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Sailing 14: What kind of sword do you carry?

Started by Peter Yovu, March 06, 2011, 01:20:09 AM

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Jack Galmitz

Jack Galmitz

As to an Ur Language, this implies a monogenesis of language in all people's and there is no one I believe who has found supportive evidence for this.  Pretty much Ferdinand De Saussure holds pre-eminence in linguistic, philosophical circles with his notion that languages are arbitrary,unmotivated and developed each culturally; hence, the differences in signifiers and their sounds referring to signifieds.
But, good luck with wild language, as some sort of original, shared mammalian expression of biology.  I mean Chomsky didn't even suggest this.
But, if it helps create good haiku go go go baby go.


And preceding sounds (language) were ... facial expressions, posture, the so-called body language.

Haiku as perfomance art?

In response to Jack's assertion that there has been no supportive evidence found for a single language of origin, a Kiwi researcher has just had a paper published in the journal Science detailing his work on the number of "sounds" languages contain and positing that all languages derive from the "click" languages of southern Africa. An article about the essay may be found here:

However, this theory is not new - there are articles from 2003 on the web (reputable sources) about the idea. It's his research that is new.

Jack Galmitz

Perhaps, I should modify what I said earlier.  There were and obviously are some who believe in monogenesis
However, most recent discoveries of anthropologists and paleontologists suggest the origins of humankind did not arise in a single place, but that there were various ancestries and places where it began.
As to one original language, there is no uniformity of belief regarding this and not strong enough evidence to suggest it.  This is not to say that there were not and are not still those who have offered evidence and research and conclusions on the subject and still believe in an original language.
I am just playing the devil's advocate.  The word vigorous, where we began, is Latin; I don't know what came before it.
I'm certainly no expert on the subject.
Kaneko, Tohta said that in his later writings he was looking for mass appeal and skill; he wanted to be understood, wanted his haiku to be liked, as he believed it was a folk art, and he believed that it had or should have its basis in the "real."  He discusses the old pond and says Basho meant it as filthy, stagnant, insects flying over it: not as a philosophical starting point. He said it was invested with animinism.  The reason perhaps Peter said Kaneko quoted Issa is because he preferred Issa to Basho and that was because Issa was really poor and Basho's poverty was an aesthetic that arose from the samurai class.  Kaneko said haiku may have associations for each reader but should begin with the actual.
I would point out, Sandra, that the article you have cited itself clearly states thtat there is tension and conflict amongst linguists, philologists on this subject.

Mark Harris

I agree that Peter's thinking (wanting?) resembles the mammalian poetics proposed by Michael McClure, who wrote, "I wanted to write a poem that could come to life and be a living Organism."  

I recently helped install a retrospective on the art of Kurt Schwitters, best known for his collages, and also a painter, sculptor, poet, magazine publisher, and performance and installation artist. Part of the display is a parabolic speaker beneath which you can listen to Schwitters perform his sound poem, Ursonate. He called the poem his primeval sonata. It can be found on the web in various places.

"Elements of poetry are letters, syllables, words, sentences. Poetry arises from the interaction of those elements. Meaning is important only if it employed as one such factor. I play off sense against nonsense. I prefer nonsense, but that is a purely personal matter." --Kurt Schwitters, 1920

Peter Yovu

So I've mentioned some ideas, like Kaneko's "words of the body" (by which he means, I believe, the mind-body as a whole), and Al's formulation from Olsen-- "returning poetry to the primary energies of mind and body", and I've alluded to Eve Luckring's poem discussed elsewhere: words/          still pink/ close to the bone

And I brought in, prior to all that,  Jim Kacian's poem from Roadrunner:
    the high fizz nerve the low boom blood dead silence      

These are possibly difficult ideas to work with, not well represented (or presented) by actual haiku or discussions about haiku in the English language world, and for all I know, not much discussed in Japan.

And all this was intended to be in the context of "vigorous language", something which Basho apparently praised, though perhaps he conceived it differently than language arising from the "primary energies of mind and body".

I don't believe "primary" means the same thing as "primitive" exactly, though I suspect Kaneko might like the latter for its shock value. I think, in fact, it relates to an original impulse around haiku toward raw, immediate perception and the challenge of finding language sufficiently vigorous, or sufficiently alive to meet or even magnify the raw aliveness of Being. Words still pink, or raw, close to the bone, close to the Zero, close to the Enso, the swiftly brushed, never perfect, always perfect circle of ink, circle of incorporation, embodiment. And emptiness.

Another poem which may relate to this discussion is this by Scott Metz:

the blood rushing through my blowhole winter stars

Like Kacian's, this poem has a propulsion, a kinetic force that may strike us on a physical level before it does on a mental, imagistic level. It may derive from an imagination of an "outer" event, a harpooned whale, for example, or it may be using an outer event to express inner reality. (I'n not sure what outer event would convey an inner reality in Kacian's poem, which puts it in another zone entirely, which, I suppose it is evident, interests me).

And though I am reluctant to bring in a translation, here is Kaneko's poem discussed elsewhere:

A wolf;
one firefly clinging to it

which may work (in translation) more as a vigorous image full of "primary energy" than as an example of vigorous language. And that, I realize, may take us into another discussion.

I wrote this prior to seeing Mark's post.


In terms of poetry, whether one universal language can be traced back to some original tribe or country--altho important from an historical standpoint--pales in significance when it comes to the actual translations themselves.

I believe it was George Quasha who coined "metatranslation" which results from fertilizing ones own poetic idiom with resources available only (or perhaps mainly) in another poet's work from another language. Actually, "translation" doesn't have to be from a foreign language because in reality all poetry in translation brings to the poet's language what was previously unsayable. Blake's poem Milton translates John Milton into a new and revolutionary language and consciousness; Ezra Pound reclaims lost sources of English in his translation of Seafarer and in his adaptation of those resources to his own purposes in The Cantos . Metatranslation offers new insight and possibilities within the Mother Tongue--"new" because not really noticed before. In some cases the translator's job is simple, because the work being translated has such clear powers that a literal version results in metapoetry; in other cases the translator's job requires an act of language very close to the original in its degree of inventiveness: a structuring of one's own language according to the principles of another. The tribal poetries by Rothenberg come to mind--for which I would like to quote at length from his preface (1970) to his tribal translations of American Indian Poetry.I believe it has relevance to the discussion at hand

"Primitive" Means Complex

"That there are no primitive languages is an axiom of contemporary linguistics where it turns its attention to the remote languages of the world. There are no half-formed languages, no underdeveloped languages. Everywhere a development has taken place into structures of great complexity. People who have failed to achieve the wheel will not have failed to invent and develop a highly wrought grammar. Hunters and gatherers innocent of all agriculture will have vocabularies that distinguish the things of their world down to the finest details. The language of snow among the Eskimos is awesome. The aspect system of Hopi verbs can, by a flick of the tongue, make the most subtle kinds of distinction between different types of motion

Primitive and Modern: Intersections and Analogues.

(1): The poem carried by
the voice: a pre-literate situation                       written poem as score
of poetry composed to be spoken,                    public readings
chanted or, more accurately,sung;       
                                                                      jazz poetry
                                                                      60s folk-rock etc.

                                                                        Blake's multi-images
(2): a highly developed process of                      symbolisme
image-thinking: concrete or non-causal               surrealism
thought in contrast to the simplification of           
Aristotelian logic, etc,. with its "objective              deep-image
categories" & rules of non-contradiction;
modern poetry (having had and outlived              random poetry
the experience of rationalism) enters a                composition by field etc
post-logical phase

(3): a "minimal" art of maximal involvement;          concrete poetry
compound elements, each clearly articulated,
& with plenty of room for fill-in (gaps in

(4): an "intermedia" situation, as further denial
of the categories: the poet's techniques aren't           happenings
limited to verbal maneuvers but operate also              total theater
through song, non-verbal sound, visual signs,
& the varied activities of the ritual event: here
the "poem"=the work of the "poet" in whatever        poets as film-makers etc
medium, or (where we're able to grasp it) the
totality of the work;
(5): the animal-body-rootedness of "primitive"            beast language
poetry: recognition of a "psysical" basis for
the poem within a man's body—or as an act              line  & breath
of body and mind together, breath &/or spirit;            projective verse etc
in many cases too the direct and open handling
of sexual imagery & (in the "events") of sexual           sexual revolution
activities as key factors of creation of the sacred;

(6): the poet as shaman, or primitive shaman as               Rimbaud's voyant
poet and seer thru control of the means just stated:           Rilke's angel
an open "visionary" situation prior to all system-making     Lorca's duende
("priesthood") in which the man creates thru
dream (image)& word (song), "that Reaon may have         beat poetry
ideas to build on"(W. Blake)                                            psychedelic see-in's, etc
                                                                             individual neo shamanisms, etc
                                                                             works directly influenced by the
                                                                              "other" poetry or by analogies
                                                                        to "primitive art": ideas of negritude
                                                                         tribalism, wilderness, etc.

What's more, the translations themselves may create new forms and shapes-of-
poems with their own energies and interest—another intersection that can't be overlooked."

--Jerome Rothenberg 


" "That there are no primitive languages is an axiom of contemporary linguistics where it turns its attention to the remote languages of the world. There are no half-formed languages, no underdeveloped languages. Everywhere a development has taken place into structures of great complexity." - Jerome Rotheburg.

Nicely put by Jerome Rotheburg.

I would add to his examples in 1. story, in the oral 'story-teller' sense and to his 6. the traditional holders/ keepers of specific parts of story/the Dreaming, the telling of which, it is believed, prevents the world from falling back to a state of 'the uncreated', 'non-being'. This makes sense to me on several levels.

This is culture, and language and culture are inseparable. In that sense, language is not 'wild' but the very basis of culture and the means of its continuity, as is dance, also, in traditional societies such as the many , interconnected indigenous peoples of Australia, who did not use a written language but continued a culture for (most likely) over 60,000 years. Language is both the creation and the re-creation of the world, the world we perceive, down to the last detail.

No word for mountain, no mountain anymore. And no green turtle anymore and the word and dance for green turtle fall from experience and gradually, from human memory as anything but an abstraction. World and word are of interdependent origin.

- Lorin

Peter Yovu

So, maybe this is as good a time as any to ask all and any if this discussion has been useful to you. Has it opened any doors, put an extra bolt on doors already bolted, changed a few thoughts, dipped a few thoughts in salt water. . .?

I'm curious to hear any comments.

Peter Yovu

Here is the first stanza of a poem by May Swenson. I'll withhold the title, which names its "subject". I offer it as an example of vigorous language, and also because it strikes me as wonderfully haiku. So what is the "subject"?

Yellow telephones
in a row in the garden
are ringing,
shrill with light.

Also here is the last stanza of Auden's "The Fall of Rome", which I offer for similar reasons. Clive James ends an essay in the current Poetry magazine with this quatrain, and says ". . . I'm still trying to figure out just how the propulsive energy that drives a line of poetry joins up with the binding energy that holds a poem together".

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

Gabi Greve

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

I am tempted to parapharse

altogether elsewhere, vast
the huge tsunami  move across
miles and miles of coastal land
silently and very fast

But I would never consider this a haiku . . .

Gabi from Japan


Yellow telephones
in a row in the garden
are ringing,
shrill with light.

- May Swenson

The subject is probably daffodils, planted in a row, unless the garden is owned by Dali, perhaps.

Though I find "ringing/ shrill with light" clear, beautiful and vigorous the rest doesn't appeal to me. Far from being 'vigorous language', I find the first two lines, which establish the subject, 'cute' and quirky, at a remove from the life-giving qualities of language.

(Sorry if I'm stepping on anyone's toes in giving my opinion here. I'm sure there will be many who feel otherwise.)

Auden is, to me, a great poet, but extracts don't do justice to his discursive style. However, I'll try an extract:

One circumlocution as used as any
Depends, it seems, upon the joke of rhyme
For the pure joy; else why should so many

Poems which make us cry direct us to
Ourselves at our least apt, least kind, least true,
Where a blank I loves blankly a blank You?

- from 'One Circumlocution', W.H. Auden

This is clearly not an image-based poem, but the use of common language, the language of discourse, here, at the same time as rhyming is something he is a master of, and shows one aspect of 'vigorous language', imo.

Also, from the much-anthologized 'Musee Des Beaux Arts', the very first line-and-a- bit packs a most vigorous punch which is supported by the rest of the poem and returned to:

About suffering they were never wrong
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
. . .

- Lorin


...returning, because through the day Auden has been playing on my mind.

I wonder to what extent context (the context of the rest of the poem) has to do with 'vigorous' language?

I've been thinking, how can an abstract word like 'idea' be an example of language that really packs a punch? The 'undertow' that we were talking about re Michael McClintocks 'little inn' ku happens for me often in Auden's work. I can't find it on the web, but the poem I have in mind is

Surgical Ward

They are and suffer; that is all they do;
A bandage hides the place where each is living,
His knowledge of the world restricted to
The treatment that the instruments are giving.

And lie apart like epochs from each other
- Truth in their sense is how much they can bear;
It is not talk like ours, but groans they smother -
And are remote as plants; we stand elsewhere.

For who when healthy can become a foot?
Even a scratch we can't recall when cured,
But are boist'rous in a moment and believe

In the common world of the uninjured, and cannot
Imagine isolation. Only happiness is shared,
And anger, and the idea of love.

- W.H. Auden.

Everything in the poem here, for me, works toward that devastating finale, 'the idea of love', which gives the lie, on one level,  to 'we stand elsewhere'.

- Lorin

Peter Yovu

Though this Sailing (and each of the 13 previous) is not and cannot be "finished", I would like to thank all participants for their contributions. I think this kind of exploration is quite difficult-- for one thing, we get into difficult, often subtle subject matter, if only because it is the nature and intention of this particular board (is that the right word?) to go beyond the familiar and toward Possibility.

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