Winter 2000–2001

CD Insert / abs TruCt heh GarBagt

Sonic renditions of imaginary languages

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.

Entire CD

00:00 / 00:00

1. Steve McCaffery, “Shamrock”

00:00 / 00:00

2. Steve McCaffery, “Mr. White in Panama”

00:00 / 00:00

3. Charles Bernstein, “Azoot D’Puund”

00:00 / 00:00

4. Steve McCaffery, “The Multiples”

00:00 / 00:00

5. Christian Bök, “The Ursonate by Kurt Schwitters”

00:00 / 00:00

6. Steve McCaffery, “First Random Chance”

00:00 / 00:00

7. Steve McCaffery, “Natural Histories 6 and 7”

00:00 / 00:00

The CD was mastered by Scott Konzelmann at Chop Shop.

Charles Bernstein is the author of My Way: Speeches and Poems and Log Rhythms (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999), with pictures by Susan Bee. His home page is among the authors at He is director of the Poetics Program at SUNY Buffalo.

Christian Bök is the author of Crystallography: Book I of Information Theory (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1994), a pataphysical encyclopedia nominated for the 1994 Gerald Lampert Award for “best poetic debut.” Bök is also the author of an academic treatise entitled Pataphysics: The Poetics of an Imaginary Science (Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2001).

Steve McCaffery was a member of the sound text ensemble The Four Horsemen for nearly twenty years. He is co-editor of Imagining Language (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1998) and the forthcoming book Prior to Meaning: The Protosemantic and Poetics. He is associate professor of English at York University in Toronto.

If you’ve enjoyed the free articles that we offer on our site, please consider subscribing to our nonprofit magazine. You get twelve online issues and unlimited access to all our archives.