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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