Monday, August 23, 2010

The Chained Hay(na)ku Project

I adverted this book earlier here, now I shall review it, in my muddling way. The Chained Hay(na)ku Project was curated, so it says on the cover, by Ivy Alvarez, John Bloomberg-Rissman, Ernesto Priego, and Eileen Tabios. Meritage Press and xPress(ed) somehow jointly published it. As always, my reviews are invitations. I aim to direct you to the mine, and hope you dig (!) as fruitfully as I have.

I admit that I appear in this book, in three ways: as part of a collaboration, in a contributor’s note, and with ruminations upon the process of writing collaboration, which each contributor was asked to make. I like this tactic. I always loved the front and back matter that Black Sparrow often supplied to/for its publications. The books of Eileen Tabios always have similar material. I sense a burrowing integrity in works with such excess of riches.

I’m not sure what attracts me to this extra material. I like hearing whence a poem came, what was expected of it, how it seemed to work in the author’s eyes. I grew up reading the backs of baseball cards, not completing any useful finding from the statistics but just enjoying the complexity of their gathering. Somehow, it feels the same way with biographical notes and notes on process plus, oh yeah, the poems themselves.

Since I am seemingly self-ultimate concerning my writing, I have little memory of my part in the collaboration that I did with Anny Ballardini and Jeff Harrison. A general invitation went out for collaborative contributions. I think Anny must have encouraged our getting together. Jeff and I have a track record of collaborative endlessness so I guess we did pretty good to end the thing at 10 pages. I cannot tell now who added what, tho I do recall our getting confused as to who was supposed to add what when.

I guess I should say at this time, well enough about me, but I would like to note that the format of one word line, then two word line, then three word line produces a nice metre to work with. The counting is simpler than what, say, Ron Silliman has employed, fibonaci and such, yet keeps one minded of a certain pulse. Meditators know to follow the breath. This counting, in my experience, provides a breath to follow. A poetic breath.

I was witness to the creation of another hay(na)ku collaboration in this collection. Nineteen members of the Wryting-L list (but not Anny, Jeff or me, who were doing our own thing) posted their ongoing collaboration to the list. Whereas Anny, Jeff and I passed the baton between us, taking turns, I think contributions to this large collab occurred more randomly. Riffing on the work of others happens frequently on Wryting; the hay(na)ku collaboration arrived in that way. One feels the improvisatory energy in its development. The untitled work begins:

Tom Lewis wrote:

whisky in glass:

nightcap or


and ends:

Tom Savage wrote:

Once a hello

Leaves your lips

It is no longer yours

In between is a field of testing and consideration. Please imagine that lines are not spaced so far apart in the book, only on this misusing blog.

Several works incorporating visuals appear in this gathering. One should realize and recognize that this book was developed largely online, via email and listerv, where collaboration exists as an essential dynamic. The hay(na)ku format invites concatenation, or it does now. I think originally more people used hay(na)ku to produce 3-line poems, like haiku. An inherent invitation to add one to another seemed obvious, and has been exploited.

What this means is that verses have a discrete power. The six words team up to maintain a local gravity while spinning around the idea of The Poem. I know, for myself, that the segregation of the regulated 6 words of each verse creates a separation from the larger work, even while supporting that larger work. A centripetal force occurs in tandem with the gravitational pull. I hope that’s not too much science for humanities types.

The thunderstuck core of this book would be the poem “Four Skin Confessions”, and the divagations on same, by the curators of this project. The divagations are in fact conversations on the process. One feels genuine weight in the matter. The poem is thoughtfully executed.

This book is a charming adventure because the format forces restriction, and yet the restriction hardly restricts. We all were on our best behaviour, counting words in lines, yet always intimating a region outside that restriction, where the poem lives. Trust me, this book offers lots more than I have indicated. I recommend this book as a learning tool.

I say that for several reasons. First, the poems read well as poems. That’s a nice little bonus when reading poetry, taking it as a given that a lot of poetry sucks. The self-interrogation of the authors here is surely instructive in not just a Paris Review Interview way. One feels the ruction of collaboration as one reads the poems themselves and their process notes, jounce for jounce.

Our revolutionary educational friend Paulo Freire advocated dialectic over the pressed meat into sausage casing model of education (i. e. lecture lecture lecture into sponge brain ninnies, Sponge Brain Square Bob). These collaborations ruffle appropriate feathers in the demonstrative debate for the poem’s fair creation. This book is a beautiful thing,

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