Sunday, July 08, 2007

Koch, Readings for Poetry Machines

These were the additional readings of Koch I did in preparation for Poetry Machines including more recent poems for which I didn't have space in the final article (a common problem with me).

Thank You (1962)

“The Brassiere Factory,”

• we must not forget these poems are produced in the late fifties to be published in the early sixties is even the idea of setting a poem in a bra factory has some avant-garde resonance. This is indicated by the falling of authority in the opening lines, “Is the governor falling / From a great height?” The machine element here is the phrase “Arm in arm we fled the brassiere factory,” repeated in numerous forms 4 times? And perhaps the line “For thanks to the metronome we got out alive...” being a fifth as the repetitious nature both of the arm in arm, and in repeating the phrase might then match the measure of the metronome.
• I need to come to terms with the difference between straight repetition, modified repetition, phrasal structured repetition and music.
• l3: the first instance of this phrase is coherent as it refers both to the title and to the act of fleeing typical of poetry, see MYOD pp. 91 for background to this poem.
• The arm then comes back in l.7 but the arm here is alone, there is no arm in arm here just arm, but there is a degree of sound cohesion in the repetition of the “a”: an arm cigar bands lay / oh is my bar
• l.15: the arms then are slowly being erased as the phrase is returned again and again through the machine of the poem. Humorously, a bra without arms. shoulders doesn’t exist as it would fall off. The arms then come back in l.17-18: “Arm in arm, / When human beings hung on us” and again in l.21. The original phrase has been subdivided into 3 parts which match the 3 grammatical facets of the line: NP-we, VP, fled, what is “arm in arm”?
• l.25: “Then arm in arm we fled the listless factory” this is an example of phrase augmentation, the then places the fact in a logical/temporal context, while brassiere has been replaced by the anaphoric act of elision, factory being enough, only to be further detailed by the adjective listless.
• ll.26-28: Here the machine generates cognitive, associative and metonymic extra lines, the fingers metonym for the arm, the you, you and the punch both recall the 2 arms, and the metronome is one of a number of self-referential tropes in this first collection which refer to mechanistic repetitions.
• 11.33: The ejaculation Oh, is part of Koch’s use of poetry already lying around form which to make his new poetry machines, and here industry has taken the genus, industry, to stand in for the species, a type of factory. One of the rare metonymic occasions when the whole stands in for the part. The last 3 lines are totally coherent when read in terms of the deep structure of the small poem. The earth of banks refers to the water but also is an occasion to rhyme with tanks, the tanks refers to invasion, “the Goths,” and thus flight. The bare breast symbolise sexual freedom, although it is a patriarchal view of freedom, which the departure from the brassiere factory represents.
• There are, therefore, surface examples of the poem’s deep structure at the following line intervals: 0,3,7,15,25,&33. The poem is 35 lines long so, discounting the title, there is a beat of the poem’s measure every seven lines or so. This is what I would call phrase measure.
• What does a poetry machine boil down to: I think to understand it one needs a knowledge of avant-garde poetics, traditional poetics, poststructural philosophy and modern linguistics especially stylistics. In this poem we have a “deep structure” or set of rules which determines surface usage of the repetition of the phrase “arm in arm we fled the brassiere factory.” What are the rules which determines the surface usages of this deep structure? First that this is a semantic phrase linguistically, it makes perfect grammatical sense made up of a NP: PP (arm in arm) N (we) and VP: V (fled) NP (the brassiere factory). Second that in terms of stylistics it can be used as a basis for a parallel throughout the poem where is does not matter how outlandish the rest of the poem becomes, there is this basic phrase which the poem is organised around. Third in terms of traditional poetics this repetition is basically a new form of rhyme/meter or mode of patterning. Fourth in terms of poststructuralism is illustrates 2 functions of language: that it is not a mode of expression, the poet did not decide what to say and then use the phrase as a way of saying it, and that it is not a mode of representation, the brassier factory is actually a mistranslation from French. Fifth and finally, this little poem which is just apiece of fin, is a radical avant-garde on the dominant poetics of the time with its emphasis on surface over depth and process over product and with its radical undermining of expressive and representation metaphysics.

New Mini Plan: (25 pages)
1. Open with a reading of “The Brassiere Factory” (3 pages)
2. The idea of poetry machines (2)
3. The Grammar of Repetition (2)
4. The Cohesiveness of Repetition (3)
5. The Prosody of Repetition (2)
6. The philosophy of repetition (Derrida and Deleuze) (10)
7. Repetition and the Avant-garde, the significance of repetition (3)

• to bring it up to date I could refer to similar instances in “A New Guide”, One Train. Basic phrasal machine sts. 1-4, 5 uses “look at” in second line, returns to basic structure in 6-7, 8 has no look at but has a man listening, 9 “look at”, 10 “you see”, 11-14 “look at”, 15 reproduces a sign which we look at, 16-18 “look at”, 19 has “look at” as start word 7/12. Conclusion in 20 is that look at is needed because language has failed.

• Echoes of self-consciousness come about from “On the great Atlantic Rainway,” also the title for his recent collected poems:
• “Did you once ride in Kenneth’s machine?”: this is the first of many references to machinery in his poetry
• “ ‘My eyes are the white sky, the gravel on the groundway my sad lament.’ “And yet he drives between the two...”” The poet exists between the sky or the infinite possibility of poetic codification, and the gravel or individual units of expression which must and are very limited in his work. Note groundway is the opposite to rainway and matches the up/down map of the work.
• “And that is the modern idea of fittedness / To, always in motion, lose nothing...” The old poetic idea of fittedness was to make form match theme, the New York School version is to keep going and lose nothing
• ““Formulalessness, to go from the sun / Into love’s sweet disrepair.” In fact his poetry is incredibly formulaic
• “Yet always beneath the rainway unsyntactical / Beauty might leap up!” The two aspects of the machine, intense control and total abandon. In many ways Koch’s poetry machines are incredibly simplistic, reducible to just the repetition of a phrase, take this in comparison to the moving parts of Keats’ ode and it is not surprising that Koch’s work has been passed over. But the simplicity is designed to allow the unsyntactical to leap through.

• “The Bricks,” here the structure of combination is built up in reference to the bricks which we might call his narrative mimesis, the use of rhyme, the repetition of abandon which is another form of rhyme. It is simple but also semantically the way in which the bricks seem to lie around suggests a sense of the internal inevitability of the langue which informs every speech act.

“January Nineteenth,” 13-14; “Aus Einer Kindheit,” 17-18; “Farm’s Thoughts,” 25-28; & “Geography,” 29-31

• in each of these the cohesion comes a lot more from the taxonomic so that in “Jan 19th” we have the kind of excess of consumerist detail we get also in Schuyler so that effectively the nouns and adjectives can come from almost anywhere within a limited number of lexical pools, but they are held together with the syntactic conventions of verbs, pronouns, conjunctions and the like.
• “Aus Einer,” of interest here is the use of the name “O’Ryan,” which both returns continually unmodified as a kind of motif to bind the increasingly surreal sounding narrative, but also contains within it it would seem a double pun being really almost an apostrophe to rhyme, “Oh rhyme,” which is how the name is used.
• “Farm’s Thoughts,” has a great deal to do with the earlier poems in that a farm is a kind of industrial production process and here the limit on the vocabulary as well as its excess comes from the idea of the farm and what can be found there.
• p.27: here the first stanza is approaching a sestina type recombination of details already found in the poem followed by a collapse of these semantic units into phonetic marks on a page.
• “Geography,” again a kind of sestina or canzone, here the different narratives cohere by a smallest motifs of colour, setting and action, yet the final section brings the individual narratives, previously cohesive due to a metonymic proximity or juxtaposition, into a synthetic or metaphoric realm.

“Locks,” 66-7; “Thank You,” 69-71; “Lunch,” 72-6; “Taking a Walk with You,” 77-80

• each of these use a different taxonomic method that returns to greater effect in “Sleeping with Women” and is of course a point of similarity in all four poets. Here the taxonomic is the occasion for the paratactic as well as pushing the poem’s away from semantic towards being marked by sonic repetition and appearance.

• “Locks,” takes the extreme taxonomic position akin to “Into the Dusk Charged Air,” with locks being repeated on most lines and forming the subject of every line based utterance. In each instance the machine is of the first order or repetition of the same, the second order being repetition of difference, and the third repetition as the background to the difference of difference? Repetition of the same is basically using the same phrase or word without modification, and in each instance using it semantically correctly even if it can at times have surrealistic undertones: “The lock on my new neckties…,” “The lock on the hayfield…,” “the lock on my sleep.”

• “Thank You,” rather uses the phrase as a determining refrain into which the narrative particulars can be poured and organised, and is an example of second order repetition as is “The Brassiere factory.” Here the title indicates the dynamic of the poem: thanks but no thanks. Like any subject, the NP of the poem if you will, it can be substituted by anaphoric indicators so that by the third stanza it has become: “Now here comes an offer of a job for setting up a levee / In Mississippi. No thanks. Here us says Rape or Worse. I think they must want me to publicize this book.” The act of publicity allows for an associative stanza to follow which relates to real thanks, and the final couplet is then force into cohesion with the reference to the tooth in the previous stanza and the doctor of the first offer.

• “Lunch” uses the word much more imaginatively with the same level of distribution almost as “Locks,” yet allowing play on words, connotative and associative indicators and narrative all fused together. A key phrase comes at the end “Let us give lunch to the lunch—” emphasising the circularity of the word.

• “Taking a Walk...” this is clever as the title is not the taxonomic controller but rather the occasion of the event or narrative combinatory scheme. Again like lunch it uses the taxonomic key term, “misunderstandings,” so as to also abuse it. There is also a refrain aspect relating to the “bodice.” Again towards the end we have two key phrases, “It is causation that is my greatest problem,” and “I love you but it is difficult to stop writing.” These combine the idea of causation or the metonymic, with desire and textuality.

• “Collected Poems” is a third machine that he uses, perhaps less often and at a higher level. Here the repetition is not of the same, nor of the tension between repetition and difference, but of a third order which places differentiation at the heart of the repetitious cycle. In taking a trope of totality like the collected poem sequence, and reducing it down to its repetitive grammatical structure, title-poem/theme/first line, he indicates a critical self-awareness of the repetitious nature of the act of writing poetry. The background against which poetry can be written. Within this meta-critical act, which is an act of conceptual poetics, there are still local interactions of the second level of repetition: Some titles actually refer to the poem like the opening poem “Buffalo Days” some only by imaginative association, “Great Human Voices” some not at all, “Peanut Butter Candy” some continue from the title, “The Green Meddler” and the final poem “Alabama” Alabama! eradicates the difference between title and poem. The surreal comparisons dominate however. Also in the central section from “The Exception Proves the rule” on the poem’s consist of more than one line.
• “Collected Poems” puts the local rdrdrd pattern against the fake backdrop of a meaningful overall pattern of meta-repetition and meta-differentiation. It also has a number of avant-garde effects: these pertain to the relation between the poem and the title, and the relation between the poems and the act of collected these poems. Similar poems from later collections include “The Magic of Numbers,” in The Art of Love and “In Bed” in Days and Nights but the return in their greatest number in the most recent work from the mid-nineties. In One Train we have “Poems by Ships at Sea” and “On Aesthetics” and in Straits we have “Ballade,” and “Artificial Intelligence.” There are also sophisticated mid-way poems particularly in One Train which have dispensed with the titular indicators of difference, but have retained the multiple or serial effects: “A New Guide” and “The First Step.”
• In fact Thank You acts as a mini-Koch machine generating almost every major strand of his poetic output: postmodern narrative, “Geography” and “The Circus,” poem’s of reminiscence “The Departure from Hydra,” and poetic parodies “Variations on a theme by William Carlos Williams.” It also has the allegorical/self-reflexive narratives of “The Artist” and “Fresh Air” which are replaced by a much more sophisticated, thetic style which he notes came into his poetry in the late sixties after having been a teacher, the first major instance being “Some General Instructions.” The only facet of his work not really covered by this collection is the out and out avant-garde experimentation of When the Sun Tries to go On which occurs only occasionally in such a poem as “Irresistible.”

When the Sun Tries to Go On (1969)

• essentially the whole poem is an exercise in attempting to render the totality of existence or at least of existence of an American in Europe and American in the fifties. The ideology of inclusiveness, of doing reality rather than summarising it is essentially the essence of the avant-garde position but is also riven with aporias because it lack the duality that one gets say in Schuyler and Ashbery, that while is apt in a post-war culture to cease trying to summarise and instead to merely taxonomise or even to compete, one cannot forget that the actuality of the event of the poem is always re-marked by the iterable structures of language and especially because the real is always mediated through language. Thus whilst there is some residual music in the poem the majority is merely words put on the page in a stream of consumerist postmodern discourse consciousness. The effect is simultaneously exhilarating and rather banal, but not in the intended way of Ashbery’s studied world-weariness but merely in the way that after awhile another person’s excitement over something simply does become uninteresting.
• like the aporia at the heart of O’Hara’s action writing and Personism, the trope of trying to go on must be undermined by the hermeneutic logic of decollation and its re-iterative forces of cataphoric re-inscription of anaphora. The sheer length and irrelevancy of the poem does its best however to undermine this but in doing so robs itself of the paragrammatic thus remaining a surface avant-garde trope rather than a part of the larger process. Process or praxis is not ongoing as in this sense here, it doe not just keep going as in fact this is the trope of capital, rather it does return through the trope of revolution. Effectively the avant-garde is an ineffective topography without the returning trop of revolution, of things going back over themselves, for this is the truly critical position. Thus such poetry is avant-garde without being revolutionary and thus is symptomatic of what Burger dislikes about the neo-avant-garde

• p.5-6: written at the time of O'Hara and Ashbery’s long poems (“Easter,” and “Europe”) Koch’s technique was to simply keep going, the opening sections (5-6) then suggest a degree of cohesion that a much shorter poem could sustain, introducing a number of cohesive devices (apostrophes, sonic involution, repetition, citation, taxonomy) which are loosely sustained throughout, thus here in the opening lines the “shout” is a reflection of numerous ejaculations in the piece, the collecting refers to the literal collection of words that much of the poem consists of, the coat-hangers is a central motif of clothing, laundry and lint etc., the rebus or puzzle returns later but may also refer to previous poetic techniques that he is lampooning at the time, the conch is a shell which leads to ocean/beach motifs, we also have the repetition of “oo” an occasional simple language-poet aspects such as sniff/snuff.
• this is fairly standard in the poem and even an overestimation of its cohesive elements

• p.8: “Parallel excursion. O black black black black black” this suggests the rejection of the duality of language journeys, the parallel excursions of the double levels of infinite code, in favour of this surface serialism or repetition without duality or development. This multiple repetition of the same word again occurs throughout and is a counterpoint to the more subtle and interesting forms of taxonomy he uses such as works of literature, especially the Romantics and especially “Endymion”, and place names.

• p.11: the taxonomic flurries such as here are again typical with taxonomy as a trope becoming a surface non-development feature of the poem akin to “black black black black.” This section is interesting in is mix of nouns separated by commas, compounds, citations, non-developmental repetitions , lettrisms. It thus is interesting it its piebald nature but in an of itself lacks critique I would argue.

• p.17: here we have an even more extreme form where each word has become so articulated with very little syntactic motivation that this, along with the use of citations, reduces language very much down to its basic marks on page status coupled with the merest residual signification, i.e. we know what the words are supposed to mean. These words however are not randomly chosen as the are rather gesturally motivated to use Silliman’s terms, that is they look and sound similar.

• p. 14: Another example of repetitious machinery. “Gorilla / Youth. Fable. Detective. Fur fur fur, fur / Midnight. (Koch, When the Sun 14). The relation of the fur to the gorilla is clear enough, perhaps the midnight is part of the fable of youth and detectives. There are only four furs here and the fourth is separated by an superfluous comma.

• p.16-17:
“Roistering hint glove task phone ‘ache’ factory hoop device?”/
Spot, “kee,” sun. My hand of devoted hands
Babel sick, yowl earnest “bee”-boat, seven, connote
“Yoohoo” of a gray, bad “bat” disk “bat” boat key
Helen, Sue, loss, sea “hoe” “doe look”
Of cancer. Yard! unbalanced… (Koch, When the Sun 17).

• The hint exists in the section, the glove both a metonymic link to the hand but also the covering of the poem I think the task (Cowper’s) is the praxis of the poem, “take time to practice poetry” Breton, then again a reference to the machinery of the poem, the factory hoop device of endless repetition and variation. There are repetitions of the same here, Hand hand, bat bat, but also very clever repetitions of the same with sonic difference built in “bee” –boat/ connote/ bad/ ”bat”/ ”bat”/ boat/ key/ Sue/ sea/ “hoe”/ “doe” (implied does from loss) and so on. This is a real advancement on the repetition of the same and yet it still is repetition of the same to my mind or repetition which undermines the authenticity of the original Idea.

• p.21: here an extended postmodern taxonomic flurry is cohered by the repetition of two words, cuckoo clock and yoyo. Apart from their sonic qualities these two motifs are also significant as they are tropes of the very repetition without development that he is using here and throughout the poem. They are the internal cohesive machine device in this section of the poem which not only have special status as words, one onomatopoeic, the other a trade name perhaps mimetic of the movement of the yoyo, but also have within their own confines sonic repetition. Yoyo comes back on p.24: “ “I turned my yoyo into a gun, / Bank Bank!”.

• p.28: here in his use of compounds we have taxonomy within the body of the word, “”send- / Us-up-to-the-woodchuck-for-coat-she-enterprise- / Pin-clue-bock-hurt-Sven white elephant.”” Thus the dynamic of taxonomy is arrested by the somatic limits of the word, by the fact that this is in fact a sentence thus syntax goes against taxonomy, that it is cited and by the capitalisations at the start of each line. Also return to the rebus of p.5 and the cuckooclock.

• p.44: perhaps the most intense taxonomy here the use of the letter “b” is explored in a self-consciously structuralist fashion which also however develops internally with the phonetic aspects is the word ends and word middles (s and a), this is then followed by an intense and sustained non-motivated taxonomic section.

• p.48: repetition of capitalisation: “GLUE, PIER, SOLDIER, and / SPILLWORT”
• p.64: Intertextual reference to “Irresistible”: “Stunts! Lintels, pow! are everywhere, care limns”.

• p.75: here an alternative to p.44 is developed by using “f” as the beginning of a 7 line sequence which is interested in two ways in that it reduces rhyme down from syllable to letter then places it not at the end of the word but at the beginning.

• p.76: the excess of apostrophe fits in with the dynamic mimetic aim of the poem the render on the page everything. There is a certain irony to this in that in saying that one must invoke one suggests that language is something other than material and a basic surface signification yet really the deep structures of invocation are well beyond the brief of the piece. In an alternative fashion it suggests that the abstract of language is its massiveness tending towards totality and yet also is removes signification or representation from the work as invocation is a speech act not a process of description or development.

• p.113: curiously the last line of the poem is, like the opening, semantically rich. After a flurry of taxonomy which moves into citation as if relinquishing the responsibility of voice altogether, the “Gentle hiatus of sarabande cuckoo seam!” is rich with meaning. The gentle hiatus is of course the denial of the violence of decollation common to New York School endings, the sarabande and dance consisting of three beats which is really the origin of taxonomy for 2 words form a basic copula and lead us into the non-dynamic tropes of either metaphor or metonymy, the cuckoo of course is intertextual but is also the gestural aural marking of the poem whilst the seam is the alternative tropic ending to the poem that it isn’t a pause in the process but an outer seam of the inevitable inner chiasmus of reading.

The Pleasures of Peace (1969)

“Sleeping with Women,” 11-17

• these poems really need to be seen up against the restricted stanzaic forms that Ashbery is using at the time like the sestina and the canzone for in a sense they are the base level of the duality of the avant-garde poetic process that is they are seemingly random and without form with Koch really throwing into his lines anything that occurs to him at this time which is presumably spent in Italy on the Fullbright, but at each stage the possibility of total freedom is restricted by the obsessive repetition of the refrain “sleeping with women.” This refrain does not work like rhyme as I feel one of the key aspects of rhyme is to final phonetic similarities in diverse signs so as to set up new consonances but the direct repetition of the same phrase as in the sestina and here is then something different. It does not suggest association but the base anaphora of language which is so extreme that the semantic aim of anaphora is undermined; the more the phrase is repeated the less it makes any semantic impact

• the poem is further restricted by other aspects
• use of punctuation especially the colon which suggests there is always something following on to qualify, the colon is the opposite to the semi-colon in many ways in that is metonymic suggesting something following on directly
• the use of the semantic possibilities of the phrase “sleeping with women” to infect the following phraseology
• the use of “as” which suggests this is a metaphoric process trying determinedly to understand what sleeping with women is like
• a reduction of motifs to Greek and Italian culture and landscape, the sea, other places, the boy/man, animals and the like
• use of repetition in the other half of the machine “equation”: Pompeii, Mediterranean, Greek Islands
• the poem develops with the machinery producing a more complex poem body as it progresses:
1. “caruso: a voice” (Koch, Pleasures 11), the pre-anaphoric moment with no real hint of the content of the machine but the form is repeated
2. “Naples: sleeping with women” (Koch, Pleasures 11), the basic machine: RP : PP
3. “Men sleeping with women, women sleeping with women” (Koch, Pleasures 11) various on the whole phrase removing the colon
4. “asleep and sleeping with them” (Koch, Pleasures 11), variations on the PP, becomes a second or alternative PP as the poem goes on. Reaches its peak at top of p.15. “Asleep and sleeping with you, asleep with women / Asleep and sleeping with you, asleep with women, asleep and sleeping with you, sleeping with women”
5. “Greek islands sleeping with women, Nassos, Naxos, Kos, / Asleep with women, Mykonos, miotis / And myositis” (Koch, Pleasures 12), variation on the RP, so that it is no longer random but motivated, this occurs in many complex ways as the poem goes on
6. “And the iris peg of the sea / Sleeping with women” (Koch, Pleasures 12), variation in the graphology and syntax of the phrase, here laid out like a lyric.
7. “as with an orchid, as with an oriole” (Koch, Pleasures 14), internal mini-machines like repetition of as, references to place names, repetition of The at the beginning of the line.
8. concludes with a combination of three internal machines: repetition of the (deixis), us of colon, and variations on the PP.

“Irresistible,” 18-21

• again in many ways his taxonomic parataxis has a lot in common with Ashbery in TCO and Schulyer especially in his use of manufactured Americana but in poems like this if one begins a basic list of all the motivation signs one is left really wondering if there is any semantics at all behind them, thus here we have:
• shirts, clothes
• college
• water
• feet
• great names or proper names
• the machine becoming trains
• canoes
• initials
• the poem retains a narrative force of a character at college so that the opening line seems to be a letter addressed to his parents, “Dear miles of love,” the miles being both the distance between them and also smiles encrypted just as the machine is “(s) quinting! dial (f) aster, dial (f) aster.” This abuse of a basic lettrism is something the other poets do not really utilise and he hardly explores it any considered fashion but in a sense the erasure of letters coupled with the use of initials and capitalisations are al aspects of the basic marking of the letter within the word. For a more extreme example of the marking of language and this kind of abuse through lettrism see “Coast,” 47-48.
• the machine and the feet then would tie into this whilst the other motifs attempt to render the narrative but the whole process is continually disrupted by the excess of base signification such as, “Tree mussed gossamer Atlantic ouch toupées hearing book P.S. castiron pasteboard hearing aid in glove society fingers’” These can be read internally with the rules of taxonomy:
• the opening three words follow rational syntax,
• the Atlantic is doubly motivated by use of water and of proper names in the poem proper,
• ouch is an ejaculation which is a common form of language in his work due to its minimised semantic power,
• toupées is a complex example of a foreign word which however has become a part of English,
• hearing book is then re-cast as hearing aid whilst containing a hermeneutic gesture towards the marked phonetic aspects of his work,
• P.S. is not only the initials which again is a reduction of the sign to its minimal levels, but also a suggestion that there is always something to add
• castiron pasteboard are both compound nouns but one is not a compound substance but is elemental, whilst the other is a mish-mash
• hearing aid in glove society fingers’ is again a rational syntax but it is undermined semantically, obviously, but also by the apostrophe which suggests the genitive which the syntax however does not allow, this forces one to run on to the next line, “Alaska with a bounce.” which is part of the same sentence and even coheres with Alaska echoing Atlantic but the issue of the apostrophe is not resolved.
• the poem does not work as well as in other poets as it lacks a basic musicality which suggests a valorisation of this but remember none of the poets are automatic writers. Here the internally motivated signs do not mount any sustained semantic charge as in TCO but they doe deal directly with many of the bases of language itself and also the motivation of language into poetic units so that we have a double music such as it is in the tabular units of the poem and each line, and the linearity of the poem and each sentence, thus the poem acts as one unit within which individual line-measured units work for and against.

• other poems of this ilk are “We Sailed the Indian Ocean for a Dime,” 23, where he uses a combination of money lexicons and topographies; “Dostoevski’s The Gambler,” where he uses the page/artist set; “Hearing,” where the aural is combined with a rather precious story of a young man and his trumpet; “A Poem of Forty-Eight States,” where each state relates to the life of the poet ending in his death; “The Scales,” interesting as the musical phrase here is musical as in “Hearing,” but is not a word but mere noise, DO RE MI etc., note also the mark of the capitalisation; and “Faces,” where he covers a vast array of cultural signifiers.
• many of these poems seem to me a version of Whitmanic inclusiveness

“Coast,” 47-8

• an extreme example of lettrism and the emphasis on the marking of poetry:
• lettrism: not really as the abuse of spelling are phonetic rather than visual
• ejaculations: Enkh!
• sonic involution: dairy, alive, airy (but not so much as in Ashbery and Hejinian
• assonance/alliteration: Fazzum garra maggle twad (at the expense of all semantics)
• phoneticised spellings of accents or other languages: “We cuzznt shay up too lade”
• lisping: internal abuse of word sound retaining meaning: Entwime this shower
• yiddishims: Himazzer beach
• excessive lettrism: Rlzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
• visual marks: italics, citations, punctuations, design features, ellipses
• other languages: dove andiamo

One Train (1994)

“One Train May Hide Another,” 3-4

• the origin of the poem is itself out of Koch’s control, suggested like the early “Brassiere Factory” by a sing seen during his travels, the rest of the poem them exists as a consideration of this reality in a more figurative manner.

In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hid another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line—
Then it is safe to go on reading. (Koch, One Train 3)

• This is the first of series of propositions which form a 3 part repetitious interaction:
1. the original idea, that one train can hide another
2. the relation of this to poetics
3. and the use of the machine “one thing may hide another thing” to make a poem
• It is a strange aesthetic as it is pitched at the reader and also is on contravention with Koch’s earlier emphasis on surface. Here he asks in a Kantian way that the reader linger for a moment on the line, before moving on to the next way in the same way that beauty causes us to linger. The linger is the neo-avant-garde version of the depth model, asking that as a replacement of the periodicity of penetration into the painting or poem, that one pause, linger in front of the detail in reverie or in front of the whole thing in reverie. The crossing of the tracks is loaded with possible allegorical meaning also, but for us the important thing is that it is a poem about enjambment. If one rushes over the pause at the end of the line one might miss the hidden “line” behind it. Strangely however to miss the meaning is aporetically expressed here as being hit by another train which sounds like the very thing the early Koch would have relished. What is more excitement inducing than an accident?
• Yet he then modifies this by suggesting that the hidden line is not behind the line but following on from it suggesting that every line is in fact part of couplet. This is partly a joke as he says wait until you have read the next line before you go on with reading the next line. However again it is about enjambment with his use of the dash here.

So always standing in front of something the other
As words stand in front of objects, feelings, and ideas. (Koch, One Train 3)

• referring back to the idea of loving one person leading you to love another, associated person, this is a simple expression of the danger of representation and a very useful line for the Derrida section of the piece.

One blaring uniform another, and another, a whole column…(Koch, One Train 3)

• The mathematics of seriality with the pun here on uniform and the reference to the columns of poetry

One idea may hide another: Life is simple
Hide life is incredibly complex, as in the prose of Gertrude Stein
One sentence hides another and is another as well…(Koch, One Train 3)

• Here the procession of repetitions is very adeptly considered. One idea may hid another here means one idea may hide the idea of hiding another so that Life seems simple in comparison to the idea “Hide life”. This is not the same philosophy as one idea hiding another or its opposite, rather it is in accord with the third level of repetition, that is that the act of hiding can itself be the idea, hiding here being an act of differentiation. He then adds into this the idea from Stein that not only can the sentence hide the real idea, it is itself an idea thus language is not second order.

One waits at the tracks until they pass,
These hidden doubles or, sometimes, likenesses. One identical twin
May hide the other. And there may be even more in there! (Koch, One Train 3)

• Here he differentiates between the double, the real repetition, and likenesses. One thing I must remember is to criticised Deleuze’s obsession with the double over the repetition of the same. All in all this is a very succinct summary of the Repetition and Difference.

A vivacious mother hides a gawky daughter. The daughter hides
Her own voracious daughter in turn. (Koch, One Train 4)

• a case of 1 1 1 1 1, but where each 1 relies on the other 1 in what Deleuze calls a Markov chain. Here this must be taken metaphorically.

In the Garden of Eden
Adam and Eve may hide the real Adam and Eve.
Jerusalem may hide another Jerusalem.
When you come to something, stop to let it pass
So that you can see what else is there. At home, no matter where,
Internal tracks pose dangers, too: one memory
Certainly hides another, that being what memory is all about,
The eternal reverse succession of contemplated entities. (Koch, One Train 4)

• to take this back to the book of genesis and the first act of naming ties the problems of repetition right into the idea of subjective certainty and the logos. Even the first two human beings, origin of all subsequent repetitions of humanity, are inauthentic. While in some ways politically, Jerusalem (Israeli) does hide another Jerusalem (Palestinian). This is also a very sophisticated take on his early repetitions of the same, to say Jerusalem may contain within it any number of reiterations of the same word (Derrida). Again he uses this as an appeal for a moment of lingering, of hearing that other line within the line, and of understanding the first line so the proceeding line can make sense. He then goes on to consider the internal tracks of memory in a section uncannily echoing Deleuze’s own work in this area.

One doctor, one ecstasy, one illness, one woman, one man
May hide another. Pause to let the first one pass.
You think, Now it is safe to cross and you are hit by the next one. It can be important
To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there. (Koch, One Train 4)

• so that it becomes an ethical problem by the end, requiring that one pay attention to the event of the passing of others.

“A Time Zone,” 22-30

• contains a mini-machine within it:

A little hard-as-a-hat poem to the day we offer
“Sky / woof woof! / Harp”
This is repeated ten times
Each word is one line so the whole poem is thirty lines
It’s a poem composed in a moment
On the sidewalk…(Koch, One Train 23)

• a very early example of a simple machine poem. Things to note: that sky harp could be a metaphor relating to Angels in “Music” while the woof woof is the bathetic element. Further woof woof is counted either as one word or when he says each word is repeated 30 times he conflates the line with the word in a very interesting fashion.

“The First Step,” 31-40

• while based on Chinese poetry, of some sort, the first step is one with “One Train” in dealing with the movement from one state/position to the next. Where one train deals with the local, “The First Step” relates the moment to the infinite: “A journey of ten thousand li begins with the first step.”
• The poem is itself both about repetitions and repetitious putting forward various conditions:

In the country of the middle
The person in the middle is king
No one walking on the outskirts (Koch, One Train 31)

• Centre and periphery, the locale of the journey

Splash of water at the end of the ship
Flash of sky at the end of the plane
Dash of suit at the end of the man
Clash of music going away (Koch, One Train 31)

• The end point of the unit, not here how end occurs at line ends and the going away at stanza end.

A journey of five hundred limits
Begins with the first one met
After the first, one knows that this is not
The “real” journey and yet and yet

• The limit of the movement from one state to another, each departure must meet with the reaching of a limit, posing the question where is the limit between one unit and the next, at the limit of the first object or at the limit of the second?
• there are regular bouts of negation: “No chamber orchestra… / No religious chorus… / No French horn section…” (Koch, One Train 32); “No postage meter / No automatic box… / No special delivery… (Koch, One Train 33); in fact 14 times from a minimum number of 2 no’s to a maximum of 11.
• there is taxonomic repetition: “Panda on a stamp… / Panda on a stage…” (Koch, One Train 32); “Man woman baby bicycle basket / Trick crossroad vanishing composite northern” (Koch, One Train 33)
• sound repetition: “I have never / Seen such streets / Such had never / Sight of me” (Koch, One Train 32)
• intertextual repetition of Williams’ “the Red Wheelbarrow” p. 32 & various references to rain, hens farms and so on.
• Grammatical references: NP VP PP (Koch, One Train 38)
• Numerous mini-poems of the kind we found in sleeping with women: “Suddenly losing…”; NP “is absent” (Koch, One Train 39) the second one being an anaphoric repetition of the “No” sequences as well as being alliterative and assonant so that every single word in the machine NP-VP is motivated.
• There are 3 special moments for me in the poem, three sections which follow their own rules:

Sea gull
Fold up

Amoeba serena
Cows ilk
Sample of speech: “Whiff” (Koch, One Train 38)

• the engine seems to be a meta-narrative comment on the mechanistic quality of his work that has existed as a trope from his very earliest work. What follows seems typical of the word measured poems of TCO but sea gull is purposely articulated to match the rhythm of fold up and the graphology of fold up. The amoeba is an internal rhyme, cows ilk (the types of cow or those associated with it) comes about by dropping the m of milk, again uncomprehending seems a self-referential section ending with the linguistic sample of speech, purposely bathetic.

Empty empty
Quiet quiet
Thousand thousand
Sleep and stand (Koch, One Train 39)

• a lovely variation of repetition of the same indicating its power, contra to Deleuzian aesthetics, although it is still acceptable poetically somehow in the way that six repetitions would not be. Graphologically of course these are not repetitions but in terms of metre the first to lines are trochaic dimeter while the final line is the same with the final syllable unvoiced.

A man on the boat
A line in the water
A line around the park
Of bushes and trees (Koch, One Train 33)

• the aesthetic of particularity is strong here but so too is that of reiteration ad the man, the boat, the water and the park are all allowed for by the opening 2 stanzas. Grammatically again the repetition is that same: NP-VP (V+NP) except the 4th line is a grammatically extension of the 3rd creating NP (N+PP) VP (V+NP)

“On Aesthetics,” 55-74


Other. (Koch, One Train 55)

• there is a noticeable difference of effect in this word measured poem where it is merely don for effect, and the other forms, but is shows a clear sensibility fo the aesthetic interaction of graphology, lineation and particularity.
• this aesthetic, relating directly to the feet of poetry, is picked up by numerous poems in the sequence: …OF STANDING UP, …OF CLIMBING STAIRS, …OF FEET and so on


Echo was Us
A nymph who lived in Din
Every cliff. If (Koch, One Train 61)

• an echo is an example of repetition as singularity in Deleuze’s work. Here is created an interesting ontological question as to the nature of the echo which is capitalised line another line, yet exists in a second column and outside of the grammatical punctuation of the poem.


In The Birth of Venus, these are some
Of the aesthetics to consider: the aesthetics of shape,
Of line, of color, of contrast, of shadow, of sea clouds, of sky… /
For each of these on has an ideal conception. (Koch, One Train 62-3)

• uncannily this echoes exactly the Deleuzian value of multiplicity, that each facet of the thing has an ideal conception so is repeatable in each element of this.


What a difference
When the words
Come tangled
In contradictions! (Koch, One Train 66)

• good quote for the difference section.


Looking forward to always containing
What is contained
Whether it is dry
Or raining. Then one morning early
Someone may come by
(This has been known to happen)
Who will take
Your top off! and they will say
Thus, thus! was thus result obtained. (Koch, One Train 66)

• the box refers for my purposes here to the unit, the limited unit which is to be repeated and the unit of the instance of repetition which is separated by the gap of the not being the unit. He further stresses the box by boxing in the poem with simple rhyme. One can add into this a small statement from AESTHETICS OF ROBERT MUSIL, “Aesthetically one must say / That inside a meaningless whole / Significant particulars exist.” (Koch, One Train 69) & AESTHETICS OF SILENCE, “Silence is not everything. / It is half of everything / Like a house.” (Koch, One Train 71)
• do we not have here the aesthetics of the pre-repeated unit: that it is a box, that this box exists inside even the most meaningless structure, and that the other half of it, silence, is also a domicile.

Straits (1998)

“Straits,” 4-12

• a much looser structure it seems possibly a major poem of his last age as it combines the freedom of When the Sun and Irresistible, with the machinery of the machine poems: simple machine features cohere the whole like the idea of being easy a figure coming in to something and changing it, references to straits, memories, texts from Shklovsky, jewels and so on. The machinery has been reduced to the merest suggestion while other more associative cohesion devices more typical of Ashbery have crept into to form a complex and fascinating poetic texture.

“Vous Êtes Plus Beaux que Vous ne Pensiez,” 13-22

• 10 poems all with a famous figure from the arts whom Koch admires, living in a place, coming out, and doing something aesthetic.

“Study of Time,” 23-4

• fascinating combination of mechanical features:
• balancing statements with development
• ages
• these are especially interesting because the machine is so simple and yet made multiple by the intertextual reference to “One Train,” the temporal shifts of “Time Zone” and the later poem in this collection, “Ballade” which also has ages.

“My Olivetti Speaks,” 28-34

• a version of the thetic, aphoristic poems of the mid-seventies such as “General Instructions,” “The Art of Poetry,” and “The Art of Love.”
• Here a kind of integrity is given to each statement which is in prose and in a self-contained unit, the mechanistic nature of the title, however, belies one of the least mechanistic of all the poems in this collection. Yet the poem is about poetry in great specific detail so to give this task, of being a poet, to the typewrite is typical of the kind of renunciation of expressive self that could open the section on Deleuze.
• mechanistic/computational theme is also picked up in the poem “Artificial Intelligence” which is another version of what the machine does to the human. Note also the story of teaching polar bears to write poetry p.33 which either takes agency from the poet or gives it to animals.

If half the poets in the world stopped writing, there would still be the same amount of poetry.
If ninety-nine percent of the poets on the world stopped writing poetry, there would still be the same amount of poetry. Going beyond ninety-nine percent might limit production. (Koch, Straits 28)

• Is this simply a value-judgement statement?

Olive likes poetry but Popeye doesn’t. (Koch, Straits 28)

• Olive is obviously from Olivetti

A dog barks in rhyme but the rhyme is never planned by the dog. (Koch, Straits 29)

• the machine of rhyme again undermining poetic expression, also relates to the early machine woof woof etc.

Rhyme is like a ball that bounces not in the same place but at least in another place where it can bounce. (Koch, Straits 32)

• a wonderful description of repetition in traditional poetics.

Similarity of sound is similarity of adventure. (Koch, Straits 34)

• a wonderful version of the relation of sound similarity and difference.

Poetry, which is written while no one is looking, is meant to be looked at for all time. (Koch, Straits 34)

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