Monday, November 01, 2004


I go out hungry.
Vestiges of ancient meat hang in the branches,
swing from the flag poles, pour like
rain out of windows in rooms
where murder is born. The men there,
a squat, tailored homunculus
surrounded by chanting politicians,
feed on the navels of outland children
forced to machines in Shanghai and Jakarta.
They grow terrible amusements of
death mask zealots that lock me in at the trough.
I go out hungry and mean for the
world's lean spoils and eat till my tongue corrodes.
This is my birthright.
These are my reptile eyes.

Poem by Jake Berry 11.1.04

“But you ought to know that What is Grand is necessarily obscure to Weak men. That which can be made Explicit to the Idiot is not worth my care.”

--William Blake (from a letter to Dr. Trusler, a clergyman for whom he had made a drawing, 8/23/1799).

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Edward Gorey’s covers for The Adventures of the Black Girl in her Search for God by George Bernard Shaw and Noble Essences by Osbert Sitwell.


Tuesday, June 01, 2004

What's Jukka up to at nonlinear poetry?

I've been following the discourse that has sprung up around Jukka-Pekka Kervinen's recent work at his NONLINEAR POETRY blog and I'm inspired to chime in with my own interpretation.

Bill Allegrezza, at p-ramblings, remarks that "they complicate reading patterns in a way that two dimensional writing does not. As a reader I am left wondering where to enter into the text, if there is a consistent text, and if the text is primarily aesthetic or communicative." Jean Vengua, at okir, remarks about "graphic surface (color, shape) and structure. Some partial sense of meaning comes through in the existence of words or word-fragments." And Mark Young, at pelican dreaming, seeing a turn from the poetic to the painterly, remarks, "Now I feel we do not enter the poems but step back from them the way we do with paintings so that we can see them entire. Certainly the words are there, fragmented, hinting, eroded. It is as if we have passed beyond the ocular microscope & are now dealing with electron microscopy that is showing us that what we thought were empty spaces between words and letters have a depth & a topography of their own. The entrance way is way back, in the verbal poems that still are there behind. We've entered a Mandelbrot world of fractals where the poems enter us rather than us entering the poems."

I like the reference to Benoit Mandelbrot, and to fractals (I think there is much in the Mandelbrot set, and in fractal geometry, and in a close study of reiteration, to interest, and perhaps to inspire, all creative poets). And the question of the primacy of the "aesthetic" or the "communicative," which I am here wont to interpret as "the showing" or "the telling." Of course both are "aesthetic," and both are "communicative," but there are distinctions, such as to matters of technique and of genre, and most importantly perhaps, in what sense "communicative," by what means and to what end. And then there is that "sense of meaning," which "comes through in the existence of words or word-fragments." I interpret this as though to say, we sense that "meaning" is present, that "meaning" in some form or other is to be perceived, to be comprehended, but as to what exactly is meant or proposed, how exactly to satisfy our interest, here we are given to pause.

What strikes me most about these comments, is that they all seem to allude to what Mr. Young points out as the "painterly" turn in Mr. Kervinen's work. "Painterly," "aesthetic" and "graphic surface" all seem to refer to something being "shown," to something we do not exactly "read" so much as "see" or "pore over," as we would when faced with a painting, or with a work of concrete art. Inasmuch as these works attract us and hold us in suspension, that in and of itself is enough to recommend them (even to the casual blog surfer).

What if what we were seeing were only details (cropped portions, each) of a greater whole? What if that greater whole were, say, a mural? The mural is a wall-size painting, we need step back to see it entire. I agree with Mr. Young that we must, in a sense, "step back" to see these works entire. And I agree with Mr. Young's reference to the Mandelbrot set, as here, too, we see a whole represented in a part, an instance of the macro in the micro. . . .

I think there is a relation between these works and Nico Vassilakis' STAMPOLOGUE and John Byrum's "placeholders." I think this relation is as much to do with technique as with genre, although as regards technique the relation may not be obvious. I want to leave aside the question of technique with regard to craft and focus instead on genre.

When Jean Vengua remarks that "some partial sense of meaning comes through in the existence of words or word-fragments," (granting that existence) I think she is speaking of the intimation of meaning only. That is to say, this is not "meaning" as that which is intermediate, as signification is the bond that holds between a signifier and a signified. This meaning, this potential meaning, is prior, it is anterior. It is not actual meaning, but meaning in posse (that is, in possibility, or, rather, in process).

Mr. Kervinen's works "speak" to us in terms of grammata, and not in terms of pragmata, and then only in terms of a grammata that is in abstractus--drawn away, if you will, from any thing, from any pragmata. And thus these words and word-fragments do not signify, but come to symbolize.

What we see, what we construe to be words and word-fragments--hinted at, yes, but not, I think, eroded (it is rather as though we're given to witness them in phases, in appearances of intellection, in phases of mentation!)--are not words and word-fragments as such, but the anterior, pre-articulate phase of expression--this is the sememe phase (and is as such prior to the morpheme and phoneme phases).

I see this work as a type of concrete poetry, and a specialized type at that. I call this "eidetic poetry." And what's more, I see this as a special type, a specialized type of "eidetic poetry." I call it the "eidograph"--because it presents us with a picture, or, more precisely, an aperçu, of language-in-eidos, language in ideal form. This is the atomic language of Wittgenstein's logical space. As I see it, Mr. Kervinen is giving us to see (via aperçus) language as a postulated transcendent totality of system. This is language in ideal form, language in conceptus, language in situ, the world in logical space. The eidograph is an aperçu, if you will, at once an insight into and a summary, a brief digest of, language-in-eidos. These works are eidographs. They are eidographic.

How Mr. Kervinen goes about creating these aperçus, these eidographs, is topic for another discussion. Suffice it to say here that he is in complete control of his craft. It would be delusive to introduce the idea of chance or the element of randomness into this investigation, that is unless one understands that even here Mr. Kervinen works with strict deliberation.

Jukka-Pekka Kervinen is a true artist, immune to the fetish of celebrity. I've been on his trail for a year now (he introduced me to stochastics) and it inspires me that he is my contemporary. These recent works of his, at NONLINEAR POETRY, are most deserving of deep consideration.

Friday, March 05, 2004

A Selection of Visual Poems by Bob Grumman

I've been following Bob Grumman's writings, both poetic and theoretical, and his progress, and his various columns, since around 1993. I still have (of course) the first postcard he sent me, telling how busy he was and that a letter would soon follow. Well, that letter did follow, and many others after it. I consider my "Grumman correspondence" a personal literary treasure. Bob has always been "a compulsive explainer" (as he readily says in the "4word" to this, his latest collection, A Selection of Visual Poems) and his letters are chock full of compulsive explaining. You know, there is a whole literary genre, you might say, inhabited by writers who prefer personal correspondence, letter writting, as the vehicle by which and in which to express their ideas and opinions, and to maintain and articulate explanations and objectives for and about their work. And this, genre, is vast. And it's virtually anonymous, or, unknown, because the exchange of correspondence is personal, and may not see the light of day for years, and then maybe only posthumously. Think of the letters between Pound and Joyce, or between yourself and your own personal correspondents. I came on board just about when Bob began experimenting with mathematics and was discovering his mathemaku form and was publishing his first "specimen" (Bob has always enjoyed using scientific/experimental jargon). My initial impression of all this was to ask why anyone would want to "quantify" sentiments. Then Bob began sending me photocopies of more and more mathemaku specimen and I saw that my initial impression was all wrong, that Bob was not exactly "quantifying" sentiments as much as substituting math, or the arithmetical, for grammar. The end result was an amplification (or perhaps I should say "a mutiplication") of symbolism. Realizing this, I knew he was onto something worthwhile, something fascinating, and in time as I came to know a little and then a lot about Bob personally, I also realized why he had to make it different. Early on I recognized something important about Bob, that Bob was a poet—that Bob was indeed the genuine article. And like all poets, but especially Bob's type of poet (the same type as Emily Dickinson, I maintain, although Bob maintains he has no use for the wren, and yet I think he secretly delights in their kinship), he had to discover, to create, to originate a form to fit his poetic afflatus. And this "form" would equal that afflatus in idiosyncrasy. But it could not end with idiosyncrasy, there would have to be a gnomic element, something esoteric, something hidden. While Bob would both show and tell his poetry, he would almost withhold or protect the quintessence of that poetry, reserving—and preserving—that for his initiate, or, as it were, his lover. Because all of Bob's poetry is love poetry, love poetry aimed at an ideal lover! Some poets go through life in a sort of alienation from form, never really comfortable in any form (and it shows), but then others, of the type that share kinship with Bob, outright create their own form. (And after all, this is how new forms come into being.) To this day, what strikes me about the mathemaku is how uncannily literary they are—certainly, methinks, as literary as any typographical order by Cummings. Compared to Cummings, Bob's vocabulary (both word and picture) is stark and limited (no tulips or chimneys, but a store of indirectly communicated yearning and deep, almost dangerous, sensitivity), and Bob is in no wise prolific (as he readily confesses), although if one were to take into account his letters and columns and posted opinions—mighty generous opinions, I might add, in that they readily share where others, perhaps those less confident, hold back—one would find that there is a whole lot more than first imagined. In his "4word," Bob says that while he may not be prolific he is nonetheless "rigorous." Well, if by "rigorous" we also mean scrupulous, especially with regard to keeping safe that quintessence—and so it is no wonder that he is a master at indirect communication—and in the precise, if sometimes poetic, manner in which he strives to explain himself, then Bob is most certainly a rigorous poet, and especially where regards the pursuit of his ideal.

There are 26 pieces including cover art, the pages are not numbered. (All the works are in black and white.) We begin with "The Word." The word is "poem." And inside the "o" of "poem" is the word "morning," and inside the "o" of "morning" is the word "glory," and inside the "o" of "glory" is a face giving us a wink. This is fitting, because Bob is telling us there's more to visual poetry than meets the eye, and moreover, that "wink" says more than words can say (directly)—it's a signal that there is a quintessence here, but we must be playful and coax it out. Next is "Arrival," followed by "CREATIVITY" and then "the poem r." One might call these "alphabet" poems—the "arrival" of sound and musical pattern, the alphabet that is a fond of origin, essential to poetry. Here we have, not poetry as such, but some ideas that might serve as preamble, after our welcoming wink, to what follows.

Next comes a "visual poem" entitled "The Intellect at Work." "The Intellect at Work" is kidstuff, relying on a single visual trope that "sees" the word "REALITY," by a process of morphological development, "morph" into the word "DEFINITION." In lesser hands this page would not rate a second look. (As the situation stands, most visual poems are—and sadly so—one-trick ponies that fail to reward a closer reading.) But Bob makes the most of his two words. First, there is the suggestion that "DEFINITION" might somehow reside dormant or unrealized in, or be latent in, "REALITY." Ergo, a passsive, or undeveloped, reality will yield no definition. Moreover we notice that the word "DEFINITION" is enclosed inside a frame! Where did this frame come from? If we go back to the top of the page and again follow the word "REALITY" through its morphological development, we see that the outlines of the letters have joined together, closed circle or to delimit or cocoon as it were, thus releasing the morphemes—the minimal linguistic units—of the word within ("REALITY") from their phase as "REALITY," and thus as though to amnion (or chrysalis) the morphemes continue their generation, their metamorphosis, into "DEFINITION." And thus, definition is found in reality. Or, reality gives way, or gives birth, to definition. Or, reality can be defined. It's also interesting to watch (!) how the letters REAL "morph" (change shape, that is) into DEFINI (you simply must see this for yourself). Always, there are questions left over after reading Bob's work, for instance does he take the Greek word "morphe" to mean physical, material "shape" rather than functional form? I would ask him, then, does meaning turn upon the function or upon the material (of words)?

Next follows "Failed Disguise," and "The Serpent." These seem to be products of collage, cut up bits fitted together, and are two good reasons why I dislike the term "visual poetry." "Eidetics" is much more appropriate here. In "The Serpent," the vowels a, e, i, o and u, in string, are "snaking" across a (rather barren-looking) field of letters, broken language and what appears to be a tree right out of Beckett.

In "After Apollo," there is "moon," "sky," "THE EARTH" and "HEART." The "H" of "HEART" is moved to after the "T" to form "EARTH." I like this piece very much. Next is "April!" which, again, shows sound or musical pattern, or rhythm, arisen out of the rhythmic waves of the (alphabetic) sea of language.

"Revelation" reveals the word "truth" spelled "troooooooooooooooooooooooooooooth." "EROS: A DEFINITION" is perhaps a most cryptic mathemaku. (Out of summer comes eros.) "Paradise Enow, 1959" is a Bob Grumman-style haiku in which the word "love" is a mutual feeling. "Enow" is pronounced, "enough." Next is "Mathemaku No. 24d." This is one of only four mathemaku included in this collection. Also here are "Mathemaku for Ron Johnson," "Mathemaku for Richard Kostelanetz" and "Mathemaku for Karl Young." In my opinion, the mathemaku are without doubt Bob's best work, and they are the four best pieces in this collection. (I question Bob on his mathemaku work in my interview with him, and I recommend this to anyone interested in this aspect of his work. As I intend to write about the mathemaku at length elsewhere, I won't go into these pieces here, except to say they are all excellent, and really lovely.)

The remaining pieces are "NOCTURNE" (where day turns to night and then "the sound of her voice"), "The Huge Night" (which succeeds very well), "HOMAGE TO SHAKESPEARE" (one of Bob's classic pieces), "Summer," "Somewhere in Manhattan, 1958" (see what I mean about Cummings?), "The Four Seasons," "Homage to Wordsworth" (more classic Grumman), and "Homage to Athena" (again, classic Grumman, simple and to the point).

I can't complain about there being only four mathemaku in this collection because the mathemaku are avilable otherwise. What's important about A Selection is that it collects works that have to this point been scattered here and there. My only complaint is that they are not dated and their publication history is not provided.

A Selection of Visual Poems by Bob Grumman is Xerolage #30, published by Xexoxial Editions, 10375 Cty Hway A, LaFarge, WI, 54639.

Read The Bob Grumman Interview in ē·rātiō issue one, spring 2003.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Edward Gorey’s cover for Troilus and Cressida by Geoffrey Chaucer.  

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Edward Gorey’s cover for Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque by Edgar Allan Poe.