I have just added two short poems today. They are a stranger amongst a shoal of elements and hot chocolate. I must apologise for the glacial slowness with which I am migrating these lithopoemai from the obsolete site to this – other priorities have intervened and interfered.
I have had to stop and think about this small collection. A couple of days ago I was discussing (or rather I was being informed about) the late-mid-20c music of Pierre Boulez and the movement towards mathematically-constructed, twelve-tone music. One thread of the conversation was that the art-form in question prioritised process over product, that it valued the mathematical method of its construction more than what was finally presented. Whilst the conversation was going on I was listening to Boulez’s Le marteau sans maitre, hearing how dated it now seemed and how soulless (pace Pierre Boulez who is a giant of modern music in both composition and conducting). Of course the experiment of dodecaphonic music had to be done, it was necessary, it cut through an established musical ‘elite’, but in doing so I feel that it created a new one, a serious-minded group of people with a purely intellectual approach to music perhaps. In some way it was unapproachable. The young Boulez himself said in 1952 “any musician who has not experienced — I do not say understood, but truly experienced — the necessity of dodecaphonic music is USELESS. For his whole work is irrelevant to the needs of his epoch.” A musician of Boulez’s stature can afford to be that arrogant, but it seems to me that the musical experiment of which he was the spearhead was severely limited in the way it could communicate.
Lithopoesis was a form of presenting words with which I felt I had to experiment. There were no two ways about it. I was conscious whilst writing this poetry that it was not necessarily going to be easy reading. People who read my poetry were used to seeing, in both my free and my formal work, lots of rhythm, word-play, assonance, many things which were to some extent sacrificed in lithopoesis for a purely concrete effect. Of course lithopoesis opened up some avenues as well – notably it was a good vehicle for a stream-of-consciousness approach – but relatively quickly I reached the stage where I had written all that I wanted to write that way. This this site and blog is likely to reach a point of stasis, a point at which it is merely an archive.
I can live with that.
When an artist, musician, or writer conducts an experiment and produces something unfamiliar and ‘difficult’, and presents it to the public, he or she instantly communicates. Only by keeping the experiment behind closed doors does it remain a pure experiment. Once it is put ‘out there’ it becomes something which is communicated to its audience, whether we like it or not. We should not shirk from presenting difficult material, but we must be prepared for its ability to communicate to be restricted. I have often said that I do not like the ‘Chinese walls’ which separate process and product in the practice of any art form; as a result I have always been aware that when I write and publish a poem I am engaged in communicating. That does not and should not restrict me to banality, but I feel it does lay on me an obligation of clarity.
Thank you for following this musing today.