Spontaneous Poetics – (Typography – 1)

A manuscript page of an unpublished Ginsberg poem” – to illustrate the 1966 Paris Review interview

AG: Typographical typography – topography – Typographical Topography – I invented that category! – Topography – the way it looks on the page, the map, the map of the words on the page (or, that’s probably the wrong word, but, anyway, the typographical arrangement of words on the page) is another 20th Century trick, or technique, or piece of shrewdness for arranging the lines on the page. This is for the eye more than for the tongue or the mouth. And for that, you have to see the experiments on the page of Guillaume Apollinaire, around 1910, in which he was making little pictures of the words, literally, pictographs of the words – like “Il pleut”, a little poem about the rain, which has.. (I’ve forgotten if it’s in the same one, well, anyway… “Il pleut dans mon coeur, comme il pleut dans la ville” – the words are “ it rains in my heart like it rains on the town”) [Allen is indeed mis-remembering and is quoting Paul Verlaine here] The letters are arranged running down, like regular raindrops down the stage, and there’s about eight [five] streams of rain coming down the page

He’s got another poem, “Mon coeur pareil à une flamme renversée” (My heart like an inverted flame”) [this poem is inscribed on his grave at Père Lachaise] – in which all the words are strung around like a Valentine. Around the edge of the Valentine there’s all these little words. And there were poems like that in English, way before.George Herbert’s “The Altar” is arranged in the form of an altar.

And another poem by (Henry) Vaughan maybe, “Wings’ (or maybe that’s Herbert, I’ll look it up)

Student: That’s Herbert

AG: Pardon me?

Student: I think that’s Herbert

AG: Herbert. Okay. So Herbert was the big experimenter at first. There were probably others but he was the funniest and the best poet to be working with that. “Easter Wings” – I’ll show you what it looks like. [Allen displays the poem in his book to the class] – I don’t know how much you can see. Can you see the wings? Far off in the distance?. But what’s funny is the verse-form here, which was also imitated by Dylan Thomas, the statements within the lines correspond to the size of the content of the line, or the statement within the line corresponds to the thin content of the line.

AG: While we’re at it, there’s an excellent poem by Herbert that we didn’t cover – Did we cover Herbert? Did I cover Herbert at all?

Student(s): Yeah

AG: Yeah , Okay then, I’ll leave it. There’s that poem on “Death”, the first stanza of which – “Death thou wast once an uncouth hideous thing,/ Nothing but bones,/The sad effect of sadder groans;/Thy mouth was open but thou could not sing..” – That’s the beginning of a poem – terrific (but nothing to do with our subject of arrangement of lines on the page, at least for free, open-style, verse, which is what we’re considering).

Herbert began, others picked up the trick. Dylan Thomas has poems which are vortices or funnels. Other poets have had poems about hourglasses which are in the shape of hourglasses. e.e.cummings is the American specialist in typographical painting or sketching. There’s a poem about “the/.. balloonman/ whistles far and wee”, and “far and wee” are scattered way off on the margin of the page – talking about in a park -“the../ balloonman/” whistling “far and wee”, so “far and wee” are printed on (the margin). He experimented around with parentheses and balloons inside poems. You’ve all read a little cummings? Everyone’s read a little. So you know cummings, you can look at it yourself, no big deal.

He was a painter and he was involved with painters and he was interested in painting and he was interested in the eyeball aspect of the page. That has, generally speaking, less to do with vocalization and sound. It has a little to do with mental process, division of phrasings into mental units. So it’s a contribution there to the psychology of poetics, or the physiology of the page, or the psychophysiology of the page. (I’ve never been too much into that myself, but I’ve worked with that, realizing that, in certain cases, a pyramidical form within a poem can be used to begin to make a statement, repeat the statement with an increased response, repeat it again with a longer response, repeat it again with a longer response – the litany form – regular litany. Litany is when you repeat the original statement and then answer it. And you can have graduated litany, in which the response got longer and longer until it was more and more ecstatic, or more and more hysteric.So the examples of that are Part III in “Howl” – “Carl Solomon, I’m with you in Rockland/where you’re madder than I am/… I’m with you in Rockland/ where we are great writers on the same dreadful typewriter/…I’m with you in Rockland/ where you drink the tea of the breasts of the spinsters of Utica..” – there’s a graduation or a lengthening, but there I’ve tried to make the lengthening correspond, not so much with an idea as with the vocalization factory, that is a louder and louder vocalization and bigger and greater intensity. I also used another rearrangement of that in the end of “Kaddish” – “O mother/what have I forgotten/ O mother/what have I forgotten/ O mother/farewell/with a long black shoe/…with six dark hairs on the wen of your breast/…and long black beard around the vagina”… – and the lines get longer and longer until they get to a complete length of the page and then they begin graduating and diminishing again until they thin out at the end, as the voice drops and the consciousness becomes more and more sobered. In other words, building to a hysteria and then receding to a coda).So there’s that typography as an ideational note, as an ideational arrangement, as an idea or a trick, and this typography as painting, typography to measure out mental ideas and indicate their space written in the balloon of the mind, right there on the page, and then there’s typographical arrangements to indicate vocalization, or to encourage vocalization, or to be identical with a form of the vocalization. Somebody had their hand raised?

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