Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Wednesday - more avant-garde poetics

Because the weather is very unpredictable today, my classroom was the sofa. Millie the cat was very happy about this.

I continued The Writing Experiment chapter 8 today, about postmodern poetry, and avant-garde poetics (poetics being the theory behind poetry).

Specifically I was looking at ways of messing about with language, stuff that seems to come quite naturally, but I resist being taught it as an official way of writing for some reason.

I've got two theories as to why I don't like "learning" this sort of stuff:
  1. Putting it in a learning framework takes all the fun out of it, or
  2. It goes counter to what I've learned about communicating - it all seems to lead to meaninglessness.
Maybe both of those are partly true. Or maybe I feel threatened in my worldview because of the political implications. That's entirely possible. It's interesting (to me, anyway) noting my feelings and reactions as I go through these exercises.

So what did I read about today?

Metaphor meets metonymy. Most traditional poetry is driven by a consistent, single metaphor or image. For that matter, many good films are too.

Metonymy is almost but not quite the opposite of metaphor. It focuses on the differences where metaphor focuses on the similarities.

Metonymical poetry is centrifugal - it takes a central idea and then spreads out. Metaphor gathers in elements towards a central idea - centripetal.

The traditional approach says mixed metaphors are a pain in the neck and should be thrown out the window (ha ha), while avant-garde poetry says you can find some striking images by mixing metaphors.

Here's my half-hearted attempt at a mixed metaphor metonymical munkliphorical (okay I made that last word up) poem:

The cat is like a squatter
enforcing his rights
he sits,
a tree planted for generations
to come
a cute, fluffy monolith
that time will not move

(This was when he was sitting on the book I was writing in.)

Other ways to mess with language - use homonyms (words that sound alike but mean different), or just play games to get some creative new ideas: don't use any words with the letter y in them, for example, or use only one vowel, only words a certain length, etc. The possibilities are endless and putting those constraints on yourself can result in some really fresh, new stuff. I really should try it but didn't have the inclination or time or imagination this morning.

Um I can't remember what game I was trying to play with this poem:

Many oceans we all crossed
and there were no zebra crossings
except maybe the crossings
of the few zebras who made it here

Mmm. Changing the meaning of crossing from ocean-crossing to zebra crossing and then to zebras crossing the ocean. Hm.

Then there's the section of grammar, and my mind really threw a wobbly at politically correct nonsense like:

"Grammar can be constraining because it is hierarchical... this has the effect of making one idea in the sentence seem more important than others..." Duh! "...grammar is the product of a particular social context, and can be identified with the hegemonic culture: in many cases western imperialism."

As I wrote in my journal: WTF?

Thankfully, grammar exists in languages and cultures other than English, which made statements like these hard to swallow. I was really relieved to read the question:

"What is to be gained by writing like this?"

And even more relieved that the question was answered: it defamiliarises grammar, focuses our attention on how language normally works, and how it can be stretched.

Sort of like how in film an out of focus shot can be deliberate to help us become aware of how we see. I'm into awareness. I like it.

But I find it hard to agree with saying subverting grammar "liberates meaning instead of obscuring it", because "each sentence can be interpreted in several ways, producing more meaning rather than less". That's definitely in the eye of the beholder.

Meaning to me is about the intention of the sender, about communication. If that's not happening, might as well read messages into dog droppings you find on the footpath. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I'd rather relate.

Feeling frustrated at this point, I wrote a poem:

the sound
is getting
lots of meaninglessness
in my mess
could have been chowder
for all I know
why don't people
simply want to
say what
they meant?

Yep. That's what it felt like - "the sound of silence" growing louder and louder. I was starting to get the point.

The book then talked about discontinuity, which is pretty easy, just don't make the second paragraph relate to the first. I think continuity is something we crave, and it's hard to achieve. Why we'd want it in our art, I'm not really sure.

Then, lexical experimentation. Inventing new words or messing about with old ones. Spike Milligan does fantastic stuff on this, and it works, it's funny. Somehow the academic examples in this book don't catch me the same way. They're either incomprehensible, or smugly self-satisfied. Except for this one:

Nin-sene.sense is too binary
andoppostioin, too much oall or nithing
account with ninesense seeming by its
very meaing to equl no sense at all. We
have preshpas a blurrig of sense, whih
means not relying on convnetionally
methods of conveying sense but whih may
aloow for dar greater sense-smakinh than
specisi9usforms of doinat disoucrse that
makes no sense at all by irute of thier
hyperconvetionality (Bush's speeches,

From 'A Defence of Poetry', by Charles Bernstein 1999a, pp 1-2

I kind of got that. He's saying what seems like nonsense might actually make more sense than political speeches and other forms of public discourse. I understand. Communication!

Then we looked at visual poems, how poems look. We covered that before in chapter 2 (I think) and that's cool. Pretty easy to do if you think visually. It's funny, film scripts, even though they have strict conventions, need to look right on the page too. To give sense of space and time. Interesting.

Prose poetry "questions the division between poetry and prose". It's a "diverse and loose category, sometimes including short meditations or poetic narratives". Sounds like a sham to me! ;) But I'm just being facetious.

Part of prose poetry was what the American Language Poets called "the new sentence". This is where a prose sentence (that may or may not obey the rules of grammar) is completely self contained and you just chuck a whole lot of them together. Sort of.

I really need to ask myself why I'm persevering with The Writing Experiment. I'm really enjoying Story, but enduring Writing. Why should I continue? Because I believe as a writer I should be aware of the many tools available in my toolbox, and also know what other people call those tools so I can collaborate with people in the future who are very different from me.

Also, perhaps much of this stuff will sink in on a subconscious level, come up at some later stage when I least expect it, and I'll be like, Oh! My old friend. How are you?


At October 08, 2005 9:23 PM, Blogger Sandra said...

Wow, Sy,

You certainly are a massively prolific blogger! Good to see that your writing is going so well...


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