Sunday, June 14, 2009

On Meeting a Sound Poet

So we went to see Christian Bok at the Tulip Fest, google him if you care. But he was advertised as a sound poet, in that he’s paid to write funny noises down on paper and then say them out loud. I have to admit it was different, it was freaky, at some stages of the show all I could see in the world was his huge lips and teeth as he made the strangest noises, loudly and with definite purpose. At first I assumed he had a deeper worked out meaning to it all.
I bought his book, Eunoia. 5 chapters of verse. Each with only one vowel in it. It took 7 years to write, it’s fun to read, conforming to the rules forces him to put together some unique phrases and ideas, which made it kinda worth while. HOWEVER – his new idea is stupid. Well the way he’s goin about it is kind of stupid. Well maybe just his answer to my stupid question was stupid. But here it is anyway. He’s goin to write a poem and insert it into the DNA of a bacterium, and it would be written so that the protein’s code would also be a poem. (I’m presuming the first poem will use CATG only, and the second would be spelled out with first letters of the amino acids), anyway – yadda yadda inserted in a bacterium so it will survive forever etc etc, and here’s why I don’t think he’s sound, and also why he came across more as a batman baddie by the end of the show: I asked him what the protein would do, that he was writing into the little animal, presuming that he would have some really poignant or clever or beautiful idea about it. Don’t ask me what. I just trusted that he would have thought of something brilliant. Guess what? He hadn’t. The answer was simply – “Ah Science is the easy bit, so eh – doesn’t matter what it does. I think we’ve time for one more question”
Anyway – I realised as we walked home that the reason I was so depressed was the total and utter absence of any true feeling in his work, the cleverness and high falutin-ness of it, without a pick of anything that matters.
The one thing that we enjoyed most about the whole thing was our chat in the queue on the way in (by the way nothing starts on time in Canada – and no one minds, except if the person putting on the show is loitering in the audience drunk for the first three quarters of an hour – but that was a different show).
We met nice language enthusiasts – a translating lecturer woman, and an earnest man with bored teenager & wife in tow. They told us about this Oulypo movement in France. A new one on me. It’s this crowd that used to hang around making up writing rules for each other, and playing games with it. Apparently, one of them wrote a novel without the letter E, in French. And got it successfully translated into English without the letter E either.
Some of the games they used to play are below.
Anyway – we had a fun conversation about trying to spend a year without consuming anything with the letter E in the name of it. You couldn’t have water, but you could have milk, no beer but vodka would be fine, etc etc. See if you can spend the next day without eating anything with the letter E – no tea, coffee, bread, cheese, only a potato, or a tomato – no plurals of those things. Let me know how it works out for ya...


Matt Bolton said...

No wine? How about Vino? Or is that cheating?

swiss said...

i got eunoia not so long ago. annoying i found it. and i had to wonder if he had ocd.

as for oulipo. i think maybe you're thinking about georges perec who wrote la disparition avoiding e and les revenentes (sic) which only used the vowel 'e'
tho somewhat cheekily got around it by spelling things, like the title, wrong. my french isn't up to reading either and i definitely didn;t like the first one tho i did rahter enjoy zazie dans le metro as i recall.

i have much more time for raymond queneau - cent mille milliards de poemes i have an original copy of and i can highly reommend exercises in style.

and no, vino wouldn't be cheating.

at which pointed he sighed, zipped up his anorak right to the top and departed...

swiss said...

but before i do here's a question regarding irish names. we hear tell over here that people make up their names in order to sound more irish. is this true? i can sort of see where this comes from as our gaeltacht lot are wont to do it with (some very stupid) place names. which we spend some hundreds of thousands of our tax money on every year. neverthless live and let live and all that

but then we saw saw some woman called beirbre on the telly the other day. is that a real name or is she really called barbara?

Niamh B said...

Matt, Vino's definitely cheating - and breakfast would be out - but not dwarf.

Swiss - spelling things wrong! I'm aghast, and annoyed, are there no true geniuses (geniuii?) in the world?
Did he do Zazie in the metro too? That was a good movie.
Don't know raymondo - will have to check him out.
Re the names - haven't heard of that one - checked with Mr VC, my authority on irish and he says "Sure all names are made up" It's true for me tho, in the case of my surname, it's not actually Irish, so we just stuck a few fada's into it: á í etc - just to keep the teachers happy, so they could call the roll in our national tongue. I'd love to know how they get on nowadays with the international/ modern names - Britní ní Spíríní etc etc...

swiss said...

sweet! i'm going to gaelic up my name for when i go back to the islands. are there any rules i should know about?

Niamh B said...

No rules that I'm aware of - but here's a dictionary if you want to do something with a meaning to it.

ie swiss would translate to Eilvéiseach according to them

Another option would be Suas - which kinda sounds like swiss and means "up" - kind of a nice cheerful one - see what you think

swiss said...

brilliant. my (actual) irish name would be something like

mhuirnlaoch dunadhach


Tomaltach said...

A comment on Irish names. I'm not so sure if the Gaelicisation of surnames or first names is anywhere as near as fervent as it used to be. There seems to be somewhat of a class divide, in urban areas at least, where middle class parents have been chosing Gaelic names and working class people less so, and more inclined to choose imported celebrity names. I would stress that this is not a black and white divide - even the idea of class doesn't quite capture the essence of the social divisions which certainly exist.

I cannot imagine that the Gaelicisation of surnames is anywhere as intense either. Certainly teachers nowadays are not the dogmatic purists we once had and also with a considerable immigrant population, the idea of Gaelicising all names seems positively silly.

Swiss mentioned the Gaeltacht names. I am not aware of significant battles to gaelicize place names in Gaeltacht areas from the versions commonly used. In general, Irish speaking areas use the Irish speaking version of placenames. It is rare indeed that an Irish speaker, speaking in Irish, would use "Carraroe" in place of An Cheathru Rua, or "Dungloe" in place of An Clochan Liath. The Dingle dispute was interesting in that most of the locals seemed to want the name Dingle. But this too was a complicated (and so far exceptional) case. Certainly it would seem there were commercial considerations, and note that I emphasised "Irish speakers" in my first examples. The whole problem in Dingle is that it can scarecely be called an Irish speaking community. That is not to say there are no native Irish speakers - but in the community as a whole, English is the dominant language. This strikes to the heart of the issue - the unstoppable language shift in Gaeltacht areas. And of course, back to the names, the difference between a personal name and a place name is that the personal name is a component of the identity of one person while the place name carries signficance in the identity of a community. Most communities are happy to use whatever name history has bequethed them. In those cases where they are not, some kind of long building tension is usually coming to a head, and it reflects a community where there is some disconnect between its present and its past. Think Danzig/Gdansk, Derry/Londonderry, Mumbai/Bombay.

Niamh B said...

Swiss, Suas would've been easier to spell, but glad to have been of service.
Thanks Tomaltach too for the comprehensive comment. I do wish I/we knew more irish in general in order to more easily understand placename origins, guess it's a matter of energy and research.

swiss said...

yes, thanks for that tomaltach. i guess i should have been more obvious that i was meaning the scottish gaeltacht which is small and imperfectly formed.

niamh, it would be a shame to leave out the suas so i've changed the whole order of my name and upped the welsh. i shall now be

suas morcant

Niamh B said...

shame you lost the laoch bit there though - means hero?! Although not sure what your Mhuirn bit meant before that, yerrah a swiss by any other name...