Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Clever dogs speak in tongues to find food

Apparently, when they smell food on the breath of their fellow dogs, they communicate to each other how to get more. Haven't read the full article--why should I when the headline is so interesting? Clever dogs!

Anyway, my brain has been working furiously at 4:30 a.m. lately (only to quit for the rest of the day) and I had an idea this morning why Oulipo might be more valuable to U.S. poets at the present moment. And that is perhaps because we need to or are interested in identifying the processes/procedures underlying our work, and Oulipo points toward that sort of analysis/recognition. I was very interested in this article on the math underlying city populations, and I wondered if the same sort of analysis could apply to, say, my own poem Traffic & Weather, which I did not consciously write in a mathematical form. I remember Allen Ginsberg identifying close to a 9-syllable count per line in my long poem "Mystery of Public Places III," which I hadn't consciously planned. That identification helped me shape the remainder of the poem, which had been a big mess up to that point.

Michèle Métail certainly made me think a lot about form (although she no longer identifies herself as a member of Oulipo), particularly when she said, "First I find the form, which crystallizes the sense." Each of her poems has a unique form, bound to and arising from the subject of the poem (and thus one fracture in her relationship to Oulipo--in that her forms are not duplicable beyond the specific poem). But back to math and Traffic & Weather--I like the idea of being controlled beyond my own conscious search for form, that instead I'm closer to "nature" or reality (and my idea of nature is very different from most definitions of it) when I write conscious of being close to it, but not conscious of actual equations or numeric counts. It must be inevitably be there, as none of us can really avoid math or physics or nature (although I tried my very best in high school to cut as many math classes as humanely possible).

Here's a wonderful quote on translation I received from Stephanie Gray this morning:

from Wonders of the West by Kate Braverman, a novel from early 90s: "I realize it is possible to be ambushed by revelation. It would be a brutal night of too many stars. Heaven would be filled with tiny metal pins. You would recognize the constellations and where they were going. Their faces would be familiar as photographs on the table next to your bed. You would remember everything. You would know what they were saying. Nothing would require translation."

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Persistence of remembering FACE

I’m still thinking, parsing, mediating on and about the FACE festival. It was an extraordinary chance to meet French poets who were, in a way, so purely “French.” It reminded me on many levels how difficult it is on this giant island of the U.S.A. to get the “news” from abroad. Despite all the Internet and e-mail and telephone and texting and whatever, geography remains geography. Anyway, a few gleanings thru the haze of cross-languages:
  • Oulipo has a second wind in France, not necessarily a good thing. Apparently, it’s turned into a sort of public game, with the constraints taking on a sort of emptiness, and Oulipean readings/writings overwhelmed by “blagues,” or jokes. I’ve found this in the U.S., too,—in that a jokey reading can take control of the evening. Once one poet makes a funny, the rest of the poets sometimes visibly wilt, as the atmosphere then alters in favor of the continuous laughfest. But since Oulipo is still viewed here as a certain ultimate of deliberately arcane writing, it was initially hard to imagine as a popular radio show program, or taking over the talk channels the way flarf or other group-poetry movements have. But I could see how it has functioned as a sort of access point, perhaps, with only the appearance of inaccessibility, just enough to make it appear different from the American penchant for so-called democratization of the arts (i.e., the more people attending, participating, understanding, the merrier—and the more grants money), which feeds into a penchant for being part of whatever perceived zeitgeist.
  • French poets are exploring multimedia readings, using computers, sound, visuals. A persistent point of concern with the FACE festival was that the venue (Eugene O’Neill’s cottage) wasn’t able to support audiovisual. As one result, Michèle wasn’t able to do the full FIVE FEET reading, which involves playing sound samples taken from various locations in Tibet and China, and showing slides of groups of five people shot in random situations. She showed me the slides on my computer and I could see how their absence truncated the experience. However, the poets filled in, unplugged, so to speak. Sabine Macher and Jean-Jacques Poucel did a sort of dance performance as part of their simultaneous reading in French and English, keeping one part of their bodies in continuous contact throughout. I could see how practiced the French poets were in this sort of thing, in that the performance truly followed the content of the poem, which illuminated the points of contact between both words and people (funnily enough it was a flarfish poem, in that Sabine drew from her own work in searching for the words “fish” and “drum,” and then “mischmashing” the results together). Note: Flarf hasn’t crossed the Atlantic yet, judging by the blank looks I received when I compared it to the Oulipo phenomenon. But I’m sure it will soon, given its present rate of exposure.
  • Chapbooks are alive and well and flourishing in France. About 10 years ago, someone told me that chapbooks and the letterpress did not exist in France. I’m happy to report this someone was VERY wrong. Somehow I didn’t get to fully interrogate the poets about other chapbook publishers (maybe one of the many instances my language skills failed, or we were distracted by something else), but I look forward to learning more eventually. Also, Pascal Poyet has written me that he didn’t bring 30, but 60 chapbooks. Happy mistake!
  • Other things the French noticed: race relations, politeness, fake smiles, race relations, race relations. New London offered up a complexly segregated society, with white poets hanging out at a bar one block from a black club, one minute encouraging us to go read poetry there as a kind of "thrill" (to them I guess) and the next minute warning us away that it would be scary and dangerous. Also, upperclass white society (one whom lectured one of the poets on differences between the North and the South U.S.). I cringed and cringed. Yet there was also a Kente cultural club, a mixed-race art gallery/sneaker/skateboard shop, and a fair-trade store run by a biracial woman. As well as a “north Indian” restaurant run by Tibetans with really terrific food.
  • An innocuous wine and cheese shop (don’t remember the street) contained a basement that was an entire house, windows, doors, the lot. The owner’s response to my “Why? How?” was a bit garbled—something like either the street level had sunk or risen. Either way, the basement was an entire house, dating from the revolutionary war.
  • Goodies gotten:
    Michèle Métail: Mandibule, Mâchoire; Le route de cinq pieds (so now I can begin to work on the entire piece); and Toponyme: Berlin (with an excerpt of the translation by Holly Dye).
    From Pascal Poyet: Réducton de la revolution la nuit, Opération Lindbergh, Spirit II and Oh un lieu d’épuisement by David Lespiau; LA VILLE, DE LA VILLE by Michèle Métail; and freshly arrived in the mail just today, L’espace Domino and Méthodes pour échapper à l’analogie by Emmanuel Fourneir, Je voudrais entrer dans la légende by Sébastian Smirou, and a translation by Poyet of Rosmarie Waldrop, Dans n’importe quelle langue.