Issue 1 Invented Languages Winter 2000/01
Special CD Insert / abs TruCt heh GarBagt
Charles Bernstein, Christian Bök and Steve McCaffery
Each of the pieces on this audio CD reinvents poetry by making works of words that exist in no language other than the one constructed by the poem. For the twentieth century, the inaugural work of this type is Kurt Schwitters’s sound poetry masterpiece, The “Ursonate” (1922-1932), the full text of which is available in pppppp: poems performance pieces proses plays poetics, edited and translated by Jerome Rothenberg and Pierre Joris (Temple University Press, 1993). Starting unexpectedly with a prelude that begins: “Fumms bö wö taa zaa Uu, pö giff, kwi Ee,” the work is composed, like a traditional sonata, in four movements. Christian Bök’s dynamic performance of the work is twice as fast as Schwitters’s own version, discovered only after Bök had begun to perform the work. (Schwitters’s performance was first released as a Wergo CD in 1993.)
“Azoot D’Puund” was written by Charles Bernstein in the late 1970s, appearing as part of a collection called Poetics Justice, which was reprinted in Republics of Reality: Poems 1975-1995 (Sun and Moon Press, 2000). While the poem uses no English words, English speakers will likely hear it as quasi-English, since it resonates with various kinds of accents and slangs, taking off on its own sonic riffs, but always staying close to the intonational and grammatical patterns of “the American.”
The final five pieces are by Steve McCaffery. “Shamrock,” “Mr. White in Panama,” “The Multiples,” and “Natural Histories 6 and 7” all date from 1981, while “First Random Chance Poem” dates from 1982. All five pieces are taken from a sound/text project “The Body Without Writing.” McCaffery’s interest in sonic renditions of imaginary language is to work the threshold that demarks the difference between sound and meaningful sound. He notes that St. Augustine recorded that his own experience of hearing a dead language stirred in him the desire for the will to know the meaning. Imaginary languages are similar purveyors of virtual significations.
Charles Bernstein is the author of My Way: Speeches and
Poems and Log Rhythms, with pictures by Susan Bee. His
home page is among the authors at epc.buffalo.edu
He is director of the Poetics Program at SUNY-Buffalo.
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© 2000 Cabinet Magazine