Signed Even as a Waiting : erasures : Paul Klinger

Paul Klinger's chap uses the form of erasure for PJ Bailey's "Festus", Signed Even as a Waiting. This is one of the smaller chaps, about 2'3"

The form of erasure can be found in the works of Ronald Johnson, Lucas Foss, and Tom Phillips, and now multiple others, though I am fairly certain I have seen prints of victorian texts with this form utilized as well. The form of erasure (literally erasing or blacking out text). I really like and appreciate this form, which is perhaps the strong predessor in way of all things flarf-- but what I find interesting about works like Klinger's erasures in Signed Even as a Waiting, is that the poet works with an original text of poetry (vs. spam) and it is not automatically generated, but a kind of poetic meditation/collaboration (at least on one part) and channeling of the original work to find the 'work within.' The last issue of Dusie also featured some of Klinger's erasures, and here he also cited his process:

A note on the process of Fescue :

I made a lexicon of Victorian (obsolete) words in the poem, and used those to help cut my own way. The lexicon helped me plot a course through each page, as well as establish certain patterns. I was definitely inspired by Ronald Johnson and his attention to Milton's poem. Johnson paid very close attention to the frame of the page, the skeletal aspects of typography.

I chose P.J. Bailey's Festus as my source because I wanted a disorganized text. Festus was perfect because Bailey kept adding to the poem all his life, doubling its size. What I wanted to do was override the frame of each page by forming tighter texts, far away from borders, which figure largely in Johnson's radi os. The lyrics all make gestures to what the page was, but unlike Johnson's poem, mine is not encapsulating or overarching. I am inside of the typography. In that sense, it becomes invisible.

Paul Klinger, Dusie: Issue 3

This is a darling little shadow-box sized chap as well as an interesting take on poetries (past and present, oneself as well as the other/self) in its intelligent intertextual renderings. I've done pieces similar to this, but upon reading Signed Even as a Waiting, I am inspired try my hand at it again, if not dually 'collaborate' and perhaps do some erasures of other erasures even, now that would be a collaboration!


Logan Ryan Smith said...

I just did a little write-up on my blog about another erasure, parad e r ain, by Michael Koshkin. They're all the rage!

I like the presentation of Paul Klinger's, uniquely, in that it's the actual image of the page with all the "unwanted" words scratched out with a marker. The shirt-pocket-size of it is cool, too.

DUSIE said...

I also prefer Klinger's presentation here...it makes me read the text completely differently as well as adds mystery to the original text. I find myself also reading as if it were a translation, a sparing down to the essential text within and looking at the shape and make-up, shape, variations as another artistic slant and bent that would simply not exist if it were simply erased.

Amy said...

Like you, I dig erasures -- I think many poets do them whether they indicate as much by revealing the original or not. Erasures speak to the nature of poetry in relation to narrative (or larger poem) overall: they basically take the mulch in a compost heap and work to find the nuggets that, once joined, form a kind of beautiful necklace - to make a metaphor of it all.

Erasures help us to note how the workings of narrative detritus (yes, even in poetry) can be pared down to the 'essentials' or to a new essence not originally detected in larger poem at first. It's also a testament to the poet's eye as an editor. In fact, I believe a poet isn't a long-term poet unless he or she hasn't also developed that paring down or puzzle-seeking eye. I do. I do.

As with Klinger, erasures also point out what gets buried in the past vis a vis historical work. Susan Howe's earlier poetry makes much of erasure and the salvaging of voices lost to silence. I appreciate that Klinger reveals his methodolgy for text selection, among other considerations.

At the end of it all, I have to note that the size and eye-catching design are a testament to his awareness of marketing appeal. My own "chap" design is a product of laziness and resistance to dealing with programs I'm not accustomed to. I just stapled whole pages together with two thicker pages as a cover. Now if I walked into a bookstore, whose book would I be most likely to pick up? Certainly not the big 1980's cheap-ass fanzine looking version! I'd go for the cute- little-have-drink-in-one-hand-and booklet-in-other one. In fact, I think Paul should distribute these at upscale wine and fancy beer bars, where patrons can chat over the poems and what's been left out, etc.

Scott Glassman said...

Paul's book and other works in this vein make me wonder: what would a comprehensive poetics of erasure look like? One that is not purely a visual cauterization of text?

For instance, if the urge to be in "poem" is resisted so completely and utterly that the overwritten aspect of silence becomes the poem, before the poem is written. So imagine "erasures" occurring before any text is put to paper.

Paul's work is retroactive in the respect that it returns an existing poem to silence in parts. And this present-moment silence, superimposed on text creates a contrast to the "speech left exposed," a disjunction which is vibrant and compelling and creates a mental friction which we as participants, readers, must deal with, must resolve. It's a good friction.

OR you can ignore the cross-outs entirely, and place all of your attention on the new arrangement of words. However, some of the old is visible beneath the crossouts.

I much prefer: Re-papering a poetic home in places with silence.

Paul's book is deceptively compact, but by no means "light".

Thank you for it.

- Scott

poetzie said...

A fetching little artifact. Scott's point about the poetics of this process/ product is interesting. . .I've seen many poems lately where poets extract parts of a text and make a new text, presenting the new text as a "poem," but this surely is not what Klinger is doing. Yes, it is surely more in the realm of visual art. He is giving a privelege to the materiality of the text, the words as things to be "chosen" or "not chosen", and then to be displayed as "chosen" or "not chosen" depending on whether or not that word/phrase is crossed out. For me, the powerful thing about this genre is that words that are NOT chosen still appear on the page, and are present despite their "exclusion". (An interesting statement about text as artifact.) The word "erasure" surely is a misnomer in my mind because nothing is erased. . .it is all present, chosen or not.

Also, as LRS points to in his comment, there is a visual aspect to the poems, a shape or "image" which is almost overwhelming as a reader. . .there is a sense that the "meaning" of the text itself evaporates and we are left with the pure materiality of the language as it "appears," not as it "means". Very cool. I dig it.

I think we should rename the genre, though. As Scott seems to be saying, all poems are erasures. This poem erases less than a traditional poem, which leaves white space (silence) where the exclusions are, not crossed-out text, which surely reads more loudly than silence.

Marci Nelligan said...

This erasure is certainly in the spirit of Howe, making the obscure or forgotten newly relevant, but there’s something very interesting happening here in the newly created image of the poem. The visual effect from page to page has its own animated sensibility, like an old flip-book, forcing the eye into a different focus with each turn and creating a sense of relationship and coherence between each distinct part. Then there’s a constantly shifting magnification, where each page is rendered at a different distance from the viewer. This makes the reader complicit in investigating and scrutinizing the words, giving the feeling that in zooming in on the work, the viewer is somehow claiming it or unwittingly participating in its modification or simply in how it “looks”. Arguably, Klinger calls attention here to the fact that the reader will, by definition, tinker with the words of the author, recasting them, modifying them, doodling all over them…

When Klinger zooms out, offering a glimpse at an entire modified page of Bailey’s original, it resembles an old map, with lines and squiggles drawn like boundaries, rivers, "marked" territory. They seem to speak of seizing, charting, making the unknown navigable. And surely this is not new to the readers of poetry, this sense of holding down a slippery thing, of making something wild your own and in doing so, swallowing a bit of its power.

I think too, Klinger plays with the way in which interpreting, marking, quoting, recasting are all part of the way in which readers and writers participate in a deeply human and fundamentally constructive act, no matter the consequence to the original or the author’s intent. In any event, it is provocative and beautiful—the best kind of puzzle. Thanks, Paul.

Scott Glassman said...

Another thought I had about it, on the heels of these great insights: the work points to a question of perceptual processing, as though in looking at a great work of art, the part of the painting your eyes are drawn to first depends on your experiences, preferences, favorite colors, emotional state, personal history etc. In this respect, Klinger has created a textual Rorshach for us. On the second to last page, for instance, (and I tested this several times) my eyes flick to the river of erasures in the middle first, and remain there. Is it different for anyone else? It would be interesting to compare our subjective "first fixations".

The idea of what he is doing, which may point ones attention more to the re-shaped poem, the words arriving to our senses in new constellations MAY NOT be consistent with our immediate visual pleasure upon encountering the piece, and where within the piece that this takes place. For me, an interesting question of physiological reaction versus conceptual, contemplative reaction.

pklinger81 said...

I have enjoyed the conversation about the book. It is has been valuable to get reaction about the visual nature of the work, as that was a decision I made fairly deep into this undertaking. I have made about 19 other books like "Signed Even as a Waiting," while attempting to organize something larger. The chapbook became a way for me to organize a kind of genealogy of these texts, as I developed certain preoccupations and gestures through several groups of poems, while others seemed to complete themselves with one batch.

The "friction" that Scott mentions is one of the more compelling aspects of this kind of work for me. Previously, as in the work Susana published in Dusie 3, that friction took the form of a dash, but that seemed reductive, so I have since scanned all the pages in an attempt to expand that interface with the original. From the comments, I gather that this was a good move, for the reader. I know that I enjoyed the mess of these pages more than the cleaned up dash version.

Marci's idea regarding boundaries really hit on a complication that I had to attend. Approaching a whole page often proved counterproductive, as it encouraged me to rip through too much. I didn't like the "hollowed out" feel of doing it this way.

Often, I would halve the page by plotting a course for the line with certain keywords that I felt would serve as boundary markers and themselves lie on the edge of the unmarked sections of text.

Sometimes, the brittleness of the paper would assist me with the decision, as a fold developed from some of the pages being carried around in a bag or shirt pocket.

I found that controlling the space became the most important decision for each page. The fact that the poem is a verse drama played into my spatial mapping in odd ways, as I developed a predilection for "monologue" pages, unbroken by a shift in speakers.

So the typography of drama became something intrinsic to the boundaries I set up. This is one of the more engaging problems I faced throughout the whole thing (391 pages!)

I appreciate the problem that the term "erasures" presents. It is one worth writing about. I have started a kind of essay regarding this, which I think will somehow run with the erased poem. At some point, I would love to post it and have more discussion about the problem of erasures. I think of it as something much more than an exercise; it seems worthy of being called a writing mode, something that you could swim in for a very long time because of the training it affords you in terms of spatializing text.

Here are some other recent erasures:

Jen Bervin, Nets (Ugly Duckling)

Janet Holmes (see 2nd issue of 1913)

Julie Doxsee (Coconut 4)

David B. Goldstein said...

What a wonderful discussion thread this has become. I would agree with Mackenzie and Scott about the inadequacy of “erasure” to describe what Paul is doing. Tom Phillips, whose book “A Humument” is the granddaddy of this genre, calls his work a “treated text,” which seems to me to encompass both actual erasing and a whole host of textual negotiations, some of which occur in “Signed Even as a Waiting.” Jen Bervin’s book, which Paul mentions above, is also interesting in this regard, because she’s the first person I know of to approach the genre by graying out but not erasing the other words in the poem, therefore creating three distinct reading experiences: the original (in her case, Shakespeare’s sonnets), the words she’s chosen, and the interaction between the two.

I would love to hear more, Paul, about how the form of the book you’re working with affects your compositional process. I suppose I’m not yet clear on how the verse drama layout guides your renderings, and would love to hear/see/read more of how that changes the emergent poem.