Monday, November 12, 2012

ModPo essay #4: Prepositions and Infinitives: A Mayer Experimental and Randomized Index

to a fleeting moment of awe and dread
to a world that’s paranoid…
to alight and pollinate--
to assimilate 20th century ideas
To attain the final, greatest goal?
to avert the difficult question.
To be denied, too pure to not be sure
To be seduced by the appetites and desires
to break the chains of sin and immorality.
To bring us to this time and place?
To call my father’s gods, subdue
To choose one is to choose them both:
to close my eyes
to come into existence, to survive
to convert filth in the atmosphere
to correct the incorrection -
to dance to; but I fake it, trying to stay in step,
to desire your company
To earn by birth what we had been endowed.
to ease their conscience –
to escape the bonds of slavery mentality,
to everything’s reality.
To glory and to honor, let not the fleeting summer’s wrath
To God, to plead for strength to understand
to grow, to learn all,
to comprehend
To guide, to entertain, and to enthuse.
To heal itself, be born anew.
To help us in our need…”
to integrate Area 1 with Area 3
to justify their crimes on humanity.
To kill, to maim, to burn some flesh, to swing
to land five smooth stones
to let you know
to limit my perspective
to lose it
to mask our true feelings.
to measure its dimensions,
to motivate their evil intentions –
to narrow my mind
To overcome escapes my grasp each moment I attempt to make it mine
to overcome the dark and mired soil that hems me in
To overcome the dark morass;
To persevere until the last;-
to re-evaluate our status as the fittest for survival
To reach the end of dreams, the final breath to take
To reach the resting place of souls.  
to reclaim what we've lost ...
To recollect and circumspect love's laws;
To recollect, arrange my thoughts, compose some verse
to reconsider what we've tossed aside...
To reflect ...
To relive that summer’s night.
to repel evil,
to resist weakness,
to replace outmoded values with spanking fresh
to retain one’s inner discipline
to return there?
to revolve around.
To sail the oceans, deep and vast;
to San Diego…
To seal the fate of those they've chose to slay.
To seek for LUCE the blessing of the fleet.
to share her love with all.
to soothe and warm and please me
to steer myself clear of
To take? When all the storms of life have passed,
to tears of passion, blinding, bittersweet.
To test and gage the status of our friendship born
to the exclusion of all others.
To the Lord of the Worlds, the All-seeing.
To the students
To thee, to thee sweet angel of my childhood dreams!
to think things through…
to thrust an internal body outward---
to transcend the limits of grafted knowledge,
To uphold its right to grow.
to watch their homes and children, melt
To weather all the storms and blasts;
to where our souls are one-
To write, embraceable, attainable by all
to you baby

Process/methodology:  I cut and pasted all my pre-ModPo poems, good and bad ones, into an excel spreadsheet, then sorted the 2000+ lines alphabetically applying a sort of random constraint.  The resulting lines above represent all lines that start with the preposition "to."  The center-justified lines are prepositional phrases, the left-justified ones are infinitives.
Close read and analysis: We begin with a continuation of last week's language poetry, venturing out to test and hypothesize the effects of randomization to the language effect.  I chose to extract prepositional phrases from an aggregation of original poems, written over a period stretching from 1973 to 2012.  I chose the preposition "to," hoping it would yield an index of places and personalities, as well as a list of actions in the infinitive form.  I maintained a few "wing words," in mesostomic fashion, to provide a degree of context, while at the same time being mindful of the need to strip away the sense of sentimentality that accompanied the prepositional phrase in it's whole original context, in the process shifting abruptly my attention as well as the attention of the reader.  
An interesting juxtaposition often emerges, one that would not have been evident in the original composition, for example, in the following sequence:
to be denied
to be seduced by the appetites and desires,
to break the chains of sin and immorality
And we see the same parataxis later on, in a riff of lines from a political poem, a poem about witnessing a lynching, and a poem about a Bernini sculpture of David harking a biblical theme:
to justify their crimes against humanity
to kill, to maim, to burn some flesh, to swing
to land five smooth stones
The "list" is Whitmanian in some respects, an index, an autobiographical seed catalog in Mayerian terms.  The repetitiveness of the preposition "to" in many ways reminds one of a Steinian portrait of multiple angles and various foci, presenting as full and as complete and yet as unsentimental and as selfless a representation as allowable.  
The alphabetical order of the verbs or nouns following the preposition provide a necessary constraint, a sense of determinism, a semblance of order in a sea of chaos and unpredictability.  Yet at the level of the constraint, a different sentimentality emerges, a question about the impulses and factors that may be conspiring to shape the life being described.  
Finally, a word about the oracular quality of randomization.  Perhaps.  Or not.  One might suspect, whether using the mesostic method or the Mayer experiment, that the random recombination of elements might yield some sort of essential truth, like a voodoo guy shaking up bones in a can and tossing them on the ground to read your fortune.  I met such guys in Tallahassee and in Caliquisse (Guine-Bissau).  And one might fear such a revelation, if it turns out to be such.  We all saw The Matrix, and in our heart of hearts, we might suspect the existence of such an oracle, in a mesostic result, or otherwise.  Fear not.  There is no Deus ex machina.  The mesostic is just a computer gimmick, and the random recombination of poetry lines or poetry words above has about as much predictive power as the recombination of DNA: you might get a genius, or you might get a moron.  It brings us back full circle to several aspects of the language poetry school, i.e., the self is a construct; the self is nomadic, dynamic; the truth is right before you, on the surface; high culture/low culture distinctions are not only false but ridiculous; anything can be a poem, even randomly sorted lines from other poems; the poem itelf is a machine, with removable and replaceable modularity; and on, and on, and on.  
Acknowledgements: I submitted the experimental results above to members of the Breakfast Club study group, the Politics and Prose Washington DC study group, and my wife and niece over Sunday dinner.  In the essay, I have attempted to incorporate their suggestions.  Any success is directly attributable to them and their great ideas; any shortcoming is my own.  
(Posted via the peer assessment system)
Raymond Maxwell
on Mon 12 Nov 2012 7:51:26 AM EST

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