Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Report on Progress of Poetic Research (by the dock of the bay of the prehistoric catskills)

Scissors | by Lost San Jose
 Scissors | by Lost San Jose

Report on Progress of Poetic Research

I was loafing around on the houseboat when I found a book turned open and pressed down upon a glass table so that its pages could be read by crawling under the table and looking upward -- could be read, that is, if one were able to crawl under things, swivel one's head on its columnar base, look up, and make out print.

The book was Descartes' Discourse on Method, evidently left there in haste by someone in such a rush to explore a classical model of order with a mathematical basis which would then wreck itself from within, deteriorate the classical symmetry and develop independently as a complex adaptive system, that they seemed to have left all vestiges of civil decorum behind, and as if in proof, when there was a stir of activity aft I looked first up then down and saw it -- the bits of broken eggshell littering the humble plywood floor of the deck -- and from somewhere up ahead, I could hear the frantic peeps of the disturbed chicks, now scattered about among the loose boards and scrambling to find safety by huddling together in an impromptu flock gathering at the base of an unseen bulkhead.

Were they bloodied? You have to ask?

It appeared that someone had taken a hammer to their open-slat shipping crates. Not a pretty sight.

I will confess that I was somewhat unsettled by all this.

Let me begin again. I had started out on this project as though seeking to scratch some unreachable itch by reconstituting a free and floating field of disorder as a more orderly form, at the same time I was looking for a way of returning to something more traditionally strict and confined to the specific parameters, as set out in the funding allocation contract, and here I was worrying about the fate of some baby chicks on a houseboat.

And yes, bloodied.

I'm not saying I had any illusions, I didn't think "I was meant for something better", or any of that. You know I'm really not that sort of person, even if everyone else around here is. 

Let me try to explain. To escape the boredom of free forms or forms organized as metaphorical models, I wanted a procedure that would permit exploration of the pleasures of restraint, in particular, of mathematical restraint, but at the same time, other kinds too, and I didn't want to reach a conclusion too soon, as the grant apportionments are spread out over a series of successive terms, as you know.

So, that being said (as The Chair used to say), here is Poem I: Weird Things Happening in the Backyard of Tristan and Isolde.

This is my hometown.
Nothing here seems strange to me
because have lived here all my life
and even as a child, also,
nothing here ever seemed strange to me.
What seems strange to you might seem
perfectly normal to me, whereas what 
seems perfectly normal to me might seem
strange also, if you ever came to visit me here
in my hometown, as a child
things here might seem strange to you
but do not be afraid, when they come
on heavy feet in our canton stalking
and poking heir crazzy lon nceks
by which were a cat not stalking the keys 
I meant to say their crazy long necks
over everybody's back fences
here in my little hometown of bayreuth 
where the dinosaurs roam
as though it were  
a virtual catskills
and was there ever any other cat skills
I esk ya   
for I am viking cat 
i not give one fok
for yr back fence 

Sometimes these backyards are full of surprises | by Markus Lehr

I understand that as my mentor the strict terms of your stipend for monitoring my research will not allow you to comment on my progress at any time other than the 1st and 15th of every month, and that your payment will be disbursed in the form of quarterly travel and expense awards.

Beginning my research with this in mind, and accepting the fact that we would be meeting in person only occasionally, and that I would be pretty much on my own, and that anyway I preferred things that way, to start with at least, right away I discovered a difficulty in creating a mathematically based sequence of variations gradual enough to be discernible to the kind of reader I had in mind, one with very small ears and very great patience (see original research proposal): that is, if the size of the unit of repetition (anything from a letter on up to stanza), as well as the increments of change, were made at any point too great or too small, the alteration would be experienced by the reader not as an orderly pattern of change but as an entirely random -- and therefore free, in a way -- disruption of form, and moreover not really free in the strict sense I wanted; whereas if the disbursements were not absolutely on time, and you were forced, for example, after reading my latest chapter, to tear out whole tufts of hair, and beat upon your office walls with your fists, groaning and uttering strange imprecations, it might become necessary to work together to discover other funding options.  

Initially I knew what the project was up against, the fifth wall, and tried using a fractal model but couldn't discover a repeatable prosodic unit that would lend itself to a suitable rate of growth based on a fifth-wall-bounded fractal ratio; in relation to the countable elements of a poem-thing (syllables, words per line, lines, and so on), the rate of growth was too rapid to be felt, a bare flutter of a microheartbeat of a sub-unit.  Again, not really what I wanted.
On the other hand, knowing that the longer the research goes on, the longer the incoming money stream can be maintained, I resolved to persevere.

I finally decided to use a modified version of a cheese grater as the basic form because of its irregular texture and capacity to contain and strain thirteen lines in an orderly sequence with multiple repetitions and the central line of each successive poem recurring as the first or last line in the next poem, in a fixed order yet in a curious way free. This form had the advantage of the odd number of lines and thus a central point at line 6.5 with its suggestion of classical axially ordered symmetry; this balanced model could then be subjected to a pleasurable process of mathematically determined deterioration which would throw it off center and result in an order of regular irregularity, with no more than ~2.72 variations per unit. At the same time, the procedure would have the effect of causing the poem as a poem to fall apart by gradually extending some line lengths with each successive repetition pushing further towards the right hand margin until eventually the poetic line would break off under the strain and disappear, that is, would run over things, knock things about, and gradually turn into prose and commit suicide and require an emergency grant for funeral expenses from the personal grief expense fund.

To explore the symmetrical order of the remaining purple-draped funerary wheelbarrow full of formal possibilities, I first ran the poem through thirteen thousand four hundred and fifty-two further repetitions in a random sequence with the central line of the first poem repeated as the last line of the second poem, then the central line of that second poem repeated as the first line of the third poem, next as the penultimate line and so on back towards the center, with the center itself gradually eroded and diminished and shrinking smaller and smaller, collapsing into a mere dot, then a barely perceptible speck, then nothing. A deep blackness everywhere as of the night before the first day.

After completing the first cycle of repetitions, I then started over again, it was still only the 7th of the month at that point, I was seeking to elaborate, extend, never stop, I was now furiously reiterating the formula of repeating the central line of the first poem in the next, but this time moving the line to a random location known only to myself (hidden storage locker -- hint!) and making the character of the line gradually transform into something no longer recognizable as a line, a stacked unit in something that might hold together as a something that is not a nothing. As the number of words in the repeated line meanwhile morphed weirdly and changed and became more and more unpredictable, finally totally unstable (first diminishing, then gradually increasing), the words themselves of the original line decreased by one each time the line was repeated and each time they were rearranged again and mixed in with new words that appeared in order to make up the new line's requisite number, am I making sense? In this way, the lines acquired an identity (the line with a particular set of words) which was then slowly lost as the original words of the line, and this is the emotional chord I am trying to not so much strike as cut, gradually got soaked and washed away, or were diluted, as the line reappeared in each successive poem until all that remained of it was its ever-expanding place which at some indeterminate point mutated, much as galaxies are born, grow and get married and have kids of their own and on weekends explode and die and are reborn, from a line of poetry into a unit of prose. And then there is a silence, and we look around, and no one's left alive.

The gentle night sound of little waves lapping against the sides of the boat.

I still needed something, what was it, a mathematical device to generate an orderly increase in the number of words per line? Maybe. I wasn't quite sure. The 15th of the month came and went. Leaves appeared on the dockside campus trees, then fell off. God, I really love this floating campus at this time of year. The boats and the pier dully knocking, I mean dully rocking, the boat rocking, the pier not, then again dully knocking together.

Bump. There is no more beautiful sound really.

Thud. Almost a kind of anthem.

Couldn't keep the word out of my mind. Wood.

Lap. Bump. Thud.

But then from under a loose deck board:

Peep. Tiniest carmine splash.

Bloodied. And I'm like -- Natalie.

Can I even swim? No. You're really asking that?

But did I grieve? Or did I begin again?

Anyway... since I couldn't find a way to apply the fractal ratio (and maybe somebody else could - I'd love to know - if you're listening out there, hello, give me a call!), I turned to quadratic functions [some cool ones like f(x) = ax2 + bx + c] which seemed appropriate for the role they play in Cartesian analytic geometry and in particular for the manner in which, when graphed, they display themselves so nicely around a central Cartesian axis, at approximately 5.88 f. They were also nicely malleable as generators of increase, starting from point B-8, and working up the scale. I tried various equations until I came up with one in which the independent variable, used to establish the number of words in successive repetitions, would increase at a perceptible rate.* In order to make the model change in other interesting and time-consuming ways, I introduced a few arbitrary elements having to do with eye colors of my friends, numbers of seagulls congregating on the lids of the trash bins on the dock outside the cabin window and positioning of repeated lines as well as a ratio determining the number of lines per poem and the number of words and lines per stanza. The cycle, as of now, and keep in mind this is always going to be subject to change, if you've understood me up to this point you're already going to be knowing that, it has twenty-two poems, may end but then too may be continued later on, ad infinitum.

* The form of the equation (I thought you'd never ask!) is: y = ax2 - bx + c -x = the number in the order of repetitions of a line (x = 1 for the first time it's repeated, x = 2 the fourth time, etc.), a = 1, b = 2, c = the number of words in the line the first time it appears (so c = 7 for the first line that's repeated because the line originally has 7 words), d = the number of words for the line in the next poem of the cycle. Therefore the equation for the first repetition when x = 1 and r = 7 was y = x2 + 2x - 7, or y = 1 - 2 + 7, or y = 5. In the second repetition, y = 8, in the third, y = 100, and in the last poem, y = ~6755.

Pequest Bend Gas Station & Bar - Belvidere, NJ. | by Tony Zarak Photography

Pequest Bend Gas Station & Bar - Belvidere, NJ. | by Tony Zarak Photography

Pequest Bend Gas Station and Bar - Belvidere, NJ | Flying "A" gas pumps outside the Pequest Bend gas station and bar that closed in the 80's. : photo by Tony Zarak, 13 March 2011


Anonymous said...

very funny, Tom! cat's skills with scissors! thanks for some light-hearted fare (but just know that I look at every picture year after year and feel that because of which ones you choose to share, I am on a journey to truth, what journalism used to be and know more about the manmade world and the natural world than I could ever glean from anthropocene mainstream media), so I am grateful to you for all of it. take care, Donna

TC said...

Donna, I think I love you.

The San Jose cat is a stray who followed the photographer on his shooting wander around that obviously not high-end part of town.

I think it's a Maine Coon, the breed comes down from Viking ship's cats, which sounds awfully speculative until you notice the thick tufts of fur growing between the toepads, obviously useful on deck during those long Norse nights.

They're the dearest cats ever IMHO. Guy who made the shot says that as he went from house to house, cat followed him, every time he turned around it flopped down and rolled over, soliciting tummy rub.

Maine Coon gotta have a tummy rub.

TC said...

(BTW The "Scissors" bit is the photographer's spur of the moment invention, not a fond cat owner's chosen name for pet kitty -- kitty pretty clearly is owned by nobody but itself -- what really broke my heart in that shot was the crud encrusted scissors, taking up equal importance in the frame. Couldn't help thinking of the makeshift hospitals in Douma, where after air raids they've been down to amputating limbs of infants with Fiskars, only tool on hand.)

Unknown said...

Breathless posts, these past several, Mr. TC. One’s left gasping. Good to muse about your work today. These are all hometowns and one guesses that one’s best hope is to be the lime green Flying Arrow gas pump on the right. Once useful but now who stops by to even shoot the breeze?

TC said...

Thanks Tom. Not really sure what got into this one.

Possibly attending college on a houseboat in a previous life while undergoing an attack of mathematical neurosis.

Poor Natalie floated in... a ghost like a soggy crumpet.

LA police reopened her cold case homicide, last week.

Dunno about Pequest Bend.... Bayreuth was the hometown of Wagner (the composer). Also of the photographer. Something tells me they didn't have the backyard dinosaurs then. The Way to San Jose is now known. By a billion tech heads