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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Robert Sheppard: ‘the tildes outside language were not pronounced’: Some Notes on the Transubstantiation of Geraldine Monk’s Poetics part 6

The last poem in the sequence announces its performative focus as ‘Fused sonics (interaction)’. The incarceration metaphor that surfaces throughout the poetics enters the first line: we are ‘Released from solitary’, for purposes of collaboration, into the custody of musicians. Their fetishistic fiddling and fastidious preparations, confusing to the non-musician, are the price to be paid for the promised ‘interaction’; they come with strings attached to their arrangements (to coin two bad puns!):

Musicians come with-wires attached 
ill fitted plugs
miscellaneous black boxes
far too many knobs &
forgotten amps behind their
frosted doors.

Obdurate objects of professional mystification threaten to delay the encounter of voice with music. ‘The spontaneous moment/ needs voice checks’ we are told, rounded with a □ symbol, Monk’s formal marker of block, blockage, silence, delay. As with other transubstantiations of poetic substance, the process is not presented as unproblematically positive, one of the strengths of this poetics in my view, since it is wide-eyed about each stage or state of development, and yet aware that problems are indeed what performance writing produces. [1] As Hall writes, of Dartington College pedagogy, ‘In relation to contemporary practice, existing subject fields no longer operate either as guilds or ontological frames offering “natural” recognition of belonging.’ (Hall 2013: 206) Fusion and interaction are acts of risk, the clash of two (or more) formal disciplines, formal practices, formal languages, that threaten (in cybernetic language) to produce noise rather than message. Some noise, though, is literal.

sax
callow cello
triangled
we
get sstRucking a
la bobbin-rack
squalib-ab.
Trio. Duo. So.

‘Tronic synth’ is a phrase that deliberate presents word-parts as though via tape edit. ‘So’ is not just a conclusive exclamation but the first syllable of the ‘Lo’ of the next line (also referencing ‘lo-fi’, the contemporary anatonym of hi-fi), and the piece hovers over the different configurations of instrumentation and the ‘voice skirl’ with which is in interaction.  SstRucking reads like an archaic or dialect version of ‘striking’ though the carefully formed typography emphasises the sheer sound of the event and leaves the word ‘ruck’ as its whispered interior (a word, like spell with a number of meanings, though ‘wrinkle’ seems a suitable synonym). Improvisation seems slightly askew as an ad lib becomes a ‘lib-ab’, and embedded in ‘squalib-ab’ it is fused sonically with the word ‘squall’, which means  to sing loudly and yell unmusically. (The word ‘syllabic’ seems buried there too.) The performative process is ‘squalled in/ sownd’, the very word ‘sound’ rounded out by sonic emphasis. ‘Sonic v Semantic’ Monk declares, stating the central problematics of this performance, which involves

abstraction of
itterance
meaning
fighting for
dear
squalled in
sownd
un estuary ova
k
not(t)ed
omnivorous
noise-fate

The short lines, the impaction within, the fragmented wordage across, them, formally enacts the ‘Sonic v Semantic’, the latter as ‘meaning’ fighting for dear life but not allowed to say so amid the iterations and utterances that are compressed into the neologism ‘itterance’ (also suggesting that a thing, an ‘it’, is uttered). ‘Sownd’ may be miming dialect pronunciation, a knotted and noted swallowing of the final artefactual condition of this collaboration: ‘noise-fate’. The repetition ‘Daubing lunarscapes’ finishes the piece, which, as Attridge observes of all repetitions, ‘freshly contextualized, is different.’ (Attridge 2013: 48) This visual silent action still harbours the word ‘escapes’ and may be an act of release from the fate, noise that is channelled with no message (it also introduces, late into the game, another interaction, this time with visual art). Lunascapes literally are silent, of course.

I want to return to John Hall’s words: ‘Some writers respond to site in strictly formal terms.’ (Hall 2013: 159; italics mine.) In the kind of expanded art practice described here, the notion of form has expanded too. It is no longer simply the poetic artifice we might identify in the quotation above (for example); it might involve the formal meeting and clash of the interdisciplinary forms brought together by and in performance. Hall, in a way that echoes but re-reorders the progressive states or stages Monk follows, presents an inventory of performance writing types:

between formal emphases within writing, as between ‘sonic’ (writing that works primarily with the sound of language and thus relates to music); ‘visual’ (writing that works with the visual appearance of script and thus relates to visual arts); ‘installed writing’ (writing designed to be installed in space in the form of textual (or text-bearing) sculpture or visual installation); ‘live’ – writing as or for live performance. (Hall 2013: 155) [2]

Goode calls this poetics-poem-essay Monk’s ‘most extendedly explicit published engagement with the questions of voice’ and rather than the categorical calm of Hall’s taxonomies he sees that ‘the space requisitioned by the voice and occupied by performance is a turbulent zone in which the tensions identified by Monk within her own voice may be momentarily reconciled individually only to come into a new communal interrelation.’ (Goode 2007: 163) From ‘The Lone Reader’ to ‘noise-fate’ Monk sees that each formal stage or state of the realisation of a text brings with it its performative ecstasies and its agonies. Transubstantiation brings delight and damage to the body. Insubstantial Thoughts on the Transubstantiation of the Text transforms poetics into poem, offers a poetics of form neither theoretical nor practical but embodied in material language, thick with artifice, slenderly personalised, and rich with ambiguity and replete with the experimental experience of a variety of performance events.

I’m thinking of this and this (online)  

(See here for links to related posts pertaining to my work The Meaning of Form)

Works Cited

Attridge, Derek. 2004. The Singularity of Literature. London: Routledge.
Attridge, Derek. 2013. Moving Words: Forms of English Poetry. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Goode, Chris. 2007. ‘Speak and Spell: Geraldine Monk’s voiceprint’, in ed. Thurston, Scott, The Salt Companion to Geraldine Monk. Cambridge: Salt Publishing: 152-177.
Hall, John. 2013. Essays on Performance Writing, Poetics and Poetry: Vol 1: On Performance Writing, with Pedagogical Sketches. Bristol: Shearsman Books.
Massey, Doreen. 2005. for space. London and New Delhi: Sage Publications.
Monk, Geraldine. 2001. Noctivagations. Sheffield: West House Books.
Monk, Geraldine. 2002. Insubstantial Thoughts on the Transubstantiation of the Text. Sheffield: West House Books & The Paper.
Presley, Frances. 2007. ‘“Eye-spy”: Geraldine Monk and the Visible’, in ed. Thurston, Scott, The Salt Companion to Geraldine Monk. Cambridge: Salt Publishing:  119-151
Stabler, Jane, Martin H. Fischer, Andrew Michael Roberts and Maria Nella Carminati, ‘“What Constitutes a Reader?” Don Juan and the Changing Reception of Romantic Form’, 2007, in Rawes, Alan, ed. Romanticism and Form. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.


[1] I have some sympathy with the musicians; I was a singer with a blues band and I was always rather impatient to get playing on time, and chivvied the musicians to hurry up the complex preparations of drums, guitar and amps, while I had a music stand and pile of blues harp easily ready. They were often tetchy.
[2] It is interesting to note that digital writing, or the use of the internet is not listed as a tool, but ‘flarf’, for example, was only just beginning when these texts were originally written.