Monday, August 1, 2011

Abstract Language #1: kevin mcpherson eckhoff’s Rhapsodomancy.

Andrei Molotiu has been kind enough to invite me to contribute to Abstract Comics: The Blog as a guest columnist and for that I thank him. These on-going columns, entitled “Abstract Language,” will consist of reviews and discussions of visual poetry – the poetry that treats language abstractly – as a physical media manipulated atomistically (as opposed to based it usage on meaning and comprehension). The columns will explore the intersecting Venn diagrams of abstract comics and visual poetry.
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The traditional poetic impulse is a refutation of language’s inherent failures. It is the attempt to make language perform the impossible, to lucidly reconnoiter the ineffable. Metaphorical language is an acknowledgement of language’s inherent downfall. Language is too tied to thingness, to objects and gestures to plumb the depths of the human soul. This is not to say that metaphorical language does not have moments of beauty and grace, but those moments are the result of a larger failure. As poets, we attempt to bend language to our lyrical will. What results is inevitably a failure, but poetry exists in the degree to which the poem fails.
kevin mcpherson eckhoff’s Rhapsodomancy explores language’s inherent failures and surveys how those failures become poetic. mcpherson eckhoff uses two abandoned languages—Shorthand (created by Sir Isaac Pitman in 1837) and Unifon (created by John Malone in the 1950s) to visually tie concrete poetry (an ostracized poetic form) to sleight of hand, comic strips, optical illusions and apantomancy (the divination of the future through scattered objects).

Rhapsodomancy’s “Disavowals: Optical Allusions” recreate traditional optical illusions with Unifon characters. Each of the fourteen visual poems playful challenge the reader to define their own poetic foreground / background relationship; the pillar of “I” warps, one of the arms of “E” falls into emptiness, the “O” is a linguistic Gordian knot.

The “optical allusions” in “Disavowals” belie the illusion of poetry; strain your eyes as much as you’d like, vertigo is inevitable.
As hopeful as apantomancy (the divination of the future from astrology, palm-reading, tea-leaf reading which ultimately reveal more about the reader than the read) may be, poetry is just as naïvely optimistic. Poets have become literary palm-readers, not because they can divine or influence the future (gone are the days when poets were members of the court or endowed by the ruling classes to celebrate and immortalize their accomplishments), but because they are the literary equivalent of a tarot-reader in a secluded tent at a creative anachronist fair. Poetry has become Unifon: a language largely abandoned to specialists and anachronists who pine for a return to an imagined poetic heyday.
Rhapsodomancy revels in the exuberant, playful poetics of failure. The meaning “stamped on [the] lifeless things” of poetry is merely an illusion, a “now you see it, now you don’t.” Poetry is no longer the beautiful expression of emotive truths; it is the arch├Žological re-arrangement of the remains of an ancient civilization. Faced with the “two vast and trunkless legs of stone” of Shorthand and Unifon (and by extension of poetry itself), mcpherson eckhoff realizes P.B.Shelley’s plea that “[r]ound the decay / of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare / The lone and level sands stretch far away,” sits down and makes sandcastles in the rubble.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for doing this column, Derek! I wish I could see more images from the book. Maybe with eckhoff's permission we could post a couple more? Or are some available anywhere online?

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