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EVERGREENEVERGREEN: AN EXCHANGE WITH MÁRTON KOPPÁNY

In Uncategorized on May 24, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Márton Koppány, Hungarian Masterpiece Summer 2011

 

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.

 

Márton Koppány, Fall Leaves

 

 

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
many months

and now I must rake leaves
with nothing blowing

between your house
and mine

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.

 

 

Márton Koppány, Ellipsis No.15

 

 

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:

Fall Leaves
I’m leaving 1-2
Colon (Eroica)
Evergreen
Apassionato
Still
Ellipsis No. 15
Cursive
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.

 

Márton Koppány, Hungarian Vispo No.1

 

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?

 

Márton Koppány, Evergreen

 

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.)

 

Márton Koppány, Cursive – for Bob Grumman

 

 

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.

 

 

Márton Koppány, Still

 

 

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.

 

 

Márton Koppány, Colon (Eroica)

 

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).

 

Márton Koppány, Hungarian Vispo No.2

 

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….

 

Márton Koppány, Hungarian Vispo No.3

 

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.

 

Márton Koppány, Appassionato

 

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.

 

Márton Koppány, Hungarian Vispo No.4 (Curiosity)

 

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”.

 

Márton Koppány, I’ll Regret It

 

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”.

 

Márton Koppány, Hungarian Passport (From Exile to Emigration)

 

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.

 

Fall Leaves
Evergreen
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.

 

Márton Koppány, Csend (Silence) – for Geof Huth

 

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.

Images in this post were previously published in Otoliths, Eratio, experiment-o, and On Barcelona, as well as in the following collections:

 

To Be Or To Be; the Runaway Spoon Press, 1997
Endgames, Otoliths, 2008
Modulations, Otoliths, 2010
A Motion (e-book), cPress, 2011

 

See a previous VerySmallKitchen exchange with Márton Koppány here.

 

 

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A PRIMER IN CONCRETE: AN EXCHANGE BETWEEN DAVID BERRIDGE AND MÁRTON KOPPÁNY

In Uncategorized on September 9, 2010 at 7:42 pm

 

Márton Koppány, Ellipsis No.8

 

 

In July 2010 I invited the Budapest based poet Márton Koppány to contribute to WRITING/EXHIBITION/PUBLICATION, a month long exhibition and residency project at The Pigeon Wing gallery in South London (3 Sep-3 Oct 2010).

I first encountered Márton’s work through his 2003 collection Investigations & Other Sequences and the online version of the Institute of Broken and Reduced Languages. Thinking about how writing moves (or not) between the different locations of the exhibition title, I returned often to Investigations and Márton’s more recent work, much of it available online.

The following is an edited version of an exchange that took place by email between 22nd July 22nd and 18th August 2010. 

1.

DAVID:  Hi Márton. In thinking through your contribution to the exhibition, perhaps we could also have a dialogue by email. Looking at your work, I’ve been thinking about connections between poetry, conceptual art, and the absurd.

MÁRTON: In some sense you’ve summarized my own interests/inclinations as well!   

DAVID: Perhaps we could focus on that phrase.  

MÁRTON: We could start from any point, and than go where the whims of our self-reflexivity lead us. My short comment on your phrase didn’t mean anything more special than a nod. (By the way, how will we note our metacommunicational reactions?) (How will we replace poetry with essay?) 

Generally speaking I’m very careful with generalisations and labelings also because I’ve never been good at them. I prefer comments that remain close to a text or situation or a mental condition – and “visual” poetry is a good example of it.  

You write: “Making connections between traditions of poetry, conceptual work, and traditions of the absurd.” Yes, but they’ve never been separated in a fine work like that of, let’s say, Finlay’s. He had a basic feeling or recognition, which we can analyze now, but I don’t imagine that he ever wanted to add, say, a hint of conceptual flavor to his poems. 

I mention Finlay here because you respond to his work in your Otoliths piece. Finlay says: “Just so, ‘concrete’ began for me with the extraordinary (since wholly unexpected) sense that the syntax I had been using, the movement of language in me, at a physical level, was no longer there…”  And of course nobody wants to sound “absurd” (except for those, perhaps, who participated in a literary movement a few decades ago). I dare to say this because Kafka is my favorite writer. 

DAVID: The phrase that came to mind today was A PRIMER IN CONNECTIONS OF POETRY, CONCEPTUALISM AND  THE ABSURD. By which I mean we could gather some examples, incidents, case studies of each, seeing how each word functions for you, and for me in response. Tentative, working definitions of each word… final text maybe a mix of essay/ interview/ anthology… 

MÁRTON: I don’t want to hide behind my limitations with English and explain away my other limitations through it, but my English is really an obstacle (as you can see). I ask for your (and the potential reader’s) patience. For me it is almost impossible to talk of these kind of things, especially in English – but also in Hungarian. Yes, we should refer to concrete works (of ours and others) as we go ahead, and put them in the focus of our discussion!

How does the word “absurd” function for us? Is it an intrusion and a threat or rather a kind of relief? It was both for Kafka, I guess.

DAVID:  Send me twelve images. Think of it as a selection of the  work you would like to make as an intervention/ contribution to this project.”

MÁRTON: Good. (I feel as if I’d always been writing the same poem.) I’d like to do something similar with your work. Could you please send me something over?

2.

MÁRTON: I should specify/try to tell again a lot of matters I mentioned yesterday but the core of the thing is that I would like us to begin with the concrete works (with one concrete work that you select from the dozen pieces I’ll be going to send you?), ask you first to comment on it or ask me about it, and then go on with the dialogue.

And it should be YOU who choose a label/frame for my collection in the show. It should reflect YOUR experience with them. I have nothing against “conceptualism” (on the contrary), and “absurd” is as good as “mysterious”. But why don’t we wait a bit with the frame and examine first the concrete works?

It is always difficult to decide where to start. Please let me know what you think. 

DAVID: Yes, lets start from the specifics. 

MÁRTON: Yes, absolutely. I’m looking VERY much forward to our dialogue – which has already started. (We can find a lot of examples of first step last step “dilemmas” in Kafka, Beckett, George Brecht, Bern Porter, and of course in any dialectic logical system, old or new, and we can perhaps deal with them as we go ahead…) Unfortunately I couldn’t open your zip file for some reason. Could you please send your work again as a Word or PDF document? I’m VERY curious about it! 

The twelve images Márton sends are: From “Endgames”, Otoliths, 2008:  Csend (Silence); The Secret; Ellipsis No. 8; Forecast; Waves No. 2. From “Modulations”, Otoliths, 2010: fish 1-3; or; Translation; Vacation; Asemic Table No. 2; Still. I email Marton the manuscript of Kafka Thinking Stations: A Chora(l) Song Cycle.  

3.

MÁRTON: Your Chora is great! Here I send a quotation (you may know it) for your italicized Kafka-crows: while translating Fluxus stuff for an art institute in Budapest, I found a footnote by Dieter Roth which immediately sounded familiar. It was nicely hidden in Spoerri’s Annotated Topography of Chance and was related to a third person: “At this point Josef Albers would say: I have nothing to do with variations: I make variations!” (And a small coincidence: I have a piece, titled “Italics”, in the new issue of Otoliths.) “Please clarify ‘impossibility’” (Chora) Do you know Bern Porter’s “impossible”? (It is the phonetic transcription of the word.) 

Márton Koppány, Waves No.2

 

 

DAVID:  I started making these comments after looking at all the images you sent me. Then I picked one, [Waves No.2] as they seemed to fit most specifically around it. Then my thoughts became specifically about this image. I tried to follow a chain of thoughts but – in a way that maybe relates to the images – I think such chains endlessly stopped. I had to re-write, start again, express a similar concern in a different way or through a consideration of some other aspect of the image…. 

MÁRTON: I’m VERY grateful for your comments, I found them intriguing! But I was in trouble with my responses.

DAVID: But the point of starting with an image was to be more concrete! Sorry! Please pick whatever interests you from the rather lengthy notes that follow. 

MÁRTON: I tried several things in the last couple of days but nothing worked well enough. Whenever I start exposing something to generalizations it becomes very soon unmanageable. (Of course it is my English but not only that.)  I have been retreating from textuality for a long time. Even in my Hungarian textual period (several decades ago) my inclinations had directed me toward the (actual, ever-changing) limits of verbal communication.

The last half of the sentence is quoted from an interview included in my book of 1993, Investigations. I will use my earlier notes written for different occasions when they are relevant, and when I can’t put it any better. 

DAVID: I thought about how, in your poems – should I say images? poems? –  there are objects at the point of becoming letters. And letters at the point of becoming an object, and what happens when we have this balance.

MÁRTON: I started writing something that turned out (?) to be “visual poetry” thirty years ago because by the late seventies I’d understood that if I didn’t want to give up the faint hope of communicating, I should “get rid” of my mother tongue.  So the main source of my way is a deficiency, which makes things simple in some sense. 

I don’t respect/need/enjoy words more OR less than the empty spaces between them, or the sheet of paper they are written on, the rhythm of the turning of the pages, unknown and forgotten symbols, fragments, natural formations like clouds and “objects” found on the internet – each of them and any combination of them may be an invitation. When I feel easy (and ready to make something) I experience their complete equivalence.

DAVID: One thing that happens is we smile. Sometimes we smile, and sometimes we laugh out loud. Different kinds of humour, although whether this is something we can control, in the creation of such works, I don’t know. I sometimes think it is your humour , as maker of this, that the poem evidences, – and  when we smile or laugh we recognise how much we participate in your humour.

MÁRTON: Hope you’re right. Concerning humor, what I think in this quite humorless period of my life (I wrote in 2001)  is that I have two basic states of mind. One is the suffering/confused, when I can’t write at all. The other one – which is more exceptional and keeps sometimes only for a few moments – is the happily confused one, when I can somehow cling to the air and enjoy the panorama. 

But if I write (or more exactly: take) down what I see (which doesn’t happen too frequently), the composition generally gets humorous because suffering and confusion are still present and I see myself in the air. The only relief is that I can accept all those contradictions, at least for the moment, and humour is perhaps just accepting contradictions.

DAVID: Another thing that happens, as objects become letters and letters become objects,  is that we make a picture.  A boat on the sea. Sort of.

We also make a setting. A photo of sea. An artificial sky. Now the balance is between things we think of as landscape and nature, and things that seem a flat surface of colour, something made on the computer. 

The  image is called WAVES. Perhaps this highlights that the zone of importance is more than letters and punctuation, which could otherwise be the figure to the seas ground. 

Márton Koppány, Csend (Silence)

 

 

 

Is this more all over focus where the desire to work in colour came from, after the black and white work of INVESTIGATIONS? Do you still work in black and white? I suspect not. It feels to me, without knowing if this is so, that some definite break happened.

MÁRTON: I’m still working in black and white as well, but you’re basically right, most of my pieces since 2005 have been in colour. When I understood how isolated I was in (or rather out of) the state-controlled culture, I felt I should “leave” my mother tongue behind and reach out. 

That was at the end of the 70’s. I got involved in mail art, started making collages and writing extremely minimalistic poems on small cards. I tried to metacommunicate with the potentials of the sheet of paper itself (it can be torn etc.) and with sequentiality. Color visual poems date back only to 2005, when, all of a sudden, I started seeing color punctuation mark landscapes during a walk. 

Generally I have a basic image first which just emerges. But most of my visual poems significantly (or completely) change in the process of their elaboration, thanks to the call coming from the unexpected “blemishes” of their digital carriers. It is a dialogue, I hope.

Could you please explain to me, what kind of break you meant? When you’re doing something day after day (in my case rather month after month because I’m very slow and produce far fewer items than most visual poets do), you don’t recognize the shift which might be evident for an attentive observer. 

I do feel that my “images” are even more silent than my similarly minimalistic conceptual sequences were. And they might seem in some cases a bit less “poor”. But my “problems” are basically the same. I was thirty years younger when I wrote the bulk of my black and white sequences. Well, that’s a real difference.

DAVID: If we try to row away in the boat, we discover that it is made of punctuation! (Of course, we always knew this really) If we find a way of making this punctuation boat work, we discover this bit of sea isn’t connected to anything else, although it sort of promised it was, or we kidded ourselves that this was the case.

MÁRTON: I can only add that since this is a visual poem and has two dimensions (I framed it to emphasize the fact) (although recently I’ve stopped using frames), it has a vertical reading as well: a white (erased?) (already “missing”?) comma-man is sailing, quietly, in a small black boat consisting of an opening bracket, and under a series of opaque closing brackets consisting of some fleecy clouds in motion.

DAVID: I’ve started writing my notes as “We…” Perhaps “we” navigate into such an images as this on the basis of what we share (punctuation, colour, sea), not on the basis of our individual personalities.

MÁRTON: Yes, you’re absolutely right as far as my intentions are concerned. I don’t want to express anything more than a balance and the lack of it, the mystery “and” absurdity (they’re not “and”, not separated) of… (You know this “of”: you made it talk in your Chora.) What remains if I abstract away from the anecdotical and psychological details of my personal history? Certainty of Death and Certainty of Nothing at All are playing ping-pong in the final of an elimination tournament.

Márton Koppány, Asemic Table No.2

 

 

DAVID: … the poem attains life as its own system, maybe. But what kind of system is it?”

MÁRTON: I have no idea. But – how to put it? – it is certainly not about language. (My intuition, based on “Chora” is that your main interest is also different. They spring directly from a strong sensation (recognition) (or a sensational feeling of no recognition). They “talk back” in the process of realization and (in good case) surprise me. At that point I’m done. The less is the better.

DAVID: … Simultaneity and development. Between surface and depth, 2D and 3D.

MÁRTON: Yes, the surface. We need it, don’t we? I don’t want to imitate 3D (to compete with computer games etc.), but some of my pieces suggest three dimensionality – or use its concept. Nothing can be repeated: the original version of Waves was done in an early period of my digital activity when I had no idea what pixels mean. (I’m still low-tech.) So that version doesn’t exist in higher resolution. In  2008 I reshaped it, and the resolution of the new picture is much higher. It is a bit different / it is the same. Generally speaking my works are rather conceptual but not completely.

DAVID: I did a theatre workshop once where they said to move slowly means having an attention that is very fast and moving all over the body. To move fast requires that attention be very still and slow. 

MÁRTON: Yes, that’s absolutely true!

DAVID: In trying to be concrete I’ve emphasised the positive, playful side of these images, but they could also be read as about impossibility: the disaster of making a boat from letters. What determines whether we read such images for their positive or negative meanings?

MÁRTON: They’re the two sides of the same coin in motion. “Our” total collapse is always at arm reach. I’ve been interested in Judaism (first in Hasidism, later in Talmudic J) and in Buddhism (first only in Zen, later also in Madhyamika, San lun and Hua-yen) and a few other religious and sceptical traditions for more than thirty years, but I can’t say anything wiser. (Perhaps because I’ve remained an ignorant.) 

It really depends on the reader. It will sound idiotic but I vote for harmony. To “work” on these poems, I mean to catch the basic image in the air,  has always been a positive experience for me. I can never create anything when I’m depressed or angry. I need momentary easiness to be able to present that coin – on whatever side of it is more emphasis at the moment. What does it mean?

DAVID: Perhaps the clue is in the title. WAVES. As in “someone waving.” Poem as greeting.

MÁRTON: Yes. Thanks!!!

DAVID: I am thinking about a scene near the end of Tarkovsky’s Solaris. Have you seen it?  If so, maybe you know the scene I am thinking of? 

MÁRTON: I’m a bit ashamed but I left it out. And on top of it all I worked as a film critic for many years in the late eighties and early nineties! I’ve hardly gone to the movies (or watched video) since then.

I skipped a few parts of your letter because I couldn’t relate to them for the moment. 

MÁRTON: Erratum: “I was thirty years younger when I wrote the bulk of my black and white sequences. Well, that’s a real difference.”

I was twenty five years younger…

DAVID: I am at my parents house tonight. My mum shows me a small notebook belonging to  her grandfather. She says all it contains is some blank pages on which are written his union membership number and names of some horses he wished to bet on. This is the only writing or object that remains of her grandfather.

In response to Márton’s email I sent a long response in which I unpacked some ideas – about the education and practice of the writer, how a writing practice sustains itself and develops, and how Márton’s work positioned itself regarding different locations of writing, exhibition, and publication. It felt close to the concerns of Márton’s poetry although, in its 1800 words, it did not once mention a poem…

Márton Koppány, Forecast

 

 

 

MÁRTON: I could relate to several comments of yours, because our dialogue is potentially open in many directions. But we are getting farther and farther from the concrete pieces. (Only one of them has been touched yet.) I must repeat that I’m totally sceptical about general talk over art. My reactions would be meaningless without the momentum (if any) of the concrete poems. If that momentum doesn’t exist, my ideas have no importance. I’d like to stay as close to the poems as possible. 

We could turn back to them. But since both of us have other obligations we could also claim that our text is done – at least for the time being. 

DAVID: I’m sorry if my letter seemed inappropriate. I was uncertain how to engage with the materiality of these images, when it is precisely that materiality these images put into play in different ways (what is natural/ digital, representational/abstract, how parts relate to wholes…) 

MÁRTON: No, no, nothing has been “inappropriate” at all! I’m simply not good at general talk – I lose the thread quickly.  

DAVID:I have begun editing our emails, but I would also like to try and stay with this little “knot” or “crisis” in our dialogue. 

MÁRTON: Others might be different, and that’s fine. I’m happy to talk about any topic (also about poetry and exhibitions) as far as we remain in (or at least close to) the context of the concrete work(s).

DAVID: I feel trapped in a somewhat paradoxical activity: trying to articulate in language that which is at the “limits of expression” and moving beyond the verbal. But not wanting to have a sense of “reclaiming” it, or simplifying it in any way, nor to set up a “mystery” of the image…. 

MÁRTON: You are right, it is a paradoxical activity, but even walking is a paradoxical activity according to Zeno. Some Chinese sources call this use of language “liminological speech”. But the limit is always “somewhere else”. What I mean is that there’s no “beyond” (at least not in my vocabulary, but it can be fine and meaningful in other cases). 

Seeing is still reading, reading is seeing. Words can be mute, while clouds, table legs and water waves, subatomic letter particles can easily start speaking because they’re words AGAIN, signs among signs. I’ve been inclined to use less and less verbal elements, but it is a mental process, which I’ve experienced and also witnessed. 

There’s no methodology involved. Perhaps I’m simply getting older. And as I wrote you in my previous message, I have NOTHING against verbality: if there’s anything I really admire it is first class, pure textual poetry!!! Unfortunately I can’t afford it because I’ve lost my mother tongue and the capacity of articulate speech. No “mystery”. I’ve remained (or would like to be) a writer.

DAVID: So I shall write down what has been persistent for me each time I looked at your twelve images. There is, for example, the element of constructions. Aside from your own sense of form and structure, there are the specific machines of Ellipsis No.8 ,the boat we talked about before, and the fish in, aptly, Fish 1-3:

These are are given an order and movement that is also like that of the metronome in Ellipsis – it has a pace, a measure, a rhythm  – things with a tone, also an instruction for another activity. 

MÁRTON: My work is rather conceptual but my concepts are completely intuitive (there’s no theory behind them), and I’d like to show both. That might have a (dysfunctional) machine-like precision effect in some cases.  

DAVID: Or the brackets of THE SECRET – a spectrum, offering a set of variations, repetitions of a kind, but also that other structure of a mirror in the middle, that offers a reversal, an echo…

MÁRTON: The brackets of the Secret are asymmetrical. (Most people don’t realize it first.) I tried to represent how we construct a secret. (That’s a real secret as Kafka would say.)

Márton Koppány, The Secret

 

 

 

DAVID: It makes me think about seeing and not seeing, refusing perception in some way, not allowing an easy apprehension of the form as object. Sometimes your work isn’t this at all ( the punctuation boat, where the punctuation is evident). But other times it is. I found it hard to decode the reflection in STILL. It evokes figure-ground, op art, perceptual psychology tests…  

Márton Koppány, Still

 

 

 

MÁRTON: “Still” is the reflection (in the water) of something which can’t be seen anymore. “Still” is its only presence. And it is “still” present!!!

DAVID: A shifting sense of “nature.” What do categories like nature and artifice mean when brought into the image? It is something to be played with, and also a way of organising the images: Fish in water and fish in the sky; fish breathing and fish having thought balloons/ clouds/ trees, like we associate with cartoons. 

MÁRTON: Yes, some motives – like the fish or the clouds – have been coming back in different contexts. I like to modify (or completely change) their role: against my own expectations with naming, categorizing etc.

DAVID: You talk about “silence” in colour images. I think the silence is to do with these gaps, and your manipulation between them. Fish…sea…sky…thought balloon… cloud…tree… a certain spectrum (of the comedy/conceptual/absurd) maybe?

MÁRTON: I can’t add anything else!

Márton Koppány, Translation

 

 

 

DAVID: Does it feel reductive to you to talk of a grammar? A set of elements that are identified and explored in repeated ways? In your work it seems more intuitive than this. A repeated image (like the comma emergent from a block of colour) has to be found each time?

MÁRTON: You’re absolutely right, my grammar is intuitive and fluid. I don’t want to set up a rigid sign system. (And I don’t believe in an universal grammar or anything like that. But I do believe that cultural barriers can be crossed in any direction in space and time!)

DAVID: And the titles are a curious element in a practice trying, as you say, to “retreat” from the literary. Sometimes – Forecast- they seem to offer a clarification. Other times, Ellipsis or The Secret – it is more transformative to read the title after looking at the image. The titles are a bit like the purple frame perhaps? Have you ever made an untitled work? 

MÁRTON: Yes, the function of the titles is different in each case. Sometimes they’re very neutral, like, say, “Study No. 3” or “Sans Titre No. 1”. I need them only to slow down a little bit. In other cases they’re important (even core) elements of the composition. There’s no rule.

DAVID: I imagine a reversal: the image as the title, and the title as a miniature poem underneath – like Ian Hamilton Finlay’s one word poem issue of Poor Old Tired Horse where the title could be any length!

MÁRTON: Absolutely! I have a sequence in Investigations, titled “Titles”, where the title becomes the picture and vice versa.

Márton Koppány, The Mist

 

 

DAVID: It feels appropriate that The Mist got separated off in an email by itself! It has a feeling of ending, opposites, and reversals. The object of the suitcase also highlights something about (human) presence and absence that recurs in these images, a referencing and avoidance of the body; journey/ progress/ accumulation alongside nothingness/emptiness. 

MÁRTON: I like a lot your interpretation!

DAVID: It articulates the paradoxes this exchange often returns to. This “landscape” allows a clear articulation of ideas, of materials in themselves – THE. But there’s also a sense that the individual elements in the image have agency, like that “E”, almost thinking of them as human “characters”…

MÁRTON: Yes, I feel the same. I’m VERY happy that you’ve noticed it! 

DAVID: On the subject of breaks. The colour images removes that discourse of the “white space” and how that is constructed in poetry from Mallarmé through to concrete poetry and so on. There is no white space, although maybe The Mist is a way of trying to articulate how it functions, its claims and its illusions – 

MÁRTON: I still use white space (it has central importance in “Still”, for instance), but it has become one “color” among the others. White, whiter, color.   

My frames, as many things in life, came from a coincidence. In the late 70’s when I started tinkering with my first non-just-textual black and white sequences, I cut the xeroxed A/4 pages into four because I wanted to put my work into normal size envelopes and send it out as mail art. But it was difficult to handle the borders without frames, so I glued the originals on black cardboards, and it was convenient to keep the frames as well. 

Very soon I became conscious of their presence. They started to represent limitations – and the opportunity of changing them into a playfield. I noticed another white layer “behind” the black one – and also that there is no “background” anywhere at all.

4.

MÁRTON: David, now that we have more material on the concrete works, I can turn back to your more general comments, and try to make short reflexions.

DAVID: How would you characterise your education? Did you have an apprenticeship? Is writing solitary?

MÁRTON: I’m an economist by profession. I’ve never used my degree. I worked as a film critic for several years. I’ve been translating and editing for a long while.

DAVID: I’ve been reading the work collected as part of the Institute of Broken and Reduced Languages. Could you talk about this idea of the individual working as organisation? I’ve been organising a project called DEPARTMENT OF MICRO- POETICS, so I’ve been thinking through the implications of carrying out poetic- artistic activities under such a banner. 

MÁRTON: The Institute grew out of exchanging messages with a few friends, especially with Gábor Farnbauer, Clark Lunberry and Peter O’Leary (in Slovakia and in the US) in the second half of the nineties, after coming back from Milwaukee where I’d spent three academic years with my wife who was an MA, and later a Phd student and teaching assistant. (I was officially a “family member”, and had different odd jobs.) 

It came from the wish of finding an umbrella different from labels like “concrete” or “conceptual”. 

DAVID: For myself, I’m not copying an institution, or satirising it, so much as trying to create something which is a container and prompt for my work and can also be an invitation to others. 

MÁRTON: During the nineties I had the opportunity to bring out a series of small books in collaboration with a small press in Slovakia. (And a couple of magazine special issues with the same publisher.) At the beginning of new millennium the Institute went online. Karl Young, the poet and essayist gave it a new home at his Light and Dust Anthology, and agreed to co-edit it. Unfortunately it hasn’t been updated for a long time. 

And one more “organization”: with Nico Vassilakis I coauthored a book titled From The Annual Records of The Cloud Appreciation Society. We needed somehow the bureaucratic base – to leviate. A bit later we (or rather our publisher) had some surrealistic debate with the “real” organization wearing the same name.

DAVID: I’m wondering about poetry in exhibitions, poetry as art, poetry exhibited, and writing as an art practice as opposed to a poetic practice.  Do you have any sense of this in your own work? 

MÁRTON: I’ve participated in several shows (the first one was a group show for Eastern European book artists at Franklin Furnace in 1982) and I would be happy to exhibit more. I like the gallery context as much as the book context. Both have their advantages. I can’t fathom the difference between a “text artist” and a “visual poet” in that respect – why on earth one of them inhabits the gallery place, meanwhile the other one is living in books. It is a social game most of all.

Márton Koppány, or

 

 

 

I don’t see any aesthetic difference. In good case we are motivated by the work to see the pages of the book and read the images on the wall. It shouldn’t be mythologized. And turning (clicking) the page is not so different from moving between the elements of an installation. Both connects and separates.

Kitasono Katue’s Magic (in oceans beyond monotonous space; edited by Karl Young and John Solt) is printed on two pages (and should be read in columns, and from right to left). First we have the block of “ocean of ocean of ocean…”, then a single column follows: “a graceful novel and a graceful novel for a novel and a distance between me and all of you”. 

Next comes  the block of “light on water light on water light on water…”. But the flow of the columns of that block stops at the page break. Then it continues on the opposite page, ending in the middle of it. So where can that “graceful novel” and that “distance” be found exactly?

DAVID: WRITING/EXHIBITION/PUBLICATION asks if writing moves fluidly between these different spaces, and/or if there are blocks, stoppages, distinctions between these different locations. 

MÁRTON: I think it is totally fluid.

DAVID: Someone I met at a discussion on education sent me the following quotation which I have been thinking about a lot. It is by an anthropologist called David Graeber: 

“Bourdieu has long drawn attention to the fact that – always a matter of frustration to anthropologists – a truly artful social actor is almost guaranteed not to be able to offer a clear explanation of the principles underlying her own artistry. 

According to the Godelian/Piagetian perspective, it is easy to see why this should be. The logical level on which one is operating is always at least one level higher than that which one can explain or understand – what the Russian psychologist Vygotsky referred to as the ‘proximal level of development.

MÁRTON: I like this! With the extension that of course it is true about philosophers as well. And that is why we (still) can’t do without metaphors.

Márton Koppány, Vacation

 

 

 

DAVID: I’m interested how much or how little could be satisfying in making an image.

MÁRTON: It is very satisfying! In a sense I’m really grateful for my “deficiency”. 

DAVID: I am thinking again about your phrase “retreating from textuality.” I am interested in what is retreated from, and where one retreats to. I am interested if the micro- engagement of your work with language, signs, punctuation, is usefully a working out of relations on a larger level, of families, then neighbourhoods, then economies, nations maybe. Or whether its a separate realm, with different realities of play and gift and…

MÁRTON: No, it is just the same realm. Or we have been “beyond” from the very beginning.

DAVID: Does writing feel practical to you? I often have a sense of a “utility” of writing, a need for it to be “useful.” But I’m not sure quite what uses I have in mind. 

MÁRTON: It is “the support of contemplation”. Very useful! (Nothing is more useful for me.) It can totally change our initial ideas, or give them an unexpected twist. 

DAVID: Our starting concept for this exchange: A PRIMER ON POETRY, THE CONCEPTUAL, AND THE ABSURD. How do you think we’re doing? 

MÁRTON: Please choose a title for our text: it should be the last phase of your editorial work, I guess, and should reflect your experience with it and with the images… I’m curious.

I’ve already found a couple of things that should be corrected in my last two responses. (For instance: I’m not an economist “by profession”, rather “I studied economics but never used my degree”) etc. etc. You can also find a few details confusing (thanks to my English) – and I’ll try to recompose or clarify those details. 

It would be good to keep the dialogue form, I guess, because each response emerged from a concrete question, and they belong together.

DAVID: I’ll edit this while you are on holiday and send it by Friday.  

_______________________

NOTES

1. Csend (Silence) is dedicated to Geof Huth

2. Asemic Table No. 2 is a comment on Tony Trehy’s Reykjavik.

3. The Investigations interview was conducted by Jesse Glass.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

As well as a reference list of books mentioned in this exchange, the following is also a list of texts exchanged by the authors. 

David Berridge, Kafka Thinking Stations: A Chora(l) Song Cycle (The Arthur Shilling Press, 2010).

David Berridge, The Moth is Moth this Money Night Moth (The Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, 2010).

David Berridge, Nutshell Axioms: An Experiment in Reading as Essaying, in Otoliths, Winter 2009.

Kitasono Katue, oceans beyond monotonous space: selected poems of Kitasono Katue, ed. John Solt and Karl Young (highmoonoon books, 2007).

Márton Koppány, Immortality and Freedom (Coracle Press, 1991).

Márton Koppány, To Be Or    To Be (The Runaway Spoon Press, 1996).

Márton Koppány, Investigations & Other Sequences (Ahadada, 2003).

Márton Koppány, Endgames (Otoliths, 2008).

Márton Koppány & Nico Vassilakis eds. From the Annual Reports of the Cloud Appreciation Society (Otoliths, 2008).

Márton Koppány, Modulations (Otoliths, 2010).