Travis Macdonald (of Fact-Simile Editions) has impressively dropped three new chapbooks this spring. All of them are great examples of what Kenneth Goldsmith might call “uncreative writing,” and two of them, BAR/koans (Erg Arts, 2011) and Sight and Sigh (Beard of Bees Press, 2011), are available as free PDFs. Hoop Cores (The Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2011) is available for £5.00. Check them out!
Hoop Cores continues Macdonald’s play with prophecy (his latest full-length book N7ostradamus subjects the seer’s quatrains to N+7, the famous Oulipian procedure) as he anagrammatically “translates” extremely conventional horoscopes by astrologer Jacqueline Bigar into lexically lurid and ludicrous texts (“Hoop Cores” is, of course, an anagram of “Horoscope”). The chapbook itself (pictured above) is much wider than it is long (at 8″ x 3 3/4″) and opens up, quite neatly, like a check book. Here is Gemini:
Yo-ho–Amputate your non-equality catcalls. Shhh! Recant your prudishly obscured pig beauty. Good. Eunuchise your psychopathic sainthood’s spluttering heat rash erections. OK. Now eloquently avenge that sensitive lechery.
On the page below, up-side down, is the following “answer”:
You have a lot to accomplish and quite quickly at that. You see another person through new eyes, especially as he or she naturally pitches in. You could be surprised by everything that occurs. Tonight: Put on your dancing shoes.
Now, whose advice would you rather follow? The anagram, incidentally, was a popular technique of Puritan elegists who would anagram the name of whoever was being elegized. According to Roy Harvey Pearce’s classic study The Continuity of American Poetry(1961), “The Puritan elegist might well believe that in a man’s name God had inserted evidence of his nature and his fate. When, at his death, that nature and fate were most at issue, what could be more needful than to search out the meaning of that evidence?” So it seems the anagram is part of a long history of prophetic hermeneutics. Yet Hoop Cores, thank god, is far from puritanical.
BAR/koans is a series of striking visual poems that are, according to the dedication, “for the machines that will one day replace us.” As can be gleaned from the punning title, the book presents modern day koans along with a bar code “translation.”
The text, thus, is generously produced for both the human as well as the machinic reader. In fact, generosity is the theme of the zen story from which this koan is taken:
A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there was nothing in it to steal. The Zen Master returned and found him. “You have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.” The thief was bewildered, but he took the clothes and ran away. The Master sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused, ” I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”
Too bad the thief couldn’t have considered a red moon about to drop below a data encoded horizon.
Sight and Sigh continues Macdonald’s ambitious project of subjecting The 9/11 Commision Report (2004), a text which Richard Posner called “an improbably literary triumph,” to various erasures. (See Macdonald’s first book The O Mission Repo (2008) and my review of it here.) Sight and Sigh treats Ch. 11. (which is called “Foresight–and Hindsight.”) Here is a particularly striking page:
Macdonald is, indeed, adapting nicely to the age of the database. According to Lev Manovich’s provocative The Language of New Media (2001), “if after the death of God (Nietzche) [sic], the end of grand Narratives of Enlightenment (Lyotard), and the arrival of the Web (Tim Berners-Lee), the world appears to us as an endless and unstructured collection of images, texts, and other data records, it is only appropriate that we will be moved to model it as a database.” What better way to deal with such an unstructured proliferation of texts and data than to restructure such texts through anagrams, unorthodox translation, and erasure and add them to our ever-growing database?
Michael Leong is the author of the poetry books e.s.p., Cutting Time with a Knife, Who Unfolded My Origami Brain?, and Words on Edge. His creative work has been anthologized in THE &NOW AWARDS 2: The Best Innovative Writing, Best American Experimental Writing 2018, and Bettering American Poetry, Volume 3. His co-translation, with Ignacio Infante, of Vicente Huidobro’s long poem Sky-Quake: Tremor of Heaven is forthcoming from co•im•press in late 2019. His critical monograph Contested Records: The Turn to Documents in Contemporary North American Poetry is forthcoming from the University of Iowa Press in May 2020. He has received grants from the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses and the National Endowment for the Arts. He teaches in the School of Critical Studies at CalArts.