Friday, February 21, 2014

The Poem Will Be Like You

Some trifles. First, a few lines of blank verse:

He swore an oath to procreate the Constitution
but spilled too soon his words
on tomorrow's barren news print
None left for fertile posterity.

Those who follow me on social media might recognize the phrase "procreate the Constitution" as an errant auto-correct from somebody else in an ill-advised political discussion last week. The missed autocorrect was, in all honesty, the most interesting part of the discussion and the kind of something with which I might do more (and more ideas are fluttering about in my head), but wanted to share this trifle as one direction in which inspiration can go; it in a way dovetails with our earlier discussion here on inspiration, and leads to a modernism.

One  interesting strain of modern literature concerns itself with what some may call the disappearance of ego, if not the author entirely. Way back in my modern poetry posts I touched on odd literary experiments by writers such as John Cage or Bart Silliman - works in which appear to be discovered or excavated as much as they are created. I would argue that authorial intent absolutely does exist on some level -  the choice to follow a certain random path is, after all, a choice - but once that choice is made the author might hand the metaphorical reigns over to ... fate? The gods? quantum uncertainty? Call it what you may, but the reigns are released, leaving what may be a thing of beauty, may be garbled nonsense, or may be a beautiful thing of garbled nonsense.

Early twentieth-century poet and performance artist Tristan Tzara took this to an interesting extreme in his instructions on "How to Make a Dadaist Poem" (the below copied from here, where I got it from educator Al Filreis):

How to Make a Dadaist Poem
(method of Tristan Tzara)
To make a Dadaist poem:
  • Take a newspaper.
  • Take a pair of scissors.
  • Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.
  • Cut out the article.
  • Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag.
  • Shake it gently.
  • Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.
  • Copy conscientiously.
  • The poem will be like you.
  • And here are you a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.
--Tristan Tzara

The most interesting claim to me isn't the last, that you are a writer, infinitely original but the penultimate step, "The poem will be like you". This is the sort of thing which - especialy in the deeply ironic and cynical present - is easy to shrug off as satire. I see a bit more than that in the Dadaist movement, and find some value in the breaking of barriers of technique, artifice, and even authorship. Does the poem resemble the person who chose a newspaper article to slice up and shuffle? The readers who see it through the filter of their own perceptions? OR is it mere nonsense. What I do know is that many find this kind of thing quite compelling, when the Tzara piece came up in Al Filreis's Modern and Contemporary Poetry class on Coursera (one which I highly recommend) scores of students took to the forums with their "Dadaist poems" and John Cage-style "Mesostics" (one of mine I included earlier in this blog).

Below is a not-quite-successful experiment of my own in this vein; I took the swype keyboard on my phone and drew shapes across the letters, letting the software autocorrect it into words. This takes the the errant autocorrect with which we started this discussion to its absurd conclusion - what would a sentence of ALL errant autocorrects look like? 

And yes, the three small oranges and tin of sardines are to be considered part of this work. I'll leave "why" as an exercise for the reader, but it touches on the ongoing themes of modernism and inspiration. If you need a further hint, the sentence I'm scribing in the video is "I am not a painter"

Rd set xxx ttc c.f. foggy Zach uhh in go sex ad ex's ers fifth HB hubbub on ho Klink knoll tv c

Irish haggis educator 
slugs skid schism 
icebox Evian avian Jarvis 
David racist Koenig garlic deux finch duff 
Assad Fuchs succumb hunting visualization
 Ashburn suburbia whitewash e-book sexual Odessa 
Westbrook stump archived compact 
vaginal January

SanDisk Serbian leak out 
stick hall Westfield catacombs prick search
 Saatchi announcing Saatchi servo insist stingy 
ssh bobbin combing/ in km in km tv cc cm 
lMcMahon mm vBulletin b.s.'m'm cub fangs 
scuffed xyz clean etc c hub b th v

Tv wry ext txt

Etc tug fact catch hubbub exec Gretchen hutch 
urged etc huff t-shirts tv t-shirts r rd c exact revved text
 Gibb dc earth ribbon textbooks dc dry exec Sgt drugs exert 
ex r Feb ten edgy f2f t tv ssh ribbon txt t-shirts Hughes Gucci
 txt bfn fig hub Inc highs had ugh th duh tv ssh raccoon high 
dc fact tax ssh Buffy by tag t.v. Essex vaccine t.v. 
I'm ilk read f2f uhh kohl circ tv
 chubby dazed junk Aziz xxx f2f Chubb hubbub

And that is that. Again, not quite successful, but read allowed there's a certain pleasure in some of the stanzas. I'll close with a thought: this could be polished and refined. TO do so would make it more readable, but blunt the element of randomness and return authorial ego to the process. Would that be a service or a disservice to the work?

1 comment:

  1. I'm pretty sure I read your autocorrect poem in college. While listening to Miles Davis' Bitches' Brew. The sound of what I assume is tea or coffee brewing in the background really made it seem like there was some big-time literary crunching going on.