Spontaneous Poetics – (Typography – 2)

AG: In that area (typography) (William Carlos) Williams is interesting. And Charles Olson, in a way, is a champion typographer, in the sense that he’s making use of the scattering of the lines on the page, very literally, to indicate breathing, breath-stop. Here typography and breath-stop come together. I read a few samples of Olson and I haven’t prepared any for today because I just wanted to go on, but some of you are familiar with it, and just take a look at his page in (the) Maximus (Poems). He also adds that the typewriter as a writing tool has given us new suggestions for typography – following a suggestion by Williams. Williams, as I mentioned, used a dot in the middle of the line to indicate, not a sentence-stop, not a period, but just a break in thought. So Williams pulled a dot up, the period up, to the middle of the line. It doesn’t fall at the foot of the ladder, it falls in the middle of the ladder. He had to roll his typewriter up to put the dot in there. If you look through Williams, the later poems, you’ll see the odd use of dots.. or in Paterson, it’s not exactly a period (though it functions as a period – but also functions as a period for an unfinished sentence, or unfinished thought, or thought which goes awry).

Olson noted that the slash bar is another piece of punctuation that people could use. It didn’t mean a period, it didn’t mean a comma, and it didn’t mean a hyphen (although it was somewhat approximate to a hyphen in linking words together) – Are you interested in youth/age? (youth-hyphen-age, but youth-slashbar-age is for either/or, it doesn’t mean “and” – the hyphen means “and”, like youth-and-age – youth-age, but the slashbar means “or” – so it’s a functionally swifter way of saying “are you interested in fucky/sucky?” (fucky-slashbar-sucky).

Student: Olson also used a lot of open parentheses. One parenthesis.

AG: Yeah, That’s a really weird one, because it’s confusing, But it’s just like the mind…

Student: Yeah

AG: …because you begin a divagation, and you never do finish it. You just go back to your subject. You might break off with a dot.

He also says the typewriter, because it has even spacing – it’s not like somebody’s handwriting – so it standardizes the eccentricity of individual writing. In other words, you can still be eccentric, arrange your poem on the page equivalent to your breath,( like a painter), or equivalent to your mind, (like one half of the parentheses started but never closed), but, at the same time, it provides a standardized form of those arrangements. It might get too crazy if everybody had their own handscript typography, but with the typewriter, it provides, sort of, a set of keys, or a set of symbols. You can go one space, two spaces, three spaces. You can have a margin. You can have slashbars, you can have “etc”s, you can have ampersands (ampersand is the “and” that looks like a musical staff bar) (&) you can have dollar signs. So he recommended more attention to the typewriter, primarily. People who write on typewriters get into that. Robert Creeley used to always write on typewriters and so his poems look like they were written on typewriters. He adjusted his short lines, the single short lines that you can see neatly put down, rolling up the typewriter, typing three or four words per line. Williams wrote on the prescription pad and so his poems look like they were written on prescription pads sometimes. They have that form…

which leads to another, either sub-section of this, typography, or a whole new node of thought, about arrangement of the mind on the page and the breath on the page, which is the original condition of writing. Conditions of writing. So do you write on a prescription pad? – or do you write in a short notebook that you keep in your back pocket? – do you write in a big schoolbook, that will take a long line? –  do you write on a giant ledger book? –  do you write on the typewriter? – do you write on buses? – do you write in bed? – do you write everywhere? – If you have a short notebook (or if I have a short notebook), I notice that I tend to write little short poems (like Kerouac’s Mexico City Blues, which are also written in little notebooks – and that’s why the Mexico City Blues page looks like the page of a notebook – every one of them just one page long, each one of them fills up a page) . So the circumstances and conditions of writing do have an effect…

Student: Allen?

AG: … because they do suggest..

Student: I have a whole bunch of 28-line poems…

AG: Yeah

Student: …that I got off lined paper.

Yeah, and then it changed, the style changed. Yeah, I feel that sometimes I get in the mood of wanting to have a notebook that has no lines, and sometimes I want a notebook with big lines. So I wouldn’t laugh it, in the sense that it’s really important. It’s just like (if) a painter has a real big canvas then he can paint a big painting. If you have a big notebook you have a tendency to write big long lines. If you want to write like (Walt) Whitman, get yourself a giant ledger. If you want to write haiku, get yourself a little tiny notebook.

[tape ends here]  [to be continued]

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