BY JACK FOLEY
She told me once
her name meant "soul"
and also "dear"
as in "Alma Mater"
She was the object
of our son's
into the world:
to cross the street
to visit his friend
We watched from the window
as he went: carefully
what to give
attention candy and love
and she welcomed him
as she welcomed
of her many admirers.
We knew her
as a neighbor
under a tree
came and went
came and went
listened and smiled
are the guest
and I hope
whoever welcomes you
does it with at least
born (like you)
in the second
of the new
WRITING ABOUT "THE ORAL":
INTRODUCTORY REMARKS TO A CLASS
These remarks were written for a class my wife Adelle and I presented in March, 2003, at New College of California in San Francisco. The course of which the class was part was taught by Jessica Loos; it was called "Mind and Imagination." The class we taught dealt with the nature of "the oral."
It's hard at the moment to think of almost anything but the invasion of Iraq, but Adelle and I are going to try to talk to you today about the "oral"--which is at a distance from the "war."
Many of you perhaps think of "the oral" as what I would call "ego assertion": put me in front of a microphone and I'll tell you what I think: I'm telling you orally, with my mouth. Put me in front of a TV camera and I'll do the same.
That isn't quite the meaning of "the oral tradition," if in fact that phrase has any genuine meaning at all. The subject of "the oral" is an immense one and we are not likely to be able to cover it in an hour. It has ramifications in psychology and sociology as well as in "literature"--a word which means having to do with "letters" and which is therefore the opposite of "the oral." Words, which we speak with our mouths, are not the same thing as letters, which we perceive with our eyes. The words "language" and "literature" are in a similar state of tension. Language is what you do with your langue, your tongue.
For the Freudians, the "oral" is an extremely important stage in psychological development--and, however distant from that stage we may be, we are nonetheless always invoking it to some degree when we present our work "orally." "The first organ to make its appearance as an erotogenic zone and to make libidinal demands upon the mind is, from the time of birth onward, the mouth," writes Freud in An Outline of Psychoanalysis (1940):
To begin with, all mental activity is centered upon the task of providing satisfaction for the needs of that zone. In the first instance, of course, the latter serves the purposes of self-preservation by means of nourishment; but physiology should not be confused with psychology. The baby's obstinate persistence in sucking gives evidence at an early stage of a need for satisfaction which, although it originates from and is stimulated by the taking of nourishment, nevertheless seeks to obtain pleasure in independently of nourishment and for that reason may and should be described as "sexual."
Sadistic impulses already begin to occur sporadically during the oral phase along with the appearance of the teeth.
The oral has to do with food and deprivation of food. Is poetry food for thought? In "The Host" (1954) William Carlos Williams writes of "the food" "Which I alone, / being a poet, / could have given"; in "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" (1955) he complains that "men die miserably every day / for lack / of what is found" in poems. In In Memoriam (1850) Alfred Lord Tennyson represents himself as a infant: "So runs my cry,"
But what am I?
An infant crying in the night:
An infant crying for the light:
And with no language but a cry.
Robert Duncan goes even further in Bending the Bow (1968). He locates poetry in the child's experience of the womb--though it is a womb experienced from the point of view of sound:
in a shell of murmurings,
The deep feelings of childhood are always an aspect of "the oral." (We speak of our "mother tongue.")
In a fascinating book, The Glory of Hera (1968), Philip E. Slater writes of what he terms "the oral-narcissistic dilemma." Slater's book is a study of "pre-Oedipal" or "oral" relationships, relationships between mother and child. At the center of such relationships is a "conflict between the desire to merge and the desire to be free and separate":
[The oral-narcissistic dilemma] originates in a failure to negotiate successfully the transition from the infantile state of total narcissism and total dependence to one involving an awareness of the separate existence of others. As this awareness grows, one's sense of narcissistic integrity and one's dependency needs are simultaneously violated...Total fusion and stratospheric isolation become equally essential and equally terrifying.
The great Father Walter J. Ong has written many books which examine the state of mind existing in a pre-literate culture--a very different state of mind from that existing in a literate culture. Ong has also discussed the situation of being in a post literate culture--the culture our various electronic media have allowed us to inhabit at this moment. What Ong calls "the new orality"--the orality made possible by electronic media--is relevant to the situation of poetry and to the way in which poetry is conceived of in our culture.
Before Adelle and I read "Words and Books; Poetry and Writing," from my book, O Powerful Western Star, I want to present a short poem written for two voices. It's called "Lost in Place," and it contains a brief reference to Matthew Arnold's famous poem, "Dover Beach":
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
The first voice says, "lost in place / lost where there / should be / comfort not / loss / lost / where / 'ignorant / armies' / lost / neither / here / nor / there /lost / where I am mis- / placed / where I do not / thrive / learning to live / lost." The second voice--the indented lines, in parenthesis, each of which begins with a capital letter--says, "In a time / of crisis / people must / band together / and hope / to better / their state / by communal / action / Without such / action/ there is a tendency / to sense / the self as / lost / The individual / can do nothing / but there is no / guarantee / that the group / will not be / lost."
Now listen to the two voices together as they intersect and interrupt each other. You will find, I think, that, together, the two voices suggest quite different things from what each of them says separately. The second voice, for example, says, "People must / band together," but when that is joined to the first voice, the phrase is "People must comfort not band together." Merging and separation.
LOST IN PLACE
lost in place
(In a time)
lost where there
(There is a tendency)
(The self as)
where I am mis-
(Can do nothing)
where I do not
(But there is no)
(That the group)
(Will not be)
The Syrian poet, Adonis, felt as he came into poetry that Arab critics overemphasized the oral and failed to understand the nature of the written; I felt as I came into poetry that Western critics overemphasized the written and failed to understand the nature of the oral.
A series of quotations about the nature of the oral and the written follows. These quotations were originally assembled for the experimental issue of Poetry USA (numbers 25 & 26, 1993); they were handed out to the students in the class at New College. I have added several quotations for this article. This was my introduction, from Poetry USA, to the quotations:
This double issue is an examination of the nature of the "experimental" as it appears to us on the West Coast. This may well be different from the way in which the "experimental" appears on the East Coast. The late poet-professor Tom Parkinson remarked to me in an interview which appeared in the New Jersey-based magazine, Talisman, that "our poetry"--the poetry of Robert Duncan, Jack Spicer, Kenneth Rexroth, Josephine Miles and Gary Snyder as well as of Parkinson himself- "was always designed to be read aloud. And when you read the other poets of that period, poets in the East, it just wasn't true." The oral is so strong in this region that, in rejecting it, a writer such as Robert Grenier was driven to the point of capital letters: "I HATE SPEECH" (see Quotations). The California poet William Everson observes in Archetype West (published by Berkeley's Oyez Press in 1976) that Allen Ginsberg's Howl "was 'published'"--i.e., made public-- "when it was first read in the old Six Gallery in the San Francisco Marina in the fall of 1955"; the poem "gained a powerful reputation on platform well before it was issued in print." Everson goes on to discuss "the terminal situation which confrontation with the Pacific exacts of the westward-hungering consciousness." What do we have to say now, seventeen years later, of that "terminal consciousness," that consciousness on the edge?
What about all this writing?
William Carlos Williams, Spring and All (1923)
What about all this writing?
Ron Silliman, introduction to Ironwood anthology of
L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E writing (1982)
Socrates. Well then, are we able to imagine another sort of discourse, a legitimate brother of our bastard [writing]? How does it originate? How far is it better and more powerful in nature?
Phaedrus. What sort of discourse? What do you mean about its origin?
Socrates. A discourse which is inscribed with genuine knowledge in the soul of the learner; a discourse that can defend itself and knows to whom it should speak and before whom to remain silent.
Phaedrus. Do you mean the living, animate discourse of a man who really knows? Would it be fair to call the written discourse only a kind of ghost of it?
Plato (427-347 B.C.), The Phaedrus
But when [Ambrose] was reading, his eye glided over the pages, and his heart searched out the sense, but his voice and tongue were at rest.
Saint Augustine (354-430), Confessions, Book VI
A text as such is so much a thing of the past that it carries with it necessarily an aura of accomplished death. In our highly literate culture, where everyone who cannot read and write is considered defective, and culturally is indeed so, literacy is often superstitiously regarded as totally unexceptionable and thus a statement such as this, attributing to literacy a negative quality, associating writing with death, is quite scandalous. Nothing but good should be said about writing and reading as such. Of course, this suggests the Latin saying, De Mortuis nil nisi bonum.
If, however, we dismantle our defenses and recognize that real words are always sounds, always events, which exist only while they are going out of existence, that real words are not marks on a surface, the truth about texts better appears. In oral or oral-aural communication both speaker and hearer must be alive.
Walter J. Ong, S.J., Interfaces of the Word (1977)
In the older oral-aural society, encyclopedism had had to be a matter of poetry, combined with the other great oral-aural speech form, oratory, which in turn was largely poetic, as poetry was largely oratorical. For Plato, this world was gone. Like his master Socrates, in hitting out against the Sophists he hit out also against the other great oral form, oratory. Of course, these perspectives explain the Greek achievement only to a degree. There remains the question why, of all the alphabetized peoples, it was the Greeks who first reacted this way to the new structures, social and psychological, which the alphabet had brought about.
Walter J. Ong, S.J., The Presence of the Word (1967)
[M]y treatment of discourse and thought as rooted ineradicably in orality contrasts with [Jacques] Derrida's chirographic and typographic focus in his De la grammatologie and other works.
Walter J. Ong, S.J., Interfaces of the Word (1977)
Chirographic and typographic folk find it convincing to think of the word, essentially a sound, as a 'sign' because 'sign' refers primarily to something visually apprehended. Signum, which furnished us with the word 'sign,' meant the standard that a unit of the Roman army carried aloft for visual identification--etymologically, the 'object one follows' (Proto-Indo-European root, sekw, to follow). Though the Romans knew the alphabet, the signum was not a lettered word but some kind of pictorial design or image, such as an eagle, for example...
Our complacency in thinking of words as signs is due to the tendency, perhaps incipient in oral cultures but clearly marked in chirographic cultures and far more marked in typographic and electronic cultures, to reduce all sensation and indeed all human experience to visual analogues...
Oral man is not so likely to think of words as 'signs,' quiescent visual phenomena. Homer refers to them with the standard epithet 'winged words'--which suggests evanescence, power, and freedom: words are constantly moving, but by flight, which is a powerful form of movement, and one lifting the flier free of the ordinary, gross, heavy, 'objective' world.
In contending with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Derrida is of course quite correct in rejecting the persuasion that writing is no more than incidental to the spoken word. But to try to construct a logic of writing without investigation in depth of the orality out of which writing emerged and in which writing is permanently and ineluctably grounded is to limit one's understanding, although it does produce at the same time effects that are brilliantly intriguing but also at times psychedelic, that is, due to sensory distortions. Freeing ourselves of chirographic and typographic bias in our understanding of language is probably more difficult than any of us can imagine, far more difficult, it would seem, than the 'deconstruction' of literature, for this 'deconstruction' remains a literary activity.
Walter J. Ong, S.J., Orality and Literacy (1982)
Poetry begins as something rooted in physical presence and in sounds. The Greek word for poet simply means "maker," and the word can mean the maker of anything--a table and chair, for instance. The German word for poet is closer to the truth of the Homeric figure. It is Dichter, and it goes back to the Latin dico, dicere, I speak, to speak. The poet is someone who speaks. At its beginning, poetry is rooted in physical presence and in sounds--particularly in the sounds of speech.
Jack Foley, "The Current State of Poetry" (1993)
Anyone who has read James Joyce's Ulysses or Ezra Pound's Cantos or HD or Bertolt Brecht or J. R. R. Tolkien or Jack Kerouac knows that the Twentieth Century is by no means finished with Homer. We live in the most literate of ages, an age which is flooded with books. Yet much of modern literature is haunted by the presence of a non-literate bard who spoke his poems centuries ago. The energy of the "Spoken Word" movement is nothing but a (re)discovery of some of the energy of the Homeric figure.
Many of the most memorable passages in Plato's works have to do with his quarrel with Homer-with poetry. This quarrel has many ramifications. In The Republic Plato has Socrates say, "We shall do as people who once were in love with somebody, if they believe their love to be no good to them: they don't want to give it up, but they must...we shall listen to [poetry] but while we listen we will chant over to ourselves this argument of ours,...careful not to fall again into that childish passion which the many have. We will listen,...knowing that we must not take poetry seriously...Great is the struggle, great indeed, not what men think it, between good and evil."
This "struggle" of Plato's was a struggle with the culture in which he found himself--a culture which was, in his time, in a profound state of change. In his struggle, Plato was trying to align himself with the forces of the new, and the new meant the opposite of everything Homer represented. What Homer represented was the culture of orality. Socrates was never a writer. Though he spoke at great length and on many subjects, he never wrote anything down. Plato was Socrates' disciple and a member of the next generation. Unlike his mentor, Plato understood himself to be a writer. We can see in the figure of Plato the shift from an oral culture (Homer, poetry) to a writing culture.
To be sure, Plato wrote a famous dialogue, The Phaedrus, which is to some extent an attack on writing. This is hardly surprising. At the very beginning of writing, some of the limitations of the art were understood and enunciated. This becomes, however, knowledge which no one wants to know. The ability to read and write becomes the fundamental mode of access to our culture. As such, it receives a good press which would be the envy of any politician. After Plato's dialogue, very little is written about the limitations of writing.
Jack Foley, "The Current State of Poetry" (1993)
What is the status of poetry in a culture devoted to an art of silence? "My Song," wrote Shelley, quoting Dante, "I fear that thou wilt find but few / Who fitly shall conceive thy reasoning" ("Epipsychidion"). Shelley is aware that his poem will be printed. He is aware that his work will be taken in by the eye. Yet he calls his work a "song." This is often true in poetry. Despite the poet's awareness that the poem exists in a silent medium, the poem is nevertheless called a "song"--not something taken in by the eye but by the ear. Shelley is conjuring up the oral past of poetry. We are not talking here about "the oral tradition" as opposed to "the written tradition," as if the two existed side by side. They have never existed side by side. In referring to his work as a "song," Shelley is being consciously old-fashioned. In a writing culture, poetry, with its interest in sound, is understood as a kind of atavism. It is understood as something which is transcended in order to arrive at a form of "real" value--i.e., prose. The novel supposedly transcends the Homeric epic. The childish habit of sounding out the words as we read is supposedly transcended (and "corrected") by the habit of reading silently. A writing culture is a culture of silence, and there is little place in it for an art which insists upon "readings," upon sounds. In a writing culture, poetry too is "written."
Jack Foley, "The Current State of Poetry" (1993)
Immediacy and force have to take precedence over clarity.
Larry Eigner (6/29/93)
I'd choose for this Note not to be read, or then for it to be forgotten once glanced at; it has little to teach that goes beyond any skillful Reader's own penetration, and may bother the naïve reader who has to look at the first words of the Poem so that the following ones--spread out as they are--lead on to the last ones with nothing new except a certain distribution of space made within the reading. The "blanks" in fact assume an importance, striking first: versification required them like a surrounding silence...The fiction will come to the surface and rapidly dissipate as the writing shifts about, around the fragmentary halts of the sentence, predominant from the time the title is introduced through its continuation. Everything happens by a shortcut, hypothetically; story-telling is avoided. Add to that: that from this naked use of thought, retreating, prolonging, fleeing, or from its very design, there results for the person reading it aloud, a musical score. The difference in the printed characters between the preponderant, secondary, and adjacent motifs, dictates their importance for oral expression; the disposition of the characters: in the middle, on the top, or the bottom of the page, indicates the rise and fall in intonation. In my work, which has no precedent, there remain only a few daring rubrics, turns, and so on forming the counterpoint of prosody in the elementary state...Today, or at least without presuming anything about the future which will follow from this, nothing or almost an art, let us openly acknowledge that the attempt shares, unexpectedly, in the particular pursuits dear to our time, free verse and the prose poem. Their meeting takes place under an influence I know to be odd, that of Music as it is heard at a concert. Quite a few techniques found therein seem to me to belong to Letters, and so I pick them up. Let the genre become one like the symphony, little by little, beside the personal declamation, leaving ancient verse intact--I venerate it and attribute to it the empire of passion and of dream--while it would be the time to treat, preferably, as it follows naturally, subjects of pure and complex imagination or intellect, not to exclude them from Poetry--the unique source.
Stéphane Mallarmé, "Preface" to "Un coup de dés" ("A Throw
of the Dice") (1895)
I cannot possibly enter into the historical ramifications of Un coup de dés but suffice it to say that that poem gives birth to an extraordinary series of experiments with typefaces, with white space, with patterns, with letters (in Apollinaire as well as E. E. Cummings), with "field" techniques, with all sorts of essentially visual phenomena. In addition, poets begin to claim that their work is grounded in the visual, in "images," and for the first time it is possible to argue, as C. Day Lewis does in The Poetic Image (1947), that "imagery," not the "power of harmony," is the very basis of poetry. The intense visual focus on the book, which is necessary if reading is to occur at all, becomes the very theme and condition of poetry. The poem exists, as Cummings puts it very well, only "a)s w(e loo)k."
Yet this is by no means the end of the story. Writing is itself at this moment in a state of crisis. For the first time in its history it finds itself in competition with other modes of expression. Our children, we complain, don't read enough. Literacy is declining. For many years writing was the only way of preserving human speech--but this is no longer the case. The cassette tape or the phonograph record or the radio or the television or the CD-Rom can give you the exact sound of the person who is speaking...
The electronic media have already changed the conditions of writing, though the exact nature of that change is not yet clear. We live, as Father Ong put it in 1977, in an "opening state of consciousness," a state in which even the nature of biography--the nature of what we believe it means to be human--may have to be reconsidered.
Jack Foley, "Words & Books, Poetry & Writing" (1990)
The shift from Socrates, who never wrote anything, to Plato, who was a writer, is the shift from an oral culture to a culture in which writing is of enormous importance. It is the beginning of the myth of subjectivity, of inwardness, a myth which finds its apotheosis in the conception of the "unconscious," a conception of an area of the mind so "subjective" that it is for the most part inaccessible. The history of this myth of subjectivity is bound up with the history of writing. Do we speak our words aloud as we write or read them or are we silent before the page? Just as there are areas of the mind which must be "read," "interpreted," "decoded" before they can be understood, so words-the products of our breaths and bodies-are hidden in the tangles of "letters."
All art constantly aspires toward the condition of music. For while in all other kinds of art it is possible to distinguish the matter from the form, and the understanding can always make this distinction, yet it is the constant effort of art to obliterate it...It is the art of music which most completely realizes this artistic ideal, this perfect identification of matter and form. In its consummate moments, the end is not distinct from the means, the form from the matter, the subject from the expression; they inhere in and completely saturate each other; and to it, therefore, to the condition of its perfect moments, all the arts may be supposed constantly to tend and aspire. Music, then, and not poetry, as is so often supposed, is the true type or measure of perfected art. Therefore, although each art has its incommunicable element, its untranslatable order of impressions, its unique mode of reaching the "imaginative reason," yet the arts may be represented as continually struggling after the law or principle of music, to a condition which music alone completely realizes....
Walter Pater, "The School of Giorgione," The Renaissance (1873)
I do not believe that writing is music. I do not believe writing would gain in quality or force by seeking to attain to the conditions of music.
William Carlos Williams, Spring and All (1923)
The modern poem...should be heard. It's very difficult sometimes to get it off the page. But once you hear it, then you should be able to appraise it.
William Carlos Williams, remark made at a poetry reading
[T]he willingness to expose the poem to aural reception is not, as I see it, of a different order from the willingness to print it.
Denise Levertov, "An Approach to Public Poetry
Though nonsonic (purely visual) poems do exist, the mainstream of poetry is sonic. It utilizes the visual to notate the sonic, (i.e., the deployment of the printed word on the page is a notation for sonic effects just like the written score of musical works).
Denise Levertov, "The Nature of Poetry" (1975)
The words next to each other actually sound different to the ear that sees them. Make it either sees or hears them. Make it the eyes hear them. Make it either hears or sees them. I say this not to explain but to make it plain.
Gertrude Stein, "Henry James" (1932-1933)
A focal point for understanding what is happening is the somewhat despised and neglected art of poetry, which, with its history of confusion between the aural/oral and the visual, is a kind of emblem for a multimedia situation. Homer, the archetype of the poet in the West, was blind; he could not have experienced the visual art of writing. We tend to experience poetry, however, primarily through that visual art. At the heart of Western poetry is a split, a confusion, a multimedia situation which is never resolved but which remains in a continual, and at times enormously creative, state of tension.
Jack Foley, "Light, Breath and the Empty Page,"
O Powerful Western Star (2000)
Whitman lived at a time prior to the invention of film. When he went to the theater he saw a person, not an image: "A tenor large and fresh as the creation fills me, / The orbic flex of his mouth is pouring and filling me full." In the opera house, Whitman could experience the physical "presence" of the singer, the common space in which they both existed. When he wrote poetry, however, that common space vanished, or was at least radically redefined. Writing, he experienced the physical absence of the reader--indeed, the physical absence of everyone, including the tenor who "is pouring and filling me full. " Whitman wrote in the hope that he could generate a text so intense and strong that it could cross over the impossible "distance" between writer and reader: "I spring from the pages into your arms."
It is at this point, as he knew, that writing "touches" death: "decease calls me forth." It is only by "dying" into his text, by becoming in fact "disembodied, " that the poet can "fuse" himself with the future. Writing is simultaneously the instrument of Whitman's immortality and the indication of his "decease"--even his irrelevance.
Jack Foley, "'A Powerful Form of Movement': Notes on This
Book," O Powerful Western Star (2000)
Since the introduction of printing, and the fatal development of the habit of reading amongst the middle and lower classes of this country, there has been a tendency in literature to appeal more and more to the eye, and less and less to the ear, which is really the sense which, from the standpoint of pure art, it should seek to please...We, in fact, have made writing a definite mode of composition, and have treated it as a form of elaborate design. The Greeks, on the other hand, regarded writing simply as a method of chronicling. Their test was always the spoken word in its musical and metrical relations. The voice was the medium and the ear the critic. I have sometimes thought that the story of Homer's blindness might be really an artistic myth, created in critical days, and serving to remind us, not merely that the great poet is always a seer, seeing less with the eyes of the body than he does with the eyes of the soul, but that he is a true singer also...When Milton could no longer write, he began to sing...When Milton became blind he composed, as everyone should compose, with the voice purely,...that many-stopped organ...Yes: writing has done much harm to writers. We must return to the voice.
Oscar Wilde, "The Critic as Artist" (1890)
Live poetry is a kind of singing. It differs from prose, as song does, in its complexity of stress and intonation. Poetry demands a human voice to sing it and demands an audience to hear it. Without these it is naked, pure, and incomplete--a bore.
If plays were only printed and never acted, who would read them? If songs were only printed on song sheets, who would read them? It would be like playing a football game on paper. Do you wonder where the audience is?...
Orpheus was a singer. The proudest boast made about Orpheus was not that his poems were beautiful in and of themselves...The proudest boast was that he, the singer with the songs, moved impossible audiences--trees, wild animals, the king of hell himself.
Today we are not singers. We would rather publish poetry in a little magazine than read it in a large hall. If we do read in a hall, we do not take the most elementary steps to make our poetry vivid and entertaining. We are not singers. We do not use our bodies. We recite from a printed page.
Thirty years ago Vachel Lindsay saw that poetry must connect itself to vaudeville if it was to regain its voice. (Shakespeare, Webster and Marlowe had discovered this three centuries before him.) Our problem today is to make this connection, to regain our voices.
We must become singers, become entertainers. We must stop sitting on the pot of culture. There is more of Orpheus in Sophie Tucker than in R.P. Blackmur; we have more to learn from George M. Cohan than from John Crowe Ransom.
Jack Spicer, "The Poet and Poetry--A Symposium"
[originally printed in Occident, Fall, 1949, reprinted
in One Night Stand & Other Poems (1980)]
Beep bop de beep
They are all asleep
They're all asleep.
Jack Spicer, from "Ferlinghetti" (1960-1),
The Collected Books of Jack Spicer
JACK FOLEY: One of the things that strikes me about your connections with people is that you've had intense guru connections, teachers. Kerouac, Burroughs.
ALLEN GINSBERG: Burroughs certainly, still. And Tibetan teachers...Chögyam Trungpa...
FOLEY: Sure. Trungpa...
GINSBERG: ... and, at the present, Gelek Rinpoche, since Trungpa died. I'm just a stupid student, basically. It was mainly that I felt stupid. And naive. I know the moment when I realized this. And I figured I'd better start listening to people and stop chattering like a skull.
FOLEY: I want to ask you about your Blake vision in 1948. All of these people we've mentioned have literary connections; they write books, all of that. But there's a sense of needing the teacher who's not just disembodied in the book but physically present.
GINSBERG: Oh, yeah! Everybody needs that. You got to get the oral transmission.
FOLEY: But Blake has been dead for many, many years--and I see the sunflowers in this room! You couldn't have had that experience of him unless you conjured him up!
GINSBERG: [Laughs] I cooked it up, somehow!
FOLEY: [Laughs.] Well, you know the Jungian conception of individuation often involves meeting the great man--and you were young, you were like twenty-two when this happened--
GINSBERG: 1948. So I'd be 22, yeah. I should explain. I had some sort of auditory hallucination of Blake's voice reciting "The Sunflower" and then later "The Sick Rose"--and with "The Sunflower" a sense of, like, eternal spaciousness and solitude and silence. Alone with the alone, so to speak. But the alone very definitely there as a sentient vast consciousness or awareness throughout the universe. Then, later on, the same thing, except that this vast sentience was also malevolent and fearsome, or terrible, and one was going to be swallowed in the maw of it...Death. With "The Sick Rose." So they were like pivotal points of my mental development. And I still don't understand what it was, but it was like a psychedelic experience without any drugs, at a time when I was living pretty much quietly alone, eating vegetarian food mostly and in a solitary state. Reading Saint John of the Cross and Plato's Phaedrus and Blake. And I was reading the text, and heard this voice, apparently in the room--it seemed like 3D in the room--but I couldn't figure out what was going on, and I never still have.
Jack Foley, "'Same Multiple Identity': An Interview with Allen Ginsberg" (1996)
As far as we know, when Shakespeare wrote poetry, he published it: publishing seems to have been part of the process of his "lines" becoming "eternal." When we refer to Shakespeare's "poetry," we mean the sonnets, of course, but there are also poems such as "The Rape of Lucrece," "Venus and Adonis," "The Phoenix and the Turtle." These are all pieces Shakespeare published, saw through the press. There is no problem with the texts. Shakespeare did not publish his plays, however. They were published after his death, and, as a result, there are problems with some of the texts. Shakespeare's behavior was scarcely odd: Ben Jonson was one of the few playwrights who actually published his plays. The situation was not unlike that of the present?day television writer. We watch television programs, but it is rare that a script will be published. But the fact that Shakespeare, unlike Ben Jonson, didn't publish his plays at least suggests that he viewed them as a little less than "eternal." He staked his reputation not on the plays but on his published poetry.
Suppose we take that idea and think about it a bit. Suppose the plays were performed for a while and then more or less dropped or lost. Suppose our main source of what Shakespeare was like as a writer was his published poetry. What sort of reputation would he have? This is the opening of "The Rape of Lucrece":
From the besieged Ardea all in post,
Borne by the trustless wings of false desire,
Lust?breathed Tarquin leaves the Roman host,
And to Collatium bears the lightless fire
Which, in pale embers hid, lurks to aspire
And girdle with embracing flames the waist
Of Collatine's fair love, Lucrece the chaste.
That's not awful but it isn't really very good either. Besides, we don't need it. We have Edmund Spenser, whom Shakespeare is imitating and who did that sort of thing better. The same thing is true of "Venus and Adonis," "The Phoenix and the Turtle," etc. If these works were not by Shakespeare, no one would be reading them today. In fact, many people who believe they have "read Shakespeare" haven't read these poems. True, there are some beautiful sonnets??wonderful, brilliant things??but the sonnets are not all wonderful and brilliant. If the poetry Shakespeare actually published were all that existed for us to read, what would be the status of his "eternal lines"? I don't think we would rate them very high. He might have the reputation of, say, John Donne, whose work sometimes resembles Shakespeare's sonnets; certainly not of Milton. Even if we grant that the sonnets are uniformly magnificent??which they are not??I don't think that would change things very much. Sir Philip Sydney wrote a wonderful sonnet sequence, "Astrophel and Stella." Do people read it? Is Sydney generally thought of as one of the greatest English poets?
What made Shakespeare into the great poet he is were the plays??which Shakespeare never bothered to publish. Why? Did he believe his poetry by itself??his "eternal lines"??would make him one of the greats of English literature? Did he rate his plays lowly? What are the differences between a play and a published poem? Were the plays able to release something in Shakespeare which the poems could not? Did he recognize this something? Finally: Did he become a great poet precisely by turning away from "poetry"?
These are all questions which I think should be raised about Shakespeare and which, as far as I know, haven't been.
Jack Foley, "Shakespeare as Poet" (2003)
Being told to "speak proper," meaning that you become fluent with the jargon of power, is also a part of not "speaking proper." That is, the culture which desperately understands that it does not "speak proper," or is not fluent with the terms of social strength, also understands somewhere that its desire to gain such fluency is done at a terrifying risk. The bourgeois Negro accepts such risk as profit. But does close-ter (in the context of "jes a close-ter, walk wi-thee") mean the same thing as closer?
Imamu Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), "Expressive Language" (1963)
With our American emphasis on literature, on the written word, we tend to forget that minority groups often regard writing...as the instrument of the oppressor. And they respond by creating what Dr. Arthur Colahan called in his song "Galway Bay" "a language that the stranger does not know," by calling forth a powerful insistence on their own sounds, their own language.
Jack Foley, "'Indeed the Name was Irish': A Speech" (1990)
What we have suffered from, is manuscript, press, the removal of verse from its producer and its reproducer, the voice, a removal by one, by two removes from its place of origin and its destination. For the breath has a double meaning which latin had not yet lost.
The irony is, from the machine has come one gain not yet sufficiently observed or used, but which leads directly on toward projective verse and its consequences. It is the advantage of the typewriter that, due to its rigidity and its space precision, it can, for a poet, indicate exactly the breath, the pauses, the suspensions even of syllables, the juxtapositions even of parts of phrases, which he intends. For the first time the poet has the stave and the bar a musician has had. For the first time he can, without the convention of rime and meter, record the listening he has done to his own speech and by that one act indicate how he would want any reader, silently or otherwise, to voice his work.
It is time we picked the fruits of the experiments of Cummings, Pound, Williams, each of whom has, after his way, already used the machine as a scoring to his composing, as a script to its vocalization. It is now only a matter of the recognition of the conventions of composition by field for us to bring into being an open verse as formal as the closed, with all its traditional advantages.
Charles Olson, "Projective Verse" (1950)
Keats, more than Goethe or Melville, faced with the Man of Power, got to the heart of it. He took the old humanism by its right front. It wasn't the demonism of Genius he saw was the hooker (almost nobody yet has caught up with Keats on the same subject--he was almost the only man who has yet seen the subjective tragedy as no longer so interesting), but the very opposite, the Sublime in the Egotistical, the very character of Genius, its productive power. And as he walked home from the mummer's play Christmas 1818 it struck him he believed in nothing else, I mean Negative Capability. When a man is "capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason...."
So: so far as man goes, the attempt here is to establish in what sense man need not any longer be estranged from that with which he is most familiar. That would be the content, and is the reality in whose face anyone of us has to take a stance. And that the stance which yields the possibility of acts which are allowably historic, in other words produce, have to be negatively capable in Keats' sense that they have to be, that they have to be uncertain.
Or what we would call today relative.
Charles Olson, The Special View of History (1958)
[T]he most radical literary movement in contemporary America [is] the "oral poetry" of the school of Charles Olson...
The disease and the cure come together in the poet's web of words...Where there is a word cure, there must be a word-wound...
Why can't we look into ourselves without the detour of a text? Why does pure self-analysis seem beyond our competence? Some philosophers, including the Heidegger of Being and Time, who contributed greatly to defining preunderstanding, actually think it is possible, that there is self-exegesis. But Heidegger saw that even without a text there would be a text, that is, our own reflections in written or writeable form; and this suggests, then, that to look into ourselves is always to "look with ears."
To put it differently: critical reading is not only the reception (Rezeption) of a text, but also its conception (Empfangnis) through the ear. No doubt the crossover from silent eye to reactivated ear is partly inspired, partly necessitated, by print culture: Andrew Marvell, celebrating (in imitation of Brebeuf and Lucan) the invention of writing, calls it the ingenious art of "lending an ear to eyes"; Rilke images "yeux sonores" in one of his French lyrics. The idea of a conception through the ear counterbalances that of the immediacy of the eye, suggesting an antiocular internalization or transformation: "O Orpheus singt! O hoher Baum im Ohr!" ("O Orpheus sings! O high tree in the ear!," Rilke, Sonnets to Orpheus).
So we substitute one mode of intuition for another. Yet reading, especially in a print culture, is often used to blind the ear. In principle, the gospel injunction "He that has ears to hear, let him hear" should be facilitated by reading as dissemination...but the sowing of words by means of the written page seems often to harden the ear, as if indeed "when they have heard, Satan comes immediately and takes away the word that was sown in their hearts" (Mark 4:3-20). And that is why poetry makes its curious alliance with critical reading, in order to reactivate the ear...
This movement of discovery is not for the sake of discovery alone, as if a source--a secret source--could magically satisfy the act of reading. There is a secret, but it amounts to the fact that words have interiority, that there is always a sermo interior; and critical reading allows us to describe that interiority, to estimate words as words, to see them as living in and off us.
Geoffrey H. Hartman, Saving the Text (1981)
Sound...reveals the interior without the necessity of physical invasion. Thus we tap a wall to discover where it is hollow inside, or we ring a silver-colored coin to discover whether it is perhaps lead inside. To discover such things by sight, we should have to open what we examine, making the inside an outside, destroying its interiority as such.
Walter J. Ong, S.J., The Presence of the Word (1967)
Especially in the development of Passages I have workt with silences--with caesuras as definite parts of the articulation of the line, with turns at the end of the verse, with intervals of silence in the measures between stanzas--related to phrasings and sequences of the whole. Silences themselves as phrase, units in the measure, charged with meaning. Significant pauses for the syncopation of suspense or arrest. In the notation of the text a line reading phrase-caesura-phrase-caesura-phrase would be considerd to be articulated into five elements. Note that more than one consideration may well be at work in a given verse.
The cadence of the verse, and, in turn, the interpenetration of cadences in sequence is, for me, related to the dance of my physical body. My hands keep time and know more than my brain does of measure. Stress patterns are dancing feet; my ear and voice follow a deeper rhythm, the coming and going of a life/death tide back of the beat of the heart and the breath. The literal time of the poem is experienced as given, even as the literal size of a painter's canvas is given. What is advanced in the process of the poem is the configuration of that given time. The counting of numbers, that numbers count in the structure, is an important aspect of the design.
The patterns realized are set, but the tempos go back to the body they come from in each reading. Three durations of silences are indicated by spaces of 1:2:3; which may be renderd 2:4:6 or 3:6:9--i.e. once the composition of the poem is there, the duration becomes flexible.
In the ground work there is a continuing beat that my body disposition finds and my moving hand directs I follow in reading. Its impulses are not schematic but rise, changing tempo as the body-dance changes. The caesura space becomes not just an articulation of phrases but a phrase itself of silence. Space between stanzas becomes a stanza-verse of silence: in which the beat continues.
Robert Duncan, "Some Notes on Notation,"
Ground Work: Before the War (1984)
[Language poetry] takes language as its material and treats it as a material fact; a speech-based poetics is predicated not on language but on a speaking voice, and uses language as if it were merely a vehicle to express the unmediated observations of one speaking voice as it perceives the world.
Lee Smith, "When Language is More Than Words,"
a review of Lyn Hejinian's The Cell,
SF Chronicle REVIEW, 4/4/93
I HATE SPEECH.
There are 'worlds conceived in language/men not dreamed of.' We don't know the restrictions imposed by speech pattern/conventions, those involving e.g. normal sentence structure thought required to 'make sense' start to show, won't until a writing clears the air.
Robert Grenier, "ON SPEECH" (1971)
In Tjanting writing looks at itself first. The manner of writing makes itself an issue in the best tradition of work which is by that act complete...A tjanting is a drawing instrument used for handwork in batik. The pun is exact: Tjanting (chanting) would seem to follow its predecessor as an oral form (Ketjak), but is in fact written toward writing considered as itself.
Barrett Watten, preface to Ron Silliman's Tjanting (1981)
In Tjanting sentences are pared down from previous models, rather than being built up. There is a constant "writerly" revision, an inwardness somewhat opposed to the orally expressive outwardness of the earlier Ketjak. Statement is necessarily partial--it can at any point be linguistically undermined.
Though written, the syntax of these works has permitted their reading in public places outside the environments of art--Ketjak, at the corner of Powell and Market Streets, San Francisco, 1978, and Tjanting, at the Church Street Muni Metro Station, San Francisco, in 1983.
Barrett Watten, Total Syntax (1985)
Where was I? Standing here sitting. Betwixt and bewhile. Turning around to see sun or moon on a last point of land. And could one make a sonnet of nothing but trees. No doubt later there would at least be a window somewhere. Trees are like clothes, they...No. From the point of a pen things stand for a time. As long as one goes on with it, going on being eventually to forget what one started out to do. I think of soap, alone, no use, for no reason in the world I can tell. Secrets are locked up everywhere in procedure. Tell me the time and I'll tell you an unkempt joke. The hours are like clouds, their coming and going directions obvious. But, as far as I can tell, writing, like its poor cousin speech, has no beginning.
Clark Coolidge, MINE: the one that enters the stories (1982)
Camerado, this is no book....
Performance poetry is an active and intellectually engaged response to the silence and whiteness in which most poetry remains entangled. Writing of Mallarmé, Frederick R. Karl has remarked, "The page or territory is primary, on which language wanders like a lonely adventurer hoping to survive emptiness and whiteness." The performance poet insists that s/he is not a mere adjunct of a book but rather a manifestation of what books arise out of: the physical presence of the author. Historically, "poetry" and "writing" remain in a state of tension. (Homer was a poet, not a writer.) Performance poetry seeks to tilt that tension in the direction of presence, to insist on the limitations of writing as a medium for the presentation of the art. At the heart of writing, at the heart of all mass culture, is a profound and disturbing absence. Performance poetry is an insistence that absence, silence and whiteness--the page--are not the only conditions in which poetry can be "heard."
Jack Foley, Statement on Performance Poetry made for
National Poetry Week II, San Francisco (1988)
Ever since pre-Islamic days, poetry has been the mass art form of the Arab language. Through the centuries of classical Arab civilization in the Middle Ages, the long years of Arab decline, and into the decades of confrontation with European culture in the twentieth century, the poets have never lost their place of esteem in the minds of the people of the Arab world. In modern times, poets have had a greater impact on popular culture than novelists: there are more published poets than authors of literary prose in the Arab countries today, and public readings by poets consistently attract mass audiences, in settings ranging from rural villages to sprawling and sophisticated capital cities.
Abdullah al-Udhari, Victims of a Map (1984)
If we go back to the root of the word "song" (nashid) in Arabic, we see that it means the voice, the raising of the voice and the recited poetry itself. Two basic principles of pre-Islamic poetry were that it should be recited aloud and that the poet himself should recite his own poem: as al-Jahiz says, a poem sounds better from the mouth of its composer. The Arabs of the pre-Islamic period considered the recitation of poetry as a talent in itself, distinct from that of composition; obviously it was of considerable importance in drawing an audience and impressing them enough to hold them there--especially so since, at the time, listening was essential to the comprehension of words and to musical ecstasy (tarab)...The...performance of poetry had its own rules in the pre-Islamic period which survived into later ages...[S]ong was a discipline of the voice which required a corresponding aural discipline. The need to co-ordinate the various elements of song led gradually to the devising of special rhythmic structures.
The characteristics of pre-Islamic poetic orality formed the basis for the major part of the criticism and theory of poetry in subsequent periods. Rules and criteria were evolved which still dominate not only the technique of poetry but the tastes, ideas and areas of knowledge reflected in it...
The Qur'an was not only a new way of seeing things and a new reading of mankind and the world, but also a new way of writing. As well as representing a break with the Jahiliyya (pre-Islamic era) on an epistemological level, it represented a break on the level of forms of expression. The Quranic text was a radical and complete departure: it formed the basis of the switch from an oral to a written culture--from a culture of intuition and improvisation to one of study and contemplation...[The Qur'an became] a new literary ideal that [transcended] the old pre-Islamic ideal...Modernity in Arabic poetry...has its roots in the Qur'an; the poetics of pre-Islamic orality represents the ancient in poetry, while Quranic studies laid the foundations of a new textual criticism, indeed invented a new science of aesthetics, thus paving the way for the growth of a new Arab poetics...Bashshar Ibn Burd (714-84) was one of the first poets to attack the poetics of pre-Islamic orality and to invent a language of written poetics, or a language of the city instead of a language of the desert...Bashshar Ibn Burd was called the "master of the moderns" and was said to have "travelled a road which no one else had travelled." [His work and that of his followers] involved an insistence on the continual violation of established practice in order that poetry should always be strange and new in its language, structures, images and meanings...
[Literary criticism, however, ] for the most part took pre-Islamic poetry as a model and an ideal and evaluated subsequent poetry according to how closely it adhered to its poetic method. [Criticism] was based on the assumption that pre-Islamic poetry was the depository not only of Arab songs and music but also of truths and knowledge...[In fact, pre-Islamic poetry] was not uniform but plural. The problem arose when this plurality was compressed into a single model, viewed by the critics simply as "song." Thus the values peculiar to song and recitation became predominant in pre-Islamic poetry, and subsequently the criteria of poetic orality were the ones most often applied in appraising poetry. As a result, poetry and thought were definitively separated...
Today...we are confronting a crisis in our relationship with this poetry...[C]ritical discourse, having defined the characteristics of pre-Islamic poetry as oral poetry, then transformed them into absolute criteria for written poetics: henceforth poetry was only to be considered as poetry if its metres followed the rules of oral poetry.... these rules prevailed, drawing the dividing line between poetry and nonpoetry. The climate of rule-making and intellectualization, generated by the climate of ideological struggle between the Arabs and other peoples in the seventh to the tenth centuries, helped these rules to become firmly established...As a result, the written poetic text was viewed by the critics as if it were an oral text, in so far as all that writing demands--contemplation, exploration, abstruseness, thought itself--was banished from the domain of poetry. In other words, although oral and written poetry involve two different physical activities, the same critical standards were applied to both....
Adonis, An Introduction to Arab Poetics (1985)
Last Saturday night we sang his songs to the guitar as we swarmed down the Lech under the star-dusted sky...[Frank Wedekind] filled every corner with his personality. There he stood, ugly, brutal, dangerous, with close-cropped red hair, his hands in his trouser pockets, and one felt that the devil himself couldn't shift him. He came before the curtain as a ringmaster in a red tail coat, carrying whip and revolver, and no one could forget that hard dry metallic voice, that brazen faun's head with "eyes like a gloomy owl" set in immobile features. A few weeks ago at the Bonbonniere he sang his songs to guitar accompaniment in a brittle voice, slightly monotonous and quite untrained. No singer ever gave me such a shock, such a thrill. It was the man's intense aliveness, the energy which allowed him to defy sniggering ridicule and proclaim his brazen hymn to humanity, that also gave him this personal magic. He seemed indestructible.
In the autumn, when a small group of us heard him give a reading of Herakles, his last work, I was amazed at his brazen energy. For two and a half hours without a break, without once dropping his voice (and what a strong brazen voice it was!), without taking a moment's breather between acts, bent motionless over the table, partly by heart, he read those verses wrought in brass, looking deep into the eyes of each of us in turn as we listened to him.
Bertolt Brecht (1898-1956), "Frank Wedekind" (1918)
Q. Am I wrong in regarding you as both a poet and a playwright?
A. My poetry is more private. It's designed for banjo or piano accompaniment, and needs to be performed dramatically. In my plays I don't just give my own private mood, but also the whole world's. In other words, an objective view of the business, the opposite of mood in the usual poetic sense...I leave the maximum freedom of interpretation. The sense of my plays is immanent. You have to fish it out for yourself.
Bertolt Brecht, "Conversation with Bert Brecht" (1926)
When the epic theatre's methods begin to penetrate the opera the first result is a radical separation of the elements. The great struggle for supremacy between words, music and production--which always brings up the question "which is the pretext for what?"; is the music the pretext for the events on the stage, or are these the pretext for the music? Etc.--can simply be by-passed by radically separating the elements. So long as the expression "Gesamtkunstwerk" (or "integrated work of art") means that the integration is a muddle, so long as the arts are supposed to be "fused" together, the various elements will all be equally degraded, and each will act as a mere "feed" to the rest. The process of fusion extends to the spectator, who gets thrown into the melting pot too and becomes a passive (suffering) part of the total work of art. Witchcraft of this sort must...be fought against. Whatever is intended to produce hypnosis, is likely to induce sordid intoxication, or creates fog, has got to be given up.
Words, music and setting must become more independent of one another.
Bertolt Brecht, "Notes on the Opera, Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny (1930)
I was aware of huge inconsistencies in people's social life, and I didn't think it my task formally to iron out all the discordances and interferences of which I was strongly conscious...It must be remembered that the bulk of my work was designed for the theatre; I was always thinking of actual delivery.
Bertolt Brecht, "On Rhymeless Verse with Irregular Rhythms"
Free verse tends to turn poetry into something closer to prose. It is part of a complicated response to a print culture--a culture which deliberately devalues poetry in favor of prose. Writing is a form of drawing.
Jack Foley, Poetry USA (1993)
How then do these promising authors, most of whom not only have graduate training in writing or literature but also work as professional teachers of writing, not hear the confusing rhythms of their own verse? How can they believe their expertise in a style whose basic principles they so obviously misunderstand? That these writers by virtue of their training and position represent America's poetic intelligentsia makes their performance deeply unnerving--rather like hearing a conservatory-trained pianist rapturously play the notes of a Chopin waltz in 2/4 time.
These young poets have grown up in a literary culture so removed from the predominantly oral traditions of metrical verse that they can no longer hear it accurately. Their training in reading and writing has been overwhelmingly visual not aural, and they have never learned to hear the musical design a poem executes. For them poems exist as words on a page rather than sounds in the mouth and ear. While they have often analyzed poems, they have rarely memorized and recited them. Nor have they studied and learned by heart poems in foreign languages where sound patterns are more obvious to non-native speakers. Their often extensive critical training in textual analysis never included scansion, and their knowledge of even the fundamentals of prosody is haphazard (though theory is less important than practice in mastering the craft of versification). Consequently, they have neither much practical nor theoretical training in the way sounds are organized in poetry. Ironically, this very lack of training makes them deaf to their own ineptitude. Full of confidence, they rely on instincts they have never developed. Magisterially they take liberties with forms whose rudimentary principles they misconstrue. Every poem reveals some basic confusion about its own medium. Some misconceptions ultimately prove profitable for art. Not this one.
Dana Gioia, "Notes on the New Formalism,"
Can Poetry Matter? (1992)
Without doubt the most surprising and significant development in recent American poetry has been the wide-scale and unexpected reemergence of popular poetry--namely rap, cowboy poetry, poetry slams, and certain overtly accessible types of what was once a defiantly avant-garde genre, performance poetry. These new forms of popular verse have seemingly come out of nowhere to become significant forces in American culture. Rap especially has become ubiquitous in our society--not only filling the concert halls and radio programming but also heard and seen in films, television, and live theater. Although far less commercial, the other forms have also shown enormous vitality. And all these new poetic forms have thrived without the support of the university or the literary establishment...
From a poet's perspective...both the mass media and the culture critics miss the most interesting aspects of the new popular poetry, which is not the extravagant personalities of its creators or the sociological nature of its contents; rather, it is the unusual mixture of radical innovation and unorthodox traditionalism in the structure of the work itself and the modes of its performance, transmission, and reception. These aspects reveal deep and influential changes in American literary culture that show more about the current situation of poetry than any number of more academically fashionable subjects...
The most significant fact about the new popular poetry is that it is predominantly oral...For the first time in American history, a poet can reach a national audience without the use of books, magazines, newspapers, publishers, bookstores, and libraries. Instead the new popular poetry uses the apparatus of the musical entertainment world--recordings, radio, concert halls, nightclubs, auditoriums, bars, and festivals...Roland Barthes, a creature of print culture, saw the world as a text and announced "the death of the author." Anyone attentive to the new popular poetry sees the antithesis--the death of the text. American culture conditioned by electronic media and a celebrity culture based on personalities has given birth to a new kind of author, the amplified bard.
Dana Gioia, "Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of
Print Culture" (2003)
Within the span of twelve months or less, from some time in 1962 to the spring of 1963, in three different countries--France, Britain, and the United States--there issued from the printing presses five publications by five authors who at the time when they wrote could not have been aware of any mutual relationship. The works in question were La Pensée Sauvage (Lévi-Strauss), "The Consequences of Literacy" (Goody and Watt, an extended article), The Gutenberg Galaxy (McLuhan), Animal Species and Evolution (Mayr) and Preface to Plato (Havelock)...Why, one may ask, should five such works produced simultaneously in three different countries have all involved themselves in the role of human language in human culture? Why, in particular, this focus on the spoken language in contrast to the written?...I think a nerve had been touched common to all of us, an acoustic nerve and so an oral nerve, something that had been going on for over forty years since the end of World War I, to the point where it demanded response...We had all been listening to the radio....
Eric A. Havelock, The Muse Learns to Write: Reflections
on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity to the Present (1986)
Miles [Davis] speaks in a tonal language, in the manner of mainland Africans and African-Americans from the South. By tonal language I mean that the same word can take on different meanings according to the pitch and tone, the way the word is spoken. For example, Miles can use motherfucker to compliment someone or simply as punctuation. In any case, the voice you hear in the book is truly Miles and had I not accomplished that, I would have failed to do my job...[W]hen I hear Miles speak, I hear my father and many other African-American men of his generation. I grew up listening to them on street corners, in barbershops, ball parks and gymnasiums, and bucket-of-blood bars. It's a speaking style that I'm proud and grateful to have documented.
Quincy Troupe, "Afterword" to Miles: The Autobiography (1990)
If the presence or absence of literacy affects the way a person regards his own body, senses and self, that effect will significantly influence erotic life. It is in the poetry of those who were first exposed to a written alphabet and the demands of literacy that we encounter deliberate meditation upon the self, especially in the context of erotic desire.
"I composed it in writing [synegrapsa]," says the Greek author Chariton at the beginning of his Chaereas and Callirhoe, earliest extant example of the genre that we call the novel or romance. The novel was from the beginning a written literature, which flourished in the Graeco-Roman world from about the third century B.C., when the spread of literacy and a vigorous book trade created a wide popular audience. Our terms "novel" and "romance" do not reflect an ancient name for the genre: Chariton refers to his work as erotika pathemata, or "erotic sufferings": these are love stories in which it is generically required that love be painful. The stories are told in prose and their apparent aim is to entertain readers.
Anne Carson, Eros the Bittersweet: An Essay (1986)
And now the darke cloudy nyght
Chaseth away Phebus bryght,
Taking his course toward the west;
God sende my sparoes sole good rest!
Requiem eternam dona eis, Domine.
Fa, fa, fa, my, re,
A por ta in fe ri,
Fa, fa, fa, my, my.
Credo vydere bona Domini,
I pray God, Phillip to heven may fly.
Domine, exaudi oracionem meam,
To heven he shall, from heven he cam.
Do mi nus vo bis cum,
Of al good praiers God send him sum!
Deus, cui proprium est miserere et parcere,
On Phillips soule have pyte!
John Skelton, "Phyllyp Sparowe" (1505?)
SPELT FROM SIBYL'S LEAVES
Earnest, earthless, equal, attuneable, / vaulty, voluminous,...stupendous
Evening strains to be time's vast, / womb-of-all, home-of-all, hearse-of-all night.
Her fond yellow hornlight wound to the west, / her wild hollow hoarlight hung to the height
Waste; her earliest stars, earl-stars, / stars principal, overbend us,
Fire-featuring heaven. For earth / her being has unbound, her dapple is at an end, as-
stray or aswarm, all throughther, in throngs; / self in self steeped and pashed--quite
Disremembering, dismembering / all now. Heart, you round me right
With: Our evening is over us; our night / whelms, whelms, and will end us.
Only the beak-leaved boughs dragonish / damask the tool-smooth bleak light; black,
Ever so black on it. Our tale, O our oracle! / Let life, waned, ah let life wind
Off her once skeined stained veined variety / upon, all on two spools; part, pen, pack
Now her all in two flocks, two folds--black, white; / right, wrong; reckon but, reck but, mind
But these two; ware of a world where but these / two tell, each off the other; of a rack
Where, selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe- and shelterless, / thoughts against thoughts in groans grind.
Of this long sonnet above all remember what applies to all my verse, that it is, as living art should be, made for performance and that its performance is not reading with the eye but loud, leisurely, poetical (not rhetorical) recitation, with long rests, long dwells on the rhyme and other marked syllables, and so on. This sonnet shd. be almost sung: it is most carefully timed in tempo rubato (Letters to Robert Bridges).
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1885) [It is interesting to note that
Hopkins studied with Walter Pater: "All art constantly aspires toward the condition of music."]
Lines To a Dead Thrush
a delicate shade of brown
stares up vacantly
to a wide expanse of sky
in which swifts wheel and dip
beneath a traffic of passing clouds
broken neck wings legs
you are nothing now
but a bundle of crushed and matted feathers
decaying between railway-lines
I watch an army of ants crawl
between your wings
and over the torn flesh of your breast
where flies have already deposited their eggs
soon the long-tailed rats
will slither home from their holes
dragging their bellies between the grass
along the embankment
in the quiet of the evening
sniffing at your rain-drenched remains
even your skeleton will crumble
turn to a fine chalk
and scatter on the wind
nothing will remain
but an image of you
perched among the foliage
of a wind-wrapped tree
with your head flung back
hurtling your song
across the roar of the morning traffic
John Digby, To Amuse a Shrinking Sun (Anvil Press Poetry: London, 1985)