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STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK MY BONES (AND WORDS WILL ALSO BY MARTIN G. STEELE A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts Under the sponsorship of Robert Zamsky Sarasota, Florida April, 2012
ii Acknowledgements I would like to thank: Robert Zamsky, for sponsoring the thesis and being extremely helpful, patient, and supportive throughout the process, as well as for inspiring and cultivating my immense interest in poetry over the past several years Andrea Dimino and Nova Myhill, for agreeing to sit on my c ommittee and dramatically shaping my New College experience Miriam Wallace, for invaluable help with critical theory, thesis planning, and writing in general Jakilah Mason, Steven Rizzo, and Analeah Rosen, for insights and constructive advice as thesis bud dies My fellow SWAs at the Writing Resource Center, for drafting and revising help when I needed it most My friends and family, for support, positivity, and general awesomeness throughout everything
iii Table of Contents Abstract p. iv Introduction: Poetry in the Middle p. 1 Chapter 1: Poetic Authority p.6 Chapter 2: Breath Poetry p.18 Chapter 3: Sound Poetry p.30 Conclusion: Poetry, Not Prose p.46 Bibliography p.47
iv STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK MY BONES (AND WORDS WILL ALSO AND SIGNIFICANCE Martin Steele New College of Florida, 2012 ABSTRACT A common hallmark of poetry is its emphasis on brevity, or its ability to say more significance, but wha t is it that makes this language so powerful? This is the question this thesis aims to address. The goal of the first chapter is to explore and establish the concept Lyric Powers as a touchstone The second and third chapters explore the source of this significance in breath poetry and sound poetry, both of which are genres that highly emphasize the a ural, or heard, form of poetry. To summarize the findings, what makes poetic language significant is primarily its attention to aurality, or the sound of the language. Both breath and sound have in common an inclination towards performance, as well as an emphasis on aurality through, most prominently, the use of space, sound patterns, and the charisma of the performer. Robert Zamsky Division of Humanities
1 Introduction Poetry in the Middle Lyric poetry is an art form deeply involved with the notion of liminal spaces. The into one product similarly, a poem can be described as an object composed of both language and sound. As Louis Zukosfky states in a passage from A About my poetics / music / speech / An integral / Lower limit speech / Upper limit ept that occupies the entire middle ground between speech and music, never fully conforming to one aspect over the other. ambiguous, which allows it a great deal of flexibility and potential power. To illustrate, what is it that makes an act of speech or music effective? Speech, or rather, language manifested visually as text (or prose) and aurally as speech draws its authority mainly from rhetorical techniques, conveying its content persuasively with appeals to rational thought. Music, on the other hand, gains significance from more abstract sources, such as the sensory pleasure it inspires in a listener. Poetry, occupying the space between the two, is capable of establishing authority using both methods one could say this is a limitation of sorts, as an effective poem is expected to exhibit both rhetorical and sensual strength, but it also lends the work considerable significance. The art of poetry itself could perhaps be d escribed as a hybrid between language and music, inspiring a sense of power that, compared to both the prosaic and the musical, is uniquely potent.
2 In his landmark work The Birth of Tragedy Friedrich Nietzsche looks to Greek myth for the origin of classic al Western tragedy, which in turn, he indicates, is the origin of modern lyric poetry. He associates the art form with two mythical deities: Apollo, the god of music, poetry, and the arts, and Dionysus, the god of wine, ritual madness, and ecstasy. The art two creative tendencies developed alongside one another, usually in fierce opposition, each by its is typically associated with a careful, measured approach to art, striving for a product that is abstract, logical, and mentally focused, the latter encourages a more organic app roach, being associated with ecstasy, madness, pain, and other distinctly physical feelings. Though Nietzsche at first associates these concepts with Classical tragedy, he also ysian artist, become entirely unified with the primordial oneness, with its pain and contradiction, and produces the reflection of this primordial oneness as music ... but now this music becomes perceptible to him once again, as in a metaphorical dream imag e under the influence of Apollonian dreaming continuous evolution to the Apollonian Dionysiac [sic] duality, even as the propagation of the species depends on the duality of the sexes, their constant conflicts and periodic hought to involve the influence of both
3 Indeed, the Apollonian and Dionysian modes invite comparison to language and modes are perhaps not as black and white in their duality as they seem. The Apollonian emphasis on logic and form appears to echo the rhetorical power of effective lang uage, and the Dionysian emphasis on emotion and pleasure is relevant to the sensory power of music; on the other hand, Apollo is the god of music and language, at least as speech, is conveyed on the breath of a physical speaker, which seems appropriate to Dionysus. The status of the Apollonian and Dionysian modes by themselves is questionable, but in any case the object formed by their connection (tragedy) possesses authority that stands out from that of the individual elements. Apollo also bears some sign ificance to the origin story of poetry in the myth involving the contest between him and the satyr Marsyas. To summarize it briefly, Marsyas, being particularly gifted at playing the panflute, challenges Apollo, whose prowess with the lyre is an aspect of his godhood, to a musical contest. The Muses judge the contest and declare Apollo the winner, and Apollo flays Marsyas alive. 1 On the duality Apollo is naturally the e mbodiment of the Apollonian mode, and Marsyas, playing the panflute, represents the breath and physicality of the Dionysian mode. This seems to suggest that the two modes are opposed rather than capable of cooperation, and that the winning side is judged s uperior to the loser. On the whole, though, the contest itself could be described as a combination of the two modes. Each competitor, by nature of his talent, provides the other with a compelling reason to create effective art; what 1 See Apollodorus, Bibliotheca 1.24 for one version; other versions of this myth can be found elsewhere, Metamorphoses
4 matters is not that the contest ends with a winner and a loser, but rather that it puts the their artistic authority. Apollo provides one more key connection to the origin of poetry in the for m of Orpheus, his student. Though Orpheus is mortal, his skill with the lyre rivals that of his teacher trees, to make rocks weep, and to bring the dead nearly all the way back to When Orpheus performs, nature itself stops to listen; Orpheus wields literal power over his audience, no matter who or what composes it. He is typically considered by critics to be the prototypical poet in Western myth. As a mortal man with supe rnatural talent, he occupies the space between the two totally separate worlds of godhood and humanity. He also straddles the line between the worlds of the living and the dead when his bride, Eurydice, dies on their wedding day, he is permitted to trave l to the underworld to retrieve her. When he plays his lyre, all of the denizens of the underworld stops to listen, and Hades allows him to return to the surface with Eurydice, on the condition that he not look back during the journey. At the last moment, Orpheus is driven by doubt to break this rule, and he watches Eurydice disappear 2 extraordinarily persuasive; it falters, though, on a doubt. Orpheus turned away from on seems less a moment of weakness and more a conscious decision of sacrifice to preserve his status as poet. This irth of poetry. 2 See Virgil, The Georgics
5 As argued before, poetry gains power by merit of its liminality. Over the course of this thesis, in three chapters, I aim to explore the particular nature of this authority. iveness in particular, this will be done by exploring a similar concept, poetic authority, covered Lyric Powers Chapters 2 and 3 delve into he first is breath poetry 3 based largely on the critical discourse of Charles Olson and revolving around the concepts of poetic voice and the physicality of the poem; the second is sound poetry encompassing various experimental schools of thought and inv olving alternative forms or uses of language to emphasize the significance of sound over content. Both categories use somewhat different means to establish authority, but both draw upon the effectiveness 3 voice, and the role of the speaker.
6 Chapter 1 Poetic Authority To discuss poetry, it seems pertinent to first address the most basic question: what is poetry? Unfortunately, poetry is quite a complex topic with a very lengthy (and ambiguous) history, constantly evolving and defying attempts at a simple, all encompassing definition. Fundamentally, poetry is a practice that eludes understanding as much as it demands it. With that said, this thesis and its overall scope are not withou t a certain amount of insanity from the very beginning. origins and many sub genr liminal spaces, as addressed in the previous section. A poem can be said to fall somewhere between music and speech, but where is it located on this hypothetical her art form that exists on the spectrum is song; the constitute a poem; or not. The words of a poem put to music may constitute a song; or not 4 Generally, critics like Roubaud appear to favor the idea of poetry as a totally unique art, possessing elemen ts of music and speech while in some way standing out from both. It is not appropriate to say that poetry, by itself, is a wholly unique art form this alienates the practice, or perhaps puts it on a pedestal, but either way this argument is 4 It is worth noting that the connection between lyric poetry and song is not a new concept, nor is it as universally objectionable as Roubaud makes it out to be Robert Von Hallberg, for one, explicitly states
7 an obstacle to the critical analysis of the art. Its basic form and structure are composed of familiar elements sound and language but what sets it apart is how it makes use of these elements to affect a reader or listener. Out of speech, poetry, and music, no sin gle art could be said to be universally more or less effective; given its in between state, however, it can be argued that poetry is the most flexible. Whereas the authority of language stems primarily from rationality, and the authority of music from its appeal to the senses, poetic authority can effectively draw upon both sources. Thus, while poetry in itself may not be inherently unique, its effectiveness and flexibility certainly are. Robert Von Hallberg, in his recent book Lyric Powers identifies this of poetry. Though his project is similar to that of this thesis, there is a key distinction nterpretation on the part of the reader and/or listener. Granted, this emphasis on the reader/listener does create a sense of subjectivity though this can potentially complicate the critical discussion of poetry, it is not an unwelcome quality. With this subjectivity in mind, Roubaud addresses the duality of presented to a reader/liste
8 it is interprete d within the mind of the reader/listener. Roubaud argues that all four elements are necessary for the poem to truly exist. 5 According to this model, the poem actually has two separate dualities. That ba sed (oral/aural) elements is, as has been stressed, one of the main distinguishing qualities of poetry, and a reason for its existence in the liminal space between speech and music. The model also, however, lends a poem a duality between the poet/performer (written/oral) and the reader/listener (wRitten/aural). Taken to an extreme, this distinction suggests that what the reader/listener experiences is in some way different from what the poet/performer intends interpretation allows for a remarkably democratic view of poetic analysis. Granted, it is reader/listener, nor is it to say there is mental and emotional response o f the reader/listener. poetic authority, given the similarity between these approaches, it would still be useful to explore authority in some detail. Lyric Powers begins by a cknowledging the pressing question: if poetic authority, by its flexibility, exposes the limits of prose, why use prose 5 Roubaud 19.
9 6 ). Over the course of just six chapters, the book aims to condense everything pertinent about poetry into a relatively concise set of definitive guidelines. Despite the breadth of its a succinct description of the distinguishing traits of poetry, and it does so by focusing largely on authority, as the title, Lyric Powers implies. modes of poetry, defined literal power of Orpheus, lending spiritual significance to the modern day poet, and, ; the latter identifies the poem as a speech act, thus associating it more with language. These categories are not especially congruous with the poetic modes to be discussed in the next two chapters of this thesis, but they do illustrate the multifaceted n ature of poetic authority. Von Hallberg traditions of religious affirmation; second, the social status of those who speak the idioms from which particular poems are mad e; third, extraordinary cognition produced by the is worth expanding on individually, and can be re contextualized as the following sub categories of poetic authority : spiritual authority, involving religious or divine significance; rhetorical authority, involving rationality, speech acts, and other language based effects, and; aural authority, involving musicality and sensory pleasure. In addition to exploring these c to the reader/listener. 6 Von Hallberg 2.
10 SPIRITUAL AUTHORITY One of the many curious traits of poetry is its emphasis on ambiguity, as well as credibility: a reader is often asked to credit less what a poet says than the earne stness or qualities of its content, but for its ability to present it poetically. This suggests that the experience of reading or hearing a poem expects a certain d egree of faith on the part of the reader/listener; that is, that there is a sense of significance in the way the words are assumed significance to religion. The poet ac ts as a conduit for some divine, unknowable force, and the poem solicits a level of faith normally associated with sacred texts from the n antenna capturing the voices of the world, a medium expressing his own subconscious and the collective subconscious. For one moment he possesses wealth usually inaccessible to him, and he loses it when the a poet momentarily possesses could reasonably be any voice grander than that of an ordinary individual for one, Heaney offer part of the poet if not for the temporary nature of the inspiration aking the poet function as a medium between the source of
11 inspiration and humanity. The poet is not quite divine, but, by nature of his or her power to mediate, stands out as something extraordinary compared to normal humans. This vision of the poet as a spiritual medium naturally invites close comparison to Orpheus. Indeed, Von Hallberg asserts that spiritual authority comes most naturally the musical and religious cri sis (he succumbed to doubt) of Orpheus behind it. The musicality of poetry is not going to be entirely extricated from issues of faith. Music solicits a hearing, as a speech does too, but a belief as well in the indefinite power of likened to relig ious faith. It is this power that Von Hallberg and others attribute to contemporary spiritual authority. Roland Barthes, for one, compares the poet to a entails a devoti To listen is the evangelical verb par excellence: listening to the divine word is what faith amounts to, for it is by such listening that man is linked to to lend the poet spiritual authority; it also may imply that a poem heard has more impact than a poem read. The significance of listening suggests that the poem, being derived from a divine source, needs little authoritative reinforcement itself to succeed Though the idea of spiritual authority lends poetry quite a bit of grandeur, it also the authority of the poem, actually redirects it to the reader/listener as i s the case in his
12 audience. To listen may be to demonstrate faith in what is being heard, but it is also that the poet is channeling a divine voice may not be enough by itself (this issue of subjectivity will be discussed in a more general context toward the end of this chapter). Furthermore, to say that the poet speaks for a higher power suggests that the process of creatin g the poem involves no collective subconscious, places the art of poetry out of reach of an ordinary individual. Von Hallberg, exploring the idea of divine inspiration, looks to a classical source: Why does a poem have distinctive authority? Because, as Socrates tells compose their beaut iful poems not by art, but because they are inspired lends the poet the significance of the divine voice, but it also rejects the idea that poetry is the work of the poet. It suggests that not only is rationality outside the bounds of poetry, but to invoke it is detrimental to the effectiveness of the poem. This perspective overlooks the effectiveness of poetry, specifically as it pertains to its ability language as well as music. Spiritual authority is potentially a stron g source of poetic
13 authority, lending the work a great deal of assumed significance, but it also, if taken too far, threatens to exclude other forms of authority. RHETORICAL AUTHORITY The ambiguity of poetry, as mentioned previously, is a curious source o f significance considering the poem itself, but it also leads to an interesting direction if viewed in the context of its delivery. For example, let us consider the contemporary poetry reading one person at a time reads a poem out loud, commanding full a ttention, to a relatively small audience in a similarly cozy setting. Peter Middleton writes that such intelligible as the appearances of familiar poetry reading seems like a natural experience inherent to poetry, and audience members participate in the ritual knowing full well what to expect, but if made to think about it the participants would be unable to articulate what it is that composes the ritual or why they take part. Certainly, there is potentially a great deal to be said about the performative elements of poetry (especially t he poetry reading), but such a discussion would likely take this thesis off on a tangent the issue will come up in later chapters, but for now it seems more relevant to consider the nature of the performer 7 7 Here, a distinction ought to be made for the sake of future clarity, especially in the next chapter. A PERFORMER is a person who physically reads the poem out loud to one or more listeners; a SPEAKER is also distinguishes performance and speech. I suppose another way to think about speech and performance is to compare them to squares and rectangles. That is, all squares are rectan gles but not all rectangles are squares similarly, all speech could be thought of as some sort of performance (literal or otherwise) but not all performances consist of speech.
14 As indicated earlier, Von Hallberg associates 8 poem. Hence, this form was referred to earl related sources of significance. This form of authority is rather similar to that found in an effective speech act, and by the same token, to attribute it to a poem likens it to a speech. interpersonal relations to some extent, not a conversation partner. Poems inevitably straddle this ambiguity. No matter how colloquial their diction and syntax, they are more created by spiritual authority. Rather than acting as a sort of prophet, conveying the words of a divine voice to a mortal audience, the poet becomes a public speaker, commanding the respect and attention of an audience by nature of his or her own persuasive ideas and/or charisma alone the role lends the poem a similar sense of assumed significance, but the catalyst is social structure. Like the image of the poetry reading, the idea of the poem as a public speech leads one to the notion of performance, though it also can connect to the more general purpose concept of voice. Lesley Wheeler addresses this concept earl y on in her book Voicing American Poetry Textual voice refers to voice as a metaphor employed self who speaks through the poem in a unique way, using a set of markers as recognizable 8 Von Hallberg 7.
15 and/or heard, but, perhaps somewhat paradoxically, it is typically used in a critical context to refer to something wholly textual the te rm is not something to be taken belonging to the speaker, is tied closely to a specific identity. This marks the poem as an object of human expression, giving it a strong poetry is to invoke a body whether the body belongs to the poet, the audience, or it could also be applied to the image of identity. identity is key. Von Hallberg connects this identity to the notion of social status, speech usually bears markers of social structure: who might be speaking to what sort of articular role and/or addressing a particular audience, a poet operating in the rhetorical mode can potentially convey far more than words alone can this is especially potent in poetry that features the distinct use of certain forms of diction or vernacu lar. Voice, as Wheeler noted, is a strong marker of individuality, which comes through in a poem that emphasizes it. AURAL AUTHORITY What is it that sets poetry and prose two artistic concepts that are, essentially, composed of language apart? The answer, considering the discussion thus far, seems to lie in music. In terms of effectiveness, the aural form of a poem is particularly p otent;
16 aurality in poetry is, out of the concepts examined so far, perhaps the most difficult to unpack, but it also may be the most relevant to the chapters that follow. It is also an authority as Hannah ordinary language? If there is one answer, it is: music. Musicality authenticates poetry, a crucial function in a discourse that strains against social conventions whose art brought order to the natural world. Also in keeping with spiritual authority, the musical elements of poetry lend it a sense of em bedded significance, derived not from the linguistic content of the poem but from the emphasis on sound in its arrangement. The first section of this chapter touched upon the difficulty of explicating poetry through prose, given their at odds state; music by the same logic, is even harder to articulate. Craig Dworkin offers a simple (if, as he acknowledges, rather outdated) nineteenth century sense of harmony and sound itself, one of the denotations OED Music, essentially, provides a particular form of sensory pleasure. This pleasure, according to Walter Benn Michaels, is central to poetr sensuality the shape of letters, the leading between lines usually seem trivial, but others, not so: sounds vowels, consonants, beats but also the shapeliness of phrases, sensuality) of a text is surely central to
17 much as how it is said; the pleasure of poetry, Michaels argues, is to be found in the poetic arrangement of language and th e sounds it produces. as stated earlier, it is difficult to unpack critically. The aural significance of poetry is perhaps a concept best conveyed with poetry itself Thus, it will be approached more directly in the third chapter in the context of sound poetry. AURALITY AND SUBJECTIVITY Before moving on to the direct analysis of material, it seems important to address one remaining tension. It has been argued thus fa r that poetry can draw authority from a multitude of sources, including rhetoric and aurality, which can be said to set it apart ider just the opposition between poetry and prose, it seems reasonable to say that poetry stands out from prose by its emphasis on aurality as well as language itself. In the context of this thesis, the notion that aurality is crucial to poetic authority r eceives no argument spiritual authority has the oral tradition of the orphic mode, rhetorical authority emphasizes voice and tends to slant towards performance, and aural authority is clearly all about appealing to the ear. The notion that the audience possesses poetic authority is not something I disagree with, but it does complicate the process of an objective critical analysis. If there That said, the role of the audience is not something to be ruled out in any art form in the analyses that follow, I also aim to assert authority as an audience member, and, based
18 on the perceptions granted by various critical points of reference, effectively complete the poem through interpretation. Chapter 2 Breath Poetry As the name implies, breath poetry has quite a lot to do with physicality and speech. This can be realized literally or figuratively that is, through performance or k. In breath poetry, the role of performance, like the concept of rhetorical authority, makes for an interesting, if potentially rather troublesome, issue. Breath poetry and performance based poetry have a great deal of traits in common, to the point where it is tempting to use the two interchangeably; indeed, it is by no means unusual for breath poetry to be performed, but to assume this is always the case is to overlook the distinguishing qualities of breath. Typically, the origin of breath oriented poet ry is understood to be found in the work of figures such as Allen Ginsberg and Charles Olson in the 1950s and 60s. The latter in particular is often given much of the credit, not for his own poetry so much as for his critical discussions of craft, namely h be the subject of closer study in the following section. Given the presumed significance of these figures, and by extension their contemporaries, the association of breath poetry with their emphasis on perfo rmance seems a natural assumption to make. The qualities of breath poetry are perhaps most directly realized through performance, but this is not to say that a breath poem necessarily demands it; the more important association with breath poetry is, as imp lied, speech. The traits that define breath poetry are:
19 1. The written/visual form of the breath poem is shaped according to its oral/spoken form. every detail included in the written text of the poem represents the way it would be spoken. Of particular importance is the line break, which is indicative of breath. This will be explored in further detail in the next section, but essentially, this means that the breath poem is constructed using the body o f the speaker as its benchmark. 2. The voice of a breath poem creates a speaker with a distinct identity; from There is a strong emphasis on the physical experience of the breath poem, and the voice of i ts significance comes from knowing who is speaking and what they are like; generally, one can determine this by paying attention to diction, tone, emotion, and the like. Though this understanding of breath poetry is, in terms of wording, based primarily on the theory of Olson and the practice of poets such as Ginsberg and Robert Creeley, these by a large margin. In particular, Langston Hughes comes to mind as a poet highly invested in the construction of voice and identity, and by extension, the body. exhibits qualiti es established by figures like Hughes, draw interesting parallels to the principles of breath.
20 Typically, when one refers to American breath poetry, the flashpoint is thought to s essay as a landmark theoretical work, largely responsible for influencing the contemporary notion of poetry as a performative art. In Voicing American Poetry Lesley Wheeler argues that known manifesto, Olson compares printed poetry to a mu sical score, as a questionable, as will be demonstrated later, the attention to voic e, the critical element of was perhaps the most enthusiastic; he reprinted the essay in his 1951 Autobiography and, Jones (later known as Amiri Barak Lorca, Williams, and Ezra Pound, than merit. breath poetry. While its merit is perhaps not so much based on originality modern critics including Marjorie Perloff have pointed to Pound and Williams as extremely
21 strong the essay does effectively condense the theories inspiring Olson into a centralized, easily accessible package. It is particularly re sponsible for establishing the first trait of breath poetry outlined above by emphasizing the importance of space. The projective poem is an open ended, free flowing object whose visual and aural forms are reflections of one another; essentially, the page is the (projectile (percussive (prospective vs. The NON Projective (Olson 386) From the onset, the essay expresses a desire to keep poetry free of traditional constraints, as indicated by the wide spaces and left open parentheses; it was this model, according to incidental to the structure of the poem; on the contrary, its prominent use marks it as what makes the poem unique, challenging the traditional notion of form b eing restricted by meter. In addition to space, the tools of the poet, according to Olson, are the smaller building blocks of language the syllable, the line, and punctuation, to name the most particles of sound as clearly as by the sense of the words which they compose. In any
22 given instance, because there is a choice of words the choice, if a man is in there, will be, sensory pleasures, recallin g the abstract, implied significance of the sound in poetic the content itself. This quality is not exclusive to breath poetry by any means; rather, it seems to be, like many of the terms discussed in the previous chapter, applicable to Von essay in c syllable, origin ating in the mind, is a mental object; given this and its association with musicality, it seems to be connected to the internal process of reading/hearing a poem. It unit of speech. The line is most closely associated with the breath specifically, Olson as a guide to its spoken performance, represents inhalation on the part of the speaker. Similarly, other mechanical aspects of the text have aural significance. Olson writes: If a contemporary poet leaves a space as long as the phrase before it, he means t hat space to be held, by the breath, an equal length of time. If he
23 pass that it takes the eye that hair of time suspended to pick up the next line. If he wishes a pause so light it hardly separates the words, yet does not want a comma which is an interruption of the meaning rather than the sounding of the line follow him when he uses a symbol the typewriter has ready to hand: ). A common critical understanding regarding the written form of poetry is that the white space on the page represents silence it also gives it a practical application, and a means for the poet or perf ormer to assert authority to the reader/listener. It also implies that the entire poem, in language, conventions, and structure, contributes to the overall experience of the work. Nothing in the breath poem is arbitrary, not even the space on the page. Th e open endedness and liberal use of space in breath poetry is perhaps best illustrated in the form of an actual poem. It seems most appropriate to continue to draw uses of space throughout, though the first significant occurrence is at the start of the second section: I thought of the E on the stone, and of what Mao said but the kingfisher but the kingfisher flew west est devant nous!
24 he got the color of his breast from the heat of the setting sun! (6) 9 In this passage, the alternating alignment of the lines creates a distinction between the two sets. Based on this, it is possible to look at the visual text and read each group as a c ontinuous set of lines; this method, compared to reading the lines in vertical order from top to bottom, seems equally plausible. Reading the text, the spacing creates a sense of ambiguity. Given the distinction between the groups, one might imagine that e ach represents a different speaker, or that one speaker is alternating between two separate the poem is not merely a top to bottom progression of lines, but an open area of points allowing freedom of movement between them. The crucial point here, however, is the exist in the first place. What makes this section stand out is its us e of space to separate and organize the lines into distinct groups, which invites a certain reading of the poem. central space is introduced, dramatically altering the flow of the poem and calling attention to the lines floating within it. association with breath, though, can lead to certain general assumptions about the role of performance in the breath poem specifically, it implies that the poem in performance 9 Audio: See Track 1. From a reading at Vancouver Poetry Festival, August 16, 1963 (Pennsound).
25 10 ; re sponding to this, Middleton writes: seem likely to be most fully realized in the interactive performance of p performance. (264) Indeed, the concepts pr esented by Olson are effectively realized in vocal performance. That said, it is also quite important to consider the effects of his techniques on the text, as according to m eter, would be a fairly ordered, block shaped object with space kept the line would introduce space into the field of the poem itself, placing large sections of it al flowing construction. In support of this, Stephen Vincent writes about the textual concerns of Ch in space also implies a meticulous approach to the construction of the poem overal l again, nothing in the breath poem is arbitrary. This preoccupation with text does not rule 10 Olson 391.
26 common interpretation that the text of a projective poem is written to imita te performed speech. It would be more accurate to say it works in reverse performance is meant to imitate the patterns presented in the text. Rather than argue whether or not performance belongs in a discussion of breath poetry especially given the repeated emphasis on the poetry reading by Middleton, Vincent, and Wheeler perhaps it is better to reevaluate what constitutes a performance. Based on what has been covered so far, there seem to be two particular approaches in breath poetry to performance. The first, in keeping with Olson, suggests that the poem How to Do Things with Words He w performing of an action the introduction or description of the speaker, as his or her physical and social traits are that is, the poem is a gu ideline appropriate given its potential authority in light of the first chapter, but it also raises some as Wheeler suggests, as a delivery, or that the act of performance in the literal sense, with a person reading the text out loud to one or more listeners in a ( presumably) public space is, essentially, the
27 is the poem, the text is a representation thereof; a listener attending a performance is actively participating in the artistic project, and a reader silently reading the text is distanced by a degree of separation. The uncertain status of the text does challenge the traditional notion of what a poem is meant to look like, which seems Olsonian in its rejection of what he c Given the preoccupation of the breath poem with space and the construction in general of the poem on the page, it is not unusual for the breath poem to possess a self example it is a breath poem partly, if not wholly, about the act of writing a breath who plots, then, the lines talking, taking, always the beat from the breath (moving slowly at first the breath which is slow I mean, graces come slowly, it is that way. So slowly (they are waving we are moving away from (the trees the usual (go by which is slower than this, is
28 (we are moving! goodbye (111) 11 right ly be concerned about; it addresses the line, it addresses the beat, and it particularly stresses the breath. It is as if the poem, preoccupied with the planning of its own structural elements, aims to break itself down even as it unfolds. The poem also be gins with no small amount of ambiguity, given the lone subordinate clause in the first line ement of a There is perhaps a sense of madness in the hyper attention and meta poetics, not to mention the grandiosity of the voice he uses to convey such ideas. Borrowing such Olsonian trademarks as the never closed off parent heses (as seen earlier assuming the role of the meticulous breath poet. Throughout the remainder of the poem, Creeley demonstrates several other instances of projective p lay, as well as general wordplay, to call attention to the language of the poem itself. For one, there are the open parentheses to consider these not only force a conspicuous pause on the reader but also seem to be speaking to a topic somewhat separate f rom the rest of the text. As Heather McHugh points out, appropriately 11 Audio: See Track 2. From a reading at San Francisco State University, May 20, 1956 (Pennsound).
29 (14). Like the se ended reading of the poem. Also comes up five times ove Hallberg described the d ifficulty of discussing poetry via prose; the implication here seems to be that it is just as hard to discuss it within poetry. However, the references to slowness, along with various other terms associated with movement also suggests a strong preoccupation with the many pauses in the poem, especially those caused by line breaks, large spaces within lines, and parenthe ses; this self referential mode echoes that of the first few lines. couple of significant examples involving the content, as well. On the second line, for instance, there is so visually similar seems to strongly connect the two terms. A similar instance takes place toward the late up by the the poem and the parenthetical phrases it may seem appropriate to read the parentheti cals as a separate narrative, but this moment contributes to the effectiveness of
30 reading from top to bottom, giving credibility to both options. Though they are not close ion by their visual similarity and their space based separation from the rest of the poem. McHugh ties this connection back to the self analytical project of the work, arguing: is about to arbitrary re through referentiality to breath.
31 Chapter 3 Sound Poetry Sound poetry the term, cons idering the importance of aurality in poetry to this thesis, perhaps seems redundant. This is especially so considering that Perloff argues that slightly closer to lan guage than music, it may be fair to say that sound poetry earns its name by being slightly closer to music than to language. Let us again consider, then, the difference between the two. n the former from the latter, Von Hallberg implies that the two are mutually exclusive, that sound in its purest form is without sense. Similarly, Dworkin writes that the OED defines poetry, perhaps more than any other genre, draws upon this notion and, in the process, challenges it. A sound poem aims to promote the significance of its sound in lieu of any rational meaning to its content, typically by using language in an unconventional manner. f its effectiveness from sound by isolating it from sense. Whereas the origins of breath poetry are fairly narrow, being primarily attributed
32 more complex, deriving from int ernational experimental schools such as the Russian avant garde, Italian futurism, and German Dadaism. Modern sound poetry, being heavily focused on experimentation, seems to be as much about rejecting theory as it is about establishing it; as such, it see ms more valuable in this chapter to address a range of work Ursonate and revised from 1922 1932, the poem is a meticulously arranged series (nnzkrrm) and vowels (beeeee), repetitions of similar phonemes with a change in one letter (Grimm glimm gni mm bimbimm), and vocables extended by additive writing, as in inherent meaning than they do alone, giving full emphasis to their influence on the ently, the Ursonate appears as little more than nonsense, and begs to be sounded out to be appreciated at all; read aloud, the poem gains new life as a wholly different entity from what appears on the page. Ursonate Its textual form serves as a representation for the performance, which itself is meant to be the true realization of the work. Nancy Perloff describes the Ursonate five minute performance piece [that] follows the structure of a classical four movement sonata, with a first movement that contains an opening rondo with four themes, a largo (modeled on the characteristic slow movement ), a scherzo trio (the dance movement),
33 construction and intent towards performance give the work the feel of a musical piece, and its attention to sound lends it a strong sens e of aural authority. to pronounce letter clusters blu r the distinction between speech, pitched speech or song, and pure vocalized sound. If speech conveys meaning, Ursonate Ursonate appears to be like a song with lyrics but no music, meant solely to be performed by a human voice. It is speech in the sense that it is spoken, but its musicality leads it to communicate something far beyond what the content alone conveys there is a sense of significance in the terns, even if little to no meaning is to be derived from the phonemes themselves. Given the importance of the performance, it seems pertinent to consider the contribution of the performer, as well. On one hand, it can be said that it is written to be performed a certain way. The 1932 publication of the score features a great deal of musical notation and performance instructions, dictating the appropriate tempo, meter, and expression of various passages, as well as tonal shifts and pitch changes. Given a bit of artistic license, however, it is nonetheless entirely possible for a different performer to, in delivering an alternate reading of the poem, create a completely different sort of performance. One such speaker is Canadian experimental poet C hristian Bk, who, in addition to writing his own sound based work, has worked extensively with the analysis and performance of such works as the Ursonate
34 Schwitters requires about forty minutes to perform his poem in its entirety, and to my ear his rendition almost calls to mind the melodies of birdsong; however, I have garnered some notoriety over the years for reciting an updated version of this poem in as little as ten minutes, performing a kind d the original. (130) 12 Ursonate is undoubtedly a wholly different animal compared to pr esentation has changed radically. The delivery of the Ursonate functions, then, much highly individualized realizations of the work. Curiously, however, as distinct annotated score suggests, Bk implies that his version evokes the original sensibilities of reading. Furthermore, he goes on to declare that in his reading of the poem, as with his readings of any of his own works, he strives to make it as inhuman and mechanical as possible, distancing the sound of his voice from its physical origin. As he writes with respect to his own piece The Cyborg Opera disavows the apparent humanity of the a vocal genre whose music emulates the mechanical rhythms and cacophonic melodies heard in the throb approach, as his mode of performance, which he claims focuses entirely on the objective, mechanical poem itself, actually seems inclined to draw attention to his skill as a 12 Audio: See Track 3. From a reading at SUNY Buffa lo, 2000 (Pennsound).
35 performer. Given his own work, the irony of The Cyborg Opera yet is precisely what Bk aims to convey to the reader. Bk lays out a sort of manifesto for his style of sound Cyborg Opera he declares that it versifier into a kind of athletic, musical engine one able to spit out each word with the would, through attention to mechanical skill, lend the performer a sort of power. Thus, it c rhetorical authority. At the end of Bk The Cyborg Opera along ping pong // dingbat ding a ling / wingding sing along // deafening / ding dong diphthong of a gong // my tongue muttering / an unsung lettering // guys sing / something from some folk son (137) 13 Right away, the reader is struck by the rapid fire repetition of similar syllables. The sense of rhyme is quite consistent, if not always in the vowel sounds then certainly in is that while the words are completely different textually and visually, aurally the changes are so slight that the overall sound remains more or less the same. 13 Audio: See Track 4. From a reading at Kelly Writers House in Pennsylvania, April 20, 2005 (Pennsound).
36 The visual structure of the poem is consistent, as well, and overall it is not difficult for the reader to imagine hearing the lines being spoken while looking at them. That said, the real experience of the poem comes with Bk delivery, the rapid fire quality of the words is exaggerated considerably Bk fires off the above passage in a matter of seconds. Still, Bk goes not only for speed, but for a sound, consistent sense of rhythm, as well, putting emphasis on the last syllables of each couplet for an added punch. As was mentioned about his reading of the Ursonate h is performer, making Bk even as he professes a desire to eliminate such traits. n performance, is at its most mechanical towards the end of listening to the perf ormance, it is somewhat more difficult to pick out the distinct words amongst the array of sounds, calling attention to the finer details within this passage. The rhythm is still consistent from line to line, though the tempo and stressing of syllables is completely different from that of the first passage. Bk ever, feels here like the sounds of a drum machine or beat boxer. The syllables roll off his tongue in such a way that the words seem to lose their own distinct meanings, bein g disassembled into their phoneme building blocks. Like the Ursonate dwarfs whatever meaning the words might hold inherently, and it does strive to evoke a certain aural image, however meaningl ess the content may seem. Bk describes
37 the videogame Super Mario Bros. think of the Ursonate as a mishmash of appa rent nonsense given its use of phonemes as seem in arrangement, they may still evoke certain connotations on their own. Bk writes purely for phonic effect, silly words from the popular culture of globalized capitalism, doing so in order to suggest that, under (135). The poem possesses both sou in fact, its sense is delivered entirely by way of its sound. Considering this, Bk appears to be poking fun at the notion of meaning being so inherently tied to language the contrast between the poem satirical edge. Bk poem does ind eed contrast with its overtones of atomic horror, and the audience may find eff ectively deflates whatever seriousness the content might potentially hold, appealing to paced, playful sound effects. writes: The b loops and bleeps of the originary videogame sound humorous, of course, and my work merely imitates some of this goofiness for comic
38 activity of speaking aloud and if my performance i nduces laughter in the audience, I suspect that such listeners might be responding in part to an artsy robot. (135) l form stems from the virtuosity of his performance, and in pointing out the humor derived from his reading transformation is precisely what calls attention to the humanity of the poem and its but the selection that follows it in The Cyborg Opera takes both concepts to a new T Nsh T Nsh [thsss] / BhoBho TT pfh TT BhoBho TT Nsh 14 represent a 909 snare drum and 808 snare roll, respectively, and pfh represents a reverse snare drum. The piece plays heavily on repetition, displaying the same sequence of sound effects multiple times in a row. The above segment, for instance, appears four consecutive times, conc 14 Audio: See Track 5. Same reading as above (Pennsound).
39 between sections TT pfh TT BhoBho TT pfh TT / BhoBho TT pfh TT BhoBho TT Differences between consecutive stanzas, li ke those between the quoted sections, are generally subtle, causing the sound of the piece to gradually evolve. Essentially, the textual representation of the poem is a map of sound effects, or a musical score for a techno song featuring a rhythmic series of drum beats and reverbs. Unlike that of the Ursonate the text is not exactly nonsense, per se, as the Key to Notation points out that each sound effect bears the instrument it represents as its that said, the sound effects are certainly not English words, and without the Key they would hold no inherent definition at all, leaving their meaning entirely up to the intended to be performed by a human voice, give n its exclusive use of instrumental sound effects. However, Bk does indeed perform the piece with his human voice. As a result of sense of speed, not to mention near me chanical accuracy and regularity. Like his performances of the previously addressed pieces, Bk nothing else, a display of raw vocal dexterity a modernized take on the entertainment factor of the Ursonate perhaps. More question: why is this a poem, or rather, why should it possess poetic authority? The answer seems to lie in its performance, as well as its repackaging of sound effects as language. B
40 through onomatopoetic connotations, the noises of various devices, be they engines or buzzers, Bk employs is in fact given meaning based on their sound, in effect creating a legitimate language. Even so, the p Bk implies in the essay that his reading imitates: the toolkit of deejays, mimicking the riffs of turntables and sy the beatboxer must learn an alphabet of resonant plosives and sonorant vibratos, all of which combine, like letters, to form a fund of alien words that, when spoken at a fast pace, generate the acoustic illusion of multiple machines operated at the same time. (135) Bk that is, a human mind with a mechanical voice, imitating a purely mechanical being. In Bk takes on this persona as well, largely for this reason, as Bk mage of the speaker, easily identifiable in terms of social status as a member of this particular subculture. Furthermore, the work functions as an effective sound poem by deriving significance solely from its aural form s meaning through sound, which is realized in performance.
41 The last poem of Bk The Cyborg Opera but from his work Eunoia published in 2009. The work is most notable for its first half, which consists of five chapters, each regulated by certain narrative constraints and the caveat that each chapter uses only one vowel throughout. The result is spectacular, though primarily a textual project, and thus the bulk of Eunoia speaks to a project distinct from that of The Cyborg Opera. The same can be said for most of the second half, which Bk to be the inspiration for Eunoia and a series of poems Bk wrote in direct response to it. One of these poems in particular, though, seems pertinent to think about in the context of sound poetry. For the sake of comparison, segments of both poems are quoted side by side below. O n the left is the original French sonnet by Rimbaud, while Bk response is on the right: A noir, E blanc, I ro uge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles, Anywhere near bla nk rage / you veer, oblivial. Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes: Jade array, cali c o azure / evanescent talents. A, noir corset velu des mouches clatantes Unaware, corrosive s flow / to my shackled hand. Qui bombinent autour des puanteur s cruelles Key bombing an auto tour / to paint her colour ( Bk 84). (Bk 90 ) 15 15 Audio: See Track 6. From a reading of Eunoia June 2, 2002 (Pennsound)
42 Bk was constructed entirely with aurality in mind, aiming to imitate the sou nd of the original but it exists as an extension of the French sounds; essentially, in this instance, Bk has phasizing it over the visually, Bk ical, implicitly demonstrating the is an inversion of the sound poetry in The Cyborg Opera The act of transcribing the French sounds in English text seems to be a bit more of a linguistic, textual play than transcribing a hypothetical sound based language into phonemes, as in the Ursonate or of the two poems. Like the previously e of its strength in being read aloud. So far, this chapter has examined how sound poetry derives new meaning from sound over the inherent meaning of the content. Furthermore, the role of the human voice in sou nd poetry is significant, both for the performative significance is lends to the work and for its position as the only means of bringing the sound in the work to life as is the case with a piece of music. The previous examples generally demonstrate these qualities through particular plays on language. Specifically, the Ursonate employ a meta language of sound effects and other building blocks to explore the
43 use English words in patterns meant to emphasize and draw upon their aural qualities, aiming to imitate the sounds of another language. The examples to come in this section exhibit the aforementioned traits in a different manner, using repetition and cha nt to derive meaning from sound. By repeating and slightly varying the ordinary English words used in the poems, the language resonates with a certain amount of power and momentum, gaining a new sense of significance through vocal performance. In his essay poetry as we know it today. He writes: For thousands of years, shamans in tribal cultures have been chanting at least partially impro sung elliptical language seem to inspire in us some needed access to otherwise inaccessible and incommunicable realms of experienc e. (60) Piombino alludes to a spiritual or mystical sense in this kind of poetry; he also, in speaking of chant (religious or otherwise) as a point of origin for poetry, implies that works that imitate this mode approach a primal quality. The concept of ch ant communicates directly with the body, inspiring a sense of ecstasy not unlike that of the Dionysian mode. Because of this, repetition lends words a sense of significance. Each iteration y, dwarfing the significance of their contextual meaning. If a repeating pattern is established, any
44 variation, however slight, is extremely jarring to the listener, strongly emphasizing the nature and overall effects of the change. One such work that expl ores this is the poem 16 He notes before this particular reading that the poem is based on the work of artist Madeline Gins of the Architectual Body Research Foundation. While importance of individual letters to the sentence on the whole and what it is able to what the president will say equal amount of emphasis on most of the syllables. He repeats the phrase several times like so, slightly increasing his volume and the severity of his tone, but otherwise maintaining the sense of repetition. On the fifth repetition, Blonk introduces a bit of variation, dropping the last syllable, or at least shortening it by dropping the last letter. continue this pattern, dropping syllables and phonemes and dramatically shortening the Blonk has reduced the phrase to a mere h andful of consonants, and sputters them out in a mostly unintelligible fashion. Following that is a barely audible series of short, sharp breaths, and then silence, indicating a removal of the entire phrase altogether. It is quite significant that this po em exists only as an aural object, having no official transcription, as it means the poem exists only in performance following 16 Audio: See Track 7. From a reading at Kelly Writers House in Pennsylvania, November 11, 2004 (Pennsound).
45 apparent, inviting listeners to figure out for themselves which letters are being removed with each subseque and improvisation way, each individual listener may potentially experience a different poem, as well. of language, as well as the associated creation or reassembly of a new one. While the poem begins with the use of plain English, the gradual stripping away of sonic building blocks create s an evolving product that is at once both familiar and unfamiliar. The sounds produced by the disassembled words are, by themselves, strange and foreign to an English speaking listener, eventually coming to resemble something like the language of the Urso nate ; still, being guided step by step through the whole process preserves a sense terms of a recognizable structure. with the listener even as the phrase itself is dissected into fragments of itself over time. In terms of inherent meaning, this phrase is essentially the only thing in the poem, but the means by which it is arranged (and re arranged) gives it new significance based on its sound. The repeated, building up chant of the phrase empowers the words, making the phrase into a kind of concrete concept disassembly as the deconstruction of the (which would presumably be, literally, what the president will say and do). Following
46 this line of thought, new possibilities emerge for instance, it is plausible to say that the declining clarity of the p hrase over the course of the poem is a reflection on the same decline in clarity and overall efficacy of the president while in office, giving the work a biting political edge. Another poem that plays into the notion of repetition and chant, both for the ir 17 There seems to be no official transcript for the work, emphasizing the hig certain sections intensity and tempo over the course of the reading in this reg ard, it is reminiscent of a gospel piece. which the language becomes less distinct. For instance, she often warbles the word ry on the line. At least twice during the reading, the first vowel sound for so long that the word is lost, not to be finished the moment brings the poem on the whole to a halt as well, interrupting the fast paced and fairly regular rhythm up to that point. 17 Audio: See Track 8. From a performance at Kelly Writers House in Pennsylvania, October 28, 2008 (Pennsound).
47 In the final moments of the reading, the words following a lengthy, warbling n extremely high pitch and volume, producing feedback from the microphone, and is drawn several times, each time starting at a deep pitch and rising quickly before dropping back down. its significance by its arrangement and delivery. In both cases, the repetition of the core phrase not only strengthens it with its ongoing buildup of mo mentum, but it also serves to also politically driven, as it (with the help of the title) implies that the subject, by being a Bush supporter, is essentially a sinner. The musicality of the poem pushes this further, giving the dialogue the power of a church sermon or revival this is especially evident in the breakdown in clarity at the end of the poem, as it becomes like an ecstatic moment of speaking in tongues. Bot h poems are concerned with the defamiliarization of language through the alteration of sound or delivery, which in turn is used to give the work political significance. Interestingly enough, each poem arrives at this conclusion using entirely opposite mean s and emphasis to its phrase until it turns the original content into an ecstatic babble. Each poem of delivery is unorthodox
48 s the ritual, each poem uses it to play to spiritual authority, as well. Whereas Morris calls itical his reliability of language and, by extension, that which the president says and do es. Ultimately, both poems also play to the expectations laid out by Bk using repetition and
49 Conclusion Poetry, Not Prose Lyric Powers providing much of the critic al basis for this thesis, Poetry not prose: the distinction proposes a limit on what being an object of language, can draw from the well of r ationality and logic, but poetry, as has been argued, holds a great deal of potential power for its liminality between both language and music. Poetry exhibits the inherent power of words, but also of sounds, and it does both through its attention to aural of breath poetry or the performed voice of sound poetry. at New College, I had the opportunity to read some of my own poetry at an informal York poets, legitimate slammers all, who had made To Be Heard a documentary about the impact of poetry for the upcoming Sarasota Film Festival. They read their work to a small but producers. One of the producers, a teacher named Roland Legiardi Laura, approached the cartoonishly snarly voice that would have seemed appropriate coming from Yosemite Sam, it was an amusing, crude, and occasionally morbid set of lines depicting the titular on your shoulder kind of figure. The poem was perhaps unspectacular, but to this day its performance has made it stick with me. That same night,
50 an older man from the crowd was one of the very few audience members to volunteer a performance. Speaking from memory (or perhaps making it up on the spot), nervously, he performed a poem about Punxsutawney Phil, of Groundhog Day fame. He stammered a lot, and the story made no sense upon completion, but he nonetheless commanded the attention of the listeners and garnered a healthy round of applau se once finished. Poetry, it seemed to me then as it does now, is a means of lending particular significance to otherwise ordinary words through sound and performance. Its definitive status is ambiguous, and it has a tendency to defy the attempts of critics to nail it down with any specificity, but the power it holds over readers, listeners, and poets alike is undeniable.
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