18 Apr 2011

Word-Engine Fueling: Clifford Duffy's cărbune

posting by Corry Shores
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Clifford Duffy engineered a fascinating raw-coal-powered poem here at AntiOedipus: cărbune. It's quite a sophisticated poetic engine. I don't think you will find anything remotely like it anywhere else (except at Duffy's other blogs).

Let me just give a glimpse of the opening. The rest I cannot reproduce, because it is far too advanced for my primitive technologies.


I show this to highlight one really remarkable thing about Duffy's innovation. The text moves left-to-right, but this gives us the words in sequence from the line's right-side to its left-side. In other words, we read backwards something given forwards. The fore is given aft and the aft fore. Perhaps we might consider a term, "aftfor" to mean, 'given dually in forwards and in reverse'. The aftfor presentation of the text overlays two lines simultaneously:
singing now Now Song
Song Now now singing
The part of our mind that organizes the words puts it forward, while the part of our mind that hears it gets it backward. What does this create in our minds then? For me, the second line that my mind organizes in forward arrangement, 'Song Now now singing', tells me that the poem is talking to me, it is the song herself that is now singing. But the first line, the line as my mind hears it, 'singing now Now Song', renders us the reader as the singer doing the singing, and brings us into the now moment of our recital, that very moment of us hearing these very lines. We are now singing a song that is now itself singing. We might read this prior sentence and get its meaning abstractly. But because of Duffy's motored text, we in fact experience that very thing, that mutual partnering of singers and songs both singing and being sung (to).

A bit lower, in fact, where there is the left-to-right moving text 'lip over sea b air', I not only read the words backwards and forwards at the same time, I also read the phonetics backwards too, like a record album played in reverse.

The other parts do not do this as much for me, but for some reason the simultaneity of the backwards and forwards phonetics sounds to me like "rare be easy over rappel" or some variation like that. And this is because of the eye-motions that dance in partner to the text's movement, as if the text were reading itself forward while we read it backward, stuttering the two together by making the text wind-back over itself. Between these divergent con-disjunctive voices is a depth of difference given in full immediacy, an intensity of sound and meaning. And this is just one part of many more motions happening at the same time!

I would like to point out some other things.

One is the combinatorics. The main two blocks of diversified language-motion seem to contain different independent streams. They are not coordinated so that the same simple general pattern repeats. In fact, I get the impression that each moment shows a unique configuration. Why is this important? I think it has much to do with the continuous variation in the dance of combinations and disjunctions. Words that were at one point read together might later appear apart from one another. And words at one point that do not coincide on the screen can at another moment in time be found concurrent. The poetry here then is not merely the words that appear on the screen. It is also in the rhythm of the combinations and disjunctions of flows and their parts, the pulling-apart and pushing-together of pieces.

In one part, moving left-to-right, there is a series of ||||| marks that first appear, trailed aftfor by 'dance.'

What I like about this, is we feel the dance before we read it, that is, we feel the dance as the flickering motion of the bars, and these bars as well dance in partner (in apartnership) to the other text-bands. It is to have the feeling of a meaning before seeing the meaning, a motor-tactile presentation of language like nothing else I have experienced, because it is not here just feeling the physical contours and textures of the phonetics, but feeling the actual meaning, feeling the style of the dance before it appears as a literal meaning. This makes it not just any dance, but this dance, which is a dance with the feeling of what we just sensed in the |||| motions.

Another amazing part is the final moving line, given in white, coming right below "I'm hearing your voice," and in fast small text reads "InSide of me Inside you YouInSide your NOW inside of me." This text is almost completely indiscernible in its entirety. I had to do a screen shot to get it all. Sometimes it disappears into the left boundary of the "I'm hearing your voice" above it. It is like a voice moving inside the other voice, not just metaphorically, but the voices in our mind while reading these texts also enter inside one another as the one visually escapes into the other

This poem also links to a song. So implied in the text's dancing is music with singing, and when played together, the voices of the text and the song overlay, each one of a different sort of world (text voice / sound voice), so they remain apart, but their simultaneity is a sort of bridge that links the worlds without reducing one to the other, bringing one voice inside the other without either ceasing to be incompressible with the other.

I also like the appearance of the 'inhalation' here.

The stylized 'h' aspires heavily, as if the word itself were breathing.

Duffy has other mechanically-enhanced poems that we should dig-up and marvel-at. More on that later.

Clifford Duffy. cărbune

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