Systems Verse


The poetry as a system and the poetry as an experience  and poetry as milieu.

I have been reading a lot of poetry during this pandemic. A lot of sonnets to be precise. I have this book of sonnets with me in isolation and I have been reading it. It is wonderful to find my sentiments mirrored back to me in different language, or to find new sentiments and ways of experiencing.  I felt satiated for a moment, but not filled up and transformed.  It was like going to the museum of natural history and looking at the diorama of bison,

The structure of the sonnet reminds me of a game, and I am always delighted to see how different poets play the game. It creates in me a tension of suspense or a pulling toward something. A sonnet pulls you toward the end. This is perhaps what any structure does…

I tried my hand a a few sonnets – but it did not feel natural to me. This entire quarantine I am just sort of feeling myself, and answering home school questions like “is this a numerator or a denominator” or “how do you spell sock”. As I feel myself I think what is it that myself wants to be? What is the form of myself as expression?

Last Saturday I had this feeling, and I know I am not my feelings – this was another experience I had during quarantine – but I had this feeling, or perhaps intuition. The kind of sonnet I would write is a code. Not necessarily computer code, but code as an equation, as a genetic sequence, code as a recipe, code as something that is mediated and expanded through different interfaces, code as something that is reified through interaction with an other – a compiler, a ribosome, a chat group. I am calling this a system because it is not only a code.

I have another experience during quarantine of having poetic experiences outside of reading a particular poem by myself, or of writing a poem by myself. What are these experiences? They are experiences of inspiring essays, music, art related in a networked/rhizomatic way to a poem or poet, discussion of this constellation on discord chats and facebook groups, poetry as exercises, further creations by individuals that interact with this poetic system, and create further fractal poetic systems. What makes this poetry and not something else – like social networking, or another art form?   Fundamentally these interactions and interfaces are ‘read’. Whether they are read as text or read as a graphic. Whether they are read out loud (performed) or read in private, or read in a group – poetry is experiencing something as a language.

Sunday I ran across and reread Charles Olsen’s manifesto on projective (or OPEN) verse. This is in opposition to the sonnets I was reading – which are an example of closed verse. 

I’m just going to jot down a few things that spoke to me about this manifesto. That content produces form (that old saw hylomorphism again), that open verse preserves the process (I am all about process these days), and the energy of the process. The process is the poem. If there is a form to projective verse it is the breath.  There is a diagram Olsen writes – as a sentence. the head through the ear hears syllables, and the heart through the breath makes a line. This is the embodiment of poetry. There is an implicit somatics.  Olsen calls the poem the field.   That the lines, the syllables, these are one of many OBJECTS in a poem that interact kinetically. Perhaps what Olsen is talking about is really a systems verse but first we need to go through an open verse. 

There is a relationship between technology and the poetry. Just as we have certain meters and figures of speech from the oral tradition, and from time of quill and ink and typeset, the typewriter creates its own structure – right “the medium is the message” a little bit. Olsen says

“But what I want to emphasize here, by this emphasis on the typewriter as the personal and instantaneous recorder of the poet’s work, is the already projective nature of verse as the sons of Pound and Williams are practicing it.”

On the nature of what we are writing about

“It comes to this: the use of a man, by himself and thus by others, lies in how he conceives his relation to nature, that force to which he owes his somewhat small existence. If he sprawl, he shall find little to sing but himself, and shall sing, nature has such paradoxical ways, by way of artificial forms outside himself. But if he stays inside himself, if he is contained within his nature as he is participant in the larger force, he will be able to listen, and his hearing through himself will give him secrets objects share.”  

Our inner orientation, our inner life, creates what we want to express – our relation and perception of all things. The more contained we are the more we can interface – we can participate instead of merge.

So I read all this and was turned obviously toward a new type of poetry that I see emerging that is not the poetry that people think they are writing when they write a poem. Which is beautiful and moving but not as moving and beautiful as these other things which are yet to be called poetry. Things like the workshop, the discord chat, the reading group, the conversation, the exercise, the collaboration. 

What is the systems poem? Perhaps it is the facebook group that has grown up around Ariana Reines collaborative readings and writings around Rilke and Inanna. Reines’ creation of this process is itself systems verse – tying the moon and the zodiac to poems, poetic forms, and creation.   Systems verse is beyond the poem, beyond the anthology, the chapbook, and the collection. It is beyond in the individual.  Where open verse is the rhythm of the breath – of the individual, Systems verse is the rhythm of participation it is the rhythm of witness of speaking and listening.  

How do we ‘read’ systems verse? Perhaps we cannot – when we read systems verse it becomes another type of poetry. We participate in systems verse, like we listen to a homeric epic or a song.  How does systems verse reinvent language?  Because verse and poetry is about language? It is reinventing the language of witness. To participate, or to ‘read’ systems verse is to be in a dynamic with the system. It is not to contain the kinetic within the page but the experience the kinetic. Systems verse is the language of process, the language of being. 

What are people going to do when they write their System Verse poems – which are antithetical to the book? Well maybe you can capture it in a book, these things definitely will be since, the process of language is the process of capture and recording. So what is the rhythm that is captured?  It is the rhythm of phase transitions as the system moves from one state to another, as relationship begin grow expand die.

Do we edit this record? Yes and No. The systems verse is apprehended through an interface. What is an interface? An interface is a person reading a poem, an interface is a group reading a poem, an interface is a group writing a poem, an interface is a diagram or a book.  A systems verse can produce an infinity of books, an infinity of representations through an infinity of interfaces.  This is not the first time we have a redactor in the history of poetry. The bible had redactors – for example. Redaction is historically is in service of a dogma or a point of view. But what is redaction in favor of a system, in favor of a process? To recreate the process within ourselves, or within our community, poetry as personal alchemy. This is the redacted systems verse.

Leave a Reply