NEVERMORE: a standing poem

Tony Lopez, 2014, 44.6 x 9 cms (unfolded), silkscreen printed folding card, letterpress sleeve with zimZalla rubber stamp; folding card manufactured by Handbench Screenprint, Exeter.

Hand-printed sans serif letterforms are arranged in threes, located on each plane of the folding card, so that we firstly identify them as characters in alphabetic code, a recognition that is usually (and immediately) subsumed into the rapid apprehension of meaning as a whole. Here that process is somewhat deferred by the arbitrary imposition of number as an organising focus, foregrounding the individual signs. Five of the ten sets of three uppercase letterforms turn out to be recognisable English words if we notice and accept ‘IED’ as it has been employed in the reporting of recent campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan: CON, TEN, IED, ENS, ION. These arbitrarily generated meanings are the objections that may be deployed against a proposal, or a deliberate deception; the number of digits on two hands (the decimal system’s human base); a homemade bomb; typographical width units (half of a given font height); and an atom or molecule in which the number of electrons and protons is unequal, producing a positive or negative electrical charge. By contrast the five non-words are crucial in sustaining that potential meaning we do not normally notice – they are characters in sets that might be read as anagrams to be unscrambled or fragments to be recombined at either or both ends: ITR, EXT, ORM, THF, TWI.

The printed text on its support is a modest thing; a maquette that unfolds from its sleeve to stand and be seen on whichever side is viewed, you can’t see it all at once. The text in full is a variation on the statement ‘form is never more than an extension of content’ attributed to the poet Robert Creeley (1926-2005), and one of the principles of ‘composition by field’ that Charles Olson identified in his influential 1950 essay ‘Projective Verse’. The piece is designed as a portable Creeley memorial, alluding also to Charles Olson and (because of the title) further back to that pioneer of American poetics Edgar Allen Poe. By adjusting words and word order, the standing poem turns the stress and meaning in the word ‘content’, which becomes a state of mind sufficient to action. And ‘extension’, in this sculptural form, is made into that pure metonymic feedback discovered by only a very few among the concrete poets of the mid twentieth century. Even realised as a small-scale model the standing object has its particular dimensions and takes its place in the world of things. Ideally it would be made in wood and fabric and installed as a free standing folding screen with a face size of just under six foot square. You would walk round it to read and know its extension on a human scale but it wouldn’t easily go through the post.


See also

Robert Creeley

Charles Olson, Projective Verse

Edgar Allen Poe, The Philosophy of Composition

Thomas A. Clark, The Standing Poem

(accessed 16th November 2013)

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