it is a reality in itself

The constellation is the simplest possible kind of configuration in poetry which has for its basic unit the word, it encloses a group of words as if it were drawing stars together to form a cluster.
The constellation is an arrangement, and at the same time a play-area of fixed dimensions.
The constellation is ordered by the poet. He determines the play-area, the field or force and suggests its possibilities. the reader, the new reader, grasps the idea of play, and joins in.
In the constellation something is brought into the world. It is a reality in itself and not a poem about something or other. The constellation is an invitation.

Gomringer, Eugen in Concrete Poetry: A World View. Ed. Solt, Mary Ellen. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1968.

to liberate poetic language from the mediating function of ordinary speech

Recent studies of Un Coup de dés by David W. Seaman and Gerald L. Bruns have brought to our attention Mallarmé’s concern with typography as a rite. Both give us insights into the relationship between typography, structure, and meaning which do much to clarify the problem of typography in the concrete poem. Bruns states that Mallarmé’s ultimate purpose was to “liberate poetic language” from the “mediating function” of “ordinary speech,” which must bridge the gap between “the world of things and the universe of meaning.” This liberation was to be accomplished through substitution of “the syntax of music for the syntax of speech.” The syntax of music was “to be realized typographically…within the spatial field.” Bruns goes on to say that the organization of the poem presents a “concurrence of themes that are distinguished chiefly by different points of type.” Typography—“the technology of the written and finally printed word”—becomes “a principle of composition.” Seaman’s sample page based on the NRF edition of Un Coup de dés contains seven type styles and point sizes. He concludes that Mallarmé used different type sizes and faces expressionistically as well as structurally to “underscore different moods in the text.”

Solt, Mary Ellen. “Typography and the Visual Concrete Poem. OEI (Mary Ellen Solt: Toward a Theory of Concrete Poetry). Bessa, Antonio Sergio, ed. No. 51. 2010. 397.

calls the reader the operator

Mallarmé calls the reader the ‘operator.’ Reading, like poetry, is an ‘operation.’ The term retains for him, throughout, its dual connotation of work and of something almost surgical, derived ironically from its functional nature: operation as amputation, rather like the Hegelian ‘Aufhebung.’ Reading is an operation, a labour of self-suppression which is substantiated in a self-confrontation and simultaneously abolished and asserted. …Mallarmé emphasises the danger and daring of reading—daring apparently to claim authorial rights over the book….

Blanchot, Maurice. “The Book to Come.” A Book of the Book: Some Works & Projections About the Book & Writing. Jerome Rothenberg and Steven Clay, eds. New York: Granary Books, 2000. 156.

to see imaginary forms and figures

Therefore, and in a certain measure, philosophers are painters; poets are painters and philosophers; painters are philosophers and poets. He who is not a poet and a painter is no philosopher. We say rightly that to understand is to see imaginary forms and figures; and understanding is fancy, at least it is not deprived of fancy. He is no painter who is not in some degree a poet and thinker, and there can be no poet without a certain measure of thought and representation.

Giordano Bruno

Frith, Isabel, Life of Giordano Bruno the Nolan, ed. Prof Mauriz Carriere. Boston: Ticknor, 1887), 16.

Higgins, Dick. Horizons, The Poetics and Theory of the Intermedia. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984. 31. with the footnote, “What Ms. Frith has done is to assemble a montage here of the passages from [Giordano Bruno, Jordani Bruni Nolani Opere Latine Conscripta, 3 vols. in 8 pts. 1891: Bad Cannstatt b. Stuttgart, Friedrich Frommann Verlag, 1962) vol. 1, pt. 3, 87-318, esp. 197-99.

self is made of music derived

In the early 60s, there were two synchronous movements in poetic technique: one was the intellectual reaching, symbolized for me by Jackson Mac Low (who, even so, was a composer and always conscious of the sonics in his poetry): the other was the sensual reaching, symbolized by the Beats, in both San Francisco and NY coffeehouses. I read poetry aloud with the jazz of California musicians and Charlie Mingus in New York back then. I was then and still am interested in syncopation, dissonance and assonance, and the correspondence of words to the body which produces them. To me, there’s no separation of mind and body – both equal self, and self is made of music derived from pulse and motion.

Carol Bergé

Feinstein, Sascha and Yusef Komunyakaa, eds. The Jazz Poetry Anthology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991. [contributor’s notes]

known as the beginner


I am the Buddha known as The Beginner.

Deep in Zazen, “The Beginner” (the words)
hit me, simultaneously, in these four ways:

1. Instigator. Inventor.

2. He who is chosen to start, but cannot
finish, as on a relay team, in track.
Once, after passing the baton, I crossed
in front of another team, and my team
was disqualified, though we actually won,
and would have won whether I crossed over
or not.

3. Eternal novice.

4. He who is doomed to begin again and again
and again.


Commentary by the Red Monk:
In the first place, it was I, not you, who crossed over in front of another team. This is how we learned
right conduct. Remember, instead, how fast we were, and are.

In the second place, “doomed” is wrong. Avalokiteshvara called in “returning.” When “doom” dies in your mind, “beginning” will cease to be painful. Avalokiteshvara chose to begin again and again, though he didn’t have to. You said that yourself, in one of your poems. Don’t you believe your own poems?

Welch, Lew. Ring of Bone, Collected Poems 190-1971. San Francisco: Grey Fox Press, 1994. 192.

the word mine of language

These words take on the texture, the complexion, the materiality, the physicality of it–of language: the embodiment of the spiritual in the material that is language. (Time’s massed at material bottoms.) Coolidge’s poetry is part art part limestone and the cave that recurs in his work, particularly in The Maintains, is the “word mine” of language–an excavation of word/language as granite, limestone, dogbrick, asbestos, slate, monozite, coal. The hall we came to, one large asbestos like word . . . as stone as words: “it a it”. The Maintains a cave of language to be mined, resisting all attempts to possess it yet demanding possession. So that I come to feel it is mine–a mine–of me–as much a rocks, stars, and ranges.

Bernstein, Charles. “Maintaining Space,” Content’s Dream: Essays 1975-1984. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2001.

the manipulation of the raw materials of each art

One bond linking poets like Khlebnikov and Kruchenykh (who had studied art in Odessa and Moscow) with artists was their concern with faktura, the manipulation of the raw materials of each art (words, paint, colour, texture, collage, the elements used for constructions) as an inventive and craft-like process delivering not only surface qualities but also meaning. Painting, in post-impressionism and symbolism, had liberated itself from its inherited commitment to imitating the visible world or adapting aspects of it to convey vision on its terms. Soon in painting and sculpture subject-matter would no longer provide even the first immediate sign of meaning.

Lynton, Norbert. Tatlin’s Tower: Monument to Revolution. New Haven:
Yale University Press, 2009. 119.

transrational language could lead the artist

…Kruchenykh’s most lasting contribution was his invention of zaum, a rubric that embraced the private languages of schizophrenics, folk incantations, baby talk, glossolalia, random onomatopoetic verse, and Futurist neologisms. Called zaum from the prefix “za” (beyond) and the root “um” (mind), Kruchenykh’s concept originated in the natural dissociation between thought and speech in the highly charge brain. Once in a truly inspired state, the primitive man (clinically insane person or poet) must express his emotions in novel prnouncements and rhythms, far from the everyday “frozen” language with its conventional attachments that link precise meaning with articulation. According to Kruchenykh, the Futurist poet has at his disposal this other form of vocalization, one rich with private associations and new sound ideas: zaum. The secret of primordial creation, that is, transrational language, could lead the artist far beyond the restraints of socially sanctioned patterns and the vise of national vocabularies.

Gordon, Mel. “Songs from the Museum of the Future” in Kahn, Douglas and Gregory Whitehead, eds. Wireless Imagination: Sound, Radio, and the Avant-Garde. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1992. 212.


Text here is not simply a lexical preerence but marks a shift in the conception of scriptive work from a fixed object of analysis or conception, to an open, methodological field for semantic production. Language today no longer poses problems of meaning but practical issues of use; the relevant question being not “what does this piece of writing mean?” (as if meaning was somehow a represented essence in a sign the activity of reading substantially extracts) but “how does this writing work?” There is a radical shift in Language Writing from the poem as object to the text as a methodological field that implies also the issue of a sociological detachment of the writer from his historical role and the ideological identity of author. Language Writing resists reduction to a monological message, offering instead an organized surface of signifiers whose signifieds are undetermined. There is a primacy lent to readership as a productive engagement with a text in order to generate local pockets of meaning as semantic eruptions or events that do not accumulate into aggregated masses.

McCaffery, Steve. North of Intention. New York: Roof Books, 2000. 149.