Sunday, August 23, 2009

Paz and Possibilities

I've clearly been saving up these blog posts, after a week away. I picked up a number of second-hand books in the MIND charity shop in Highgate, including "Convergences - Essay on Art and Literature" by Octavio Paz. I was drawn immediately to the essay, published in 1967, "The new analogy: Poetry and Technology." It's worth a direct quotation:-

"There is no reason why the poet shouldn't use a computer to choose and combine the words that are to make up his poem. The computer no more does away with the poet than do dictionaries of rhyme or treatises on rhetoric. The computer poem is the result of a mechanical process somewhat comparable to the mental and verbal operations that a 17th century courtier in the West had to go through in order to write a sonnet...or a Japanese...the collective poems called haikai no renga....the results are also similar: pleasing, sometimes surprising, and in the end monotonous....Poetry enters the picture when impersonal memory - the vocabulary of the computer or dictionary - and our personal memory intersect: suspension of the rules and irruption of the the unexpected and unpredictable....poetry is always an alteration, a linguistic deviation."

There is much more of value in this long essay, and I'm looking forward to the rest of the book - and revisiting Paz's poetry at the same time; but I don't think this, or any other blogger could have said it better. In one nuanced paragraph Paz highlights the absurdities of those who proscribe poetry's boundaries by the imposition of a set of rules. Yes, there are rules, just as a computer operates on "impersonal" instructions, it is the human that chooses which sets of rules to follow, if any, and how to subvert - and, to make poetry. A good starting point, I think, for a week when I'm wanting to expend a few creative energies.


Further to my criticism of Poor.Old.Tired.Horse below, my frustration with the exhibition wasn't with individual art works, for I had gone with some expectation, but with the missed opportunity to properly address any of the exhibition's themes in a satisfactory way. I enjoyed seeing Liliane Lijn's work, and Alasdair Gray's illustrations (though the latter were very out of context in the exhibition)as well as seeing the old editions of the magazine itself. In the accompanying booklet, the exhibition is described as "an exhibition of art that verges on poetry" and it signally fails to do that - rather, choosing a number of somewhat random exhibits that in different ways exist at the interface between art and poetry. The final room has no poets, but artists using text. Given that there's a resurgence of poets working with visual forms, (and with sound art), often in far more valid ways than those conceptual artists who are merely appropriating text, or working in collaboration with artists, it was disappointing.

I was interested, given my recent engagement with computer-generated poetry, to find a free book to download on "Prehistoric Digital Poetry" from here. Well worth a browse.

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