Tagmosis/Prosody (Connecting Parataxis)

Discrete skeletal units are known as tagma. The process of fusion is called Tagmosis. Different patterns of skeletal tagmosis provide a primary criterion for identifying fossil arthropods.
—Stephen Jay Gould

Discrete structural units of poetry are known as prosody. The process of fusion of prosodic units is known as writing. Different patterns of prosody provide a primary criterion for identifying poetic affiliations.

Start with a bird in a tree.
See it: a thing, a fad, a need.

Two, three, four, and more starlings
Pack the black walnut.

Focus on the whole walnut, a green
Shape with black punctuation

That was recently starlings.
Concentrate on the whole copse:
A maple, an elm, a walnut. Honeysuckle,
Lilacs in sunny spaces bleed into the grass.

The landscape of things transforms
Into one of relations. Things lose
Their identity. Bonds compile
Into landscape. Words collect
Into blocks of paragraphs;
Disengage into masses of letters
And streams of space.

Phrases accrete into forms and thoughts,
Not one like a thing, but an
Interlocking and disassembling set.
Our inference machine connects
Facts and fuses
Them into theories. Our minds continue
To suppose segues and bridges
Between disciplines.

Juxtaposing prosody to tagmosis, for example,
Creates difficulties for political and ethical processes.
Politically, what thoughts can live together?
We assume relations of things
Proximate in trees,
Thanks to Linnaeus.
If we limit our perception
To the black starlings in the black walnut tree,
Specialized disciplines transform
Nature into objects for use.
Very practical. And our sense
Of self supports this supposition
To distinguish each from other
People, species and the landscape.

Ethically, which parts of ecosystems
Correspond to human constructs,
And where is human activity unique?
We constantly differentiate ourselves
When ego seems pertinent to survival.
We work in communities to build
Surplus to reduce risk. Thus
Community produces freedom?
Relational focus materializes emergent properties
That simulate imagination to formalize
Our production of poetry, biology, and community.

Parents teach ethics of cooperation.
From a comparison of human and primate
Societies, human groups nest
In more inclusive structures while
Primate societies are flat. Human families
Form by conjugal, monogamous partners,
“Remarkably unique” among primates.
Among most primates either males or females
Move to another group at puberty, ”losing
Contact with their natal group permanently;
Dispersal is strongly sex-biased.”
In humans either sex may stay or leave.
“Dispersed kin maintain lifetime bonds”
“Kin recognition is bilineal and of unparalleled
Extent…. Humans maintain preferential bonds
With their affines, or in-laws….a uniquely
Human feature….close and distant affines
Account for a large proportion of coresident
Group members…. Instigating
A state of mutual tolerance.” Social awareness
Leads to cooperation with non-kin,
Regard for others, seeking
Of linkages, cultural transmission,
(Hill et al., “Co-Residence Patterns in Hunter-Gatherer Societies Show Unique Human Social Structure” and Chapais “The Deep Social Structure of Humankind,” Science (vol. 331 March 11, 2011, p 1276,7 &1286-89).
And intolerance of deviant behavior.

Environmental interactions develop processes
Like a water cycle, a food chain,
A community of supporting individuals,
A supply chain that drives process efficiencies,
Interdisciplinary thought that overlooks/sees
What specialists appreciate as deistic details.

The conflict between things and connections
Arises when we as individual organisms
Revert to perceiving the world as a set of objects,
When multiplicity in societies or ecosystems
Threatens the individual objective condition. Hence we

Must build connectivity
Into the model of things

And isolate ideas to focus
On the organism.

Ego spotlights the self
In opposition to interaction,

Limits awareness of emergent properties.
Forcing behavior into an organism model

Reduces the value of interaction.
Can any construction hold these

Interactions, synergies and contractions?
Don’t we sustain to build one?

How are these threads woven? The analogy
Between tagmosis, prosody, and ecosystem
Is a fine place to start, since data
And knowledge about them emerge
From process and relational thought
As well as from ontology. Tagmosis,
Prosody, and ecosystem identify a whole
Organism/poem/biosphere built of interacting
Components. None of the prosodic or skeletal
Units are really independent like a sentence
Or commensal bacteria. Therefore our limit
Condition entails sets of mostly dependent components.

Working with process enables us to see self-identified interactions. Working with ontology develops the temporal relationships of both the individual organism and its interactions. Process and ontology interoperate and need to acknowledge that they do so.

First, in addition to the separation of the different prosodic or skeletal components, we must consider the sideways pull of interaction between components and characterize the linkages between them. Otherwise hermeticism will create unpleasant surprises for our specialists/species. This physics of vertical components and horizontal interactions produces a familiar branching and extends the analogy to ecosystems of ideas.

Prosodic connectors are well defined.
Parataxis connects by juxtaposition.
Elision and contraction connect lexis.
Lines are bound by meter, rhyme,

And stanzas as tagmata by tendon’s line,
Ligament, and cartilage. Logic and legend
Connect the tagmata of the poem.
In speech focus and intonation tie.

Second, the relationships between poems and types of poetry can be based on prosodic distinctions as well as logic and legend, although content as noted above can also be viewed as a kind of prosody. Finally, poetic affiliations, loosely knit groups of poets and schools, can be defined by how they view prosody (language poets, New York School, metaphysical poets) or by their themes (romantics and identity poets). Both treatments produce remarkable poetry using crucial tactics of the others. The distinctions that participants in different groups find so vital are by and large partial and fragmentary.

While little recommends one style or practice over another in the long run, short term values in poetic strategies attract the energetic poets of the moment. Often the presence of a new perspective is sufficient to draw talent to it. And I have a strong bias for poetic approaches that hold promise for investigation over forms and themes that have been fully explored. Again to distinguish the individual I have my own ideas; to cooperate I have appropriated and modified.

Unlike skeletal links, poetic connections are not always articulated hence the importance of parataxis to both contemporary poems and groups of poems as the poet strives to keep them independent and clearly identified. But the preference of poets and other artists to have their works identified by criticism rather than interpreted by it is also a key connection linking poetry to biology. Poets want to have the interpretation integrated in the poem and for critics to merely identify and celebrate its existence. As an alternative the current generation of poets opens the possibility of poetry criticism about more than just the work and positions the work within its ecosystems. Interpretive criticism, such as environmentalism, opens the door to extend poetry’s reach.

Carrying identity too far leads to battles for hegemony. Me, us. Identifying poetries solely within a taxonomy or canon limits poetry’s value. What if we limited biology to counting species and categorizing them? But such conflicts between poetic groups present beyond the minds of individuals seeking control. They are also fighting for the jobs, prizes, and reviews that allow them to continue with their work. These distinctions exist because of real world problems and limited resources as much as they are vacuous contests. As with biology, survival dominates individual behavior.

**

To write about more than one subject in more than one discipline and find their correspondences—people find differences too easily—leads to learning which questions can be answered by a single value and which require compounds. How old are you leads to a number while sink or swim points to a polar structure. We tend to seek single or polar answers to most questions, but the majority of real world concerns related to society, science, and writing have many answers or long answers or aren’t even structured as question and answer at all: How shall we live together requires more forms than simply q&a in spite of Plato’s simplification? How shall we live on earth invites our processes to fit into those of the planet? How shall we write about these questions? Should I be positing them as questions.

Linnaeus, for example, modeled relationships between biological species as a tree. But many solutions are more complex than a tree.

“…trees are by no means a universal representation. Inferences about other kinds of categories or properties are best captured by using probabilistic models with different forms: two-dimensional spaces or grids for reasoning about geographic properties of cities, one-dimensional orders for reasoning about values or abilities, or directed networks for casually transmitted properties of species (e.g., diseases). … Knowledge about causes and effects can be expressed in a directed graphical model…” (Tennenbaum et.al., “How to Grow a Mind: Statistics, Structure, and Abstraction,” Science vol. 331 March 11, 2011 p 1279)

Physicists, too, have accepted indeterminacy even in measurement since the early 20th century as in the case of quantum mechanics. But we are only beginning to accept these probabilistic solutions for social problems such as learning or judgment or intention. Most of our ethical reasoning assumes single or polar values as the correct representation whereas social problems are more often resolved by a range of solutions. We are able to infer so much from so little that the facts we possess are rarely sufficient to justify our conclusions.  Tenenbaum et al. propose that our inferences can be built from a fact and an abstraction. Poets have long been at the forefront of such construal.

Linking poetry to the reader, that is, understanding poetry follows this probabilistic model where a range of approaches supersedes any single, dual or even a map of multiple connections. Ambiguity grows in poetry from court poets seeking to avoid imprisonment to Mallarme’s Un Coup de Des… where

“…the ensuing words, laid out as they are, lead on to the last, with no novelty except the spacing of the text. The ‘blanks’ indeed take on importance, at first glance; the versification demands them, as a surrounding silence, to the extent that a fragment, lyrical or of a few beats, occupies, in its midst, a third of the space of paper: I do not transgress the measure, only disperse it. The paper intervenes each time as an image, of itself, ends or begins once more, accepting a succession of others, and, since, as ever, it does nothing, of regular sonorous lines or verse – rather prismatic subdivisions of the Idea, the instant they appear, and as long as they last, in some precise intellectual performance, that is in variable positions, nearer to or further from the implicit guiding thread, because of the verisimilitude the text imposes.” (Mallarme’s Preface of 1897, trans. A.S. Kline, 2007 - June 26, 2011)

While Mallarme’s stated intention works with spacing, he also accepts “that the tentative participates, with the unforeseen, in the pursuit, specific and dear to our time, of free verse and the prose poem.” (Ibid) Space for Mallarme and subsequent field poets represents time and the intervention of reflection during reading. What Mallarme calls “the unforeseen” means indeterminate, but also that many readers identify a specific meaning that they can support, a reading. In the case of Un Coup de Des the simple fact of using space in a new way, juxtaposed to the abstraction of chance, sanctions a series of writers to subsequently create a variety of probabilistic poetic responses.

In our time Silliman’s use of space between sentences offers a range of more specific meanings that do not increase the likelihood of one answer somewhere in the middle. Rather the range of answers remains and each of those referents generates another group of sentences. The subsequent sentences reduce the range of possible meanings, but we are soon lost in the next set of possible alternative meanings.

Thus interpretation in modern poetry remains dicey. And contemporary writers relish going beyond ambiguity to accommodate several valid readings of a poem including interpretive readings, showing the superficial indicates subsequent layers. Lyn Hejinian writes, “Planes of information intersect, coincide” (My Life, 1980). John Ashbery, “The men never learned to love much. There was both hunger and sadness/at their feasting, the rocks wave over the airstrip, the hyenas of sleep redescend,/the leeches brace themselves for one last fetid leap into thanksgiving/there where loam signals the synod’s pallid approach” (Girls on the Run, 1989).

The criticism that there is a lack of sense data to make the contemporary worlds of art and science collectively comprehensible underestimates our power of generalization, because “if the mind goes beyond the data given, another source of information must make up the difference. Some more abstract background knowledge must generate and delimit the hypotheses learners consider, or meaningful generalization would be impossible.” (Tenenbaum p1279) For example, history echoes, rhymes but does not repeat. Our abstraction apparatus supplies the similarity. Déjà vu occurs when a fact links with a memory adrift. Our body’s posture may be associated with a sound or afternoon light as in the Light Poems of Jackson MacLow. The sensory fact isn’t entirely clear or remembered, but the shape of the event, an abstraction, triggers memory.

As Silliman poses the issue, “…an ordinary sentence, such as ‘I peered into it’, can become a new sentence, that is, a sentence with an interior poetic structure in addition to interior ordinary grammatical structure.” (Ron Silliman, “The New Sentence,” The New Sentence (Roof, 1977, p90). The form of abstract knowledge, a structure of knowledge representation, in New Sentences nests a probabilistic (poetic) grammar within a goal directed Latin sentence. Successful poetic generalization occurs when the dependencies map to the forms of abstract knowledge that readers have evolved. I represent evolution as both a long term biological adaptation and short term cultural transmission through successive readings of many texts or even rereading of a single poem.

These forms of abstract knowledge also pertain to a physical analogy. Causal relations tend to be traced “from disease to symptoms, rather than within these classes or from symptoms to diseases.” (Tenenbaum p1281) In traditional verse these physical relationships run from experience to poem with little attention paid to the underlying abstractions Silliman exposes. Some innovative poetries such as contemporary conceptualism manipulate those received abstractions. For example, Fitterman copies texts from commercial writing about a shopping mall into a new context in Sprawl. Goldsmith juxtaposes weather reports from New York and Bagdad to stimulate our memories of other events occurring in those locations, revealing who has more at stake in breakfast, the chicken or the pig. Their form of humor derives from a mismatch between the expected and written fact/abstraction models.

The need to get abstract knowledge right occurs in effective learning. But how do we know which structure appropriately organizes hypotheses for learning words? The probabilistic framework of learning allows for incorrect connections to be made once an abstraction links to a fact like “this is a horse.” The supervision of the learned structure comes from matching evolved mental structures to structures experienced in the world. Here again Tenenbaum points to nested structures and a complex, not always effective, process. And categories are developed in ranges so that experience isn’t always carried over into repeatable action. In fact conservative political strategists, like the conceptual poet’s realignments, confirm that by merely triggering an abstraction, it connects to facts bound by the tone created by immediately prior events.

First, a politician establishes a framework of anger, typically showing something that the voter cherishes as lost or stolen by the opposing party. The speaker establishes trust by showing the voter something she accepts as true. Then a series of statements—some true, some false and some ambiguous—builds a matrix of facts that the voter connects using the triggered abstraction. The abstraction establishes the connections between the words. “In Reagan’s hands, taxation became ‘confiscation,’ attempts to solve social problems became ‘costly social experiments,’ regulation of market failures became ‘economic tinkering’.” (Drew Westin, The Political Brain (New York, 2007) p 156). In Boehner’s hands negotiation becomes a weakness, proved because Obama changes his position to accommodate his own idea of negotiation as flexibility. Voters accept the outright lies of politicians. Absurd extensions of partial facts are believable once the speaker establishes the appropriate connection between abstraction and fact.

The gestural poets’ critique of intellectual pursuits in the arts fails to account for the indeterminate and redirected connectivity found in New Sentences, conceptual poetics, and poetry generated by chance operations. “Structured symbolic representations need not be rigid, static, hard-wired, or brittle. Embedded in a probabilistic framework, they can grow dynamically and robustly in response to the sparse, noisy data of experience.” (Tenenbaum p 1285) And the academic adherence to reasoning within a discipline does not easily accommodate many real world events that cross boundaries. And the identities of those organisms objective condition are threatened.

But let’s not lose sight of the multiple ways we can get to there from here. Many important non-linear problems have been addressed by simplifying them, making the complex linear. Picasso’s formula for success as an artist valorizes simplification, “If you have five elements available use only four. If you have four elements use three.” Other aspects of similarity persist and are accepted without the concurrence of the creators. Interpretation of the Constitution leaps to mind. But can we trust our perceptions of similarity in opposition to specialist appeals for consistency?

Environmentalism proposes that real-world phenomena contain similarities at all scales, implying a composite worldview, single, but composite, not unitary. The biosphere works through abstract structures linked to facts in much the same way as Tenenbaum described learning. This structure by necessity assumes a kind multiple connective tissues in paratactic constructions, maybe many multiples. The connections between components in individual organisms are well understood, for example, how bacteria in the gut support digestion. Taxonomy, on the other hand, bases its themes on structural differences such as how the hip of the dinosaur distinguishes it from other lizards.

Writing uses prosodic connections: thematic transitions, punctuation, spacing, rhyme. Looking more deeply at literary tagmosis would clarify the links between mental and biological constructs. (Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynn Truss (New York, 2004) provides an entertaining if narrowly grammatical example of the details of connection by punctuation.) Yet in literary criticism we rarely differentiate styles based on how writers use punctuation or capitalization except when comparing innovative poetry to canonical poetry. Unexpected syntax or punctuation labels a piece of writing as structurally different, becoming avant garde or experimental or innovative. Here tagmosis of the biological kind appears in writing. Could we develop a taxonomy of literary connective tissue?

Time is another internally diverse connection type. Now, the present, does not necessarily go this way and might go another or several. A statistical distribution replaces a dichotomous solution. While mathematical time goes forward, literary time can scatter. Both poetics and ethics form dynamically. In paleontology Stephen Jay Gould (Wonderful Life, Norton, 1989) represents progress as “punctuated” and not uniformly progressive, citing periodic mass extinctions and long periods of relative stasis. He also demonstrates that survival is often based on chance or distribution, not solely on competitive “fitness.” “Arguments that propose adaptive superiority as the basis for survival risk the classic error of circular reasoning.” (236)

What are the implications of Gould’s revelations for our model?

Art based on or assuming a continuous, progressive march of ideas is inconsistent with our observation of the biosphere and the mind. Continually progressing art must be viewed as contrary to biomorphic progress, since the origin of such art or politics for that matter is based on a linear/urban/separatist view of nature.

Politics, science, and arts based on a notion of continuous progress must be understood as applicable to limited time spans if they are to be valid at all. Such works in the arts are primarily ironic, parody or satire, and do not rely on progress at all. As social critique they are useful, but as progress; we must examine our goals for writing. If we do, we find a variety of targets whose proponents go in and out of fashion.

Arts and sciences that assume a composite set of natural forces or multiple views of nature must also reckon that short and long time spans have decidedly different kinds of progress. A single mode of discourse throughout a poem would not support both time spans; the odes of Charles Bernstein, such as “Lode (Mrs. Mao at Gulag)”, provide a good example of complex discourse organized around multiple genres. In the short run, progress can appear orderly, but phases of turbulence occur that may punctuate the sentence of progress, usually ending in a period.

Politics, arts and sciences that assume only an association with nature or only an opposition to nature must be reconsidered, since the idea of nature now includes humanity as a result of human control of many non-human functions in diverse niches. Humanity’s relationship to the rest of nature must also, however, retain the measure of self -interest necessary for survival.

The word nature might best refer to the innate characteristics of things rather than the entire universe excluding humanity. (I should edit the word nature whenever noticeable, but it is intimately bound with my syntax.)

These points of view are resisted by and depress many artists and scientists because they imply rethinking assumptions rather than progressing from here. Even innovative writers want to be able to refer to the ‘unnatural’ as something inherently mistaken without realizing they are referring to themselves in this use of the word nature; we might call it the Byronic fallacy.

These assumptions also imply more than one view of the nature, and few icons are held more dearly than one’s singular view of nature. Yet what is changed and what is continuous would surprise many poets. The horizon is different; the surroundings are changed, but basic human requirements are not substantially altered. What that means is yet to be fully defined by artists and scientists, but it appears as a fertile pursuit.

Most people educated or not retain assumptions that are not supported by what is known about the world. The facts are available, but the modes of thought have not assimilated the new facts, structures, and linkages. What do poetry and poetics look like assuming a dynamic relationship between humanity and the rest of nature? For one thing they are dependent on how the writer views nature and how willing she is to see that relationship as dynamic.

For example, in literature most readers and many writers cling to early nineteenth-century assumptions about what should be achieved in writing—truth, beauty, self discovery. Meanwhile surrealist, formalist, dada, objectivist, and language poets have all introduced changes in the way we use language in their effort to realize the world through writing. Modernist changes should have undercut the basis of meaning in narrative and descriptive prosody. Yet the instrumental uses of language (pass the butter please) persist in focusing our attention on lexical rather than prosodic meaning, whereas the changes in prosody drive an environmental distinction of species of writing, that is, a structural link between humanity and the rest of nature.

Our daily stories about ourselves, the trajectory of a human life, and the sex act all imply narrative and support our identities. Society still implies description as well as the ideas that modernists promote. New modes of writing and thinking might fuse the tagma of narration and description into an environment using contemporary approaches (New Sentences, lists, found poetry, search engines, multimedia, etc.) to create a contemporary poetry.

I drove to the (store)
And should oak floor being low
We slip our accordions
Whatever this is for.

How do we get to a species of writing from a single tagmotic relationship like a dinosaur’s hip? Here we add the political and social realm to be the scientific/artistic. Species in biology are now thought to develop as a result of a gap in a specific niche rather than as a result of a “creative” process. First, there is a set of unused resources—food, water, etc. that results from climatic change or extinction of a species. Then an existing species transforms its structure to take advantage of those resources. Species development is not “uncreative,” an oversimplification in any discourse, but rather “assisted creativity”. One might call it opportunism. But of course such concepts run against the grain of those prior assumptions of artistic uniqueness and independence.

In society, new writing as an analog must initially take a hermetic approach to avoid being co-opted before its strategies are fully formed, and it emerges on various public fora. Early versions of the ideas of each modernist literary group of writers are understood as substitutes for existing strategies rather than additional components. The resources they need must be available, for example, a readership tired of a specific dominant tendency or the lack of new material in the literary sphere.

New ideas condition themselves in public niches by purporting to circumscribe all use cases of writing, dividing from the mainstream. In the next phase, the new ideas fuse in a rewritten canon. For example, as language writing developed various leading writers refused the group label, denying the existence of a group of language writers. John Ashbery and Barbara Guest both publicly disavowed the existence of the New York School. Individual writers clearly separated from the group as their interests diverged and careers were built. Dichotomous solutions insist that the individual writer is the source of creativity. Looking at almost any other creative processes would disabuse the writer of that notion. An environmental approach might talk about interactivity between the individual and the group and how the tagmata of a new school fuse into the mainstream of poetry.

For these writers, the undefined connections of parataxis do materialize advanced tagmata. Connections become visible when we expand our field of vision, and the conceptual linkages between components emerge as assumptions. In these paratactic constructions tagmosis also occurs in the composition and reading of the poem as well as in conceptualizing the poetry. But how many of the new links are fit to survive in a world where chance may dominate intention? Risks are much higher. Blake’s Proverbs of Heaven and Hell is a long-standing example. His parody of absolution (“The cut worm forgives the plough”) points out a revelatory connection that to others remains absurd or sanguinary. The diversity of its connections sustains.

In the hothouse of experimentation new ideas are born, but neither poems nor poetry exist as an independent field any more than industry exists without agriculture. They can be spoken of as discrete but will always in practice link with other fields. In another linking analogy from biology, Brian Goodwin (quoting Charles Delisi) makes a significant point about genetics: “the proposition that ‘the collection of chromosomes in the fertilized egg constitutes the complete set of instructions for determining the timing and details of the formation of the heart, the central nervous system, the immune system, and every other organ and tissue required for life’ [...] is incorrect” (Brian Goodwin, How the Leopard Changed Its Spots (New York, 1994 p34,5). Genes don’t reproduce effectively without an organism (fact and abstraction). Reproducing in isolation, the strings of genetic material fragment and stop reproducing within a few generations.

In poetry, the prosody must be modeled and contrasted with the poem, in the same way as a bodily form is modeled against the genetic code, to propel the grammars forward beyond a few readings. Additionally, Goodwin points out that the growth of many organisms is structured by the basic elements of biological growth, such as calcium and mechanical stress, which occur in the structure of the organism. Chemical and engineering realities account for the shape of organisms in a way that is nearly as significant as the genes. Here in a sensational biological metaphor nested structures more truly represent how things work than any flat explanation.

The whorls of acetabularia, a large, single-cell organism are caused by the speed at which free calcium accumulates in cytoplasm (81, 93). The same sensitivity of calcium to ambient conditions determines that leaves grow on multi-celled advanced plant stems in the three ways. They can occur one at a time at regular intervals, alternating sides of the stem like corn.

Second plants can grow multiple leaves at the same place around the stem.

Third they can grow in a spiral. (117 )

The notion that “chemical reactions, combined with diffusion, could produce spatial patterns by spontaneous symmetry breaking an initial spatially uniform state” (105) was initially postulated by Alan Turing in “The Chemical Basis of Morphogenesis” (1952). His ideas confirm that there are generic categories, or forms, to life based not only on the interactions of the genes, but on chemical concentrations, and temperatures during cell growth. All of these factors determine the final shape of the organism. Genetics does not provide the essential reality of life forms any more than narrative, grammar, tone, or sensibility alone provides essential poetic value.

Goodwin’s conclusion that genes require physical organisms to model growth for them has other important parallels for the arts. The identification of language with the poem matches the attempt of geneticists to eliminate the organism as a valid episteme. It also oversimplifies language writing. Field poetry and biology work similarly. Goodwin says something familiar to innovative poets: “A field is not defined by the nature of the molecules and other components involved, such as cells, but the way these interact with one another in time (their kinetics) and in space (their relational order—how the state of one region depends on the state of neighboring regions)” (51).

Following this approach the poem orders itself through a set of relationships and a process, not merely through a code, genetic or linguistic. The poem is a field established by the consequences that arise from the proximity of various components. A phoneme juxtaposed to a word or concept (fact and abstraction) creates a resonant field throughout the poem. And typical of field poetry, a confluence of smaller fields—a vowel sound, for example, contrasted with a phrase—flows now turbulent, now tranquil toward the sea of the reader’s metabolic syntax.

From Legend, a collaboration between five poets—Bruce Andrews, Charles Bernstein, Ray DiPalma, Steve McCaffery, and Ron Silliman—comes this citation from a section by Andrews, Bernstein, and McCaffery:

Wish:  No one leaves a simple line

acid vacuum                    the sea shells
vertical form
lines
AMP
LI                                               FIED
notsomuch that          crowdbychances
droplet
field
filigree
sentient
largenous    limits aerate

Play:    Transfiled in college saying    unclear

encumber—this work comes through the pales
are we words, horses, manes?

(L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E/Roof, 1980, 232)

Certain poems are prosodically stable and as such follow the forms in which language can become generic. Silliman’s “Sunset Debris” is a good example: “Can you feel it? Does it hurt? Is this too soft? Do you like it? Do you like this? Is this how you like it? Is it alright? Is he there? Is he breathing? Is it him? Is it near?” (Age of Huts (New York, 1980) p11). Fields of this type can also take greater risk in less stable forms that may perform a specific or heroic task. P. Inman’s “decker” comes to mind:

Speak in from black knock

g l a y s husk

(Red Shift (New York, 1988) p??)

These specialized poems are also written with respect to the generic forms of language, but do not accept them as the entire set of possibilities. As such they can predict or account for linguistic change.

Modernism elided form and content. As such it established the possibility of a relational rather than a hierarchic structure for the poem: “the women come and go” (T. S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” 1917). Post-Modernism showed that the separation of an artist’s context from their works is unsustainable and exemplifies another relational model for writing, as in these phrases about childhood: “on a broad plain in a universe of/anterooms, making signals in the dark, you/fall down on your waistband…” (Charles Bernstein, “Matters of Policy,” Controlling Interests, (New York, 1979).

The variety of language writing represents a set of advances that field poetry might take through the matrix of possible poems. Linking in this way the excitable media of cytoplasm and language establish an extension of possibility. We can now revitalize categories of structure that allow information to be organized. Organisms:genes = poems:prosody. A cross-disciplinary discussion seems to be possible. Juliana Spahr’s “Spiderwasp or Literary Criticism,” for example, muses on power by multiplying the genres she uses to describe it. The relationship between the wasp and the tarantula, in spite of its drama, makes a point akin to Genet’s The Maids about who controls whom in the household.

Once a multi-disciplinary option is established, the structure of the relationships, tagmosis, becomes an unavoidable issue. I would extend this discussion to the current argument about stem-cell research. The notion that working with human genes is impious fails to recognize some of the basic discoveries of the past few decades. Lyn Margulies, in her confirmation of exosymbiosis, points out that vital energetic components of human (mitochondria) and plant (chloroplast) cells were originally separate bacteria. As Bernt Walther puts it: “Eukaryotes are chimera of permanently fused monera” (Journal of Biosciences, vol. 25, no. 3, September, 2000). The notion that working with the human genome would create monstrosities ignores the fact that we ourselves, our cells in detail, are composed of multiple organisms; and in the end poems are the monstrosities created by working with the fact of language and abstraction.

1994 (2011)