Sunday, March 25, 2007

Lineation: Line Measure in Thesecstasies

Postmodern Prosody and Line Measure
Just a quick consideration of theseecstasies which I wrote over a longish period several years ago now. I have used the term line measure before to refer to the rhythmic nature of lineation. I should clarify here that this is not counting the syllables in the line, which is syllabic measure, nor does measure suggest a regularity. Having said this naturally line measure relies on what goes on in the line, so it could include syllables, but within the avant-garde tradition that I work in it is more likely that phrases, phonemes and gaps will form the basic unit of regard. In addition all rhythm is reliant on the repetition of some form of mark and the moment of its non-repetition, which could be a pause or a break in regularity. I won't get into why such a basic deep structure of rhythm works, mainly because I don't know and nor does anyone else it would seem.

So what are the areas that need to be considered in line measure. I feel that the rhythmicality of the line is multiple, unlike the syllable which is mainly reducible to the pulse of stress. However, while the rhythm of stress in terms of the syllable is strong, the individual instances of line measure can be weak, although added together just as remarkable, I believe, as an iamb. Depending on how remarkable you find the iamb.

There is the length of the line, its reach/duration. There is the number of lines, probably restricted in some way. There is the distribution of the line across the pagespace or field of the poem. And then lastly there is the beat of the lines, which may all share certain basic measures in common. These four elements then, number, duration/reach, distribution and beat combine to produce a prosody of the line central to avant-garde, postmodern and all forms of traditional poetics. The fact that on the whole it is innovative poetry that foregrounds lineation is naturally because it dispenses, on the whole, with metre and rhyme. The fact that traditionalists do not notice line measure it because they have responded too negatively to modern and postmodern poetry, believing it has no prosody when it fact it has a highly developed prosody that is just of a different order.

Now to theseecstasies.

The number of lines was fixed at nine for reasons probably obvious to other poets who are concerned with counting. Nine subdivides into three units of three so each instance is in excess of the couplet. Nine is also far enough away from fourteen, in the right direction, to avoid the usual references to the sonnet. Nine sounds great in poetic language. And three is the magic number, yes it is, it’s the magic number and as the poems are ecstatic three was good. Having said all this nine was also arrived at randomly so the above are merely reasons why I kept nine, not explanations for why I chose it.

The duration/reach of the line was developed over time to reach a point beyond which the line could easily be spoken out loud, easily kept in the mind as one single cognitive unit or phrase, and which could not be accommodated easily in material forms as a single line. This last point was actually a desire to have a page of long, thing lines surrounded by space but publishers and the net forced this aesthetic dream in another direction. The duration I would define as excessive to the point of alienation or anti-absorption. The end of the line here is not so significant because of this.

In terms of distribution, these works are not as innovative and imaginative in their use of the field of the poem as I would like, mainly due to the restrictions of small press and internet publishing. As I mentioned I was attracted to the stretching of the material and cognitive fields of the poem to accommodate the line, the idea being to undermine these naturalised processes and produce something other than that. Also to show how attention, breath and page are fundamental to the presence of poetry. I had in mind, as many of us do, the distribution of the different font strands in Un coup de Des, wondering what that would be like on a big page like a huge, literate Jackson Pollock. Obviously I was heavily involved in the visual rhythm of the line in space.

Finally the beat. There is an internal cohesion and tension in each line, which works, on the whole, as a single unit of significance. Association, word play and hypertaxis are the three main things to look out for here, making them similar, I suppose, to the contemporary idea of The New Sentence, although I have many reservations about this idea.

Put together line this and only really looking at the measure of the line, ignoring enjambment, phrase measure and so on, one can see the line measure is a sophisticated and complex mode of prosodic organisation and disruption, even when used badly by a poet as limited as myself.

From "Thirsty Poems"


before modesty the wind must fill up the hessian sail;
seed cast carelessly will further stretch the beach;
of man I say this, of woman I say that;
the future is an eraser, the past a stable gun;

looking about me now I see that
I have none of my good friends left and
nor do I miss them neither.

light is as heavy as the blossom it samples;
let society eat up its own waste, but let it eat;
of woman I assert thus, of women I assert this;
disembodied hands paddle my fatty tissue;

out on the gas light leaf street
again, the too long lesson over
and what am I to do with it?

be not so sceptical about the heather’s prosperity;
be not so soon too judge the crooked contestant;
let lie sleeping eating run do don’t do, do;
of children I have next to nothing to say;

it’s just that I feel let down veins
grow across my shoes; sea horses’ alchemy
stings in the wind, but who’s to know this?
the distance of the pancreas from the humours;
the pink fences slipping back behind the eminence; chuckling
sockets that are as free as the spinnaker streams;
the surprise party I throw myself; ridiculous hats!

From "Thirsty Poems"

confidence tricks, contemporary settings

like some hideous leviathan emerging from primordial depths
hideous leviathan emerges from the primordial depths
and it is only natural that
you doubt your motivation in such,
by this I mean of course your true
motivation, such in

korea a population under threat from commerce
seriously to lose faith in the infrastructures thrown up recently
why you do this and should you
does red suit you do you
talk too loud make love like
a pervert on the prowl

in genoa
a pike is elevated from an artificial pool
artificial legs and then bound over to rule
that you are a great bloke really
well, we all are. shavings, non-specifically sourced gouge at you when you close your eyes. spirals paint-tipped spirals, what do they mean mean to you within this thickened context?
you lose confidence at this point specifically here
you lose confidence
space stations spin three hundred miles above tunisia at four miles a second and yet successfully they dock and it is only natural that you should applaud hiding your inner debility behind such stagy shows of support

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Charles Bernstein "Girly Man"

An Introduction and Guide to Reading Charles Bernstein, Thank you for Saying Thank You in Girly Man and Poem in With Strings.

In teaching avant-garde, non-normative poetics to undergraduates I often find that I have to teach them the tenets of normative poetics just so that I can then show them how Bernstein or Howe, Raworth or Prynne diverge from such well worn pathways. Naturally this leads one to a clearing full of possible revelation, that in fact such normativity is, in general, no more normative than postmodern, disjunctive poetics. And odd situation but also a gratifying one. Most people are not, in fact, slave to the normative.

Bernstein’s poem “Thank You for Saying Thank you” (Girly Man 2006) steps into your way as you move through the dark again trees and says, here it is in a nutshell squirrel-boy, normative poetics so that your students can recognise them and learn not to be absorbed by them. To which I say thank you for saying Thank You for Saying Thank You, if we count writing as a form of saying.

It begins: “This is a totally / accessible poem. / There is nothing / in this poem / that is in any way difficult / to understand.” Having located one squarely in the field of transparency, the bane of much contemporary literature as a whole not merely modern poetics, and addressed the reader’s apparently natural fear of the dense, having, in other words, won us over, Bernstein goes on to console us that: “This poem / has no intellectual / pretensions. It is / purely emotional.”

Suddenly a deer breaks from cover and steps into the dappled light. Pauses then is launched once more back into its natural context. I make a note to think about that later when I am on my futon and in need of spiritual healing.

Indeed as this friendly little poem progresses we learn about a whole set of issues about which the poem is clear-headed, rational and normal. We find we are reading a poem that “fully expresses / the feelings of the / author”, that the poem “appreciates / & values you as / a reader” and that “each line, / words, & syllable / have been chosen / to convey only the / intended meaning.”

It is tiring being lost in the trees like this, ask Baudelaire about it I am sure he would have something apposite to say, if you speak French that is. If not, less apposite perhaps but you can still jam to the music of his voice. So I am glad that with the poem at least, which is actually quite long (“90 lines, 269 words”) lightness is all. Not that there isn’t a certain weightiness there: “While / at times expressing / bitterness, anger, / resentment, xenophobia, / & hints of racism,” but “its / ultimate mood is / affirmative.”

That’s nice, and look there are two butterflies, gyring in the glade. So much of the forest is nice if looked at correctly. What is it they say about the wood of the trees being worse than the bark? Sometimes I ask for my literature to bite me.

We are coming to the end now and I hardly noticed I was reading a poem because as a work of poetry “it / says just what / it says. It’s / real”. And here were are, the rickety stile that marks the forest’s end, not even a forest really, nor even a wood, a cheeky little copse you could sprint through in, what, five minutes. You know, a lot of nonsense is written about forests. They are not so tough a nut to crack, and the kernel inside is as sweet as sweet can be sweet and remain as it is, real, meaning not too sweet, realistically sweet, believable and normally so.

The poem being described here consists of many of the elements of normative poetics making it easy for us to remember what they are and how pervasive they have become:
-Accessibility through linguistic transparency
-Anti-intellectualism in favour of emotional expression
-Stability of the subject who speaks (lyrical ego) with the intention to communicate authentically
-Shared values of humanism
-The importance of craft
-Direct communication with an implied readership that will forgive racism in great art
-It says what it is, it is real

At the same time the profound irony is, of course, that the poem itself, perhaps called “Thank You for Saying Thank You” or perhaps some other poem un-named, does not exist. The poem in question remains external, permanently other to, the rows of pithy lines that come to describe the poem. So where is the poem, where is poetry indeed, in the conception, the execution, the interpretation or beyond and outside of all of that? Are we in the forest and the poem surrounding us with space, or is the poem somewhere in the middle, a clearing full of magical insight. Where are the borders, the titles, the binding, the spacings; how can I mark out the parerga from the essence of the work?

And of course as soon as one begins to ask that, the poem’s promise to us of transparency, and emotional anti-intellectualism is broken. This poem maybe be real, but this poem also does not exist, which may be the truly real thing about it. Big thoughts for the small-hearted, not emotional at all in the end.

“Thank you” reminds me very much of “Poem” in With Strings (2001). Here the poet dances through the landscape of a poem, an as yet unwritten or permanently withheld from view poem, and calms us as regards possible areas of ambiguity or tension: “I will use the seasons / in a metaphoric way, / as you shall see”, “When I write I it / most often refers to myself”, and “I have taken / in several words from foreign / languages: Pierre is a French / name similar to our own / Peter.” Most comforting is the explanation that “The goat / that comes up / in the first few lines is simply / a garden-variety goat”, not an event then nor a symbol, not like my own deer which seemed slightly less than real for being a touch mute, sublime and uncanny. Not a goat to get our goat but a goat of Williams-esque, rural realness. A red wheelbarrow of a goat.

I like goats and do not feel the need to get too close to them. They are picturesque and simple like that, goats. Not like horses or, god forbid, skunks.

Bernstein has, yet again, invented a whole new aesthetic here with works such as “Thank you” and “Poem”. They are critical poetic equivalents of postmodern critical fictions such as Pale Fire or Art & Lies, but they are more than that. Certainly they also exercise a postmodern irony but again they move beyond it an a joyful, expansive manner. Their conceptualism is of a particular highly developed kind for they describe a work that does not exist in such a way as to call up a work that is a poem, is called literally a poem, but in actual fact is little more than portrait of a poem. The question is not the now rather tired What is a Poem, but the much more invigorating and ontologically less transcendental Where is the Poem, what are its borders, its boundaries? When does it come into view, how does one apprehend it? Is it like a clearing in the trees, a deer bolting across the path, or the gate at the far side beyond which your car waits to take you home and back to your desk? And so on.

I know I left it here somewhere, oh here it is, under my tax returns.

These are not conceptual works at all in fact. They are fiercely traditional in that they are poetic manifestations, apostrophes like the old old odes to gods and absent friends: “Ah bounce why dids’t thou have to die?” In this way they are, however, anti-odes, for in calling up the normative, romantic, free-verse poem they immediately place it in a permanent space over or out there.

And I suppose this is the final irony of the anti-ode. There is no need to apostrophise the normative poem. It is not absent at all but omnipresent. But somehow, when one calls it out, gives it s name, summons up its very essence with the magic words, its transparency becomes insubstantial and the normative poem, so dependable and real, dissolves.

This is the catastrophic power of the anti-apostrophic anti-ode: it does not give material form to a bodiless absence, but dissolves the presence of the normative poem body. In seeing the wood and the trees, the whole forest is suddenly felled and what seemed like a glade, a Heideggerian clearing, a spot of light, is simply just a featureless part of a wide open field. There’s nothing there really, when you look at it, the forest I mean, not late-Romantic, free verse poetry.

This is a pretty good field actually. My goat would love it here.

And as she described each feature to the rest, although he was standing right there in front of them, it, poof, disappeared. His lovely eyes, pits. His flowing hair, scalp. His hands and feet, stumps and pegs. His heart a messy cavity, his spleen a leaking gash. And so on for his shoulders, torso, groin and left knee. One by one they were blitzed by the word. Until all that was left was a sort of grey, saggy, bag-like thing thrumming on the stubbly grass at their feet.

“What’s that?” Dirk asked. Trust Dirk to stick his oar in.
“Oh that,” she said absently, “that must be his soul.”
“His soul, what’s that?” Rhiannon asked, poking it with a length of willow.
“Well it is his essence I suppose, you know his essential being kind of.”
“Never seen one before,” this was Diane, crouching down to take a look. She sniffed. “Smells musty, like a mushroom.”
At that point Luigi, who had been backing away from the bag perhaps in apprehension, rushed up and gave it a tremendous kick. It lifted high into the air and just kept on rising, quite slowly, like a balloon with no child to mourn it.
“A soul,” muttered Dirk as they moved on as one towards the settlement beyond, “what an ugly little word for a dirty, ugly thing. Sometimes words just match what they name don’t they. A soul, yuk I just stepped in a soul.”
“Ugh, I think I just swallowed a soul.”
“Put that soul down, you don’t where it’s been.”
“What a shitty little soul of a hotel, let’s not stay here, I know a much better place.”
But it was late and they were tired so they handed over their documents and made their way wearily to an unsettled night on a lumpy mattress while somewhere over the hill an unknown creature barked, then moaned then reedily keened all through the endless night.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

From "thirsty poems"


in the ukraine the insect turns and devours its own head.
the grasshoppers are indeed the plague but still it was the crops failed to get up.
tractors are run until they all run out and are left to open in the slanting rain.
chernobyl, we sing a song of thanks for chernobyl, for putting hell...on the map.
in the public park in kiev radiation is gotten so bad the children no longer merely play at being “dead”.
I cannot imagine the ukraine, I do not have to; it is a frontier of me.
on the road that needs attention a man trudges home with absolutely nothing on his mind.
there are red soils and grey, but it is for our black soil for which we are justly famed.
the coupon is so worthless no one spends it and so finally we have solved the problem of our inflation.
the potential future leader of the ukraine can’t speak ukrainian yet.
tell the tale of l’vov, a dirty jewel left unattended.
on a farm-strip the head-scarf of a woman balloons suddenly with the wind in it.
I will go there and I will be there and I will face a field as big as we say europe is (is it?).
there is a plot, it gets down to hatching in the south-east corner where nobody goes.
the train of kiev arrives mysteriously in warszawa; with snow still melting on the roof...
in a quiet yard are a hundred needles; locals quoth “lo! see the warheads as they glow in the night.”
coughing on the dust of a lung the worker swigs beer for old times’ sakes;
recent past revisited on the populace moves on with little real effect noted at ground level.

deepest winter. the streets of the nameless town are empty, tail lights of the occasional cares are in trouble with the falling snow. a tram gives it a go, the darkness snuffs it out; from the drains the steam purrs out and birds gather there. in the ukraine, there are no wild-cats nor stray-dogs, or if there are, as obviously there are, come the winter they die. some force has soldered them to the ice. leaving the city. the silence, it is respectful high above the slithering taxi. huddle of lights of the housing projects where everyone this night is living and everyone this night is in. to night and every night. it is minus twenty five degrees and getting colder, here!

but in the country-side the temperature slips on and beyond and is gripped with a wild negative ambition; here it can kill you just to breathe: a hundred people die from broke lungs, thirty die from just the fear of frost, seventy three people, a village, is lost. simply mislaid by the drift of the snow. come spring. they reappear in another place entirely but they carry on because here it all feels the same in any case.

I walk. down a lane. in snow, ‘cept it is not snow, not exactly and here the word pool gets parched like peppermint and where did that come from? in this lane the few ruts are left by carts and the often hoof prints, three trees are getting dressed bit by the moisture freezing in the air. every night they are the ones you see decked out in a pristine fur, silvery and haughty, dropping in white sheets in day light, for. when it is this cold the sap is pulled so far back that these trees are actually dead; nothing lives. when spring comes, the way a baseball haemorrhages in your hand, they still wear the trauma of completion and people don’t particularly bother to speculate as to why.

let me just say this:
this lane is here in darkest galicia
makes a province of ukrania
it is the other world is a subterranea
beneath the carapace, this winter’s night
and in the spring when the air is thick with blossom and each lane is a carnival
of colours, a scents certain
people are know to say they don’t
they hardly they really don’t
that it looks so very different from before because it is a different place.
or this:
when winter’s vice is broken
and retreats and pulled back north
to the caps
on great rods
that run along great grooves
ancient as ever and it all takes on its own
with it and destroys what it
is left by so it can not not be got at.

I arrive at a place where I can go no further.
my host leaves open his door and the yellow gash ruins me.
I see the stable and the stable, it sees me too.
after this place there is no other place for me.
the border is internalised and so very hard to place.
the yard is gloomy though the moon is full.
in it the useless tools are spending some quality time.
how vain is the plough when seen out of season. I
enter the house and this door shifts. on its hinges
my host welcomes me and his wife it is she opens a bottle.
the house is still, wooden, and the centre table is rotten.
on the walls superstitions barely camouflaged in gaudy icons.
the woman’s skirts are home to children which are lovely also.
in this place, this square box, came I to rest. it is trapped by winter and blocked in by the moon.
I will sleep here and dream though often content disturbs my equilibrium.
in ukrania I find my frontier and the weather lays me down.
come morning, whose son’s brilliance, leaves me tearful, leave me alone!
where is warsaw? where is lublin? in ukrania no thing stirs.
sunday morning, the church is full;
held resonating on a shivering rock of earth.

From "thirsty poems"

this endive life

“but the endive, if left, will dry...out!”
what does she mean by this and
just what does she want to say?
salad is more than a decoration:
the star, fruit
the onion...moon
a vegetable sun, loving it

the water on the leaf, the same story repeats

long ago the party is over after
as long as the stem of the glass is snapped
and all endives left, awilting “it
is indicative you know these
things do matter” yes I know. saints

preserves and us, emerging from
the “taps” ourselves pretty much.

there is a place for drainage and for primping
crazy, tossed into a mixed up world, crazy.
we sing our anthem “the party’s
over” and get on with it—

From "thirsty poems"

at fog

and for an indefinite period the sky is cleared away. the
sweep of some thing across it is like the hare of midnight
crossing the band of spoilt frost of the fog remains
in taupe fashion the modern-reeking swirls of ether yes
like phantoms but spirits of an as yet un-named
catastrophe, so in-bound, inhered, inscribed
all is deep and deep is personal. it happened so slowly that
slow is to it as meaningless as it is to a hare. a
petrified shelf (or slab), time is beneath the petrified ocean which
does not conceal the becalmed dance of continents oh no, but
still reserves the right to shift, to shimmy every what? let’s
say a million years or so, over a period of a million years. or so,

at my feet glass. coloured glass is not at all like
confetti but actually is is a kind is a kind of, of confetti—from
the marriage of some insane technologies of chance—and
in trying to apply that sense of okay if you like
that “world view” to the now. bush, and dead berries chasing
off the lost hare whose terror at the dogs’ barking through
the high, the irregular, angled in, columns of this estate.
we may indeed be premature, the way sound hurries
in the hollows and is transmitted in the fog, like
water over, or across a web. I find I am not able to

and, rising up from the smoke shrouded table the
committee pass with desperate satisfaction, the
motion. the city is blind, but it is still an organic whole.
lawfully, one must apply the rules of lawlessness. though
through which we move ourselves as blind as
bats (when we fly) as worms (when we burrow) less
able to define the piazza against the cul-de-sac than to apply,
confetti to the track of a hare. both are poignant though, I think.
they speak out
not about what was lost, what once was, what morsels are left lying.
the hunt is a ritual, and ritual means nothing some
thing we once did which we don’t now; frost brittle grass tips
and a sudden carnival of hares, a whole handful of merciless hares.

From "thirsty poems"

the wind’s bequest

canada! what so ever the wind fetches up; from the arid field it fetches up: husk, dusk and wisdoms now forsaken what it fetches up. it will be fetched up there’s no changing it or challenging it at all and what. it lets lie what is better? left that way: seed, sedentary needing, roots, bulbs...the grotesque.

be my guest. what it lets will linger lie, restive. favouritism what the detritus will, fling up against is worthy to be swamped: impenetrate arms, of twist, of hedge row.

barn doors.

and a. and what it flings against will ask that this be so. what? it chokes, what it rasps and sears, the way, what the season tells you is also what you are capable of being told at this. juncture. there is a need for investment.


candid. and what it tells you is bound into dust dry tones deep throated homilies came raging in the lowlands but all that it holds back is stuff you crave for foam for, would almost kill for.

there is stuff, you want it. there is stuff you want. you really want to go through that door. “drink pepsi, get stuff.”

that could not be conceived of nor “guesstimated” either: and, that you want it, don’t have it, will get all amish and raise the roof at last over it.

you never really need to go through that door: and get stuff.

From "thesecstasies"

she keeps telling me it’s here

not so much the shock of the new as of the same I who pride myself on my “originality” and whatever comes before a fall it’s gotta be high high and that’s for what it’s worth pay the rest to make up your compensation

yes it will make you feel better but it will not cure you I am reliable and informed that there is no cure for the personality life is its own punishment cycle and you gotta “ride” “it” or “it” will “ride” “you” apparently

nowhere is as much a place as somewhere what one should concentrate on is never the prefix but what comes before that and once more for luck accuracy and excess and I feel a little distance come creeping yes

come creeping between them the caesura and the cadence have practically all sewn up she slammed that door so hard the pane shattered pronounced suture I like a mouth full of your marbles

just a version of thought is made in the mouth but is that through this tongue or the space around and life from now on will be like this poem whose form disallows development even as it makes impossible promise the

relationship may your gods save you from the enjambement of true love the process of discarding trousers even as you buy new ones confirms vicissitudinous fashion has a kinky determining rhythm

and that is the rhythmical beat of the promise of rhythm eek-a-mouse unfulfilled access denied truisms no less true for the act of their distortion on the grotesquerie which is what that means

these new pills make me shit and how “sweet yet sad” it is to fuck a stranger even worse to fuck each other into estrangement there is nothing like a little strangeness which logically means everything is

or most things that are I like it like that I really do one can’t put a price on true friendship but let’s for the sake of something you can choose say you can might we be surprised at how cheap it is probably not now we are sophisticates

From "thesecstasies"

yes yes yes yes yes

men! yes we too have our doubts as to the veracity of laurent kabila but you won’t get anywhere in the next few years unless you are java enabled which kinda takes all the spice out of it

I wish I had the humility to say to her simply please don’t leave don’t leave don’t leave me I mean I can “make” “it” without “you” easy but I don’t want to make it merely you need a little elbow grease

here it is horror as if gagging on pig’s blood what we force on our acolytes but true power is never having to say you’re sorry unless that is your ideology in which case sift the flower fucker sift away

do you have a minute let me tell you desperation is not a flat plane where you have surfaced in dark mists night falls so quickly up here you will survive but your companion she is mine now a part of it so savoury

and one can move around the blankness virtually reality except it is real but why would you want to pretty soon to become connoisseurs of the gradations of the absolutely similar like for like…separate eggs from there shells

“here it is horror” some blame osama bin laden the exiled scion of an enormously wealthy saudi merchant family africa is a so-called soft target if they seem to have no organisation in the face of inconceivabilities well

what does that prove except we know nothing and no more do they there which is where exactly explosives are very easy to make you can download the recipe and then pick an american presence and prey hesto

presto a fiend of fangs and barbed phalluses is indiscernible from the american war machine but better focus on the scores dead and rising you get no better view it really is a featureless flat cake of no-thing-ness gone where once was

I imagine he has cronies he has the neck for it but you won’t get anywhere in the next few years without a fuller sense of what cronyism is if I’d eat shit for you if you would only stay climb the stair you’d be gone for good men!


Comments added to a discussion on The Line in Space at Lime Tree.
I've been working on lineation for a while now, not taking it for granted as a fundamental of poetry but accepting its importance all the same. The most illuminating work in this field is Agamben's "The End of the Poem" which I have discussed in detail on my blog so I won't go on about it again here, even I have my limits of interest!

What seems to be behind the differences of opinion in this discussion is an inability to understand the semiotic materiality of the line as a visual unit with the field of the poem, and of course its liminal status as a non-necessary, convenient way of rendering the temporality of the spoken poem in a more portable and lasting form. Sorry, it's not easy to say all that in a prettier way but basically the line has its own aesthetic presence but it also serves the voice.

This transition from voice to page happened a long time ago now, and it seems time to pay our dues to the line. True the line was once the supplement to metre and it may be the case that metre has some coginitive or experiential reason for being, although I have never seen any evidence for that, but the line is also a fundamental element of our visual experience. This means that the line itself has an aestheitc power and that lines in space produce a powerful rhythm akin to that seen in painting, particularly abstract work. I have called this "line measure" in the past and again it is discussed in my blog.

One other point is that the line has been the location of postmodern and contemporary avant-garde innovations in poetry from Olsen, through New York School work to Bernstein, Howe, Hejinian. The line is the last material sign of poeticity, the last defamiliarisation of so-called ordinary language, and so understandably its significance has been heightened.

These innovative poets have tried to liberate the poem from the line using prose, attenuated lines down to one word or phoneme, extended the line beyond the brain's abality to see it as a single unit, split it into two using columns, scattered lines across the page, turned them upside down, written one line on top of the other in palimpsests, renounced the page altogether in favour of performative and talk poems, and are now radically altering the limits and potentialities of lineation using html and java coding.

Corret me if I am wrong but we live in the golden age of lineation and should be as excited about these prosodic innovations as people once were, I presume, about the formalised applications of iambs.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

From "thirsty poems"

illicit substances, mostly liquids

moth balls, naphtha, semen
milk and sesame oil

stuff that issues from the husk of strange fruit
binding, blunting, strings into madagascar
it has pulp, your lips are its stains
it has pith and there must be passion
in it somewhere

grappa, chalky deposit, cheese
milk, sesame oil and olive oil

in the past there is still spittle, a tongue from which
you, drinking down straws in finland
gingham has exhausted into
stripes fading into white
water must be it—

sap, bone marrow, lsd
milk, sesame and olive oil, balsamic vinegar

stumbling in and into the “barn” of memory; pulses in a sack. light, and polish. we get free of dust. shivering. shaking. no rattle snake sighs. whatever there is it is and it is spilling. all over us and sticking. we find it on our foreheads. it finds us and our lips do. lentils, beans and split peas. you think we are dry in the sea. I feel you wet in the warm. dry slipping from us. sand.

plastic, glass, soil
milk, vinaigrette. this papery pulp is...

From "thirsty poems"

tarzan goes 50,000 leagues under the sea

not like the submersible crashing through the undergrowth and collapsing from the bulbous nose cone on,
but, actually the submersible crashing through the undergrowth and collapsing from the bulbous nose cone down.

fuck! how the yellow arséd bald headed primates chatter
and rain down their perfectly understandable displeasure.

...coming to the waterhole, there is no fucking
“...coming to the waterhole” permitted here in kinshasa county.

sixty two years and then the subtle contraction I
see myself for the first time as if from some side out side
and once garnered that approach never goes away.
shyness, excruciating rehabilitation of the slightest
faux pas’s and lo! how it escalates so, je souffre!

with fateful momentum, the submersible goes on, fucking up the jaunty
jungle, mangling the delicate, ecospheric, points of balance...balance.

(then. there is my own protestant whiteness
held in behind the glance of you lot up there
for the first time “you love you really love me”
in my rubber suit and my iron helmet I appeal.)

wish me luck and kiss me on the mouth,
and I open the helmet a touch and touch.

I am about to embark on a long and arduous journey
First published in Ramraid Extraordinaire

From "thirsty poems"


on the molo at night, the swans will not respond.
the ramshackle fountain can not break its bonds.
the distance behind the sea, it tucked in like a sheet.
a cool white building shuns the company of the rest.
the idle shopper is caught out! and so must needs stay on.
see, the empty bars are full of golden pipes, leaking steam.
history hobbles on by with just the briefest of passing nods.
the molo by night is just as white as it is by day.
“don't say that!” the one says to the other, “just don’t...”
in the enchanted fountain, the gurgling gargoyles giggle.
this far north it can never be truly dark it seems.
a bar of inviolable sulphur cuts across the clouds.

access is achieved by the illegal band as a fish stirs below.
I can only guess at what is occurring beneath the boards.
seven sylvan swans are spiralling now in a malignant way.
the meeting in the town hall tower rages on, the subclause questioned.
“I don't even care what you meant,” it goes on, “just don’t say it.”
in the fountain bathes the bird, and the bird is god.
alone beneath the blueberry bushes at last!
out at sea the massive nascent shape already is degraded.
the crowd gather with their torches, not yet lit.
in the white building (with the blue roof) they are dancing.
the entrance, though appealing, is descriptively a cul-de-sac.
on the in land every one is out.
the memory hotel is full but the doors, from the outside, are locked.
the demon is released by an accidental pattern in the dance.

the ragged rascal smoothes out upon the surprising powder sands.
screams from the memory hotel are eagerly recorded.
“just—I didn’t say that or anything—just.” it never stops
kashubia, kashubia, country of a thousand fishful lakes.
did I not mention the shipyards throwing up shapes and sparking?
the swans attend a meeting with their briefcases in their beaks.
the fountains’ overflow flows over the marauders, some are drowned.
pity the pitiful; hate the hateful; love the loveable.
the molo’s reach bisects this evening’s dashboard.
the semen of the demon on the running rail is gleamin’.
murder on the molo and the clues are all too clear.
watching the moon dissolve in light to shape the peninsular cloud.
the white building, don't you see it? the white building!
the massive mass floats nearer the pier.
the memory hotel gets forgotten and, neglected, starts to fall.

the drop of the molo props is not even where it stops.
the lover takes another and is beaten by my brother.
the devil is not on any level as he incarnates purest evil.
the swans will carry on though from their eyes we see it is no fun.
the hotel’s fall in a vicious squall in fact casts no pall.
in the fountain bowl there is a hole whose existence is foul.
the bandits are stranded, rounded up then branded.
the corrupted mass begins now to pass onto the relief of the grass.
the town gathers round and starts to burn the molo down.
the murder has been solved and, all involved, absolved.
golden fish on a carved silver dish are served with a swish.
space of the white building filled in by the white building.
the journeying sky is held up by an inhuman cry,
“look, I don’t care, just” don't say “that. the quarrel never” ends.

molo is polish for pier and the particular pier that features in this piece is rumoured to be the largest unsupported wooden structure of its kind in europe. it is situated in the north of the country in the faded grandeur of the old resort town of sopot. the details included in this piece all exist in some shape or form in sopot or its environs. “molo” is not pronounced to rhyme with “polo”, but rather with each ‘o’ pronounced as in “not”.

From "thirsty poems"


1995, I can’t wait. I am the languor of soldiers sick seven
in regimental pyjamas the windows of the
yellow hospital it was I first saw tragedy—
unfurl the yellowing sail, thick crusted mildew brass—
vertebrate with heel met in vertebrate—gristle
backs are the hallowed mediator. how decadent
the sick high on drugs craazy with this this
liberation my infestation; praise be to my infection.

I am the nurse one thigh e m e r g i n g from a dream
like fire back burner beaten back wards under moss
it was a nowhere time of day
rain drilled the tin hat roof
seven sick soldiers in pyjamas regimented.

I am a chameleon clasped onto the faulty blind that sees
lizard back bill head hiding frigidity from the flaccid
patrolling I renege on any camouflage, oh no! as
much as I fear the syringe love the nurse
man, woman and fake fox fur finch I, arrested in brown
unnoticed another century, three this week. ends
the pills arrive; this means war, I go under:
water infinity
so cool meet me over there—
lozenge no please, let me sleep on, a while...

From "thirsty poems"

the childhood ideal

my father, he liked me my mother, she held me
they bought me my food, and clothes, helped me board
a bus, allowed me cash, disallowed me the usual misdemeanour.
my father, when I spoke the ga-ga voice, he listened
remarked to my mother, mother listened too
when I spoke the gree-gree voice, to them, at
some sort of party/function/do, do, der der der...
I forget the rest.
oh yes. my uncle. now he spoiled
me. I liked chocolate: he gave it me; I love
insects: he went out of his considerable way to
catch me moths why. why did he do that, what
was I to him?
my friends, they once passed a
ball to me, and then I knew, what to do
next, now—no! I do not want to do that then
and now thing. mystery is there though not in
contrasts but, but, in an absolute dis location. my
friends laughed at, with and to and from me, they
liked me, I said that, I know it.

fingered by the big beloved in front of the slight committee that
time thinking you all love me, you all really love me!
would you not now like me to speak? the
ga-ga gree-gree voice, one more time? for
old times sake and all that we meant to each other
then? feelings. feeling so used, so dirty, so terribly.
soiled, but be lovéd—

From "thesecstasies"

that hurt

he was as big a man as she was hard to please and together they were a twist into the penumbra and were gone so sit alone upon a park bench in late sunlight patternings and feels so ever so what?

his spasm becomes her rictus twitch all truth being relative including this one still it is possible to be convinced by an ill-kept enigma likened to the psycho-somatic role of the tears in personal history

whose story can tell the least about most of us yes tell me that one the community at large so massive in fact to think it makes the head fuzzy woken blearily I figure you would rather sleep off the affect

shitting yoursen or better brickin' it the light in the mall will stop flickering minutes before the end of season sale of the centuries go from something to everything in very quick succession if you ask it to

the two things just don't add up because one thing isn't a thing but a horizon to thinking about it so you can I give up a lot and ask for nothing in return don't forget to read the "turn" bit

london is a hard city and belfast is in some ways easier but whose counting the result will be courteously disregarded at first and later spit on it you can't believe you ever voted that lot in

I mean I ask you you reply something is missing a wonderful segment either left out or over its value becomes exacerbated rather only because we are like saying it no I don't know what it means

the pain I am going through is obvious and besides we are not allowed to be neurotic anymore that's just the way life is some vestiges of a cancelled tide my dribble atop the lagoon but the surface is a smooth as plastic

what no longer shows on their bumble-faces in flashes or murmurs of humanity below is the life lived by the streets in the people a weapon of nature to sweep away the structures but leave the population all outstanding

From "thesecstasies"

shut up you little bugger…

get it from me somehow but what of those who went through the woods did they build up shacks there living like animals pigs covered in clover in a blanket in a basket of gingham nestles a sting living contradiction

I mean you did kind of exploit the situation a little eked out the moment to become a situation we all need a place where we can go and y'know just be you are all stretching out the dream of crisis management

the gentle thrum of machinery as you sleep your unconscious is up making sure every non-thing is in disorder a tree used to mean a lot less than it does now now we're only a few million left sorely

it's not where you are from its from elsewhere come to greet it well over half-way they said half and half as much again then split that between the two of you half now and half for later deal?

for which you will be handsomely rewarded with a sizeable portion of the kingdom figures to be determined after extensive costing what's left of it and the hand of my daughter preserved here in this pickle jar ouch that's gotta

why don't the days apologise for what they have become the dis-ease of metal against metal ameliorated somehow inside the hot little box which you'd have to pull apart just to get it back in together again

its like one vast rubics cube with all the colours peeled off in petulance and which one might obsessively try and "solve" late into the evening until you sense it's the neediness of its slack action you're after only it isn't nothing can be

too much is made of the visual senses oh there's only one well I rest my case on the style and look back down the mountainside to the village or hamlet or settlement we have fled from the feel of the weathered wood and its swelling smell

countdown to the millennium o-one tw-oo oo-ne further on up you'll be looking for a shelter of forgetfulness in the shadow of a factory of ailing non-productivity but if it doesn't work out there for you you can always hurting come home there'll always be a place for you here

From "thesecstasies"

that hurt

he was as big a man as she was hard to please and together they were a twist into the penumbra and were gone so sit alone upon a park bench in late sunlight patternings and feels so ever so what?

his spasm becomes her rictus twitch all truth being relative including this one still it is possible to be convinced by an ill-kept enigma likened to the psycho-somatic role of the tears in personal history

whose story can tell the least about most of us yes tell me that one the community at large so massive in fact to think it makes the head fuzzy woken blearily I figure you would rather sleep off the affect

shitting yoursen or better brickin' it the light in the mall will stop flickering minutes before the end of season sale of the centuries go from something to everything in very quick succession if you ask it to

the two things just don't add up because one thing isn't a thing but a horizon to thinking about it so you can I give up a lot and ask for nothing in return don't forget to read the "turn" bit

london is a hard city and belfast is in some ways easier but whose counting the result will be courteously disregarded at first and later spit on it you can't believe you ever voted that lot in

I mean I ask you you reply something is missing a wonderful segment either left out or over its value becomes exacerbated rather only because we are like saying it no I don't know what it means

the pain I am going through is obvious and besides we are not allowed to be neurotic anymore that's just the way life is some vestiges of a cancelled tide my dribble atop the lagoon but the surface is a smooth as plastic

what no longer shows on their bumble-faces in flashes or murmurs of humanity below is the life lived by the streets in the people a weapon of nature to sweep away the structures but leave the population all outstanding

Lineation: The Right Hand Column

How to read the right hand column
I don’t want to think too systematically about this because it’s the challenge to the systematic that the role of the other column presents.

Can you get emotional about absence; can the lack of what is written on our right hand side really move us as readers? I suppose my most recent work is a more general attempt to answer this question by looking at the deconstructive and affective results of writing into material presence issues to do with absence.

Like you are at the edge of something, which you are, space is there if you want to carry on but you can’t go there. You can’t read space and yet reading cannot occur without it. Supplemental in the extreme, it is, of course, as I have already said, absolutely central to a sense of poetry. The gaps between letters are phenomenologically different to those between words. The first link letters into units of significance, the second parse them up into larger units of significance. But both are essential and relate to the embodiment of the experience of language. Just as the ear takes strings of noise and imposes a false sense of separation to allow for the reception of the noise as separate serial strings we call words, so the eye does the same.

So then it comes to another form of space, the semiotic event of poetic space. This space is larger in terms of actuality but is also an order of magnitude larger. In a piece I co-wrote with Blau duPlessis on her poem “Draft 33: Deixis” she questioned my definition of lineation as phenomenological and at the time she was right, I hadn’t thought it through properly. But what if there was, within the brain, a module for the arrest of the progress of language that results in the exhilaration of the fall into poetry? This isn’t really a rhetorical question. Clearly the brain is wired for rhythm both aural and visual, if not then art would not work/exist.

Which takes me back to the column. Fall in/over there. If it is a vortex of air then rise up in its warm currents or zoom down with its gravitational pull. Step over it like a wet floor never to dry, or over dog shit. Turn your back on it and feel its draftiness, or lean over it and revel in the vertigo. Dump stuff there if you want, or believe in ghosts and aliens because of it. If you are embittered, mutter in the blank column of self (right)eousness about feeling (left) out in the normal scheme of things. In my second book I imagine the right hand column as an empty, jagged vortex into which the spirits of the dead are released, or it could just be a place to sit and be in silence and absence and feel at peace.

What should we call this nearlyalwaysemptyexcessive zone? I call it the space of poetry.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

From "thirsty poems"

not jumping

the helicopter watching over us like this star
does or does it the way we imagine it to be
the plane face of a sun which we face;
the open eye of a very ancient watchfulness
which never never slumps like laundry across its
formica desk whilst, in plain view on grey monitors
men in masks (or women) slip by with military
ease about them; spot lights turned on in wards

my attention not then drawn to the grotesque
stampeding of the hedge row now purple and olive
‘midst the amenable slabs of neolithic (?) rock
rotten with fossil bits and prehistoric worms
and, this peculiar process of attention, shifting (no!
not jumping, I cannot testify to jumping) seemingly
at will, it makes my belly, glow like a whisky, mack

later, streets dipped in a dark glistening whose
amorphous and organic facets give of colour
like a black diamond that has been softened with
soaking—oxyacetylene blossoms up on con-
crete cornices of the bureau show the curious emblem
like a veil not lifted but twitched in a tant-
ta-li-sing way: a large lemur-eyed cruise-ship
bulking above crossed sticks or switches, just in bud
and the immortal motto. “to the microlite!”...

From "thirsty poems"

“ ”

it is all about limits, the setting of them

I lie back the sun
forever at my back

perhaps about how the country side has kept apart the towns

to let the wind pass over
me enclosed, dispensed

with de limits pushing out and up against us also

the sun behind revealing
shadowed showdowns of my one hornéd head

and how can I expect to say what I will do tomorrow when
I’ve no fixed plans about this next millennium even so
elevate me; a hollow in exterior to the office tower here
there to deal with these issues: lines, extravagances, lies lies!

First published in Iota

From "thirsty poems"

central europe

here in central europe/the earth gets stuck in restlessness/heaving like the sobbers do/levelling a good few towns some cities also/

and here in central europe/the water got exhausted/and vagrant fishes must grow lungs bloody quick/and make their useless ways/

then there is this place in centralised europe where/the vertebrate forest got crippled/hobbling and groaning the trees/look to each other for support/hindering their journeying immeasurably/

whilst in centring europe/the weaver’s hands are crimpéd crampéd/and this weaver’s specular eye is blind/so the shuttle roams unmonitored/weaving lots of the little miscellaneous bits/into the brave broad sweep of clouds/bedraped with fabric of wildest beauty and strength/

wild wild beauty lay me down/kiss me on the mouth in central europe/wrapped in cloth of warp so soft so fragrant/-flagrantly so-/doused in juice off of vines/and whose weft (which once wept/bereft) sparkles under cuckoo spit/and a bold seam of gold/unearthed amidst the glory of coal/in the middle of the mid-mid-lands/of mid-land europe/

in central europe the scissors lie blunted/and our children’s growth stays stunted/whilst the bright trains of yesteryear/rot/where they have been shunted/up/in central europe/

in central europe the stone walls lie lain low/and our kids’ ideas stray off from the main flow/whilst the polished rock pathways of last/week’s/burning summer know not where to go/to/in central europe/

in central europe the sticky sap stews untasted/and our off-spring’s bold artistic visions seem now wasted/and the meat which we struck down/this minute past/shies away and then rejects the stock in which is was to be basted/in/in central europe/

in central europe/
on central europe/
at central europe/

I am charging at central europe/am charging central europe/down/I am charging (you) for central europe/in the navel area of europe/the axial position of this continental plate called “europe”/in the designated geographical locale:/central (europe) in the fairly central/location/of the large territory described:/europe—unified geographically (slightly)/economically (nearly)/ religiously (tragically)/linguistically (grammatically)/historically (violently)/ culturally (hardly)/racially (not at all totally)/artistically (pretty famously)/ energetically (though not always successfully in the big arenas used annually)/ in nato(sic)lly (provisionally)/

we dare to call a place which is not a place at all or if it is only so because a large sword was forced through the abdomen of a woman and her children raped and left for dead for an outside agency whom everyone feared and furiously courted and who was always interfering because they mistook malicious meddling for being a world power whatever that means what americans call “policing” I believe or limited skirmishes or because sheer horror and ferocity of internal racial hatred and patricide forced so called natural and historical borders onto blank topoi or even occasionally for less motivated reasons such as when certain let’s face it truly remarkable and inspiring geographical features arise to cut up the land such as the grand gothicisim of the carpathians or the little known pastoral calm of the bug river and for once the whole business got settled relatively peacefully which was welcome change and yet the only thing that binds us
really binds us
is our hating being bound up into packages and then associated with that lot over there or worse in here with us on our land but still an identity formed from millennia of atrocities is a universal and lasting formula elsewhere and also here:


From "thirsty poems"

auction laundry agent

as I raise my paddle—
why so eager the landscape of beached bric-a-brac to overreach the ideas of the ghoul at rest over his self-penned almanac which invites critique from the magpies pulling upwards from his brain into a worthwhile, for a change, attic adventure.

try as I might I cannot rid the fabric—
when albert pulled the american sound “lever” his wife held his breath for him and in what then took place the mountains gave no clue as to the track of the avalanche which was prohibition to the numbers racket of the flood-green valleys of course.

in the debrief I wept—
the building programme here is fierce pulling through community to units in a full meander of parts to a whole to just parts: like heather does not make a more; like shrimps do not a salad make; like making a sugar and fertiliser bomb is brave. it isn’t.

and in one final
emblem of our
embarrassment as
to the path through
the story to the
whole thing we’ve

been after I
recall the way the
monster picked us off
one by one
and if wed’ve stood to
gether, so still we’d die.

From "thirsty poems"

odd jobs

is it any wonder the demesne is snug
knowing the evening gold is another one for the books?

even forgives two men halted by its gate,
daring to rest their clay glutted feet there.
saying: “padriag, you’ve borne queer fruit
there,” “haven’t I just.” “ahh, you’re the divil
himself.” “are we off so?” they leave.

gold elevators lift them to heavenly tramlines.

later. in the upper guttering a chick is swamped.
I know. I find its chalk deposited when I clean
out the mush of dead leaves next autumn-winter
laughing. we re-hearse its never un-packed wings
one of which will oftentimes squeak at the hinge.

unwittingly, the horse bolts across the stretch.

From "thirsty poems"

the annals of robinson crusoe—experiments in form

1: arrival
the weed gets dislodged from the deep;
so lonesome I could weep.

the furry fruits sprout well beyond your reach;
and how I fear the beach.

from the head land razor reefs are all too plain;
I dream of mittle europa, and spain.

2: remembrance
in my father’s house are many wonders
I can taxonomise them still
fabrics culled from the tropics
machinery made at home
porcelains from china
idols of asia minor
religious emblems scraped in rome
curious american hydroscopics
and of course grotesque hookahs from brazil.
evidence of adventurers, traders and their unfair plunders,
how I miss it so.

3: adjustment
I love my goat
who gives me love unconditional
I long for the boat

I hate cats, cats
they perform excess inexcusable
and collude with rats

at first they charmed me seemed
so free and full of such
shenanigans but they give to take away and
I have to keep these rabbits in that hutch
to keep them from being molested as
that oft discovered corpse attested to.

4: maladjustment, psychosis
over the years I see the importance of
leaf migration has allayed my fears and
perturberance of belief in an eventual salvation.
the way they blow across the island face
so exigent and also somehow motivated the flow of
matter into space my hope resurgent invigorated.

yet, in the darkness when tornadoes rape the mangroves
and the leaves become as spectres at my perimeter
fence they are my intimidator the best forgotten stark
ness that hectors my joy like desperadoes who as
thieves descend and occupy the pass in filthy droves.

Note: this was first published in Aabye's Baby

From "thirsty poems"

development of a landscape

water lay on the land there and
fleas grew fat on it as
an ox pulled through the brown whilst
simultaneously brown corn grew up whereas
between the corn the air so that
between the air the corn grew simultaneously
people gathered on the edges who
though cautious came to rule.

water oozed through the land there and
leaving a mark, softening fibres as
warming and stagnating pools of life whilst
fish came and went in their silence whereas
they mistook the weeds for thoroughfares so that
they rode the idling currents pleasurably simultaneously
hooks were dropped and raised and nets dragged who
with the falling evening were filling up.

happiness soaked and bloated and staggering and
like the soil ripe with water as
over ripe, pregnant and burdened whilst
soon to fall it lifted up its paunch skywards whereas
there was a long, grandiose, buckling effect so that
swallowing up the corn and swamping the fish simultaneously
the warm processes were turning the pools to soup who
stifled, went far too far, splitting this skin.

First published in Rialto and then Limestone

Lineation: Lines into Columns

Lines into Columns cont...

Extract taken from my second book, On Mourning: Theories of Loss in Modern Literature (Edinburgh U.P., 2004) with siginficant modifications.

My work on columns comes, as I have said, from considerations of language and loss:

It is useful to try to think of every poem as consisting of two columns or of two sides. Some of the most important elegiac works of our age have tried to do precisely this. I have already mentioned the double columns of "Litany." This same technique is however used by Jacques Derrida in his prose-poem Glas, still one of the most challenging and confounding works on death we have, where he conducts two separate deconstructive readings of death and mourning, one of Hegel and the other of Gide while Blau duPlessis' "Draft 5: Gap" mixes single columns with double columns. However, because "Litany" is such a remarkable conception we ought to begin there where Ashbery conducts a debate on the spatial duality of the line throughout the poem. In this poem there are two columns, the left hand column is the usual location of the poem within the field of the poem, the right hand column is the interloper and is italicised to emphasise its otherness. A note at the beginning of the poem says: "The two columns of Litany are meant to be read as simultaneous but independent monologues".

First Ashbery registers the reader's own confusion when confronted with two columns: "A shipwreck seen from the shore, / A puzzling column of figures." Then he refers to the issue of symmetry, "Concerns galore / Under both headings, the identical twin numbers." Before ending with the most clear statement to date on the location of death in the right hand margin of every poetic lines:

And so I say unto you: beware the right margin Which is unjustified; the left Is justified and can take care of itself But what is in between expands and flaps The end sometimes past the point Of conscious inquiry, noodling in the near Infinite, off-limits.
Naturally this warning comes in the right margin, which is italicised to differentiate it from the left, and brings to the fore the dual columns of poetic language that, as far as I am aware, has rarely if ever been considered. We find in the elegiac work of Ashbery, Derrida and Blau duPlessis the realisation that on every page of every poem we have two columns not one. On one side is words on the other their absence. Rising up through the middle is the jagged plume of the truncated lines. For every line that is left behind there is the line that has transcended, which cannot be seen or read precisely because it has crossed over to the other side of language.

Perhaps the line does not fall in enjambment, instead maybe it is broken. One half peels off and rises nimbly upward, light and flighty like the ashes of burnt paper. The other half remains on earth. Thus elegy is the epitome of the line that does not lie down and die; the act of expression that chooses not to fall due to its transcendental qualities but also because it keeps the dead alive for the duration of the work. However, at the same time in enshrining eternal spirit in a clear semiotic tension, it continually grounds the spirit in the material world of language. Is this why there are two columns. One is noisy and full of stuff, the other silent and allows for the poem to come to presence. The first column drags the poem down, the second releases it into air.

Lineation: Lines into Columns

Lines into Columns
One of the problems of Agamben's dialectical approach is that, like all dialectical approaches, it is extremely limiting and reductive. Oppositions feel right and they give good structure, but the gradations of the semiotics of space in the poem are subtle and various, and a prose/poetry dichotomy simply does not do them justice. No, to better understand the semiotics of space in relation to the line the main source remains poets themselves, not their poetics, but the actual work. Although lineation and space are fundamentally important to poetic language, nothing has really been written on the subject that comes near to tackling the remarkable usage of semiotics in contemporary poetry.

Recently, in my own work on the poetics of loss and mourning, I have been looking at the interface of the semiotic and semantic in that of all the semantic areas space could address, obviously the theme absence/loss is the easiest. In particular I have been looking at the right hand margin, mysterious zone of poetic definition that speaks with the eloquence of the poetic by remaining almost permanently silent. I have also been looking at the tendency of memorial monuments to be articulation semiotically through the use of a broken line suggesting links between the aesthetics of commemoration and the basic conditions of poetry.

This has led me increasingly to think about columns. (Blogger doesn't allow right margin flush it seems)

In a traditionally ordered poetic field, the left hand margin is flat and ordered like prose is, while the right is jagged and confusing the way poetry is. The imposed semiotic event of the space brought about by line-breaks, suspends the eye and consciousness in this locale of familiar alterity. That space is, semiotically, of massive importance as without it there is no poetry. However, its semantic capabilities are restricted by the fact that nothing is written there. How do we come to terms with space when seen in this way, can one actually read space or is it just there as material to arrest the progress of the eye/voice/mind enough to allow poetry a space to come to being?

What I have discovered in looking at the column poems of Ashbery ("Litany"), Derrida (Glas), Blau duPlessis (Toll), Raworth (various) and my own experiments with the form, is that the jagged, empty right hand column is a very real presence in all lineation. I have concluded that all poems consist of at least two columns, the left-hand inscribed column and the right hand, jagged and empty column. That this has not been commented on much if at all is typical of our inability, as readers of text, to read that foundational part of text, the gap or space. All this is changing now the distribution of the poem across the field of the poem is becoming so central to contemporary poetic measure. This has the benefit of making us look to the right hand column and also the move away from the order of the left. It also allows us to find space interior to the line as well as at its furthest extremes.

From "thesecstasies"

okay okay

the wind in rustling in your hair tells a story of what has dropped off a thousand miles away is the intention to gather up and then rush at it an energy distributed then through shallowness to rise

five people asleep in a home big enough for four only one could be mistaken into lying wakeful as the slug is universally despised so you too might feel the uncanny shoulder-consciousness of only just getting away with it

so much is pressure but some of the worst is the release which tends towards a repetition of pathology in all the shadows of the seasonal adjustments made to stave off mass a ideology

like your father never told you it is hard nowadays to talk of the child who goes to bed happy yet alone without being accused of sentimentalism which is the habit of an automatic response to tragedy I guess and wakes up sad

the body is what falls from you as you rise in that bracketed way by this this parenthetical to the other all it is a process of wanting to get closer to that big mooning face

we too are homeless only semi-detached we've been saving up for true immediacy halt who lurks there goes nowhere this unfurling which is ending up interminable is a blanketing of bold insecurity

like ozzy osborne's which I can say without irony as you will bring enough of you own to bear in your little bed which hives you off for darkness to fumble in knitted spells about your collarbone

we have become so certain of uncertainty meanwhile el niño has given rise to cases of hurtling upwards super-subjectivity of a being of total dissemination whose myriad parts you fully occupy all and at the same time

you feel the last mewing warmth on your back articulated like the spine of a vast earth goddess let loose amidst the peaks to rise as ether carrying her displacement on her back is a passage through it

Monday, March 05, 2007

Lost in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E: The Elegiac Tendencies of Contemporary American Poetics

Paper presented at Keele University, May 2001 and again at Reading University in June 2001.

Death is never completed as there are always leftovers. There are the literal remains of the body which, within western culture, are vital to the mourner’s sense of how to mourn successfully; there are those who are left over or behind who must make sense of their loss; and then, more often than not, there are monuments. Elegy theory pays a great deal of attention to the nature of the monument, as does art history and social anthropology, and certainly the memorial is the moment when the privacy of mourning meets the public gaze of the community. At this most difficult of meeting points, private and public, we often like to construct something to mark the occasion, something arresting and affecting. But which occasion are we commemorating with our monuments to that which has been lost?

Elegists and psychoanalysts tend to stress the affective importance of the monument as an essential step towards the completion of the healthy cycle of mourning. Yet even here there are voices of dissent. As Ramazani and Shaw describe, the contemporary elegy is typified by its refusal to get well, while post-Freudian psychoanalysis increasingly sees loss as a fundamental aspect of subjectivity, something that one cannot get over. So if the monument does not mark the occasion of loss, what is its purpose?

Never forget the materiality of the monument. Walk through a large city and note how much of the essence of the place is given over to monumentalising loss. Pass the statuary and the fountains, walk through the squares and sit on the benches looking at the trees marked with small brass plaques. Continue on, paying attention to the inscriptions above doorways and the names of boulevards. Enter the cemetery. Don’t tarry among the famous graves or recently dug plots, but head to the back where the stones are sinking and the tombs have developed cavities and list alarmingly. Their gates are rusting and crooked, their angel’s hands amputated and their faces scoured smooth by time.

The monument is physical and so apparently made of matter, which is its purpose after all. We place monuments in such a way as they can be apprehended so that the specific loss can be similarly apprehended. They don’t mark loss and the closure of mourning, in other words; instead they are an open form. They exist to allow a continual meeting between the privacy of a death and the public truth of all our deaths. Anthropological studies of mourning rituals over the last century, initiated by the Durkheim School, have increasingly come to the conclusion that the ritual act of mourning is exactly that, an acting out of communal anxieties when faced with the incommensurable threat which actual death poses.

This view is also supported by a particular strand of the philosophical community and can be found in the work of Lacan, Levinas, Derrida, Kristeva, Blanchot, and Lyotard. All these voices speak of death in a similar way, as the incommensurable event which is radically unknowable and therefore other. It is a limit not to life but to limitation itself. It is an absence not within the subject but of subjectivity itself. Death constitutes something other, over or out there, a final encounter the effects of which we meet with every day. Death becomes, in effect, the real.

Taking all this into consideration, what is the monument for and how does it operate? If it is essentially of material importance what should it be constructed from, and if the point is to facilitate meetings, who attends these meetings and what gets discussed there? These are questions I want to begin to answer. For too long the false assumption that mourning has a healthy aspect facilitated by the monumental act of commemoration, has hidden the truth about mourning in western culture. However, throughout the reality of loss has been encountered because of this. This reality is the reality of the remains. Death, because monuments have always tried to tame and trope it with their scale and perfection of form, remains as something still to be dealt with. Also, the marking of our remains in the form of gravestones and the like, the most common and communal monument, links the spirit of the lost beloved with the debased matter of their abject corpse. The monument, therefore, in being what is left on the earth after the spirit has departed, both denies the radical incommensurability of death, and at the same time demonstrates it. For when one encounters the material thing which is the monument, one comes face to face with the matter of death.

For those of you familiar with the avant-garde group of American poets called the Language group, the idea of addressing the issues of the elegiac monument in relation to their work may seem perverse. This loose collective of writers which developed in the U.S. in the nineteen seventies are committed to undermining and exposing the very values that make poetic elegy possible. Their sustained attack on the assumed unity of the lyrical I and its ability to express itself through meaningful, transparent forms means that, by rights, it would be impossible for there to be a Language elegy. Yet, at the same time, their commitment to the materiality of the word directly accords with my own analysis of the elegiac monument as the meeting point of the subject and its radical delimitation within a communal realm. Therefore, while the Language group would be unable to write an elegy, everything they have written has been tinged with what I would call the elegiac or the encounter with the irreducible real of actual death.

Bob Perelman, Language poet and unofficial historian of the group, points out that the titles of the two journals which began the Language group convey all one really needs to know about Language poetry:
Consider the titles of two magazines, which were initially devoted to language writing: This and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E...This is deictic—it points something out; there has to be somebody doing the pointing: a person using a word, using it specifically, confidently, this not that. If anything is, this is here and now... L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, on the other hand, presents a different problem, as anyone who has ever had to type it more than once will understand... (Perelman 19-20)

Contained within the differences between these two titles is the essence of the central tenet of Language poetry which is the materiality of the word, and it is this avowed materiality that allies their poetry to the post-elegy theory of monuments I am attempting.

Materiality must be taken to have two meanings, which also represent two, sometimes opposing, strands of Language poetry. The first materiality is the materiality of this, of pointing, of being a subject within a context and of language being an aspect both of this subjectivity and this context. This is the word as a material product of the world in which we live, here and now, and accounts for the leftist political orientation of Language poetry. It also retains for language a continual interaction with the real, representing language as something that, Charles Bernstein argues in his influential “The Artifice of Absorption”, is both absorptive of the real, and impermeable to it:

By absorption I mean engrossing, engulfing
Completely, engaging, arresting attention, reverie...:
belief, conviction, silence.

Impermeability suggests artifice, boredom,
exaggeration, attention scattering, distraction,
digression, interruptive, transgressive,
undecorous, anticonventional, unintegrated, fractured,
fragmented...: skepticism
doubt, noise, resistance (Bernstein 29)

Language, Bernstein argues, tricks us out of the real by acts of absorption in the same way that capitalism tricks us out of seeing the real material conditions of our existence. Yet language also is the real, or is a thing within the world of the real, and therefore capable of being consumed and of being resisted. This is its impermeable quality that makes it the ideal site for confronting the ideologies of absorption, such as elegy, head on.

L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, on the other hand, stresses a very different materiality, that is the literal materials from which Language is constructed: letters, vowels, consonants, marks, spaces, patterns, phrases, punctuation, voicings, rhythms, sounds, repetitions, lines, sentences, paragraphs and so on. This is also a materiality of this-ness, of quiddity, and of the real, but instead of stressing the context of the poetic act, it stresses the act of construction within that context. Bernstein calls this element of the material word the mark, something he inherits from Derrida, and it is to the mark that we must turn if we are to understand the radical monuments of loss that language poetry can be seen as being:

The “mark” is the visible sign of writing.
But reading, insofar as it consumes &
absorbs the mark, erases it—the words disappear
(the transparency effect) & are replaced by
that which they depict, their “meaning.”...Antiabsorptive
writing recuperates the mark by making it opaque,
that is, by maintaining its visibility... (Bernstein 64)

The mark within writing is what I would call the elegiac as opposed to elegy proper. If you consider every act of language, it is always in a small way an elegy, indicated by the fact that elegy is an unusual genre in that it is self-consuming. It is not a means of communicating but of healing, therefore it really produces a waste product if it succeeds, and the poem becomes, like so many monuments, a charming but irrelevant remainder, picturesque but impotent. All elegies do is express the truth of deconstruction in a visible way: that the referential imperative of language results always in a useless material excess which hangs around, undermining meaning’s claim to transparency and prominence. In contrast to this, the elegiac tendency, which one can find in some modern elegies and monuments, testifies to the unknowability and irreducibility of death and loss in general.

This is a difficult concept for those not schooled in continental philosophy, but Bernstein’s idea of the mark clarifies the idea of what the elegiac is, while also relating Language poetic strategies to contemporary theories of absence and mourning. When one reads the mark, one consumes it and thus one erases it. It is significant, I think, that Bernstein ends his list of absorptive strategies with “belief, conviction, silence” because this holy trinity constitutes the unholy alliance of logocentric views as to what language is for. Once one has belief one can overleap the material, or better use materiality to leapfrog into the immaterial realm of belief typical of the history of the funeral monument in Europe over the last one thousand years as the work of Phillipe Aries has demonstrated. Similarly, conviction brooks no resistance, allows no questioning. It ignores the claims of materiality that the remainder of the sign attempts. The result is, of course, silence, the proper response not only when one attends a funeral or reads an inscription on a grave, but also what results from a successful elegy: the end of the need for words about that loss.

I want now to move on to consider an example of elegiac impermeability using the work of Lyn Hejinian. Hejinian’s poetry is some of the most challenging and intellectually vigorous of all the language poets and her constant interactions with time, writing, reading and memory, regularly bring her into areas within her work that would ordinarily be termed elegiac. In addition to these qualities, she has actually written an elegy, of sorts, and it is with this elegy and her related idea of happiness that I want to finish with. The poem “(Elegy, for K. B.)” is the only poem in the sequence of poems that make up the book The Cell with a title. It goes as follows:

This augmentation of infinity a
but incomplete
we shouldn’t stay in one
spot to look at it

Early one morning made perceptible
three trees, no noise to
hold the air...the list
is not complete

I want it, where something
has affinity to it

There is life and then
occupation of place
A gulf that drawing goes
The skies are wide tines,
blue and blue always receding
From solids, midday, no overlapping
The middle
That we too might gradually
arrive at a life, a
Which speaks for itself and
has no further explanation (Hejinian, The Cell August 10 1987)

Some aspects of this poem approach elegy, I would say the poem in fact attempts to meet with, or to experience a perception of, elegy as a form or real thing in a real context. It is written for a specialised audience who all know about elegy, they may also know who K.B. is, although I don’t. I would imagine supporters of Language poetry might be as outraged at this elegy as supporters of what Language poets call absorptive poetics, in that it is called “Elegy”, its opening line refers to death, there is a debate about life and the fragmented style, normally so confrontational and impermeable in her work, here actually seems to convey quite well the feeling of fragmentation that many in mourning describe.

However, tested against Bernstein’s list of absorptive poetics, and the elegy is the arche-absorptive poem of western culture, one can see that it refuses belief in transcendence. Also, it is not a poem of conviction as it does not try to persuade us of anything in relation to death. Elegies, for those of you who have read a number of them, often tend towards the didactic. Finally, it’s not a poem about silence, but about speech. While Hejinian agrees openly, in her work, with Derrida’s definition of death as the ultimate aporia or uncrossable limit to thought, she is not stunned into quiescent silence at the thought. Rather, she seeks a dialogue with death. She seeks to address her perceptive consciousness to death.

The poem begins by taking on the sublime paradox of death’s infinite scale, which is Derrida’s central conception of death as the formless deconstructive limit of form. Here, in suggesting impossibly that death is an augmentation or expansion of infinity, she describes the impossibility of the absorptive elegy that seeks to expand rationally on death and mourning. And yet also she is not being ironic. Her belief in the world’s being made up of what she calls elsewhere an “infinity of finitudes,” is central to the elegiac aspect of all her poetry. She knows she cannot absorb the real into the word, but this does not mean she cannot know the real. For a start she can know the real, in her poetry, through her inability to absorb the it and thus consume it cognitively.

In the essay “Strangeness,” written at the same time as The Cell, she further expands on these issues: “Because there is a relationship between the mind and the body, there are inevitable experiences of instability and therefore of loss and discontinuity. Loss of scale accompanied by experiences of precision” (Hejinian, The Language of Inquiry 138). The dynamic between a loss of scale and the gaining of an experience of precision, similar to the Kantian mathematical sublime in reverse, is in evidence throughout the poem. Incompletion, or the inability to think death, motivates her to keep moving, to keep experiencing what remains to be experienced. With this in mind she turns to the tangible world left over, the simple pastoral world of trees, small numbers, and silence. However, in a gesture repeated throughout The Cell, the precision of things always draws her eye to the incompleteness of any taxonomy. Her desire for affinity to it, to death or to the real world of mourning depending on how you choose to read it, is both denied by the aporetic nature of death as vast and unknowable, and yet it is also confirmed by her experience of life.

The difference between life and death is, therefore, one of listing. In the list of life there are too many precise things to list for the subject to ever develop affinity, while the list of death has only one item on it, but it is of such magnitude that again an absorptive association to it on the part of the poet would be ridiculous to claim. There is life then, and occupation of place, and there is death and the impossible occupation of its no-place. The subject, she suggests, exists at the midday point. Being is the middle point between the failed taxonomy of life and death.

In terms of impermeability, the poem’s material credentials are fairly solid. Of the four final values in Bernstein’s long list, “skepticism, doubt, noise, resistance” the poem’s suspension of positions between the sublimity of death and absence of matter, and of life and the massive overabundance of matter, is openly stated. Doubt exists both on behalf of the poet and reader I would suspect, as the fragmented, non-sequitorial form is a doubtful vehicle for the important human issues of death and life. In fact, from a psychological point of view, Hejinian’s tendency towards fragmentation and nonsense would be seen as typical of what Kristeva calls depressive speech. As regards resistance, the poem is resistant to reading and interpretation, and itself resists the absorptive temptations of elegy. Which just leaves us with noise.

Bernstein’s commitment to noise is his theory of the mark from an aural perspective, and Hejinian’s use of internal rhyme, line breaks, and a lexicon often chosen as much for sound and appearance as referential meaning, is in accord with the materiality of the word as I have described it. Yet the poem’s concluding lines seem, in fact, to advocate a withdrawal into silence which would be rather typical of an absorptive elegiac monument, rather than an impermeable one. In fact, it is through her desire for a life that speaks for itself, that the implications of the elegiac monument are fully revealed.

In the essay “A Common Sense,” Hejinian puts forward a theory of what she calls happiness, which strangely is in accord with my own ideas as to the nature of the elegiac. Happiness is life’s self-sufficiency or self-satisfaction away from the dictates of western subjectivity and metaphysics. It is the meaningfulness of things in existence, beyond the semantic realm of reference and transparency:

When it comes to ordinary things, their meaning is the same as what they are. The meaning of an ordinary spoon is the ordinary spoon. Its meaning cannot be separated from it...In this sense, one might say that things thinging is their achievement of the ordinary, their achievement of the commonplace...To say that the meaning of a thing is inseparable from it is not quite enough; the meaning of a thing is inseparable from it in its totality...The commonplace is a totality; a place, physical or mental, we (things that exist) hold in common with each other. (Hejinian, The Language of Inquiry 364-5).

Happiness is like mourning for the things you have rather than for the things you do not. It is acceptance of the unknowability of all things, or what Levinas, Derrida, and Lyotard all agree is the proper ethical response to otherness: the treating of the other as other, retaining a respect for its unknowability. What Hejinian’s work does, therefore, is bring the Language group’s concept of the material word to bear on the sublime paradoxes of the material world. Faced with the unknowability of death in her poem, she also encounters the unknowability of life.

From a European perspective this truth has tinged life with the dark tincture of horror, holocaust, death and the inadmissible. It remains to be seen if Hejinian's much more positive take on these issues, as being a cause for happiness, is a profound insight, an American spin on what has been a quintessentially European issue, or merely a strategic polemic stance. What can be said is that the monuments we encounter as a result of being lost in Language, present a powerful challenge to the exhausted monuments of elegy, which merely tries to make up for loss through language. As for death’s incompleteness, Language poetry’s elegiac tendencies mean that the truth about death literally remains to be seen. Its materiality, in the form of leftovers, becomes the public site for an encounter with death on its own terms as unknowable and real. Death, on other words, should be met with not in a state of mourning but as an aspect of happiness.

From "thesecstasies"

okay okay

the wind in rustling in your hair tells a story of what has dropped off a thousand miles away is the intention to gather up and then rush at it an energy distributed then through shallowness to rise

five people asleep in a home big enough for four only one could be mistaken into lying wakeful as the slug is universally despised so you too might feel the uncanny shoulder-consciousness of only just getting away with it

so much is pressure but some of the worst is the release which tends towards a repetition of pathology in all the shadows of the seasonal adjustments made to stave off mass a ideology

like your father never told you it is hard nowadays to talk of the child who goes to bed happy yet alone without being accused of sentimentalism which is the habit of an automatic response to tragedy I guess and wakes up sad

the body is what falls from you as you rise in that bracketed way by this this parenthetical to the other all it is a process of wanting to get closer to that big mooning face

we too are homeless only semi-detached we've been saving up for true immediacy halt who lurks there goes nowhere this unfurling which is ending up interminable is a blanketing of bold insecurity

like ozzy osborne's which I can say without irony as you will bring enough of you own to bear in your little bed which hives you off for darkness to fumble in knitted spells about your collarbone

we have become so certain of uncertainty meanwhile el niño has given rise to cases of hurtling upwards super-subjectivity of a being of total dissemination whose myriad parts you fully occupy all and at the same time

you feel the last mewing warmth on your back articulated like the spine of a vast earth goddess let loose amidst the peaks to rise as ether carrying her displacement on her back is a passage through it

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Lineation: Agamben

Agamben's Theory Cont...
Having established the semiotic event of the poem as occurring at the end of each line where the semantic is challenged by the semiotics of space, Agamben then both expands and switches round his argument to think about the end of the poem as a whole. Here his rather limited project, considering the period in the 19thc where traditional prosody started to give way to free verse, is a bit of a problem but the point is still well made. Whatever happens at the end of a line should be augmented massively at the end of the poem:

What is this falling into silence of the poem? What is beauty that falls? And what is left of the poem after its ruin? If poetry lives in the unsatisfied tension between the semiotic and the semantic series alone, what happens at the moment of the end, when the opposition of the two series is no longer possible? Is there here, finally, a point of coincidence in which the poem…joins itself to its metrical element to pass definitively into prose? The mystical marriage of sound and sense could, then, take place. Or, on the contrary, are sound and sense now forever separated without any possible contact, each eternally on its own side?…In this case, the poem would leave behind it only an empty space in which, according to Mallarmé's phrase, truly rien n'aura lieu que le lieu. (Agamben, The End of the Poem 114)

Obviously, as I mentioned, the end of the poem is a very different event to that of the end of the line. Within the confines of the line you are, as reader, ensconced in meaning and so the semiotic comes at you in the form of a shock, what Lyotard would term an event. Does this shock occur at the end of every line or can the reader become used to it? Can it even become somewhat absorptive, to use Bernstein's term. Agamben doesn't say.

What he does stipulate, however, is that the space which follows the last line of the poem is not a space encompassed by the semiotic field of the poem. It is the space of the beyond of the poem. Depressingly, Agamben sees this space, the normative zone where the tensions of poetic language do not interfere, as prose. Therefore, the end of the poem is almost opposite to the end of the line. At the poem's end either sound and sense fuse together and organic poetic perfection is reached, what Jakobson calls poeticity or the perfect coincidence of form and theme, or the poem as event is erased, its semiotic challenge neutralised and the natural form of prose inundates all.

Now some of these issues do not pertain to contemporary experimental and/or avant-garde poetic practice. First of all space is disseminated throughout the visual, semiotic field of the poem, not just located at the end of lines. This being the case the end of the poem is not such a big deal, or perhaps more accurately, it is not the only big deal. There is the beginning of the poem and the problematic birth to presence there. Does the title indicate a new poetic "being", must it control semantically what follows due to its semiotic locale or should it undermine meaning? What about the space directly after the title, it's not a line so is that a line break? And what about the space before, above and below the title?

Similarly radical questions are often asked by avant-garde and postmodern poets about the end of the poem. Lyn Hejinian told me that she removed the last line of every lyric in "The Cell" because they were too last-liney, only to find the penultimate line becoming last-liney in its stead. What of serial poems and circular poems? What of hypertext and performance work, work which is improvised, poems as long and as large as life. What about Raworth's micro-poems? There are now myriad ways to end the poem and some of them are not endings at all in any real sense, in addition to which the "dream" of poetry, the fusion of sound and sense is no longer our dream. Mallarmé's influence is massive, but his project of the great book is not an aim of any poet I know of and appreciate.

Finally, Agamben's dislike of contemporary poetry means he lacks a basic experience of the variety of line measures and the possibility of radical, semiotic space within the line or in the centre of the page. If one considers Blau duPlessis' sequence "Toll", or Hejinian's "Writing is an Aid to Memory", or any of Susan Howe's palimpsests, you can see that a semiotic event of interruption of sense by sound, the pause or babble, and by visual means, can occur anywhere within the field of the poem. Furthermore, looking at Ashbery's columns in "Litany" or similar techniques in Raworth, it would be easy to note that the end of the line is not always the end of linearity on that horizontal plane, and that the radically empty space of the right hand margin is not always empty. The semiotic event of space, in other words, can occur anywhere within the field of the poem, and in a certain number of environments beyond it.

Just to finish off it is worth summarising the world of the poem as Agamben sees it. First of all it is dialectic, a tension or conflict between what he calls the semiotic, but which I would prefer to see as poetic materiality, and the semantic. Poetry, in this way, is not actually a materiality at all but a psychology, a tension, a concern on the part of the reader to resolve an issue. In addition, the poem becomes sublime in every instance as it becomes defined by the terror of meaning ending and matter taking over, followed by the joy of this not happening, followed by a tension in case it might happen next time. Or maybe the terror is that meaning will take over, in which case, according to Agamben at least, these fears are justified.

I think it is proper to ask a simple question here, why is prose the normative, ambient environment within which poetry is a place which occurs, an event, for a brief time and then is gone? What about the materiality of prose and what about the poeticity of prose and of everyday speech? Also, who said the other dream of poetry was the perfect coincidence of form and theme (yeah I know it was the Romantics, but I mean, who recently). It is hard for Agamben, who is a philosopher, to accept that the basic ontology of the poem has changed totally since Mallarmé due to the efforts of poets not philosophers, but the simple fact is it has.

Yet none of this undermines Agamben's basic point which is that the line break, not stress patterning or phonetic patterning, is what the poem in all its myriad forms is really about. Also we can agree with him that the space it introduces is radical, especially as a means of undermining meaning, and that the end of the poem is not just a bigger line break but an ontological challenge to poetic presence, although not the only such challenge.