Subsonnet for ernst jandl, 2004

In 1966 Ernst Jandl wrote a poem consisting of fourteen identical lines that contained only the word “sonnet”. In his essay “The Concrete Historical” Roland Greene wrote of Jandl’s poem:

According to this poem’s program, one means of recovering the physical presence and cultural tracks of the sonnet-form is to strip that form down to its name alone and to put the name where the expressive content usually goes. The form as form virtually implodes, that is, nothing comes between the label and its realization. The effect is to reveal both name and form as indicating a historically and aesthetically contingent production, and to provoke us with the question: where does the power inhere?

The place of the “expressive content” is replaced and marked by the name of the poetic form. One might associate such a move with Marcel Broodthaer’s “cover” of Mallarm√©’s seminal Un Coup De Des. Broodthaer’s 1969 poem effaces the “expressive [linguistic] content” of Mallarm√©’s poem by covering the text with black lines, thus creating a static, visual structure of various sized rectangular bars. One might read Broodthaer’s “coverings” as marks that indicate where Mallarm√©’s “expressive content usually goes” or one might read the marks as an erasure of authorial content in order to release the strctural form for further use; that is, Broodthaer’s marks read as spaces that one may now fill with their own text. In both cases, in Jandl’s and Broodthaer’s poems, the artists foreground the form as a spatial and material entity. The repetition of the word “sonnet” in Jandl’s poem dissolves the significance of words (in general) and ignites the signficance of the emergent line-structure of the form. Greene writes that the “form as form implodes;” indeed the form emerges into its own spatialized content. This appearance, of the form as its own content of the page, desires manipulation and activation.

In my cover of Jandl’s “Sonnet” I aim at the activation of the form on the level of the program. Fourteen lines become fourteen movements. These movements retain a simplistic relation to the sonnet form ababcdcdefefgg on the level of the code. The first and third lines, the second and fourth, etc., are related visually and according to the use of similar code structures in the program. The word-movements are “expressive,” though I would say, minutely significant. The “words” and letters signfy only in the movement and emergent activation of the form. Code activates forms: code is the form of form. Strange how this activation of the form is carried out on the level of the code according to linguistic, logical and numeric sign systems – the kind of “marks” that often were (and still are) contained as the content of the form itself. The form implodes in Jandl’s poem (i.e. the sonnet is sucked into a static realization of its simplest material form) at a historical moment when the form of the poem itself becomes programmable as content. Greene wrote of Jandl’s poem, “The effect is to reveal both name and form as indicating a historically and aesthetically contingent production.” My intent in this poetic recovery focuses on releasing this contingency once again.

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