Sunday, November 25, 2012


So Then Order is Round, or…
The Dwindled Supposing And

 box oUt




For this project I made a mesostic using Gertrude Stein’s “Tender Buttons” as the source text and the author’s name as the seed text.  Instead of doing it by hand, I used an online mesostic generator.

In the first stanza, the awkward syntax of the lines mirrors Stein’s language play. It starts with two negative traits, “disgrace” and “carelessness,” which seem to be magnified by “nor it more.” If one can “box out” that negativity, kindness can come in. This makes me think about Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter where Hester’s shame and disgrace gets her boxed out of society. Interestingly, though, The “A” boxed on her chest for all to see eventually gives her the gift of both strength and kindness.

The second stanza makes complete sense syntactically as well as poetically: “So then order is round.” Although we think of order as being a straight line, it always bends and twists, circling back on its self. This idea seems to complement Gertrude Stein’s poetic style.

The third stanza tells us that while the images we use in our poetry might seem to be full of splendor, Stein is no imagist. Instead, she recognizes that in reality the image is “dirty” and not an expression of true resemblance at all. The poem is suggesting that it is through experimental language, not some na├»ve goal of the exact image, that poetry can come alive.

One of the most interesting parts of the third stanza is the sixth line. Although the word chosen by the mesostic generator is “amusing,” the capitalization of the “U” (from GERTRUDE) gives the word an additional meaning: “am using.” Perhaps this is Stein speaking through the mesostic to tell us again that language gathers new meanings by sounds and space rather than mere meaning. I’m sure she’d find it “amusing” that I “am using” her sounds to generate new sounds, her language to generate new language.

The final stanza concludes with “the dwindled supposing and.” We imagine what is to come, what is to be added, but our suppositions become limited even as we try to expand them. We circle back in our round order to that initial cycle of disgrace to kindness.  I love the slant-rhyme words that end the two STEIN stanzas: "round" and "and." This happy accident joins together the ends of the circle.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What's for Lunch? Sardines and Oranges


Frank O’Hara’s “Why I Am Not a Painter” displays many of the features of New York School poetry. First, it uses a modified “I-do-this, I-do-that” style. It is not a list of daily behavior but the poem does have a conversational, even improvisational tone suggesting the poet is sharing his thoughts as they occur to him. In addition, “Why I Am Not a Painter” is exclusively in present tense, adding to its immediacy. This approach allows O’Hara to use the NYS’s classic wit.

NYS poems often make use of references. Here, O’Hara refers to modern artist Mike Goldberg, whose work hung in the MOMA where O'Hara worked. The fact that O’Hara talks about a museum in New York City illustrates the movement’s reliance on both the both the urban and urbane. The intellectual quality combined with the casual tone adds to the humor of the poem.

O’Hara makes use of the NYS technique of pastiche as he plays off of the work of painter Michael Goldberg. He combines the two meanings of pastiche as ironic stylistic copying and as jumble. Goldberg’s sardines and O’Hara’s oranges are both simple everyday unromantic objects, both words which become dissociated from their meanings, and both ideas that motivate the production of creative art.

It is this dissociation between letters and art that leads O’Hara to explore the concept of palimpsests. O’Hara watches Goldberg paint sardines (both the object and the painting), then sees him remove the object in order to complete the painting. The echo is heard in the painting by leaving the visual “letters” of the word “sardine” in the work. And if one views the actual painting, one sees that O’Hara means quite literally that the letters remain. For the poet, the color orange works in a similar way. The idea of the color orange allows him to write multiple poems, poems about subjects as deep as life itself, even though the poet finished without ever actually discussing the color orange itself. His use of palimpsest is to use the plural “Oranges” to title the collection of poems inspired by the color. Interestingly, the pluralization of his inspiration implies a shift in meaning: the food (oranges) rather than the color (orange). In a sense, this is an example of the traditional use of polyptoton (use of repeated versions of the same word), another feature of NYS poetry.

Perhaps the most obvious NYS style used in this poem is parataxis. While the title of the poem promises an explanation of why O’Hara is not a painter, or perhaps a direct statement explaining why he does not paint, we never get a straightforward answer. Instead, we get two images, that of the painter and that of the poet, that we have to work to reconcile. Although O’Hara makes it clear that he is making a comparison between the two, his argument is unclear. The two seem similar in their usage of palimpsests and in their reliance of words in their art. The two seem different since the painter has to remove from his work while the poet simply stops adding. Unlike the limit the painter felt when he removed the original sardine (“It was too much”), the poet has infinite freedom to write with no restrictions on how much to put into his poems.

I love that the poet best known for his “lunch poems” writes about sardines and oranges even when his bigger theme is the analysis of different approaches to creativity and art.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Jackson Pollock

830 Fireplace Road
by John Yau
clr gif
“When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing.”
When aware of what I am in my painting, I’m not aware
When I am my painting, I’m not aware of what I am
When what, what when, what of, when in, I’m not painting my I
When painting, I am in what I’m doing, not doing what I am
When doing what I am, I’m not in my painting
When I am of my painting, I’m not aware of when, of what
Of what I’m doing, I am not aware, I’m painting
Of what, when, my, I, painting, in painting
When of, of what, in when, in what, painting
Not aware, not in, not of, not doing, I’m in my I
In my am, not am in my, not of when I am, of what
Painting “what” when I am, of when I am, doing, painting.
When painting, I’m not doing. I am in my doing. I am painting.

(This poem is based on a real Pollock quote: "When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It is only after a sort of "get acquainted" period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.")

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Election Day


The US election has passed and Barack Obama has been elected president for a second term.  Instrumental in this process were hundreds of people who staffed the polls at every precinct, passing out information about voting procedure, manning catalogs of registered voters, and preventing the technically complex and extremely heavy electronic voting machines from falling down.

Yesterday I got to volunteer to help  as part of a program called the Future Vote Initiative, getting "future voters" (otherwise known as kids) to volunteer to help for three-hour shifts at local precincts. I was instructed to get to the polls at six o’clock in the morning, meaning that I had to get up around 5:30--which as a homeschooler is a very unusual event for me. While I had to get up early, it was worth every minute of missed sleep. I did everything I could to help, running Voter Access Cards back and forth, handing out "I Voted" stickers, or doing whatever was needed.

I had so much fun in the morning that I came back to help put everything away as soon as my fencing class had finished in the evening.  By the time I got home, it was just a few minutes before the outcome of the election was announced.

During the next presidential election four years from now, I hope to become a full election judge!