renews
itself in metal or porcelain –

wither? It ends –

But if it ends
the start is begun
so that to engage roses
becomes a geometry –

Sharper, neater, more cutting
figured in majolica –
the broken plate
glazed with a rose

Somewhere the sense
makes copper roses
steel roses –

The rose carried weight of love
but love is at an end – of roses

It is at the edge of the
petal that love waits

Crisp, worked to defeat
laboredness – fragile
plucked, moist, half-raised
cold, precise, touching

What

The place between the petal’s
edge and the

From the petal’s edge a line starts
that being of steel
infinitely fine, infinitely
rigid penetrates
the Milky Way
without contact – lifting
from it – neither hanging
nor pushing –

The fragility of the flower
unbruised
penetrates space

//




The Cave (Winner of The Bitter Oleander Press Library of Poetry Book Award for 2013.)

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