"Concrete Prose":
Haroldo de Camposs Galáxias and After

Marjorie Perloff

[Gertrude Steins] prose is a kind of concrete poetry with justified margins.

--David Antin 1

The language act is also an act of survival. Word order = world order.

--Steve McCaffrey 2

On the face of it, Concrete poetry and prose poetry (or poetic prose) would seem to represent two extremes, with the lyric (lineated text framed by white space) as middle term. The Concrete poem is, by common definition, a visual constellation in which, as the "Pilot Plan for Concrete Poetry" published by the Noigandres poets of Brazil put it, "graphic space acts as structural agent." 3 Indeed, in the words of Dick Higgins, the Concrete poem characteristically "defines its own form and is visually, and if possible, structurally original or even unique. And further, unlike the Renaissance pattern poem or the Apollinairean calligrammeforms which are in many ways its precursor--the Concrete poems "visual shape is, wherever possible, abstract, the words or letters within it behaving as ideograms." 4 But unlike, say, Ezra Pounds ideograms in the Cantos, the text from which the Noigandres poets of Brazil took their name,5 the Concrete poem is usually short: its most obvious feature," as Rosmarie Waldrop puts it, "is reduction . . . . both conventions and sentence are replaced by spatial arrangement." "We do not usually see words," Waldrop remarks, "we read them, which is to say we look through them at their significance, their contents. Concrete Poetry is first of all a revolt against this transparency of the word." 6

Take, for example, Haroldo de Camposs well-known Concrete poem "fala / prata / cala / ouro" ("speech / silver" / silence / gold" 7), which plays with the hackneyed proverb "Silence is golden" as well as the classical epithet "silver-tongued":












prata ouro

cala fala


Of the constellations sixteen words, four"fala," "prata," "cala," and "ouro" ("speech," "silver," "silence," "gold") appear three times each: "fala" (speech) is first "prata" ("silver"), and its rhyming partner "cala" ("silence") is "ouro" ("gold"). But the application of epithets seems to be no more than a matter of chance-- "heads" ("cara") or "tails" ("coroa")--: and so the fifth pair-- "fala" / "cala" joins the two contraries ("speech/ "silence"), and is followed by a stop ("para") that disrupts the poems staircase structure. Accordingly (below stairs, so to speak), a double reversal sets in: "silver" ("prata"), in a reversal of noun and adjective, is now "silent" ("cala") and it is gold ("ouro") that speaks ("fala"). Indeed, what is "clara" (the poems final word, used for the first time here, combines "cala" and "cara" both visually and phonically), is that "ouro" is the dominant, the one word that doesnt match any of the others, containing as it does the only "u" in the poem and being the only word that doesnt end in "a" and has no rhyming partner. Silence, Haroldo implies, may be golden but, at least in our culture, it is gold that speaks! 8

The poem is a good example of the reduction Waldrop speaks of: it has only eight different words (the count is 4 x 3 + 4 = 16), and its syntax is minimal, there being no connectives relating paired nouns and adjectives. Visual placement is central to meaning: the possible pairs-- almost nudes descending a staircaseare blocked in line 11 by the isolated word "para,", followed by the reversed matching pairs of the penultimate lines, which yield to the final "clara." The modulation from the initial "fala" / "prata" to the final "clara" is certainly temporal, but the text is also self-reflexive, each item pointing back to its previous partner as well as forward, the constellation as a whole resembling, as Haroldo himself notes, serial structure in musicfor example Anton Weberns "Klangfarbenmelodie" (see MES 12).

Whereas a Concrete poem like this one is to be understood as what the Noigandres poets, following Joyce, called verbivocovisual 9, the prose poem, read as it must be from beginning to end, is primarily temporal. No matter how disjunctive or semantically open it may be, no matter how fully it is constituted by what Ron Silliman has called "the new sentence," 10 the prose poem is usually a block of print whose words, syllables, and letters have no optical significance. In the case of Western prose, as R. P. Draper notes, it is an automatic assumption that letters forming words are separated by space from other letters forming words, that these letters march across the page from left to right, and that the lines so formed are strictly parallel and progress downwards at equal intervals" (NLH 337).

In their Rational Geomancy, Steve McCaffery and bpNichol remind us that the conventional book "organizes content along three modules: the lateral flow of the line, the vertical or columnar build-up of the lines on the page and thirdly a linear movement organized through depth (the sequential arrangement of pages upon pages)." Practically speaking, this means that "the book assumes its particular physical format through its design to accommodate printed linguistic information in a linear form" (GEO 60). And further, "Prose as print encourages an inattention to the right-hand margin as a terminal point. The tendency is encouraged to read continually as though the book were one extended line" (GEO 60). The page, far from being a visual unit, thus becomes "an obstacle to be overcome" (GEO 61). Even when the prose poem avoids narrative, it generally exhibits the very continuity Concretism rejects in favor of spatial form.

Here, for example, is James Tates prose poem ""Casting a Long Shadow," which appears in the most recent issue of the journal The Prose Poem:

This is where the child saw the vision of the Virgin Mother. She was standing right here and the Blessed Mother was up there on that rock (smoking a cherootbut we dont believe that part). The child wept for joy and ran to get her mother. The mother was watching her favorite soap opera and accused the child of playing pranks. When the soap opera ended the mother agreed to go outside. Several ravens were talking to one another. Storm clouds were moving in. The mother suddenly slapped the child across her cheek. 11

The subgenre of prose poetry represented by Tates piece is that of the sardonic fable, the seemingly casual little tale that leads up to an ironic epiphanyin this case the reality of motherhood that deflates the childs dream. Max Jacob was an early master of this form. In this parabolic variant of the prose poem, the semantic dominates, the visual playing no appreciable part: the readers eye moves from start to finish without paying attention to the right margin. Indeed, the narrative ("This is what happened.. . .") demands continuity and hence there is little internal sound play or eye rhyme. The page, as McCaffery and Nichol put it, is little more than an obstacle to be overcome.

But, as the authors of Rational Geomancy argue, there can be prose that doesnt satisfy these conventions. To begin with, the prose poem is itself a calling into question of lineation. Verse, even free verse (the word verse [Old English fers] comes from the Latin vertere, "to turn," which is to say, to move from a to b and, in turn, from b to c) is by definition a kind of container, and hence poets from Baudelaire to the present have tried, at particular junctures, to circumvent it. "Linear progression," McCaffery notes, "we have come to understand not merely as a spatial arrangement but as a way of thinking" (VOS 372). A way of thinking, one might add, called into question as long ago as the 1860s, when Baudelaire, in the dedication to Arsène Houssaye (1862) that prefaces Le Spleen de Paris, (Les petits poèmes en prose) declares, "Quel est celui de nous qui na pas, dans ses jours dambition, rêvé le miracle dune prose poétique, musicale sans rhythme et sans rime, assez souple et assez heurtée pour sadapter aux mouvements lyriques de lâme, aux ondulations de la rêverie, aux soubresauts de la conscience?" 12

Baudelaires own prose poems are set as normal printed pages: visual design plays appreciable role. Paragraphs are often quite short, and the longer ones are often interrupted by snatches of dialogue. Indeed, since the narrative element is so marked here, the Spleen de Paris poems might more properly be designated short fictions. Neither Baudelaires nor Rimbauds (nor even Mallarmés) prose poems, for that matter, set the stage for Concretist experimentation with prose. Rather, the Noigandres poets looked to two prose writers: Gertrude Stein and especially James Joyce. The de Campos brothers had been translating Finnegans Wake since the late fifties, and in 1962 they brought out a book called Panaroma do Finnegans Wake, which contains, among other things, what Haroldo calls "the creative transposition (transcréation) of eleven fragments (bilingual presentation), accompanied by interpretative comments." 13 Indeed, Haroldo reminds us, "the verbivocovisual elements of Joyces prose, the montage word, regarded as a composite mosaic unit or a basic textural node (silvamoonlake, for instance)were emphasized from the very beginning of the Concrete Poetry movement" (TriQu 55). And he cites an earlier formulation by Augusto de Campos: "The Joycean micro-macrocosm, which reached its pinnacle in Finnegans Wake, is another excellent example [of proto-Concrete poetry]. . . . Here counterpoint is moto perpetuo. The ideogram is obtained by superimposing words, true lexical montages. Its general infrastructure is a circular design of which every part is a beginning, middle, and end." 14

It may seem strange that Concrete poetry, with its emphasis on graphic space as structural agent and its conviction that, in the verbivocovisual constellation, form and content are isochronous, would take as its exemplar a 628-page work of continuous prosea "novel" that, except for Book II, Chapter 2 ("UNDE ET UBI" 15), with its marginal glosses, pictograms, musical scores, and geometric forms, does not seem to exploit the visual dimension of the text at all. But perhaps it is the word visual that needs reconfiguration here. A hint is supplied by Haroldo in his essay "The Open Work of Art" (which, incidentally, preceded Umberto Ecos well-known Opera Aperta by a number of years) 16. In discussing the "circular organization of poetic material" in Un coup de dés, Haroldo adds:

The Joycean universe also evolved from a linear development of time toward space-time or the infusion of the whole in the part ("allspace in a notshall"nutshell), adopting as the organogram of Finnegans Wake the Vico-vicious circle. . . . each "verbi-voco-visual" unit is at the same time the continent-content of the whole work and instantly myriadminded. . . . a whole metaphoric cosmos is contained in a single word. This is why it can be said of Finnegans [sic] that it retains the properties of a circle, of the equidistance of all points on it from the center. The work is porous to the reader, accessible from any of the places one chooses to approach it (DIS 6).

The implication of such "allspace in a notshall" is that, for Haroldo, Concrete poetics is not a matter of word placement or innovative typography (as it is for some of his colleagues), but rather the phonemic, ideogrammic, paragrammatic character of the morphemes and words themselves. Accordingly, the distinction between "visual poem" and "prose" break down. Consider the following passage from the Anna Livia Plurabelle section of Finnegans Wake. Haroldos translation, which becomes Fragment 8, covers the better part of page 202 (seven lines from the top of the page and three from the bottom). Here is the original:

Tell me, tell me, how cam she camlin through all her fellows, the neckar she was, the diveline? Casting her perils before our swains from Fonte-in-Monte to Tidingtown and from Tidingtown tilhavet. Linking one and knocking the next, tapting a flank and tipting a jutty and palling in and pietaring out and clyding by on her eastway. Waiwhou was the first thurever burst? Someone he was, whuebra they were, in a tactic attack or in single combat. Tinker, tilar, souldrer, salor, Pieman Peace or Polistaman. Thats the thing Im elwys on edge to esk. Push up and push vardar and come to uphill headquarters! Was it waterlows year, after Grattan or Flood, or when maids were in Arc or when three stood hosting? Fidaris will find where the Doubt arises like Nieman from Nirgends found the Nihil. Worry you sighin foh, Albern, O Anser? Until the gemmans fistiknots, Qvic and Nuancee! She cant put her hand on him for the moment. Tez thelon langlo, walking weary! Such a loon waybashwards to row! She sid herself she hardly knows whuon the annals her graveller was, a dynast of Leinster, a wolf of the sea, or what he did or how blyth she played or how, when, why, where, and who offon he jumpnad her and how it was gave her away. She was just a young thin pale soft shy slim slip of a thing then, sauntering, by silvamoonlake and he was a heavy trudging lurching lieabroad of a Curraghman, making his hay for whose sun to shine on, as tough as the oaktrees (peats be with them!) for forstfellfoss with a plash across her. She thought shes sanhk neathe the ground with nymphant shame when he gave her the tigris eye!

Reading this "chattering dialogue across the river by two washer-women," as Joyce himself described it 17, one cannot proceed from left to right and from top to bottom as one does in the case of standard "see-through" prose. Since the page is not broken up by dialogue, paragraphing, or indented quotation, the reader intuitively searches for configurations that might "organize" the verbal flow that is equivalent to the river Anna Liffey, which is its nominal subject. Punctuation marks-- exclamation points, question marks, capital letters-- become important as do proper names, both real and those created by punning, especially when they alliterate. Consider the following sentence which comes roughly in the middle of the sequence:

Fidaris will find where the Doubt arises like Nieman from Niergends found the Nihil.

The eye moves up the page past "Flood" to "Fonte-in Monte" (Fountain in the Mountain) in line 2; the coinage Fidaris contains the morpheme Fid that gives us Fides (faith) and Fideles (faithful). Faith is thus pitted against "the Doubt that arises," but the capitalization of Doubt suggests that this is also one of the myriad river names in the sequence, as in "the Doubt river rises." The first half of the sentence is, in any case, put into question by the second in which Nieman (Niemand = no one) from Niergends (nowhere) finds Nihil. Butand here the "vocovisual" comes in, there can be no "Doubt" about the intricate relationship between words:

Fidaris (with "Flood" in the sentence right above it)>findàfromàfound (alliteration of f, d, n)

Fidarisarises (rhyme)

NiemanNiergendsNihil (anaphora)

There is, further, assonance of ithe letter appearing ten times in the space of fourteen words. The "Fidaris" cluster thus stands out as do "Albern, O Answer" and "Qvic and Nuancee" in the next lines. "Nuancee" is a particularly complex compound, containing "nuance" and hence "Quick (with a German accent) and with nuance" as well as "Nancy," "antsy," and "see."

The opposite of such cluster effect is to have a clause comprising the most ordinary of monosyllables, as in:

She was just a young thin pale soft shy slim slip of a thing then

Cliché piled on cliché with all the connectives in place! But the sentence now shifts from these clipped words to further compounding, neologism, and play on proverbial wisdom, in the phrase "sauntering, by silvamoonlake and he was a heavy trudging lurching lieabroad of a Curraghman, making his hay for whose sun to shine on, as tough as the oaktrees (peats be with them!) used to rustle that time down by the dykes of killing Kildare for forstfellfoss with a plash across her." The punning here must be seen, , especially "peats [peace] be with them!"a perfectly reasonable reference to the care of oaktrees, "killing Kildare," where the first morpheme in the proper name of the county is taken literally, and "for forstfellfoss," perhaps just a tongue twister when heard, but visually a pun on such phrases as "first fell frost" or "forced [and she] fell [in the] foss." The ru of "trudging" reappears chiastically in "lurching" and "Curraghman," and "us" in "used" reappears in "rustle."

In his study Ideograma: Lógica /Poesia/ Linguagem (only a section of which has been translated into English 18), Haroldo discusses Ernest Fenollosas study of the Chinese written character. Unlike Pound, who took Fenollosa at face value, Haroldo recognizes that the Sinologists notion that in Chinese, words are much closer to things than in English, that there is a natural connection between the ideogram and what it represents, is incorrect. Rather, using Roman Jakobson and Charles Peirces theories of semantic and syntactic motivation, Haroldo argues that Fenollosas argument must be understood somewhat differently:

Since . . . at a second level, poetry "naturalizes" (reifies) the sign by virtue of its "self-reflecting" function and the emphasis on the materiality of the message . . . .

Fenollosas genetic parti pris, highlighted by his "magic realism," loses in importance to the formal (intrinsic) pertinence of the description. At this point the Peircean notion of diagram makes it possible to transfer ("translate") the Fenollosian (and Poundian)

conception of the ideogram and the ideogrammic method of composing (relational, parallelistic, paratactic syntax) to the sphere where the palpable side of the sign comes to the fore), wherein Saussure (the Saussure of anagrams as "asyndetic successions" of paradigms) and Jakobson (above all the Jakobson of the poetry of grammar) are privileged mediators. (DIS 14).

For Haroldo, in other words, the interest of the ideogram is not in its status as a visual sign that stands for a particular meaning; rather, the ideogram brings to our attention the "palpable side of the sign" in its "relational, parallelistic, paratactic syntax." Relationality becomes the key term, and the units to be related are phonemes and morphemes as well as words and phrases.

From this perspective, Concrete poetry is less a matter of spatial form and typographic device than of "ideogrammatizing" the verbal units themselves. The ru /ur constellation in "and he was a heavy trudging lurching lieabroad of a Curraghman," with its punning on "lie" and "broad"these are items that must be seen. Butand this has been the role the Wake obviously played for Haroldo and the other Concretiststhe ideogrammic method, reconceived as it is in Haroldos study, can be used in "prose" quite as easily as in verse or in the spatial constellation characteristic of the concrete poem.

Now we are in a better position to understand the following statement in Haroldos 1977 essay "Sanscreed latinized":

In 1963 I began to write my BOOK OF ESSAYS / GALAXIES. . . . The book was conceived as an experiment in doing away with limits between poetry and prose 19 [my emphasis], and projecting the larger and more suitable concept of text (as a corpus of words with their textual potentials. . . . The text is defined as "a flux of signs, without punctuation marks or capital letters, flowing uninterruptedly across the page, as a galactic expansion. Each page, by itself, makes a "concretion," or autonomously coalescing body, interchangeable with any other page for reading purposes. There are "semantic vertebrae" which unify the whole. . . . [The book] constitutes a search for "language in its materiality," without "beginningmiddleend." "Exterior monologue" was the phrase I used to express this "materiality" "without psychology," that is, language that auto-enunciates itself (TriQu 58, my emphasis).

The notion of the "galaxy" as limit text is reiterated in Haroldos afternote to the Galáxias, where he refers to his text as operating "at the extreme limits of poetry and prose. And in an interview with Roland Greene, Augusto similarly endorses a writing "where the criteria of poetry and prose co-exist in a boundary-situation, where the words of prose are as though ionized by their poetic function." "Such," adds Augusto, "is the case in Finnegans Wake, in many texts of Gertrude Stein, and in the Diaries of John Cage, which are analogous to those lyric works that incorporate the language of prose, such as certain passages in the Galáxias of Haroldo de Campos." 20

Consider the opening text of the Galáxias, "e começo aqui," as translated into French by Inés Oseki-Depré and into English by Suzanne Jill Levine. 21

e começo aqui e meço aqui este começo e recomeço e remeço e

arremesso e aqui me meço quando se vive sob a espécie da

viagem o que importa não é a viagem mas o começo da por isso

meço por isso começo escrever mil páginas escrever

milumapáginas para acabar com a escritura para começar com a

escritura para acabarcomeçar com a escritura por isso recomeço

por isso arremeço por isso teço escrever sobre escrever é o futuro

do escrever sobrescrevo sobrescravo em miluminoites

milumapáginas ou uma página em uma noite que é o mesmo

noites e páginas mesmam ensimesmam onde o fim é o comêço

et ici je commence et ici je me lance et ici javance ce commencement

et je relance et jy pense quand on vit sous lespèce du voyage ce nest

pas le voyage qui compte mais le commencement du et pour ca je mesure et lepure sépure et je mélance écrire millepages mille-et-une pages pour en

finir avec en commencer avec lécriture en finir commencer avec lécriture

et donc je recommence jy reprends ma chance et javance écrire sur écriture

est le futur de lëcriture je surécris suresclave dans les mille-et -une-

nuits les mille-et-une pages ou une page dans une nuit ce qui se ressemble sassemble pages et nuits se miment sensoimênt où le bout cest le début

and here I begin I spin here the beguine I respin and begin to release and realize life begins not arrives at the end of a trip which is why I begin to respin to write-in thousand pages write thousandone pages to end write begin write beginend with writing and so I begin to respin to retrace to rewrite write on writing the future of writings the tracing the slaving a thousandone nights in a thousandone pages or a page in one night the same night the same pages same semblance resemblance reassemblance where the end is begin

Galáxias is, loosely speaking, written in prose, although its jagged right margin reinforces the notion of the page as "constellation," its look perhaps more Steinian than Joycean, created as it is primarily by rhyme (both auditory and visual) and what we might call hyper-repetition. Haroldos text permutates the words começo (commence, begin) and its variants like meço, recomeço, remeço, acabarcomeçar, arremeço, as well as two other galaxies, the first referring to writing-- escrever escritura, sobrescrevo, sobrescravo (this last item punning on the notion of writing as slaving)--and the second to the page in its isolated or multiple incarnations: uma pagina em una noite, or milumanoites, milumapáginas, the page and the night becoming interchangeable. The image of the circle, onde o fim é o comêco, (ou le but cest le début, where the end is begin) is enacted phonemically and visually by the elaborate turn and return of words and morphemes. In the words of Eliots East Coker, "In my beginning is my ending": acabarcomeçar, finircommencer, beginend.

The long word acabarçomeçar, with its internal rhyme stands out visually on the page, leading the eye in various directions that follow the paths of começo and related words containing es and os. As the eye moves down the page, the notion of writing as circularitythe tracing and retracing of words on a hitherto blank pageis conveyed not only by the meanings of the words but by their visual configurations. In the Levine translation, the emphasis is on the second syllable of begin, which leads to in and spin, and, further down the page to finish, fine, line, and so on. The latter are eye rhymes only, suggesting what care is taken to ensure seeing rather than seeing through on the readers part.

Galáxias can thus be regarded as a visual poemvisual, not in the sense of calligrammatic, as in the case of Apollinaires "Il pleut" or Eugene Gomringers "Wind," but in its attention to letters and morphemes as well as paronomasia and paragram. A series of "exterior monologues" in prose, Galáxia points the way to some of the most interesting verbal experiments of the nineties. I am thinking less of the current predilection for fusing prose with pictogram, the alternation of prose and verse, or the use of typography (different font size, boldface, italics, lines reversed or upside-down) for "special effects" in the great tradition of Futurist page design. Such design, as I suggest in Radical Artifice 22, all too easily shades into the now familiar formats of advertising, billboard, magazine, and webpage layout. Rather, I want to look at some "limit-texts," at "prose poems" that, like the Galáxias, challenge the distinction between poetry and prose and emphasize the materiality of the text.

Consider, for example, the seemingly normal "prose" of Rosmarie Waldrops sequence Lawn of Excluded Middl 23, published in 1993. Waldrop, herself one of the early theorists of concrete poetry, has experimented with various verse and prose forms; in Lawn, the norm is the short verse paragraph, one per page. Here is section 3:

I put a ruler in my handbag, having heard men talk about their sex. Now we have correct measurements and a stickiness

between collar and neck. It is one thing to insert yourself

into a mirror, but quite another to get your image out again and have your errors pass for objectivity. Vitreous. As in humor. A change in perspective is caused by the ciliary muscle, but need not be conciliatory. Still, the eye is a camera, room for everything that is to enter, like the cylinder called the satisfaction of hollow space. Only language grows such grass-green grass.

When we look at this block of print, with its justified left and right margins, at first nothing especially stands out, except perhaps the first letter, a boldface capital "I," and even this is a well known print convention. And, as in the case of normal prose format, we read the text from left to right and from sentence to sentence to its conclusion. Waldrops is not primarily a paragrammatic text where morphemes or phonemes within a given word split off and form new constellations, although of course the books title is a play on the law of the excluded middle, the law of formal logic that everything must be either true or false, which Waldrop herself rejects as a falsification of experience.

Language is just as important to Waldrop as it is to Haroldo de Campos, only for her, as for the Wittgenstein she cites in her Endpaper, "Poetry [is] an alternate, less linear logic." "Wittgenstein," she writes, "makes language with its ambiguities the ground of philosophy. His games are played on the Lawn of the Excluded Middle," which "plays with the idea of woman as the excluded middle. . . . more particularly, the womb, the empty center of the womans body, the locus of fertility." Accordingly, the "logic" that governs Waldrops prose poem is absurd in its hyper-literalism. The poet puts a ruler in her handbag, "having heard men talk about their sex." "Now," the poet notes proudly, "we have correct measurements" but the "stickiness" that results seems to be in the wrong place: "between collar and neck." The next sentence derives, I would guess, from Wittgensteins proposition that "A picture held us captive. And we could not get outside it, for it lay in our language." 24 "It is one thing," we read, "to insert yourself into a mirror, but quite another to get your image out again. . ." One can generate ones own image merely by placing oneself in front of a mirror, but of course one cant "get" that image "out again" and still have it, for a mirror image obviously has no life of its own. Then, too, from the womans perspective, "to insert yourself" is a male prerogative, one that calls into question the womans efforts to "get your image out again" and to "have your errors pass for objectivity." The situation, as the next word tells us, is "Vitreous," as glassy and slippery as the "grass-green grass"a phrase defying the rule of logic that an attribute of a thing cant be identical to that thing.

"Vitreous. As in humour." What does that "As" mean? Is humour glassy? Transparent? Brittle? In Waldrops poem, a given phrase or sentence only seems to "follow" its predecessor, either logically or temporally. Indeed, the familiarity of the print block on the white page turns out to be as open to question as is the law of the excluded middle. For one thing, the very fixity of Waldrops grid is contradicted by her phrasing, the words, not cut into syllables at the margin, fitting into the confined area only by allowing for uneven spacing that leaves prominent white gaps. In her new book of "prose poems," Reluctant Gravities, Waldrop refers to this practice as "gap gardening which, moved inward from the right margin, suspends time. The suspension sets, is set, in type, in columns that precipitate false memories of garden, vineyard, trellis." 25

Thus, in this particular passage, the characters per line vary between 45 (line 1) and 53 (line 4). The wider spacing of certain words like conciliatory emphasizes their phonemic and visual relationship to other words, in this case ciliary (of an eyelash) in the fifth line and cylinder in the seventh. The spacing of line 8 (it has only 47 characters), moreover, creates the very "hollow space" that is its reference point, and the readers eye is inevitably drawn to the words "Only language grows " that follow and that have no words beneath them on the page. There is only the "grass-green-grass" on the left. And that grass points back to grows so as to create a "galaxy" on this lawn of excluded middle.

A second example of a prose block that is attentive to the right-hand margin is Steve McCafferys "Aenigma 26:

when i am read i am sentenced and detached from equivalence when the shadow lifts its box im light when my fingers turn to foreheads im an eagles heart instructing scorpions to dance when they are cities im the colour grey when theres a national blaze i am a bed of shared water wherever i am tempted by precision i become a wrinkle elsewhere if they modify my centre i repeat a word before the next word has a meaning should my voice be grafted to a question then the third persona will replace a cardboard cover if i tell myself these possibilities i tell myself a canvas has subsided so that when i am eaten in the answer i am still proposed.

The key phrase in this 12-line composition here is "I am" (used twice in the first line and twice in the last), the "Aenigma" (archaically spelled) of the title being "what am I?" The answer depends upon adverbs of time and place: direct at dead center, we see the phrase "wherever I am," and the reference to "elsewhere" right beneath it follows hard upon five instances of "when." "My centre," "my voice," "if I tell myself," "I tell myself": self-reference is foregrounded throughout the piece. And yet, this is the least personal of poems, an "exterior monologue," as Haroldo would call it, in which "language autoenunciates itself." Indeed, the ubiquitous "I" is not a particular individual but a function of the larger language game.

The opening, "When I am read I am sentenced and detached from equivalence," sets the stage for the poems paragrammatic activity. To be "read" is inevitably to be sentenced: readers of prose process consecutive sentences-- but that demand (which this poet cannot fulfill) also becomes a kind of death sentence. Furthermore, the text is "detached from equivalence"from equivalent line lengths, equivalent statements. And since there is no punctuation, the "when, then" constructions become equivocal, clauses often pointing both forward and back, as in "when there are cities Im the colour grey when theres a national blaze." Indeed, throughout the text, post hoc is never quite propter hoc. Punning, moreover, regularly undermines the possibility of communication. "When the shadow lifts its box, Im light," for example, plays on the gerund "shadowboxing," and perhaps, more specifically, on the well-known Duke Ellington song "Im Beginning to See the Light," which contains the stanza, "Used to wander in the park / Shadowboxing in the dark, / Then you came and caused a spark, / Thats a four-alarm fire now." That fire becomes, in line 5, a national blaze, and when that occurs, then "Im a bed of shared water." Nice for putting out the flames, but how does one share water?. McCafferys mode, as line 8 puts it, is one of suspension: "I repeat a word before the next word has a meaning." Thus, "sentenced and detached from equivalence," the text must fend for itself. If the "aenigma" of the title is never resolved, textuality nevertheless forces itself on the reader: "when i am eaten in the answer I am still proposed."

Note that this last line is the only one that fails to meet the justified right margin, calling the readers attention to the proposal. McCafferys "Aenigma" thus enacts its meanings visually, concretely, even though it looks like an ordinary prose paragraph. Typography, we see, has come a long way in deconstructing the categories "prose"/"verse."

A somewhat different "Galaxial" prose is that of Joan Retallack in a piece from her book How to Do Things with Words called "Narrative as memento mori": 27

At breakfast in the Ramada Inn Paul

needed to test the procedure for de

veloping a photogram. (He does not

wish to call it a Rayograph for pol

itical reasons.) Doug ordered 2 egg

s sunnyside up with ham. I ordered

Special K and a banana. Paul ordere

d French toast and began the photog

ram placing a blue rectangular piec

e of sensitive paper on his noteboo

k, sticking push pins in each of th

e four corners to hold it in place.

He placed a spoon, an ashtray, and

4 packets of sugar on the sensitive

paper and then took it outside to d

evelop, returning a few minutes lat

er without the photogram, but with

a rectangular aluminum pan filled w

ith water. He placed the pan on the

table next to his French toast. Dou

g said he was embarrassed by all th

e food on his plate. I was disappoi

nted because the waitress didnt br

ing me a whole banana. I told the s

tory of the flying banana sighted I

n the same village in Russia (Voron

ezh?) where aliens were recently re

ported strolling in the park with t

heir robot. Paul went out to check

the photogram. He said when the sen

sitive paper turns pale the images

are developed. He was worried there

might not be enough light. It was a

foggy morning. Doug said he had tal

ked with Marcia on the train coming

up about her daughters post-punk r

ock band. He said they were into vi

olent lyrics. Somehow the subject o

f misogyny arose. Paul came back an

d said the photogram wasnt ready a

nd he was really worried there wasn

t enough sun. I thought the slices

of banana on my special K were less

than 1/3 of a whole banana. Paul we

nt back out to check the progress o

f the photogram.Doug had finished a

ll the food on his plate. I realiz

ed I didnt want the orange juice I

had ordered, but I drank it anyway.

Retallacks "narrative"an account of breakfast in the Ramada inn with Paul and Dougis a story that goes nowhere, except on the page, but on the page, there is plenty of verbal "action." If Waldrop and McCaffery adjust spacing so as to meet the demands of the justified right margin, Retallack begins with a specific constraint, 35 characters per line, including spaces that function as rests. When a sentence reaches the margin formed by this firm rule, the word in question must be spliced, giving us such items as "ordere/d, "noteboo/k," "w/ith," "Dou/g," "br /ing," "t/heir", "a/ll", "wasn/t". The left margin thus becomes a letter column, vertically producing words like "eke" and "pee." How strange, the poet suggests, word formation really is. Throughout, Pauls making of the photogram ("he said when the sen/sitive paper turns pale the images / are developed") is analogous to the poetic process itself, where words are endowed with a new life by their decomposition and placement on the "light sensitive" page. Decisions: what to order for breakfast, what to do to the paperthese come together in quirky ways as the woman who speaks expresses her disappointment that "the waitress didnt br/ing me a whole banana," an item that somehow becomes conflated with the potential misogyny of her two male companions. Like the photogram (which cant be called "a Rayograph for pol/itical reasons," evidently to avoid reference to the inventor of this art form, Man Ray, Retallacks "memento mori" memorializes, not death, but everyday trivia: "I realiz/ed I didnt want the orange juice I had ordered, but I drank it anyway."

My fourth and last example is taken from Kenneth Goldsmith, No. 111 2.7.9310.20.96, chapter II:

A door, à la, a pear, a peer, a rear, a ware, A woah!, Abba, abhorred, abra, abroad, accord, acère, acha, Ada, ada, add a, adda, adore, Aetna, afford, afire, afore, afyre, ah air,ah car, ah ere, Ah Ha, ah ha, ain't tha, air blur, air bra, airfare, alder, all ears, all yours, alla, Allah, aller, allya, alpha, alswa, ama, amber, ambler, AmFar, amir, amor, Ana, ana, and ka, and uh, and war, anear, Anka, Anna, anvers, apes ma, appeere, aqua, ara, arbour, archer, ardor, ardour, are our, are there, Are there?, Are uh?, arm bears, armoire, armor, armour, arrear, as far, ashore, asper, ass tear, asthore, atcher, atma, au pair, au poivre,

auntre, aura, austere, Auxerre, aw arrgh, aw awe, aw war, award, aware, awed jaw, Ayler, bazaar, baba, babka, bacca, baga, bagba, bagger, baiter, bamba, bancha, baner, bang your, bania, banker, banter, bar burr, bar straw, barbed wire, barber, barbour, bare rear, bare tears, Barère, batter, baxa, be here, be square, Beans Dear?, beau-père, beaver, BeavHer, bedder, bedsore, beeba, beemba, been there, beer blare, beer blur, beer here, begba, beggar, beggere, Bel Air, Bela, bela, belcher, ben wa, Ben-Hur, bencher, bender,Bernard, Bertha, bestir, beta, betcha, betta, better, bettre, bever, beware, bezoar, bibber, bicker, bidder, biddler, bider, bien sûr, bifore, Big Star, Big Sur, bigga, bigger, bim-ba, bird's rear, bismer, BiStar, biter, bitter, bittre, blabber, black tears, blah corps, Blair's, blare, blanca, blare blur, blaster, blather, blazer, bleahhh, blear corps, bleeder, bleeper, blender, blinder, blisker, blisper, blister, blixa, blobber, blonder, bloomer, blooper, blubber, 28

Goldsmiths prose is the most rule-generated of the four, although, like John Cage, in many ways his mentor, Goldsmith has obviously "collected" his words and phrases "according to taste." The amazing 606-page "useless encyclopedic reference book" that results was composed by collecting all the phrases the poet came across in the given time period of the title (whether in books, on radio or TV or on the internet or in actual conversation), words and phrases that end in the common sound of American English linguists call schwa ( , er). The phrases are organized alphabetically by syllable and letter count, beginning with one syllable entries for Chapter 1 ("A, a, aar, aas, aer, agh, ah, air. . .") and ending with the 7,228 syllable "The Rocking Horse Winner" by D. H. Lawrence, which is never identified. The page in question is the opening of Chapter 2, where the units are two-syllable. Recitation of the passage is a great feat but note that when the page is seen, the words and phrases create all manner of rhymes and repetitions, as in "be here, be / square," Beans Dear, beau-père," beaver, "BeavHer, bedder, bed-/sore, beeba, beemba, been there." The readers eye can proceed vertically ("betcha," "bicker," bigga," "bittre," blare") as well as horizontally and even diagonally as we move from "A door" to "Blue Cheer." Capitalized words stand out ("Anka, Anna, anvers, apes ma" or "Big Star, Big Sur, / bigga") creating fascinating disjunctive inventories of the language we actually use today in the U.S.

The absurdist cataloguing that is the basis of No. 111for example, "Are there?. Are uh?, arm bears, armoire, armor, armour, arrear, as far, ashore, asper ass tear, asthore atcher, atma, au pair, au poivre, auntre, aura, austere, Auxerre"and, as the syllables get longer, such units as

"How do you spell onomatopoeia? How long do you plan to be almost there?" (from Chapter X, p. 137) constitutes a socio-poetic document, a memento mori, as it were, for the discourses that characterize the 1990s, from those of the National Enquirer and the TV talk shows to the argot of daily conversation and the beautiful prose of D. H. Lawrence. Along the way, Goldsmith gives us passages in which the faulty transmission of verbal information (usually the transcription from oral to written which is such a common phenomenon todayproduces language like the following:


My son is under the doctor's care and should not take P.E. today. Please execute him. Please excuse Mary for being absent. She was sick and I had her shot. Please excuse Fred for being. It was his father's fault. Please ackuse Fred being absent on Jan. 28 29 30 31 32 and 33. Mary could not come to school today because she was bothered by very close veins. Mary was absent from school yesterday as she was having a gangover. Please excuse Mary from Jim yesterday. She was administrating. Please excuse Fred for being absent. He had a cold and could not breed well. Please excuse Mary. She has been sick and under the doctor. Please excuse Mary from being absent yesterday. She was in bed with grandpa; (No. 111, p. 490).

This parodic catalogue of standard medical excuses produced by the parent for the teacherI especially like "She was sick and I had her shot," "she was having a gangover," and "she was bothered by very close veins"is nothing if not a verbovisivocal construct. What Haroldo de Campos perceived in the early sixties, when he produced such concrete poems as "fala / prata," is that the technological revolution of our time would produce a situation where "reading" increasingly means "seeing," where the dichotomy is less between "poetry" (verse) and "prose" than between seeing and seeing through. "Please excuse Fred for being absent. He had a cold and could not breed well."


1 David Antin, "Some Questions about Modernism," Occident, 8, new series (Spring 1974): 14.

2 Steve McCaffery & bpNichol, Rational Geomancy: The Kids of the Book-Machine. The Collected Research Reports of the Toronto Research Group 1973-1982 (Vancouver: Talon Books, 1992), p. 99. Subsequently cited as GEO.

3 See Augusto de Campos, Decio Pignatari, Haroldo de Campos, "Plano-Pilõto Para Poesia Concreta" /"Pilot Plan for Concrete Poetry," in Mary Ellen Solt, Concrete Poetry: A World View, ed. Mary Ellen Solt (Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1971), pp. 70-72, and Solt, "A World Look at Concrete Poetry," pp. 7-66, esp. pp. 7-8. This seminal collection is subsequently cited as MES. Cf Johanna Drucker, "Experimental, Visual, and Concrete Poetry: A Note on Historical Context and Basic Concepts," in Avant-Garde Poetry since the 1960s, ed. K. David Jackson, Eric Vos & Johanna Drucker (Amsterdam-Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 1996), pp. 39-40. The collection is subsequently cited as VOS. Cf. R. P. Draper, "Concrete Poetry," in New Literary History, 2, no. 2 (Winter 1971): 330. "The sine qua non of concrete or visual poetry is that the visualization of the text cannot be dispensed with. . . . the use of space is untranslatable into any other dimension." This essay is subsequently cited as NLH.

4 Dick Higgins, "Concrete Poetry," in Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, ed. Alex Preminger and T.V. F. Brogan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993), pp. 233.

5 In MES, Solt explains: "In 1952 . . . three poets in São Paulo, BrazilHaroldo de Campos, Augusto de Campos and Decio Pignatariformed a group for which they took the name Noigandres from Ezra Pounds Cantos. In Canto XX, coming upon the word in the works of Arnaut Daniel, the Provençal troubadour, old Lévy exclaimed: "Noigandres, eh, noisgandres / Now what the DEFFIL can that mean! This puzzling word suited the purposes of the three Bazilian poets very well; for they were working to define a new formal concept" (p. 12). This book is subsequently cited as MES.

6 Rosmarie Waldrop, "A Basis of Concrete Poetry," Bucknell Review (Fall 1976): 143-44, 41. The "Pilot Plan" of Noigandres similarly talks of "space-time structure instead of mere linear-temporistical development" (MES 71).

7 See MES, Figure 11, p. 101 and, for Solts own translation, Figure 11, p. 102. In her notes, as recorded by Haroldo himself, Solt gives the following verbal equivalents. "Fala" means both "speech" and "speak" (imperative verb); "cala" is also an imperative verb which means "be quiet," and, by analogy to "fala," can be read as "silence." "Cara" = "heads" (literally "face") "coroa" = "tails" (literally "crown"), "para" = "to stop" and "clara" = "clear." The poem dates from 1962.

8 Solt reads the poem somewhat differently: "When the play stops, silence may turn to silver, speech may turn to gold (but only if speech is clear). The reference to the clarity of language makes this, according to Solt, a reference to the concrete poem itself.

9 See "Pilot Program," MES 72.

10 See Ron Silliman, "The New Sentence," The New Sentence (New York: Roof Books, 1992), pp. 63-93, and cf. Bob Perelman, "Parataxis and Narrative: The New Sentence in Theory and Practice," The Marginalization of Poetry: Language Writing and Literary History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1996), pp. 59-78. In Perelmans very good summary, "a new sentence is more or less ordinary itself, but gains its effect by being placed next to another sentence to which it has tangential relevance. . . . Parataxis is crucial: the autonomous meaning of a sentence is heightened, questioned, and changed by the degree of separation or connection that the reader perceives with regard to the surrounding sentences. This is on the immediate formal level. From a larger perspective, the new sentence arises out of an attempt to redefine genres; the tension between parataxis and narrative is basic," p. 61.

11 Larry Levis, "The Plains," The Prose Poem: An International Journal, 8 (1999), p. 78.

12 Charles Baudelaire, Le Spleen de Paris (Texte de 1869), ed. Y. G. Le Dantec; révisée par Claude Pichois ((Paris: Gallimard: Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, 1961), p. 229. Cf. Paris Spleen, trans. Louise Varèse (New York: New Directions, 1970), pp. ix-x. "Which of us in his moments of ambition, has not dreamed of the miracle of a poetic prose, musical, without rhythm and without rhyme, supple enough and rugged enough to adapt itself to the lyrical impulses of the soul, the undulations of reveries, the jibes of conscience?"

13 Haroldo de Campos, "Sanscreed Latinized: the Wake in Brazil and Hispanic America," Tri Quarterly, 38 (Winter 1977): 56. For the translations themselves, see Augusto and Haroldo de Campos, Panaroma do Finnegans Wake (Sa Paulo: Editora Perspectiva, 1971). Augusto de Campos reprints "Dos Fragmentos do Finnegans Wake," along with an essay about them in his A margem da margem (São Paulo: Editora Schwarcz, 1989), pp. 35-48. For Augusto de Camposs Stein translations, see "gertrude é uma gertrude," O Anticrítico (Sa Paulo: Compagna des lettras, 1986), pp. 177-89. The Stein influence on the prose poem, which would be the subject of another essay, has to do with the way repetition and permutation of monosyllabic and disyllabic words creates visual as well as verbal patterning.

14 Augusto de Campos, "Theory of Concrete Poetry: Introduction, " trans. Jon M. Tolman, Studies in the 20th Century, no. 7 (Spring 1971), p. 48, and cf. Augusto de Campos (VOS 376): "Yale Symphosymposium on Contemporary Poetics and Concretism," VOS 376: Augusto cites "the vocabulistic kaleidoscope of Finnegans Wake and its textual polyreadings" and the "experimental, minimalist, and molecular prose of Gertrude Stein" as important sources for Noigandres."

15 James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (New York: Penguin, 1976), pp. 260-308; subsequently cited as FW.

16 Haroldo de Campos, "The Open Work of Art" (1955), trans.Maria Lcia Santaella Braga, in Dispositio: Revista Hispánica de Semiótica Literaria, 6, no. 17-18 (Summer-Fall 1981): 5-8. The journal issue is subsequently cited as DIS. In his preface to the Brazilian edition of his Opera Aperta, Umberto Eco wrote, "It is certainly curious that some years before I wrote Opera Aperta, Haroldo de Campos, in a short article, anticipated my themes to an astounding degree, as if he reviewed the book which I had not yet written and would yet write without having read his article" (see DIS 5).

17 James Joyce, Letters, Vol. 1, ed. Stuart Gilbert (New York: Viking Press, 1957), p. 213.

18 See Haroldo de Campos, "Poetic Function and Ideogram / The Sinological Argument," DIS 9-39.

19 Haroldo de Campos, Galáxias (Sao Paulo: Editora ex Libris, 1984), Afterword, unpaginated, reprinted as headnote to Oseki-Déprés French translation; see note 2 above. In the Afterword, Haroldo writes that the Galáxias were first published in the journal invenção, São Paulo, 1964 and were subsequently published irregularly in various places until 1976.

20 Roland Greene, "From Dante to the Post-Concrete: An Interview with Augusto de Campos," in Harvard Library Bulletin,), "Material Poetry of the Renaissance / The Renaissance of Material Poetry," 3, no. 2 (Summer 1992): 20.

21 See Haroldo de Campos, Galaxies, traduit, Inés Oseki-Dépré & lauteur (Paris: La Main courante, 1998), unpagined; Haroldo de Campos, "de Galáxias," trans. Suzanne Jill Levine (from a basic version by Jon Tolman), in Desencontrários / Unencontraries: 6 poetas brasileiros / 6 Brazilian Poets, ed. Josely Vianna Baptista (Sao Paulo, Bamerindus, 1995), pp. 70-73. There is, to date, no complete translations of the Galáxias into English.

22 See Marjorie Perloff, Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), pp. 115-20.

23 Rosmarie Waldrop, Lawn of Excluded Middle (Providence: Tender Buttons, 1993), p. 13.

24 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 3d. ed., Trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (New York: Macmillan, 1958), #115.

25 Rosemarie Waldrop, Reluctant Gravities (New York: New Directions, 1999), p. 4.

26 Steve McCaffery, "Hegels Eyes," Theory of Sediment (Toronto: Talonbooks, 1991). P. 38

27 Joan Retallack, How To Do Things With Words (Los Angeles: Sun & Moon,1998), pp. 105-106.

28 Kenneth Goldsmith, No. 111 2.7.9310.20.96 (Great Barrington, MA: The Figures, 1997), p. 3 and online at http://www.ubuweb.com.

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