Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Surprise me!

Bob Grumman, a mathy poet whose work has appeared in this blog (21 June 2010) and a blogger, has recently been invited to write a Guest Blog for Scientific American.  Here is a wonderful sentence about poetry that I have taken from his posting on 22 September 2012 (the third of his guest postings).

           And I claim that nothing is more important for a poet 
               than finding new ways to surprise people with the familiar.

Visit Grumman's Guest Blog to find his illustrations of poetic surprise; after a pair of visual poems, ten x ten and Ellipsonnet, he discusses a poem by Louis Zukovsky in which the poet describes his poetics using the integral sign from calculus:

∫ 

Zukovsky's definite integral (which Grumman tells us is carefully copyright-protected) has the lower limit "speech" and upper limit "music." 
     Bob's posting provided me a challenge to complement his material with another poem that involved an integral.  My search led me to a poem without mathematical symbols.  It contains the word "integral" -- but its mathematics consists of permutations.  And it considers politics, sex, and terrorism rather than poetics. This poem -- "Total Information Awareness" by John Beer -- is a pantoum, formed of quatrains whose lines are braided in repetition: the second and fourth lines of any stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the following stanza -- with the final stanza linked back to the first.  Surprises abound as we read and recognize "I've heard that before" when we encounter repeated lines -- difficult phrases recurring, challenging our equilibrium and understanding with their altered context and meaning. 

   Total Information Awareness      by John Beer

   “This bubble had to be burst, and the only way to do it was
   to go right into the heart of the Arab world
   and smash something.” The hotel heiress, snapped
   flashing her bum in a Bahamas club.

   To go right into the heart of the Arab world,
   they claim their device can trigger an orgasm:
   flashing her bum in a Bahamas club
   on a boozy date with her new bloke, Nick Carter.

   They claim their device can trigger an orgasm.
   American officials who spoke on condition of anonymity
   on a boozy date with her new bloke, Nick Carter,
   say he confessed under torture in Syria.

   American officials who spoke on condition of anonymity
   without touching a women’s genital area
   say he confessed under torture in Syria.
   “There’s no explanation why. We’re just not saying anything.”

   Without touching a women’s genital area,
   I take it all seriously. I am withdrawing from all representation.
   There’s no explanation why. We’re just not saying anything
   to make this objective absolutely clear.

   I take it all seriously. I am withdrawing from all representation,
   but he was in the special removal unit.
   To make this objective absolutely clear,
   the development of counterterrorism technologies—

   but he was in the special removal unit.
   This had profoundly shocked the commission,
   the development of counterterrorism technologies
   with the flick of a switch. Women get turned on.

   This had profoundly shocked the commission.
   No one detected any radical political views.
   With the flick of a switch, women get turned on
   to a new business model that only pretends

   no one detected any radical political views.
   I take it all seriously. I am withdrawing from all representation
   to a new business model that only pretends
   to give consumers more control. In fact,

   I take it all seriously. I am withdrawing from all representation
   that she refused to be photographed in body paint
   to give consumers more control. In fact,
   he was handcuffed and beaten repeatedly.

   That she refused to be photographed in body paint
   constitutes an integral goal of the IOA.
   He was handcuffed and beaten repeatedly.
   There’s no explanation why. An information whiteout

   constitutes an integral goal of IOA
   while Justice turns to Syria’s secret police.
   There’s no explanation why. An information whiteout.
   Forebodings of disaster enter into box scores

   while Justice turns to Syria’s secret police,
   constructing systems to counter asymmetric threats.
   Forebodings of disaster enter into box scores
   to achieve total information awareness,

   constructing systems to counter asymmetric threats.
   This bubble had to be burst, and the only way to do it was
   to achieve total information awareness
   and smash something. The hotel heiress snapped.

"Total Information Awareness" is from The Waste Land and Other Poems, Copyright © 2010 by John Beer. Reprinted by permission of Canarium Books.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post a Comment