I don’t see ANY (qualitative) difference between words, asemicity, silence, leaves, and their falling. As I told you before, when I feel easy they are all the same (invitation).
– Márton Koppány
A. BOOK OF LEAVES IN GREEN AND BLACK
On 14/11/11 as part of an email correspondence discussing a potential collaboration and/or publication to accompany his visit to London in March 2012, Márton Koppány sends David Berridge a jpeg entitled Evergreen.
“I’m not a photoshop user” writes Márton. “What I’m using is a basic image editor from the nineties, it knows relatively few tricks, which is in harmony with my needs.”
DAVID: I have been thinking about how nature functions in the visual images you create, also tracing the leaf as it occurs in histories of avant-garde poetry. The leaf as the basis of a conversation between Charles Reznikoff and Lorine Niedecker, for example, and how, going back to Goethe, the leaf proposes a morphological space connecting poetry and natural history….
MÁRTON: It’s good to find coincidences. Leaves are an inspiring topic. Here I send you two more leaf-related pieces of mine, one of them (Cursive for Bob Grumman) was made a few weeks ago, the other one (Fall Leaves) is several years old and related to a project initiated by Dan Waber to write variations on a bpNichol theme.
I like a lot those “objectivists” whose work is more or less available for a non native speaker with a limited (broken and reduced) English like me. (Zukofsky so far has seemed to be too difficult.) Beside the works I like the characters as well. I read several essays on Oppen by Mike Heller, and found touching Oppen’s life and personality. I don’t know Reznikoff’s and Niedecker’s conversation, but love their poetry.
DAVID: The Reznikoff- Niedecker piece was not an actual conversation, but a going through each of their collected works copying out and juxtaposing leaf references. So, for example:
LN: I’ve been away from poetry
and now I must rake leaves
with nothing blowing
between your house
CR: The branches about the street-lamp
are so thick with leaves, it shines
only on a flag of pavement;
leaf behind leaf the night rings.
MÁRTON: It is cold here in more than one sense of the word. Hungarian democracy has been successfully undermined and now the game is apparently over. We’re rather helpless but still hope for the best – or at least for something better.
I’ve been lately too concerned about the situation, and haven’t produced new pieces for a while. BUT the prospect of my trip to London is something that helps me keep going in these days. My main worry is an autocratic, proto-fascist state – but let’s hope for the best. And let’s talk poetry.
VerySmallKitchen invites Márton to compile a 16 page A5 pamphlet, to be printed in an edition of 20 copies, on the occasion of his visit to London in March 2012. The booklet will be printed on an RZ 370 Risograph, whose available inks are green and black.
MÁRTON: Your plan helped me to put together (the first draft of) a small book, spanning thirty years in ten pages (plus notes, our potential exchange, your potential poem/essay etc.).
My idea was to write (quote from myself) a bunch of works that I consider a string of annotations, self-comments. Sometimes the commentary-piece is much older than the one commented – but that doesn’t make any difference from the reader’s perspective, I guess. It was very helpful that leaf also means page both in English and Hungarian. The whole small thing is about leaving, falling, staying, keeping going. (At the very same time.)
Because it is a string of annotations, it starts with a piece which is an annotation in itself: a reflection on a bpNichol theme. I tried to take into consideration the potentialities of the riso print as well when selecting the works. Ellipsis No. 15 is pale blue – but, if my understanding is correct, it will be pale grey in the print, which is perfect for my purposes. The other pieces are black and white or green and white.
The working title of the book is Evergreen. I’ve numbered the pages (see the file names) in the order I imagined them in the book:
I’m leaving 1-2
Ellipsis No. 15
I’ll Regret It
B. PUNCTUATION BOTANY
DAVID: Central to our proposition for the book and dialogue seems to be the leaf/page connection, how explicit or implied that is….
MÁRTON: The leaf/page connection is similar in Hungarian. The leaf/leaving connection doesn’t exist in Hungarian on the level of the words, it only exists on the level of the ideas.
DAVID: I was thinking of Thomas A Clark’s chapbook After Marvell which is a series of ‘blank’ pages of different shades of green… and about identification – identifying plant varieties, but also what aspects of the poems become identified/noticed by the reader –
MÁRTON: Evergreen is a ginko. How to (not) remember a question mark and its fruit, the full stop?
DAVID: I’ve been making notes towards a taxonomy of where and how the connection of leaves and poetry becomes apparent. Lots of pairs: leaf/ page is one, but also seeing the analogy on different scales – leaf/ word, leaf/letter-
MÁRTON: We don’t need a rigid system. The scale is different in each case/correspondence.
DAVID: Another set of connections unfold from Goethe’s metamorphosis of the leaf, about how forms – leaf forms, letter forms – emerge and change-
MÁRTON: Leaf growing into a question mark (Evergreen) and leaves growing (multiplying)into an ellipsis (Cursive); punctuation mark botany: leaves in motion. The wind.
Did you notice that in Cursive the “direction” of the leaves is reversed in one instance? I mean the first and the second leaf are connected in a way which is not possible in nature.
Cursive is also the surmounting (or appeasing) of that impossibility. My friend, the dedicatee of the poem, didn’t notice it at first. (But he noticed other things that I hadn’t been conscious of.)
DAVID: In the William Carlos Williams poem An Alphabet of the Trees the leaves aren’t letters they are hiding letters –
MÁRTON Blank hides “blank” in Ellipsis No 15. Abstract botanics. In Still we only have the faint reflection of some branches in the water. It also looks like a writing (or deletion), I guess.
DAVID: The leaf now and as a thing to come-
MÁRTON: The leaf is its own past and future. Endless recycling of a torn leaf (page) in I’ll Regret It. Every F is individual (Fall Leaves). There’s only one of “them”.
Colon (Eroica) is a human creature trying to keep open (the opportunity of) a meaning. If he/she collapses, the upper dot falls down and the colon (printed in Arial) disintegrates.
DAVID: Noticing and not noticing, the poet learning to identify plants and/or the poet engaging with natural history as a form of poetics. Language and writing as forms of compost. In The Magpie’s Bagpipe Jonathan Williams says of Charles Olson:
Olson knew there was something called “rhododendron” and something called “grass,” and he had trouble even telling those two things apart. One was bigger than the other, but that was about it. He had no eye for nature.
C. HUNGARIAN VISPO
Throughout December 2011 and January 2012, whilst this correspondence is being conducted, Márton distributes the Hungarian Vispo series as jpegs emailed to his mailing list.
DAVID: Do you know the work of Cia Rinne? There are two distinct aspects to her practice – one a visual/ conceptual poetry side, the other a documentary practice in collaboration with the photographer Joakim Eskildsen. In a project for VerySmallKitchen Cia writes:
I think that working with visual poetry and conceptual pieces is often like an escape, a sphere where you can neglect rules, concentrate on such – seen in a wider perspective – ridiculous things as language, meaning, and sound, so maybe they are not explicit. I feel that if I want to say something important I should rather do it in a text; although there are many pieces reflecting my other practice, working with the Roma for instance, I would not want conceptual writing to become a mere means for an agenda. It can feel like mere luxury to be working with such pieces when you have knowledge of what is happening in the world however, so I guess a balance is good and necessary both ways.
By focusing on leaf I assume a certain resonance, that there is something here that is applicable more widely (and politically). I also agree with Rinne that if something needs saying then it is best to say it directly. Which makes poetry and writing a zone of play and escape (where we might understand what the practice of those words involves).
Given what is happening in Hungary at the moment, this discussion and the poems you sent out, could say something about how you were thinking through all these issues and how/if/ should they be present in our dialogue and book…
MÁRTON: Lately I’ve gotten interested in topics that have direct political consequences – mostly because it is reaching out for me, almost in a physical sense. But history (my family’s history and through it: anybody’s history) has always been in my head and always influenced my work.
I believe in directness and I don’t believe in it. It brings to my mind Dick Higgins famous bon mot: we can talk about a thing but can’t talk a thing. (Or something similar – I quote it from memory.) And as one of our common favorite writers Kafka says (this is not from memory):
The point of view of art and that of life are different even in the artist himself. Art flies around truth, but with the definite intention of not getting burnt. Its capacity lies in finding in the dark void a place where the beam of light can be intensely caught, without this having been perceptible before.
“Directness” brings to my mind social realism as well and the good advice in my teens about how to write. On the other hand visual poets are also famous for “going beyond”. Beyond language, beyond the usual forms of reflexivity…
I’m a born sceptic and have always had some reservations. And although I’m suspicious about language (that is why I tried to get rid of lexical poetry in the late seventies) (beside the practical advantage of getting rid of my mother tongue and reaching out) (the two things went together), when some of my friends (whose work I love and admire! that’s a different matter!) optimistically state that asemic is more direct, and closer to….
I politely disagree. I don’t see ANY (qualitative) difference between words, asemicity, silence, leaves, and their falling. As I told you before, when I feel easy they are all the same (invitation). But I believe in directness too because we always try our best to “tell the thing” and “show it”. That’s always the case! Getting (or remaining) “closer” – that’s a different thing, which implies indirectness.
It would be great to say/do the “how” when we say/do the “what”. That would be the utmost concreteness in the right sense of the word. “Concrete” poetry frequently brings to my mind Pascal: “Few men speak humbly of humility, chastely of chastity, few doubtingly of scepticism.” And the Brechtian “alienation effect” is a struggle with/ solution to the same dilemma. And in my youth I had to learn to read between the lines in the press. (As I see those times are coming back now.)
In Hungarian Vispo (I’ve sent you two so far and there’s a third one which I’ve put aside and will show a little bit later) I react to my situation. Hungarian democracy is collapsing and a new (proto) fascist state is in the making. I was depressed for months, left facebook partly because I couldn’t catch up partly because I felt I couldn’t share my new experiences.
We don’t understand it first. It is different from our expectations. It can’t happen today etc. Plus everybody has his/her problem. Life is not easy either in Hungary, the UK or anywhere else. Anyway, I went to the demonstrations and felt less isolated for a moment. (See: directness.) But after a while the whole mess started inspiring me. (So I must be grateful.) I felt more energetic and conceived several projects. (Your invitation certainly had a positive effect too.)
The majority of my fellow citizens are still inert, even applauding, they tolerate or like the new regime – beautiful. Let’s talk “their” language (which is mine!) the language of naivety. Naivety is the new style: we don’t see, don’t hear. We accept their (changing, self-contradictory) arguments. We approve. Of course my poems are meant to be critical, but the direct form of criticism is self-criticism. Naivety is the peak of dialectical thinking.
I wonder how we could relate these matters to our book. Do you have any idea? This hypocrite version of naivety (the contagious illness in my country) is the very opposite of being close to the “thing”, the very opposite of being direct. We could get from one point (the leaf) to the farthest opposite (naivety) (which is very different from alienation as well), and back again. Writes Kafka:
Hiding places there are innumerable, escape is only one, but possibilities of escape, again, are as many as hiding places.
And as you probably noticed Hungarian Vispo No. 1 paraphrases Gomringer’s famous Silencio.
DAVID: Yesterday I came across a letter from John Ruskin where he talks about being given a book as a gift and finding a leaf has been placed between two pages. I like to think of that gesture as another bringing together of leaf and book – the book “pressing” the leaf, the book also giving the leaf the feel of a secret. Secrets, though, that possess a directness (there’s a leaf in the book!)
MÁRTON: The idea of inserting the Hungarian Vispo in a small black, white and green book sounds very good to me! It would be just the opposite of the situation that John Ruskin comments on in his letter. I mean: we would insert pages (dealing with political surrealities and abstractions) between leaves (or at least between pages dealing with leaves, with singularities, and with the unique process of leaving).
Yes, perhaps we could emphasize the difference between attention (even if it is only peripheral because it cannot be anything more) (even if it is a failure) and the bad faith of naivety (in the above sense). Attention to the (one) leaf, to the process of leaving etc. on one hand. Turning away from our situation and from the “elements”, on the other hand.
One can disintegrate the world by means of very strong light. For weak eyes the world becomes solid, for still weaker eyes it seems to develop fists, for eyes weaker still it becomes shamefaced and smashes anyone who dares to gaze upon it.
DAVID: I’m reading Lee Rourke’s book on fables, moving from Aesop to Kafka, Walser, Borges and on to contemporary flash fiction. I realise some sense of “Fable” has been one frame for how I have tried to think about writing and poetry, the cluster of meanings and images in your poems…
MÁRTON: Yes, fables is an interesting cluster. I loved them in my youth – and I’ve already realized that my Hungarian Vispo was a reaching back to them – although it wasn’t conscious. And it also might be a more general pattern that I used earlier as well.
D. TODAY I HAD A VISION ABOUT IT
MÁRTON: Nothing is urgent about the book, but today I had a “vision” about it, which is perhaps more elaborated than the previous ones. The basic idea came from your last message, your reference to the Ruskin letter, and what I wrote in my response, that we could/should change the situation into its opposite, inserting “pages” between “leaves”.
That would be an interesting situation, and in harmony with my recent interest. And our correspondence can be quite well grouped around it! The last impulse came yesterday from my recent piece, Hungarian Passport (From Exile To Emigration), and from realizing how close its structure is to Cursive – for Bob Grumman. And we could count on the different connotations of Exile and how they are related to “falling” and “leaving”.
Here I send you the nine jpegs that I’d like to include. We could add the notes, I mean the edited version of our correspondence. I imagine a simple color publication – xerox would be fine with me. The A5 size would be fine, BUT landscape format instead of portrait.
Hungarian Masterpiece Summer 2011
Hungarian Vispo No.1
Hungarian Vispo No.2
Hungarian Vispo No.3
Curiosity (Hungarian Vispo No.4)
Hungarian Passport (From Exile to Emigration)
Cursive – for Bob Grumann
MÁRTON: My basic idea about the Ruskin paraphrase is that by wrapping pages in “leaves” (instead of finding leaves between the pages of a book), I would emphasize that all those “political” messages are informed by my basic (but also unfathomable) experience about the “fall of leaves”, which is a natural process, although humans can spoil it, and add to it unnecessary (extra) suffering.
MÁRTON: Maybe Cursive should be left out completely. Cursive has its own irony (the changing “direction” of the leaves, which makes cursive, paradoxically, cursive), but most people would miss that effect (especially if the size of the motif is reduced), and would associate it with a different irony, related to the leaves themselves (framing a book of politically motivated poems), which would be against my wish!
DAVID: I’ve been going through our correspondence putting together a draft of the book. It seems from our emails that we have a three part structure to what we have been doing: (1) the original Evergreen draft manuscript; (2) the debates around poetry unfolding from your Hungarian Vispo series, which also found gestural focus in Ruskin’s act of locating a leaf in the pages of his book; (3) the formulation of a second Evergreen.
Working through this material has led me to conceive of a publication composed solely of our dialogue, without images. There are practical reasons for this, about the ability to reproduce your colour images and how, perhaps, their best mode of distribution is the internet.
Our print publication emerges for me as a response to your question: ”I wonder how we could relate these matters to our book. Do you have any idea?” It tests and models and makes space for the after effects of (your) poems, the space they create when they themselves are not present in their original form, but have become talk, rumour, argument, story, fable…
Such a decision also picks up on the refusal that recurs in the text – your writer’s block in response to events in Hungary, also the “refusal to write” in response to political situations as we might understand it in the career of George Oppen. It felt right to give space to this condition, not as an absolute, but something variable and ever present within a writing practice.
I looked up Norma Cole’s To Be At Music: Essays & Talks, remembering something she wrote about George Oppen’s years of refusing to write. Instead, I found this:
That’s not memory it’s a picture as though it is still a possible action shaking like the idea of a leaf.
A print edition of this exchange was produced by VerySmallKitchen at X Marks the Bökship as part of
Evergreen, March 30th, 2012. Thanks to Eleanor Brown for her assistance, hospitality and printer. See also texts of work from the night by SJ Fowler, seekers of lice, Claire Potter and nick-e melville. A set of “visual translations” by David Kelly is here.
See a previous VerySmallKitchen exchange with Márton Koppány here.