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Newlipo: Bringing Proceduralism and Chance-Poetics into the 21st Century.
Associated Writing Programs panel, Thursday, January, 31, 2008. Other panelists: Christian Bök, Joan Retallack, Jena Osman, Patricia Carlin. Moderator: Sharon Dolin.
This selection of poems contains some of Paul Hoover’s “Sonnet 56” works (56 variations on Shakespeare’s sonnet 56). The book will be published by Les Figues Press of Los Angeles in 2009. Some of this material also appears on Paul Hoover’s blog (http://www.paulhooverpoetry.blogspot.com/) but with an alphabetic palindrome work in the place of the Shakespeare work. Two items have also been added here: ‘Mathematical’ and ‘Ballad’, that were not presented at the AWP event.
In an Oulipo feature on the website, Drunken Boat, I am listed as “Toward Oulipo,” rather than Para-Oulipo or Oulipo. In three books, 1997–2002, I wrote a lot of poems using counted verse, meaning a determined number of words rather than syllables to the line. With the exception of the first one, “The Orphanage Florist,” written around 1985, I have insisted on a squared stanza: two words, two lines; three words, three lines. When the math is right, so are the architecture, concept, and momentum. A squared form offers containment, therefore terseness, and terseness leads immediately to what Jack Spicer called the Outside (expression). But you don’t speak to the Outside; it speaks through you. Our metaphors for the poetry are generally those of packing and unpacking: Clark Kent pressing coal down to diamonds (Emily Dickinson) or Mallarmé distributing words over a chosen field. The question of poetics is how extensive or intensive the distribution should be. All poetic form is arbitrary, strategic, and emotional. The task of the author is to decide, how much “jack” to pack into or out of the given box. The heroic couplet and Ron Silliman’s “new sentence” gaze out differently at the same rainy day.
In our decade, the romantic tide is out, and the constructivist, materialist, and formalist tides are in. One would rather find and assemble than mine or dredge up. Originality in the old sense of a “soul-making” activity is replaced by invention, constraint, and gamesmanship. We are not at play in the fields of the lord, but the static, self-interrupting planes of the internet. In Heidegger’s terminology of facticity overwhelming poesis, this is a bad thing. It means there are no shadows at play in the Lichtung, or clearing. (The Rilkean formula might be: Achtung + Lichtung = Dichtung.) In Constructivism, everything is unconcealed, in the open, and obvious. We can see this difference more clearly, perhaps, if we limit our attention to the black on black and white on white paintings of Malevich and Rodchenko. Both were intent on a new society’s new art by way of mathematics and surface. Malevich: “I have transformed myself in the zero of form” (Lavrentiev 15); Rodchenko: “Art is one of the branches of mathematics” (Lavrentiev 15). But almost immediately there was a bifurcation. Malevich was more interested in the finished work of art, a geometry that is inscribed by style, aesthetics, and, according to Alexander Lavrentiev, the “emblematic identification of black with iconic power and white with eternity” (15). What’s the sum of a black painting divided by a white painting?
Like the New York School and language poets, I’m interested in the varieties of meaning made possible by Oulipo and proceduralism, especially through their playfulness. John Ashbery is our major poet; his work is an extraordinary balance of gravity and levity, artifice and sincerity; sobriety and play. What do Rilke and Kenny Goldsmith have in common? They begin their pursuit “at play,” with a provisional search leading to gravity and volume. Kenny Goldsmith’s gravity is his determination to carry out his exhaustive plan. In The Weather, for instance, actual weather reports are quoted verbatim, day by day, season by season. By the fourth page, our amusement with the concept fades; we have begun to experience the grain of lived time, not exactly the “egotistical sublime” of Wordsworth or Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard,” but not without such implications. Nothing is lonelier than a radio or TV playing in an empty room. Because, as an anagrammatic poem, Christian Bök’s “Vowels” is “at play,” our recognition that it is a rather profound love poem is delayed. The poem begins:
love solve loss
else we see
love sow woe
selves we woo
losses we levee
Recently, I wrote a three page poem consisting entirely of palindromes; it is also an abecedarium. I did a “thinking through” of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, in which I made my own propositions of his propositions, then retained only the propositions that a poem, not philosophy, would desire. I produced a manuscript consisting of 56 versions of Shakespeare’s sonnet 56. The project began when I stripped the bard’s work of all but its end words and asked my students to fill in the blanks, but with the admonition not to write a sonnet. The student results were magnificent, so I tried it myself. The results were ordinary. But then I applied other procedures and forms such as homosyntactic translation, haikuisation, villanelle, the blues, noun plus seven, lounge singer, chat group, word ladder, and answering machine. In this respect, the anticipatory plagiary was Raymond Queneau’s Exercises de style, published by Gallimard in 1947. Here is the original Shakespeare, followed by some of my “translations”:
Sweet love, renew thy force, be it not said
Thy edge should blunter be than appetite,
Which but today by feeding is allayed,
Tomorrow sharp’ned in his former might.
So love be thou, although today thou fill
Thy hungry eyes, ev’n till they wink with fullness.
Tomorrow see again, and do not kill
The spirit of love with a perpetual dullness.
Let this sad interim like the oceans be
Which parts the shore, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banks, that when they see
Return of love, more blest may be the view;
As call it winter, which being full of care,
Makes summer’s welcome, thrice more wished, more rare.
Noun Plus Seven
Sweet love game, renew thy forecaster, be it not said
Thy editor should blunter be than apple-jack,
Which but today by feeling is allayed,
Tonality sharp’ned in his former mildew.
So love game be thou, although today thou fill
Thy hungry eyebright, ev’n till they wink with fullery.
Tomorrow see again, and do not kill
The spirochete of love with a perpetual dumbbell.
Let this sad interleaf like the ocotillo be
Which parts the shortcake, where two contracted new
Come daily to the banker, that when they see
Revelation of love game, more blest may be the vigilante;
As call it winter melon, which being full of carfare,
Makes sumpweed’s wellcurb, thrice more wished, more rare.
Love, renew thy force.
Thy edge should blunter be than
Shakespeare: Non-dramatic Verse (ENG 619). In this senior seminar emphasizing Shakespeare’s lyric production, we’ll focus exclusively and intensively on Sonnet 56, which perfectly displays the great poet’s vulnerability and craft. Using a variety of critical approaches, from the Marxist and Feminist to Deconstruction, Gender Studies, and Queer Theory, we will examine the poem’s palimpsestic structures of meaning. Was Shakespeare intimate with the reckless Lord Southampton, who funded construction of the Globe Theater? When love’s summer comes to winter, what season of love renews it? Course requirements include a fifty-six page seminar paper employing at least two of the above critical schemes. Formalist readings are not allowed. All papers and class discussions must relate to the historic collapse of dominant systems of sense making in the post-Soviet period. Prerequisites: English Composition 1 and II or concurrent enrollment in those classes.
Bright winter, withhold your warmth; even though
Your grass is often greener than summer,
Which recently the snow made cold,
Today it’s frozen in a lovely whiteness.
And when love cuts us, tomorrow heals
Our frantic wounds, and love darkens with kindness.
Yesterday lives today and won’t exchange
Its gift of life for a lasting strangeness.
Make our dark words, like oceans breaking,
Avoid that world, where hearts freshly broken
Slowly leave their beds. For when love senses
The turning of desire, the cold is everlasting.
Or blame the summer. While sleeping under ground,
It forgives winter’s seizure, three times named and forgotten.
Here lies love, whose love was deep,
Fallen from the cliffs of sleep.
Let winter and summer enfold her,
The gods of love now hold her.
(1) love x (force < renewal) = love (force–renewal) ≠ 0
(2) return of love = (love–♫)–14 x hunger + feeding
fullness–dullness ÷ ocean + interim
(3) winter–care x summer + rare = ♀ + ♂ x ☼ ³ ÷ π
Sweet love, where did you go today?
Did you go to the wood alone
Or dance in town with another man?
I think I’m turning to stone.
I have been to the wood alone, said she,
My heart is sharp for you.
I have no appetite, no edge for another.
I am only and always true.
A little love keeps us hungry, said he,
We eat ’til our eyes are closed.
We are blind in our dreams and in love,
We eat love down to the bone.
You’re mine for a day and forever, said she.
We never kill love with dullness.
Our love has no fences, no ocean between us
Love is our promise, our fullness.
I will go to the wood to find you, said he,
There will be no pause in us
But a deep, shining, unending river,
A lasting trust, a promise.
Love, come as you are to the window.
Our winter, so full of care,
Withdraws to the heart’s last edge.
Let’s see how summer fares.
Paul Hoover’s most recent poetry collections are Poems in Spanish (2005) and Edge and Fold (2006). Les Figues Press will publish his book Sonnet 56 in 2009. With Maxine Chernoff, he has edited and translated Selected Poems of Friedrich Hölderlin and, with Nguyen Do, the anthology Black Dog, Black Night: Contemporary Vietnamese Poetry. He has also edited the anthology Postmodern American Poetry.