the Return of the Repressed

April 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

The Return of the Repressed

– bpNichol

To coo over the queue of Q’s coup into Kõo.

the Computer’s First Christmas Card

December 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

"Computer's First Christmas Card", Edwin Morgan

– Edwin Morgan

In which Molly and Jerry marry merrily, Barry hops with happy Harry, poor Jarry contracts what seems to be hepatitis, and the computer after lines of garbled greetings wishes us all a Merry Chrysanthemum.

Original Sin at the Water-Hole

November 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

"Original Sin at the Water Hole" - Morgan

– Edwin Morgan

The slippery snake insinuates itself in the sinewy lines and, in ouroboral fashion, begins and ends the poem. If we uncoil Morgan’s concrete creation we get this: a spontaneous obstreperous osmosis of hysterically snorting posses of sporting she-hippopotamuses spotting a little floating asp!; or, The Fall of Safari Animals. Morgan’s careful layout clusters similar letters together so that the poem looks like one tangled mess of a word, the repeating sounds tripping over each other. If we pay particular attention to the broken-off bits that book-end the poem, we get this summarization of sin:



October 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

– Seiichi Niikuni

The kanji at the bottom means ama or rain. Below lines and lines of the semi-colon-like marks, which are really just the “dots” of the kanji freed from their frame, the ama symbol becomes a little house in a rainstorm, the structure dwarfed by the expanse of the sky.

Moon Shot Sonnet

August 25, 2012 § 3 Comments

– Mary Ellen Solt

Solt explains:

It has not been possible since the Renaissance to write a convincing sonnet on the moon. Looking at the moon photographs in The New York Times, it occurred to me that since the scientist’s symbols for marking off areas on the moon’s surface were presented five to a line and the lines could be added up to fourteen, a visual sonnet could be made of them. The poem is intended as a spoof of an outmoded form of poetry and as a statement of the problem of the concrete poet’s search of valid new forms.

I disagree that the sonnet is an “outmoded form of poetry” or that there is a subject on which a modern poet cannot write convincingly, but I admire Solt’s inspiration. The soundless lunar landscape becomes the poet’s blank page. In the absence of words, we get an outline of what could be, an optimism that spreads from the purity of white space. Similarly, the moon in the 1960s represented boundless possibility — galactic travel, space colonies, postcards from the Sea of Tranquility. From a clean white surface the perfect sonnet and the perfect society could emerge.

Compare to Christian Morgenstern’s fish poem. Both are silent, wordless creations that contain beauty in their simplicity. Also note how Solt’s lunar markings look like alien orthography.

Fisches Nachtgesang

July 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

⋃ ⋃
− −
⋃ ⋃ ⋃ ⋃
− − −
⋃ ⋃ ⋃ ⋃
− − −
⋃ ⋃ ⋃ ⋃
− − −
⋃ ⋃ ⋃ ⋃
− −
⋃ ⋃

– Christian Morgenstern

Christian Morgenstern’s “Fisches Nachtgesang” is a piscine paradox: a concrete poem rendered in abstract shapes, a sound poem with no discernable sounds, a foreign-language poem that needs no translation, a metrical poem consisting of nothing but metrics that many New Formalists will no doubt never identify as a metrical poem, or even a poem at all.

The title translates to “Fish’s Nightsong”. The poem consists of alternating lines of macrons and breves, the marks of scansion in Latin and Greek poetry, reimagined as both the shimmering scales of a sleeping fish and musical notations. How wonderful to turn something consigned to the paper oceans of Classics scholars into a watermark of whimsy. The scansion marks split the poem into one of sound and one of shape.

A song at night might be a lullaby. If the macrons go thump in the night, and the breves consign a consonantal thm to their repertoire, then we get this percussive berceuse: thump-thm-thm-thump-thump-thm-thm-thm-thm-thump-thump-thump-thm-thm-thm-thm and so on. Crescendo, diminuendo, terraced dynamics. It is the fish’s heart beating, an ambient underwater soundscape, a song hummed through puckered lips, and ultimately, with no words to anchor the symbols, no sound at all. The scansion symbols are variable; one can assign any sound or instrument to them and all that remains constant is the pattern of stress they impart. Morgenstern indicates no actual sound, and the stress marks wait for a reader to come along and give them meaning. It is similar to looking at a real fish below real water and not being able to hear the swish and bubble of its aquatic world from one’s stance on shore. The sound exists beyond the water and must be imagined.

Likewise, the shape of the fish remains just out of view. The macrons and breves cluster in a vaguely fish-shaped form. They show a fish in abstract with all its details lost in the murk. The breves look like fish scales of a child’s drawing and the macrons might be crude renderings of horizontal fins, but lines are not connected to form a solid figure. Again, the reader must fill in the blanks himself.

Morgenstern wrote “Fisches Nachtgesang” in 1905 at the beginning of a century that would upheave the definitions of literature and art. Some critics may dismiss his poem as a textual trick, nice enough, but not poetry. But consider the use of the macrons and breves. These symbols, particular to the study of prosody, root the poem in the tradition of Latin and Greek poetry from which all other literature in the Western canon blooms; and Morgenstern, confronting the enormity of the canon behind him, baits the future with a little fish dreaming its silent song, the tune yet to be invented.

Ping Pong

May 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

– Eugen Gomringer

In this short game of ping-pong, the white space suggests a brief pause in the back-and-forth action, a last-minute save. Server Ping loses after having failed to ping Opponent Pong’s pong (the tenth smack of the ball); if one considers the name’s game alone — a ping countered with a swift pong — the ball’s third trip across the table is doomed to go unreturned every time.

Unscrambling the Waves at Goonhilly

April 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

– Edwin Morgan

Goonhilly Downs, situated between the Atlantic Ocean and the English Channel, contains the Satellite Earth Station, a cluster of satellite dishes that was once the largest ground station in the world.  “Unscrambling the Waves at Goonhilly” starts as a garbled satellite transmission trying to relay the names of various sea creatures. Like the computer in “the Computer’s First Christmas Card”, the satellite, or the scientists manning the satellite, must make several attempts to sort out a simple message. The transmission ends up being a list of rather mundane marine life ending in telstar, which sounds like an aquatic animal but is actually a type of satellite. This semi-surprise ending emphasizes the tension between the phonetic and spatial aspects of the poem; when we hear star we think it will match with fish, but we see that the two could not be paired with each other. Part of the fun is watching the odd combos that result in the syllables bouncing off each other before finding their proper partner — dogphin (dog’s fin?), hadfish (lost at sea?), sardock (cynical sardine?)

Easter Wings

April 8, 2012 § 1 Comment

Lord, who createdst man in wealth and store,
   Though foolishly he lost the same,
     Decaying more and more
       Till he became
          Most poor:
          With thee
       O let me rise
     As larks, harmoniously,
   And sing this day thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did begin:
   And still with sicknesses and shame
     Thou didst so punish sin,
       That I became
          Most thin.
          With thee
       Let me combine,
     And feel this day thy victory;
   For, if I imp my wing on thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

– George Herbert

Like, say, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Herbert’s religious beliefs helped fashion a body of truly inventive and inspired work. Contrasting with the artifice of its secret acrostics and nonce forms, his poetry speaks frankly to God on issues of faith and morality.

“Easter Wings”, which is probably the earliest concrete poem in English, bolsters its message by the use of form. Originally published sideways, each stanza mimics the shape of an angel or bird wing in flight. The lines, which wax and wane in length, are shortest when expressing doubt or severance from God and longest when proclaiming His glory. It is, at least in a typographic sense, a resurrection.

Poem Recognizing Someone in the Street

March 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

e   y   ?   h
e   ?   h   e
h   e   y   !

– Aram Saroyan

Saroyan modulates three letters and two punctuation marks to turn the most quotidian of events into a sparkling and surprising play of language.

One can buy Complete Minimal Poems, which contains this poem and is neither complete nor, at almost 300 pages, very minimal, from Ugly Duckling Press.

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