Sound w/ no human meaning

I am thunderous sad this howly eve. Why so hard to let go of what you never held ever. Well the wind it howl all my walls round, Heathcliffs me, heathens, encliffs me, as I prep my lessons.

Here’s a few on sound-as-sound, animal meaning, gut calls. Not that they have no human meaning but they have no meaning proprietarily human. Chords that binds us to birds, rats, rocks, grasses, ice floes.


Hear sound made as its own meaning – Louis

, Ella

, then write a poem of pure sound.


Do the Dada, eye


and ear

Karawane (click on the loudspeaker and give a list)

then do it again.


Make a list of sounds you make you feel are meaningless but just the same expressive, of you. For instance, “ugh,” “gahhhh,” “phphhht.” Go for as long as you can and spell them as accurate as you can.


Homophonic translation, as I’ve laid out here and here.

These for my intro poetry workshop, whom I wish to shake at outset, their sense of the possible.

Am drawn to them, believe or no, by an anything but frivolous practice, liturgical chanting of sounds that, some, to me, are just pure sound, e.g. the Emmei Jikku Kannon Gyo

Kanzeon namu butsu yo butsu u in yo butsu u en buppo so en jo raku ga jo cho nen kanzeon bo nen kanzeon nen nen ju shin ki nen nen fu ri shin

because of my illiteracy. Translation,

Kanzeon! Praise to Buddha! All are one with Buddha; all awake to Buddha. Buddha, Dharma, Sangha – eternal, joyous, selfless, pure. Through the day Kanzeon – through the night Kanzeon. This moment arises from mind; this moment itself is mind.

But we chant them in Japanese, unknowing the meaning many, because the sounds themselves are, it is said, efficacious. Then there are dharanis with no semantic meaning anywhere, only mantra value

Namu kara tan no tora ya ya namu ori ya boryo ki chi shifu ra ya fuji sato bo ya moko sato bo ya mo ko kya runi kya ya en sa hara ha e shu tan no ton sha namu shiki ri toi mo ori ya boryo ki chi shifu ra rin to bo na mu no ra kin ji ki ri mo ko ho do sha mi sa bo o to jo shu ben o shu in sa bo sa to no mo bo gya mo ha te cho to ji to en o bo ryo ki ru gya chi kya ra chi i kiri mo ko fuji sa to sa bo sa bo mo ra mo ra mo ki mo ki ri to in ku ryo ku ryo ke mo to ryo to ryo ho ja ya chi mo ko ho ja ya chi to ra to ra chiri ni shifu ra ya sha ro sha ro mo mo ha mo ra ho chi ri i ki i ki shi no shi no ora san fura sha ri ha za ha zan fura sha ya ku ryo ku ryo mo ra ku ryo ku ryo ki ri sha ro sha ro shi ri shi ri su ryo su ryo fuji ya fuji ya fudo ya fudo ya mi chiri ya nora kin ji chiri shuni no hoya mono somo ko shido ya somo ko moko shido ya somo ko shido yu ki shifu ra ya somo ko nora kin ji somo ko mo ra no ra somo ko shira su omo gya ya somo ko sobo moko shido ya somo ko shaki ra oshi do ya somo ko hodo mogya shido ya somo ko nora kin ji ha gyara ya somo ko mo hori shin gyara ya somo ko namu kara tan no tora ya ya namu ori ya boryo ki chi shifu ra ya somo ko shite do modo ra hodo ya so mo ko

And I can tell you, when you’ve chanted it, you’ve been rocked.

And if you want some words said to have meaning, here.

Lighthearted fundraising schtick, yeah! And my first time as kokyo, OMG. And my most sacred text.

In a station of the Metro

The poem, as most all know —


The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

I had two aims in our discussion of this too too famous poem. One, get a feel for how sound underwrites sense. Two, sharpen our feeling for the logos of the image. Logos, did I really say that. Bloody pretentious. But logic seemed too wee a word. Logos as in way, coherence, holdingtogether. PIE root, *leg-, “to gather.”

Sound underwriting sense. We’d done our rock and stone thang. The stop at the end of rock is a jagged sharpness. The nasal at the end of stone is a dying rounded fall. And those sounds underwrite the senses of their words.

How now with Pound. Asked them first what they saw with the first line. Eventual consensus — ghostly faces in a trainish station underground — misty, blur-edged, as in something Impressionist.

The second line? How did those petals get to hang on that bough? The bough (limb of tree not fore of ship) (why we had to clarify that goes to something important about teaching language and its poetry) is wet.

Wet how?

Most likely with rain.

And being wet means?

If wet, sticky, and petals that fall there, stick there.

Next comes, logos of the image, what kind of petals? Daisy? Rose?

One pictured the former. K so how did those petals come to be there? Someone brought a bouquet of daisies into the woods and when her or his beloved didn’t show threw the bouquet in a pique and it hit a pine tree and broke up and some petals stuck there?

Um yeah maybe?

It’s possible, sure, but other possibles?

Occam’s Razor comes to play here. The simplest account is often best. And so we came to — cherry blossoms, blown a bit about in a rainstorm, come loose, float around, land on the limb of the tree that bore them, to spend a little while adhered there.

“Too too.” Not that it not warrant its fame. But such fame keeps us from seeing it afresh. And freshness is its all — that much it shares with haiku, though it’s not one, no really, not really.

Penultimate Q, what’s the second line, cherry blossoms struck to presumably a cherry tree, got to do with the first, ghostly faces in an underground transit crowd?

Silence, a bit.

Anything cherry blossoms have in common with faces?

I picture an oval.

And right there’s what one called the metaphoric bridge. The likeness that draws two differences into relation. I’m not a big fan of metaphor, it’s a lie and makes things other than they is, but gotta admire this one, by this reading, its assertion of non-non-difference.

Coupla quals here. One, the faces, the shapes of them, help us to come to cherry petals, as much as the petals help us to see faces afresh. Two, the colours of the petals, pinkish-white, are part of the metaphoric bridge as well, and suggest a racially pretty homogenous Metro crowd. Maybe not inaccurate for Paris in 1912. But it does place and date the poem.

Final Q, how do the sounds of the lines support their senses? My whole purpose though the getting-there may have been more lovely than the gotten-to.

Apparition — except for the plosive p, softest among the stops, it’s all liquids and nasals. The blurred and softened sounds make the faces that much softer, blurrier, more deeply ghostly.

Wet, black bough — the first word ends in a stop, the second begins and ends with ones, the third begins with one. At the centre of the phrase is a sharply delineated core. Giving the cherry petals on the bough more clarity and definition than the faces they’re metaphors for.

In so far as the poem, its image and sounds, is about transience, the fleetingness of all this, it’s striking that the cherry petals are granted more clarity definition and permanence than the faces they’re figure for. If the poem may be called out for chinoiserie the ground of the cry is here.

LASTLY. Pound’s advice, that we compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, lives even in a thing so small as the comma after “wet.”

The stop, t, already punctuates it. Neither syntax nor articulation asks for more. But the comma makes one last refinement of the phasing — slowing just a little more the movement of breath and mind hand-in-hand through the line.

With that, wet comes a bit closer to the vegetal slowness of far longer syllables, blackbough—slows enough to join their company. The very words, wet, black, bough, become cherry petals, adhering to the poem a small while, then blown off.

NEXT UP. More on Pound on the musical phrase. A thing I wrote for Donald Revell, one of the fathers to my mind.

On Sound (II)

Revisited sound today. This time, with a view to, how does sound do work the good work, bearing up thought and feeling?

Had my students hold in hand, for their heft and texture, two petrous objects. You’ll see in a mo why the Greeky adj. One was sharp and jagged, rough-textured, a bit of railbed gravel. The other, smoothed and rounded, as out of a moving stream.

They passed those round. Took em back and said, One of these is a rock, and one is a stone. I’m going to hold one up in a second, and please write down, saying nothing, which it is, rock or stone.

Held up the jagged one. Write it down, guys, which is it, rock or stone. They wrote that down. Then shows of hands. Morning section, all but two said rock. Afternoon, all but none, said rock.

photo 1 (3)

But how do you know, I asked, pretend dumbfounded. “Rock” and “stone” mean the very same thing in the dick-shun-airy. So how do you know the one’s the one, the other the other?

And we found our ways, in not too long, to these. “Rock” ends in a stop, you have to stop saying it abruptly, and that has a sudden, even jagged, feel. “Stone” ends in a nasal and you can extend the sound for as long as you have breath. That has a softer and more rounded feel.

photo 2 (2)

The words have the same denotations (dictionary meanings) but very different connotations (aurae of association). “Rock” calls to mind rough sharp jagged thangs, “stone” water-smoothy river-beings. And that’s in part because of their sharp and edgy, or smooth and rounded, sounds.

Shout-out to Mary Oliver, a line in whose poetry handbook gave me the idea, years ago. And, next up, one way to bring the thought over to actual words (not “rock” nor “stone”) of actual poems. Teaser, it involves a station of the Paris metro. Yeah that ol’ chestnut.

POSTSCRIPT. This on a night Republicans are poised to take command of the Senate, setting to stay maybe long enough to f*** up the climate for as long, or as short, as we’re like to be here. Go figger. Yo, intelligent design people, don’t you think, if there WERE an intelligent design, the designer would be a little less STUPID than sweet haphazard evolution’s given us? Um, the appendix? Um, mothers who eat their children? Um, obscenely short-sighted self-interested climate-science denial? Saw this fun on FB, where I hardly ever hang, not sure I’m as atheist as it, but.

Be well, all, someone’s got to, and maybe it’ll start a thing.

On sound (I)

When semantic meaning is eclipsed all sorts of other meaning come out of hiding. In our first class I wanted to get students thinking with their ears about vocables — oral sounds — apart from the meanings we like to grant certain of the shapes they take (words). It’s hard to explain but easy to experience.

I started them off with scat singing (always defined in terms of “nonsense” vocables — slanderous) by Louis Armstrong —

and Ella Fitzgerald:

Only a brute would deny there’s meaning there. Not the sort of meaning we mean when we say “I understand what that means.” Much closer to the meaning we mean when we say “you mean a lot to me.” When someone reaches out to someone and makes contact — that’s a meaning.

We moved on to Christian Bok’s performance of Hugo Ball’s Karawane (a more gravelly doing than the one I played in class):

In some spots it’s a little referential and a lot mimetic — jolifanto calling to mind swaying circus elephants. But at the core it’s what the Russian Futurists called zaum or beyonsense — expression released from reference so its sensuous and esoteric possibilities can unfold. Sometimes comically, as here, and sometimes not.

Some meaning is had. Some meaning is been. And some meaning is done. Our focus here is sound, but I can’t resist a bit of vision, how Ball’s poem steps out to the eye:

Anyway, my students did great with this weird trio, pointing out connections to the proto-articulations of infants (which mean nothing communicable but everything to mom and dad) and the science in non-Western cultures of the spiritual efficacy of sound.

And, less esoteric, the noises we make to get something immediate, embodied, across. Ahhhhhhhh. Oh! Hmmmm.