Sunday, May 31, 2020

Which permutation of lines yields the best poem?

     A fascinating article about poet Jericho Brown (by Allison Glock in Garden and Gun magazine) reminded me of the vital role of line-arrangement in creating a poem.  (Emory University professor Brown has won the Pulitzer Prize in poetry for his collection The Tradition  (Copper Canyon Press, 2019)).
      Glock's article, "Jericho Rising," tells of various factors that have influenced Brown's poetry and describes his process of arranging lines, typed on separate strips of paper, into poems.  Three of the lines shown in the article are:

       What is the history of the wound? 
  We'll never see their faces or know their names.      
       And a grief so thick you could touch it.

Recently, Jericho Brown reflected on the news concerning the death of Ahmaud Arbery

    The idea of "the best words in the best order" is a tradition in poetry and poets explore it in different ways.  Several earlier blog postings have featured features procedures used by the French math-poetry group OULIPO -- and one OULIPO creation that seems relevant here is Raymond Queneau's work, Cent Mille Milliards de poéms (one hundred thousand billion poems)--a collection of 10 sonnets printed on strips so that each first line may be read with any of the second lines which may be read with any of the third lines, and so on. On my shelves, these sonnets reside in OULIPO Compendium, edited by Harry Mathews and Alastair Brotchie (Atlas Press, London, 2005).  The picture below shows the first of Queneau's ten sonnets (English translation by Stanley Chapman).

First page, to be cut in strips, of 1014 poems by Queneau
 An interactive web version of Queneau's sonnets is available here.

No comments:

Post a Comment