Tearing and pasting, as in the exercises below, can be the initial ground of many sorts of practice. Susan Howe of course is an adept practitioner.
Now come up with your own variant. One requirement: it should somehow involve physical manipulation of a page.
This time you have a little more say. (One point of attention here is the play of decision and accident in the composition.) Take a page and tear it in half vertically. Find a language area you like. Begin reading from the (left or right) gutter and go as far as you like along the line (moving right or left). When you’ve had enough of that, jump to the next line, and repeat.
When you’ve made your selection, you can also make some small number of amendments, let’s say three. This came from William Carlos Williams’s Imaginations, looks like Descent of Winter, though I’m too lame to go check.
Again, transcribe the poem, as the act of making it your own.
And Coolidge said, let fenders
behind pine booths stead of the
old-time cake-thick faces! made
of some certain, how they shape for
the oven, the woven grey strips
wound pneumothorax pavement
office upon lights.
This one has at first the feel of being a sentence, but around “pneumothorax” it abandons the pretence of sentenceness and gives itself to its wordliness.
Cooked this one up an hour before class yesterday. Pull a page out of a book. Crease it well down the centre (from top to bottom) and tear it in half. Do the same with each half. You’ll have four strips of page, and eight stripes of language, if the page was printed on both sides.
Browse through them for a language column that pleases you. No changing anything — part words are left as part words, syntax is let be scrambled.
But do transcribe the language column you’ve chosen. That’s how it becomes your poem — by travelling from eye to brain to hand. Mine is called “else *”. As you can see it’s an ode.
else.* Although he o
did not believe that
ity would come as a
was the powerful who
nment that wished to
actical precaution o
th care. If men with
they would certain
staging a “whisky
fore, was to protect
n did not actually ca
said, he did consid
See also Tristan Tzara’s directions on making a Dada poem.
This from erikkwakkel:
Norwich pattern books
These happy-looking books from the 18th century contain records. Not your regular historical records – who had died or was born, or how much was spent on bread and beer – but a record of cloth patterns available for purchase by customers. They survive from cloth producers in Norwich, England, and they are truly one of a kind: a showcase of cloth slips with handwritten numbers next to them for easy reference. The two lower images are from a pattern book of the Norwich cloth manufacturer John Kelly, who had such copies shipped to overseas customers in the 1760s. Hundreds of these beautiful objects must have circulated in 18th-century Europe, but they were almost all destroyed. The ones that do survive paint a colourful picture of a trade that made John and his colleagues very rich.
Love this. The swatches put me in mind of the colour stripes on resistors that tell you just how much resistance they put up in ohms.
Too, the cover of Christian Bök’s Eunoia, a sound-to-hue translation of Rimbaud’s “Voyelles.” Here’s the image.
Here’s the poem it translates.
A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu: voyelles,
Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes:
A, noir corset velu des mouches éclatantes
Qui bombinent autour des puanteurs cruelles,
Golfes d’ombre ; E, candeur des vapeurs et des tentes,
Lances des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d’ombelles;
I, pourpres, sang craché, rire des lèvres belles
Dans la colère ou les ivresses pénitentes;
U, cycles, vibrements divins des mers virides,
Paix des pâtis semés d’animaux, paix des rides
Que l’alchimie imprime aux grands fronts studieux;
O, suprême Clairon plein des strideurs étranges,
Silence traversés des Mondes et des Anges:
— O l’Oméga, rayon violet de Ses Yeux!
Bök translates each vowel in the poem according to the equivalences laid out in the first line. Consonants make the grey field. He calls perversely the sum of it “Of Yellow.”
First day of class tomorrow, a bit of butterflies now, as I always have.
Want to remember my classes go best when I don’t plan too much. Have something in mind about tearing pages and discerning poems in the strips we’ve made — as prep for the fragments we have of Sappho, many recovered from the mummies her poems were recycled to bear on in the afterworld.
Have a couple of books on hand of W.C. Williams, already spine-split and spilling their pages. They should make good material.
Am struck by — a feeling the books are sacrosanct! shouldn’t be torn with! Interesting.
(Another of the exercises I’m giving my Art of Compost class.)
In a homophonic translation, you translate for sound, rather than for sense. For instance, this sentence in French
Je vais aujourd’hui à la maison de mon ami.
sounds roughly like
Juh vase oh zhour dwee a la may zon de moan am ee.
And so its homophonic translation might go
Juvie, so, sure, twee. Ah, lamb, he’s on demon, am ye?
Notice how a word in the French can become two in English, or the end of one word and the start of another, in the French, can fuse to form a single English word. In other words, don’t worry about preserving the boundaries between words.
Notice, too, that the translation isn’t exact—vowel sounds shift a little, and sometimes a voiced consonant (e.g., “d”) becomes unvoiced (“t”).
The exercise. Take a passage of 50-75 words, verse or prose, in a language other than English, and do a homophonic translation into English. It’s better to choose a language that you know how to pronounce, but if there aren’t any of those, just make your best guesses.
Examples follow. You might also check out David Melnick’s Men in Aida.
Louis and Celia Zukofsky, Catullus
Source Text (Latin)
Multus home es, Naso, neque tecum multus homost qui
descendit: Naso, multus es et pathicus.
Mool ’tis homos,’ Naso, ’n’ queer take ’im mool ’tis ho most he
descended: Naso, mool ’tis – is it pathic, cuss.
Christopher Patton, Overject
Source Text (Old English)
Frige mec frodum wordum nelæt þinne ferð on
hælne degol þæt þu deopost cunne nelle icþe min
dyrne gesecgan gifþume þinne hyge cræft hy
lest ⁊þine heortan geþohtas ∙ gleawe men sceolon gieddū
wrixlan god sceal mon ærest hergan fægre fæder user
ne forþon þehe us ætfymþe geteode lif ⁊lænne
willan heusic wile þara leana gemonian ∙ meotud sceal
inwuldre mon sceal oneorþan geong ealdian god us ece
biþ ne wendað hine wyrda nehine wiht dreceþ adl
Fridge me, Frodo. Um, word. Um, nail a thin firth on
hell. Ned—eagle that thou deepest can. Uh, Nellie—itch the mine,
dear. Now you sedge, an’ if thou math in how ye craft, how
lost and thin a heart an you thought as. Glue we men shall on yet. Um,
were Ixlan god, shall man arrest her gain? Fare a fader user.
Knife or than the hay us at fume. The yet ode, life and lane, uh,
will an hay us itch, while, o’there, Alan a’ye money on. Meow. Dude shall
in weld, remand shall on earth, an’ yon gulled Ian, god us each, uh,
both new. Endeth he new word. An’ a he new wicked dreck i’th’addle.