Monday, September 10, 2007
David Giannini’s Others’ Lines (Series I and II) * Tricollage, published by Peter Ganick as a small chapbook, really nothing more than a saddle-stapled photocopy, is a fascinating if flawed attempt at a new form. As envisioned by Giannini, the tricollage consists of three lines, each taken from the first line of a poem by another poet. Thus, for example,
As a child
In cold hell, in thicket, how
I cried because life is hopeless and beautiful
comes Paul Pines, Charles Olson & Howard Nemerov.
Make passage an age
As under a vast squatting woman
You come back to life pissed off
brings together Ronald Johnson, Robin Magowan & Anne Waldman. Potentially, the combinations here are infinite: any poem by any poet in any combination of three would seem to be the game, tho I don’t believe that in practice Giannini uses translations in any of the seventy examples given here. Just from the first lines of these 70 poems, you could generate 9,129,120 possible tricollages (210 x 209 x 208). To these, you can another variable: spacing. While Giannini appears to preserve the indentation within the line of the material he recycles, he presents at least five different variations of the three-line poem. Thus, one might generate over 45 million different texts just from the lines in this slim chapbook alone. That puts a fair amount of pressure on the author to ensure that he or she has gotten the best 70 combinations to present.
There are, I think, two problems that Giannini doesn’t compellingly solve here. The first is the problem of famous or even just recognizable poems – the Olson in the first example cited above is a case in point. Olson actually pulled the title for one of the early Maximus volumes from that line. The impact over the space of three lines is like a giant foot kicking the gyroscope. It’s really a celebrity effect, like seeing a visual collage in which you suddenly recognize a context. While you might say that this is an effect that will vary from reader to reader, my sense is that the poem itself never survives the event.
The second, and more interesting, problem is that of first lines themselves. There’s a logic, even a violence, in breaking silence, a threshold the first line of any poem must cross, regardless of which school, what topic, which period, even which language it may involve. In fact, relatively few of the first lines Giannini has chosen work so well as second or third lines. This in turn gives Others’ Lines much more of a static feel than it might otherwise have. I’d’ve loved to have seen this project use the second & third of poems, even of the same poems as Giannini is using here. It would be a completely different book &, I suspect, both more subtle & quiet than the version here.
A third question – I wouldn’t call it a problem – has to do with the nature of the literary itself. Why quote poems, say, rather than newspaper copy, advertising, things heard in the street? While Giannini’s text doesn’t have the precious feel, say, of John Cage’s literary tourism through James Joyce, it still carries the air of the book. If tricollage as a form is to have as much chance as hay(na)ku, people other than Giannini are going to need to explore all these realms. Still, here is a mode whose moment (and source) of origin you can point to.
It’s a shame that this collection isn’t printed one to a page or given a cover with real cover stock, given really the much broader distribution it warrants¹ in an edition with perfect binding. Giannini’s “dynamic triads” may not be quite the revolution in verse his own preface implies. But I don’t see how any close reader won’t come away learning a great deal about the potential in quotation, the distinctness of firs lines & the possibilities of form. That’s a lot for a project of this scope to accomplish.