I have avoided including words in the endearments that give the final endearment away—so, no lovely in my little love. If such a word appears in an anagram, though, that seems fine. No surprise is lost.
tilt me lovely
One thing about computers: They make it easy to come up with a plethora of options, and harder to take the time to think about a single option’s merit. I always begin writing an endearment by hand. Despite this, on typing up the initial draft, I often end up with several nearly identical electronic iterations, which begin to blend together on the screen. I print them out, but it can still be hard to tell what’s what.
Thus the trusty scissors, which I have just employed for cinnamon. The poem has started to shape itself into phrases, but their relation to one another has been eluding me. I printed the poem out and cut it into word- and phrase-sized slips of paper. A few rearrangings, a hand-written recording of the result, and suddenly a new option leapt out. Not a change to make the poem perfect, but one I hadn’t seen on the screen.
Was it the slips of paper? Was it the clean, blank page, with title at the top and final word at the bottom? Was it the writing of a slantwise draft in the margin, which is now the only draft on that page? Or was it just that essential ingredient of the endearments (and of most poems), time?
Speaking of time, cinnamon is from a very other one. I encountered it in a post by Katherine Connor Martin on the Oxford Dictionaries blog, about endearments that have fallen from use. Cinnamon is Chaucer-era, and it seems a fine one to bring back. Next in line: turtle (although I am taking the liberty of using the full phrase turtle dove).
And speaking of computers, and vexation, a project I’ve been working on for a while is just released. Forces of Attention, a series of objects designed to help people mediate their relationships with their computers, debuts with series 1: THE WORLD IS NOT IN HERE. You can get a copy at todointhenewyear.net. If you do, and if you have thoughts about it, I’d like very much to know.
The endearment ending “peaches” was published a couple weeks back as part of the 100,000 Poets for Change anthology at Fieralingue. This is really a coincidence of timing—it happened to be ready, and the anthology call was there, a confluence which serves to foreground some things about the poem that I had formerly been muttering about to myself only.
For so long I had the best-words part of this endearment, but the best order for them eluded me. So a narrative emerged to help me as I revised. “Cease,” “ash heap” and “cheep” suggested a phoenix to me—burning up, then resurrection. “She paces, hep as cash” felt like the push against the feminine that I sometimes feel. The “she” in my mind was wearing tweed, and a little cap, possibly. Expecting trouble but brazen in the face of it. About to change. Maybe to embody the gender he really was. Maybe just to bust loose.
I said the story about resurrection and about gender to A. a while back and he did not buy it. It seemed too far-fetched to him. I was disappointed, but as I have mentioned before, this circumstance is okay—the phoenixical skeleton upon which I have draped the poem as I’ve worked on it is not an essential part of the finished poem. It is less skeleton than clothes-horse. I pat it on the rump, say thanks, and let it run off into the field where retired clothes-horses spend their days.
Because I don’t want that framework to determine an end-meaning for the poem. It can’t, realistically; it’s not part of the poem proper, and the markers that originally suggested it often change as I revise. “Cease” became “Cease speech”; that and the “cheeps” at the end may say something about language. A change of language. A good silence, then (a) great cheer.
On September 24, the day of 100,000 Poets for Change, I’ll hand out broadsides of the peaches endearment. If you would like one, you can let me know. I am for change.
When my brother was little, four or five, he had a collection of action figures. “Cave-mans,” he called them, and he loved them. He sat at the bottom of the stairs, on the subdued, 1990s blue and cream of the round braided rug, leaning on the first step and enacting a fight between two of these figurines, which were small enough for him to hold around the middle.
“And he pkoh, and he pkoh,” he said, banging them into each other. The noise he made was a really good pow noise, the consonants a p and something like an aspirated ch, followed by an o sound that had a little u in it, like the vowels of “foe” and “true” combined. This sound was the verb. He told himself the story they were acting out.
Not all, but some, of the Endearments are like action figures. The anagrammed words suggest a story, an idea. As I revise, I move the words around to enact it, change the story to work better with the words. This supplies shape to something that might not always offer clear choices for what will sound and look best.
As the pkoh is not inherently visible in the action figure—it requires my brother to make itself known—the stories I tell with the poems as part of making them are not necessarily visible in the finished poem. But they give shape to the thing I’m working on.
The poem ending “beloved” came to be in this way. When I think of it, I think of a couple who are making a house (N and C, for instance). The never-ending decisions to be made about what fixtures to order, what to build and what to pay someone else to build, how audacious to be in choices of paint colors; the encouragements and frustrations of doing something big with a partner. . . .
So, “be bold,” I imagine one saying to the other. “Bevel, vee.” As I made the poem, this helped me choose what words to use and in what order to say them. The act of moving the words around, either with a pencil on a printed sheet or (less preferably) on my computer screen, is like playing with action figures also. A humming, quiet, thoughtful playing, punctuated by sudden exactitude—the right place found for a word, two words saying just the right sounds.
In the land of science, a problem that comes up is that negative results are (people suspect, anyway) underreported. So, say, if someone shows a correlation between two things, their study might have better chances of getting published, and of getting talked about, than if they did a study and found no correlation. The lack of correlation is valuable information, but it’s maybe less exciting.
I was talking with L at the Fun-A-Day NC show about choosing what to exhibit. If I did a project, said L, I would want to pick the best things and show them, not show every day’s thing. That makes sense, I said. (And, in fact, that is what I did this time.) But there was also something nice about K’s every-day drawings of portraits on coffee receipts, and similarly about A’s comic for each day of the month showing and telling about some thing that happened that day. It’s a matter of what you’re privileging, I guess—quality of the art, or the process of making the art. The process aspect is being made into lots of books lately. My year of x. A month in y. And I am tempted by it also. This is another way of saying, I’m going to report all of my results.
There are ways in which this project is scientific: I have crafted a set of rules that will let me test some things. There are ways in which it is not: The end results, although some generalities will become evident over time, aren’t testing a new hypothesis. They prove:
—that words are made of letters, which make other words;
—that words are really interesting;
—that vowels, in particular, do interesting things in combination with one another.
But none of these things needed proving—and this is where the project is more like art: even if those ideas are as solidly acknowledged as the theory of evolution, and perhaps because they are, it seems useful and fun to play with what they are talking about. (You could argue that “words are really interesting” is not a proven truth, sure, but if “interesting” is substituted with “complex,” or “intricate,” or similar, it becomes less arguable.) Anyway, the point of each poem is not to test what might be a universal, it is to play with particulars and, because of some certain already-established universals such as the pleasingness of vowels, to enjoy it. —And because of other universals such as the diversity of words and meanings in English, to be surprised by it, from time to time.
It would be more scientific to include the “failures”—the words that do not make any or enough words to make a useful poem—along with the “successes.” It would be more scientific to call them all “results” and not taint these results with ideas of predetermination. I do hope when I begin with a word to find other good words in it. I also hope, though, to know it better—and sometimes knowing it better just means knowing the limits to which it can go. Maybe a list of these non-anagramming words would be relevant. But what belongs on that list and what doesn’t?
Take bobo. E said, I thought about sending you endearments, but all the ones I like have just one or two letters, and I thought, that’s no good. Thankfully, she sent it anyway. It has the feeling, to me, of bumping shoulders with someone, jostling them in that friendly way. And when E calls Tisko (the cat with whom I live) Bobo, I can hear the sweetness she lends the word. To know this word is an endearment is good. Scientifically speaking, to see what happens is good.
And what happens with “bobo” is—well—likely something like a one-line poem. Or maybe two—which leads me to wonder about one of the parameters I hadn’t had the need to set explicitly before. Is O, bobo! complete? Or should a complete one of these poems use at least all the letters of the endearment in the rest of itself? That is, should it contain at least one complete anagram of itself? I haven’t made up my mind.