On discreteness: event and sound in poetry.
Twenty-six letterforms--the alphabet--part of poetry's visual dimension. One-hundred-plus sounds, derived from forty-plus phonemes--spoken English--part of poetry's sonic dimension. On Discreteness: Event and Sound in Poetry largely explores the latter dimension--sound--in poetry. However, the mix of "auditory and visual standards in poetry" (in the wry words of James Laughlin to William Carlos Williams) (1) also arises, for several contributors, as a theoretical and practical (that is, descriptive and experiential) concern. In the call for papers for this special issue, poetry was conceived of as an event in sound branching out and dividing through language, technology, history--"ramifying." To ramify means "To extend; to spread (in various directions); to grow in complexity or range" (OED). Such happens in sounding-out poetry byway of durational, intonational, pitch, stress, and loudness variation, by way of the print and recording technologies that mediate and condition the quality and kind of aural reception, and byway of shifts in cultural contexts shaping poetry's multimodal existence. What most of these sixteen contributors to Esc: English Studies in Canada share--which makes this issue somewhat timely--is the intent to listen to the sound of poets' (and for one contributor, to listen to the sound of actors') poetry recordings, including other poetry performances. In this respect, there are contributors who consider recordings of Gertrude Stein and William Carlos Williams, Brien Gyson and Kenneth Rexroth, and contemporaries Caroline Bergvall, Charles Bernstein, Anne Carson, and Geraldine Monk, among others, from Canada, the U.S., and the UK.
Uttered sound is unstable-allophonic, noisy. A poem as a temporal sequence of recorded utterances shows more differences from itself than as word forms in print. In translating, Ezra Pound needed to discern between multiple versions of Arnaut Daniel's poetry that print transmission had ramified through half a millennium. Today, in order to achieve the degree of discernment practised by a translator, we must we can, thanks to recent sound pioneers in poetry--discern between recorded versions of a poem delivered in the course of less than half a lifetime To "stabilize" sound's protean qualities is, in a sense, what prosodic inventions such as various metres, measures, phrases, and rhythms, as well as the concept of phoneme itself, and the seven meanings of logos, etc., are about. The concept of discreteness plays to the classical Greek roots of logos: that you can cut up any thought into minimal units--atom or particle and, hence, phoneme. "In all languages" Victoria Fromkin's An Introduction to Language explains, "discrete linguistic units combine in rule-governed ways to form larger units" (41). Or as John Lyons explains discreteness: "Identity of form and language is [...] a matter of all or nothing, not of more or less" (Lyons 21). For the "more or less" range of speech expression to aurally impress, language must be constituted on a set of "all or nothing" distinctions. Sound needs to be made discrete at this constitutive phonemic level for it to behave like a language. We activate, in listening, at least two levels of language: the sound continuum of "more or less" meaning and its discretely differentiated, opposing, and relationally constituted "all or nothing" set of minims. This collection of essays exists in the tension between sound continuum and discreteness.
Roman Jakobson contrasts the degree of fluid and choppy expressivity in speech to the degree available in poetry in written form. Ivan Fonagy paraphrases from the Czech:
In everyday speech, emotions are reflected in the rate of speech, in intonation, in unusual pauses, in the shift of stress, the emphatic lengthening of vowels or consonants or the expressive modification of articulation and the corresponding shift in the sound spectrum; e.g. a raised, forward tongue position and brighter vowel color may reflect gaiety, particularly strained consonants may express anger. This expressive phonetic level is entirely lacking in poetry. (Fonagy 75)
This expressive phonetic level is now entirely present for the poetry of many twentieth-century poets. Set aside the calendar-month display of Jackson Pollock's Full Fathom Five and download instead the PennSound audiofile of Ezra Pound's breathy reading of his Confucian ode translation "Hep-Cat Chung" While phonograph and oscilloscope were new for Pound's time, it is the broader availability of these twentieth-century poetry recordings that is recent.
Traditional prosody is largely based on pre-twentieth century technology and poetry--from "Chaucer to Years" as Reuven Tsur has put it (Poetic Rhythm 23). Innovations in twentieth-century form, some of which fit under the rubric of free verse, historically coincide with the emergence and development of increasingly sophisticated recording technologies. If the sound of free verse is going to be explored on twentieth-century terms, it will be discovered in part by using twenty-first century technology to listen to recordings of the way the verse is spoken by its makers. Print archives are there for the visual dimension of the poem, and now there are the strong beginnings of digital archives--broadly distributed--for poetry's sonic dimension. New technologies--such as those that have made available not only the relatively inexpensive reproduction of the enclosed compact disk but also the recordings themselves as digitally encoded and compressed MP3 audiofiles--have allowed for poetry to be conceived of as an event in the voiced substance of language itself. Until the advent and availability of poets' recordings and the instruments with which to analyze them, the event of reproducing sound in the printed poem has had to be either imagined (by critics, actors, linguists, poets), understood by "sister-art" analogy and performed to music, or heard live on one occasion then live on the next.
This issue is testament to the enormously vital role Charles Bernstein continues to play in shaping the literary field of English-speaking poetry. My sense of the contemporary poetic field is that, in it, it is Charles Bernstein who is largely responsible for the re-emergence of sound as a value for critical attention. It is not only his anthology Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word (1998) but also his manifesto and his and Al Filreis's vision for PennSound, a major online digital editing archive at the University of Pennsylvania that recently announced the four-millionth download since its 2003 inception.
Conjoining sound ("You asked about sound") and event ("it's 28 January 2008"), Rachel Blau DuPlessis's title announces this special issue's central themes. As would be expected, the other fifteen contributors approach these themes and insist on their salience in differing ways. Much like a Loy or Zukofsky passage, DuPlessis's essay scrupulously unfolds out of its own words. From her word for what organized sound gives to a poem, "rectitude" (compare this to the Russian Formalists' phrase for poeticized sound, "organized violence"), I pull out of its OED definition the semantically overlapping word "straight" Associating the quality of verticality, hence of gravity, with straightness, DuPlessis proposes that a poem's "[s]ound is both excessive to straight up-down thetic and semantic meaning and (paradoxically) crucial to that meaning" But the sounds of a poem touch, even waken the reader, before their meanings do. From this last point (DuPlessis's reading of a Keats letter), I've understood again Plato's pedagogical remark that what a teacher (think "writer") does is waken in the student ("reader") what the student is unaware she already knows. So, too, then, Eisenhower's 1952 campaign slogan, "I Like Ikea" which Jakobson famously analyzed (in "Linguistics and Poetics") for what Scott Pound in this issue calls homomorphological difference, is a reminder that wakening, by the hand of sound, can sway one in favour of establishment powers or against them.
It is the difference sound makes, to quote Scott Pound's title ("The Difference Sound Makes: Gertrude Stein and the Poetics of Intonation"). Pound makes Stein's writing refreshingly perceptible to the ear. He swiftly establishes a two universes hypothesis of written and spoken language and, within the latter, a further distinction between speech and voice. The voice as "thing" as "more than speech" (according to Paul Zumthor, whom Pound cites), corroborates Mladen Dolar's recent thesis that voice is the paradoxically imperceptible material support of meaning in language. Speech, on the other hand, has been too often typified as the sort Dr. Williams "measured," on his Rutherford rounds, on people's tongues, and in his free verse forms (variable foot, etc). Here Pound reminds us there were other ways modernist poets affected speech patternings and rhythms, and one is Stein's in Zhe Making of Americans. Steven Meyer has argued that "[i]ntonation serves as a primary compositional principle in Stein's writing" (301). Listening to Stein's recordings allows one to perceive, says Meyer, a "careful articulation of intonational patterns woven into her compositions [which] permits one to make sense of them" (304). When Stein performed her texts by reading them aloud, some of her listeners experienced an intonational charismatic intelligence Sculptor Jo Davidson writes that "as she read, I never felt any sense of mystification. A rose is a rose is a rose' took on a different meaning with each inflection" (quoted in Meyer 302). In comparison, when he himself read the printed text, "it didn't make much sense" (303). Scott Pound extends Meyer's analyses of specifically Stein's intonation to an analysis of the intonational potential that is present in today's reader of Stein--hopefully, a potential greater than that of some of Stein's contemporaries. Pound's story of reading the Making of Americans with his pregnant wife and then their newborn child recalls the one Ron Silliman tells on his blog of reading Finnegans Wake with his twins--in both instances, the same results: sheer exhilaration in phonation. Perhaps "everybody's intonation" is what is needed to dissipate (if that is what one wants to do with it) the "cloud in trousers" of a Stein text.
Infectious textuality induced by close listening (several contributors make recourse to this indispensable term of Charles Bernstein's) is palpable in how Bob Perelman reassesses Williams's "The Sea-Elephant" after hearing the 1952 Princeton recording at PennSound. Perelman's reassessment is directed at his own sensibilities that over years of reading Williams have kept mental account of "problems" and "strengths" in the verse Of interest here is Williams's "non-lexical moments" specifically the onomatopoeic outburst Blouaughl that the poem's persona translates as FEED ME and that an early editor annotates, in a Jack London moment, as "the cry of the sea-elephant" (Williams, Collected 1529). As do other contributors, Perelman locates (or should I say "echo-locates" with the help of current audio technology, because his is a re-assessment) an issue more fundamental than a variant reading (nonetheless, a tour de force variant it is, that reads the poem as "a publicly performed tragicomedy of poetics") which bears on assumptions readers bring to and that shape what we call poetry. The issue at stake is sound imitation (onomatopoeia being its most familiar trope) and, by ultimate extension, sound symbolism in poetry.
That Perelman's reassessment comes from hearing Williams may be taken in the direction of the poem's initial publication context. "The Sea-Elephant's voice mimicry (circus barker; spectators) appears in Aldington's Imagist Anthology (1930), and Zukofsky selected it for the 1934 Objectivist Press edition of Williams's first collected poems. As tendencies, "les imagistes" and the "Objectivists" have not been studied that much for their sound and the temporality of reading, except insofar as these qualities construe their opposite, in the image (or the "radiant image," in Daniel Tiffany's analysis that links radium, Imagism, and radio). But Williams has often proven to exceed orderings by group affiliation and verbal category.
Some contributors find themselves confronting the practical and theoretical dilemma of how to situate the recorded version of a poem in relation to its printed version on a scale from "same" to "different." For Perelman, Williams's reading is its own distinctly "specific event"--quite literally, a different poem. Moreover, hearing "a more complete version" when Williams's commentary (after his 1952 reading) is included, Perelman transcribes and transposes it--his own sound-imitation--into Williamsesque lines as the rest of "The Sea-Elephant." "[T]here's little rhetorical distance or heightening" in the way Williams reads his poetry, Bruce Holsapple perceives in his own essay, "especially when compared to the way contemporaries Pound, Stevens, Eliot, Cummings, or Millay, for example, read." This aural impression is very much at the heart of how Perelman characterizes Williams's social aspirations for his verse experimentation and of how he defines what "a more complete version" means and why it is found in Williams's 1952 reading and commentary on "The Sea-Elephant." Before briefly returning to Perelman's essay, let me introduce Brook Houglum's "Kenneth Rexroth and Radio Reading," for it, too, invites readers to engage in a reappraisal, this one historical--in particular, of the situation in which poets' public recordings were first made, in which those recordings did their cultural work.
Houglum examines Kenneth Rexroth's broadcasting role at listener-supported non-commercial KPFA Berkeley (the first of such in the U.S.) whose founder intersected with the Libertarian Circle that Rexroth had had a part in starting up after the Second World War ("the largest meetings of any radical or pseudoradical group in San Francisco," writes Rexroth in his autobiography). Houglum offers a "radio reading" of Rexroth's own 1957 reading of his poem "The Great Nebula of Andromeda" Her approach to Rexroth's recording interestingly bears comparison to Perelman's approach to Williams's. In situating each poem, they both, while recognizing the poem's formal boundary, downplay its autonomy--a boundary that on the page would be materially clear and distinct becomes less apparent in the porous phonic continuum (provided that continuum has been preserved in the recording). Thus Houglum speculates that Rexroth did not edit out the ums and uhs and background noises of his radio show's pre-recorded portions, so as to "return" his utterances to their pragmatic contexts as part of the artifice of a speech-based poetics ("from all over the place, the syllable comes," Charles Olson writes, and comes even from ums and uhs--this in one of the defining statements of such a poetics, published just seven years prior to Rexroth's reading [Olson 24,2]).
What Ginsberg would later claim for parts of Zhe Fall of America, and David Antin, later still, for his entire talk-poems genre, Rexroth claims as a matter of course for his prose to have written much of his autobiography and many of his essays, Houglum points out, by transcribing from his recorded speech. The idea of doing so was very likely facilitated by his access to and public experience with radio. In contrast, when Antin and Jerome Rothenberg interviewed him in the Five Spot in New York, 1958, "it's clear," Rothenberg writes, "there was no tape recording to fall back on, but I was busily writing down notes in a weird kind of shorthand [...] I can still hear his voice as I read through [the interview]." We are left to wonder whether Rexroth's voice imprint was legible to Rothenberg because of the personal encounter, or because of his superb shorthand, or because Rexroth had by then mastered how to reflect the written look of his speech idiom while speaking. Rexroth's poems after the mid-1930s often have a grammatical and syntactical plainness about their construction, which is meant to represent, in this context, "direct speech." It is a style of address Rexroth develops. The poet Alan Davies has written appreciatively of Rexroth's 19205 cubist poetry, for instance, which contrasts markedly with this later style.
One of the challenges of writing about a poetry recording is to describe what it is exactly that one hears. Does one hear a vowel as "plump," for instance? From the evidence, Michael S. Hennessey's "From Text to Tongue to Tape: Notes on Charles Bernstein's '1-100"' enjoys this narrative challenge. Hennessey's description of Bernstein's poem makes dramatically apparent how the unfolding sound arc of a text has a structure separate from its print version (in fact, "1-100" has no print version, and its form, and construction of listener expectations, relies on ancient mathematical principles regarding what a finite set of sequenced natural numbers do and will do). (2) Sonic structure becomes apparent on multiple listenings and is dependent, for that, on the recording medium and its manipulability. We can perceive here as well how, for particular poets, sound becomes social, relational, and democratic. It motivates Perelman's decisions to modify an "extended play" version of Williams's "The Sea-Elephant" and situates for him Williams's use of onomatopoeia in the poem. And it is the premise of Houglum's treatment of Rexroth's public radio reading. And I believe it motivates Hennessey to contextualize Bernstein's "1-100" in relation to Dada and Fluxus, both movements for whom and for which art and event are inextricably folded together, not abstractly opposed (as Eliot had wished them to be for the "individual talent").
Does a poet decide to affirm the difference between or identity of the printed poem and its reading? Poets have a choice. To orthographically represent--notate--dialect speech is one way to direct the voiced and the unvoiced to a convergence and to place sound on a geocultural and cognitive map. And of course this emplacement can signify either way, solidarity with phonetic and acoustic roots, and a heterophonia of speech "from below," or caricature of same, undertaken, despite even the poets' best intents, "from above" for those who hold the social accent that converts to real and symbolic capital. (3) Meredith Quartermain's essay, "The Socio-poetic Soundscape of Geraldine Monk," notices the positive and critical roles that use of accent and dialect can play for a poet. Here we rediscover how in its inherently reverberant aspect accented sound can push concentrically outward in waves, enacting socializing rhythms at once articulated by class and conveyed by presuppositional force (as DuPlessis says, sound precedes message): the two dialects in Monk's cotton-mill hometown of Blackburn mirror the gendered division of labour.
In finding ways to write the semantics of Geraldine Monk's poetry into the aural paradigm of this issue, Quartermain leads from the premise that printed and spoken versions are the self-same poem, exactly because Monk desires to identify phonic aspects of her writing with dialectal speech. Suzanne Zelaso, in "Sounding Eyes: Mina Loy's Acoustic Subjectivity in 'The Song of the Nightingale is Like the Scent of Syringa," also desires to phoneticize the semantic dimensions of Mina Loy's printed poem. Zelaso is just one of a handful of critics, including Shelley Wong, to have done so. As Debora Van Durme very recently argues, critics largely consider Loy's poetry to be logopoeic, rather than melopoeic as well, as if logopoeia and melopoeia were mutually exclusive--since 1918, in fact, when Ezra Pound favoured the former in a description of Loy's poetry and Marianne Moore's.
With Loy's poem, Zelaso describes imagined sound (there is no sound recording that we know of). She works phonotextually, Garrett Stewart would say. Following Susan Stewart (quoted in Scott Pound's essay), what we as readers do is add to our imaginations a remembrance of sound that we silently evoke in the letters. Zelaso proposes a cultural history so as to situate the poem's more divergent yet incantatory juxtapositions (the principle one is evident in the first line: "Nightingale singing--gale of Nanking"). Like Quartermain, Zelaso searches for a representational accuracy in the poet's use of sound--to Lancashire speech, in Monk's case, and to the Nanking massacre, in Zelaso's. In Loy's poem, however, one cannot know for certain that a representation is more than a representation-is, in other words, a referent. For Van Durme, Loy structurally mimics musical forms of Stravinsky's ballet Le Chant du Rossignol (which is based on Hans Christian Anderson's "The Nightingale," hence the China motif in Loy's poem), but she cannot be sure that Loy actually saw this ballet; and for Zelaso, sound in Loy's poem leads her to the modern history of Nanking; but Zelaso, too, I would imagine, would readily admit to no certainty about this connection. The silent first g in nightingale is, moreover, a visual interruption that reminds us we are reading the text in the midst of imagining and remembering its sounds. In this regard, Aram Saroyan's one-word poem, "lighght,' brilliantly highlights, for reading, the encrusted historical remnant of gh from a previous and now-obsolete manner of speech (when it was voiced). That would lead to a third variant reading of Loy's poem--at the atomic level (as Loy herself would say) of the letter.
The status of the historical referent profoundly troubles the poet Marlene NourbeSe Philip, whose work Katherine Verhagen addresses in "Sound or Text: How Do You Heal a 'Foreign Anguish'?" Mapped out in terms of the community address in her poetry as it unfolds and changes with each book, Philip's trajectory as a poet bears comparison to U.S. Poet Harryette Mullen's. Both poets rigorously theorize how the community address and the audience of their poetry changed to accommodate and bridge new readers, formal techniques, and ideological challenges. Both poets start from within a frame of thinking about poetry by way of representational identarian modes of oral community address. Yet both poets develop their poetic practice in the direction of subverting the conventional lyric voice and materializing language as language. In this move, Philip and Mullen invoke the Language Poets as community models, at the same time as they each write with a distinctly split address toward different audiences. Verhagen situates and analyzes this significant rhetorical, political, and poetic development in Philip's trajectory, with particular attention to her groundbreaking poem, "Discourse on the Logic of Language" (available on the CD).
We might vicariously experience, with Emily Carr's essay, as we might with Rachel Blau DuPlessis's, the pleasures of finding a writerly style, of inventing a "script" for one's object, and having it mean one thing, then another, while drawing down theories, as one likes--Carr hopes for "generative and hopeful misunderstanding" with a little of Barthes helping her out, and a smidgeon of Butler, as well as a splash of the Hutcheons, tossed with some Copeland beside Ulmer. Carr's essay is about staging reading itself as performance--so the body's tastes come in, as in late Barthes. Anne Carson readers will notice how essay subsections mimic the early prose-poetry style of Short Talks. Just as music has for millennia provided a compelling if not always convincing analogy for what sound is doing in poetry, so too here there is a synesthesic effect across the arts created by Carson's online interdisciplinary performance sequence, "Possessive Used As Drink (Me)" Carr invites us to consider how modern dance, specifically, might offer a gestural vocabulary for sound movement. We know about sound symbolism, and we surely have heard about colour symbolism--so is there also gestural symbolism in language, that, moreover, went unnoticed by R.P. Blackmur in Language as Gesture? Dance reviewer, former classical dancer himself, and poet associated with the so-called New York School, Edwin Denby has a passage about how the dancer must gesturally conjure an entire world around an arbitrary point in space. He describes this as "electing a base from which to move" (168). Is that the beginnings of a gestural vocabulary? I mention Denby because he is just eleven years the senior of Merce Cunningham (born in 1919). Cunningham was a dancer for Martha Graham before he formed his own dance troupe, that, now, over half a century after he instructed at Black Mountain College, features in Carson's performance work. The homology that permits a channel of communication to open between the disciplines seems to be founded on repetition, and repetition is, for Carr (following Butler), constitutively per-formative repetition of gestures, sounds, video frames in Carson's online performance work, a work commissioned to be a lecture about pronouns and that, in a Cageian repetition of his own commission from Harvard, (4) ends up as performance instead. I can't help but juxtapose Carson's "Possessive Used As Drink (Me)" and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, on the one hand, with Jackson Mac Low's Zhe Pronouns--A Collection Of 40 Dances--For the Dancers (1964) and the Judson Dance Theater, on the other. Out of this juxtaposition there might be a big something to be written on modern versus postmodern poetry and dance.
Brian Reed's "Now Not Now: Gertrude Stein Speaks" offers a thrilling condensary of how one might go about theorizing both sound and sound's theorizing, as a time-specific cultural event. He listens to Stein's 1934-1935 American recordings, especially "If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso" and (one might colour it this way) perceives Stein overturning a sin qua non of modernist time as frozen spatialized moment (for example, baseball player Ted Williams's eye is so acute that he contemplates the fast ball's vast surface minutiae in the microsecond it takes to cross the plate).' Reed outlines the conflicting structures of the visual and phonic axes of Stein's poem, visual structure modeled on cubist blocks, phonic structure having its own contrastive outcome for the ear:
An audience experiences the flow of time [in Stein's recording] as consisting of a series of discrete non-identical news. Because the composition places so much emphasis on its processual unfolding--and places so little stress on any kind of end goal or final form--its listeners [...] begin to sense [...] the incipience of an unforeseeably new present within the existing present.
On close listening to how Stein intones the famous end of "If I Told Him'' Reed thus presents a very different interpretation than many silent print-based ones--"affirm[ing] not 'Make It New' but 'It Will Be Otherwise."' Stein's "continuous present" time does not unfold in a continuum but in a succession of discrete "non-identical news." Reed characterizes Stein's "now" as showing "momentary optimism" but enough to ask: "[D]id the politics of the later 1930s invalidate Stein's momentary optimism--or did they quash an important new development in the international avant-garde?" One might contrast Stein's optimistic sense of a vocalized non-identical "now" as expressed in her own mid-thirties reading of "If I Told Him;" with the uncertainty and hedged qualifications conveyed by Italian artist Pietro Sanguineti's 2001 slide light-box titled (now) that for all its brightness and even attractiveness as possible public signage remains slightly out of focus and placed, as if to mark an irrecoverable hesitation, between parentheses.
Tom Orange's "Performing Authority: Gysin, Bergvall, and the Critique of Expressivist Pedagogy" finds an instructive use for text-sound poetry (poetry that manipulates sound as a recorded text) in the context of a long-standing Composition Studies debate over voice He proposes text-sound poetry as "an allegory for writing instruction itself" by virtual definition, and rhetorically asks, "[W]here do we precisely locate voice?" since now, voice is, in the modal classroom, undeniably "written" (that is, textual and digitized) or in Sanguineti's terms, placed between parentheses. Orange presents text-sound recordings by Bryon Gysin ("Come to Free the Words," 1966) and Caroline Bergvall ("Ride [After Gysin]," 2004) and views them through dichotomous social modes (of) "authorizing voices": institutional versus personal, written (textual) versus spoken (voice), and traditional versus multimodal classrooms. In a text-sound performance, speech and voice are no longer "empty signifiers;" functioning, in the ephemeral pragmatics of daily communication, as "whatever you like" / "whoever you are," by which it is then possible to metaphysically inflate them into an authorizing ideology of subjective expression. Orange discerns a productive contradiction at the heart of Gysin's "Come to Free the Words." Gysin speaks in sentences obeying normative grammatico-syntactic rules of writing / text. In other words, Gysin "speaks" only by way of the historical institution of writing that precedes him--in a sense, it is the institution that authors the speaking, not the author himself and his voice. But, at the same time, it is a given, by virtue of his speaking, that Gyson differentiates speech / voice from writing / text by his delivery style whose qualities are not those of writing / text at all but of a unique personal voice (the qualities Ivan Fonagy paraphases, from Jakobson, above). Here, too, Orange's pedagogy is made possible in part because of the new technologies that enable access to the recorded materials of text-sound poets.
In a 2004 panel, "Does Prosody Have a Future?," Charles Bernstein matter-of-factly addresses an assumption naturalized in many readers since grade school, that a line break means a pause. In "The Verse Line in [William Carlos] Williams" Bruce Holsapple observes that for Williams, who desired most of all to wrest from speech its formal properties and enact them in verse, reading doesn't entail pausing at visual line breaks except sometimes when they are reinforced by other structural elements such as an intonational contour or syntactic unit. Bernstein and Holsapple by no means wish to disparage the variety of styles and methods poets have devised--sometimes with supporting "instructions" (in essays, manifestos, declarations)--to fuse the dimensions of writing and speech. One such paradigm of speech-writing fusion is orthographic reformation in, for example, bill bissett's poetry, which is not tied to a language planning council of a head of state, but his speech notation that alters standard spelling is not that different in principle (principles of composition aside, of course). Nineteenth-century British linguist A. J. Ellis's Glossic, for comparison, also promises the reader a "veeri eezi" way of "giving simbelz faun dhi moast mine-ut foanet-ik anal-isis yet achee-vd" (quoted in Jakobson 458). Rooting around in Shakespeare's late plays for an English precedent to quantitative meter, Charles Olson imagined his own ear's inflection, ascribing three syllables and long i and o to the word violent in Norfolk's speech (Henry VIII Scene I). To have suppressed the second successive vowel, o in violent, called synaeresis, was apparently closer to Shakespearean vernacular (based on studies of phonetics such as Dr John Jones's Practical Phonography, 1701) (Kokeritz 286-89). Olsonian vernacular would be another matter (he was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, 1910). But I believe the point for Olson was that, unlike closed-verse metrical patternings of accentual syllabic measures, a quantitative free verse would open poetic measure to reflexive enactments of the dimension of time itself insofar as it can be embodied by sound in a poem. Number becomes intrinsic to and inseparable from the phonic substance of language and from the temporal dimension of "the space-time continuum." These examples aside (among others), Bernstein's point in remarking on the indeterminate pause is that there are also poets who wish to separate, not join, the dimensions of writing and speech, so as to increase, not decrease, perceptual contrasts between the letter and its performance.
The relevance of sound to understanding Williams's "new measure" has been downplayed by critics in part because the language available to Williams seems largely inadequate for his purposes and stuck in past modes. Holsapple's essay meticulously assembles the terms (some old, some new, some literary or linguistic) available to Williams in his efforts to articulate how to formalize American idiomatic speech. Following Williams closely, he offers a fine discrimination, but a significant one "[T]he issue [for Williams] isn't one of using speech in poetry, rather it's one of seeking properties inherent in one's speech." While it has been generative for some critics to approach Williams by way of the visual dimension of his verse with its evident ties to parallel developments in visual art, Holsapple hopes, on the basis of what he hears in Williams's recorded readings, to convince those who would posit an exclusively visual prosody and line to listen to Williams.
Holsapple suspects that "Williams uses 'quantity' [...] to indicate duration of sounds, as they relate to the line, rather than long and short syllable lengths, as classical prosody dictates," which strikes me as a just assessment of how Olson also renews his interest in quantitative meter in an effort to formalize free verse ("an open verse as formal as the closed," Olson writes ). It is the duration of syllables in the line that lead Olson's ear through Shakespeare's blank verse.
In "The Structure and Delivery Style of Milton's Verse: An Electronic Exercise in Vocal Performance," one might say that Reuven Tsur tests the validity of Henry Sweet's assertion--at the cusp of the twentieth century's revolutions in technology--that "the phonograph cannot speak better than a native speaker" (Sweet 46) and finds it wanting. Tsur's cognitive poetics is descriptive, not normative Opposed to what he calls the bookkeeping approaches to stress and metric patterning, and to approaches that leave out the dimension of performance, Tsur describes his cognitive poetics as a "small Copernican revolution" because, unlike the majority of prosodists, Tsur brings to the understanding of what is rhythmically going on in poetry the performance of the poem and the competence (and willingness) of a reader to perform the poem. Tsur enlivens poetics by introducing the reader's ear and voice to the experience of the poem that is further enhanced by audition's technical vocabulary and recording instruments. His concepts of continuity and discontinuity, which took over twenty years to formulate, are admirably empirical. With these and other analytical concepts, Tsur as a reader of verse is able to address the reason why Rene Wellek and Austin Warren assert that "whatever the reading, the specific performance of a reciter will be irrelevant to an analysis of the prosodic situation, which consists precisely in the tension [...] between the metrical pattern and the prose rhythm" (Wellek and Warren 158). Tsur's theory of cognitive poetics also tries to test and account for the intuitions of "critical impressionism," which have haphazardly accumulated under the subject heading of "sound" in poetry. For Tsur, the poem, its very structure, is in separate parts, sometimes conflicting parts, until the reader finds a way of putting them together in a performance
"The sound stratum of poetry is a continuous embarrassment for many literary critics" (Toward 111) because, Tsur believes, the most natural everyday use of language unidirectionally moves through (rather than moves within) the experience of language, from phonological sign (or from graphic sign first, and to phonological sign second) to meaning. Meaning is the exit door out of language What poetry does, however, is move in the opposite direction at the same time and, in fact, predominantly in the opposite direction alone, that is, moves within language rather than through it. Tsur has, in a sense, returned reader-response theory to an empirical base in the text, one that is aural and one that is available to readers to use (for reading) as they wish but that is not unduly bound or beholden to or constrained by normative values that would judge one kind of poetry admissible and another not. In this respect, Tsur returns the trajectory of reader-response to the early Stanley Fish of "affective stylistics," for which the event of reading was empirically grounded not so much in as on the text as text.
Sarah Parry's "The LP Era: Voice-Practice/Voice Document" examines Caedmon Records, one of the first great poetry labels in North America. She extends "close listening" from the spoken word to examine the medium in which the spoken word has been recorded and the effects that recording production and sound editing have on the quality and character of the recorded word. "The ears in the machine belong to engineers. It is their listening processes, rather than our own, that are reproduced in a sound recording," she writes. Parry convincingly argues that no recorded voice is unmediated (just as no speech accent exists without a hearer for whom that speech is perceptible as accented) and that the psychological dimension of listening is constructed for the listener. Parry wants to critically conceive of the recording as a structured--and structuring--historical event much as the printed page has been so conceived. Different distances of microphone from speaker-Columbia's close-up microphone requiring intimate conversational tones, or Caedmon's mid-range placement from a fixed point requiring of the poet a more public address, or Folkways without a fixed point--provide a focal point for Parry's essay. She offers in broad strokes some highly suggestive ways of thinking through the historical dimension of the recorded medium, its engineering, and the overlapping social milieus and codes governing speech performances at the time, in private, public, and commercial venues.
It is to another, related sense of "medium" that Geoffrey Hlibchuk turns, in "This Secret Charm of Numbers: The Clandestine Relationship between Shortwave Number Stations and Twentieth-Century Poetry": the mediumistic properties that numbers and radio have had for some poets in the twentieth century. Hlibchuk recognizes both the importance of numbers for poetry, as the skeletal structure of verse and, last century, their flight from the body of poetry or, in Jack Spicer's image, their consumption by fire, the separation of numbers from humanity much as George Steiner wrote about the rise of modern mathematics and "the retreat from the word." Number, released from the body of the word, where it regulated rhythm, now paradoxically occupies the remote Outside of consciousness, and of radio, and simultaneously "informs our souls," as Alain Badiou writes, occupying both the head offices of multinational corporations where executives use it to further divide us from each other and our needs (and savings) and the "ideology of modern parliamentary societies" (Badiou 3) where it replaces humanism and law.
Playful ironies, contradictions, and redundancies, which are often attendant upon the relationships poets strike between visual and phonic dimensions of the poetic text, have accompanied David Antin's talk poems from the beginning--that is, from the moment of their delivery as live performances and their publication as talk-poems. And there is now a third component and medium to Antin's talk-poems: the recorded talks themselves. What is the status of these recordings? Are they a purely archival audio-trace of Antin's transcriptive procedures, in his movement from recorded performance to published talk-poem? Or should these recordings be considered as part of each performance? In "Re-Tuning: David Antin and the Audio Text" Jon Cotner and Andy Fitch address all three They importantly distinguish between "mere performance" and "performance" in Antin's "tuned" sense of actively structuring and improvising narrative "from" as much as "to an occasion." Similar to Antin's necessary awareness of his own and his audience's presence in the theatrical space of performance (which they argue, contributes to shaping his talk-poem delivery), Cotner and Fitch use the occasion of each other's presence to "tune" and construct a performance of their own about Antin and philosophy. They write Antin's talk-poem genre toward the space of enunciation as a dialogic space. But at the same time as they dialogize the site of the speaker in front of his audience, their dialogue (transcribed and also available on CD) remains about Antin's staged monologue, in that one imagines Cotner and Fitch's performance taking place in the audience as members and from the audience's point of view. In Antin's performances, what the audience "tunes" is always Antin's talk, never its own talk--except here, where the roles of listener and speaker are not simply reversed (since Antin is not present as an audience of one, and since there is a shift from monologic to explicitly dialogic modes of address). Cotner and Fitch are exemplary intellectuals (almost public intellectuals--they talk in a cafe!). They open the (public) prospect of wondering about the audience and then of imagining different audiences going to an Antin performance What would Bouvard and Pecuchet say as audience members? How would Antin's talk-poem come across to the mighty dialogists in Robert Grenier's poem "Sticky Fingers"? Readers of and listeners to Cotner and Fitch's dialogue become, in effect, their audience after the fact.
I would like to thank Michael S. Hennessey, Managing Editor at Penn-Sound, for editing the accompanying CD, Sylvia Vance, Print Production Editor at Esc, and Nicole Markotio. The calls for papers included Slought Foundation Director Aaron Levy as one of the editors; originally, Michael O'Driscoll approached us both to edit a special issue on sound. We were excited by the project and devised numerous plans together, in which poetry was only one emphasis. Once we had decided on poetry as our focus, we invited Peter Quartermain to join us. Then, as things fell out, Aaron was unable to pursue this project; I am grateful for the conversations we had. I also want to thank the contributors for their invigorating work and for this occasion to exchange ideas.
Andrews, Bruce. "WhDiP, a sequence from White Dialect Poetry." ubu editions, 2006. 1o December 2008. www.ubu.com.
Badiou, Alain. Number and Numbers. Trans. Robin Mackay. Cambridge Polity, 2008.
Bernstein, Charles. Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word. New York: Oxford up, 1998.
Caplan, David. "Does Prosody Have a Future?" Interview with Charles Bernstein. Antioch Review 62.1 (Winter 2004):142-47.
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Fish, Stanley. "Literature in the Reader: Affective Stylistics:" New Literary History 2.1 (1970-1971):123-48.
Fonagy, Ivan. "Form and Function of Poetic Language" Diogenes 51 (Fall 1965): 92-110.
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Gibson, Morgan. Revolutionary Rexroth. Hamden: Shoe String Press, 1986.
Grenier, Robert. "Sticky Fingers:" Series: Poems, 1967-1971. Kensington: This Press, 1978. 133-42.
Jakobson, Roman. "Linguistics and Poetics." the Structuralists from Marx to Levi-Strauss. Fes. and introduction by Richard and Fernande DeGeorge. Garden City: Doubleday, 1972.85-122.
--. Selected Writings u. Word and Language. The Hague: Mouton, 1971.
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Rexroth, Kenneth. Autobiography. Kenneth Rexroth Archive, Bureau of Public Secrets. 1o December 2008. Texts at this Site; Autobiography (excerpts).
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Sweet, Henry. the Practical Study of Languages. London: Dent, 1899. 46. 19 April 2009. www.archive.org.
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--. Toward a Theory of Cognitive Poetics. 2nd exp. and rev. ed. Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2008.
Van Durme, Debora. "Conjuring Melodies from Arid Air: Mina Loy and Pound's Melopoeta" the Cambridge Quarterly (2008): 324-48.
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University of Windsor
(1) The phrase is James Laughlins in a letter to William Carlos Williams and is cited by Bruce Holsapple in his essay in this collection.
(2) Bernstein plays off expectations that for every natural number n there is a number n + 1 sequenced after it. Sequencing an essay on Bernstein after one on Rexroth might produce a useful contrast in poetics by way of their differing approaches to natural numbers, given the claim that the idea of Rexroth's titre, Natural Numbers (1963), is to mimic in some sense the poet's desired "natural speech" writing style (Gibson 43-44).
(3) For an extraordinary text assembling in one train an entire cavalcade from the discourses of white dialecticians, see Bruce Andrews's sequence from White Dialect Poetry.
(4) John Cage, I -VI.
Louis CABRI has edited and introduced The False Laws of Narrative, selected poems of Fred Wah forthcoming from Wilfrid Laurier uv.--that can't, poems, is forthcoming from Nomados. Poems and an interview by Roger Fur recently appeared in the Capilano Review.
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|Publication:||English Studies in Canada|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2007|
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