Proposition and experiment

I. Many people will not, of their own accord, look at a poem.

II. Millions of people will, of their own accord, spend lots and lots of time looking at photographs of cats.

III. Therefore, earlier this year, I concluded that the best strategy for increasing the number of viewers for poems would be to print them on top of photographs of cats.

IV. I happen to like looking at both poems and cats.

V. So this is, for me, a win-win situation.

VI. Fortunately, my own cat is a patient model, and (if I am to be believed) quite photogenic.

VII. The aforementioned cat is Tisko Tansi, small hero.

VII. Thus I present to you (albeit in digital rather than physical form) an Endearments broadside, featuring a poem that originally appeared in BlazeVOX spring 2011.

VIII. If you want to share a copy of this image, please ask first. If you want a real copy, you can ask about that too.


Poetic objects

The endearments lend themselves particularly to the world of things. At least, I have found it easier to work with them visually than with other poems of late. I’ve printed them on top of old photographs, and on the pages of old natural-history textbooks. And I’ve printed them on top of newer images too. These objects, even the digitally created ones, are of the physical world rather than the virtual one. This is important. In an essay for Fringe,On Poetic Objects and Poetic Economies,” I consider the advantages and challenges of bringing poems into the visual world:

If I could think of the poems as objects, I said to a friend, a visual artist, this past spring, they would take up as much room as objects do in my mind, and then I would need fewer things in my life. Fewer artifacts waiting to become art.

After exploring cheap art, poems on cards, broadsides, I allow myself a bit of exhortation on these objects’ behalf:

After it’s had the chance to live online a while, affix your poem to a page. One you can give out, or barter for snacks or a drink, or sell for a few bucks. . . . And if you are one of the fine folks who are doing something like this already, for your own work or for that of others, in your living room or in a letterpress studio, I applaud you. Don’t stop. . . .

Make it. Allow it to exist in time, and try again. And try new things, and get better.

It’s easier to get away with such imperatives if you’ve followed your own advice. In the case of poetic objects, though, the physical evidence necessarily has a smaller audience than the html-encoded call to action. So I am offering a partial fix. Shortly I’ll post the digital iteration of a broadside I made of the “beloved” endearment. I printed it on pale grey, textured paper, and I handed it out at the 2011 West Chester University poetry conference. Now it will live here too, but it is better in person.


Origins

I was an early reader, and my mind has always had things to say about words. When I was young, one habit it had was to make an acronym of the words in any sentence running through it, then imagine how to pronounce that acronym. The results were not often pleasing, consonants clunking up against each other. But my brain was nonetheless pleased. I tried to stop it, sometimes; then, for the most part, it faded away on its own.

Some people get a similar mental satisfaction from contemplating shape and form, or number. I like an artful lamp as well as anyone, and I dislike being in poorly designed spaces. I would like to be able to read the formulas I encounter in scientific papers, and toward this I am reading a slim little book called Understanding Mathematics. (For the record, I also dislike the anagrams puzzle in the newspaper–it’s not solely the figuring-out that motivates me, although that is nice; when I take apart a word, I’m exploring, not trying to figure out an end someone else has already concluded.)

But I don’t get the same cerebral hit from regarding the heart-shaped leaves of the houseplants in the break room at work, for instance, or the salt shakers (which are disposable, which drives me crazy), or a column of numbers, that I do from reading the poster on the wall. “What do these people have in common?” it asks. Most of the rest of it is too small to read from a lunch table across the room, but that sentence has plenty of good sounds in it. Thank god, says my brain, thank god you’re here, or the only thing I’d have to read is “Coca Cola,” which the drink machine proclaims vertically and hugely and offensively.

Maybe it was from this inclination to remake words, to hear them and get inside them, that the endearments came.