“I began to be aware of the possibility that the locus of form might be in the immediate minim of the work, and that one might concentrate upon the sound and meaning present where one was, and derive melody and story from impulse not from plan."
--Robert Duncan, from "Toward An Open Universe"
This site was created by the students in One's Own Language, a Fall 2005 class in the online MFA Program of Naropa University. The class was designed as an introduction to the Basic Elements of poetry and it quickly became a sounding ground of experiments related to sound, meter, linguistics, and etymology. Some of the most useful links and ideas are included below.
Sound Files Buffalo and Steve McCaffery on UBU Web
and a Kabbalah Site
and Gerard Manley Hopkins and Olson Now
and What is a Sonnet?
and what is the great vowel shift?
and language family trees
and Emily Dickinson (the original stuff)
and Field Theories and
The Rosetta Project
Kim picked out an overview of ideas and exercises from our fifteen week class including notes that Lisa made along the way:
1. The Seven Articulators
These are the parts of the mouth/throat that form the sounds that poets/prose-writers make:
the velum or soft palate
the hard palate
the alveolar ridge
p.s.-- ...think about writing a poem called The Seven Articulators. why not?
2. The sound of R
Yesterday got me thinking about the nature of the "r" sound. I think we should write "r" poems this week. I have to admit I'm a bit excited about the R because it's finally occurred to me that it's barely a consonant. And I guess in Welsh it's used as a vowel. So, listen to the R today.
3. Vowel Sound Haiku
I'd like you to write 5 haikus this week. Let's call them A, E, I, O, and U. Each haiku should use only one vowel sound. Go for it!
I was doing some research toward my biography of Robert Duncan and I came across this note of Duncan's from a course catalogue, New College of California, 1983. I thought it would be of interest to all of you re: the work we've been doing--
It’s at the level of the basic elements: in oral and in written poetry alike the sounds and silences of language, telling patterning and depatternings of consonants and vowels, the articulations of syllables in measures and utterances toward and from sentences, lines, stanzas— where rime, rhythm, and ratio originate— that creativity in language works. And it is here that poetics must begin. The realized poem will be the vehicle of the poet’s emotions, psychological ventures, social urgencies, political and religious vision, philosophical dispositions, and it will be the vehicle of the poet’s literary taste and learning— as a work of art it may be judged, admired or rejected, for the artist’s craft….
The simplest task of examining phoneme by phoneme by phoneme the microstructure of the poem, relating to the structures of the language itself, painstaking as this procedure must be, tasks the student’s patience. Few, I find, can carry it thru. The map is not the territory, and, in turn, the territory is not the landscape: but without the procedures of a geological study— an investigation and imagination of what is going on in the “scene”— the description of the territory remains impressionistic or expressive and no more. Poetics is related to our appreciation of poetry as geology is related to our appreciation of the earth: it has to do with the requirements of an adequate description or theory of descriptions…."
4. N+7 Poems
Take your poem and turn it into an N+7 (this is a form invented by the OULIPO group (workshop for potential literature,) some French mathematician poets). What you need to do is look up all yr nouns in the dictionary and replace them with the noun that you find seven nouns down in the entries.
5. Zero Onset Poems
I found that info on the syllable in the text book fascinating as well re: the things we take for granted in language use, complexity, theory. I am enamored of the technical descriptions of syllable arrangement-- the syllable onset and coda-- things that it would have never occurred to me to pay attention to.
I also thought that this phrase "zero onset" was compelling-- to mark the initial syllable of a word that starts with a vowel -- it has that "total recall" feel to it. Maybe we should all write poems this week called "zero onset". (not a required assignment, but if you are looking for a jump-start into a poem, it could be fun to try to write a poem with all zero onset words.)
6. Red Wheelbarrow Poems
I think that William Carlos Williams is the guy to go to for the tight consciously rendered syllabic line-- and after all, he describes the poem as a machine-- so there is a mathematical precision that we would expect. I am under the impression that it's this attention to syllables that drives the line breaks in the wheelbarrow poem--
so much depends 4
a red wheel 3
glazed with rain 3
beside the white 4
(he's definitely not breaking it to cluster the images-- otherwise the rain water and white chickens would be grouped into phrases on the line.)
this could be a fun exercise-- the red wheelbarrow poem-- write a poem with this syllable count--
7. Dactylic Hexameter poems
There are two things I'd like to do this week-- continue to look at your own work for properties of meter-- scan a poem (or prose piece) that you've written and come to some conclusions about beats that occur naturally in your work.
Secondly I'd like to work with a more complex foot this week-- the dactyl. Homer wrote the Iliad in Dactylic Hexameter. Let's write a ten line poem in dactylic hexameter.
8. Create Your Own Language
This week I'd like you to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the language systems of hieroglyphics and cuneiform. ("familiarize" yourself to the extent that you understand the basic symbol codes used-- you don't have to be an expert on this stuff!) Then I'd like you to create your own language system. What are the symbols? How does it work? Translate one of your own poems into your new language.
9. Etymological Translations
In your work, what are four words/phrases/ideas/themes that seem to recur over and over again? Research these words/themes using the Oxford English dictionary. What are the origins of the words? What languages do they come from? How are they transformed over time?
Also, take one of your short poems/prose pieces from the last couple of weeks and make an "ancient" translation of it-- e.g.-- replace each word with the word's original etymological form-- go as far back as you can.
**Kim’s note- I found it fascinating to translate these “ancient” translations back to “contemporary” English based on what we thought the meanings were.
10. Non-Traditional Forms
Let's make some lists this week of different non-traditional forms a poem might take. Here are two suggestions I have:
Write a poem based on the pattern of a persian rug.
Write a poem using the night sky as a grid for the form. e.g.-- The pattern of the stars can be a particular vowel sound occurring on the page.
Come up with your own plan for the form of a poem-- test it out.
I'd like you to work on a piece of writing this week that in some way examines the assumptions we (you) (Americans) (humans) (middle class people) (republicans or democrats) (etc.) make about language. This piece of writing can be in the form of a poem, critique, manifesto, performance piece, etc.
12. Performance/Public “language”
I'd like to spend the week doing two things: 1. Compiling a list of resources related to contemporary issues in language and the social world. And 2. Creating and executing some kind of performance/public "language" event that challenges the social order of language. (I will leave the details of this entirely up to you, but you can think of the reading links as a lead into this assignment. Have fun out there, and don't get arrested.
I'd like you to translate a poem from another language this week. It could be a language you know, or a language you don't know. What you'll need: a poem, a foreign language dictionary and/or grammar handbook, and the skills you've gathered in this class. Try to think about sound, meter/rhythm and the presentation of objects in the poems. You'll probably find that it's hard to pay attention to all of these things at once in the process of translation. Think about the decisions you're making re: the translation.
Your body is a poetry machine if you will just take the time to let it observe the world around and run. Listen to the sounds and recognize the sounds you are able to make. What sounds can you make?
Varieties of English
A tutorial for phonemic transcription of English
How to type phonetics on Microsoft Products
Some people hear sounds as colors. This rare gift is referred to as Synaesthesia. See:
Synaesthesia Research Site
Rhythm and Meter in English Poetry
Scansion, Poetic Feet, Line Length, and Sound
The Dactyl http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Terms/dactyl.html dactyl-hexameter
Examine other Languages that use symbols for writing sounds: Chinese
MesoAmerican Writing http://www.angelfire.com/ca/humanorigins/writing.html
History and Origin of Runes
Write like a Babalonian?
Origins of English Words – Check out the Oxford English Dictionary http://www.oed.com/
A free Oxford Dictionary: http://www.askoxford.com/?view=uk
Imagism – a movement in poetry aiming at clarity of expression through the use of precise visual images and precise (clear, concise, and correct) use of language. Check out:
Haiku poetry could be considered a close cousin to the Imagist Poet’s work. Some great Haiku links: http://www.ahapoetry.com/haiku.htm
(this is cool!)
The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Movment: http://www.princeton.edu/eclipse/projects/LANGUAGE/language.html
Charles Olson's Projective Verse Essay: Olson Here
An excellent site for poetry experiments: Language Is A Virus
For You Synaesthetes out there: synaethesia research site
IPA download site: if you're looking to go high-tech with your International Phonetic Transcriptions, you can download IPA fonts onto your computer here. The download only takes a minute. Figuring out the keys that correspond to dipthongs might take a little more work.