Monday, November 30, 2015

Poetry Monday: Anna Kerdijk Nicholson’s Everyday Epic

I’ve always thought that legal language and poetry were somewhat inimical to one another. Legal language is all about exactness, authority, and the weight of historical context. There’s no place for imagery, co-existance of multiple meanings, and vagaries.  Instead legal language tends towards the use of precise technical terms with Latin roots, phrasal verbs, and pronominal adverbs, none of which tend to work so well in poetry. Anna Kerdijk Nicholson is a rare blend of lawyer and poet, making full use of her awareness of language and it’s real-life importance, but allowing the full multiplicity of poetry’s linguistic and demilitarisation qualities to shine in her poetic work.  Kerdijk Nicholason makes full use of her linguistic skills in her new book Everyday Epic, exploring globally relevant current affairs and domestic scenes with the subtlety and complexity of a poet’s awareness of the difficulty of communication and the need for multiplicity in meanings.  Everyday Epic explores both the grand events of history such as the not-so-everyday epic of Burke & Wills, immigration, current affairs, but also a number of poems that explore cross-media including ekphrasis, love, grief, the beauty and occasional terror of the domestic front, and perhaps above all, the nature of language - its limits, its potential, its rhythms, and the way we can create new spaces through it.  For example,
this little taster from the poem "Although,”:
I step on the interstices
and sing in your hollows
you resound on me
and refract
I’m in discourse
although alone
I’ve yet to fully and deeply explore this collection in the way I like to with poetry: reading and re-reading, allowing time for the work to come around with me, and permeate the way I perceive things.  I’m doing that now, and enjoying it very much.  More soon.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

John Cage’s Mesostics through The Sound and the Fury

image from:
The last ModPo assignment for 2015 is now complete and we’re in our final week on Conceptualism and Unoriginality. I’m particularly looking forward to some heady conversations about the morality of appropriation - something that has been concerning me for some time. Before going there, here is my attempt at producing a “Mesostic” using Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. I then had to analyse the output.  If you’d like to try making one of your own - it’s kind of fun, you can do so here:
TPlease do feel free to post yours into the comments if you can, or put them up somewhere and link to them.  I’d love to see them.

After reading through many of John Cage’s mesostics, most notably his writings through Finnegan’s Wake it seemed to me that a large part of what makes these mesostics beautiful rather than random lay with the choice of source text. A good source text seems to create a powerful mesostic because the words it contains combine in ways that work in distillation.  To this effect, I chose a source text that I found to be both rich linguistically and moving, but not already reduced. I thought it might be fun, even though a bit outside the rules, to use a source text that was not poetry, since poetry generally is already condensed. I chose the first paragraph of the second chapter of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury because it seemed dense enough to distill, but I also wanted to remove the work from its plot, character, and the overarching ‘voice’, thereby changing it.  Since the Cagian process involved removing words by intention, I felt comfortable working  through the original mesostic to further simplify it, taking out words I felt hampered the rhythm and overall meaning of the work – in effect, further condensing it.  The end result was as follows:

I found the result of this process to be surprisingly moving and rhythmic, using the progression of the clock to enhance the motif of time and timelessness, with an interesting turn between the first and second stanzas.  The mesostic removes the subject. Instead of the pervasive voice of Quentin Compson, we have only this lower case i.  The narrative i is not only un-named, but un-defined, thereby becoming everyman: a more universal and godlike figure who invite the reader to take on the role of “you”, recipient of the mausoLeum. The appearance of the sash heralds a the arrival of seven o’clock.  The work moves within that hour - which could be a lifetime perhaps, as indicated by “the mausoleum of all hope and desire”: a classic Faulkner phrase that was left unchanged by the Mesostomatic.  This concentration of the essence or “intensity” of the passage focuses on this notion of being and out of time. The alliteration of the L sound slows the progression through the poem as we move from cLock to MasoLeum and then “excruciatingly”. This creates a gentle quiet, and a lolling quality that reminds us, with the mausoleum image, that death is the ultimate argument ad absurdum.

While the Faulkner passage itself ends with death and despair (and the fruitlessness of war), this mecrostic presents a more affirmative outcome in the second stanza as the poem ends with a kind of waking up, perhaps through hearing the continued ticking of the clock (“hearing”) into desire (hearing being "the father of desire").  The repetition of the adverb “then” in the two stanzas gives us a sense of change and connection, also forcing us to focus on the transition between the two passages as important.  In the first stanza time stopped, and we were out of time, and then in the second stanza, we’re reborn into time (“i was time again”), heaRing (perhaps the ticking) re-opening the desire that was lost in the first stanza.  The capitalization of the R in “heaRing” also calls attention to the ring in that word, so it’s almost as if we heard a gong, sounding the bell that woke us into time.  The three single words at the start of the second stanza slow the reading down dramatically. The death or stoppage of time only lasts an hour.  At eight o’clock we come back into time, and by association, life: reborn.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

New CR Newsletter is out

Hello fellow book lovers.  Just a quick note to say that the Compulsive Reader newsletter for November is now out.  This month’s issue contains, as usual, 10 fresh reviews including the latest Ishiguro, a bevy of fantastic new books, several literary films, and an interview. We’ve also provided our usual extensive overview of literary news around the world and 3 book giveaways.  If you haven’t gotten your copy yet, you can grab one here:
Compulsive Reader Newsletter Archive

If you’re not a subscriber, why not drop by The Compulsive reader and subscribe. It’s free, easy, and just one newsletter a month.

photo credit: PixeLegis_2008_0203 via photopin (license)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Poetry Monday: O’Hara’s Why I Am Not a Painter

Last week I wrote my third ModPo essay on Frank O’Hara’s phenomenal “Why I Am Not a Painter”.

You can read the full text of the poem here:

Following is my essay.  Please feel free to add your thoughts in the comments.


Frank O’Hara’s “Why I Am Not a Painter” uses the “I-do-this-I-do-that mode” to create a narrative context where meaning is created through conjunction, and contrast.  Both of these notions play out with ironic power as O’Hara tricks the reader into the verbal through the visual. For correspondence we have the artistic process of two artists placed on an equal plane: one who creates through a visual medium and begins with the verbal or the word and the one who creates through a verbal medium and begins with the visual or the colour.   In both instances, the painting and the poem’s subjects are condensed into the work, from the visible origins to a highly distilled invisibility that is no less present or powerful for its absence.   The very proximity of these two different artists, friends, who move from “I drink” to “we drink”, becomes a catalyst for the work they create, in the explanations that charge the work through its negation.  The subject is “too much” in both instances, and it is through the artistic process that the subject is distilled beyond recognition.

Beyond the correspondence between the two artists, there is the contrast, which is presented almost as a competition.  Mike Goldberg’s work appears to develop through time in present tense linguistic repetition and conjugation of the verb “go”.  When the work, apparently in progress, is finally so abstract that SARDINES disappears, the only trace we have of the original idea is the label, which remains necessary to impose an organising principle: “it needed something there”.   O’Hara’s work, on the other hand, ends up with a label that is both visual and verbal, a clever bit of trickery that shows us the power of language. Goldberg’s SARDINES is already subverted into this poem, which encompasses the very thing it abstracts: “All that's left is just letters.”  All of this self-conscious irony goes hand in hand with the seeming natural prosaic quality of the work.  While it may, at first glance, appear to be a simple recount in present tense about the meeting of two artists and their mediums, it is, and O’Hara reminds us of this very clearly, actually a “real” poem. The narrative construct, like the progression of time (“the days go by”) is artifice.  This artifice is further emphasized by the line breaks and artificial sentence structures that create a stuttering quality that undermines the natural rhythm of the sentences: “he/says”; “days/go by”; “just/letters”; “be/so much more”.  Each of these word groups breaks at the least natural spot, further heightening the irony and undermining the conversational tone it sets out to parody.  At this point, the artistic process becomes obvious, the work becomes self-consciously meta-poetic, with a victorious twist at the end as the poem circles back to its origins and engulfs the painting.  This poem is autotelic: it transcends its referent - it needs nothing there.  “Why I am Not a Painter” manages to be simultaneous funny and serious, lighthearted but somber (orange is truly terrible, reminding us, in this poem, of death), superficial and deep.  This is a poem that succeeds brilliantly at illuminating everything it claims to elude, making itself the subject.


And just because this is a blog and not an academic site, I’m also appending a wonderful rendition of another Frank O’Hara poem, “Lana Turner Has Collapsed" from Lunch Poems. This song was my first exposure to Frank O’Hara, played for me by the composer, my dear uncle, who I’m fairly sure you can hear laughing at the end of the clip.  I had this song in my head the entire time I wrote that essay and it’s still there now.


Oranges - photo credit: Early morning sunshine via photopin (license)