Lewis Freedman on what we have not forgotten.
This post is the initial post of what I intend to be a monthly series of posts reintroducing experimental books of poetry that, despite their ambitious radicalities, don’t seem to be much in circulation, at least among the poets I’ve been hanging out with. Perhaps in some other post I will try getting into why that’s the case for a particular piece of writing, but for now it suffices to say there are many many pasts recorded and these pasts continue to reemerge. So despite the fact that one of my chief concerns over the last fourteen years or so has been to read whatever gets in my way (and that has been mostly poetry), I still never browse a library lit. aisle or bookshop poetry section without seeing the real record of a poet I’d never previously heard of, I never search for one thing without finding something else instead. This gigantic infinitely unknowable past attracts me, precisely by promising its rearrangement as a future.
Each post in this series will include a full scan of the text (reproduced to the best of my scanning abilities), a short description of the book, and a short description of how I came upon the book. However, it’s probable that in future posts I won’t take up this somewhat anachronistic tone in my writing.
This month’s book is TRANSWHICHICS by Ernest M. Robson, published by Dufour Editions in the year of ’69. One way to read alot of books is to try and read the entire run of a particular press. A couple of years ago and now too I was reading as much as I could get a hold of of Dick Higgins totally amazing Something Else Press (there’s just mind-blowing stuff on Something Else Press like The Four Suits, Johnson’s The Paper Snake, Giorno’s Cancer in My Left Ball, etc., &c., etc) and it was in this process that I encountered Ernest M. Robson’s strange early novella, Thomas Onetwo (like one two). Written in 1926 but unpublished until 1971, Thomas Onetwo is Robson’s attempt at “pop literature,” and constitutes “a description of the roaring twenties in terms of the sale of a pickle” (as self-described by Robson in his article “Research of the Sounds of Literature: Formant Music and a Prosodic Notation for Performance” [Leonardo 20:2]).
My interest piqued by Thomas Onetwo (or is it peeked, or peaked?), I began to search for other work by Robson which led me to TRANSWHICHICS, which, as you shall see, details and performs Robson’s experiments with a phonetic-linguistic approach to prosody to produce poems which have built into their physical type a notation of their own vowel pitch modulation and prosodic duration and intensity (a detailed exhibit of how to read this notation exist on pages 16-18 of your scan [10-12 by book page number]). The poems produced by this are often highly peculiar to look at and challenging to read as they interrupt, slow, and speed-up our learned reading tendencies. It’s helpful to know, I think, when encountering Robson’s experiments that Robson approaches poetry as “a language art designed to arouse interest, pleasure, and discovery in pattern recognitions within language and by means of language” (from the intro. of Robson’s book I Only Work Here). This is to say that Robson’s notational method produces an immense attention to linguistic patterning, an attention I’m drawn to, not so much for its pleasures and arousals (its art for art’s sakeness), but for its operation upon the patterns of repetition that condition and contain the experience of experience, a problem we’re never without.
Ernest M. Robson’s Thomas Onetwo (Something Else, 1971) Ernest M. Robson and Marion Robson’s I Only Work Here (Dufour, 1975) Ernest M. Robson and Jet Wimp’s anthology Against Infinity: An Anthology of Contemporary Mathematical Poetry (truly one of the strangest anthologies I’ve seen)
Lewis Freedman moved to Madison where he's starting a brand new reading series with Anna Vitale, Andy Gricevich, and Jordan Dunn. He's most recently the author of Hold the Blue Orb, Baby (Well Greased, 2013) and Solitude the Complete Games (Troll Thread, 2013), the latter a collaboration with Kevin Rydberg. non-symbolic non-symbolic non-symbolic is due out sometime soon from Minutes Books.