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Showing posts with label Geraldine Monk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Geraldine Monk. Show all posts

Monday, June 16, 2014

Robert Sheppard The Meaning of Form: forms and forming in contemporary innovative poetry (Summary and Weblinks)

I have been writing a study of the forms of recent innovative poetries (mainly British but with some international poets), which is underlined by a conception of form itself, that emphasises form not as a vessel to contain its contents, but as a readerly process of forming which is already meaningful, and which brings the text into existence. I have been using this blog as a machine for thinking through some of the implications of this, by posting early thoughts, dry-runs, practice-led spin-offs, some recovered earlier texts, some discarded passages, and even a few completed fragments of the book. Here’s a summary of the main argument which lies behind many of the existing posts. 

Instrumentalist studies of literature abound, which offer readings in terms of socio-historical, contextual issues, ‘issues’ of gender, sexuality, space, place, spectrality, etc. However, to successfully engage in the reading of poetry – and particularly the reading of ‘difficult’ contemporary poetry – means to necessarily engage with the forms of the artifice employed and (at a level of some remove) with the notion of ‘form’ itself. There are, of course, readings of poetic form, but they either tend to cling to the vestigial decencies of New Critical practice or are technical, as in most work on prosody, which seems a descendent of even older philological scholarship. 

The study of what has come to be called ‘linguistically innovative poetry’ has not been given to instrumentalist readings, as it happens, but there has yet to be a study which combines the already close textual reading common within this field with the work of the so-called New Formalist critics, who have spearheaded a cleansing operation within the field of Romantic Studies, where New Historicist and other contextual methods, once held sway over the corpus. The leading theorist of this group, Susan J. Wolfson, states: ‘My deepest claim is that language shaped by poetic form is not simply conscriptable as information for other frameworks of analysis; the forms themselves demand a specific kind of critical attention.’

My approach derives from my axiomatic contention that poetry is the investigation of complex contemporary realities through the means (meanings) of form. Instead of an historical reading of the kinds of alternative British poetries under the label ‘linguistically innovative’ (my previous volumes The Poetry of Saying (Liverpool University Press, 2005) and When Bad Times Made for Good Poetry (Shearsman, 2011) offered this and more), this investigation argues that the attention of any formal study of contemporary poetry must be dual. It must focus on form in the technical sense, on identifiable forms in play (enjambment, line, rhythm, rhyme, etc.), and on form in a general, more performative sense, that prioritises acts of forming and our apprehension of their coming to form. Forms and forming I call this pair for ease. Associating one with the other, Derek Attridge in The Singularity of Literature argues that form is the force that stages a performance of any text: we need to apprehend ‘the eventness of the literary work, which means that form needs to be understood verbally – as ‘taking form”, of “forming”, or even “loosing form”’,  but he insists that the devices of artifice ‘are precisely what call forth the performative response’ of any engaged reader, directly connected to the event of singularity which is the irruption of an inventive otherness in our productive reading.

Both types of form are capable of carrying a semantic or cognitive charge, demonstrating that forms think. They contain or envelop meaning(s) of knowledge(s) and might show how new meaning and (non-propositional) knowledge might be formed and formulated. As such, aesthetic form carries a force operating on the individual (or collective) reader or viewer, which – in the case of poetry – means that the reader is the site where such meanings are staged by form, so that reading is formulating form, and formulating it into fluxing semantic and cognitive forms as a ‘performed mobility’. Wolfson even writes that literature lovers ‘respond to forms as a kind of content’. Formal considerations of both kinds (forms and forming) are engaged by active reading and enact meanings that moderate, exacerbate, subvert (and on rare occasions reinforce) the kind of extractable meaning that Forrest-Thomson and Attridge both decry as ‘paraphrase’. If apprehension of form is not, or not only, a matter of collecting the devices of poetic artifice, of forms, but a question of entering into the process by which the text finds form in our reading, as forming, there can be, strictly, no paraphrase; indeed, paraphrase, a mode by which meaning is supposedly skimmed off the surface of reading as a residue or even an essence, or worse, a ‘political’ slogan, is a violation of the processes of forms forming. Paraphrase is amnesia of form.

Although ‘the vitality of reading for form is freedom from program and manifesto, from any uniform discipline,’ as Wolfson has it, this volume will demonstrate how ‘issues’ may be read in literary works, ‘through’ form and not as an avoidance of it. ‘Formalist’ has a bad press when it seems to imply autonomist or aestheticist remove, but a poem is opened up to the world only through its form. While there will be some contextual information presented, thinking about poems and thinking about form, particularly through its evanescent cognitive content, will be the main focus.

My previous studies have taken historical and ethical approaches to these writers and my criticism has always been informed (tacitly) by my own work as a poet, and by my interest in poetics as a speculative writerly discourse. I have a particular interest in the wily and even self-deceptive way writers talk to themselves through poetics, and this requires a reading that does not reduce its conjectural nature and function to intentional statements or ersatz literary criticism. Poetics arises as an incidental activity of poets throughout and will be addressed directly as text in several parts. Theorised close reading might be a thumbnail description of my method. I have decided to extend the range of my coverage of British poets and have not pursued some writers (Tom Raworth and Iain Sinclair, for example) whose work I have analysed in previous books and articles. Another aim of the book is to demonstrate the formal range of linguistically innovative poetry.

Readers of this book (and these posts) will find a challenging thesis about form (taken dually as identifiable devices of form and processes of forming) that may well influence their reading-processes on a permanent basis. This will be combined with discussions of important British (and some other) poets, most of whom are relatively well-known, others of whom are still emerging. The originality and marketability of the book is that it combines a summary of formalist and aestheticist thinking that is currently fashionable in one area of literary studies (Romanticism) and applies it to another (contemporary poetry) which has not hitherto been overly invaded by this mode of enquiry. It will therefore be of interest to those studying literary theory as well as those studying contemporary poetry. Its interest in form will draw in readers who are following theorists as various as Derek Attridge, T.W. Adorno, as well as the New Formalists and other aesthetic theorists, particularly those who argue the case increasingly for a cognitive function in formal elements.  

What follows is a list of contents with raw links (and references to a number of offline and print sources) to relevant pages on Pages. The final book may differ considerably from these passages, but you could read through the posts to get a glimpse of the rough thinking. Or scroll back through Pages pages until you reach August 2013. Or dip and sample. Or even follow a link and lose yourself.

The Meaning of Form

Introduction: Form’s Mordant Eye

See the above text and the first paragraph or two of this essay on John Seed:

Here are some posts grappling with the question of the cognitive function of form (some of which are linked to later chapters as well since this is a matter of conclusions as well as introductions):

 See review of On Form by Angela Leighton, Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry, Vol 3: No 1, March 2011: 63-66.

Chapter One: Convention and Constraint: Form in the Innovative Sonnet Sequence

See the 14 posts under that title that deliberately mime the structure of the sonnet. Very early thinking, very playful. Here’s a sonnet made of links:

Chapter 2 Artifice, Artifact and Artificer: Veronica Forrest-Thomson and Christopher Middleton

See ‘Linguistically Wounded: The Poetical Scholarship of Veronica Forrest-Thomson’ in ed. Turley, Richard Margraf, The Writer in the Academy: Creative Interfrictions, Essays and Studies 2011. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2011: 133-55. [article, published] and parts of Poetics as Conjecture and Provocation: an inaugural lecture delivered on 13 March 2007 at Edge Hill University’, New Writing. Vol 5: 1 (2008): 3-26.

Chapter 3. Rosmarie Waldrop: Form, what one can work on

Some introductory remarks about her poetics:

Chapter 4. The Trace of Poetry and the Non-Poetic: Conceptual Writing and Appropriation in Kenneth Goldsmith, Vanessa Place and John Seed

Chapter 5. Stefan Themerson: Iconopoeia and Thought-Experiments in the Theatre of Semantic Poetry

See ‘Stefan Themerson and the Theatre of Semantic Poetry’. in eds. Blaim, Ludmiły Gruszewskiej, and David, Malcolm (eds.), Eseje o Współczesnej Poezji Brytyjskiej i Irlandzkiej, Volume 5: Gdańsk: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Gdańskiego,Ludmi: 245-262.

Chapter 6. Translation as Transformation: Tim Atkins’ and Peter Hughes’ Petrarch

Thoughts on ‘Petrarch 3’ (and some attention to my later many versions of this one sonnet):

Chapter 7. Geraldine Monk’s poetics and performance: Catching Form in the Act

Read these posts on Monk’s poetics text Transubstantiation of the Text:

These posts are on music (and on an abandoned project on poetry and jazz) and on Monk’s collaborations with Martin Archer and Julie Tippetts:

Chapter 8. Meddling the Medieval: Caroline Bergvall and Erín Moire

A game of two halves:

Chapter 9. The Making of the Book: Bill Griffiths and Allen Fisher

On small presses (part of my Keynote Talk to the Small Press conference in Salford, which does not survive into the book):

On Bill Griffiths’ The Book of the Boat:

On Fisher’s Proposals:

Chapter 10. Translation as Occupation: Simon Perril and Sean Bonney

A game of three halves it seems:

Chapter 11 and Conclusion: Form, Forms and Forming and the Antagonisms of Reality: Barry MacSweeney’s Sin Signs

The Theory of Form, Autonomy and Art:

On Barry MacSweeney’s works of the 1970s:

And finally...

For a general resumé of everything I’m up to, research-wise, watch the video at the bottom of my work webpage, here. Scroll down to find it. It’s only 2 and a half minutes long. I can’t embed it here, for some reason.

For a piece on the nature of POETICS read an early version of The Necessity of Poetics at

or at

If anybody wants to contact me about matters relating to these posts (or others!) my institutional email is

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Robert Sheppard: Listening to Fluvium by Martin Archer, Geraldine Monk, Julie Tippetts


On the Discus CD Fluvium, the collaboration of Martin Archer and Julie Tippets with Geraldine Monk is close in that Monk is for the first time performing with them, and she is working with a complex text, free of the expectations of ‘song’, unlike the earlier Angel High Wires. The ‘text’ of a multisystemic formal reading of this ‘fused sonics’ must include this text on the page (even this is offered to us in book publication and in the CD sleevenotes with slight variations) and the music as it is heard on the CD. (It is not separately notated; Archer works directly on his materials and, as with earlier work, incorporates acts of improvisation into the overall poesis undertaken in the studio). This includes the performance of that text, along with the grain of the voice (here with the presence of the author and another voice, one speaking, the other singing, although that distinction is not held to rigidly in the mix), and with every other element of organised sound (to appropriate John Cage’s catch-all definition of music) taken into account: ‘fused sonics (interaction)’ (to use some terms from Monk’s poetics, Insubstantial Thoughts on the Transubstantiation of the Text. I posted the (exhaustively) long version of my account of this on Pages (first of 5 installments here).

These involve acts of risk, the clash of two (or more) formal disciplines, formal practices, formal languages, and the effect may not be of systems working purposefully together but of working against one another; they run the risk of ‘Sonic v semantic’ (another term from the poetics). To adapt the information theory of Yuri Lotman, the recording as experienced is a multi-systemic artefact, where all elements operate with some degree of autonomy from all others. The resultant complexity, the interinanimation (and non-interinanimation) of its forms, is formed in a multi-sensory act of readerly forming, so that the forming of it because its performance and the trace of that event its meaning. Responding to the Monk poem being recited, to adapt Attridge’s remark, involves performing the particular performance of it that I am hearing. Responding to the Monk poem being recited as part of a recorded composition by Martin Archer involves performing the particular performance of it that I am hearing on the recording which, after several hearings, is a composite one.[i]


What follows here are my notes, made listening to the recording, and then immediately ‘cleaned up’ for style and sense. Otherwise, for this post, they have not been changed, other than adding the correct spelling of the Stockhausen piece. Monk’s text was not consulted. The words in inverted commas are what I heard, or thought I heard Monk say, or sing. A generous sample may be heard here.


Archer’s buckled electronics start the piece off, though is there a voice, some sampled trace of utterance, in the jerking word-like chimes, or ringing? Not sure. Glissandi, gratings and swoops crowd together, build up. A single piano note is struck, then returns sampled, several times, transformed, as Monk’s whispers begin, a brief sound at first, but then she clearly recites the text, in a whisper surrounded by, swamped by, outnumbered by electronics (and, a little after, by multi-tracked sax). There are deft and grand electronic sounds that remind me of Stockhausen’s ‘Gesang der Jünglinge’, but this is the home-brew version (I mean: what took hours in Darmstadt in the 1950s can be done on a lap top today). ‘Lush lush.’ The saxes return with a rondo that sounds like the World Saxophone Quartet, though perhaps more out there like SOS from the 1970s or the Rova ensemble today. Archer will know that. (Brief memory that he name-checks the Soft Machine.) But electronic noises like JLIAT’s thunder and crash there too. The WSQ sound emerges and electronic voicings (literally voices, treated, I think; they cannot be understood) speak over the rondo, which then fades and leaves not silence but a low hum. A space opens, fills with oscillating electronics, a piano note, but it’s preparing for a concentrated and longer reading from Monk: I hear ‘raparapraprparaparp’ (echoed, sampled). The voice recites close. I hear the music of ‘lips lit lips lit’. ‘Dark dark: dark dark’: repeated like that, before a return to the chorus of ‘raparapraprparaparp.’ ‘Is there anybody there?’ is repeated 4 times. It sounds desperate because there is no reply, not even musically.


A pure electronic tone (though interrupted constantly) leads to a juddery fade. We hear a deep indiscernible male-sounding voice and a continuous dirty tone (like a vacuum cleaner) though the pure tone briefly recurs. The guttering low sounds may be speech slowed even further than male-ness. (The voice must be either Monk’s or Tippetts’, if it’s a voice at all.) Tippetst enters, sighingly, improvising one of her melodies that always sound vaguely eastern, a plaint to be sure. Electronics pop (low), saxes repeat a rondo-like riff, a melodica enters and fades. The sax and voice popping against one another continues for some time. An insistent low tone; then Monk reads, slowly, emphatically, close-miked, over the same kinds of sounds as just described. Did she breathe ‘BREATHE’? ‘It is seethe,’ she intones, as the backing textures build in volume, Tippetts breaking into throat-singing and falsettos, louder. ‘Slo-mo blink,’ does she say? Snarling, breathing low. Two Tippett voices improvise behind her and around the repeating melodica. Monk’s voice stumbles, the singing chirps and blips, ‘Is it?’ It’s like birdsong, chittering in confusion. ‘What is it?’ the voices (both, all) cry. ‘It’s like like like like … it’s like animals,’ I hear, but Monk is off on a roll, dancing down a long stretch of language (as I’ve heard her do in dozens of solo readings) and Tippetts glides over the speech, tracking it, it seems. The track segues into the next…


Is that breathing? ‘It was a very very very (Monk’s tones lowering with each iteration) curled up beer mat.’ The voice is clear with arpeggios of warm electronics surrounding it, chilling to a glissando which slides up towards inaudibility and goes. ‘Time dripped unnoticed and then and then it       stopped. Blotted out…..etc.’ The text is clear, slow enough to write it down, not just listen to it, though Monk elongates a word here and there and it merges into sound, is lost. Every new cluster of words evokes electronic build up: a break in one dictates a break in the other. The music and sound are following the words, or more precisely, following the voice, Monk’s speaking voice. This continues throughout. ‘TAKE ANY SHAPE,’ Monk cries, a grainy voice. A sudden solo sax is clear behind the voice, adopts trills and sliding: Monk went ‘looking for night’ (we hear several times). ‘Out there, the condemned …’ You catch that word again: ‘condemned’; it is auspicious and the extended delivery emphasises this. The textures are building over the basic pattern. Did she say ‘Inscape’? Hopkins in this sliding world, the sounds busy but following the presence and absence of the voice with their own. ‘Ghosts/hosts’, I hear, but the stuttered voice turns almost to pure sound in its cutting off, and even sounds non-English at points. Or glossalalic. Then silence. End of track.


A single electronic chime, a blast, and then: there is Monk’s voice, loud, audible. Other instruments around, Tippets again follows the flow of the speech, tracking the text’s vocal realisation, with blips (as does the electronics). Monk swoops her words, she is singing, really. ‘Yip,’ she says. Blip, she sings. She glissandos (that’s a verb now). Tippetts sopranos (that’s verb too: everything is action). ‘Label.’ The roar rolls on: Monk’s rolling r’s across a stretch of r-words. Alliteration recognised, although the meaning isn’t caught. Musique concrete blaps and sax squeaks, like 60s free jazz, but also vaguely the contemporary avant-garde flutterings of a John Butcher. I hear what feels like a list of words, a row of notes accompanying it, climbing, broadly following the voice (again). Throat sounds: ‘oh!’ Phatic social noises are flung around the sound-space. Gong-tones, guitar brush. ‘Arpeggio,’ Monk says. Wisely the musicians (and Archer mixing them, remember: some of them are him multi-tracked) don’t take this as an instruction, resist the worst form of musically mimesis, but blip and blonk again instead (or in definance). ‘GRINGO?’ I’m hearing words, for sure, but I am unsure they are really spoken. It’s no wonder. There is a lot of interfering sound here. Lotman’s multi-systemic aesthetics seems too neat to describe this. The back and forth of a machine, dirty electric acoustic sounds are grinding against cleaner electronic sounds (it seems) in the same way that Monk’s smoky-smoggy voice growls and grounds the purer flight of Tippetts soaring voice, though she begins to emit long clear but quieter notes as Monk’s speech lowers into less audible utterance. The zizzing electronics in echoing reverb grate and blurt rather than chime, though chiming continues, swamped by, and sinking into, the overall grainy texture. By the time there’s no voice left, these noises are breakages, torn sounds across the nerves of audition. They fade. End.    


This text is impressionistic as yet, but there is an awareness of the multi-systemic theory in its descriptions. I am surprised how little of the text I have apprehended, and certainly in no way do I interpret it. I mis-hear it: ‘lush lush’ for ‘lash lash’; ‘dark dark’ for ‘dart dart’, for example. The task of joining up the written text to performance awaits its day. In the meantime I can take joy in having descended very far down into the piece, so much so that the words were only as important as the sounds. ‘Sonics v semantics’ does not so much happen here at this sonic substratum. I listened intently to the music but didn’t hear (or misheard) the words. The whole feeling, on the other hand, is dictated by the auspicious, slow, caressing, but broken tone of Monk’s voice. It’s ghostly, ghastly, and we’re aghast.

TITLES and Text

Titles are important lexical items and formal pointers in most poems, but in the case of this recording they are also the titles of tracks to be selected, and in one case, the title of the entire musical composition. They might be the only words read by a listener. ‘Fluvium’ is not the Latin for river (as I thought). That is ‘fluvius’, though it is derived from fluere, to flow, hence the English adjective ‘fluvial’, of or belonging to rivers. ‘Flow’ is encoded in the etymology. ‘Fusile’ seems to be clustered with similar words as ‘fusible’ or ‘fusil’, a noun meaning melting, the state of fluidity (again) from heating. ‘Metablethers’ sounds strange although we all know ‘Meta’ often implies change. Somehow (how?) I thought ‘blether’ would be Scottish and it is, meaning blather, to talk nonsense, but it implies fluent garrulity. So flow again. Metablether implies transformation (to use a central word for my current researches), transmogrification (to use a word in the text itself) or transubstantiation (to use the word from Monk’s poetics).

‘Espial’, on the other hand, as could be guessed, means ‘the act of espying, observation’, where ‘epsy’ means to watch, from a distance, with connotations of discovering something unexpectedly. ‘Ghast’ can be a verb, the Shakespearean ‘to strike aghast’ or to affright, again the unexpected. Old English.

These words construct a kind of lexical prospectus for this poem (and possibly for Archer’s music): everything is in danger of transforming, at the levels of content and form. Material ‘blather’, the ordinary bits and pieces of our world are focussed upon (‘espial’ might be right for this recognition of banal singularity with its musical but redundant hyper-modification):

…. a very very very
curled up
beer mat.
Singular. Stiff.’ (Monk 2001: 87)

is ‘transmogrified’ in a ‘Night of urban freefall/ funlovers’. (87) The poem identifies flow as life. Even under this city pleasure dome (one of the rare social glimpses of the poem) ‘death and what not’, the ‘ghast’ details, are fended off with the minatory ‘Take any shape but THAT’, with its excessively emphatic typography (which perhaps Archer interprets as authority for sonic excess). Taking shape again suggests transformation (perhaps shamanistic this time), and escape. The world of ‘Abandoned moon buggies’ with which the poem opens (amid all that whispering as though this a secret place, barely audible) is both recognisable, the urban detritus of dumped motor vehicles, and alien; to annex a phrase from the poetics, this is a ‘lunarscape’ as well, with cast-off space-junk scattered across its surface. Archer re-orders the poems (or his realisations of them) so that the work no longer ends at a state of rested totality amid the fragmented urbanism of ‘fisile’,

come-come to me soothing/
(wayafter aching midnight), (Monk 2001: 91)

but with the more ghastly image (and call to music, of course, authorising Archer’s elaborate coda described aboove):

sing while
            ’er blueberry hair
                        stalagmites (Monk 2001: 90)

Only a witch or some ghastly ghostly creature could possess hair made of blueberries. Its transformation into spiky, prickly stalagmites (the word itself transformed from static noun to active verb) is a necessarily slow one, and reminds us that transubstantiation (whether of words or objects, whether in life or performance) happens at a variety at speeds. Additionally, collaborative work such as the recording of Fluvium occurs simultaneously at various synchronised and non-synchronised, but collectively signifying, multi-systemic levels (to use Lotman very loosely again).    


Perhaps the most extraordinary proof of this mode of conceiving of work in performance as the interactions of ‘levels’ is Archer’s composition ‘Aftershock’ which completes the CD: it is a re-mix of ‘Fluvium’, and perhaps of other materials not used, to create a dense remoding of the earlier piece, both voices and musical sounds, though occasionally leaving allusive space for recognition of its fragments. It consists of vocal samples of speech, song and sprechgesang, with minimal electronics. The words are sometimes recognisable (‘Is there anybody there?’ most memorably) but the reprises are transformed, by a much fiercer sampling, cutting, repetition (particularly the ‘Rappa rappa’ chorus) and with formidable overdubs to pulverise the sounds to ‘micro-vocal particles’ (to use Henri Chopin’s words) and non-lexical vocal sounds (but still preserving the timbre of Monk’s voice) while Tippetts’ multi-tracked voice skitters around them. This passage is close to the formal electro-acoustic manipulation of Stockhausen’s ‘Gesang der Jünglinge’. It builds to an echolalic chittering as aural texture. ‘Aftershock’ is a demonstration of much of my thesis about form (in extended inter-media): it is a formal recognition that any formed and formal artefact may be de-formed and re-formed, that any form may be transformed – and that the modes of transformation – re-writing, re-composing, translation, and finally reading, and listening themselves, are stages in an infinitely expandable (though humanly constrained) formal (and thereby human) adventure.    

(For a full description of, and full set of links to, my project The Meaning of Form click here.)

[i] Details of both CDs may be accessed here: Angel High Wires :; and Fluvium: (accessed 18th March 2014).

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Robert Sheppard: The Challenge of Writing about Poetry and Music: Fluvium by Martin Archer, Julie Tippetts and Geraldine Monk

Martin Archer at The Grapes, Sheffield

Discus CD Fluvium: details here; listen to excerpts (particularly the first 2.40) here

What is the relationship of the text on the page to the CD I’m listening to? Take the simple device of centring the text on the page (which is not followed in the sleeve-note printing, so is literally not present on the CD if we accept it as material object): a formalist reading must insist upon this as a contributor to the effect of the poem. But all we hear on track one as it opens is the buckled electronic sounds of Archer. As a kind of introduction to the piece, is that the equivalent of my eyes saccading all over the page and establishing that the centring is a particular artifice I must accommodate? Not really.

When Monk begins to read she whispers the text. Where is that sound on the page? Is the text whispered? Empirically not, of course; it’s written. But if I’m reading the text as I listen, does it take the whisper into itself? Is the whisper now on the page as part of my act of forming of the text? ‘Responding to a poem being recited involves performing the particular performance of it that I am hearing,’ says Derek Attridge. (Attridge 2004: 86) And that includes the whisper. There are some theories of audition which think that this is so. I return to the Christopher Middleton distinction between the exophone and the endophone with which I end The Poetry of Saying more than I thought I might. But even going down that avenue, which I won’t, other than to nudge the sedan into the parking bay, where is the whisper: in the reader, in the ears of the listener, or – more controversially on the page? For a formalist reading this could involve problems unless we follow the model offered by Attridge (usually the fount of contemporary literary wisdom).  Responding to the Monk poem being recited involves performing the particular performance of it that I am hearing.  Responding to the Monk poem being recited as part of a composition with Martin Archer involves performing the particular performance of it that I am hearing on the CD. (My memory of seeing it being performed is hazy and only contributes a general but largely visual impression, I must admit, dominated by Julie Tippetts.) I have now listened to it several times and now the performance is no longer ‘the particular performance of it that I am hearing’, but is composite. (The same could be said of any piece of recorded sound, from my own voice reading my latest poem, something I do to check on sonic qualities I might otherwise miss, through to the Jack Bruce album I played last night; actually my checking of his version of ‘I Feel Free’ against the Cream original is another kind of composite memory, the assessment of variation.) Somewhere Attridge says that as long as I retain something of the poem as a poem (not a paraphrase) then I retain something of its form. That’s true here: the poem is unparaphrasable and the music has to remain formal because music has no content (leaving the controversy of that statement to one side for a moment).

Is there one form or are there two forms here: the text and the music? The existence of the separate text is clear but there is no separate music, either as performance notation or post-performance description: it can’t exist like the words of ‘Round Midnight’ which I didn’t know for decades and which, when I did (thank you Mel Torme), it altered my perception of other instrumental versions (Monk, Theolonious, and Davis, Miles say), actually altered what I thought of as the melody by separating it more clearly from harmonic structures which a jazz musician’s improvisatory gestures might have blurred, certainly Miles, to form an alternative melody, as it were.

Do we regard the entire piece we hear  – to reprise the information theory of Yuri Lotman – as a multi-systemic artefact, where all elements operate with some degree of autonomy from one another? He talks about ‘everything contributing to the impact of the work upon the reader…. All levels may carry meaning – not just lexical meaning but a full range of esthetic, ideological, and cultural meanings’. (Lotman 1976: xv) That extension goes well beyond the formalist reading I want to hold together (I want to exclude Julie Driscoll’s ‘look’ as the background to the CD; so does Julie Tippetts!). But it allows for such a thought, or an approach that I might find usable to analyse this CD.

It would go something like this: the ‘text’ for the sake of a multisystemic formal reading must include the text on the page (since it is offered to us, in the book publication and in the sleevenotes, however variant) and the music as it is heard on the CD (not as separately notated, although I think Archer works directly on his materials and, as with earlier work, incorporates acts of improvisation into the overall poesis). It includes the performance of that text (here with the exophonic presence of the author and another voice, one singing, the other speaking, although that distinction is not held to rigidly, perhaps combines into a single ‘voice’ level for analysis), with the grain of the voice, and with every other element of organised sound (to appropriate John Cage’s catch-all definition of music. ‘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,’ I wrote earlier on Monk’s poetics. And Monk sees the interaction herself as not one of harmony, but of dissonance:

abstraction of
fighting for
squalled in

To be simpler (and to remove parentheses, like this one!)…

To be simpler: the ‘text’ of a multisystemic formal reading must include the text on the page and the music as it is heard on the CD, including the performance of that text, with the grain of the voice, and with every other element of organised sound.
Fusion and interaction are acts of risk, the clash of two (or more) formal disciplines, formal practices, formal languages, and the effect may not be of systems working purposefully together but of working against one another, each autonomous. The resultant complexity, the interinanimation of its forms, are formed in a multi-sensory act of readerly forming, so that the forming of it because its performance and the trace of that event its meaning. As so often in this research, form becomes content.

Print works cited

Attridge, Derek. The Singularity of Literature. London and New York: Routledge, 2004.
Lotman, Yury, Analysis of the Poetic Text (Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1976).
Middleton , Christopher, Jackdaws Jiving (Manchester: Carcanet, 1998)

accessed 18th March 2014

(For a full description of, and links to every post from, my The Meaning of Form project, click here.)

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Bill Griffiths Collected Poems Launch videos

 On Saturday 1st March Reality Street Books launched the second Collected Poems and Sequences by Bill Griffiths in London. The editor Alan Halsey invited a few people who had helped him in his exacting task in some way. My claim to be there was on the basis of a few suggestions I made to Alan about the integrity of text-image interplay in The Book of the Boat. My writings on that may be read here. Apologies for raw links below, but I've embedded the ensemble piece for four voices.   
then readings from Griffiths' work by

Ensemble above (Fisher, Mendoza, Sheppard, Edwards)

Geraldine Monk (& guest appearance by the Anglo-Saxon scop Gavin Selerie) -

Links to links to Bill Griffiths' stories on Pages here.

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.

callow cello
get sstRucking a
la bobbin-rack
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
fighting for
squalled in
un estuary ova

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.