A Journal of Contemporary Poetics

Volume I, Number three					SPRING 1993


By Susan Smith Nash

Can visual poetry be best considered in terms of fractal
geometry? That is, the possibilities contained within unfold like
a fractal coastline, where, viewed from far away, the edge seems
smooth-like a simple curve. However, when you move in closer, you
can see that the coastline is ragged, and the distance down it
could be great, due to the innumerable curves and turns. The
distance from point to point depends on how you measure, and how
much you choose to smooth out the roughness and irregularity.
Some fractal theorists, like Benoit Mandelbrot, argue that if
every curve and ragged edge is traversed, with intinitessimal
detail, then the distance is infinite.

John Perlman's poetics follow a similar path. On the page, they
can seem spatially clean and linear, as in the two parallel lines
of "Interrogatory" in _Eyes A Light_ or in the arrangement of "or
even if isolation was complete to itself" _Images Beaconing
Within_, where,on first glance, the form seems to be a neat
replication of the concept of isolation. The geometry seems to be
Euclidean, with clean lines and symmetrical relationships, not
fractal   And yet, Perlman's poetics seem to offer a profound
subversion of the linear (whether it be spatial, or verbal, as in
the case of narrative), and admit the possibility of a fractal
coastline of the interior, where the non-namtive arangement of the
words give rise to infinite possibilities of interpretation,
while still allowing the reader to smooth out the surfaces, and
consider only the "macro effect."

The study of geometry involves the close examination of surfaces,
and it follows that a poem that has been crafted to conform to a
specific geometrical shape requires a contemplation of surfaces.
In his work with fractal surfaces, Theodor Schwenk proposed that
there exists a certain universality of shapes in nature--for
example, a flame, a leaf, and a stream channel all exhibit
certain characteristic forms, and that what interested him was
the seemingly endless repetition of these geometries. In
analyzing rivers, he looked at the water in motion, and proposed
that a flow equals shape plus change, a dynamic of motion and
form. Thus, the river channel becomes a fascinating complex of
whole surfaces interweaving spatially.

Because reading involves the motion of the eye on the page, and
further, it requires the flow of thoughts, triggered by the marks
on the page, then it might be said that reading a visual poem
involves an analogous activity. That is, the poem becomes a form
in motion, and its surfaces interweave to create geometries
suggestive of other similar manifestations in nature, giving rise
to the possibility of analogy. So, a poem about geological strata
that takes the form of lines of text layered one over the other
takes on an inescapable resemblance to the form as it appears in
nature. Thus, a poetics of surfaces may suggest something about
the process of forming analogies, and heighten a self-
consciousness or awareness of that particular logic process.

Further, the creation of analogies involves what fractal
mathematicians refer to as scaling structures, that allow one to
posit that the same relations exist at any scale. So, Perlman's
visual representation of isolation in _Images Beaconing Within_
might be carried into the natural world as a model of an island
off the coast of a continent, isolated by ocean (or white space
on the page), or, it could be applied to the figurative world to
represent the mental processes of separation, spinning off,
fragmenting, and isolation that occur in both the cataloguing and
creative processes.

These representations can function as maps, or in the poem
"Images Beaconing Within" to guide, illuminate, or reify an
unconsolidated mass of data.

A poem that is about to be placed into motion by the action of
the reader's eyes on the page could be considered to be filled
with potential energy, because it has not yet begun to move or
transform. The reader begins to move with the text, to activate
the flow of words and significations, then a phase change begins.
To analogize, it resembles the shift from laminar flow to
turbulent flow, where a continuous spectrum of different
frequencies and wavestates charge the atmosphere with a random
and chaotic energy.

It was precisely that moment of phase change that fascinated the
physicist and mathematician Libchaber, who was intrigued by the
onset of turbulence. He noticed that turbulence often manifested
itself in nature in a manner that seemed to anticipate a future
condition. For example, he notices that water flowing toward a
waterfall seems to break up in turbulence even before it enters
the drop, as if it sensed the upcoming presence of a major shift
of energy. Of course, this phenomenon could probably be
rationally explained away in terms of backflows and eddies, but
nevertheless, the idea is rather fascinating, especially if you
look at the time component of flow, and think of the flowing
water as flowing time.  What this means is that what is to come
somehow affects the present--that the waterfall that lies ahead
causes ripples in the here and now--

ln _As Promises_, Perlman writes, "we of them as they / of us the
Fabulists," in a non narrative text that discounts the linguistic
content of the verbal, suggesting that it may be appropriate to
privilege the visual, to incorporate an ~image of the same self."
If this involves an activity by the reader, of looking at spatial
conflgurations in order to derive meaning, it may supplant a sort
of function dominated way of thinking. In fact, narrative could
be considered to be function-dominated, filled as it is, with
internal expectations, and a logic-style that requires the reader
to accept the tenets of obvious cause and effect.

In the narrative world, a Darwin-weighted bias tends to reduce
everything to function or utility, because that entire economy
holds that the individual thinks in order to survive, and change
occurs as necessary, to adapt. However, in Perlman's
visually-activated text, meaning is not a consequence of its
narrative function. Instead, meaning may follow a reader-imposed
pattern, or, it may spring randomly and spontaneously from the
infinitely complex spatial relationships it follows in its
bifurcations along an incredibly lush and beautiful interior
fractal coastline. 


Libchaber, Albert.  "Experimental Study of Hydrodynamic
Instabilities. Rayleigh-Bernard Experiment: Helium in a Small
Box" _Nonlinear Phenomena at Phase Transitions and
Instabilities_, ed T. t. New York: Plenum, 1982: 259

Mandelbrot, Benoit.  _The Fractal Geometry of Nature_ New York:
Freeman, 1977.

Perlman, John.  _Becons Imaging Within / As Promises_.  Mentor,
OH: Generator Press, 1990

---. _Eyes: A Light_.  Mamaroneck, NY: Room Press, 1988.

Scholz, Christopher.  "Scaling Laws for Large Earthquakes"
_Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America_ 72 (1982),

Schwenk, Theodor.  _Sensitive Chaos_.  New York: Schocken, 1976.

			#	#	#	#

By Serge Gavronsky

(Raquel Levy was born in Gibraltar.  She has been co-founder and
director of Orange Export, Ltd.  As a painter, she has exhibited
at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, in the U.S., Germany, Italy
and most recently, a lorge one-woman show in Venezuela.  She has
also been the topic of considerable critical attention including
catalog work by Marcelin Playnet.)

SERGE GAVRONSKY: For the past many years you've not only been a
painter, with numerous and important shows and catalogs, but
you've also been, as co-founder and director of Orange Export,
Ltd., at the head of one of the most important presses in France,
readlng manuscripts and, as artistic director, interpreting these
texts whlch you have illustrated On top of all of that, you've
also assured the mise-en page and the selection of typographical
characters for your hand-letter press. Given these activities,
this vision of the works of poets and prose writers, could you
comment on the possible connection between the written word and
that other "text" which is yours, and which also appears on the
page? How would you describe this collaborative work between two
types of expression, your own "ecriture," if I can call it that,
and the literary one which finds itself next to it?  And perhaps
you might say something concerning the possible determination of
your own painterly vision through this familiarity with poetry and

RAQUEL LEVY: First of all, it's a reading, it's something like
music. There may be an aggressive relationship, currents,
something which exists as a correspondence, an answer. It's
always a dialogue. It's always a head-on meeting of two things
which theoretically are incompatible.

SG: I like that! How refreshing to admit incompatibilities!

RL: Absolutely!

SG: It's in the discourse since what appears in your own work has
a distinguishing signature, and so, to place it in relation to a
form of writing other than your own is, on the face of it,
incompatible, but in the succeeding moments something interesting
does happen: what you do is evidently not the same from text to
text and there goes the dialogue between two silent partners!

RL: That's it! That's what makes it interesting. It's right
there. Every time to connect with something different and

SG: When you were evaluating manuscripts, were you always
conscious that you were going to accompany the text with your own
art work? Was that something you knew from the start?

RL: That depends, not always. Sometimes, a text made me want to
do something. There were others which bothered me. I placed
silence there because they were too talky.

SG: Then it really was more than a dialogue! Perhaps a dialectic
relation ...

RL: No doubt. It involved a game played out by two persons. I
remember how we were having fun with Mathieu Benezet who had
given us his text and had, in fact, designed it himself. That is,
he had placed a few words on top and on the bottom of the page
and then on both sides, and hardly visible, and I don't exactly
remember what I did, but you see, his was a form of provocation
and we had a lot of fun with it! I responded in the same way.

SG: If you had to define--what a curious question--your poetics
in terms of your own art work, if you had to describe to a reader
unfamiliar with your work what you did, how would you go about
it?  What would be the characteristic traits which might, dearly
in a limited manner, translate your work in verbal terms?

RL: I often answer that in my paintings, there's nothing. What
interests me is silence and thus, in general, this means an

SG: Do you think that in the group of poets and writers published
by Orange Export, that particular defnition of your work
partially determined the selection or, as a second possibility
(though not a mutually exclusive one), at a certain moment in
time, both you and the contributor worked through the question of
silence, of absence, of nothingness, the ineffable, the void
rather than opting for the monumental, the lyrical, the play on
subject?  Might that transcultural pact have even preceded the

RL: Well in the beginning, since I worked especially with
Hocquard, we worked in perfect harmony. Our work was similar. We
were working in the same direction, confronting similar problems.
Later on, I worked with people who were very different one from
the other and very different from myself. I never wanted to make
of our small press something of a closed thing. Besides, I was
the one who always threw things into a state of disorder! I
always came to break this sort of harmony that we had finally
come to discover among a group of friends. It was truly
marvelous. We talked endlessly but I loved to open things up and
since everything was always mixed up together, intermingled...I
remember parties where I invited people who were all completely
different! That's what I was interested in.

SG: When you look back on your work, the work which appeared on
the facing page, or in the center of those beautiful little
pamphlets, apparently independent of the work in language, could
you say that your work as an illustrator bore some relation, had
a certain influence on your own painterly research?

RL: Yes, yes there's no division there. Absolutely no separation.
One leads to another and, for example, I'd be painting in my
studio and I'd remember there were gouaches I had worked on and
which were on the floor and Emmanuel would come in. He would
immediately feel the need to write down a text about them. He
wrote them.  A book came out of that. And later, I painted as a
result of that. As you can see,it was always intermingled. There
was always a sort of dynamics between the two. A going from one
to the other. I never felt a division between them, my painting,
and all the while what I was doing for one of the books. They
indeed represented a different type of preoccupation, a different
way, but they never existed apart.

SG: You're talking about content, and perhaps even about a
certain metaphysical interest, but in the case of Orange Export,
there was also a very deep commitment to typography. There's a
splendid aesthetic preoccupation evident not only in the way the
page was designed but in the very typographical characters
selected which raised, on a visible plane, the scriptural
presence. And next to that figured your own interpreutions. One
might even say that, in a given book, there were always two
levels of the visible: the legible and the visible

RL: Absolutely! That's a very difflcult but perfect relationship
to find. In the same way, I could say that when I worked on my
dyptichs, at a certain moment, there was something which assured
the music of both, where the two sides were in communication. If
not, then there were two distinct paintings. And there, the text
plays in the same way and so does typography. I remember when I
was working on Marcelin Pleynet's book, I had changed the
original typography because I really didn't like the spacing and
I had asked--just to be perfectly sure (I usually don't do
that--but Marcelin has an excellent eye and, therefore, I wanted
to, and I said: "It's not working. How do you see it.?  What are
your suggestions?" And he did exactly what I had proposed, to the
millimeter! He chose the same characters and the same spacing.
That's just the way it had to be because it was the right choice.
And that is a fascinating thing!

SG: Which reminds me of a discussion I had with Marcelin a number
of years ago about the way reproductions of details of paintings
are presented in catalogs and artbooks. The very nature of the
painting is tricked when the detail appears as a full page
reproduction! That really shows a blatant ignorance of the
meaning of the whole! In the case of most books which you've
published, though I'm certainly not familiar with all of them,
there seems to me to be a preference for a reduced format.

RL: That's right.

SG: While your own canvases tend to be monumental.

RL: Right!

SG: How then do you see yourself, without being redefned,
operating with a restrictive space, a space which reduces the
size of your vision?

RL: It really is a question of proportions. That's true. I'm most
at ease with large canvases, the larger the better! Certain of
our own books gave the impression...

SG: All the while being diminutive...

RL: Yes, they gave the impression of size! I really don't know
how to put it into words, but I know how to see it. There's no
incompatibility at that level.

SG: Even though your canvases tend to be monochromatic (though
not always, and certainly not all the work in the books
themselves), they are all rich in co]or. Color is a primordial
concern of yours; they do not only figure as elements of form,
but color. Is there a relationship which can be established
between the written text, the poem, and what you suggest on the
level of color? You previously spoke about music: can you be more
precise about that? Is there a way of putting into words
something which appears to me to be nearly impossible? Is it a
pure non-transmissible sensation? A reaction which tells you
that, in this particular instance, black or white shall

RL: There are texts which are colored; and therefore, you can
highlight that, place that into a color relief which might be
seen as an absence of color (in the poem) and which can be
brought out.

SG: What do you mean when you speak about the "color of the
text?" clearly, you're not talking about a poem, like Eluard's,
which begins "The earth is blue like an orange."

RL: Of course, I'm not!

SG: Then how do you explain this highly accurate matter of the
color of writing"?  It's not only a subjective decision; you
don't say to yourself, 'Today, I'll select this or that color'
Something in the text speaks out at you and there, the adequation

RL Isn't that a sort of vibration.?

SG: I'm totally in agreement, but how can we go further and
explain this vibration? I realize how difficult it is to put into
words two systems of figurations one verbal and the other one

RL: Things have got to be properly threaded together or the work
rejects it. It really depends on the type of writing facing you.

SG: When you arrive at a solution, adequate to your own
aesthetics and desires, do you ever consult with the poet or the
writer or does he or she remain outside of this eventual

RL: Outside! It remains a surprise except at rare times, such as
when Emmanuel and I worked out the thing together.

SG: Proximity seems to play its part.

RL: We had fun making texts. We looked for something and we
fabricated it together but, in general, the poet was not
consulted. Not at all.

SG: When you look back again, touch, see, think about those
books, do you still feel the same 'vibrations"?  When you look at
what had been your own decision, do you still say: "That's
fantastic. There weren't any other possibilities."  Or do you ask
yourself other questions, later on? Does the retrospective glance
play its part in the critical perception?

RL: It's no longer my book. It came out of me and then I look at
it as something else, which can surprise me, astonish me or again
appear to me to be indifferent.

SG: During the time when you were working on those texts, were
you conscious of certain verbal echoes? I'm not speaking about
the themes of the texts, obviously, but were there resonances
emanating from the text, from certain words able to suggest
images, colors? As a painter, you don't necessarily have the same
response a reader might have when he or she approaches a text and
looks for ABC. Can you describe that? Is it the blankness? The

RL: There's never a mise-en-page beforehand. I received the text
and then I defined its placement on the page.

SG: But what happened when the poem, as it is most frequently the
case, already contains its spatial definitions, if the surface of
the page has already been sensitized by a topological

RL: That's what occurred with Benezet but it's very rare. And
with him, there was a high degree of complicity since we worked
closely and thus when he threw his conundrum at me, we were both
able to work it out! That may have been the very first time
something like that ever happened. In general, I would get either
a written or typed script. Of course the poem has its form.
Usually, there were five little texts. But as far as I was
concerned, what interested me was the difficulty. I panicked in
the beginning but then it came! There's no other way of putting
it. It's there. Its not a highly thought-out process, but that's
the way it happens

SG: There's an authenticity in that reply! When l said there were
colors in your work, you mentioned the existence of the colors in
the verbal works, too. Can the same thing be said in the reverse,
that is there a verbal tenor to your colors? When you paint, do
you verbalize your topics? You mentioned at the beginning such
words as absence, nothingness, but this nothingness is obviously
rich in words.

RL: At times I begin a canvas with an extremely colored surface,
with a great sense of movement and then I suppress that, I place
everything in order until I reach the void. During my last
exhibit, I had fun showing some of these preliminary stages,
showing canvases which hadn't been totally finished.  That was
fun since it represented the nether side of the final work.

SG:  The palimpsest of the canvas!  But those were elements you
kept in a perfectly lucid decision.  You were having fun and you
wanted to leave a sort of testimony: "this is how I work" type of
statement!  Let me now ask you a final question.  When you look
at what is being done today both in writing and in painting, how
do you react?

RL:  Quel Horreur! I mean, it's difficult to say, of course, and
there are things which are happening that are rising to the
surgace, but what's being done right now seems to me to be

SG:  Well, we'll end on that definitive note!  Thanks Raquel.

			#	#	#	#

_The Return of Painting. The Pearl. and Orion: 
A Trilogy_. North Point Press, 1991

By Jena Osman

(Ed. note: quotes and citations indicated by parenthetical
footnotes have been placed at the end of the article)

RINGMASTER: What is the manner in which you participate?
You, the crowd, here under the bigtop...indeed! What do you
do? Because I am STUNNING, I will reveal the bludgeoning of
your own responses.

WILLY LOMAN: You rotten little louse! Are you spiting me? (1)

PETER HANDKE: (on trapeze) And finally the state of the
world, which had hitherto been taken as intrinsic and
natural, was seen to be manufactured - and precisely
therefore manufacturable and alterable. Not natural, not
non-historical, but artificial, capable of alteration,
possible of alteration, and under certain circumstances
needful of alteration. (2)

WILLY: Ah, get outta here...

BIFF: But I'm no good, can't you see what I am?

RINGMASTER: Your self converts into a stranger entity at
this point. Transformation, the trick of the theater and
certain frames, because the occurrence of understanding is
possibly under such fallacious circumstances only. However,
now we will watch _Death of a Salesman_ on a very bad video
tape which has been cut, spliced, warped. The noise in the
room, the house from which we watch, is suddenly in Willy
Loman's room:


(She seems to be outside fixing her lawn with
something like hairspray) (Scalapino, p. 69)

BIFF: ...I'm a dime a dozen and so are you!

(sirens, sirens, the two plumbers stamp up the
stairs, "not that," in that circumstance allows
for sirens followed by plumbers, the two sounds
admitted to space and following the woman up the
stairs, no it 's the eye moving up the stairs,
before the body and then the sirens)

(sigh of audience AH YES, that is how I am too,
isn 't it a sad shame how small we are. ..0
AH YES, this is how I am, incapable of being
in this space and yet in it, is there a problem
of dimension, or is it the fact that I have poles
attached to my limbs? Willy doesn 't have poles
attached to his limbs, Willy must be in a

(Brecht walks in, carrying the following sign:
He walks off)

RINGMASTER. Now you are ready to meet the detective (the
other) as detected by Leslie Scalapino. Although Scalapino
refers us to the comic book, I would - indeed! - like to
propose that the comic book is just another word for the
tangibility forum of the circus, i.e. bigtop, variety acts,
cast of oddities, you, me, this. The duality of response
that Scalapino's constructions allow for, is similar to the
response mechanisms created by particular forms of
performance, such as the circus. However, in that you are
reading this, it is a circus of objects (words), as opposed
to one of direct empathic wonderment--

MOHOLY-NAGY: (while being sawed in two) Yes, I believe by
duality you are referring to that particular body mechanism
which arises at the shock one feels at the potentialities of
one's own organism as demonstrated to him by others! (3)

RINGMASTER: Well that's one way to look at it! But I speak
more specifically to the phenomenon of object theatre: the
puppet show, the poem (the comic book). On this scene, one
endows a lifeless object with life and therefore one
maintains a constant self-consciousness as well as a
suspension of disbelief. The magic is that of attachment and
detachment. It is this simultaneity of the lifeless (the
comic book) and the other (the inside that contains the
comic book) that allows you - my audience - to defy


RINGMASTER: And now for a balletic interlude with a guest
appearance by Oskar Schlemmer.

(Schlemmer re-enacts the pole dance, where all
bodily movement is extended in space through the
use of lengthy wooden poles. In this fashion,
he creates for the audience a transcendent



RINGMASTER: And thus begins our next act...(drumroll)...a
stinging debate between Oskar Schlemmer and Bertolt Brecht
concerning the merits of Leslie Scalapino's latest book _The
Return of Painting, The Pearl, and Orion_. (applause) With
opening comments by our very special guest, none other than
the beauteous Heinrich von Kleist!

(roar of applause. Kleist enters in a cape...but
is it Kleist? In fact it seems simply a cape...a
piece of cloth propelled by strings, in that it is
beauty. He resonates into a gigantic

KLEIST: As you have often heard me posit before: the puppet
has advantage over man, in that it can never be affected.
Affection appears when the soul finds itself at a point
other than that of the center of gravity of the movement.
Since the puppeteer...when he holds his wire, holds no other
point in his power but this one, all other limbs are what
they should be, dead; they are only pendula that follow the
pure law of gravitation; an excellent quality, which we seek
in vain with most dancers... (4)

(thunderous applause)

BRECHT: Remember my friends, that in your applause you break
our illusion, and thus play directly into my hands! As to
your opening remarks my good friend Kleist, I would agree
with you essentially on the prize of the puppet - it is a
tool that can never be diminished in its powers of
alienation. However, I would like to propose that its
lifelessness, its proximity to the IDEAL is in fact not
where its merit lies. As with the essentiality of
Scalapino's comic book, its object-ness is simply a control
device. It is not until one recognizes the comic book as
existing within a greater schema--a narrative, let us
say--that the puppet (the comic book) becomes seriously
active. I quote:

Flatness was construed as (was made to be) a barrier put up
against the viewer's normal wish to enter a picture and
dream, to have it be a space apart from life in which the
mind would be free to make its own connection. (Scalapino

Or, in other words,

There not being historical experience - is the comic book.
(Scalapino p.156)

As we all know by now, social change necessitates a
knowledge that events are indeed historical, and therefore
changeable. I therefore protest an opening presentation
which links the ideal of the device called "puppet" with the
material to be found within the Scalapino work.

KLEIST: Ah-hem, I was not finished. ...so grace returns
again after knowledge, as it were, has gone through the
world of the infinite, in that it appears best in that human
bodily structure which has no consciousness at all, or has
an infinite consciousness--that is, in the mechanical
puppet, or in the God. (5)

(Kleist disappears into the air)

SCHLEMMER: I really don't believe that we can dismiss the
transcendent qualities of the puppet so quickly, Bertolt. I
have been quoted as saying that "the human figure, plucked
out of the mass and placed in the separate realm of the
stage (the picture) is surrounded by an aura of magic and
thus becomes what one might call a space-bewitched being."
I believe such a creature can be found within the language
of Scalapino. And does the comic book not function as such a
separation frame? As is not the detective, the "she" who
roams through the entire trilogy, in fact such a
"space-bewitched being"? The comic book is often
mentioned as that which is "outside experience"; and
although this is not necessarily a good thing - in that it
posits an ideal, and therefore lifeless state - it is also
referred to as "the jewel."

       it is necessary to them that experience itself be
convention. then there is not meaning to it. that is fine.
the jewel. (Scalapino, p. 180)

The jewel is an ideal construction, however, this in itself
is not what creates its negative activity. The question is
to what degree is the jewel used and abused. Is it a
distilled part with which we may understand the whole, or is
it misrepresented as the whole (the narrative) itself?

their saying that we're in narrative as constructed and
that we should be outside of that - that that is lowly.
experience is lower class 
we'll just be mad insane and not be inside. Their saying 
that we are constructed - and they're constructing it. 
(Scalapino p.211)

However, the puppet, the jewel, is indeed effective when a
simultaneity of consciousness can be achieved, when the
conflict of perception is recognized.

BRECHT: So you are saying that in actuality the comic book
represents a forum where the nature of objectivity can be
evaluated and tested. "Objective" mediums such as
newspapers, the CIA and language itself can be measured in
the seeming isolation tank of the lifeless frame. And what
is truly superb in both of these mechanisms (i.e. the puppet
and Scalapino's comic book), is that the ultimate emphasis
is on--

(searing bright lights come up on audience)

YOU, the spectator, activator, participant, reassembler,
intervener, code-reader, societal tailor, circus-eater.

(lights dim back)

SCHLEMMER: Well I don'l know about that...

BRECHT: I knew it, I knew it! You are an anti-political
art-for-art's sake ninny! Why should we look at your little
dances? Why should we respect your views on a book as
politically potent as that by Scalapino? Who are you, my
little abstract clown?

RINGMASTER: Bile-check, Bertolt.

BRECHT: Oh sure, excusez-moi! What I mean to object to is
your attitude towards a spectator's passivity. You seem to
have no desire to confront it as the menace which it has
proven to be. Your studies in space color, movement, they
all seem to have what I hate to label as an "emotional
preciousness' ...an hypnotic distillation as it were.

SCHLEMMER: I agree that I have rejected the object of audience
"participation"--but this does not deny the activity of
audience "confrontation." And in this I believe I am most
thoroughly aligned with Scalapino's project. You and I both
are interested in the spectator's ability to achieve change
through a recognition discovered in the course of critical
observation of performance. However, the change you desire,
is that which occurs outside the theatre, outside the self
("the comic book is to enable people always to be outside of
experience" Scalapino, p. 202). 1, on the other hand, am
interested in inner transformation ("we do live inside" -
Scalapino, p. 229). If one understands the elements of
surroundings (the stage representing that), one will
understand how they influence the person who wanders about
in them

Perhaps I can be more clear through example.

(re-enter Kleist, or is it just the cape of

Here we have for the moment, what appears to be a cape, or
shall we say a large piece of fabric. If one looks closely,
or if one looks at all, the strings attached to the cloth
are easily apparent. When the strings are manipulated from
an invisible source (the source not being important in the
current debate), the cloth commences to gesture. In calling
such movement "gesture," I am endowing an object with life,
personifying an abstract form as it were. The magic of this
reception creates an empathic bond.

BRECHT: YIKES! Hasn't anyone here learned yet that
witchcraft is sordid!

WILLY LOMAN: I am not a dime a dozen! I am Willy Loman, and
you are Biff Loman!

BRECHT: It makes me wretch, this hypnotic cathartic
rigamarole. Fog equals passivity, and emotion is just another
reason not to think!

(KLEIST coughs, annoyed)

However, I suppose it is evident, that through its own
materiality, the puppet is a tool for perception, as is the
frame of the comic book.

SCHLEMMER: The empathic bond is necessary in order to plug
the spectator/reader in, to create an identification. But it
doesn't stop at that. Pieces of narrative draw us closer,
whereas their flatness (the comic book) is a choice to deny
perspectival entrance. In Scalapino, I find the mechanics of
an empathic organization as well as the simultaneous "space
bewitchedness" that allows for the necessary detachment of
the "I" from narrative activity.

BRECHT: Ok, I can see our ultimate purposes diverge somewhat;
however, I do agree with you in this: the perceiver (the
reader) is the center of activity. There must be the
opportunity to intercept that which allows the
reader/receiver to disappear.

SCHLEMMER:  And that activity derives from a simultaneous 
exploration of that which is inside and outside of the self.

(a huge clock appears and swings over their

RINGMASTER: Watch the clock boys.

BRECHT: Let us just quickly discuss my favorite part of the
equation, the "outside," that which denies the private, and
that which I believe invites reason through the element of
distance. We have not as yet discussed that which is most
obvious...what is COMIC about the comic book? There is
nothing that can better break up hypnotic tensions than a
good joke!

(KLEIST slips on a banana peel, falls, does not
get up, is only a cape)

Don't you agree Oskar?

SCHLEMMER: Yes indeed - the comic certainly adds to the
charisma of distillation, distortion, the magnet...

BRECHT: The magnet? I'm just talking about "did you hear the
one about the man who went to the shrink? He said doctor I
don't know what's wrong with me, I keep seeing wigwams and
teepees. The doctor says that's because you're t(w)oo

(uproarious laughter)

I don't know anything about a magnet...

RINGMASTER: Excuse me boys, but this just in...

SCHLEMMER: Wow, it's a telegram from Henri Bergson:

"Were events unceasingly mindful of their own course, there
would be no coincidences, no conjunctures and no circular
series; everything would evolve and progress continuously.
And were all men always attentive to life, were we
constantly keeping in touch with others as well as with
ourselves, nothing within us would ever appear as due to the
working of strings or springs. The comic is that side of a
person which reveals his likeness to a thing, that aspect of
human events which, through its peculiar inelasticity,
conveys the impression of pure mechanism, or automatism, of
movement without life. (7) STOP."

BRECHT: That must have cost a fortune.

(lights slam on)

And now ladies and gentlemen, with the express approval of
Leslie Scalapino herself, we will have a dramatic
presentation in true epic theatre style of p. 179 (one of my
favorite passages) by none other than "the other": the

(puzzled applause)

THE DETECTIVE: She is picking out vegetables in the market.
People coming to the market in the evening. what is being
said with someone there is that there is no content in a
except coming to the market in the evening. we
have a sense there is not interiority, which is being
    there's struggling in her. 
    tired going out and Iying down in the street. she's 
unable to move. she can't get back. she sleeps there. 
Iying huddled on the street.
    then there's no struggling. 
    there is no relation between there not being interiority 
and the flowering corpse. 
    we have a sense of duration. no we don't. 
    there is no relation between the flowering corpse 
and the child 
    there's struggling 
    no struggling between the flowering corpse and
the child. who's later. 
    she's doing nothing. 
    She's sitting in the coffee shop in the morning. The 
man comes in who'd hurled the broom handle stuck in the 
man running toward her. Had seen her there before. He's 
aware and doing nothing.

(she bows, audience hoots)

BRECHT: Bravo!!  Bravo!!

SCHLEMMER: (to detective) And now if you would be so kind,
perhaps you would perform one of my favorite passages?

(the detective nods affirmatively and begins.)

THE DETECTIVE She is picking out vegetables in the market.
People coming to the market in the evening. what is being
said with someone there is that there is no content in a
conversation except coming to the market in the evening. we
have a sense there is not interiority, which is being

(As she repeats the same passage, the lights dim
out and various words and phrases from _The
Return of Painting. The Pearl and Orion_, stream
in florescent white across the ceiling like a
fireworks display:

knowing who are friends...
of the popular social... 
you 're corrupt or you 're weak...
this can be free...
is calm...
there isn't life...
from the lower class...
no place to dream... 
experience itself is a convention...
it comes from experience... 
completely free...
one frame at a time...

*    *    *

(1) Arthur Miller, _Death of a Salesman_

(2) Peter Handke, "Brecht, Play, Theatre, Agitation," _Theatre
Ouarterly_ (Oct. - Dec. 1971), p. 89.

(3) Molnar, Farkas, ed. _The Theater of the
Bauhaus_, Weslyan University Press, Middletown, CT.,
1961,"Theater, Circus, Variety" by Moholy-Nagy, p. 54.

(4) Heinrich von Kleist, "Essay on the Puppet Theater,"
Translated by Eugene Jolas. _The Partisan Review_, 14, no. 1,
pp. 70.

(5) ibid.

(6) Lehman, Arnold and Richardson, Brenda, _OSKAR SCHLEMMER,
The Baltimore Museum of Art_, p. 51.

(7) Henri Bergson, "Laughter"

#    #    #



Reviewed by Johanna Drucker

The title of Chris Tysh's book invokes a framework which is not
the usual stuff of contemporary poetry, especially not among the
more experimental writers. Images of heraldry, emblems, and even,
military display are at first thought unlikely topics suggesting
as they do out moded regimes of discipline or worse, the cliches
of dungeons and dragons sensibilites. Tysh doesn't go any where
near the latter goop, thank heavens, but she does interweave
themes of militarism through theoretically skillful means which
allow her to make use of the tropes in a feminist investigation
of linguistic and social structures.

Tysh's work, like that of Jean Day, Barbara Henning, and Lyn
Hejinian (to make an unlikely but not-so-unlikely line-up),
combines subtle thinking with complex, richly worked language and
represents to my mind the best of state-of-the- art experimental
feminist writing. Tysh takes seriously the theoretical
proposition that the formation of individual identity is in
relation to structures of language and that the ordering of the
social universe within which we develop and function is
inextricably bound up in the ongoing articulation for formative
discourse. For women, this has particular implications--since our
relation to the structures and orders of language necessarily
carries the charge to analyze its role (language's) in
positioning us in the hierarchies of power which permeate every
aspect of our lives as lived--family life, domesticity, public
roles and sexuality. An underlying premise of Tysh's work is that
subjectivity is precisely the condition of formation in and
through language, and that no area of human activity is immune
from the dynamic of this ongoing process. This applies even--and
especially--to the domains of intimacy which like to make their
claims for autonomy and immunity--as if sensuality, sex, and
passion were released from the constraints of the social order,
rather than elements of them at most insidious level.

Tysh's themes are bound up with her means--at every point in the
construction of this work the structures of syntax, the patterns
of grammar, the use of vocabulary help to establish, sabotage,
attack and defend the positions she is intent on staking out I
read this work as a chronological account of development. The
figures who appear in the work as characters, however abstractly
they function as both points of autobiographical reference and
symbolic resonance simultaneously, appear and reappear throughout
the sequence of poems. A figure of a mother, a figure of a
father, are established as the two psychic poles around which the
oppositions of language organize themselves, though the writing
of this work is emphatically not binaristic, or in keeping with
the old-fashioned forms of structuralism. In fact the great
strength of this book is its capacity to continually destabilize
such norms or oppositions while making use of them as points of

Tysh's themes are twofold--one set of images and linguistic
propositions continually examines the relation between the writer
and the codes of power conventionally associated with masculine
power. Exaggerated into the tropes of militarism, these work to
permit Tysh to examine the interconnections between the
signs/symbols of power, linguistic and instrumental authority,
and her own place of articulation. The father figure goes to war,
is in a parade, participates in a military display to which the
girl child looks with envy, trepidation, desire, confusion. What
are the terms of a woman's power in relation to these emblems? Is
there a feminist heraldry to be acquired, wed, manipulated in
order to subvert the power structures of that partriarchal order.
 An arms/armor in which the artillery of ferminine weaponry also
functions thorough display to achieve, through its own encoded
power? Or is the careful observaton of this militarism and--by
extension, the disciplinary orders of syntax, grammar, history,
and strict chronological sequence--always only capable of
"rendering" a definition of identity through opposition?  Tysh
erodes the boundaries which exclude her, the girlchild who grows
to adolescence, into sexuality and womanhood in these works
(though this book is in no way a coming of age saga, don't
mistake me, though I do see these shifts of condition moving
through the work). She erodes them by a poetics which establishes
and then reworks, reconsiders, and, again, destabilizes--the
place of a word witbin a sentence, a term within a language to
which it may be foreign, or a sequence of larger structures.

But before I examine these a bit more carefully, let me mention
the second theme because, in some ways, I associate it even more
with Tysh's work as a whole--and that is the theme of sexuality.
As in _Porne_, Tysh is intent in this work on examining that area
of human socio-psychic activity--the domain of sexual fantasy,
activity, sensuality and power dynamics--No, maybe "examining" is
the wrong word--rather, interested in using that arena as one in
which to call forth an analysis of, again, the dynamics of power
which inform the operations of the Imaginary. Pulling together
these two themes--gendered identity in relation to external
signs/codes of power, and gendered identity in relation to
interpersonal dynamics as they act out the dynamics of
power--Tysh shows her allegiance to the forms of what came to be
known twenty years ago as *ecriture feminine*. For Tysh the rush
of language which refuses containment within the normative rules
of syntax is itself a feminist act, though I am not sure if she
would ground this in the same metaphors of physiology as Helen
Cixous or Luce Iriqaray, or characterize her engagement with this
process as an intervention in the codes of language as they carry
symbolic value. In either case, the fact is that Tysh's work is
full of sentences which flow rather than resolve or conclude. One
quick example:

         ...At the piano
besides a chaise lounge a belief which sustains
in the last resort healthy suspicions, the fort/da
traffic of immortal trinkets, that portion of bread
lift on the oilcloth after dinner, if any hardiness
of flesh lies in the way it corrupts
the questioning glance (p. 49)

A sentence, yes, and one which uses its words like keywords to
index a whole series of interlocking frames of reference as well
as move from a domestic scene to a psychic arena to, a moment in
time as pattern/habit and back to the fixed instant of a glance
canying the penetrating power of a phallic association. Tysh's
work continually elaborates poetics into a post-structuralist
network of complexities. The rigid tenets of theory are all
reformulated through the highly specific details of pensonal
location which is the place of the imaginary. Representation in
language as that site in which the subject brings itsell into
being--not the real but its imaginary. The skill of Tysh's
relation to theory is that it is through language and that she is
able to use poetics to rearrange the critical regime.

It is in large part the denseness of Tysh's language which I find
so satisfying. I am not always in sympathy with her artifices and
conceits--I sometimes find her invocations ol the feminine
(feathers, flowers, etc.) cliched in contrast to the intelligent
subtlety of the linguistic structures.  And the use of weird
vocabulary--autarky, vambraced, spasiba, semy, trippant, and
nebuly--sometimes moves this work into a glbberish patter of
syllables so unloosed fron semantic stability they lose all
meaning for me beyond the wildly associative.  But hey, those are
small points--and I'm willing to grant that my idiosyncrasies of
style or squeamishness or even prudishness set different limits
on these things than her's do.

In conclusion, I am profoundly in sympathy with Tysh's work, and
with her overall project as I understand it--which is to continue
to articulate a feminist claim on authority--cultural,
linguistic, theoretical, poetic, sexual--through the activity of
                  #    #     #

CHAX PRESS 1991, $8

Reviewed by Clint Burnham

Why quirks and quillets, when a quillet is a type of quirk, if a
quirk is a verbal subtlety (wch wd certainly apply to Mac
Cormack's poetry--but then why Mac and mack--her name indicating
a certain supplementarity or excess (but fuck Bataille or
Derrida, let's say a surplus value-added), beginning & ending
with a K, say), but you cd also say, or see, the quirks as grunts
or groans, an altenate sense in the OED, wch is more amenable
given the large typeface (18 pt) of the book, the quirks as rude,
if not sexual, in(ter)ventions.

The Q is an attractive idea, the carry-over (literal, or
letter-al) from _Quilldriver_ (1989), as well as from the sound
of _Straw Cupid_ (1987). An accusatory tone, hectoring, warns the
reader not only to take, but also give, nothing by mouth: "To
salivate would rust the metal simulated grain intervenes a flag
pole". If a flag pole looks like wood (but is actually metal) the
salivating it proposes (our lust for wood, an ecopavlovianism)
would destroy the real in the name of the imaginary, rushing away
at the symbolic phallus, a naked menstrual flow.

"In this way the body translates to taste or smell compared for
lack of equilibrium" and I want to allegonize it--i.e. it's
referring to all translation, the taste leads forbiddingly to
(again) something by mouth, or at least Bourdieu's's idea of
taste as a class boundary .... While Mac Cormack's text certainly
provides a site for such interpretation, it's sometime's the easy
way out (see the vacuousness of Easthope's _Contemporary Poetry
Meets Contemporary Theory_), fixing the text so that the
"difference" mentioned in a Susan Hicks Beach epigraph to Mac
Cormack's book must irrevocably refer to Derrida's difference,
or, in a more post-Language sense, to Stein's "the difference is
spreading" (& Marjorie Perloff compares Mac Cormack's text to
_Tender Buttons_ in a blurb on the back, & there, too, Perloff
speaks of _Q & Q_'s "profound concern for the difference a word
can make"). But a difference of (between) what? For the concept
of difference foregrounded in so many paratextual ways in _Quirks
& Quillets_, can slide too easily into a mere structural problem,
& thus you have the difference of words (Perloff), of things like
pinheads (Beach): difference, that is, as a non-dangerous

A concept is merely the reification of dialectical inquiry, and
difference is orthodoxly privileged in post structuralism over
identity in the same way that metonymy is privileged ove
metaphor. Mac Cormak's text does exploit metonymy gracefully, but
instead of a metonymy of the signifier (altho that too is present
here, as in "a painting leans on a loan brick minus cement
lessen," where painting, bricks, and cement are a syntagmatically
related (the category of some sort of wall (covering), as a
leans, loan, and lessen in a more punning manner), she opts for
the metonymy of grammar.

Each page is a sentence-paragraph (violating that hymen
separating the two) wch demands that the reader constructs breaks
or connectives:

"This curious relase of leaves the fugue among us delivered a
personal number of hindsight currency restricts an ingenuity
recorded in France while television insults anyone two more
keys enclose space within time so shells appear smoother on
the counter of any slide into that wall between partitions
current is infused forgers in formation."

Here, as elsewhere in _Quirks & Quillets_ the clauses pile-up,
not as discrete & parallel units, but blurring into one another,
so that the apparent verbs (leaves, delivered, restricts,
insults, enclose, space, appear, slide, partitions) serve
simuluneously as connectives between noun-phrases and as breaks
between clauses.     

It all seems resolutely non-referential: a
surplus of formalism that denies meaning or, in a more positive
light creates such a thicket of reading that we can no longer
avoid the text by reading "through" it to the world." & you can
find passages in Mac Cormack that support this final, Adornoesque,
interpretation, passages like "All passage fall lean-to diction
paralyse the driven on their day off." The lean-to diction we're
used to, that paralyses us on our day off, is not what's here, a
diction that must be learnt, a passage we must enter, while at


Reviewed by Dan Featherston

Violation contains ambivalence.
                 --Shelia E. Murphy

To not finally know whether I am reading or writing.
                 --Clark Coolidge

It would be inaccurate as well as inappropriate to say that
Sheila Murphy's poetry is penetrating. Rather, the poetry's
efficacy rides on a type of serial persuasiveness. Murphy is fond
of the paradox inherent in the intersection of the series and
constrictive form. In _Obeli_ (1990), each poem contains twenty
one lines, each of which is comprised of seven words. _House
Silence_ (1987) includes fifty-seven haibun, a more elastic form
in which Murphy continues to publish. She constantly tests her
poetic energy against self imposed forms that stimulate rather
than contain the poetry. _Teth_ is composed of eighty-one poems,
each of which are eighty-one words long. All the lines are
centered on each page, and each letter is in the lower case.
Rather than constricting the possibiUaes of her poetry, such form
liberates Murphy from dependenoe on the lyrical ego to direct the
process. Normative forms could not accommodate Murphy's plunges
into the uncertain ground of poetic generation where she conducts
"some ongoing conversation" (32) between "the weight and feel of
melody" (28). Murphy interrogates the manner in which poetic
language shifts its densities and how such mobilty affects
signification: "a distance / with the name uut string / that
could be member of quintet / but is solitude / resourceful as the
humble monk" (23). It is such resourcefulness that keeps both the
poet and reader in motion in the play between the single and the
ensemble. The series gives Murphy the freedom to operate on the
hori~onul axis of language where she breaks down sequential
evenLs and recombines them to break open renewed possibilities.

Murphy brings an attentiveness to the quotidian and protean land
scapes of distances and immediacies: "if I speak to melody around
me / dump truck / slaphappy birds / exhaust / some weakly snarlng
pets / uncoffeed humans / spong head phones." Linked to her
ability to render such details of the daily is Murphy's desire to
follow the sonar texture of language as it fires the synapses in
continually surprising ways. In the same poem:

         live antenna branches
fortify lawn minerals at night ahead
   core epock seeths procouncement
      morning glory sifts edges
          of imposter ruins
       voice chain link protection
    from the mass without possession
  of enough imagination to trancend
       corrputed how the mind is

Such an elasacity of admission gives Murphy's _Teth_ the virtue
of an inclusive response to the objects and events of the culture
around her. The poet sifts the ordinary edges of things (antenna,
lawn, and morning glory) to recuperate extraordinary poetic
responses (how the mind is / music). The innovation in Murphy's
line inheres partly in the combination of rather simple
diction--"voice chain link protection"--with more complex diction in
the next two lines--"possession," "imagination," and "transcend."
More importantly, because she avoids any punctuation in this
series, the reader must establish a line's pacing and its
propensity to shift from endstopping to enjambment. Is line five
above endstopped or enjambed?  Similarly, what kind of
punctuation belongs between trancend, sound, and corrupted?)
Murphy allows the reader full playin this context. In conjunction
with this issue of the line break, if we read ruins as a verb, we
get quite a different sense than if we consider the word a noun.
Since both possibilities might fit, Murphy's approach to poetry
is self-consciously polyvalent and provisional. Embedded in the
chain of signifiers is a cultural critique of the way most of us
construct barriers (chain link protection) against the world. Far
from hermetic, Murphy speaks consciously to the contemporary
soene around her, but since this is world is, at times, a complex
of moving fragments, it must be confronted by a poetry of
multiple intelligences, critically able to create a language that
resists the daily onslaught of rhetorical shoddiness. ...

An oscillation between poetic "statement" and poetic
"indeterminacy" gives Murphy's work a sense of critical

     sufficient ink to persuade others
              this is happening
         the war on scant resources
      motorcycle jacket defining closet
            as the fundamental cave
         until it echoes expert system
           is then ever replicated
      in the segrated closets of America
          who rule out shawls of nuns
              masculine ear muffs
          and the pea coat of trench man
           laboring to earn distinction
            without capacity to sell it

Murphy does not persuade by feelgood morality, but instead by
combining bits of torn speech and fragments of social discourse
with a Iyricism that is alive to the vocalic music of the
interior line. She dramatizes the reproduction of patterns in a
cultural economy overwhelmed by the patriarchal value of
domination. The oppression of otherness has become such a hot
topic in contemporary social discourse and poetry that Murphy
embeds her critique in a language that estranges the commonplace.
She throws into stark outline the struggle to closet gender and
otherness. Murphy collides motorcycle jacket[s], "shawls of
nuns," and "masculine ear muffs" in a way that provides a witty
commentary on the confusion of gender in the contemporary economy
of dwindling resources. Simuluneously the competition of the
overspecialized job market ("expert system") has accelerated to
the extent that exchange of currency in this economy has become

* * *

While I have emphasized the cultural elements of her work, I must
also add that Shelia Murphy's poetry operates in mercurial
registers that demonstrate an aliveness to risk and
experimentation. At once instance, we get the biting and
hilarious "award winning concupiscence" (45) and at the next, the
cunning and adroit "ambidextrous sightseeing" (46), "as if dance
were parody of light" (67). Murphy is argus-eyed, and her
invigilation involves a kind of spiritual exercise that "breed
[s] [the] world from raw resources" (21), while "sanctifying
grace pours down like blood" (27). Elsewhere she writes that
"sacrament is knowing / how to translate / leisure to a spiritual
work" (44). And Murphy performs her poetic work as a meditative
attention to the "tone complexion" of her language, which emerges
in a "promenade of images" (36) that open and transform in from
of us.  Shelia Murphy balances her quiet attention to the music
of language with a sharp observation of the social text.

             END OF ISSUE 1.3


WITZ is a journal of critical writing edited by Christopher
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