The Manifest Of Polypoetry Is 12 Years Old (1999)

by Enzo Minarelli
July 1999

Our attempt consists, after a decade, in re-discussing the points of the Manifesto. We need to state immediately that the reasons which induced us to theorize the performance of sound poetry, still exist. Nobody, save very few cases, has felt the urgency of making clearer the procedure of a stuff still enough practised. Maybe, it’s difficult to find the new practitioners, as nowadays it seems that only the most sophisticated hyper-technology or the violence against the body itself (also transfigured or made through genetic manipulation) are the unique, authorized ways of the artistic research.

Our intention was based on the persuasion that those who were experimenting performances of sound poetry, not always were perfectly aware of what they were producing. And such an impression is still neatly kept today. By awareness we mean the capability of a project able to organize round the voice, round the nucleus of the voice a series of interventions involving other media, without going towards the performance of art, the experimental theatre, the concrete music or, worse, the reading of a poem. It was necessary, and it still needs a high level of consciousnees to manage such a tourbillion of multiple elements.

All that written in the Manifesto, was at a right time, positively valued by Paul Zumthor who understood its theoretical-practical importance. Often he suggested us to go beyond, to create a group. Well, a group in a way has been created through the chain of some international festivals (Bologna, Mexico City, São Paolo, Budapest, Montevideo, Athens, Barcelona…). Our editions in records (almost twenty records produced along ten years) have rightly supported the theory. Various articles, essays, catalogues and anthologies have been done. The phenomenon exists, it is perfectly recognizable, also to search new followers. In view of the new millennium, it is one of the experimental possibilities still worth being developed, without running the risk of getting out of date, especially if the dialogue with the media will be kept alive.

1 Only the development of new technologies will mark the progress of sound poetry: electronic media and computers are and will be the true protagonists.

This has been an easy prophecy! During the Fifties, the invention of the recording technique and its immediate commercialization has deeply influenced and accelerated the passage from phonetic poetry to sound poetry, or better said, the change from the typical lettrist approach to the more spacial, electromagnetic sound. The same can’t be said after the appearance of the computer into the artist scene towards the end of the Eighties. No doubt that the production times are neatly shortened, it’s easier to work with special effects, to control the sound waves. But the final product, that’s the sound poem, has not been improved both from the structure and the contents. We are sharing the idea that the end-of-the-century big-computer-bang has not provoked the foreseen wave of “new” sound poetry. We say that those who have always used the technology for the composition of the poem, still go on exploiting it, maybe in a more sophisticated way, see Larry Wendt, Charles Amirkhanian, Sten Hanson. Or one would mention the extreme technological coherence of Henri Chopin who, at least for forty years, has been proposing his rarefied style, not so far from a phonetic ‘rumourism’. Other poets who first denied their involvement with hyper-tech recording studios, now they are not afraid of it and are used to click the mouse to select their recorded voice finally visualized into the screen. Still convinced that the fundamental help of technology is necessary to the cause of sound poetry, this is the winning instrument, so that the sound poet has got not only the task of not being unprepared in front of the very fast electronical development but also that of experimenting the new media for the safe progress of the sound poem itself. Set in other words, thinking of the poem also after the new technological suggestion and the new devices introduced. We ought to avoid that unbearable situation so typical of controlled freedom, where, apparently we can do what we want to, but, we do nothing or better, we do only that thing others allow us to do. That’ why we do appreciate those poets or searchers who have been able to set up ex novo their own softwares, Tibor Papp, Jacques Donguy, Eduardo Kac, Fabio Doctorovich or those who can wholly dominate the program they are using, exploiting it along an original process, Mark Sutherland, Philadelpho Menezes, Takei Yoshimichi, Suzuki Takeo.

Finally, some short words about the highways of the Web. We speak as Internet producer and Internet navigators. Our Website is three years old, and has been visited by more than 6.000 people, which is nothing if compared with great industrial sites, but a great success if you think we are defending an item not yet so visible. Our experience says that Internet module is not yet available for creative purposes. We are still in front of a medium more done for the diffusion of the products (see, the Websites), than for the building up of the poem itself.

Of course such a virtual existence is necessary, as Virilio said, we do exist only if we exist in the Web. Paradoxically, the world has become smaller and smaller or huger and huger, so that we are unable to distinguish what is real from what is virtual, and viceversa.

2 The object ‘language’ must be investigated in all its smallest and most extensive segments. The word, basic instrument of sonorous experimentation, takes the connotation of multi-word, penetrated all the way in and re-stitched on the outside. The world must be able to free its polyvalent sonorities.

Here we discuss the age-old problem of the word ‘poetry’. As one considers that the starting material is the language, we have always believed, by convention, to accept the definition of sound poetry. One doesn’t feel scared if the word ‘poetry’ would have to disappear. We do know that the ground to be dug still belongs to the language, to that language brought by the voice in that dual meaning Paul Zumthor introduced clearly :”I do define orality the working of the voice as it brings language, vocality the whole activities and values which are its own characteristics, apart from the language”.

Here, it’s summarized all the research of sound poetry. It’s a dialogism which provokes others, as signifiant-signifè, that’s orality stands at signifiè as vocality stands at significant. Again, orality stands at the morpho-syntactic chain as vocality stands at the phonetic ‘rumourism’. The aspects of multiword are fundamental. It is not only the old idea of the bag-word introduced by Joyce, although it was confined into the prison of the written page, but the use under the perspective of vocorality (forgive the neologism, fusion of vocality and orality) of the word itself. After the great seasons of the ‘rumourism’ of the Eighties, where the language was exploited vocally, we came into the Ninties where the integrity and integrality of the word was pursued. A vocoral word is able to free still that ‘polyvalent’ energy repressed at the level of writing. Energy which comes out under the shape of phonemes, above all, by means of permutational methods or reduction techniques, and under the form of word sequences developed in their normal trend. This part seems to us still uptodate. The word must become really multiword, directing itself towards manifold areas, creating the right background for multiple meanings, and so for its media expansion, related to the new tools of communication. Along this path, the most interesting poets are Clemente Padin, Julien Blaine, Serge Pey, Bernard Heidsieck, Bartolomè Ferrando, David Moss, Anna Homler, Franz Mon, Ide Hintze, Philippe Castellin and his Akhenaton group.

3 Sound elaboration admits no limits, it must be pushed beyond the sole of the pure ‘rumourism’, of a significant ‘rumourism’: the sonorous ambiguity, both vocal and linguistic, has a meaning if it fully exploits the instrumental apparatus of the mouth.

If we should change something in this part, instead of ‘linguistic’ we’d write ‘oral’. That to be coherent with what we said above. The instrument ‘voice’ is the base, the principal one, thanks to all its anatomic aspects, and it is evident that its stream is vocoral. From this point of view, the old idea pursued by Lettrist, and earlier by Futurists and Dadaists, was a winning one. A steady starting point. The novelty here consists in not including limits or borders. All that happened in a perhaps unique artist, Demetrio Stratos, who used the instrument-mouth like nobody had done before, reaching extremely unbelievable results. His sounds were able to defeat the same resistance of his body. He intended to break the wall which separates what it’s possible from what it’s impossible thanks to the voice. In this area of research one can see other poets who are going on along the same line of development, Jaap Blonk, Valeri Scherstianoj, Brenda Hutchinson, Miroslaw Rajkowski, Christian Prigent, Giuliano Zosi, Katalin Ladik, Nobuo Kubota, Paul Dutton.

An extreme level of vocoral sound can also be reached exploiting the digital process. We do believe as a very important step, beginning from the natural aspect of the voice produced by the mouth, which means that we escape from the use of artificial voice. It must be still improved and too much determined by a metallic, cool tone. The electronic approach pushes the voice into a ground where it is unable to recognize itself. It starts as voice, it arrives as sonorous piece, ‘rumourism’. Today, the sole is continuously crossed thanks to the powerful softwares. We have to admit that the technological progress reaches record after record. We do recommend that the poet must not follow passively the latest device, to show himself not too dependent, that’s why the compact structure of the project plays an important role, the best guarantee for the consciousness of doing a poem.

4 Rescuing the sensitivity of time (the minute, the second) beyond the canons of harmony and disharmony, since only editing is the correct parameter of synthesis and balance.

This point is so important that it establishes the success or the failure of a sound poem. It’s not a chance if we dared to mention minutes or even seconds. We would always want to know the reason why a poem lasts x minutes and not y minutes. Such a statement is directly connected of that one which underlined the prevalence of the project and its awareness. It means that the sound poet when he produces, controls all the elements, he dominates their use and function, for the purpose of getting the desired effects.

It is not always necessary to prepare performances based on the idea of time, as it happens in Gerard Rhum, Josè Calleja, Maria Teresa Hincapie. We want to point out, obviously, that the performing time is different from that of the audience. So the time of the performance must be supported by the structural need of the poem itself. We do not mean at any cost a full time, where it is compulsory that something has to happen. No. We are talking of a justified time. Kirsten Justesen included in a performance of hers, huge cubes of ice which reasonably should have melted, giving the temporal rhythm of her intervention. This is an example. Much better about the same problem has been done by some Fluxus artists as Dick Higgins, Allan Kaprow, Alison Knowles, Eric Andersen, Charles Dreyfus. Even if the sound research seems to appear weak.

We never thought that the best approach to the performance which had in the time its main characteristic, could be done through a unique entity, without being helped by the cut-up. All that is unavoidable if the poem is structured through a minimum level of complexity. Apart from it, we do not know a good poem which has not used the technique of the cut-up. Today, furthermore, the cut-up of an oral poem can be done easily on the screen of your computer, moving only the hand on the mouse, whereas until the end of the Eighties, to operate a cut-up, one needed physically to cut the tape and stick it. From bricolage to the era of computer. Such an easy use of the hardware has not provoked a better role of the cut-up, to prove once more that the mere technological development is not enough to do the poem. Poets like Paul de Vree, Bob Cobbing, John Giorno, Fernando Millàn, Gianni Emilio Simonetti or Joan Brossa especially in his theatre ‘Strip-tease’ always seem to control wholly the element of time during the performance. The cut-up is an obliged passage for a homogeneous, organization of the poetic material.

Finally, there are poets who, without practising great theories about the idea of time, without using a cut-up in front of the hardware, do operate a sort of mental cut-up, better defined like cerebral-vocoral, as during the performance, they feel the weight of the flowing time, so that their own body gets loaded like clocks to determine the time that goes by. Examples of that are given by Llorenç Barber, Josè Iges, Pierre Andrè Arcand.

5 Language is rhythm; tonal values are real units of significance: first the rational act, then the emotional one.

This is the point which determines neatly the prevalence of vocorality against writing. The signifying tone, almost morpho-syntactic structure, full of meaning. Demetrio Stratos used to say that “the rhythm develops the raising of the physiological conscience”, stressing perfectly that universal-holy aspect the voice gets during its rhythmic evolutions. More. The language, meant as corporal instrument, is comparable to a finger, to an arm, to a penis, and it is able to imitate all of them, producing sonorous movements rich of energy and impact towards audience. The voice can be uttered through the breast, the head, the diaphragm, it does not matter. It counts the rhythm pattern inside which it is developed. It can be violent object, charming caress. The rhythm must be decided consciously. The rhythm must be heard inside the body of the performer. It is signifying rhythm because it is the rhythm of the poet’s body. The voice is his visible extension, as in the Egyptian hieroglyphics, when the voice was drawn like a cloud of signs. Getting the rhythm of the poem, means managing the prossemic lines. The wise sound poets do possess this quality. Chris Mann, Amanda Stewart, Allan Vizents, Richard Kostelanetz, Carlos Estevez, Rod Summers, Rosaria Lorusso. We are deeply persuaded that such a choice must be done rationally and not left into the dangerous hands of improvisation. The sound poet is not working into a jazz session, with all our respect for this really democratic, musical branch. We’ll extend on purpose this great trend of rationality to the whole structure of the poem, following a lesson of Sartre who, on his turn, had learnt by Hegel “the true is the whole”. Only totality is true, and only in front of the whole, one is able to reach the truth. Our whole is polypoetical, which is connected to the world of the media, beyond the totality of the body (mind, thinking, heart). The polypoetical act is based into a rational approach to reach its own truth. The use of the reason allows us to go into a real, concrete direction. Gadamer, via Descartes, thought “all that is rational is real, and all that is real is rational”. We are so real that we still go on performing (tomorrow at the Theatre Acid, we’ll have the performance n.200). You are so real that the performing event is necessary to be what you are.

6 Polypoetry is conceived and made actual in the live show. It trusts sound poetry as the prima donna or point of departure in order to build a relationship with: musicality (accompaniment, rhythmical line), mime, gesture, dance, (interpretation, extension, integration of the sound poem), image (televisional, color transparency, as association, explanation, redundancy, alternative), light, space, costumes, objects.

We’d like to start from a short quotation about Lied, before developing the sixth and last point. “What in Lied is fused (italics are ours), is not music and poetry as abstract entities, but a word and a melody which move themselves round a lost subject…”.

Not by chance we have emphasized the verb ‘to fuse’ because we think that all the experimental production of performance, from the beginning of the century (Futurism, Dada) up to the recent Intermedia work, crossing through Lettrism (from Artaud to Paul de Vree), operates a fusion, mixing up various media, to the point they lose their own characteristics, to get new ones. We are not so far from the concept of ibridation introduced once by the canadian scholar McLuhan.

We believe that Polypoetry, far from criticising the past theory, has surely the desire to clarify the performing action, following the attempt of building up a new group, Polypoetry does not operate at all through fusions or ibridations, but it keeps visible the role of protagonist belonging to vocorality, see in it, sound poetry, capable of attracting the dialogue with other media, without losing or forgetting its specific. If one should employ mathematical percentage, one ought to say that 70% belongs to vocorality.

From this point of view, it fits our argument a statement done by Ilya Prigogine, according to whom classic science was based on the balance, on the stability; now, all the levels of observing the events are involved, and we find ourselves in fluctuations, bifurcations and evolitive processes. Well, just the fluctuations and the bifurcations are so typical of a polypoetical research inside a line which is rigorously vertical, unlike the horizontal one, which is representing the already mentioned historical experimental experiences.

The practice could be represented by Xavier Sabater, Fernando Aguiar, Endre Szkarosi, Clemente Padin, Laura Elenes, Michael lentz, Wladislaw Kazmierczak, József Rocco Juház, Magnus Palsson, Enzo Berardi, Luisa Sax, Tomaso Binga, Felipe Ehrenberg, Seiji Shimoda… Although we could easily include many other performers who apparently they declare to be far, but analysing their work, they are going towards the same direction.

At the very end, we hope first of all to provoke reactions, it does not matter how negative or positive they can be. Then, we are willing to support the idea that Polypoetry does contain the same categories of the ‘sublime’ as Lyotard has defined them.: no doubt that it belongs to the avantgarde, then a polypoetical work tries to present what is unprensatable, then words like ‘spectacularitation’ or ‘mediatization’, are perfectly coherent with a polypoetycal approach which testifies once more as every day it gets true ‘the missing of the object and the prevalence of the imaginary against reality’.

July 1999

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