26 February 2010

Prose Poetry

Post the prose poems you found online (or in antique, outdated books) for credit today!

Also, Arthur Rimbaud was a prose poet. Witness:

Gracieux fils de Pan! Autour de ton front couronné de fleurettes et de baies tes yeux, des boules précieuses, remuent. Tachées de lies brunes, tes joues se creusent. Tes crocs luisent. Ta poitrine ressemble à une cithare, des tintements circulent dans tes bras blonds. Ton coeur bat dans ce ventre òu dort le double sexe. Promène-toi la nuit, en mouvant doucement cette cuisse, cette seconde cuisse et cette jambe de gauche.

Graceful son of Pan! Around your forehead crowned with little flowers and laurel, your eyes, those precious balls, revolve. Stained with wine dregs, your cheeks grow hollow. Your fangs gleam. Your chest is like a lyre, tinklings course through your blonde arms. Your heart beats in the belly where the double sex sleeps. Walk around at night, gently moving this thigh, this second thigh and this left leg.

17 February 2010

Going Experimental

Which is to say, we have a plan, but the plan is a chance operation. You have a poem due next week, but the poem is an experiment--more of an experiment than other poems, too. So that you don't feel left in the lurch, I'm offering this list of ideas and references to supplement the prompts handed out on Tuesday. If you have further questions, which is quite fair, please leave them in the comments here so all can read my answers.

The handout that most of you got to kickstart this assignment was a random selection of poetry prompts from the brilliant poet and teacher Bernadette Mayer. The entire list is here, from the Language Is A Virus website. Enjoy!

While reviewing Language is a Virus, I found once again one of my favorite experiment tools. Known as the Cut-Up Machine, it apes William Burroughs's advice in his search for transcendence through randomness. And it makes it easy and fast. You simply paste any text onto the page and the engine will cut it up, as: will it and works randomness. the and similar through and onto along transcendence search as: through works the William and as: up, the through randomness. principles engine and will engine and page principles and.... It can be a fun way to reconfigure some of your own old, more staid writing and branching out from there.

Next, I want to put in a plug here for learning a little about John Cage, the granddaddy of the experimental poets (to Bernadette's grandmammy?) (she wouldn't like that). Cage famously said, "I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry." He believed in chance--that it was not at all chancy--and so consulted astronomical charts, the I Ching, and street maps when composing both music and poetry.

(He also said: "I can't understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I'm frightened of the old ones." And: "If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all." And: "The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I feel it's not beautiful? And very shortly you discover there is no reason." And: "As far as consistency of thought goes, I prefer inconsistency." AND: "Whether I make them or not, there are always sounds to be heard and all of them are excellent." And (sorry, can't stop): "Syntax, like government, can only be obeyed. It is therefore of no use except when you have something particular to command such as: Go buy me a bunch of carrots.")

(Enough of that.)

There are 2 groups of "experimental" writers we'll be talking about in class, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E and flarf. Both have a lot to do with the work you'll be turning in next week, whether you know it yet or not. Because it's best to know sooner rather than later, I'm including some information and links that might inspire your own work over the course of this week.

L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry is derided as ridiculously difficult by many, but I suspect the naysayers secretly respect and fear it. It can be downright alienating, leaving readers with a sense of arbitrary incoherence and their own frustration. For an example, see this excerpt from Susan Howe's Thorow or this much clearer "Sad Boy's Sad Boy" from Charles Bernstein. Look up either of them for more excellent examples. Also, this page has still more L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E work that might stimulate.

One great page at textetc.com has a wonderful write-up of what L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry is by describing what it is not. As C. John Holcombe, site owner, writes:

Aims are best grasped by what the movement opposed: {6}

1. narrative: no story or connecting tissue of viewpoint or argument: poems often incorporate random thoughts, observations and sometimes nonsense. {7}

2. personal expression: not merely detached, the poems accept Barthe's thesis that the author does not exist. {8}

3. organization: poems are based on the line, not the stanza, and often that line is discontinuous or fragmentary: the poems reject any guiding sense of purpose. {9}

4. control: poems take to extremes the open forms advocated by Williams and the Black Mountain School.

5. capitalist politics and/or bourgeoisie values. {10}

Can you imagine writing a poem that adheres to these tenets? That's basically your assignment this week. Or it could be--there are obviously many ways of "doing"--that is experimenting with--experimental writing.

Flarf is a whole other ball of wax. In its initial impulse, it aimed to explore "the inappropriate" in all its incarnations. In brief, they googled strange search terms and created sometimes hilarious sometimes upsetting poems of their results. They have described their own texts as ‘a kind of corrosive, cute, or cloying awfulness.’ A good article on Flarf is here.

You might enjoy this page for examples of Google search poetry. (I love the one that begins "children are." So deep.)

For a few last ideas, here is a fun exercise in randomness.

The word fun popped up a few times here. Do keep it in mind.

excerpt from an experimental poetry manifesto:


1.2 The poem is a set of topological figures or features.
1.2.1 Words are subject to disintegration, death, and other natural events that individuals of all types face.
1.2.2 The words on the page represent the page at a certain geological moment. This moment implies a history. This moment entails a future. The reader sees merely a moment captured.
1.2.3 The "level of the page" is the only level. The vertical "reader to page" and "author to page" and "author to reader"
relationships are eradicated. The horizontal journey through the page, as a hiker on a trail,
is the only way to search for meaning. As such meanings will be different for each traveler. As such meaning is made through memory.
Connections are delayed, soundings are delayed, meaning
is delayed. Meaning is put together. As such meaning is a compound impression of a physically traversed
space (the eye moves physically through the space as the mind
encounters fragmented signifiers). Each poem is a microcosm.
2. The page is a slice of geological time. It has a past and a future. It has physical features.
2.1 It could have been otherwise.
3. The poem and the page become topological at the same time; as the reader traverses their space, he or she perceives a shifting, coming-into-being topology.

From Manifest by Jessica Smith. Ubuweb

12 February 2010

If students are linking, teacher can link, too

The poet I have in mind this week -- this month -- is Arthur Rimbaud. The Frenchman wrote all of his poetry in the course of five years when he was as young as my students. At the age of nine he wrote a 700-word essay against having to learn Latin in school. At 16 Rimbaud was discovered in Paris by the poet Paul Verlaine, who left his family to become Rimbaud's lover and encourage the boy's writing. The affair was tumultuous, ending after Verlaine shot him in the hand in an argument just over a year later. Soon after that, the prodigy stopped writing for good at the age of 19 (or 21, according to Wikipedia's version).

What's certain is that his only writing after 1875 can be found in government documents -- Rimbaud often worked in French colonies in Africa -- and letters. He died of cancer at the age of 37. His former lover , gathered all his work and made sure it was published, ensuring his future fame.

Here follows an excerpt from Rimbaud's very famous "A Season in Hell."

A while back, if I remember right, my life was one long party where all hearts were open wide, where all wines kept flowing.
One night, I sat Beauty down on my lap.—And I found her galling.—And I roughed her up.
I armed myself against justice.
I ran away. O witches, O misery, O hatred, my treasure's been turned over to you!
I managed to make every trace of human hope vanish from my mind. I pounced on every joy like a ferocious animal eager to strangle it.
I called for executioners so that, while dying, I could bite the butts of their rifles.

And yes, I named my dog after him.