Thursday, May 8, 2008

II: "Crickets'/ thickets"

Zukofsky once wrote: “The best way to find out about poetry is to read the poems…because [the reader] finds himself subject of its energy” (23). As such, to more fully understand a ZwO and the intensities it produces, or to be a “subject of its energy,” one can best achieve this goal by looking directly at Zukofsky’s verse. An oft analyzed poem by critics, section sixteen of “29 Songs” provides an interesting “stratum” in which to lodge oneself on:


sleeper’s eyes,




where eyes…

are crickets’
air (Zukofsky, Short Poetry 48-9)
The poem immediately draws the reader into a brisk musicality that develops through a series of short, one to three syllable lines divided into stanzas made up of couplets, with each line terminating in an end rhyme. By privileging the auditory, section sixteen of “29 Songs” highlights what Robert Creeley called Zukofsky’s “unique hearing of phonetic patterns” that produces a particular “pace and sounding” (x). While critics tend to mention the musicality of Zukofsky’s poem, analysis most readily addresses the “elliptically broken” and “fragmented language” (Vanderborg 205), or the manner in which “meaning” becomes “problematic: as sound moves to the foreground” (Hatlen 51); little, if any, discussion involves the (e/a)ffects of such musicality other than the creation of word combinations that are “opaque, impenetrable, mysterious, and resistant” (52). So, then, the question becomes: how does the music of this “little machine,” this cricket-machine, function? More precisely, what are its (e/a)ffects?

It would appear that in conceptualizing the poem through a lens of the BwO, one is more equipped to answer these questions. To explicate upon the concept, Deleuze and Guattari present their readers with several examples of BwOs within A Thousand Plateaus; one such example is the masochist body. They write: “it is poorly understood in terms of pain; it is fundamentally a question of BwO” (150). Integral to the masochist body as a BwO is the process of becoming: “a becoming-animal essential to masochism. It is a question of forces…[wherein] an exchange and circulation” occur: the masochist, who dons a bridle, harness, bit and chain, and whose “master will never approach without the crop, and without using it” (155), becomes equine through “an inversion of signs: the horse transmits its…forces to him” (155). And just as a masochist becomes-equine, Zukofsky becomes-cricket within section sixteen of “29 Songs.” Becoming-cricket, though, does not mean sounding like a cricket. In fact, “becoming is never imitating” (305). While resemblances between Zukofsky’s rhythm and a cricket’s chirp may occur, such correspondences are merely incidental and do “not add up to becoming” (237). Becoming-cricket means developing music as “a creative, active operation that consists in deterritorializing” (300) language and the voice, so that “the voice itself is instrumentalized” (308). Insects, with their “molecular vibrations, chirring, rustling, buzzing, clicking, scratching, and scraping…are instrumental: drums and violins, guitars and cymbals” (308)[2].

What does Zukofsky’s poem do, then, but transform the voice into an instrument. Signification, or the “problem of meaning,” is no longer a problem at all. The poem, to this extent, is asignifying in that the word combinations act as a conduit for sound, each line a staff or ledger on which to designate a certain rhythm, pitch, or tone working independently from a signifying regime, each word combination a musical note. What is important is the becoming-cricket, or the becoming-music, wherein the “refrain is…deterritorialized” (308). The refrain, in section sixteen’s case, can be heard in the repetition produced by the end rhymes[3].

One might rightfully ask: how does becoming-cricket deterritorialize the refrain? While rhyme (or the refrain) can “question, or on occasion deny the literal meaning of words” (Ferguson et al 2037), more often than not one employs the technique so as to “confirm” meaning through the union of content and expression (2037); or, stated in other words, rhyming in poetry attempts to consider both “meaning and sound [as] basic to the choice of words in a poem” (deFord and Lott 13). To that extent, the writer who conceptualizes poetry in a traditional manner fails when (s)he: “consistently mistakes the appropriate meaning and/or appropriate sound for his [or her] writing…since words are the medium and their values and limitations must be respected” (13). Does Zukofsky’s work function within the limits of “appropriate” meaning and sound? Does his poem, if it functions outside those limits, demonstrate a lack of craft or attention to sonic and semiotic details? Examining the first two stanzas, the poem reads: “Crickets’/ thickets// light/ delight:” (Zukofsky, Short Poems 48). While the first stanza offers an image of a dense underbrush inhabited, or “owned by,” crickets, the proceeding stanza lacks an explicit semiotic connection, in that the elided syntax and diction of the poem omits, or leaves ambiguous, the relation between “light” and the previous lines. Is “light” a noun or a verb? Should one understand the second stanza to be a syntactical extension of the first stanza, or a distinct element unto itself? Furthermore, what is the relation between “light” and “delight”? Does one expect, within the specific “values and limitations” of the word “light,” for the subsequent word to be “delight”? With regard to the last of these questions, one may well concede that, in an auditory capacity, the word “light” prefigures the word “delight” in that they both terminate in a common sound or utterance; but, with regard to “meaning,” the poem is too fragmented for the reader to presuppose the word “delight.” In fact, once a reader vocalizes the entire word combination, the “meaning” remains elusive. It would seem, according to a traditionalist, the poem is an utter failure.

But Zukofsky did not conceptualize his writing within a traditionalist’s mode[4]. His abiding purchase was that of sound, which is: “sometimes 95% of poetic presentation. One can often appreciate the connotations of the sound of words merely by listening, even if the language is foreign…What is foreign to poetry is the word which means little or nothing” (Test 58). Not only does Zukofsky privilege sound as “95% of presentation,” but he in many ways acknowledges, and thus pre-dates, Derrida’s claim[5] that the signifier is arbitrary, that it “means little or nothing” in-and-of-itself. In such a manner, the poet cleaves meaning from sound and disrupts the linguistic equilibrium sought by more traditional writers.

This linguistic disruption, as previously mentioned, can be conceptualized through the deterritorialization of the refrain. Deterritorialization, which is inextricably entwined with the minorization process, “is the movement by which ‘one’ leaves the territory,” in other words, the “operation of the line of flight” (Deleuze and Guattari, Thousand 508) that flees from, and works in contradistinction to, a “homogenized, centralized, [and] standardized” (101) system of language, thought, etc. Deterritorializing, and thus minorizing the refrain, Zukofsky’s poem enters into a complex “zone of transition” that constructs “a continuum of variation, negotiating all of the variables both to constrict the constants and to expand the variables” (101-2). The “constraint” that is “constrained” is “meaning,” whereas the “expanded variable” is sound. No longer constrain to a rhyme that must make sense with a traditional manner, Zukofsky is free to select the word that most adequately expresses the sonic possibilities of the poem and most fully embodies his admonition that: “If, in any line of poetry, one word can be replaced by another and ‘it makes no difference,’ that line is bad” (Test 58).

Further deterritorializing the refrain, Zukofsky introduces both an internal rhyme and a disruptive, half-line break in the section that reads: “sleeper’s eyes,/ keeper’s;// Plies!” (Short Poems 48). While the internal rhyme magnifies the previous end rhymes, the half-line’s jarring effect echoes throughout the remainder of the poem, in that the end rhymes separate from the structural-interiority of the stanza and risk being “swallowed by the white space of the page” (Vanderborg 205). To rectify a possible dissonance within the musicality of the piece, one must re-distribute sensory perception and see the piece with one’s ears. If one continues seeing (reading) with the eyes, the rhyme and rhythm of the piece careen into an off-kilter composition that struggles to maintain its sonic properties. But if one sees (reads) with their ear, the half-line and stanza breaks give way to the poem’s tonal qualities. The pertinence of seeing with the ear only increases as the poem progress. Stanza six ends with the line “nowhere…” and stanza seven reads “where eyes…/air”; as such, reading with the ear extends the rhyme through the entirety of the penultimate stanza, sonically coupling “nowhere” with “air.” But to maintain the rhythm, “where eyes…/ air” must be spoken in the same breath, as opposed to vocalizing the ellipsis and line break. The identical claim can be made for the final “are crickets’/ air” stanza: one must read through the line break to maintain the poem’s sonic cohesion. As such, it would appear that the reader speaks with their ear, in addition to seeing with it.

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