Monday, August 20, 2007

 

Not that long ago I received a mailing envelope from England in which there was a small matchbox, the top of which reads, black boldface against a yellow background, one word per line, Scott / Thurston / Internal / Rhyme. Inside, postal authorities will be relieved to learn, were no matches, but rather many little slips of paper, plus, near the bottom, the negative of a single frame of film inside of some protective plastic. The “largest” sheet of paper (roughly three inches wide, one & one-eighth inches high) describes the project:

INTERNAL RHYME

Originally seven poems of four stanzas each, arranged two by two, and readable both horizontally and vertically.
In this presentation each stanzas is to be read individually and/or as part of a 28 stanza sequence, in new two by two patterns (recommended) or in entirely new combinations. See www.matchbox.org.uk for more.

A sample stanza (each is a quatrain) reads:

internal rhyme
I can feel your
eternal flask
of relief at the end of

The website is particularly useful in its demonstration of possible combinations, which can be found through the link under Scott’s photo on the “Boxers” page of the site.

The result is a particularly simpatico example of poetry as ludic language. The implicit argument – that there is no “wrong” way to read these lines – is itself a claim about the truth value of poetry itself, that it lies beyond (or at the very least beside) any question of reference. My reaction on delving through the box, trying out different possibilities, is one of great pleasure.

The image on the negative appears to be an automobile photographed with a “fish-eye” lens, giving it that Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror look. There is an explanatory sheet for this as well, which reads

INTERNAL RHYME photographic responses by Simon Taylor

A single negative from a set of 150 responses by Simon Taylor to Scott Thurston’s Internal Rhyme.
For details of how to develop your original print visit Simon’s page on the Matchbox site: www.matchbox.org.uk/simon.html

This in turn recommends

HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR
UNIQUE SINGLE
NEGATIVE


For pristine results you'll need a prolab, not a high street photo-shop. Acrom in London are cool. There will also definitely be a prolab in your area. It's easier to find one in The Yellow Pages than on Google. Give them a ring. Tell them that you want to develop from a single negative and they will be able to make a print for you.

Some prolabs say they can't print from a single negative. Don't believe them. An A3 image will cost you about £20.

And suggests that you write to Simon to discuss your image.

Nor does the fun stop here. The bottom of the box contains a wee photo of Scott Thurston, along with two modes of poetry trivia, one a “Did you know” question & answer, the other a puzzle –

According to Frank Kuppner, how many Second Best Moments in Chinese History are there?

The answer to which can be found on the website.

In all, this is the 9th in the series – it’s the eighth one I’ve got (missing only number 6, Tim Atkins) – out of what appears to be a projected 12. Other authors include Ray DiPalma, Bill Griffiths, Lisa Jarnot, P. Inman, Allen Fisher & Craig Dworkin, definitely a first-rate roster of poets.

Matchbox, which is the brainchild of James Davies in Manchester, carries the idea of the micropress to its logical conclusion & is a perfect marriage of text & event. You can’t really use them to fill a bookshelf, but my collection sits very happily on my windowsill, alongside a series of equally tiny minibooks by Richard Hansen as part of his Poems-for-All project in Sacramento. Each book is two inches high, one and three-quarter inches wide, with a single saddle staple. Like Matchbox, Poems for All has published a number of well-known writers, many more, in fact, since its series has now reached number 786 (!!), including (just to pick a few from the first couple of years of this six-year-old series)

d.a. levy
Ted Joans
Robert Creeley
Roque Dalton
Peter Kropotkin
Charles Bukowski
Vladimir Mayakovsky
Jack Spicer
Bertolt Brecht
Anne Waldman
Arthur Winfield Knight
Kit Knight
Douglas Blazek
William Blake
Jack Hirschman
Delmira Agustini
Peter Orlovsky
Patti Smith
Allen Ginsberg
Dr. Seuss
Henry David Thoreau
Ralph Waldo Emmerson
Robert Burns
Tom Waits
Ruben Dario
Pete Seeger
Tuli Kupferberg
Jack Micheline
Ko Un
W. H. Auden
Harold Norse
George Harrison
Steve Dalachinsky
Michael Basinski
William Wantling
Jean Arp
A.D. Winans
Lyn Lifshin
Richard Brautigan
Diane di Prima
George W. Bush (APRIL FOOL)
Gerald Nicosia
Kenneth Patchen
Ann Menebroker

In general, Matchbox focuses on post-avant writers from the past 30 years whereas Poems-for-All tends more toward a Beat & New American focus from the historical period immediately prior to that, which makes them generally poetic cousins. Perhaps their greatest area of divergence is their distribution strategy. Matchbox lists a total of five known distribution points other than subscription as a means of getting these boxed delights – three are in Manchester, two in London. Poems-for-All’s website describes how its books are

scattered around town – on buses, trains, cabs, in restrooms, bars, left along with the tip; stuffed into a stranger's back pocket.

Both of these projects are in the tradition of Joyce Holland’s legendary Matchbook, published in Iowa City during the 1970s. Ms. Holland, a fictional editor in the Pessoa-esque tradition of Araki Yasusada & Ern Malley, was herself the creation of Dave Morice. Morice, a.k.a. Dr. Alphabet, is one of the inspired anarcho-goofs that poetry seems to generate, having once published an Alphabet Anthology containing nothing but one-letter poems & currently translating all of The Divine Comedy into a limerick. The poems in Matchbook were no longer than those in Hansen’s Poems-for-All books, such as “The Truth” byTed Joans, the second of Hansen's books, which reads (in its entirety):

if you should see
a man
walking down a crowded street
talking aloud
to himself
don’t run
in the opposite direction
but run toward him
for he is a POET!
you have NOTHING to fear
from the poet
but the TRUTH

There was a time when I had a fairly good collection of issues of Matchbook, but that was 30 years ago & today I couldn’t tell you where a single copy was. I feel/fear that this may be the fate of these delightful little projects that I now have in hand, as it has been also for more than a few broadsides of mine over the years.¹ These literal ephemera make something like the Hanuman Press books, four by two & three-quarter inches & thick enough to warrant perfect binding, feel like Maximus or The Cantos in comparison, and they seem almost to flaunt their fragility. In so doing, they make the case for the presentness of poetry itself (this may be why these projects always pop up on the post-avant side of the continuum) as well as for the temporary nature of poetry, so like words melting into air.

 

 

¹ The worst situation being my copy of Robert Grenier’s Cambridge M’ass, a booklength epic on a huge single sheet, that was “liberated” from my office at San Francisco State back in 1982. I’ve never been able to obtain another and a search of the web’s rare books’ engines turns up not a single available copy.

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