2. A Mini-Lexicon of Objectively Hazardous Prosodic Performance Realizations

56 filing cards, on each of which are typed one to five

actions, denoted by gerunds or gerundial phrases, e.g.

"jumping," "having a letter over one eye," & "giving the

neck a knifing or coming to give a parallel meal, beautiful

& shocking." . . .

This pack of actions was composed in May 1961 . . . ,

with the help of the Rand table of a million random digits,

from the 850-word Basic English Word List.

(The Pronouns 69)

Used as a word source for The Pronouns: A Collection of Forty Dances For the Dancers, drawn from by systematic chance methods. Other action packs used for Nuclei for Simone Forti and The Marrying Maiden, a Play of Changes.

In The Pronouns these cards, woven together by both chance and choice into forty poems, are scores realized by dancers. The value of dancing the poems lies in "finding concrete meanings as actions" (RW 181). Although chance plays a major role in the composition of Mac Low's works, those works once written are to be seen as determinate and meaningful. The performance/realization of these poems makes randomly organized units concrete through action. Mac Low continually insists that although the dancers have "a very large degree of freedom of interpretation," they nevertheless must "find some definite interpretation of the meaning of every line of the dance-poems they choose to realize" (RW 180-1; his emphasis).

ASYMMETRY: in contrast to the symmetrical Stanzas for Iris Lezak. "These poems are 'asymmetrical' in that each strophe spells out a different series of words, whereas each stanza of a stanzaic-acrostic poem spells out the same word-series—either the title or some other word string" (RW 78).

The Asymmetries both horizontally and vertically spell out an index string acrostically.

           ASSYMETRY 204



           island little little


      out out knowing

island still.

            little angel's nothing


little island took,


                        little everything

little island took,


                        little everything

                                          (RW 120)

In "Asymmetry 204" the index word is "still." Thus the "S" is spelled out by "still," the "T" by "took," the "I" by "island," and so on until "still" is completely spelled out. The second strophe then spells out the second word of the first strophe, "took." The third strophe spells out "island," and the fourth and fifth "little." The number of words or events (see "eventual verse" below) in the Asymmetries is determined in each strophe by the number of letters in its index word, providing for a varying number of events in each strophe (hence "asymmetry"). In the Stanzas, on the other hand, each strophe spells out the same index string and thus is parallel to (symmetrical with) all other strophes.

Call Me Ishmael

Circulation. And long long

Mind every

Interest Some how mind and every long

Coffin about little little

Money especially

I shore, having money about especially little

Cato a little little

Me extreme

I sail have me an extreme little

Cherish and left, left,

Myself extremest

It see hypos myself and extremest left,

City a land. Land.

Mouth; east,

Is spleen, hand mouth; an east, land.

(RW 89)

I'm not sure what nudged me toward asymmetry in late summer 1960. Maybe it was the emphasis on asymmetrical design in Zen Buddhist aesthetics. . . . Perhaps it was my admiration for the irregular verse of Ezra Pound and of such contemporaries of mine as Paul Blackburn and Larry Eigner. . . . Possibly it was just that "I'd had it" with stanzas and symmetry—seven years of it after December 1954.

(Asymmetries 1-260 245)

EVENTUAL VERSE: 1) the constitutive units of the lines are not feet but "events" (words, word-strings, silences). 2) Consequently, the determining structure is not primarily phonological or metrical (although poems such as "Asymmetry 204" are beautifully rhythmic). 3) Corresponding lines of stanzas have the same number of events in them because 4) the number of events in a line is determined by the number of letters in a word (the same word being the index for the same line in each stanza). 5) The number of lines in a stanza is determined by the number of words in the index string ("Call Me Ishamel" resulting in three-line stanzas).

To call these units "events" suggests something of Mac Low's perspective on poetry. The poem is not made up of a collection of things; it is instead a series of events. Poetry = Process. Each event is to be realized through our actions (reading, performing), our actions conferring meaning to even the most minimal and disjunct of units. The poem is seen as a potential meaning-event, not as a record or reflection of a prior meaning having taken place in the "author's" mind and then transcribed onto the page.

GATHAS: poems realized through speech, &/or instruments. Musical translations and devotions.

The letters [in "Mani Mani Gatha" below] must be "translated" by instrumentalists, and may be by vocalists, as tones of the following pitch classes:

A=A-natural  E=E-natural  I=D-flat/C-sharp  N=C-natural  D=D-natural  H=B-natural  M=G-natural  P=F-natural

                                                (RW 237)

    The "Gathas" constitute an open-ended series of performance texts begun in 1961. The letters of their words are placed in the squares of qudrille ("graph") paper, and they are realized through spontaneous, but rule-guided, performers' choices, usually, but not always, made during performances.

   The Sanskrit word gatha, "verse" or "hymn," was adopted for them, on analogy with its use to designate versified sections of Buddhist sutras and short poems by Zen masters and students, because I considered Gathas to be Buddhist performance texts. Chance operations were used in composing them in order to encourage performers and hearers to give "bare attention" to letter-sounds, words, etc. Also a Buddhist de-emphasis of the composer's ego underlies both using compositional chance operations and letting performers' choices determine many parameters of their realization. In addition, all Gathas made from 1961 to 1973—and many made later—are composed of chance-arranged transliterations of mantras, most of them Buddhist. However, beginning with The Black Tarantula Crossword Gathas in 1973, many Gathas have been composed of nonmantric English words. Both mantric and nonmantric Gathas appear in this book.

                                                       (RW 234)

                                                                       (RW 241)

GITANJALI: "Offering." Mac Low as love poet, spelling out , for instance, "My girl's the greatest fuck in town. I love to fuck my girl" in "6 Gitanjali for Iris":


My you

Gain is rainy life


The Here end

Gain rainy end again the end see the

Feel. Utter. Cry know

Is Now,

The outside when Now,

(18 seconds of silence)


Life outside void end

The outside

Feet. Utter. Cry know

My you

Gain is rainy life

                             (RW 86)

Mac Low has written a profound love poem. We all long for "My you," a you of our own. The "you" as pronoun underscores the position of the loved one as am empty meaning-slot, a position of function to be filled by different people for different people. This "you" is not some universal love object but someone in particular who awakens certain responses in this particular lover. This "gain" of "my you" leads to "rainy life," which can be read in its implications of fecundity (water as life source, rebirth) as well as its somber implications (no relationship is without its rainy days, no gain is achieved without some loss or hardship). "See," eyes now open, "the Here end" (be here now, the beauty of the present moment). "Gain rainy end again," in love again after loss (or perhaps this again is a love lost?) "see the/ Feet," bare, in bed, or keeping us standing. "Utter" words of love, learn to speak the language of love. "Cry know," exulting in new-found knowledge. "Is Now" reaffirms our presentness; this really is happening. "The outside" becomes inside "when Now," fully present, intercorporeal plenitude. The Other is known now. Pause. The void of life outside has ended now. Cry "know," my you; gain is rainy life. Repetition, inundation.

INDEX: the chance derived word or word-string which is spelled out acrostically or diastically in many of Mac Low's poems. The trace of a hidden presence organizing from behind the scene, fleshed out in obscurity by aleatory phenomena. That which forces the source text to speak itself again, differently, revealing the underlying potential of alternative orders and paradigms. Lexical wieght resisting motion while initiating motion.

LEXICAL WORDS: the meat of the matter, forming the basis of the nuclei (q.v.) (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs); as opposed to "structural words."

NUCLEI: the lexical words which serve as the basis of many poems. Roots which are inflected (by addition of suffixes, prefixes, tenses) in order to cohere as a more or less standard syntax. The words which are put in motion (guided) by the structural words.

OBJECTIVE HAZARD: chance procedures employed in the attempt to rid the poem of the burden and desire of the ego. Objective versus subjective; hazard versus pre-ordained. Another connotation: the danger of unleashing the potential power of social objects which have been for so long repressed, impressed into the service of one particular hegemonic paradigm.

PRONOUNS: clothes we can all fit into.

SIMULTANEITIES: "works . . . in which each of a group of people performs a relatively independent series of actions (reading, producing nonverbal sounds, &/or doing predominantly visible physical actions) & all of these series of actions take place simultaneously, that is, during the same period of time, the duration of the performance" (RW 79). See "Synchronicity" below.

STRUCTURAL WORDS: also called "syntactical" words. Words used to connect the basic nuclei of a poem (articles, prepositions, conjunctions, pronouns, indefinite nouns, auxiliary verbs, etc.). These are the chosen elements in many nucleic works (ones in which chance-selected lexical words or phrases ["nuclei"] are connected by structural words).However, in some nucleic works, such as some of the Light Poems and later selections of "The Presidents of the United States of America," both structural words and certain lexical words are inserted through personal choice between chance-given nuclei. Structural words are the elements which the reader fills in when reading Mac Low's more elliptical works. It is here that the function of syntax in meaning-production becomes most clear.

SYNCHRONICITY: Although chance-derived, things fall together into meaningful patterns. Certain combinations during simultaneities, for instance, may appear as if they had been coordinated ahead of time. "It's sometimes spooky."

I have learned . . . that it is often difficult to tell, in many

cases, what is "chance" & what is "cause." There are kinds

of inner & hidden causation that are very difficult to

distinguish, on the one hand, from "chance" or

"coincidence," & on the other, from "synchronicity":

"meaningful acausal interconnection."

("Statement" 385)

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