Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Ian Monk: Family Archaeology

Ian Monk is a brilliant Oulipian born near London in 1960. He's included in The Oulipo Compendium (Atlas Press, 1998), edited by Harry Mathews and Alistair Brotchie. Method as genial madness is part of Oulipo's claim. It has traditionally valued the production of writing forms rather than the systematic employment of its established forms for the creation of Literature.

Monk's 2004 book, Family Archaeology, is an amazing piece of work, not only as method but also for its thetic purposiveness. The lengthy title poem consists of squared incremental counted verse (2 words to the line x 2 lines to the stanza x 2 stanzas; 3 words to the line x 3 lines x 3 stanzas, and so on until the poem ends at 10 x 10). At the same time, the poem's typesize decreases from 24 point to 18 to 14, concluding with something like 6 point). You have to read it to believe it. Refences to family are threaded through but are not systematic, accretionary, or cross-referential. One of my favorite works in the book is "A Ladder with Butterflies" (A Pananagrammatoum)." It consists of three formal systems: the pangram (a work containing all the letters of the alphabet), a pantoum, and an anagram. The first stanza is: Wild bite art flashed true. / What fired us, created lilt? / If salt tide laughter drew / Hearts judder we fail, tilt.

Kenneth Goldsmith writes of the book, "Once upon a time there was potential literature; now, thankfully, it's been realized. Ian Monk's concrete language hits you like a ton a bricks. As visual as it is verbal, Monk's quantification of the contemporary churns the mundane into the exotic. Charting the unknown turf of the normal, once again gab is new."

Harry Mathews: "The engagement with experience that these poems discover reveal a character of fire, a razor-sharp intellect, and a heart as big as Harrod's." Fire, as in the Heraclitean tradition of change, process, and indeterminacy that holds sway over the Other Tradition, even in its formalisms.

The book is published by Make Now Press, Los Angeles, edited by Ara Shirinyan.


At 3:21 PM, Blogger EU.CÁ.VOO.CAMINHANDO said...

Very good.

At 10:58 AM, Blogger sink sink socks said...

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At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does Oulipo present parallel opportunities and challenges to formal poetry? Can it in this way be considered a kind of form or meta-form? If so / if not, why do you think that is? And would this bright man you mention have excelled in a parallel undertaking of equal challenge / opportunity? I guess what I'm trying to say is, what makes Oulipo (or its individual systems of constraint) special?

At 11:17 PM, Blogger Paul Hoover said...

Dear Robert: With regard to the specialness of Oulipo, I suggest you look at The Oulipo Compendium, an encyclopedia of its forms. See first Raymond Queneau's "One Hundred Billion Billion Sonnets." Many of the Oulipians are associated with math, science, and technology, and are more committed to the creation of writing games and forms than to the production of volumes of poetry and fiction. Literary formalists like Dana Gioia are fond of poetic tradition and want to reinvigorate the sonnet, heroic couplet, ballad, and so on. But they can be reluctant to invent new writing games. Both traditional formalism and that of Oulipo have to do with measure (counting) of some kind, but Oulipo views expression quite differently. Its commitment is not to lyricism or an understanding of the human condition; nevertheless its works are meaningful. Try writing a 12-line lyric poem that contains no letter "a," for instance, and post it to this blog. If I receive more than one response, I'll consider it a contest and mail the winner a free copy of Ian Monk's book.


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