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Methodological Difficulties in the Examination of Experimental Poetry Clemente Padín

Clemente Padín in UbuWeb Historical

Sometimes, when the literary criticism judges an experimental poem just compares it with other already known poems, according to the repertoire of judgements and knowledges that it owns, attributing to the experimental poem the supposed value within the hierarchy of its pattern of values and personal experiences, that is to say, its personal i canon.

In relation to the experimental poetry this criterion is impracticable, since there are unpliblished contributions which are not still integrated in the repertoire of social knowledges being therefore impossible to compare them to others, neither to make valuations, as generally occurs.

In front of an experimental poem, we must only discover the information that transmits and, also, offer codes of reading and decoding, without imposing any sense or signification by managing the ideology of the moment.Neither should we indicate the "Beauty" or "Ugliness" of trhe poem, concepts we can not grasp, if there is one, of historical character, changeable according to the epoche and place, absolutely fallible since they depend on personal and social factors, i.e., on cultural legitimation within the frame of the society where they are generated.That novel elements are exactly the ones that the experimental poem or other disciplines of human practice happen to bring, when that are applied to conceptualize the unknown questions until that moment and not to manipulate the already known ans in use or institutionalised, which makes possible the growing of the repertoire of knowledges of the society in any of the fields of human activity:scientific, technical, cultural, etc., avoiding the stagnation of the different areas of knowledge.

The production of experimental poems is not the only factor that makes indispensable this kind of irregular creation, but also the creation of new information that is giving account of the new events, objects or values that human activity is generating.Those are new concepts and forms that are moving all the cultural structure in a given community, as long as the irruption alters the existent knowledges and obliges them to be up to date and relocated in accordance to the new information.

Precisely, by provoking alterations and enlargement of knowing, they become avant-garde in the particular sense of impelling society "forward":so it did occur when the Theory of Relativity in relation to Newton´s Classic Physic arose or when the birth of photography discredited the naturalistic painting, among other examples.

The confirmation of these assertions -that gives a guarantee on the Experimentalism- and the radical disruption of the codes of writting and reading come to us from Structuralism.So, critics like Jean Cohen, characterises the poem, in first instance, as a transgression of the code of language for, afterwards, in a second instance, retakes it at a higher level, i.e., the new informational element bursts into a given repertoire, convulsing it and, later, the repertoire assumes and incorporates that information, so being obliged to change its structures -firmly established by the usage and habit- giving room to the new element and in this way the repertoire is enlarged.

In words of Cohen (1978): "...(poetry) appears as totally negative, as a form of pathology of the language.But this first phase implies a second one, this time positive.Poetry only destroys the ordinary language in order to construct it at a higher level.To the dis-structuration handled by the figure follows the re-steructuration of another order."

By picking up and enlarging the ideas of Hjelmslev (1974), Cohen understands that when the form of the content is equal in two different linguistic expression , its poetic kind will be determined by the special characterisation that the form of expression will take.In relation to the importance of the formn of expression, we shall quote a part of a previous note: "...as Eco indicates, only the manipulation of the expression that conduces to the readjustment of the content could define the change of the habitual code through the aesthetic use of the signs of any of languages.For example, let us suppose that we have a reference that denotes full moon and that assumes, graphically, that linguistic form.If we say, to refer to same concept, Platon´s plane plate we have, at least, two formal notes that contains the expression full moon making it enter in the plane of the popetic:the metaphor (substitution of one element for other) and the alliteration (repetition of one or several letters or similar syllabes).In the same way, we could make the expression still more tangent and say, for example, hole of lime, either resort to mythology and say, Oh Selene, Goddess of the Night! , etc. or use the iconic codes, p.e., to draw a circle.Or like Juan José Tablada, Mexican poet or Vicente Huidobro, Chilean one, that used calligrammatical recourses.Observe that the form of the content continues to be the same full moon.It is the fiorm of expression that had changed (Padín, 1993).

It handles, without any doubt, on the same full moon, but he makes us see new expression from a different angle, unthought, each bringing not edited information about the same object, readjustring and enriching its concept.

After Jakobson (1975), the poetic function of the language is defined by the prohjection of the paradigmatic axis on the sintagmatic one, opposing to other functions, over all, to the referential function.In his words: "The poetic function projects the equivalence principle of the selection axis to the combination one".The equivalence refers to the repetitions of accents, rhythms, phonemes, syllabes, linguistic structures, the projection of that is in the enouncement or the verse, etc. George Mounin (1981) enlarges these concepts: "Jakobson repeats that there is no poem without images.But he enlarges the concept of image in order to apply it to all recurrencies, whatever they may be.The phonic parallelims (alliteration, rhytme, etc.) are images, but phonic ones.The repetition of grammatical structures (feminines, plurals, verbal forms, subordinated tenses, etc.) are tropes or figures, but grammatical ones."

Let us remark the coincidence of Mounin or Jakobson with Cohen, who speaks of operators instead of parallelism.After Cohen (19678): "...the rhytme is a phonic operator, by opposition to the metaphor (semantic operator) and, within its own level, is opposed as a distinctive operator to the meter as a constractive operator, while at a semantic level, the metaphor, predicative operator is opposed to the epithet (determinative operator)."

The disposition in verses, words, syllabes or letters on the while of the page, as well as the presence of iconic representation or the diversity of graphics, textures and colours, size, orientation of the signs, etc., could integrate a possible visual or iconic operator, the same as the pause or silence between one verse and another or the musicality or the alternance of rhytmes or the alliterations, etc., integrate the phonic operator.

Even, having into the restrictive reference that only exists poetry if there is a semantic meaning, it would be not possible to explain or analyze completely certain poetic tendences which make use of space at a large extent, like Mallarme, Huidobro, Apollinaire, Concretists, etc. We find similar considerations in Pierce´s point of view:in poetry, the non-verbal codes (also called signs by analogical similarity) are projected on the words and symbols (or signs by contiguity), i.e., the projection of the not specifically verbal codes over the linguistic plane, transforming the words into icons or figures.

In the words of Decio Pignatari, Brazilian concrete ppoet (1981): "In terms of Pierce´s Semiotic, we can say that the poetic function of language is realised in the projection of the icon over the symbol, i.e., by the projection of non-verbal codes (music, visual, gesture, etc.) over the verbal code.To make poetry is to transform the symbol (word) in icon (figure).That is to say:icon or figure not only understood as semantic operator (metaphor, p.e.) or like phonic (rhythm, p.e.) or gramatical opr morphogenic (flexive morphemes of gender, p.e.) but also as visual operator (essential disposition of the words, p.e.).

Is it possible the visual or iconic operator? Let us see the following poem by the English ppoet Ian Hamilton Finlay (taken from E, Williams (1967) and commented by the M Groupe from Lieja):


The semantic operator acts in lexemic opposition stars/steer.The phonbic operator opposes the vowels of both words a/ee.

The graphematic operator indicates the opposition a/ee (significately inoperant) and the opposition normal/thick or light/dark writting (indicated in one star and in steer).

In this way, after various stars vertically aligned in oblique form, we appreciate a star in dark writting (the Great Bear?) and, also in dark, we find the Captain (steer) to whom it is visually suggested a course of stars writtens in light lines until the star in dark (the North?).The supposed visual operator that we pretend to suggest indicates above/down, opposition that can be interpreted as sky/sea.Above a path of stars and down stand the captain scrutinising the firmament, the poem being so able to be interpreted as an isotype to navigation.

Observe that this conclusion is sustained, over all, in the graphematic and visual operator, non-semantic operators that, in the end, are determining the meaning, i.e., tha semantic.If we had only read:

                                   star          steer

we would have hardly realised that the author wanted to tell us about his favorite hobby:to navigate.

Let see this example of the Brazilian concretist poet Pedro Xisto (taken from N.Zurbrugg, 1979):

                                wind   wind   wind   wind   wind  
                        wind   leaf    wind   
leaf    wind
                     leaf    wind   
leaf    wind   leaf
                     wind   leaf     wind  
 leaf     wind
                       leaf     wind   
leaf     wind   leaf
                       wind   leaf      wind  
 leaf      wind
                       leaf     wind   
leaf     wind   leaf
                       leaf     leaf     leaf    leaf     leaf

The semantic operator opposes two words:wind/leaf.The morphogenic operator is inoperant, both words are singular nouns.The graphematic and visual operator opposes words of different graphic but with the same number of letters, which makes possible its regular location in the text (in zigzag) suggesting the movement of the wind and the leaves.The opposition that suggest the thick of the letters (light/dark) makes possible the semantic determination of the poem:the wind, ligther, is written in light letters and predominates in the upper side.On the other hand, the leaves, heavier, predominates in the lower side.We observe that, again, the extra-linguistic oppositions demonstrate its efficacy in meaning.Would it be possible, then, an "iconic rhetoric" tied to linguistics? Would it be possible the metonymies or the visual metaphors? Could we talk, p.e., about oxymorons or anacolutes?

To establish the determining action of a possible visual operator is not.of course, the only difficulty with which the experimental poem confront us.There exist considerable series of poems that do not employ words, i.e., they are situated outside the semantic of verbal language, such as the great majority of the poems of letters or the phonic poems, that only register phonemes or sounds provokeds by the diction organs;also the visual poems that only inscribe letters or syllabes or segments of letters with the concurrence or not of representations or objects, to which still the great majority of criticism, including Cohen, hesitates to call "poetry".Another sector is the opinion that it is enough the presence of any linguistic element or any relation to writting or diction to be considered "poems".

Some currents, as the Brazilian Poem/Process, neatly separate what is "poetry" of abstract character from "poem" of real and concrete one, which is after its main diffusor, Wlademir Dias-Pino (1971): "Poetry to be seen, without words...which the Poem/Process reaffirms is that the poem is made with the process and not with words"(that wants not to say that words are unneccesary).

The opposition semantic/non-semantic is a clear criterion for those who still persist in dividing arts and artistic genders in stagnant blokes (precisely when all the Fine Arts apparatus of the XIX century entered into an irrevesible crisis starting from the historic avant-gardes).For the followers of Pierce´s Semiotic, the consideration that the work of art forms part of the cognitive process of society is capital at the time of deleting the differences, p.e., between verbal and non-verbal poetry.We must add to this that the verbal poetry makes use mainly of non-verbal recourses, highly exigent in the form.as the time, the syllabic measures of the verses, the rhymes, the strophes, etc., which increases the confusion.Perhaps, that opposition could be the only characteristic that separe thjem of belonging or not to the music or the painting.

Another not minor difficulty is constituted by establishing a taxonomy that permits us ordering the enormous volume of the experimental poetry with the object of systematising its study, without falling into the restrictive orderings and limitations of the past.In this sense, there are some partial proposals, established over all, by promoters of singular currents, with the object of putting their own project in the practical experimental tradition.

Which criteria could we choose in order to establish a coherent classification? Perhaps to remark the weight of the expression over the content (or viceversa)? Or may be the character eminently figurative of the poems (in case of Huidobro or Apollinaire) or determinantly abstract (like Kriwet or Furnival)? Where could we situate the optophonetic poems of Hausmann or Schwitters? And the "noisy" poems createds in Latiun American in the decade of the 20s., that impelled Ultraism as.p.e., the following poem by the Uruguayan poet Alfredo Mario Ferreiro, from his book "The Man that Ate a Bus"(1927)?:

                                                    TREN EN MARCHA
                                                     trán trán
                                                     trán trán
                                                     Recatrácata, paf-paf.
                                                     Tacatrácata, chuchú.
                                                     racatrácata, paf-paf.

Where could we place the poems that contradict the Jakobson´statement (we were commenting at the beginning).when they are concretely expressed in paradigmatic columns, addition of lexems connected by some similar characteristic, whether of a semantic natures (whole of words with a common radical) or of phonetic or graphematic character, as for example, in this Paulo Leminski´s poem (1976)?: materesmofo temaserfomo termosfameo tremesfooma metrofasemo mortemesafo amorfotemes emarometesf eramosfetem fetomormesa mesamorfeto efatormesom maefortosem saotemorfem motormefase matermofeso metaformose

Another possible classifying criterion could be the point on which each tendency applies the informative novelty, i.e., the not edited element that proposes:whether the emphasis on the word and its "verbivocovisuales"possibilities (signification of verb, phonetic and iconicity) that is inaugurated by the concrete poetry;or the emphasis on the primary and infinitesimal sign of the letrists and phonic poets or the emphasis on the development of new sintaxis or ordering of the word in the inscription space, as the spatialism of Pierre Garnier or the neoconcretism of Ferreira-Gullar;or perhaps the passing from the reading of the sintactic structure (whether the traditional structure of the verbal language -sonnets, hai-kus, odas, etc.- or the spatial structure proposed by the majority of the experimental tendencies) to the reading of the process that animates those structures such as it is proposed by Poem/Process.

And where is to be the "visiva" poetry by the florentine poets of the Groupo 70? Or the semiotic poem proposed by Dias-Pino in 1962? And the poem "to be assembled" by Julien Blaine? Or the "semantic" poem by Pierre Garnier, poetry for thought and imagination? And the "poetry to be built" by the Argentinian Edgardo Antonio Vigo? And the "inobjetal" poetry? The texts and poems generated by the minimalism and the conceptualism, principally the artists of the English Art-Language? Or the Intermedia de Dick Higgins? and the "public" poetry from Alain Arias-Misson?

The proposals are so varied, that to establish a classifying or a kind of order criterion becomes indispensable when we have to explain the phenomenon and significance of the experimental poem.

It is not of less importance to establish simple norms that permit us to unite the proposed figures by the experimental poem to the figures of the classic rhetoric and which would allow us to construct efficient mediations between the poemn and its reader (or consumer-participant or co-author or active constructor as it has been called in the past).It is neither illicit to think, that once that correspondence between the proposed figures by the experimental poetry and the ever since enforced figures by the traditional poetry has been setttled (we think that they are the sames), we would be able to make use of the instrumentality of criticism already in existence in order to establish to basis that would allow us the correct examination and interpretation of the experimental poetry.


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