Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Originally written on June 20th.

So, there I was, drinking a Guinness in downtown Toulouse with my nemesis, in a movement of detente after a hard day of shooting at each other as we ran through the streets and slid over car hoods, watching Toulouse lose to La Rochelle by 3 points in the French Rugby Championship. Seconds remained in the game and the mood was glum.

Then we heard a roar rolling down the streets, thousands of voices raised in joy. Then our TV, which must have been 30 seconds behind those in Place Capitole, showed a magnificent play, as a Toulousain broke free from the melee and ran the entire field to score a touch.  Toulouse had just snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, one didn't need to understand rugby to understand that.

Despite ourselves we jumped for joy and hugged strangers and yelled yayyyyy. And true to the rugby spirit, said consoling words to three young women supporting La Rochelle.  Rugby is after, a sport for brutes played by gentlemen.

In the aftermath, President Macron visited the victorious team and was offered a beer, which he proceeded to down cul-sec, or dry bottom, that is to say, in one go. He chugged the fucker like a champ. Fast and clean. No dribbling chin, no gagging.

Of course, the (mostly) left wasn't having it. "Puerile" someone said.  "Toxic masculinity!" cried another.

Hogwash.  Anyone who can chug  a beer with such elan deserves a freaking thumbs up.  So well done, Manu.  Just do a better job of being President and get a handle on the current retirement age-related turmoil and you'll get a real cheer.

Friday, August 25, 2023

Gee I'm a Tree

Reminds of two things: 

The time people freaked out about pentagrams in a bus's brake lights.

The time a guy told me Freemasons in France often use triangles in their logos.

Monday, July 10, 2023

The The Sound and The Shape: Notes for an expo of collaged poetry

These are are notes I made for a more elaborate essay that never really gelled.  It's still a decent starting point for a look at found, concrete, and other forms of "visual" poetry.

Letters of the alphabet are images, symbols that indicate a sound.  Or not.

Strung together as written or printed words, letters communicate meaning via the eyes, not the ears.  Hence, what sound letters represent ceases to be important when reading.

But language is both visual and aural.  But neither is essential: the deaf communicate, as do the blind.

The deaf communicate visually, the blind aurally, and by touch.  

Communication can occur  via eyes, ears, or fingers.  Whatever conduit leads to the brain.

Hieroglyphics are letters of a sort, abstracted forms referring to nature: birds, plants, people, rivers. More complex than a simple letter, each one is a word unto itself.

Chinese pictograms are complex letters that might refer to a sound, or an entire word. "Tree" in English requires four letters. In Chinese, just one pictogram does the job.

Letters have an attached phoneme.  What a letter looks like and what it sounds like are two different things. Slam and rap lean on rhythm, meter: sound. Concrete or visual poetry leans on how letters or words look, are arranged, their relationship to the page. Like any collage, concrete poetry can be representative or abstract.

Both visual/concrete poetry and poetry more concerned with sounds may or may not be concerned with "meaning."

Asemic writing refers to writing without any semantic content. It is a purely visual medium and may use invented letters or glyphs, or existing letters.

 "Ph" = "F".    Philosophy = Filosofia

Sofia. Sophia. The relationship between sound and its visual representation is not fixed.

Does the Sator Square qualify as poetry?  Was it just a word game, a clever use of symmetry?  Did it have cosmic significance?  Magick? 

The oldest known square was found in Pompeii and thus predates the town's destruction in 62 CE.






Simmias of Rhodes Axe. 300 BC?

These texts were called carmen figurata. In addition to Axe (Pelekys), Simmias produced Pteryges (Wings), the Soon (Egg).

So called altar poems were of the same nature but the text represented an altar. Examples date back to antiquity.

Altar poems and the carmen figurata are essentially concrete poetry.

They form a recognizable image that is evoked by the words by which it composed.


George Herbert Easter Wings

This would be reproduced in the 20th century by Apollinaire with his Calligrammes.  Apollinaire was considered avant-garde, but his method dated back to before the Common Era. 

Here words are used to form a picture, but it's still not exactly using words themselves like elements of a collage.

18th C.

William S. Burroughs experimented with text arranged into columns to mimic newspapers. He also read across columns and strung the fragments together to create new sentences. The technique differed from his cut-ups and fold-ins but was basically the same thing. Finding new sentences embedded in texts by rearranging fragments. However....

1760's....Caleb Whitefoord - wine merchant, diplomat, poet - and London neighbor and friend of Benjamin Franklin, was doing a form of cut-up in the late eighteenth century:

It was Whitefoord’s genius to notice that when you took a broadsheet newspaper of tightly set columns, and started reading across the paper’s columns—rather than reading down to the column’s next line—you could achieve what he described as “coupled persons and things most heterogeneous, things so opposite in the nature and qualities, that no man alive would ever have thought of joining them together.” Whitefoord called this cross-reading, and he was so amused by it that he would publish sheets of his favorite specimens and hand them out to friends in Fleet Street coffeehouses.

Dr. Salamander will, by her Majesty’s command, 

undertake a voyage round—

The head-dress of the present month.

Wanted to take care of an elderly gentlewoman—

An active young man just come from the country.

Yesterday the new Lord Mayor was sworn in,

and afterwards toss’d and gored several Persons.

Removed to Marylebone, for the benefit of the air—

The City and Liberties of Westminster.

Notice is hereby given—

And no notice taken.

Burroughs did exactly that and cut-ups and fold-ins mimic the process.  


Isidore Ducasse/Lautréamont

Maldoror included lines lifted directly from previous texts, especially descriptions of nature. As Burroughs said:  if Josef Conrad had described a treeline perfectly, why not just lift the text and use it as the background for the action in your text, much like collage?

In artistic practice, there is a history of repurposing and plagiarism that predates the digital. The pseudonymous Comte de Lautréamont, a French poet who died in 1870, whose work later influenced the Surrealists and Situationists, said:

"Plagiarism is necessary. Progress demands it. Staying close to an author’s phrasing, plagiarism exploits his expressions, erases false ideas, replaces them with correct ideas."

A man of his word, Lautréamont plagiarised in his two major works: Les Chants de Maldoror and Poésies.

1914 Constantinople, a 'ferro-concrete poem' from Tango with Cows by Vasily Kamensky.

1918 Apollinaire Calligrammes.

Made poems to resemble the subject. Rain, for example.  Very much in the vein of Herbert.


How to Make a Dadaist Poem

(method of Tristan Tzara)

To make a Dadaist poem:

  • Take a newspaper.

  • Take a pair of scissors.

  • Choose an article as long as you are planning to make your poem.

  • Cut out the article.

  • Then cut out each of the words that make up this article and put them in a bag.

  • Shake it gently.

  • Then take out the scraps one after the other in the order in which they left the bag.

  • Copy conscientiously.

  • The poem will be like you.

  • And here are you a writer, infinitely original and endowed with a sensibility that is charming though beyond the understanding of the vulgar.

T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land (1922) and John Dos Passos' U.S.A. Trilogy (1930-36)

Incorporated newspaper clippings.

Burroughs and Gysin, Cut-ups, 1950’s & 60's

The method is simple. Here is one way to do it. Take a page. Like this page. Now cut down the middle and cross the middle. You have four sections: 1 2 3 4 … one two three four. Now rearrange the sections placing section four with section one and section two with section three. And you have a new page. Sometimes it says much the same thing. Sometimes something quite different–(cutting up political speeches is an interesting exercise) — in any case you will find that it says something and something quite definite. Take any poet or writer you fancy. Heresay, or poems you have read over many times. The words have lost meaning and life through years of repetition. Now take the poem and type out selected passages. Fill a page with excerpts. Now cut the page. You have a new poem. As many poems as you like.

The Nova Trilogy (1961-1967)

Minutes to Go 1960

The Exterminator 1960

The Burroughs File

Letters are represented by symbols and colors.

The Travel Agency is on Fire 

The editor says there are three collections of cutups that may number 11K+ pages each....

There’s been a lot of [objections to the cut-ups], a sort of a superstitious reverence for the word. My God, they say, you can’t cut up these words. Why can’t I? I find it much easier to get interest in the cut-ups from people who are not writers—doctors, lawyers, or engineers, any open-minded, fairly intelligent person—than from those who are….People say to me, “Oh, this is all very good, but you got it by cutting up.” I say that has nothing to do with it, how I got it. What is any writing but a cut-up? Somebody has to…*do* the cutting up. Remember that I first made selections. Out of hundreds of possible sentences that I might have used, I chose one





All these movements experimented with language, asemic writing, concrete poetry.

1964-1965 Charles Henri Ford Poster Poems


Concrete Poetry

Postwar Brazil

d.a. levy

From Levy's Tibetan Stroboscope. 
Levy wrote poetry but experimented a lot with concrete poetry.  In the Stroboscope, he experimented with what he called "destructive writing.". Burroughs exhorted readers "trop rub out the word" but his cut-ups still used words. In his journals he went further and replaced words with symbols or different colored dots.  But until his scrapbooks are published we can only find some examples in The Burroughs File.

Levy achieved a similar goal in the Stroboscope poems.  By over inking his mimeograph machine or overprinting text, he arrived at what looked like text but was in fact illegible.  An example of asemic writing.

1967E  Emmett Williams Anthology of Concrete Poetry

Gysin's permutations

Visual Poetry

John M. Bennett

Sound Poetry

1960 Pistol Poem Gysin

Pure sound. Found sound. Asemic writing. If language is both visual and aural, isn't using sampled sound akin to using some words in found texts (or vice versa)?


Bowie and the Stones used cutups for lyrics, under Burroughs’ influence.


Hip-Hop and EDM: Sampling. See: Pistol Poem (Brion Gysin)


Jonathan Lethem The Ecstasy of Influence

All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. . . .—John Donne

Emojis.  Acronyms: WTF, LOL, LMFAO, IMO, etc.

Blackout Poetry

John Carroll

Austin Kleon

Take a text and start blacking out words until a poem is formed by the remaining words.

Some trace this back to Whitefoord, through Tzara and Burroughs. It's not the exact same technique, but a variation on manipulating a found text to create something new. Whether using fragments cut from a paper, or words left after redacting a text with a sharpie, or lifting paragraphs to re-use in one's own text.

Is it plagiarism or theft? I think not.. No because the origin of the texts is clear. There's no attempt to "fool" the reader. In fact, that the texts are found is part of the attraction.

Friday, July 7, 2023