Consciousness swarms with language. Totems in the fog. Bathtub full of diamonds. The night squeezed out of a
tube of paint.
Each nerve mirrors a different aspect of the world. The sensitivity of the skin of a lip. Doorknobs in a display
window. Smell of freshly sawn wood. 16-wheeler groaning into action. Yardarms glazed with ice.
Apples, tactics, chaos.
The mechanisms of reference throw large shadows across the grottos and plains of predication. Position is simply
gates. You stagger through the flux of day and notice there is a reflection too big to play in the jukebox. But the lake obeys
its water. Anyone can see that. It is to confess articulation. Feeling is open and wide when it perplexes the listener. To
see, to speak, even to think are experiences of this genre, at once incontestable and enigmatic. As soon as one distinguishes
speaking from thinking one is in the realm of reflection. The grammar turns liberal and analgesic. It trickles attire. An
idiosyncratic chimney cuts the wind into toes. Sparks blow west. Hornets fly east.
Here we see an orchestra sitting outside at Salzburg in the dead of winter playing Mozart. It is Mozart’s
birthday. The hands and arms and fingers of the musicians are cold, and perhaps a bit stiff, but they play anyway, because
the occasion warrants it. The attitude of each player remains invisible to us. The place where objectivity and subjectivity
conjoin is like a beach, that strip of land, rocky or sandy, littered with driftwood or free of encumbrance, where the eternity
of the ocean meets the finitude of land. The visible world appears to repose within itself. It is as if our vision of it formed
itself in its very heart, its very essence. And yet, at the very moment we think we see it clearly, something eludes us. We
fold the rain into a neat square and go home to make a helium sandwich with hydrogen cheese. Above us, fingers of air lift
the clouds into further turmoil.
Does the MGM lion still roar?
Yes it does. Some things are epoxy, sticking to our personal histories like twilight, leaving, but leaving so
slowly, so imperceptibly, as to form a new reality, an Eleusinian jukebox, the skeleton of a metaphor wrestling a blue light
Each word is an event, a music sweating bells, nebular and ermine.
I live in a teepee. Optimism and pessimism are the only furniture I have. I believe, firmly and truly, that
idealism is the gasoline of the mind. Even a thermostat believes in something. But without these crickets at the side of the
road, the fish at Versailles would ride the iodine of reiteration without punching a hole in time. Truth is rivets and turpentine.
Chlorophyll is lilies and sprigs.
A plate of oysters in the solemnity of a courtroom justifies nothing less than a thorough devotion to lavender,
which is why I’m waiting for the elevator. Our very perceptions clothe the world in vignettes, ponytails and meaning,
words exuberant as bamboo. Conversation is an art. A radio baked in music. Scoundrels around a fire.
Do you hear distance in the distant thunder? Yesterday afternoon we lifted the rug to find a swarm of ants under
it. You never know when the anatomy of a moment will make itself legible in a fluke or apex. Sometimes it takes a dozen summers
in Arkansas to get eternity to taste even a little like chocolate.
It all comes down to kilts. You can choose to wear them or not. It is the same with embroidery. You can use
just about anything that will fit through the eye of your needle -- even camels and daylight saving time.
Take a lobster for a walk. Feel the ocean stretch out in your plasma, or scrotum. Lean against a predicate.
Ladle a mysterious color sewn to the lapels of night.
Gideon Sundback invented the zipper. But only you can invent yourself. Play a red melody on a blue guitar. Vomit
money. Arrest the rain and put it in jail. Arrest gravity and put it in jail. And never let it out until everything is floating.
And idiomatic and rock.
This vowel has an embryo in it. Can you see it?
It is in orbit around a dark planet of sleep.
A bug on a coconut, and a twilight multiplied by auk.
The DNA of Poetry
The river has a voice like an oboe, which is why reality tastes baroque and perpendicular today. I know little
about the origin of glands, other than that they generate flyers and handbooks for the conduct of life, rather like a comma
that is dry with insinuation, or the pleasure of being in a house on a cold wet day.
As for the surrounding networks, television and spider webs and such, the ineffability of existence boils continually
in our words, although some of us have chosen other routes of communication, such as mannequins and hair.
Perceptions are hollow until informed by thought. The mind is long when it is raised on words, and then keeps
on keeping on, getting longer and longer as sentences spread like kudzu, or distill into taillights, blinking and red and
Outside, Seattle is engulfed in fog. The water of personality is everywhere. Luminous colors festoon oblivion.
The gymnasium is overflowing with kimonos. The DNA of poetry modulates our spines like so many coil springs in a padded casing.
The border between the external world and the internal world is negligible. The Space Needle pokes out of the fog true as
a wheel eating distance. A mechanical rose indicates the renaissance of forks. Swans pulling a carriage of ice appeal to our
sense of proportion.
Go. Hug a river. Ponder the luster of fish. Scars of polka on a festering flute.
Ideas float in the mind, fevers and stars and pulleys and quince. The truth is a vase of synonyms, the eloquence
of rocks, tornadoes spreading the ecstasy of air. The beaks of robins and starlings pound the ground as the bank opens in
the morning, its doors swinging open to reveal adjectives dripping with biography. Those objects smelling of realism are called
money. Money is the opposite of music.
There is sometimes a certain shine in the dark, not a literal light, or spark or glow, but a feeling, an explosion
of revelations, a jukebox of the mind pulsating with quantum misrule, packets of energy called songs.
Guns fascinate Americans. They have songs about them. “Hey Joe.” “Bullet in the Head.”
“Down by the River.” “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down). “Janie’s Got A Gun.”
Technically, “Down by the River” is Canadian. But this isn’t an essay. It’s a dream
sewn together with words.
Colors grow quiescent beyond the frontier of language. This is how neon became the skeleton of winter.
There are no bubbles to support this logic, but nail by nail, brick by brick, I plan to build a tattoo beeping
deliriously in a glove compartment.
I was born in Minneapolis. I was reborn in San Francisco.
The cat sleeps in the light of the study lamp. He has a special pillow there. He was born in Maple Valley, in
the state of Washington, which is known for its rain, its totems, its computers and forests. The long sugar of dawn. The moon
caught in the branches of an elm.
This is now a light collapsed into an alphabet. Emotions are rags of vapor. Here is an eyeball gazing out of
an ice cube. Grace and beauty at the grocery store. I say these things not necessarily because they’re true, but because
they came out of my mind, where they gestated, like pennies in an earthen jar, and hatched out of my mouth, taking wing like
curry and mayonnaise, growling and snapping at the air and infecting my nerves with patterns and cellophane.
Poetry renders all things possible. The sound of an eyeball boiling with vision, the thousand fables of sand
in a single rock, a staircase made of prepositions, and fedoras and foghorns.
The chameleons of Madagascar.
Billions of molecules shouting grapefruit.
Touching is the television of blood. This is how we feel the metals of paradise. The chromosomes of chrome.
Habits agitated by life. A sack full of morning. Pollen drifting in the air of Pennsylvania. A fire crackling in a hearth
in Scotland. Parables of wax and a map of Houston. It is all a tetraploid of poetry. Words reproducing words. The embroidery
of the sky embalming an inexpressible presence of clouds and gargoyles in the life of a rattlesnake.
The opium of solitude.
Mallarmé on a Harley. Mina Loy in a boat.
Consonants clicking like a crab across a hardwood floor of furious art in a sentence perpetuating itself as
Sometimes A Great Nougat
Every atom is a bundle of energy, Monday marinated in dirt. This is how we push the day through its kerosene.
The earth stays warm because it is heated. We stay warm because we are alive and full of blood. Blood bursting with silver.
Mostly in terms of probabilities. Things like spoons and music. Things like British swords. Things like introversion, which
is psychological, and handstands, which are not. Handstands gather in perspective and create more handstands, like those at
the edge of a black hole, feet high in the air balancing space and white dwarfs. Each moment is an atomic rapture lurid as
gasoline. Some ask: what is the path? But there is no path. When space is curved and time becomes pliant as a tattoo churning
with reverie the most one can expect is zeitgeist shaving a tear. A tear is a thing of salt and water exiting the tear duct
during a moment of sadness. Sadness is heavier than helium but lighter than a planet. Fire attends the nails in the blacksmith’s
shop. Thomas Jefferson staring at a shovel. It is an aphoristic shovel. But then, all shovels are aphoristic, particularly
the ones that lean against a museum wall anticipating arms. Broken arms. Stars have a license to shine but arms do not. Arms
hang around in sleeves growing hair and hands. They sometimes release themselves into space and this is good. This is a good
thing. A thing like poetry. Poetry converts matter into energy. Energy is deliriously real, as are mirrors, taxis, and pennies
ablaze with folklore. Sometimes a sentence will crawl across a piece of paper by way of syntax, or twitch convulsively in
the sand as it seethes with life and changes into a head of lettuce, or a cloud of fairies flittering across the moors at
dawn. This is what happens when protons collide. Innovative mutations assume the ideal color for the smell of labor and alter
the history of matter into a pliable identity in which water defines itself as a hug and a suitcase lambent as a metaphor
pops open letting out pronouns bald as catfish and white moths flickering over a layer of freshly fallen snow. What physicists
call a plasma is, in fact, a waterfall banging around in a thyroid. Sometimes life becomes gigantic and overwhelms you with
its marmalade and fauna. Why else would one’s nerves applaud the apology that is Christmas and immerse their personal
histories in ink, leaving a residue of language and a quantum indeterminacy skidding from left to right as if frantic to seize
the space around it? These comparisons break down on the microscopic level. The world as perceived by the eye is just an illusion.
But the world created by dirt echoes through the forests of Virginia, and visions get wedged between words like an eye.
The Yolk In The Yoke
I desire wisdom. I desire it because it is prickly, an infatuation
with ink that results in drift, in expansion, in a balloon blowing north toward derangements of ice.
Let us walk in silence a while.
Notice how cans and canisters stylize space, democratize it, occupy it, quiet it. There is enough beatitude
in a single color to squeeze fecundities of sound from passports and gravel.
I have an eye on folds of denim. And here I stop to wonder: why doesn’t Dagwood just get up and leave?
What does he fear? Why is he always taking baths and sleeping on the couch? Has he read Naomi Wolf’s book about fascism
in America? Has Beetle Bailey? Will Beetle Bailey ever actually go to war? Even Prince Valiant goes to war.
Meanwhile, outside, the stars are drooling gallons of milk. I sit next to a table with newspapers on it. There
is a surge of foreclosures in King County, and western Washington was ravaged by storm. A single woman living in Grays Harbor
County who adopts horses happened by accident on a horse in distress off Highway 101 in Skokomish County. The horse was stranded
in a flooded field, his nostrils just above water. The woman grabbed the owner’s belt and swam out to the horse, who
happened to be standing in the back of a submerged pickup. She dove under the water, released the tailgate, slapped the belt
over the horse’s head, and the two swam back.
What a marvelous story. Every time I read something like this a light comes on in my head and I believe that
at least one metaphor is required to compete with clay.
Is poetry contrary to nature? Poetry kills fascists. If that is contrary to nature, so be it. The equation remains
the same, although theories of the origin of the universe tend to vary. The important thing is to soak swallow’s nests
in water for at least two hours. Otherwise everything is just ears and hair-raising music, a constant reaching for that final,
incoherent tattoo that will make sense of our skin.
Each emotion is a wilderness. Some people hate that. Others thrive.
Why not make sure the ingredients of the composition rebel against their mixture? There is wisdom in books. Bugs, wigs,
gauntlets. Bubbles and dragonflies. Time locked in nerves. A wild emotion behind the eyes. When the light comes on the furniture
explodes. Words once grizzled with age become wine. An alphabet always wants to be crickets in the mind. Roots and ramification.
I could have been a mason. I could have been an alchemist sleeping by a pile of books. But instead I became a horseman and
saw a language stumbling out of a barn. It fixed my attention. Fixed it forever. And from then I never got over my love of
rope. My ambivalence toward hope, and the rustle of plastic in the wind.
A Washcloth Wetter Than Calculus
Language is a machine that runs on curiosity, a spider with eight testicles creating a web of bulbs and iron.
What will these words do next? Shots pour out of a rifle. A parenthesis falls dead.
Money! Sure wish I had some.
I like money because it is ugly and incoherent, like poetry. Olives are more purely thermodynamic, but even
they sometimes grip the sunlight like cheesecloth and stuff it with reverie and shape.
There are differences between the tablespoon and teaspoon, but how many people pay attention to that? Maybe
during a special occasion, when the cutlery is laid out on the table in patterns of geological certainty. Structure is always
solemn. It is a sanctuary for chaos.
How do you come into contact with words? With me, it is never simple. I sneak up on them. I try to catch a few.
Then I begin to tame them and feed them and teach them tricks. Eventually, they get the drift of whatever it is I am trying
to say, and they say it, though it comes out a little different than I had imagined. Thought travels by ear and utterance,
but between those two entities is space, and space is full of tricks. Ask any astronaut. 23 heads and 500 gallons of water
are required to say amperage. But what does amperage mean? I mean, compared to watt, or ohm, or copper, or note.
Infinity smells like iodine. Growth requires a little dying sometimes. It is dirt, after all, that initially
introduces us to mysteries of life and death. Things compose and decompose. Rope or clarinets, makes little difference. This
is why the word addendum has always sounded to me like a piece of anatomy. Miscellaneous paragraphs all bellowing like cows.
When language breaks it is evacuated by helicopter. But everything else just floats. The sky is inscribed with
perversities of mist. 4:00 o’clock arrives soaked in opals. 8:00 o’clock arrives soaked in opinion. Both are linked
by the glitter of silver, the lips of a hectic attention painted on the idea of anonymity. When a washcloth is used, it all
brightens, brightens into a darkness so black it is radiant, resplendent with murk.
The philodendron is a mass of ramification. Yet the velocity is naked, like month of November, in which the
leaves fall, and the frost comes, and colonnades of ice and rhetoric. The rhetoric of snow, which is delicate, and soft, and
blows over the highway in swirls of nuance, entities without name.
The universe is expanding. Evidence keeps turning up. Nirvana, for instance, and escalators and music. Oysters
filtering seawater. A pile of rags in a Minnesota garage. Nebulous, purposeless space hung from the sad necessity of time.
The weighty bones of the Irish elk as it moves through a forest converting itself into the purest energy of all which is heat.
The rest is mere hydrogen, and fur and eyes.
Near the window, its dials bursting with silver, a radio gurgles the biography of pink. The astronomy of lips
rattle the camellias of a rogue sentence writhing in its syntax like the pantomime of a screwdriver. We are in the realm of
the empirical wondering how it all happened. This place. This world. This teaspoon. This border between the visible and the
invisible postmarked with crickets.
If memory is the benediction of experience, then barnacles are the barometer of exchange.
Beauty exists abundantly in all matter but is particularly noticeable in squid.
Personalities are the candy of ingratitude. When they are flung about at high velocities they tend to release
a curious behavior called dance. This cupidity for space scolds the honorable bed of matter and personalizes the naked glitter
of a scorched anxiety. The entire question of existence rests on a feeling of mathematical beauty. On the imagery of the city.
The towns. The ports and wharfs and tambourines and docks. Over here, quantum numbers and airy abstractions heave and bubble
on a blackboard, and over there an old seaman’s knife shines in a store window like an X-ray of eternity. Which is dust,
which is waves? Which is real, which is dream?
Each thought is phantom of another. Another thought, another tender moment slobbering jukebox ghosts on a queasy
How could stars fuse so much iron and still shine? There are many symmetries in music but only one colossal
trombone ejecting its music into the outer atmosphere. Only one hairline bigger than chewing. Saddle that odor and ride, ride
boy, ride. Ride to the end and tell us what is there. Does it shine? Does it speak? Is it confused like a salad or native
like a bone? Does it glisten with mitigation or deepen in music like a flowing, forlorn tone?
This is my apparatus, and this is the hod that I carry. It is heavy with fable and light with calculus. It is
bearing a load of thought. It is the hod of the head. It is noble with ampersands and stroked like an intricate mitten. When
waves oppose the mechanical nakedness turns jade, ink becomes a jaguar and fire is folded into a sock. Ideas thicken into
applause and newspapers blaze with the heat of information.
It’s a fact. When something is absent it becomes a gland. It grows furious and explodes into cause and
effect. Vascular sap. The clutter of a manufacturing plant. The light diffused through dirty windows reveals a dent in the
Name each type of snow in the above paragraph.
The bed is a firmament for the machinery of sleep, which is lamé in the gaslight and a flock of words in rhododendron.
Have you ever noticed the way a cloud of gravel becomes an afternoon? That is how I would describe the way sleep leaks from
an analysis of fiber. Anonymity has a miscreant side. A misdemeanor engorged with forks riding in a jalopy like the terrible
cook of a cattle drive.
Poetry resembles echoes, yet it is a thing like a box, an escalator digesting a jackknife.
Have you ever sliced your hand through a wisp of incense and watched the smoke break into a cloud of random
curls? That is how I would describe a shattered handshake.
This is my apparatus, and this is the hod that I carry. It churns with a furious serenity, smudges of anarchism
marinated in a pot of abhorrence.
This is my apparatus and this is a riddle useless as a peep show.
This is a display of meat in a grocery store.
This is a helicopter exalting its hardware in an image of scorn.
Have you ever noticed the way a boat retains the image of a lunge even when it is still?
It is precisely that. That’s what I’m trying to tell you.
That when something is still it is also moving. That when something is moving it is also still. And this is
what I call an apparatus.
An anaconda slowly unwinding from a branch.
It takes time to develop a thought, an abstraction dragged across the page like a Louisiana delta. Life is full
of strange and hidden currents, a moth flickering through a neighbor’s garden, a horse rippling with muscle, a scooter
parked like a scarab next to a drugstore. If thoughts are waves then smudges haunt the glue of return. A slap against the
oblique creates a more immediate awareness of someone eating a snack in the hospital cafeteria. Upstairs, there are people
dying, people healing, and people answering the telephone. How lavish are your feelings? My feelings go all over the place.
I can’t keep track of them. Sometimes I just want to take the jack and smash it against the wheel. Nudes get cold. Obedience
is inexplicable. Electrons do not mince words. Sometimes it takes a shirt churning with embroidery to reveal the beck of a
beak and the tangle of blackberries. A freshly tarred road in the middle of summer ameliorates the jolts to the shocks and
the body. The eyes grow tired as the twilight wrestles the sky to the ground and drags it into the night. Night is a noble
ultimatum. Nothing comes from nothing and the stars make this all too apparent. It is a mystery, like the beautiful anarchy
of a waterfall, or the fizz of enzymes in a laboratory jar. A greenish-black gargoyle sits on his haunches grinding away like
gouache in a blue kazoo. Yet what does this image serve? I have whittled it out of air. Therefore it is vain, and useless,
because we’re not in school anymore, and attentiveness has become a habit. But a good habit. Because inattention destroys
the world. I am trying to reach for a little objectivity here, and yet I continually fail. Even the taxi looks like an allegory.
I can’t stop interpreting things. Surely we’re moving forward into some marvelous condition where death comes
easy and life is as simple and beautiful as the rain dimpling the surface of the sea. Each wave is a narration arranged queasily
on the page of a book over which leans a crabby bookstore owner, angry at Amazon. What can we do to change these things? Change
them into what? Change them into duvetyn. Change them into milk and filigree. A treatise in the form of a dialogue. A frequency
in the form of a monologue. The sun pushing its light through a cloud. A museum of strange emotions. A distillation of shadows
folded and placed in the wallet like money. Like old dollars. Miscreant enfoldments crackling with opacity and ink. Consider
the screwdriver. It is a step toward the riddle of steam. It will never be solved. But the apricots are delicious, the blisters
are soothed by the balm of fiction, and the highway rises over the hill in a gentle arc of speculation hugged by the mist.
Brought To A Boil: An Essay On Experimental Poetry
All poetry is experimental poetry.
-- Wallace Stevens
Turning words into art is unnatural. It begins with a contrary attitude. It says, I am unhappy with the way
things are and desire to make things different. Rather than represent the world, I will make something wildly and savagely
new. I will defy logic. I will invest in new perceptions. I will combine and recombine and fabricate and juggle until something
that I have never experienced is experienced. The process is alchemical. The process is violent. It goes to the heart of creativity.
It disrupts and shatters. It is splendid with provocation. It is an aggression against banality. It is sharp and loud like
a janitor scraping frost from a window. The hectic bounce of steam on a street after a truck roars by. The anarchy of waterfalls,
the comedy of the face, dangerous feelings vented from a cage of skin.
Language is inherently hedonistic. It cries for experimentation. Remember: language is a social medium, it’s
public as an airport, universal as air, but occupies a realm of cognition not unlike hallucination. It is a brutally delicate
mechanism whose sprockets and chains are mere perceptions of sound, intricacies of meaning and syntax with less reality than
Mercutio’s Queen Mab, or Prospero’s cloud-capped towers. It is not equipped with the tangibility of clay, the
viscosity of paint, the immediacy of steel, or the simple conductivity of wire. Tongues, teeth and lungs bring it to life,
ink and pixels preserve it, but apart from these neighborly appurtenances, language is fundamentally a mode of representation,
a system of signs commonly accepted as referring to certain concepts. It has no actual correspondence with the external world.
Which is one of its beauties. There are no limits to what it can do. It can be meticulously assembled or totally spontaneous.
Its pleasure stems from infinite variation. There are no fixed associations, no unequivocal references that cannot be modified,
reconstructed, mutated, altered or transformed. Language is eternally naked, anomalous as bones. It ribs, rails, goofs and
grabs. It is a funhouse mirror. It tells us that something is there which is not actually there. Or may be there. Or could
be there. Or should or should not be there. It thrives on predication, proposals of air in clouds and leaves. It is everything
that is impossible made possible. It is water tied in a knot. It is a Brazil of giant metaphors, the fragrance of thought,
the opium of solitude, pollen eloping with tropical winds. It is daylight twisted into Wednesday. The rhetoric of cells creating
fish and crocodiles. Moscow turned inside out. It is a symptom of the artist’s mind manifesting itself as a faucet in
Tierra Del Fuego. The noise of embroidery. The silence between notes. Black light. The disturbing amiability of zero.
Experimentation in words is different from experimentations in science.
Experimentations in science lead to a sharpened empiricism, a principled pragmatism, an objective view of things that
opens and shuts with the peremptory impartiality of elevator doors sliding open or closed. The honey of cause and effect.
Experimentation in words leads to the mustard of cacophony, unbridled granite, ecstasies in anvils, legends and dragons boiling
out of fugitive metaphors. Abstractions of thread. Mallarmé doing wheelies on a Harley-Davidson. Six nude somersaults and
a buffalo in a tulip refinery. You cannot quite predict what words are going to do. That is the whole idea. That is exactly
the kind of situation you want to be in: entering into a play with the language in which control is excused and revolutions
begin. Revolution in both senses of the word: orbital motion about a point and a sudden or momentous change in a situation.
If I tell someone that I am going to sit down and write a poem they will form a very specific idea of what it
is I am proposing to do. He is going to make a construction of words which will contain certain images and effects of sound
designed to move the emotions or persuade or startle or impress. But if I tell someone I am going to perform some experiments
on the language they will have a much less certain idea of what I am intending to do. Is he going to pour language into beakers
and precipitate zeugmas? Is he going to create macabre mutations, long scintillating sentences scuttling along like syllabic
millipedes? Inflate vowels with noble gases? Grow polymers out of morphemes? Discover a cure for dieresis?
There are two ways to go at writing a poem: one is to learn everything there is to know about it and cultivate
a mastery, a management of words that will shine out in brilliant effects of imagery and sound but nothing else, just this
virtue, this learned ability. The other method is not entirely antithetical to the first. There will be evident a fascination
with language, a deepened understanding of its mysterious and vagaries, but far less certainty about how to marshal that understanding.
There will be little lyrical effect and far more ugliness. Ecstasies rather than varnish.
There is a misconception that those who choose to experiment do so out of a childish need to avoid rules. This
is absurd. It is the reverse. This assumption is an alibi for those who lack the nerve to experiment. They simply want to
polish whatever is familiar within their sphere. The truth is experimentation requires a heightened appreciation of rules.
The Oulipians, for instance, have made a great discovery in the paradoxically liberating energy of constraint.
The real difficulty is in doing anything new. The twentieth century was full of experimentation, full of movements
and schools and manifestos and clashing philosophies. Futurism, Dada, Surrealism, Vorticism, Fluxus, Imagism, Objectivism,
Black Mountain College, The Beats, The New Formalists, L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E writing and so on.
What has happened to realism? Still possible, still quite popular. Still proffered and published in glossy venues
such as The New Yorker, Playboy, and The Atlantic. But one cannot help but feel something faulty at its core, as if some malady
had affected its spine and caused it to go about hunched and slow, careful with cutlery, hesitant and nervous around crowds
and food in foreign countries. The ideal here is a strange one: the wish to make the words disappear so that we have the illusion
of looking out at the world through a pane of clear glass. The problem is, the glass is cracked and flawed and the window
has been painted stuck. Even on balmy days we can’t get that window open again. Maybe it’s time to examine the
glass, take a deeper look at the medium with which we’re dealing.
Brecht stated that language, as a finite generality, could not deal with objects, spectacles, and events that
would surprise it to the point of stupefying it. Events such as Auschwitz and Buchenwald, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib cannot
tolerate a description of literary character. Roland Barthes furthers this perception as an impotence to produce a realistic
literature today and proclaims that it is no longer possible to rewrite Balzac, or Zola, or Proust. “Realism is always
timid,” he observes, “and there is too much surprise in a world which mass media and the generalization of politics
have made so profuse that it is no longer possible to figure it protectively: the world, as a literary object, escapes; knowledge
deserts literature, which can no longer be either Mimesis or Mathesis but merely Semiosis, the adventure of what is impossible
to language, in a word: Text (it is wrong to say that the notion of ‘text’
repeats the notion of ‘literature’: literature represents a finite world, the text figures the infinite of language:
without knowledge, without rationale, without intelligence)” (Barthes 119).
What a marvelous thought: “the adventure of what is impossible to language.” This is the essence
Language is radically arbitrary. We are now accustomed to think in terms of language as a body of rules. Meaning
is an agreement, not a law of nature. There is no correspondence between a word and the thing to which it refers. This is
imaginary. The word ‘apple’ is not an actual apple. And therein lies a paradise of experimentation.
What does it mean to experiment? How does experiment relate to theory? What role do metaphors play in experimentation?
How does the language of experimentation vary from one anthology to another?
My preferred definition is by Gerrit Kouwenaar, a member of the COBRA group, who said: “In contrast to
the traditional poets, the experimental poet does not impose his will on the word, but instead allows himself to be guided
by the word… The poet… does not depict something that he had stored up ahead of time, but experiences something
he had not known before” (Rothenberg 234).
As an aesthetic experience, there is nothing like it. Taking a drug, particularly a hallucinogen, for the first
time comes somewhat close to the mark. Skydiving, scuba diving, rock climbing, surfing, snowboarding and bungee jumping are
other ways to get one’s adrenalin running and greatly heighten one’s sense of being alive. It’s probably
a good way at getting a poem started. But ultimately, there comes that moment where it’s just you and a sheet of paper.
What happens there is entirely up to you.
Barthes, Roland. Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes. Trans. Richard
Howard. Hill and Wang: New York, 1977.
Rothenberg, Jerome and Pierre Joris, eds. Poems For The Millennium, Volume
Two. U of California P: Berkeley, 1998