Tuesday, April 20, 2004


Craig Allen Conrad’s 9 for 9 project is a collection of 9 questions for 9 poets and their answers – being done, I believe, in 9 sets. I’ve recently been added to the latest cluster & given my first two questions. Here is the first one:


Extraterrestrials have made friends with the director of your local community center. The director asks you to teach an introductory poetry class to the aliens. Give us a glimpse at how you’d conduct this introduction (assume they have just learned English, but assume there’s no writing on their planet comparable to our poetry on Earth).


Writing itself is that medium that enables one individual to communicate with him- or herself or another at a separate time or place. Whatever serves that function socially one might term writing, however it may be recorded. Poetry is the art form of the communicative function. Just as music is the art form of sound & of listening & the visual arts are the art forms the visual & of sight, poetry is the form that explores & exploits the ability to communicate. Communicating & communicating remotely, whether in time or space, aren’t precisely the same, but for most earthlings, they’re close enough so that one doesn’t note the difference, save for a few (e.g., David Antin) who insist on presence.


All symbolic action necessarily connects three different axes of possibility – they correspond to Jakobson’s six functions of language – address & addressee, contact & code, signifier & signified. What one does within these realms, how one orders them, to what one gives priority, is largely personal & historical. Often in my own mind I think of these like the six sides of a die – regardless of how it is thrown, there will always be one side that is up, another down, & one or two others that are facing the viewer. In poetry it is very much like that as well.


It’s easy enough to imagine teaching poetry to anyone – anything that uses sound as a system for communication with a graphic system for the representation of that sound system. This seems to me to replicate what I think of as the Star Trek problem – all the aliens look like guys in suits & makeup. It would be far more interesting to imagine what poetry might be in a world without sound, or one in which the “poets” communicated psychically. The former, I am certain, would be very different from our own poetry of the deaf which, as Michael Davidson has noted, already experiences the “scandal of voice.” The latter I can’t even imagine, save as the play of the phenomenal sensorium as tho it were a Theremin.


I would be far more interested to find out what their poetry was than to communicate my own.

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