Evening Will Come: A Monthly Journal of Poetics (Canadian Feature—Issue 53, May 2015)

Peter Jaeger
Poetics with Examples

I do not have a standard method of working, as different concepts require different approaches to composition. However I can say that there are three main tendencies which have characterized my writing since 2000. On one hand, there is work such as Eckhart Cars (2004), Prop (2007), and 540493390 (2014)—all of which focus on the situation of subjectivity and body-consciousness in language. These books attempt to inhabit the lyric form without simultaneously inhabiting the heroic or self-expressive mode so commonly associated with lyric poetry; they remain lyric in tone, but their use of collage and their excision of a central dominating “I” figure, in favour of a more social, general or ironic representation of subjectivity, swerve them away from the traditional lyric. Other work, such as Rapid Eye Movement (2009), The Persons (2011), and A Field Guide to Lost Things (2015), employs appropriated writing to offer readers a form of ambient, textual immersion. My work in this vein does not simply re-contextualize other writing: it also re-organizes the formal features of its source texts. This practice often entails setting up repetitive elements such as grammatical parallelism or sound patterns, or the reoccurrence of specific thematic motifs. The poetics of this approach owe as much to Robert Duncan’s conception of rime (which can be defined as the measurable distance between similar textual elements) as it does to strategies found in the appropriation art of the 1980s and in more recent practices of conceptual writing. The third prong in this equation is hybrid critical / creative writing, sometimes known as practice-led research or simply as contemporary poetics. A more detailed description and some brief examples drawn from three of my books might clarify these variant approaches to writing.


540493390 (research) (London: Veer P, 2014)

This long prose poem examines the notion that writing poetry entails undertaking research.While much of this book inhabits the lyric mode in terms of its heavy reliance on melopoesis and its somewhat melancholy tone, the poem shifts emphasis away from individual, conventional lyric subjectivity by focalizing all text through the second person pronoun, by amalgamating numerous source texts, and by employing an online random integer generator to determine the length of each section of the poem. I also found it interesting to note that an exploratory study of the outputs of continuously operating truly random number generators (RNG) located around the world indicated that the largest daily change in variance in the year 2001 occurred on an unprecedented day in United States history, September 11, 2001.


You began by studying contraptions and drones—their gorgeous honour, their numbers and their orders—and you allowed them to lull you towards a position. They composed an inaudible sound in your mouth and they registered this sound as a position shorn of noise. You studied how numbers could impose longer and shorter positions and how they could formulate your explorations. You studied how to humanize a random set of computations.


If those computations were produced by coincidence, who were you to complain? The numbers located your position and you found that position could not be considered from an outside point of observation, but rather from the point of its fundamental personality as nil. You learned to allocate values to those numbers: zero for naught, one for left,



two for centre, three for right, four for moon, and so on. The outcome offered by those numbers touched the way you spoke and your production of sound. You learned to stop or go on your voice. You thought the truncated quality of your voice would offer some sort of common opposition and so you spoke about numbers as though they wore out politics.


Possibly you were wrong, though you did not know that then. The truncated sound of your voice piloted you towards your studies of the social: what objects cost, how they spread, their death and the death of nationless pockets of countries, along with the mourning of local foliage and the absolute dominion of acoustic solitude. And of course, the ubiquitous power of domains, rooms, and their owners. You formulated notes and located them in position. But that was not enough, so you turned to reading stories which you thought had been cut adrift from their social moorings, as though such an occurrence was ever possible. You pondered those stories, confused, unable to count them or to account for their improbable contents. Abandoning all, you studied how to soar among clouds, and you soared.


You turned among clouds to locate a home in air. You saw a face glow darkly near the lustre of your hair. Until you learned to disappear—until no residue survived, no monikers, not even the optimistic moon-light which was void and shadowless


and which encompassed the thousands of clouds while you stood with one toe in a cup of water and the other in a wall socket, nor the vanishing point, nor the null set of calculation, no. No one supposed that you had learned how to be spacey with undertones.


No one supposed that you understood how to be dismembered. For you had chosen to deploy an age-old formula to throw your joints and bones towards an otherworldly position, where you learned about prototypes of love. You turned into one obsessed with sums and how they organized your joints and bones, collecting them around your otherworldly position. You became lonely and lost in that otherworldly position, but refused to ignore your vocation. You called it soul and you thought you heard it shouting for coherence. Moreover, from that position your joints learned to cure and your bones learned to love and your torso became heroic with numbers. Your meditations revolved your skeleton around and through equations, and your joints and bones were reconstituted by those equations.


A Field Guide to Lost Things (Manchester: If P Then Q, forthcoming in 2015)

This book reconfigures every single image of a natural object in CKS Moncrieff’s 1922 English translation of Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way—the first three novels of In Search of Lost Time. The guide includes images of nature encountered by Proust’s characters in rural landscapes, cities, towns and parks, as well as in the bodies of other characters. Each of the guide’s sub-headings replace standard dictionary definitions for these objects with sentences found in Proust. In producing this text, I employed digital search procedures as well as close reading to harvest and re-purpose Proust’s novel.

Irrepressible Verdure Seeing upon the boulevards that the chestnut trees, though plunged in a glacial atmosphere that soaked through them like a stream of water, were none the less beginning, punctual guests, arrayed already for the party, and admitting no discouragement, to shape and chisel and curve in its frozen lumps the irrepressible verdure whose steady growth the abortive power of the cold might hinder but could not succeed in restraining.

Ivy Brief, fading ivy, climbing, fugitive flora, the most colourless, the most depressing, to many minds, of all that creep on walls or decorate windows, to me the dearest of them all.

Jackdaws It let fall at regular intervals flights of jackdaws which for a little while would wheel and caw.

Jaw Dr. Cottard, who was then just starting in general practice, would “really have to come one day and set her jaw, which she had dislocated with laughing too much.” Since the accident to her jaw, she had abandoned the effort involved in real hilarity, and had substituted a kind of symbolical dumb-show.

Jaws Jaws that parted as though to devour her.

Jonquils, Narcissi and Anemones I moved swiftly—so as to arrive, as soon as might be, at the table that was spread for me, with fruit and a flask of Chianti—across a Ponte Vecchio heaped with jonquils, narcissi and anemones.

Keen Frost In a keen frost, I would feel the satisfaction of being shut in from the outer world.

Kingdom of the Lake At the foot of the path which led down to this artificial lake, there might be seen, in its two tiers woven of trailing forget-me-nots below and of periwinkle flowers above, the natural, delicate, blue garland which binds the luminous, shadowed brows of water-nymphs; while the iris, its swords sweeping every way in regal profusion, stretched out over agrimony and water-growing king-cups the lilied sceptres, tattered glories of yellow and purple, of the kingdom of the lake.

Knee Bending one knee in what was almost a dancer’s pose, so that she could lean without tiring herself over the picture.

Knees He would come away from an evening party, jump into his victoria, spread a rug over his knees, tell the friends who were leaving at the same time, and who insisted on his going home with them, that he could not, that he was not going in their direction. I’ve seen him, don’t you know, when he’s been with me, simply dazzling; you’d want to go on your knees to him. She sprang on to the knees of her friend and held out a chaste brow to be kissed.

Lagoon The idea which I formed of Venice, from a drawing by Titian which is supposed to have the lagoon in the background, was certainly far less accurate than what I have since derived from ordinary photographs.

Lake “Anyhow they’ve got a lake in Pomerania that’s ten times the size of the Place de la Concorde.” I had heard that Mme. Swann walked almost every day along the Allée des Acacias, round the big lake, and in the Allée de la Reine Marguerite. I reached the shore of the lake. The wind wrinkled the surface of the Grand Lac in little wavelets, like a real lake.

Land “That land of infinite fiction makes bad reading for any boy; and is certainly not what I should choose or recommend for my young friend here, who is already so much inclined to melancholy, for a heart already predisposed to receive its impressions.” The ‘Méséglise way’ with its lilacs, its hawthorns, its cornflowers, its poppies, its apple-trees, the ‘Guermantes way’ with its river full of tadpoles, its water-lilies, and its buttercups have constituted for me for all time the picture of the land in which I fain would pass my life, in which my only requirements are that I may go out fishing, drift idly in a boat, see the ruins of a gothic fortress in the grass, and find hidden among the cornfields—as Saint-André-des-Champs lay hidden—an old church, monumental, rustic, and yellow like a mill-stone; and the cornflowers, the hawthorns, the apple-trees which I may happen, when I go walking, to encounter in the fields.

Landscape And immediately the whole of her face would light up like a grey landscape, swathed in clouds which, suddenly, are swept away and the dull scene transfigured, at the moment of the sun’s setting. He would have looked back to distinguish, as it might be a landscape that was about to disappear, that love from which he had departed. In vain I compressed the whole landscape into my field of vision, draining it with an exhaustive gaze which sought to extract from it a female creature.

Large and Leafy Shadows Those large and leafy shadows which lay reflected on that lake of sunshine seemed aware that they were pledges of happiness and peace of mind.

Large and Richly Coloured Petals It was the possession of this woman that would emerge for him from their large and richly coloured petals.

Large Chrysanthemums These were entered through a narrow lobby, the wall of which, checkered with the lozenges of a wooden trellis such as you see on garden walls, only gilded, was lined from end to end by a long rectangular box in which bloomed, as though in a hothouse, a row of large chrysanthemums, at that time still uncommon, though by no means so large as the mammoth blossoms which horticulturists have since succeeded in making grow.

Large Eyes He would gaze in admiration at the large eyes.

Laurels She had gone away to lay down her things on a chair that stood with its back to a shrubbery of laurels.

Lawn A marvellous little band of light, of the colour of heliotrope, spread over the lawn like a carpet on which I could not tire of treading to and fro with lingering feet, nostalgic and profane. At once a scrap of withered lawn and a moment in the afternoon of the fair player, who continued to beat up and catch her shuttlecock until a governess, with a blue feather in her hat, had called her away.


John Cage and Buddhist Ecopoetics (London: Bloomsbury, 2013)

During the late 1960s John Cage made his first experiments with computer-generated compositional methods based on the I Ching, and in the early 1980s he began using IC (“I Ching”), a computer programme developed by his assistant Andrew Culver to speed up the generating process. Following Cage’s use of digital I Ching software, I employ an online random integer generator to organize this book’s layout. The resulting text is subject to odd interruptions, offbeat lacunae of silence, each of which have been dictated by a non-subjective agency. The text’s blank spaces and quirky, uncomfortable line endings are intended to reinforce, at a formal level, Cage’s interest in Zen Buddhism and his related understanding of ecology and anarchist politics.

It may be enlightening to begin by comparing Cage’s use of blank space in

his 1959 text “Lecture on Nothing” to Charles Olson’s discussion of the temporal qualities of open field notation. In the influential essay “Projective Verse” (1950), Olson describes how the graphic organization of space on the page represents time: the larger the space,

the longer the silence between words. Olson writes: “[i]f a contemporary poet leaves a space as

long as the phrase before

it, he means that space to be held, by the breath, an equal length of time” (245). By aligning spatial form

with time, Olson provides a means to chart a physical body in writing, to present text as a temporal indicator of

breath and of lived experience. Similarly, Cage’s

“Lecture on Nothing” is printed in columns “to provide a rhythmic reading, and his “Composition as Process” (1958) segregates sentences into short

lines, in which “each line of

the text whether speech or

silence [requires] one second for its performance” (Silence 18). The similarity in graphic notation between Cage and Olson is not to imply that the two writers shared the same overall poetic agenda. Where Olson wanted to chart the moment by moment movement of perception (“one perception must immediately and directly lead to

a further perception” [240]), Cage was more interested in emancipating the writer from subjective intentions altogether. And while Olson criticised what he called the “lyrical interference of the individual as ego” (59) due to his interest in areas as diverse as quantum mechanics, topology, phenomenology,

mythology, and linguistics, Cage’s critique of the ego during the 1940s and 50s was rooted more closely in his interest

in Zen. He describes his compositional method as a “reflection” of his “engagement in Zen” (Silence ix), and questions the Dada impulse in the light of Zen by pointing out that “Dada nowadays has in it a space, an emptiness, that it formerly lacked. What nowadays, America mid-twentieth century, is Zen?” (xi). Indeed, what is the space of

Zen—i.e., what is the material site of this space, and how can it be represented? Cage here uses the word “Zen” to indicate a new phase of the Dada impulse, which he transplants from its European roots into an American context marked by space and

emptiness. Much like Olson’s spatial notation, the blank spaces and durational stops and starts in Cage’s texts generate a series of temporal pauses which serve as sites for embodying a physical, material experience of



Poetry, poetics, and hybrid critical-creative writing provide ways to work through certain processes of thinking that are not available through more conventional narrative or expository methods. By moving between or among poetic forms, re-purposing source material, and producing hybrid texts, I hope to foreground method, and to question assumptions about the cultural value of specific forms of writing. To my mind this practice also calls into question the reification of disciplinary boundaries, and de-stabilizes normative views about what constitutes “good writing.”