Friday, July 3, 2009

Tony Lopez's book of sonnets, "False Memory" is one of my favourite examples of poetry constructed from found language, in this case from the realms of commerce, business and technology. There's no narrative, and no cohesive sense to the poems, and yet they're a pleasurable read, deriving their strength, and - dare I say it, beauty - from the juxtaposition of seemingly unconnected phrases. I wondered how Lopez could come up with something as readable as this, when it would be easy to create a rather dull 'word salad'. So it was interesting to read, in 'Meaning Performance' an account of his working method:

"Performativity judged by reading the work aloud for me is the most important structuring device in composition. A collage of existing materials gets copied and re-copied , and reading aloud is the check for emotional, grammatical and rhythmical continuity."

So the process of creating a constructed text like this isn't that different to the way one might create more conventional work; by attention to the spoken word, to rhythms and cadences, where word and phrase can be re-worked and re-used. This latter is something most practising poets would recognise, even when their end-product appears to be the result of inspiration or impulse. And Lopez describes something else most poets would recognise, though I'd guess most, like me, are still trying to work out how to consistently achieve it; speaking of how he connects performance and writing, he says:

"The most significant aspect is the surrender of complete control in making something new."

So it may be that the process whereby good poetry is created is essentially the same, whether that poetry be modernist collage or conventional lyric; it's just that exponents of the former are likely to be more open about the procedures they use.

7 comments:

AidanSemmens said...

That last par seems to sum the matter quite neatly :-)

John B-R said...

All the way thru FCF I've been assuming that it's to be read aloud, and I keep hoping that the music and if I may be permitted the phrase emotional tone will sequence found language. Tho every so often I do want to foreground the foundness of the language to remind the reader/auditor that s/he's experience an Eisensteinian montage sort of in the way Brecht used defamiliarization. Wikipedia (of course): "One of Brecht's most important principles was what he called the Verfremdungseffekt (translated as "defamiliarization effect," "distancing effect," or "estrangement effect," and often mistranslated as "alienation effect"). This involved, Brecht wrote, "stripping the event of its self-evident, familiar, obvious quality and creating a sense of astonishment and curiosity about them." To this end, Brecht employed techniques such as the actor's direct address to the audience, harsh and bright stage lighting, the use of songs to interrupt the action, explanatory placards, and, in rehearsals, the transposition of text to the third person or past tense, and speaking the stage directions out loud."

As for "the surrender of complete control", I don't believe it. It doesn't accord with "judging performativity" and checking "for emotional, grammatical and rhythmical continuity."

But one still surrenders a lot of control, sequencing found material. I reread the beginning of FCF yesterday, 50-75 pp, and it kinda scared me: is this any good? Is this crap? It does flow, but ...

I think no matter how a poem is constructed, and even conventional lyric is constructed, the real question is that sentence - was it Joyce's? - "the test of art is from how deep a life it springs." This is paraphrase by the hiphop "keepin it real" (and yes, of course all the brechtian effects are part of keepin in real, as are all the other tricks in the book, including totally lying about everything ...)

Ultimately, the "life" in a work - that's all anybody will ever care about ...

AidanSemmens said...

John - I read "the surrender of complete control" with emphasis on the 'complete' - making it quite distinct from complete surrender of control...
On that basis, I should have thought we'd all go along with it, no?

Ed Baker said...

this Tony Lopez

sounds (....)

so, what can I say sounds
also
intelligent?

well between breathing in
and breathing out everything else happens so

I betcha Tony is

absolutely lucid

and I double betcha that he
is

easy on the adjectives and abstractions..

most likely he breathes AND lets the words breathe too...

lets the words tell him what he should be saying

you've mentioned Lopez before... when I get my next SS checque I will "spring" for some of his work...


thanks

Alan Baker said...

Ed: Lopez is the real deal - he's the foremost expert on the poetry of WS Graham, has written detective novels, and is one of the best British innovative poets.

Aidan: I read the sentence about complete control in the same way as you did.

John: reply forthcoming... but that phrase, "the test of art is from how deep a life it springs" is familiar. I think it may have been Pound.

Ed Baker said...

detective novels! I just a cpl 5 years ago t o r e through

(besides his zen excursions)


Janwillem van de Wettering's "stuff"

John B-R said...

Rereading, I agree entirely w/you, Aidan. You are right, I mentally repositioned the adjective.