Friday, September 04, 2009

My Prosody Problem

Reading Brandon’s recent posts along with some of the comments and then trying to relate outfit assemblage to poetics, I suddenly realized I have a prosody problem. “Prosody” is one of those terms like “lyric” that seems simple until you start doing the research. It might seem easy to say that prosody is really and simply about sound and rhythm in writing, rather than meaning. However, in my mind, it extends to anything you do in a poem beyond the fact that it’s about your latest failed romance or your political issues or whatever. This seems wrong to me and to be an over-extension of what prosody actually is. And yet, in my mind, prosody is everywhere.

For a while, when I was in school at Cal, I considered majoring in Rhetoric purely on the strength of my fondness for the word “trope,” introduced to me by rhetoric teachers and their amusing textbooks. Back then, I thought rhetoric applied to everything. What a little formalist I was! This set me up for later when I informally attend New College, studying mostly with Michael Palmer and Bob Grenier, very much under the star of Robert Duncan. There were always lines or phrases diagrammed on the black board of any classroom you entered and those charts with “the signified” and “the signifier” or “upper limit speech” etc. Personally, I often felt like I was in a Virginia Woolf novel inappropriately picturing that table -- "table, now, in her mind's eye, lodged in the fork of a pear tree” -- rather than the concept, whatever it was. Not that I didn’t get it. Oh, I got it all right. It’s more that I wanted to apply what I was reading to my world as well as to my writing – or that I saw writing as an action, along with getting dressed. I was always all about action –- that and nouns.

Back then the nouns were vintage -- cowboys boots held over from the 70s, fuzzy sweaters, shoulder pads sewn in (unbelievably) to things that didn’t have them. Clothes were often very big, falling from those linebacker sized shoulders like graduation gowns. Big hair, hennaed, with curls. Not mine, which won’t do that, but the hair of others. Big red lips were new then, after the pink of the 70s. Chunky 40s heels. I noticed somewhere that there is an incipient 80s revival that is said also to be a 40s revival – big heels, suits with shoulder pads. The triangle look. Not good. Really, don’t go there.

Prosody in dressing relates, for me, to color, to reference, quotation, allusion, intention, assertion and making, each time, a comment in an on-going conversation you are having with yourself and whoever you might see that day. That’s why getting dressed to do a reading the other night was interesting. One supposed this particular clothing conversation would be with a larger number of people than usual. In the event, it was with a much bigger crowd than I expected. This was gratifying though it made me a bit breathless. I wondered if I should have chosen to read my funny poems but then remembered I don’t write them.

In his site Prosodic Body Robert Kocik, another graduate of the New College prosody-is-everything poetics program, notes that prosody is all “that language communicates which the words don’t literally say (the unsaid, implied, tacit, suggested).” Exactly. That’s what we all thought.In his site, and in his talk out here which I missed but which was greatly appreciated by a number of friends, Kocik relates prosody to architecture and dance. I am working on a book called Prosodic Beings who are either Martian poets or the aliens beyond the dome or both. You can’t escape from your past.

But let’s think this through. A little Google research answers the question “What is repetition in poetry?” by stating that “[t]he repetition in Shel Silversteins' "Nobody" is the word nobody, he constantly uses it more than once.” Excellent. Constantly using it more than once. That clears that up.

Here are some other observed prosodies. Nada Gordon’s skirts and tops – always the same but always different, not unlike my bracelets, which however are, for the most part, (but see below) undocumented. Both my bracelets and Nada’s outfits could be seen as repetitive, self-similar, quoting quotations that are themselves quoted. Mine are certainly also excessive and over-determined, though I won’t accuse Nada of that. Nada’s project of picturing herself in outfits that are often very similar in poses that are also similar seems to me to mean. Mean what? Well, whatever repetition means. It means that things are parallel and keeps meaning that each time, thank you Gertrude Stein. But am I saying that all repetition is prosodic?

Okay, so here is another case from daily life. I am at my recent reading and have stepped outside to chat with Bill Luoma and Juliana Spahr. Juliana comments that she is glad I am writing about gender roles and that someone has to do it (I think that’s what she said) and I agree that I write about sexual politics. Bill, in usual Hawai’ian shirt -- one of the few people who wears them well (besides my co-reader Clark Coolidge who was incredibly cool in one that evening) -- asks me about my jewelry. Bill, it should be pointed out, makes visual art that is redolent of the Hawai’ian shirt feeling. The all-over design of both art and shirt with pastel colors and a sense of irony suggest to me poetics of Bill’s writing as well as his dressing. Here is an example from the Alterran Poetry Assemblage.

So, to get on with the story, Bill asks me about my jewelry and I tell him that I have made it and begin to explain the prosody of the smoky quartz, fake jet and lava beads along with the Czech glass, plastic and crystal of the bracelets while Juliana takes a few shots.

Actually I don’t think I really got to the prosody but in retrospect, I thought of it. There is a sense of variation on a theme, repetition, mad color coordination, bunching and yet a sort of raw carelessness that, I think, relates to the local sense of prosody. The lines below by Bill are from last summer‘s issue of Tarpaulin Sky. The sound here is luscious and convincing and the repetition is like an explosion in an action movies – always shown several times. There is a segment (a sequence?) and it is broken (the title of the poem "broken segment") suggesting that there are parts of a whole and that there is a context (matrix) in which the sequence is embedded and that everything is consecuted. The prosody of beading. Exactly.

matrix in two the one linked segment to be divided
matrix in two that becomes one switch housing
that of a consecution of segments has met access points