Poems at Play

What is the unit of composition? The line? The phrase? The sentence? The argument? The image? Life-wide? Sound? Form? Metaphor? Rhythmical unit?
When I look at how I think poetically, or generally, there’s a lot of constraint, but also a pattern of deconstructing and reconstructing strategies. I like to take words apart, dissect ideas. What I write is about what tickles, matters to me in some way, both in process and in result.
Incorporated into some poems in the pet radish, shrunken (BookThug, 2015), and Well That Puts generator page (or some autoposting to twitter on the hour), I am looking for words embedded in words that aren’t the root word. These give a little pleasure burst. These matryoshka words may break across the original syllables or change the vowel sound like, “Well, at the heart of improper is rope.” or “Well, that puts the cane in buccaneer.” The bot phrases it as if it has found a truth of the roots. This amuses me because of how sure people are in general about perfectly foolish things, mixing up cause and effect and coinciding events, but are equally sure of etymology because the dictionary vouches for it as real. The bot questions the real, tongue in cheek.
I have had a chapbook underway for years which plays false etymologies of words or phrases. For example, to stagnate: to be like a stag deer. How that metaphor would expand if we pretend a folk anecdote of etymology were true? The nonsense appeals partly because sensical narratives don’t make sense without a shadow of everything chaotic around it.
It seem like nonsense yet you can’t fully step outside of sense. Even the most absurd thing reads as symbolic truth, foils it, is tea leaves of it. It is obliquely true as much as it tries to be false and I find that a little fascinating. The back door friendliness of it, the casual friendship with language instead of trying to make it be your mouthpiece. We are always the mouthpieces of things bigger and older than ourselves.
I like surrealism partly because things are more fluid than fixed. There’s a dream state of possibilities where I can transform things from un œuf into un neuf into a 9 into a 6 into a comma or back (as a poem in the pet radish, shrunken). I like where boundaries blur between what is, what is something else, what is believes and what is make-believe.
I guess that framing started further back with Boathouse (above/ground, 2008), (pronounced oath in the boathouse). No, wait, it started further back in playing scrabble and trying to extend words from other words.
And that migrated to poetry. When I scrape word combination that come from different purposes, such as scrabble boards, I may use 20-40 boards and how words cross and touch each other as if saying a prayer. What could the combinations mean? There’s a rhythm. There’s a skew, depending on who one is playing with, towards uncommon words or monosyllabic words. If you collect words as the game proceeds, you get matryoshka words. If you play anti-scrabble you can mix in words and “non-words”. You can scaffold by affixes to know grammatical structure and put new parts of the world in juxtaposition. It gives a semblance of meaning.
I played with rhythm units and scrabble word combinations and spin-off debates in making polyphonic choral of civet tongues and manna (unarmed, 2014). The mind argues for resolution with itself regardless of input given. It tries to make sense from random incongruity because that is the same process as living globally.
In poems made for 2nd Iteration of Roman Feuilleton with AB Series, I used homophonic translation of Michele Provost’s surreal text. Roman Feuilleton, a surrealist text which Provost herself has composed out of lines from four of Québec’s literary landmarks; Anne Hébert’s Kamouraska, Michel Tremblay’s La grosse femme d’à côté est enceinte, Réjean Ducharme’s L’avalée des avalés, and Une saison dans la vie d’Emmanuel, by Marie-Claire Blais.
The results of that will be in a reading with several of us and how we each responded is on January the 29th.
For my part I tried to reconcile sounds as if heard by a deaf person, a sort of whispers game where the assumption is that there is a narrative when the source text has no narrative or continuity. I presumed I am listening to an English text when the text is French. What doesn’t make sense to the confirmation bias is distorted or thrown out.
So here, for example, is part of texte-s, heard on slant, aided by the computer reading with its anglo software that gets confused by any diacritic.

1. Soudain, de proche en proche, le ciel est ébranlé. « Silence ! » crie le prêtre, et il
1.0.1. susan the brioche of the brioche, the seal is buttery silence. gruel was prepared and it
2. referme son livre. Sa main éprouvait la vibration de la sonnerie par petits coups
2.1. reaffrimed our life. some man proved the vibratio of the sound in little hits
3. décroissants. Ses sœurs au regard sauvage et aux lèvres boudeuses approchaient sur
3.1. of croissants. hunger regards us all as savages and the lip buds that approach tehm
4. la pointe des pieds. Six d’entre elles étaient dans le début de la vingtaine et ne
4.1. like tiptoes. six appraoch them like stars in the bright sky, like Susan Sontang and
5. savaient pas ce qui les attendait, et la septième, qui aurait pu être leur mère, le leur
5.1. a savant who seems not to pay attention but on the september 3 orally put butter’s mother and lemur
6. expliqua. Sera-t-elle fidèle pour si longtemps ? Sa piété excessive, les privations
6.1. who explained that sara will fiddle for as long as she can, a pity would be an undue a privacy for a family meals
7. qu’elle s’imposait, attiraient l’attention de la Supérieure, qui n’aimait pas que l’on
7.1. which impose themselves and attract extra attention (for this isn’t Paris where good food is taken as a rule) the love of rot
8. dérange l’ordre établi par des élans personnels. Surtout ne pas passer en jugement !
8.1. that destabilizes the order with corn sugar, part of one’s personal touch. over everything. but who passes judgements
9. Sur le balcon, Thérèse, Richard et Philippe riaient comme des petits fous.
9.1. on the bacon. theresa, richard and philip react by scarfing back petit fours.

And then the second step of transformation to a more internal consistency.

hunger regards us all as savages
on the high end of the flakey scale, Susan,
the brioche of the brioches, was sealed
in her buttery silence. Sara would fiddle
as long as she could with her little hits
of croissant and crossness. pout faces tire.
at least she didn’t have to take recourse
to coarseness or crassness, but for the lower classes
of the poor, outcasts, freaks, a gruel was prepared
and that would reaffirm our pale lives. our lip buds
approach the spoon like stars in the bright sky,
lean like Susan Sontang under trailer fluorescents.
she observes the spillage, corn syrup strands
as part of one’s personal touch over everything.
theresa, richard and philip react to her hand, steady
cam, by scarfing back grocery store petit fours.

An interesting side effect of it is that some of the poems read with a French flavour. Because I am mapping to match syllable stress and directly or by effect the grammar I get a lot of prepositional phrases. I get a structure that isn’t typical for me as I tend to have more stressed syllables per line than English and this makes it all softer, more floating with less stressed syllables.
It is new for me and yet within the normal of how I process. I like looking at components. I like scavenging for elements. I like using what is there to collage. What is there may be any content. In over my dead corpus (AngelHouse, 2010) I ran search strings through years of my reading notes files, for example, every instance of “ack” was collated, the grab going around the words on either side.
In that process I’m selecting for interesting word combinations without an eye of how it could all possibly fit together. Dragged elsewhere, making a new context it works agains the original intent, works as material. The logic is that if something stood out to me, surely the end product using that material will also be interesting to me if I mix all the elements. Sometimes it works, sometimes it’s a sauce with too many ingredients. As a by-product, the poems that result have built-in a higher than odds assonance or consonance because of the root.
To demonstrate, I went thru half a current notes file and pulled out “ack-strings”,

• the market isn’t going to offer anything affordable off the rack that varies enough
• feedback animation
• young when he died. wonder what I can pull back.
• seems to mean a backhand compliment
• indicate on package: Ottawa
• videos here will be tracked by YouTube/Google.
• all is white noise and background radiation
• isn’t somewhere you can get back to
• pack, to silent again,
• Mackenzie shared
• black comedy but it’s terribly earnest
• stuck onto the back of
• The instructor’s adorable, a snack of chocolate pretzels
• still tarp as a shack
• acknowledge resistences
• lack of trust in
• get your vegan snack attack on
• flashback by refusing to release from
• paperback backwards
• Not that I have anything against the fine and noble animal, the jackass.

The puzzle gets shuffled until a click. Maybe all the pieces aren’t the same puzzle. Maybe it’s 2 or 3 pieces. Maybe it generates something else interesting, sparking a springboard idea that becomes a lyric poem. Or a pwoermd. Like, right there in the penultimate string, “paperbackwards”.
I’m also doing a couple week chapbooks from portmanteaus I’ve done; these pwoermds are as addictive as puns.
And there’s puns. The word play, visual or sonic litter my poems. And come out elsewhere. For the food blog I pun a headline whenever I can “beware all who lentil in” or “pretty content” or “grit and bear it” for grits. Taking what is there and twisting it like a lemon is part of the basic elements of poetry but it may be the take-away line, jamming the knife home, or widening to cosmic significance that does the spin. In pwoermds it’s turning around on a time of nanoseconds instead. It’s a variant on pleasure of play.
But back to the exercise of corpus searching, what would I do with an ack-string? The poem by my rules should rate to the core sound, so while ack would be dismay, if the search string were ooh, it would lead a tone of surprise or pleased. So ack:

Mackenzie shared black comedy
but it’s terribly earnest. nothing is more
solemn than satire. non-plussed
at the lack of trust the government
flushes from us, our trust back
seems a backhand compliment.
who all packs themselves to silence
again, aims to become hiss in this context
where all is white noise and background
radiation, set dressing of signal lost.
except that boosted and glossed
by the corporations for public cooperation
with government service. you heard
that videos here will be tracked by
YouTube/Google. their track record is clear.
indicates on the digital package: Ottawa.
yet we ride on, stuck onto the back of the fine
and noble animal, but the jackass market
for information isn’t going to offer anything affordable
off the rack that becomes tortuous grind
of google showing results only of what
was previously primed. a feedback loop
borne for a pessimist who builds
dungeons in the iClouds. what can I pull back
while I’m still tarp as a shack
and remember what danger is.

The sound gives a seed star then a constellation to shape a myth around. Some things drop. Some things give structure to other things. Sometimes it falls flat. It gives time to look at language up close, to consider ideas, to look at language syllable by syllable which allows me to appreciate its strengths and qualities, to emulate or move away from. It allows the ideas to be tasted longer.
In been shed born (Chaudiere, 2010), I did plunder verse and used a poem’s word bank as my set of materials to work with. It is like anagramming at word level. Some of you may recall we made a shuffler game for that that was in line with the composition methods of some poems.
I also did reverse infill plunder verse, where I take a poem by someone else, reading it backwards word by word, taking a phrase from each of that poem and leaving the rest as blank. Some poems under this fell apart, and some were as tightly dovetailed in reverse as forward. That was illuminating of the craft being read.
The phrase from the last line of the original poem is in the first line of mine until we work our way (the poem and I) to the original poem’s top line and my poem’s bottom line. An example of the technique for going somewhere using e.e. cummings, [love is more thicker than forget]
Step 1, find a seed poem, such as his,

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail
it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea
love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive
it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

I might proceed (to poem on the fly) to step 2:

sky the __________
___sky the __________
___cannot it _______
__________most is
_____litter less
begin least _______

And so on. then using it as a framework to in-fill to write towards the phrases as one would with glosas.
With a longer lined poem there’s more wiggle room. To make it work the phrase can be in the line but not the same mirrored place, depending on the needs of the poem that comes. A syntax has embedded possibility. As in If, a collaborative chapbook where we have the grammatical frame of one person writing if something and another writing then something, blind of each other, it adds together into a sort of horoscope-general-true sensical.
What to extrapolate from the syntax here?
By the inversion of phrase, I verb some nouns, and for the sake of this exercise, pretend the original was 6 lines long:

sky the face that pillow-rises
and sky the traces of that yes
narrowed into sleep. cannot it lift itself
centipedal race to maybe. most is
a crack, a hole unseen. litter less
begin least, become wholly seen.

To poem is to think and I like starting with something. A form is just a construction strategy of how to take something large and amorphous as the world and find pieces that fit something so small as a poem’s constraint for what sense is. It may be rules governing a formal structure of haiku or sonnet or cento.
I like cento because is shows just how skewed each eye sees. It demonstrates how we are all blind men with an elephant. Given any texts, we will pull out ourselves. The bane of weak anthologies or magazines where all the content seems all written by the editor’s voice. Or a collection where there is a overriding uniformity to the degree that it all seems one poem. What reflects the fragmentary nature of self, perceptions, nation? Maybe we don’t need to reflect that. Maybe we can’t step outside selves enough to make something unlike self. Maybe that’s good. But with a cento you can be a bower bird and see the poem form before you, surprise you with its reveals as you take chunks of language at the line-level instead of the usual word level, or for some mood level.
If you start with the conscious mind and aim where you want with a poem, not allowing in any leaks or sploogies, you may end up with something hermetically sealed, artificially homogenized, but you want to balance to have order enough that it is signal not noise. If you let too much in, it may be a slippery mess that needs a mop. How much leaping or leading a person can tolerate is part of a person. No poem suits all. But the aim is to be in the writer’s happy medium where you go somewhere you didn’t know you were headed, enjoying the journal and getting something out of the destination. That can come from any process, any compositional method. Hope the ones here sparked some possible routes.

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