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Carnival
December 5, 2004 6:01 PM   Subscribe

Carnival by Steve McCaffery (wikipedia entry). One of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets. Their late 70's, early 80's magazine can be found archived here and makes for interesting reading. However, I suggest you start off by looking at the two beautiful panels that comprise Carnival. They're both visual art and poetry. There's also a terrible pun hidden in one of them if you can find it. But if you hunger for more, here's an interesting critique by Marjorie Perloff [note: The Carnival panels are too big for any screen, but they can be shrunk by hitting "map"]
posted by Kattullus (19 comments total)

 
Ron Silliman has a blog.
posted by trharlan at 6:29 PM on December 5, 2004


How is this not concrete poetry?
posted by swift at 6:32 PM on December 5, 2004


Interesting, but a gimmick like David Foster Wallace's footnotes.
posted by orange clock at 6:34 PM on December 5, 2004


AWESOME. I'd love to see this in person. I wonder if it's ever performed, somehow?

swift: I think it is concrete poetry. It is also language poetry, however--they're not mutually exclusive. And orange clock, I'd be interested in why you think DFW's footnotes are "a gimmick," and in what you think a "gimmick" is, anyway.

Marjorie Perloff's essay is good too.
posted by josh at 7:48 PM on December 5, 2004


swift & josh:

My understanding of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry is that it is designed along the lines of DADA, deconstruction, and subversion. Its purpose was to cause the visual elements to emerge from a process not directly related to the things being said.

Concrete poetry is an arrangement of typographical elements designed to visually supplement and give context to the language. Kind of the opposite purpose, perhaps. But similar, sometimes, visually.
posted by medialyte at 7:50 PM on December 5, 2004


language poetry rocks. i saw lyn hejinian speak/read once. she's mad wicked cool awesome.
posted by juv3nal at 8:04 PM on December 5, 2004


What's wrong with gimmicky footnotes?
posted by freebird at 8:28 PM on December 5, 2004


lyn hejinian... she's mad wicked cool awesome.

You, and about 98% of anyone even remotely connected with poetry here at Berkeley. But I'm too cool for all that.

/me hides his fan club pin.
posted by DaShiv at 9:07 PM on December 5, 2004


It's interesting, but it seems to me that it has more to do with drawing than with writing. It's illustration accomplished with a typewriter rather than a pen; writing without words is.... what? Ink on a page, form without content. Or, rather, the content comes from the appearance rather than the meaning; so I don't see how it can properly be considered writing. Or is it no longer the case that "poetry" is considered a part of "writing"?
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:48 PM on December 5, 2004


The word McCaffery coined for poems like Carnival was typestract. Oh, and Lyn Hejinian is indeed mad wicked cool awesome.

/me takes fan club pin out of lapel, breathes on it and shines it with my shirt and puts it back in its place

Mars: To be Captain Obvious for a bit, shouldn't it be classified as writing, since it's made up of words (and, more importantly, sentences)?

Oh, and thanks trharlan for the link to Ron Silliman's blog, it's fascinating. He also had an earlier blog that went caput.
posted by Kattullus at 11:59 PM on December 5, 2004


shouldn't it be classified as writing, since it's made up of words (and, more importantly, sentences)?

So if I print out a bunch of sentences, put them in a blender, and make a shake out of them, that's "writing" too? An image made entirely of thousands of words too tiny to be read, used purely as graphic elements, is "writing"? I don't buy it. I think McCaffery's work is gorgeous, but I don't think it's any more writing or poetry than a Picasso painting that incorporates newspaper text. And I find most L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry boring because if you remove the element of lexical meaning, there's nothing left to hold your (or at any rate my) attention; it's just a bunch of random words from the dictionary. Life is too short.
posted by languagehat at 7:06 AM on December 6, 2004


By the way, what's the terrible pun?
posted by languagehat at 12:12 PM on December 6, 2004


Well, for once we actually agree on something, languagehat!
posted by Mars Saxman at 2:01 PM on December 6, 2004


Ooh, Languagehat... that was mean, taking me all literally in a thread about poetry.

What I meant, and took to be obvious, was that a bunch of readable sentences constitute writing of some sort.

A good example would the be extant corpus of Sappho. She is considered among the greatest of the greats of world literature, but what we have of her work is haphazard and random. It's been put in a blender, if you will (not literally :) ). Her current corpus is completely different, and drastically reduced, from what antiquity knew.

Now, a reader from antiquity would consider what we have mere tablescraps, a drop in the ocean of Sappho's greatness. A few readable sentences. I'd still say that what we have is great and unique, and the many, many books published on her poetry would tend to agree with me.

Back to Carnival. Just look at this section from Carnival Panel 2. There are blocks of text. Also sentences snaking across the page. I challenge you to read them and then assert that they are meaningless and only serve as visuals. I mean, what could mean more than "the message being that we are all poets one and all as long as we have lungs" There are also elements whose meanings are not strictly textual, i.e. the red % signs and so on. The point being that it is both visual and poetry. Visual poetry, if you will. If we can have aural poetry, recited poetry, poetry that is both music and poetry, why can't we have poetry that is both poetry and visual art?

As to language poetry, well, to each his own, but before dismissing it out of hand I'd read an expert's take on it. Again, Marjorie Perloff: Language Poetry and the Lyric Subject: Ron Silliman's Albany, Susan Howe's Buffalo.

Marjorie Perloff, more than anyone, taught me that the best way to appreciate poetry that tries to be as hard to read as possible, is to enjoy it. Hardly profound, but it was a revelation to me.



Oh, and you'll have to find the pun by yourself (okay, it's in panel 2, just click on 'panels' and it should be easy to find)

Why won't I tell you? Because life's too goddamn long to deprive people of their momentary distractions.
posted by Kattullus at 2:30 PM on December 6, 2004


oh, I realized that the last sentence could have come off as snarky, when it was supposed to come off as silly. Anyway, it's supposed to be silly and lighthearted.
posted by Kattullus at 3:17 PM on December 6, 2004


A good example would the be extant corpus of Sappho. She is considered among the greatest of the greats of world literature, but what we have of her work is haphazard and random. It's been put in a blender, if you will (not literally :) ). Her current corpus is completely different, and drastically reduced, from what antiquity knew.

Now, a reader from antiquity would consider what we have mere tablescraps, a drop in the ocean of Sappho's greatness. A few readable sentences. I'd still say that what we have is great and unique, and the many, many books published on her poetry would tend to agree with me.


What you say is true, but not (I suspect) in the way you mean it. Sappho is unquestionably great, on the basis of one complete and a few partial poems. If what you mean by "tablescraps" is the batch of isolated words and phrases quoted in various sources and lovingly translated (and overtranslated) by Guy Davenport and others, I strongly disagree. They are nothing more nor less than scraps, they could equally have come from the worst poetaster, and they have nothing to do with Sappho's greatness, which is exactly comparable to the greatness of Keats or Emily Dickinson. If we had only "Ode on a Grecian Urn" and a few stanzas from other poems, we would still know Keats to be a great poet, and whether there were a bunch of bits of other poems left or not would have no bearing on that fact.

Now, as to the meaning or lack thereof in Carnival, you're quite right that there's more than I was implying in my haste to diss the style. On the other hand, I direct your attention to the following quote from your Perloff link:

Such coherent words and phrases as do appear in the panels were later repudiated by McCaffery as "incredible naive... I built the text around certain biblical allusions. Adam as the power of nomination; Babel as the source of polyglossia and so on. All of this I would now scrap" (OL 72).

Don't worry, I took your silly sentence the way you meant it!
posted by languagehat at 6:28 PM on December 6, 2004


The tablescraps I was talking about were the one complete and few partials that remains. Most of the rest would hardly qualify as crumbs.

But since her complete works (as known a millenium after her death) came to about 10000 lines, all of which was considered to be great. I suspect a better analogy would be if all we had of Esra Pound were a few of his Cantos.

You know what, I almost posted the same Perloff/McCaffery quote as you did in support of my argument, that there was intended meaning in Carnival ;)
posted by Kattullus at 4:29 AM on December 7, 2004


Heh. Well, then, we're basically in agreement, and in my haste to be contrarian I forgot to mention that I really enjoyed the post!
posted by languagehat at 6:44 AM on December 7, 2004


Thank you, languagehat, and I enjoyed your comments.
posted by Kattullus at 1:59 PM on December 7, 2004


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