Saturday, January 14, 2006

 

I’m heading down to Orlando for a few days on business.

I’ll try to post as time & hotel connections to the net permit.



Friday, January 13, 2006

 

Another list of so-called Neglectorinos for CA Conrad’s project can be found on Cosmoetica, the website of Dan & Jessica Schneider. Again, as with Fagin’s list, I’m not sure I’d consider all of these poets – Glyn Maxwell? – neglected. But the site does a decent job presenting each of the 52 writers represented. There are at least a dozen poets here I’d never heard of before. I’m really pleased to see Steve Jonas here. Here’s the Schneider roster:

Conrad Aiken
Bella Akhmadulina
Rosario Castellanos
Jane Cooper
Joseph Seamon Cotter, Jr.
Stephen Crane
Countee Cullen
Marceline Desbordes-Valmore
James Emanuel
Hildegarde Flanner
Robert Francis
Samuel Greenberg
Hazel Hall
Robert Hayden
H.D.
Nazim Hikmet
Vicente Huidobro
Robinson Jeffers
Stephen Jonas
Weldon Kees
Kate Light

Amy Lowell
Mina Loy
Gwendolen MacEwen
Archibald MacLeish
Osip Mandelstam
Glyn Maxwell
E.L. Mayo
Tom McGrath
Claude McKay
Thylias Moss
John G. Neihardt
Lorine Niedecker
Kenneth Patchen
Hyam Plutzik
Jessica Powers
Jeremy Reed
Laura Riding
Edwin Rolfe
Carl Sandburg
Kenneth Slessor
Stevie Smith
Billy Marshall Stoneking
Shuntaro Tanikawa
Georg Trakl
Marina Tsvetaeva
Hone Tuwhare
Mark Van Doren
Margaret Walker
Sandor Weores
Rogan Whitenails
Judith Wright



Thursday, January 12, 2006

 

The function of number in poetry seems always to privilege small numbers & prime numbers. We don’t, for example, discuss the ten-syllable line, but factor it into primes: iambic pentameter. All the numbers in haiku – three for the lines, five-seven-five for syllables per line, even seventeen overall – are themselves primes. Of major historical forms, only the quatrain, sonnet & sestina really violate this impulse. This doesn’t mean that the haiku as a form is “better than” the sonnet, nor vice versa, but rather that there are different dynamics at play & that these dynamics might be worth further investigation.

My own sense – and the inner structure of the quatrain is my case in point – is that the reading mind, even if it is not thinking “formally,” not contemplating number as it reads, nonetheless will divide anything that is divisible. The quatrain can be variously organized – if rhymed, it can run AABB or ABAB or ABAC or ABCB or ABCA or ABCC, etc. But we tend not to think of the quatrain not as a poem, as such, tho it certainly can be, but rather more often as a unit, call it stanza or strophe, from a larger whole. In free verse, so called, we often find the quatrain treated again as units, one lengthy phrase running two, maybe three, lines, followed by a final phrase or couplet. It’s precisely because the mind sees/hears those potential divisions that poets can take them up, play with them, do almost anything at all, the form is so resilient & various.

If dividing is compulsive, then primes are indeed privileged, as the instance of irreducible resistance. Yet even here we find internal dynamics can be quite profound. For example, it strikes me as no coincidence that the haiku ends on a short line, that the tercet is not cast into a five-five-seven format. The reduction of quantity from seven to five syllables is felt, perceptible to the reader or listener, heard as a form of emphasis, literally as force. For exactly this reason, many of Charles Olson’s much larger poems start out with long lines that progressively grow shorter as the poem chugs along. In the traditional haiku, the break between the second & third line combines with the brevity of the last line to sonically signal the “aha” experience so often found there. A more complicated format to work with, the lune, uses a five-three-five syllabic structure. But I suspect that it is precisely the lune’s need to end on a longer line that has made it a more recent & modest variant of the haiku.

So a short form that reverses this strategy is setting itself a difficult task. It’s not that you cannot structure a poem so that the last line is longest in a way that signals completion not entropy, but it’s a tough assignment. Here are two examples from the same poet, Jilly Dybka:

Mega.
giga. Not
far enough away.

§

Facing
this way
and that. Cows.

The first of these strikes me as successful – the enjambment at the end of the second line enacts the poem’s content, which in turn sets up a perfect rationale for a last line that has no hard sounds whatsoever. It’s really a model of concise structure – everything contributes. The second, tho, scratches down the blackboard of my soul. There is no good reason for Cows to exist in that last line, and the line breaks are passive. The poem might have been stronger if there had been a colon or dash after that, but not all that much. It’s a very jarring experience for me to see the two of these, one atop the other, on the same page in The First Hay(na)ku Anthology¸ edited by Jean Vengua & Mark Young.

Hay(na)ku – that final syllable is pronounced ō – a form invented by Eileen Tabios, has roots of sorts in what she calls Pinoy haiku, part of the literary diaspora of the Filipino people. It also has roots, perhaps even stronger, in the social phenomenon of blogging. This anthology is simply the first gathering of this new form. Curiously, it’s the second anthology I’ve come across this month to have multiple prefaces, although here, unlike Switch & Shift, they feel complementary rather than repetitive, perhaps because each editor wrote one, then Crag Hill wrote a third, then the editors jointly contributed a fourth. Tabios contributes an afterword that is a lively history of this form, which is, after all, less than three years old.

But reading this book, I don’t think that haiku is the right reference at all, precisely because of the ways in which that long last line sets up the potential for division, for “reading” the first two lines as proportional to what is about to come. Rather, if it’s closest social predecessor as a form is flarf, that earlier mode of Internet-enabled verse, hay(na)ku operates much more like the quatrain. Thus, the very first two contributors here use it to define a stanza, rather than to operate as a closed mode. Indeed, more than half of the book does so. Here is the first of Tom Beckett’s pieces:

Language
is the
fabric of consciousness.

The
responsibility of
poets?
To attend

to
its woof
and weave – to

unravel
it, even.
Paying close attention

is,
in itself,
a political act.

The key to this poem is starting the last sentence on the longest line in the poem – it not only counter-balances the deliberately Projectivist linebreaks that have come before, but also sets up the final line to sound relatively short & full of impact, reinforced by ending on a hard consonant. Further, Beckett’s ear exploits what Zukofsky demonstrated continually in “A”-22 & 23, that words-per-line formats offer amazing variety in terms of syllabic weight – just look at how Beckett deploys one & two-syllable words.

Of the poets who focus more on the short form of hay(na)ku, only Sheila E. Murphy strikes me as consistently strong (& even her pieces are mostly linked, set off by asterisks). The other short pieces are, like Dybka’s, hit & miss. Where this book really excels tho are in the longer poems (tho none truthfully is long, not in the sense that Ted Enslin might recognize, say) where the mode operates quite efficiently as stanzaic form. Murphy & Thomas Fink both demonstrate how it might be used further, to construct more complex stanzaic models. Here is Fink’s, entitled “from Hay(na)ku box sequence 2”:

You,
collecting pockets,
can one spiral
into
an honest
magnet? I have
fished
thrift. We
await them impatiently.

Watching the birth & evolution of a new form is fascinating. And, unlike flarf, which is a process, hay(na)ku is a form. But what kind of form is it? Poem or stanza? Again, I think the answer lies in looking at the quatrain, which is more stanza than finished work. That, ultimately, is what I think this first generation of hay(na)ku writers have created – not a poem, but a stanza, simple, supple, elegant, capable of considerable variation. That’s quite an accomplishment.



Wednesday, January 11, 2006

 

In 1964, Michelangelo Antonioni, an Italian director already famed for a painterly impressionism in black & white cinema, moved into color with Red Desert, starring Monica Vitti & Richard Harris. Il Deserto rosso was a landmark film in the use of color not merely as found material, but as a thematic element of the film itself, with long languid scenes in which hardly anything happened but the passing of a tanker outside seen through a window. In one scene, Harris finally beds Vitti in a white bedroom. The lights go out, but when they come back on, everything is bathed in a pale pink glow. Color, some people said, would never be the same in cinema.

Well, hardly. Antonioni’s next film, Blow Up, was a huge international hit – one of the defining films of the sixties, along with a few by Godard, the Beatles films, Bonnie & Clyde, Woodstock & Peter Fonda’s adventures as Captain America in Easy Rider. Antonioni used color, and a whole palette of other devices borrowed from photography in Blow Up, but where you saw this obsession with pigment or hue next was in Godard’s 1972 collaboration with D.A. Pennebaker, One P.M., requiring extras to show up in brown sports coats, literally gluing fake leaves onto trees to create the right seasonal effect, then again with Antonioni’s 1975 The Passenger, an attempt on the director’s part to again get back to the world market with Jack Nicholson traipsing through a scenic Sahara that directly anticipates Bertolucci’s Sheltering Sky.

But the painterly use of color from film largely dissolves after this, only to return in, of all places, China, first in the hands of Yimou Zhang, himself a former photographer, especially in Hero, each of whose Rashômon-like versions of the tale is accorded its own thematic color – red, green, blue, white. Now I see it again in Kar Wai Wong’s 2046, a film that could have been subtitled Son of Red Desert. Why am I not surprised that, along with Steven Soderbergh (director of Sex, Lies & Videotape, Traffic and Solaris), Kar Wai Wong & Antonioni are directors of the anthology project, Eros? Color as a drug, anyone?

2046 has done well enough playing in the art houses in the US, that this year’s tally by the Village Voice of all the top ten, top twenty lists in American newspapers found it to be the second-highest rated film of the year, behind only A History of Violence. That’s pretty good for a film whose structure is prolix & almost haphazard (and which sort of dissolves toward the end). It’s a tale about that interesting border in relationships where friendship becomes love or love becomes friendship & what happens when one of the characters – the protagonist – really is closed off to love itself. Because his lovers seem invariably to live in the apartment next door, 2046, he writes a science fiction novel about a train that goes to that year, where nothing ever changes & from which only that tale’s protagonist has ever returned. All of this is set in Hong Kong, tho frankly it could have been shot in a studio anywhere in the world. Hong Kong, as you might remember, was incorporated into the People’s Republic of China on July 1, 1997, with the promise that the PRC would not interfere with its autonomy for 50 years: 2046.

But what makes this film is its lavish use of color & with the idea that the screen need not be filled – that one could show just its right side, as tho it were a swatch of paint on a larger canvas, or possibly just the left. The film is almost entirely shot in the deepest reds & palest greens imaginable. As is true in Red Desert – or in a black & white classic like Eustache’s The Mother & the Whore – the film develops slowly & often feels like an attempt to slow time down. Conversations are held with only one head showing, or only the torsos, there are repeated scenes focusing only on the feet as characters walk down a street or twirl round & round in a slow conversation.

What makes 2046 most interesting is the way in which it challenges the idea that films come in rectangles, yet of course it never fully breaks free – it was filmed to be shown in theaters, not on the side of art school walls. I had a sense – tho Krishna disagrees with this – that the bright yellow subtitles (the film itself makes ample use of Chinese inter-titles) often distracted from the pure red or pure green essence of a scene & I wondered what might have happened had the color of those words been coordinated with that of the screen itself. And then I wondered what this film would seem like to a person who was color blind.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

 

Jack Gilbert once told me that when he received copies of his first book, Views of Jeopardy, in the mail, he slept with one under his pillow. It’s an emotion that I can totally understand – I react viscerally to the design & production values of each of my books. When people ask me what my “favorite” book is of my own poetry, the answer they’re likely to get has to do with binding & cover design, not the text inside.¹

All of which is to preface the fact that Metro, by Curtis Faville, has a fair shot at being the most beautiful small press volume I’ve ever seen – certainly in the “under $100” division. It is printed in an edition of 300 copies done in two separate bindings, 26 lettered & signed copies done bound in cloth, 274 numbered copies bound in “decorative paper covered boards.” Mine is one of the latter, the decorative paper being a mostly pink map of Paris’ le Marais district. The 12-point charcoal typeface looks almost industrial on the Rives Heavyweight buff paper stock – the deckling is ample & lovely – and what I take to be 36-point leading (my own type gauge doesn’t go above 15, tho it has type samples up to 60) gives every page the visual clout most volumes reserve for a book’s title.

I’ve discussed Metro before, when Kirby Olson’s RealPoetik ran a selection last April. But if ever there were a test case of the impact of reading work in either email or html format & reading it in print, this is the one-sided example by which print wins hands down forever. For one thing, html is not a format designed with poetry in mind. Faville, who is co-editing the Eigner collected with Bob Grenier (whom he thanks “for a lifetime of inspiration”), is every bit as attuned to the nuances of spacing on the page as either of them. Thus you get relatively straightforward, if untitled, poems such as

cows used to

come to the fence

whereas on the previous page, the exact same spacing appears to articulate title & text, a very different relationship between lines:

BELONGS

to whoever feeds it

One page before that, it is the words themselves that are “spaced”:

d o t s   d a s h e s

r u n n i n g   t h e   b o a r d   f o r   s p e e d

The mind is tempted to ask if that first line is a title. I don’t think so, but the question itself makes me wonder about the title’s role – any title’s role – as a line in a poem, one that is both privileged & problematic. What then of the poem all in caps?

EITHER/OR

IS IT ETHER OR “AETHER”?

Or the poem that offers but a single line of text?

I was asked but was declined

Not all of the poems are this short, nor, for that matter, this successful.² There is one poem I could not print here at all, because its font is “hollowed out,” albeit in the same face as the rest of the text. Another I actually misprinted here last April (or, rather, I replicated RealPoetik’s misprinting) in that, in the following, the title is in something akin to Courier, albeit not the text:

WILDE WILDE WEST

 

imagine Oscar in St. Louis

One might characterize these poems as Grenieresque in their basic dimensions, albeit kin to a writing that Grenier himself has moved fairly far away from over the past few decades. There is a dynamics here to the “short-short” poem that I hope to take a further look at later this week. In Faville’s work, at its best (which is quite often), the poems “get” exactly what these dynamics are & use them powerfully, with just a hint of that bad boy humor that Curtis likes to deploy throughout.

That this is the third book in the past several weeks that I’ve recommended here that comes with a $50 list price – and, at just 87 pages, by far the slimmest – makes me queasy. I don’t want poetry to become like linguistics, where access to the texts is largely prohibited by exorbitant pricing. I know this is just a sign that $50 ain’t what it used to be, but you can still find copies of Ginsberg’s Howl with the 75¢ price tag on them.³ Them were the days.

 

¹ That answer has been known to vary, by the day of the week & even the hour of the day.

² The least successful is the only overtly political poem I’ve ever seen Faville write.

³ Yes, I’m aware that you won’t pay 75¢ for one of those. It was, in fact, a City Lights Pocket Poets volume – Robert Duncan’s Selected Poems – that was the first book I paid $50 for, the $1 original price still printed on its cover.



Monday, January 09, 2006

 

Although she has lived in Boston, Morocco & even right here in Tredyffrin Township, Chester County, PA, everything on the back cover of Ange Mlinko’s Starred Wire hollers “New Yawk School, New Yawk School” virtually at the top of its lungs. There are blurbs from John Ashbery & Charles North, and then this from Bob Holman, impresario of the Bowery Poetry Club, who picked Mlinko’s effort for the National Poetry Series, published by Coffee House Press:

It’s a heady heady brew – O’Hara conversation, Ashbery sophistication, Koch hilarity, Schuyler shapeliness, Guest adventures, Notley grain, Mayer utopia, Padgett whimsy, Oulipo oofs . . .

If the U.S. had sent this many troops into Iraq, we wouldn’t be dealing with an insurgency now. The funny thing about all this blessed-by-association overkill is that it’s more or less true – if you like the poetry of the New York School, you’re going to feel completely at home with Ange Mlinko. Yet what’s really interesting in this superb little book are all the ways in which this isn’t the case, or at least isn’t the point at all. Here is one example, a poem whose title takes up two lines:

Three Crickets.
The Blind Cricket.

When the chirping of the males rises to a furor,
charged particles accumulate in the gut – duodenum, say
due to internal cracks caused by déformation professionel:
rubbing wings in an ecclesiastical mode while flexing
the opaque, muscular, contracile diaphragm.

It enters houses, lighter and more graceful,
though it knows not exactly how it accesses its gift
suspended in aqueous humor then thrown out on its ear
like rain bounced off a small false roof
over the spiral volutes of its capitals.

Whether or not this poem reminds you of the NY School seems to me largely irrelevant to what makes it an excellent poem (&, in any event, there are other works in Starred Wire that wear that particular tattoo far more visibly). These are, as I see it, four things:

  1. an eye for the particular – there is nothing vague here, the details are a delight
  2. a rich ear for language itself, which comes out in some fabulously physical vocabulary – this poem is a trip to read aloud
  3. an accomplished sense of form: twin five-line sentences with no sense of padding at all
  4. a gestalt of personality projected through the poem that comes out in all of Mlinko’s work: smart, funny, articulate, self-confident.

Somebody somewhere is going to want to call that last item “voice.” More accurately, tho, it reminds me of Peter Yates’ definition of “content” in music as “aesthetic consistency.” There are tonal elements in Mlinko’s writing that show so constantly that the reader watches for them & feels rewarded when they arrive – like understanding the importance of the adjective false right at that spot in the next to last line, both echoing the al in small & setting up the run of l sounds that thread through the p & t consonants of the last line. That false is the sort of detail that Mlinko gets right consistently throughout this book. Does this have anything to do with “voice” in the sense of Mlinko having a recognizable persona in her work? I think pretty obviously the answer is no, just as it is no indication of her regional accent.

So what makes this poem shine – I think it may be my favorite here, tho frankly I have several – has little to do with the poem’s allegiance to a particular heritage or to any sense of the poet’s voice. In some sense, it has most to do with poetry’s equivalent of Occam’s Razor – Mlinko makes the complex appear completely straightforward. It’s a demonstration of Pound’s dictum of dichtung = condensare at its finest.



Sunday, January 08, 2006

 

Ken Rumble posted the following note to yesterday’s comment stream, but it deserves to be read by everyone, so I’ve bumped it up here. I agree with Ken’s assertion that the success of Lucifer Poetics is “directly related to the fact that the original members of the group and many of the people that have since joined all live in fairly close proximity to one another.”

Hey Ron,

Thanks for the kind words about Lucipo – we have some really smart and committed folks on the list.

As the list administrator and the creator of the list (though not the creator of the group it serves), I have a keen interest in the evolutions you describe in your post. I joined the
Buffalo list in 2000 and have witnessed what you describe.

At any rate, your brief mention here of lucipo just a few hours ago now has already had a significant impact: 4 subscription requests already. With a current membership of about 120, 4 in a couple hours feels like a rush of folks (and, admittedly, the thought that these first few are the tip of the iceberg.)

Over the last year and a half that the list has existed, I and others have had anxiety about the changing nature of the list, its mission and membership. What happened to Buffpo (is happening) has been lurking in the back of my mind since the beginning. I really personally enjoy and benefit from the discussions on Lucipo and the people I communicate with there, so the thought that some of the good spirit might be lost is worrisome.

In almost equal proportion though – I worry greatly that any attempt on my part to fix, render stable/static, something as dynamic and mutable as a community (let alone a poetry community) will cause the thing I enjoy so much to evaporate all the faster.

And how sustainable are these literary communities that you (and I) are so (justifiably) enamored of? Should something like Buffpo, lucipo, or your blog continue to exist indefinitely? At what point do they become institutions that seek (in whatever ways an abstract concept like "institution" seeks) their own survival rather than serving the needs of the individuals within the community?

So I carry around a lot of questions about the workings and value of communities generally and my own particularly.

Certainly, though, I think part of Lucipo's success at sustaining a thoughtful and largely good natured dialogue, that part of that success is due to its small size.

Hence my wonder when I open my email account to find so many subscription requests and then my ceasing to scratch my chin whiskers when I see your blog post.

(And certainly, we have not made ourselves a secret or even hard to find, having given several reading tours under the name and putting out two chapbooks.)

So I appreciate the kind words and attention – I think the people in the community deserve it frankly – even while the attention gives me pause.

A little history of Lucipo: I set up the list in May of 2004 because of the convergence of several things. One was my access to ibiblio.com, a wonderful group located here in
North Carolina. They gave me web space to use for the poetry series I run and access to many other internet tools like the pipermail listserve program. The other was that I met – all in the space of a couple months – a fairly large group of poets of roughly similar experience and interest. Among them Chris Vitiello, Joseph Donahue, Tessa Joseph, Tony Tost, Marcus Slease, Evie Shockley, Patrick Herron, Amy Sara Carrol, Todd Sandvik, Eden Osucha, Brian Howe, Maura High, Rob Sikorski, Andrea Selch, and Randall Williams (forgive me if I've forgotten anyone.)

Chris V. brought up the idea one day – probably in March of '04 (?) – of organizing a meeting of the local folks, and I was interested in trying to arrange a recurring sort of thing. We organized the first meeting via email (hosted by Tessa with she, myself, CV, and Rob S in attendance) and continued to organize over email. Not too long after I got the idea to set up a listserve with which to make organizing these events easier (they tended to be set up on the fly each month – no regular time, day, or place.)

So I set the list up and asked the folks involved to come up with some names. Among the almost-weres are the Adz Murderers, Boomslang, Fat-head Sillyface, Workshop for 'Liscious Poetry (WoLiPo), Party Pitch Poetics.

Fortunately, Joe D. remembered a line from the Pisan Cantos: "Lucifer fell in
N. Carolina", and the Lucifer Poetics Group was so dubbed.

Very soon after, Partick Herron put on the first Carrboro Poetry Festival, and the rest of the history can be read here:

http://lists.ibiblio.org/mailman/listinfo/lucipo

So I tell this story for at least one reason: I think that the quality of the discussion on Lucipo is directly related to the fact that the original members of the group and many of the people that have since joined all live in fairly close proximity to one another. Our meetings are sporadic (as they've always been), but whether it is at readings, meetings, or just the bar, we see each other around. There is a flesh avatar for the virtual personalities we experience via the list.

Pretty much since the list was created though (starting with the 1st C'bo Po' Fest) there have been members from far and wide. Standard Schaefer has been on the list from nearly the beginning and has been a thoughtful and valuable presence all along. But even with Standard, his involvement started because many of us met and enjoyed him during the festival.

So a few things that happened at the very beginning also instilled the idea of local group activities (and identity) into the mix. I put together a little chapbook of work by members to distribute at the festival and organized a videotaping of some of us reading some poems to send down to the (An)othered South event in Atlanta in April or May (unfortunately our video ended up being un-playable, but we had fun making it.)

A few months later, we had a Lucipo reading at a local coffee shop, then in February of '05 a bunch of us went up to give Lucipo readings in DC and then in Philly.

So there's always been what Tony – in a recent discussion of group dynamics that we had on the list – dubbed the "embodied lucipo." Then there's this virtual lucipo too which includes people on the list that I've never met in person (though many of them I do know their work) and some who rarely, if ever, post.

For some that have not been a part of the local scene, I think the chattiness and tendency towards idle banter that goes along with the in-depth discussion, that chattiness can be off-putting. But I think it is that chattiness – and the comraderie it represents – that makes the depth of the discussion possible. In a medium that is well known for its inability to communicate humor and sarcasm effectively, we joke around good naturedly quite a bit. (Of course, people have, at times, gotten upset and had disagreements, but of course, right? I don't intend to create a picture of the list as paradise.)

So part of my anxiety is that the increasing number of non-locals will shift the dynamic of the group, erode some of the sense of comfort that allows folks on lucipo to disagree without having to resort to flaming.

Again, though, I am not interested in changing Lucipo's membership policy, which is that anyone can join. I shoot out a form note to anyone who requests a subscription so that I can get a little info on who they are, but so long as I hear back from the person and they express interest – I'll add her/him.

But back to the question of growth/change/development/evolution that is frequently in my thoughts these days. Can the devolution of the Buffpo list be thought of really as a "failure"? If it is so ineffectual now, why not kill it? Should we expect longevity from convergences of events that are – often – anti-institutional? that risk becoming institutions of their own?

Certainly there are scenes that have some serious longevity – NYC, SF, Philly, DC to name a couple. But I would argue that – like lucipo – some of the health and longevity of those scenes is due to their actual (as opposed to virtual) geography.

So while the embodied lucipo may continue to thrive and serve its members' interests, the virtual lucipo – losing a shared geography among far-flung members – may lose some of its vitality.

I believe, though, that keeping the list and community open, encouraging thoughtful discussion among people who often disagree, that the existence of those things for a few months or years is worth the grief of seeing its eventual demise.

So I don't say all this to discourage people from joining and checking us out. I will say though that the list archives are publicly and easily accessible (the link in your post will take one to them.) Non-members can't post to the list, but it is open for reading.

So some thoughts about communities and such.

best,
Ken
January 07, 2006




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