Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Lyrical constraint-based poetry

Inger Christensen, a Danish poet, has just died. From Inger Christensen's Alphabet(1981):

...and Icarus, impotent Icarus exists;

Icarus swaddled in melting waxwings
exists; Icarus pale as a corpse in
civvies exists, Icarus all the way down where
the pigeons exist; dreamers, dolls
exist; the dreamers' hair with cancerous tufts
torn out, the dolls' skin pinned together
with nails, rotting wood of the mysteries; and smiles
exist, Icarus' children white as lambs
in the gray light, will indeed exist, indeed
we will exist, and oxygen on oxygen's crucifix;
as hoar-frost we will exist, as wind we will exist,
as the rainbow's iris, in the shining shoots of
mesembryanthenum, in the tundra's straw; small

we will exist, as small as bits of pollen in peat,
as bits of virus in bones, as swamp pink maybe
maybe as a bit of white clover, vetch, a bit of chamomile
exiled to the lost again paradise; but darkness
is white say the children, the darkness of paradise is white,
but not white as a a coffin is white,
that is if coffins exist, and not
white as milk is white,
that is if milk exists; white is white,
the children say, darkness is white, but not
white as the white existing
before fruit trees existed, their flowering so white,
darkness is whiter, eyes melt

Translated by Pierre Joris. From Poems for the Millenium II, ed. Pierre Joris and Jerome Rothenberg (and from the excerpt posted on Joris' blog "Nomadics" today). Alphabet is also available from New Directions (and a different translator).

Joris on Christensen's method in Alfabet: "Alfabet (1981) is a book-length poem using two reticulating systems: the alphabet (that adamic, prelapsarian state of language, as Roland Barthes suggests, because it is pre-word & pre-syntax, & thus before misuse, lying, rhetoric, polysemy are possible) & the Fibonacci series (where each number is the sum of the two previous ones, i.e.: 1,2,3,5,8,13,34,47,81,128...) Thus the first section of the poem is one line long and starts with an "A", the second 2 lines long, and starts with a "B", etcetera)" (see Joris blog).

1 comment:

  1. great example. i often think "traditional" forms seem outmoded or perhaps even irrelevant now, with the emphasis on syllable, rhyme, stanza. Today's language is being shaped by technology and science, whether we like it or now, so how can we use that as a tool to create new poetic forms that ignite, excite, motivate, challenge, change....


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