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What I want to get out of my study of form

Form is a very wide-branching subject, and as such my declared objective of “studying form” and its relationship with aesthetic is extremely vague. I’ve had a few projects stewing in my mind in an equally vague and abstract form for several months now: a finely formed, well-worded, multilingual poem about not being able to write poetry, and two “epic” works, one of which is a fictional story about the rise of the Roman Empire.

The idea came from a computer game called Rome: Total War. It was a combination of the game’s storyline and (mostly) my imagination. I’ve had the story for a long time, but only recently did it occur to me to experiment with epic verse and turn it into a long poem. There is a very specific feel conveyed by the employment of certain words and their combinations, which I was able to capture, briefly, in this opening line:

Dare we remember what thousands died in vain to glorify one

        ruthless Roman patriarch;

the story of a warrior’s vendetta will be told.

It is a verse that is meant to be heard rather than read. It begins very suddenly and explosively with the use of a very dramatic word: not “I remember” or “long ago and far away…” but “Dare we remember…” a word that begins with a plosive, a very attention-grabbing phoneme, represented by the character “D.” The energy explodes out of this dramatic beginning and hits the listener in waves: …what thousands died in vain to glorify one ruthless Roman patriarch…” It then proceeds in a sort of denouement, gradually fading out: “the story of a warrior’s vendetta will be told.” There is a (to my mind) characteristic trait of illuminated reverie here: the subtle rhyming that isn’t quite rhyming, but more of a ring; “the story of a warrior’s vendetta…”

     The style of branching out employed here is similar in principle to the Welsh literary form of cynghandedd (cung-han-deth), a word literally meaning “harmony.” It is a very basic yet unique idea of rhyming–or more accurately, ringing–within one line of verse. There are various methods of employing stress, alliteration, rhyming, etc. but the basic idea is to illuminate the words being used. This is what I am attempting to experiment with, and understand, because the nature of cynghandedd has everything to do with the Bardic tradition, as well as William Blake.

     The most important element to my interpretation of cynghandedd is that the words flow directly out of inspiration, rather than being meticulously thought out, drafted and re-drafted. This is, in Bringhurst’s words, “speech propelled by…narrative impulse.”

     This, I believe, is why Whitman developed his highly influential style of free verse, or verse libre, as the fancy French academics always seem to prefer calling it. Free verse, while not nearly as structured and disciplined as professional Bardic verse (hence the name “free verse”), is a method of poetic illumination; words that flow out of pure inspiration. In other words, bachelardian reverie. And this is the skill I am trying to master by studying form.

the Ultimate Origin of Form

That title is meant to sound cool, nothing more. Ultimately, there can’t really be any kind of set definition and mode of interpretation for what form itself actually is, because form is is. If we take a look at the Druidic belief (among countless others) in the Three Realms, in which every aspect of reality is said to exist simultaneously in a physical, mental, and spiritual state, we might find a satisfactory explanation.

Quantum physicists and crazed mathematicians are slowly coming to realize the possibility, and even the probability of a literally infinite universe. If we were to imagine an entirely aphysical state of existence, in which there is nothing to perceive, only perception itself, and nothing to manifest, only pure kinetic energy, we would likely have achieved the ultimate state of existence that the Druids, Brahmans, and Shamans always refer to in one way or another as enlightenment. Quantum theory, in fact, comes dangerously close to describing what some might call heaven.

In his final book, The Holographic Universe, Michael Talbot offered a theory based on the work of specialists from various fields, such as Dr. Stanislav Grof, a pioneering psychiatrist, physicist David Bohm, and neurophysiologist Karl Pribram. Talbot theorized from their discoveries that our “physical” reality is actually an elaborate hologram. In other words, it is a projection of quantum energy: a means of manifestation for potential energy.

According to Talbot, Dr. Pribram came to believe from his pioneering work on the structure of the brain that “our perception of the world occurs as a result of a complex reading and transforming of information at a different level of reality.” (Talbot, xv) Outside of “this” reality is nothing but potential.

The state of pure existence is probably where you go when you leave this universe, and also what people describe when they have a Near-Death-Experience (NDE). Talbot: “What do NDEers look like when they have not constructed a hologramlike body for themselves? Many say that they were not aware of any form and were simply ‘themselves’ or ‘their mind.’ Others have more specific impressions and describe themselves as “a cloud of colors,’ ‘a mist,’ ‘an energy pattern,’ or ‘an energy field,’ terms that again suggest that we are all ultimately just frequency phenomena, patterns of some unknown vibratory energy enfolded in the greater matrix of the frequency domain. Some NDEers assert that in addition to being composed of colored frequencies of light, we are also constituted out of sound…” (Talbot, 247-8, emphasis mine)

“It is all a matter of vibrations–a matter of response to vibrations. In no other way than through vibrations do we get anything…We are all made–plants and fish and cats and elephants and men–of organisms built of tissue that is built of cells. The life force in the cells–protoplasm–made up of almost everything in the universe in infinitely minute particles. Now, because that protoplasm…is made up of almost everything in Nature, it responds to almost everything in Nature. Protoplasm is the sensitized film on our bodily and intellectual plates; vibrations from about us strike it and gradually they make a dent.”        –Luther Burbank (Cited in Buhner, 53)

When you strike a pitch fork or a guitar string, it doesn’t resonate at just one frequency. Every note is an aggregate of frequencies oscillating and harmonizing together. Certain intervals of notes are naturally consonant, others dissonant. Certain notes, when sung on the guitar, will cause other strings to vibrate in unison. Similarly, a pitchfork of the same frequency as the first one will, if reasonably close to the original, will harmonize with it without being struck itself. It’s a simple  philosophy in Druidry: Like forces (not necessarily identical) attract.

The great wordworker Robert Bringhurst devoted a great deal of time in chapter 8 of his Elements of Typographic Style to the hidden geometrical patterns found within different forms, from page shapes to musical intervals. The measurements of common page sizes are directly proportional to certain mathematical ratios corresponding to various geometric patterns–pentagons, hexagons, etc. Now, these same proportions also correspond with the ratios of notes in the diatonic music scale, e.g. perfectly square pages represent a ratio of 1:1, which is identical to the frequency ratio of a unison in musical terminology, meaning two perfectly identical notes played together. An octave, the same note at different pitches, has a frequency ratio of 1:2, the same as the proportions of the most common of ISO standard paper sizes.

A common ratio found in science and the arts (according to Wikipedia), and occuring everywhere in the Natural World (in reality), is the golden ratio (φ), in the words of Bringhurst, “two numbers, shapes or elements embody the golden section when the smaller is to the larger as the larger is to the sum.” (Bringhurst 1, 155, emphasis mine)

Bringhurst explains the essence of the natural flowing of a story in The Tree of Meaning: “Broadly speaking, the eternal patterns of metrical verse are associated with song, and with speech under the influence of song,” while more internal, branching, and fractal structures are associated with story, and with speech under the influence of story–speech propelled by some kind of narrative impulse.”

The styles of poetry and storytelling of oral (indigenous) cultures follow this flowing pattern, where certain segments of the whole story fit in to a perfect proportion to the rest. They are propelled by an instinctive impulse–the Illumination of the Bard. It is meaning that just fits naturally–fractally–within the whole story. It’s an intangible energy that is perceived not through any one specific element of a story being told, but a charge that is evident in every aspect of the story or song or poem.

Form reflects aesthetic; form is aesthetic. “as above, so below; as within, so without.” form is how the story manifests on the physical level, communicating the intangible, living charge of meaning. Everything manifests according to the charge that drives it. So, like everything else with Nature, it just circles back into itself: form is manifestation is propelled by kinetic energy is a charge that has accumulated or has been accumulated is meaning, is semantics, which is inherent in aesthetic and reflects itself in…form.

Left and Right

Form exists quite simply because an infinite universe of kinetic energy needs something to do and somewhere to go, and it’s hard to drink water without a cup. While it is possible, I’m sure, to find certain environmental factors which contribute to the manifestation of certain cultural practices, in the end it becomes a simple matter ofno two styles are the same because no two people or places are the same.

Everything in the universe reflects everything else. This is a Druidic axiom, as Douglas Monroe explains in The 21 Lessons of Merlyn (pg. 37): “To [the Druids], small things– a flower, a pebble, a snowflake, the path a salmon takes in the water–all were reflections of the Great Cosmic Order; glimpses into the mind of God, and were therefore worthy of great study, reverence and replication.” We learned this in Buhner’s teaching of the infinitely fractal nature of Nature, and have elaborated on it in Calculated Poetry. The essence of this was described perfectly by, naturally, William Blake–“the world in a grain of sand.”

Again, everything that is is a reflection of everything else, all that changes is the degree of correspondence. this is the basic principle behind the Druidic concept of the Web of Correspondences. In the end, the details of any comparison don’t matter so much as the subjective meaning imparted onto it, and therefore, intuition. One correspondence I find interesting is the geocultural separation between West and East.

West and East, left and right sides of the map.

On the whole, Western society is very straight, linear, neat, prim, and propper–largely superimposed. This is reflected in the simple line-by-line style of most Western poetry. You can’t get much more linear than that.

Eastern society, by comparison, is more circular, round-about, indirect, and flowey. Western swordsmanship crafts the blade by hammering it out to be as straight and neat as possible, and shoves it in straight at your chest, brutally carving out your innards. Eastern swordsmanship, on the other hand, allows the blade to curve slightly, following the natural process of smelting. Their philosophy is much more circular–the symbolism of the yin/yang is one example. There are many cycles employed in their beliefs, such as the “spiral of decline,” e.g. backache leads to less flexibility leads to less exercise leads to weaker muscles leads to shallower breathing leads to poorer circulation leads to less expulsion of toxins and rejuvenation of weak tissue leads to…more backache.

Eastern culture is more natural on the whole. The natural flow of a river is not linear and forceful like the practices of the West when examined close-up; the water spirals and circles gradually, and becomes a torrent only when the energy is high. The West seems to force rigidity and primness as a rule. We learned this in Neuro (178): “Anglo-American legal systems conceptualize their subjects– with specific exceptions–as individuals with minds, or mental states, who intend the acts they commit, and who foresee their outcome to the extend that any reasonable person could so do.”

So the West–the left side of the map–is analytical, and the East–the right side–is circular and abstract. A curiously close resemblance to the functionality left and right hemispheres of the brain. This applies greatly to poetry. Bringhurst says many times in The Tree of Meaning that the poetry and stories of First Peoples is cyclical and fractal, as opposed to traditional Western poetry, governed more by strictness of form than flow. Does this reflect the “Civilized” obsession with sureness and security? a straight path is easier to see down. I can’t say for sure. All that can be said is that Westerners have historically been very limited in what they can say and how they can act.

the Immortality of the Visionary

The reason why I’ve chosen to conduct an in-depth study project for William Blake over all the other giants of the poetic tradition is primarily that every work of his that I’ve ever read triggers a massive “WOW” moment in me, every single time. Of course, there are other poets who do the same, but Blake is different. Really different. I’ve come to realize from more extensive reading into his works and his life that this man was the quintessential archetype of a visionary.

Some in art circles tend to rate the great poets of ages past in comparison to their peers–Eliot and Shakespeare, for example, are often interchangeably referred to as the greatest of English language poets, as is Baudelaire in the French poetic tradition, Whitman and Poe in the American, and Dante, naturally, in the Italian.

It is my opinion that a very, very select few wordsmiths are so naturally gifted with poetic vision that, unlike most of their contemporaries, they do not need to go to school to hone their literary capabilities, and furthermore, they transcend all comparison to any specific field of poets. In this sense, it is not nearly enough to say that Blake is the greatest of English language poets. There is no field of comparison for his work. It’s the same process for all the great storytellers of ages past: arguably our most familiar manifestation of this phenomenon is the immortalization of the great legends of 20th century Rock n’ Roll–Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, most notably.

Though the academics always have something to say and some means of classification, in the end, William Blake will always be just…William effing Blake. This is the true essence of a poetic visionary: what it means to be a shamanic poet, what it means to be a truly…illuminated member of the Bardic tradition. And in this sense, William Blake is the perfect continuation from my Winter Quarter study of shamanism and consciousness.

I-Reflections on calculated poetry 15/5/13

the idea of quantum poetics is a fascinating one, but I was having trouble thinking the idea through. Maybe it’s something to do with the uncertainty of a poet’s meaning–a poet says something, and you feel what they try to convey, but as soon as you try to rationally approach a well-written poem for the sake of its material element–the words–alone, it ceases to make sense to you. The millipede wonders how it’s able to coordinate its legs, and trips itself up immediately. This could, in a sense, be related to the “particalizing” of quantum waves; we measure it, and realize that it’s not really there, and that all measurement is uncertain.

Interesting. But I was having trouble articulating the thought. Then Jesse decided he had to steal my thunder. To paraphrase what he said in class on Wednesday: “A word can have infinite meaning–the moment you subjectively impose meaning on a given word, you particalize it.” This goes back to our Tuesday seminar about the total subjectivity of signifiers–the word “tree” could signify a Doug Fir, Oak, Birch, etc. yet the very specific phrase “the tree” is usually understood in context.

I’m intrigued–metaphorically speaking, how does a poetic “particle,” in the form of words and syntax, take shape according to its aesthetic “wave?” I reference back to the week 2 reading of Bringhurst, the chapter from “The Elements of Typographic Style.” He shares an interesting theory of the relation of certain patterns and how they stimulate our senses. Certain geometric patterns correspond with the spacing of words and the overall material presentation of a book. These patterns, which occur everywhere in Nature, are, for an indefinite number of reasons, pleasing to the eye. There is an entire web of correspondence here, from smells to the notes of musical intervals. Different patterns–of notes, of layouts, of any aesthetical presentation–evoke different emotions in different ways, depending on how the stimulus in question is perceived. I have a very strong feeling that the hippocampus is strongly associated with this whole process.

So basically, different styles of expression, such as those experimented with by Queneau, must evoke things differently. Thus they are, in a sense, certain means through which certain semantic/aesthetic (my use of those two words are arbitrary more often than not, though the difference is something I hope to further understand) “waves” can “particalize.”

Thanks to Jesse for triggering my neurons.