Wednesday, April 23, 2014

WHAT IS YOUR FRAGMENT IX: Pearl Pirie responds

What is YOUR fragment? Poets explain this technique as it appears in their books (see the original questions HERE and an elaboration on my reflections HERE). Responses 1-8 have been supplied by (click names to see their posts): Lisa Pasold, Marthe Reed, George Vance, rob mclennan, j/j hastain, Michael Ruby Jennifer K Dick and Afton Wilky. This week Canadian poet Pearl Pririe responds.

Pearl Pirie has two poetry collections including the pictured been shed bore (Chaudiere Books, 2010), and a third forthcoming with Canadian publisher BookThug in 2015. Her most recent chapbook is Vertigoheel for the Dilly with above/ground, spring 2014, and her upcoming is Quebec Passages with Noun Trivet Press which will be out this spring. Likely. Perhaps even already. She has a few other chapbooks, a micro press, several blogs, a gig as literary radio host at CKCU Literary Landscape and irregular gigs to teach poetry. To find out more, check out her website at:

What is a piece? 
A word is already complete. A sound is complete. It’s a matter of how long you want the moment to last without shifting. Freeze face! Strained lopsided really trying smile. Jutted lip. What looks like fragments are many wholes more than many holes.  It is allowing more things to be present than usual. I’m soaking bitter melon and pureeing tamarind; the air smells bitter. The music is more jazz than pop.  I like to work in words and ideas rather than anecdotes. Sometimes there’s a story. Sometimes the background everything is the story.  Omissions worry and chafe me but what is complete? Part of self and world is cut off and I want to reinstate as much as plausible. Pieces from different puzzles can interlock. 

A collage is only made of fragments if the one goal is one plain story. A short fragment is already itself. Or one book is only a fragment of a life work.

Is it about distance and expectation, density or direction or closedness?

I wildly speculate if the sensibility of fragments is about poverty/shame, embracing instead of trying to cover it. A closed form is whole bolt of cloth with one owner seems scandalous entitlement. A keeping appearance of having everything together and matching. No off notes except as perfectly timed counterpoint. It works well in haiku. I enjoy making it in some poems but it is only part of the good possibles. Maybe there is no moral of aesthetics to it. It is a different framing.

In fragments it’s a bumper crop. You can go the directions suggested by the writer. A plain narrative seems more true if negative spaces are read, but even that won’t catch what is left out in the bokeh. It seems like a photo with short depth of field of an apple in sun. If you pan back you see the whole clutter of counter and room but you’re only allowed to see this tiny controlled view. The calm seems nervous if you keep looking at. Maybe the fragment is at comfort with nervousness instead of trying to block it. It seems more buddhist, about the lighter levels of interconnection, the patterns that only appear after much more data. If you cut off the story to soon, you’d never get to the repetitions for the patterns to appear. Some see fragments as avoidance, as deflection, as if true is an uncovered simple, and fragments are decorative extraneous instead of intrinsic chaos of the system. 

Fragments are patchwork of ideas, about owing instead of owning. The seams are there. There might be less “seems”. Maybe it is keeping self down. A lifetime of mixing registers, being told to slow down, keep to one idea, a hierarchy of reveals, the breadcrumbs to make it easy for someone to follow. But maybe that is more for learning self-knowledge and to learn oratory than to be in the world.  Fragments can be less elegant, messier, more like conversation. 

If one can talk about anything in the universe and somehow the story of father’s hat wins, what all is left out? Why stiff upper lip single question mark and not a hall of mirrors question mark tribe? Understated. Stated. What about derstated? and erstat? and unders? What’s skipped? What does the skipping and inclusions ever signify?

Fragments seem more about conversations than oratory. In a discussion you share data but in a linear cohesive narrative, it’s more a prepared speech, elocution where you try to persuade of your conclusion. Maybe in any creative process you didn’t know where it was going or how it would come together.  Each audience is a particular bullseye. Is working the fragment more like darts, or is that the wrong analogy?

Although a fragment embraces a complete, a fragment can be a gap, an ellipses as when from a glosa. I like to use reverse in-fill plunder. This uses the vocabulary, of the source poem but troubles the order, as several poems in been shed bore (Chaudiere, 2010) did. The fragments get different unhitched relationships. By reversing phrase order, nouns become verbs, and like reading an essay in reverse, the elements are more clear. For example, in Jen Currin’s The Ends (Nomados, 2013) in “The Story of the Rifle”, even though the subject of the poem is the mother, most of the pronouns are he for either husband or son. The picked out phrases (1 per line, word order reversed, the line order reversed) become a set of blanks with prompts to go towards, filling in left and right of the source text. 

With so much erased and tumbled but knowing the next stepping stone, you don’t know where it will lead or how. Your partner in creation is the language and the frame of vocabulary and life context. With enough filling in the ellipses, the fragments could be glued into one story that may never suggest its origins but more interestingly is to keep the jangle and jumps.

reams of rifles polished of dreams and strawberry trifles

but we are a peaceful creature, returned mother earth
to her equilibrium of slime moulds before we sleep. still they had their kicks,

needs. birds the bothered wanted to see fly so frightened he was
to flight in himself. he flew the oops. 

to father the campsite. to child the sidewalk.
still hungry after the toast she did not eat, told and crumbs the plug unplugged. 

like she when way behind was moving fast. (watch out walls.)

like the mushrooms harvest ant societies to farm them

So it can be ellipses but a fragment isn’t about brokenness but allowing more wholeness. Fragment-based poems seem more complete. More makes it to the page. A dense network of ideas. More is let in. Letting the reader’s gut understand, as it can.

Monday, April 14, 2014

WHAT IS YOUR FRAGMENT VIII: Afton Wilky responds

What is YOUR fragment? Poets explain this technique as it appears in their books (see the original questions HERE and an elaboration on my reflections HERE). Responses 1-6 have been supplied by (click names to see their posts): Lisa Pasold, Marthe Reed, George Vance, rob mclennan, j/j hastain, and  Michael Ruby. Afton Wilky responds below.

Afton Wilky is a multi-disciplinary artist—writing, sound, digital media and book arts. She is the author of Clarity Speaks of a Crystal Sea (Flim Forum Press, 2014--image at left is from this book) and her work is in or forthcoming from journals such as BlackWarrior Review, LITMag, Siren, TAB, EOAGH, textsound, Word for/Word, and Jacket2. She also participated in the Lex-ICON blog project for the conference on treating text as image and image as text in June 2012--see her work for that conference HERE. She is the Managing Editor of The Volta. Her website and blog are at

Afton Wilky's Fragment:

For me, the fragment emerges out of their being too much. Too much to hear, see, on the page, in the world. For example, in a crowded room where many conversations are taking place, my ears pick up the sound of all these conversations, but I can only follow the thread of one at a time. I perceive everything outside of my focus as static noise.
          However, this is not to say that my focus remains fixed on one thread. And it’s the shifting of my attention which produces a sort of fragment. One of the beauties of this type fragment, which occurs out of overlap, is the spontaneous significance that can emerge at points of juxtaposition.  

In performing pieces from my recent book, Clarity Speaks of a Crystal Sea, I use multi-track audio in order to generate several threads of my own voice. Because I’m reading into previously recorded audio, the element of improvisation makes each performance unique; the result of listening, timing and recognition. Thus, the performance becomes a way of re-seeing the text. For someone in the audience, what they hear is shaped by particularities of their attention as they respond to and move through their experience.
extract of Clarity Speaks of a Crystal Sea

PS from Jen Dick: Afton wilky has been working on a series of video essays for her second book project, Circa. This includes one in particular related to this topic re: part three (ellipses) which hopefully will go public with the publication of this book. Keep your eyes peeled for this in the future!

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

WHAT IS YOUR FRAGMENT VII: Jennifer K Dick adds some thoughts

Fragments as notes scattered en route to knowing The Fragment:

“She was looking for the fragments of the dead Osiris, dead and scattered asunder, torn apart, and thrown in fragments over the wide world”—DH Lawrence 
re-quoted by Susan Howe  

The body of the work is sought. Lost or found. Underground or emerging. The fragment juts up. What is visible? What is the grounding providing that visible structure? What do we realize is necessary that we have never taken note of before. The reading of fragmented text invites new methodologies and reflections, new lyric considerations, performative and even semantic and linguistic reflection.
Lawrence Weiner
In the case of where this goes for some women authors, it is back to something that really only remains in part but where a whole was intended: Sappho’s fragments. In this case, the fragment as what is LEFT, retrieved, located/re-located. Pieces of a (missing) whole. What is the job/task of the reader faced with such remains?

Fragment vs Fragmentary—
Michel Gautier writing on Olivier Cadiot said “fragmentary writing has, first off, plurality as its principle and, second, brevity of its composing parts as a rule.”

I think of the use of FRAGMENTS in poetry as falling into 3 different categories, which do blur into and through each other— the fragment as:

1)     REMAINS / ABSENCE (at times retrieved in whole or in part—indicating loss)

2)     Ellipsis (a fading out or breaking off)

3)     Interruption: (Space of opening over the white page)
I use all of these in my most recent manuscript Lilith: a novel in fragments. Here are some ways I have started to also think of these as a reader:

FRAGMENT N° 1 looked at more closely:
·         Fragment as part of a work/œuvre where “the essential has been lost”, from which “unformed, fragmentary visions of the universe are seen” (Proust).
·         Fragment1 signals memories outside the text/language
·         Fragment1 signals languages, thoughts, knowledge beyond that of the author themselves: this may stem from the era of Symbolism (recognizing the impossibility of the intentionality of the artist—the “jeu de hasard” embodied in Mallarmé’s Un coup de dès, and also the idea that a part of something may hint at a whole or a series of wholes)
Stéphane Mallarmé
·         Either an unlived moment or moments in history or an instant of life one has forgotten—this kind of fragment as a method of retrieving moments lost or erased in history. Many women authors today are working with this (Susan Howe, Lyn Hejinian, Lisa Samuels, Joan Retallack, Myung Mi Kim) but it is also a technique that was perhaps brought to popularity by the trauma of WWII and a need to find a new way to voice a reality that was not able to be seen as a singular whole (This is the fragment of the buried bodies, the parts that are retrieved, able to be spoken, but allowing for a sense of something also lost.)
·         Fragment1: devalues political and personal/author(ial) authority and (re)valorizes the implication of the reader in the creation of (a) (potential) text(s)
·         One can add under this category work that is collaged, cut-up, scrambled as if reordered and thus reordering reality and our perception of it. This kind of fragment in combination with other fragments allows for a collapsing of time and thus an opening of multiplicity in a text, popularized since the period of Cubism then Dada, via Burroughs to the massive number of texts which used this technique in the 1980s and 90s to the present.

FRAGMENT N° 2 looked at more closely:
Mary Ruefle
         Fragment 1 and 2 overlap here first if we call also call the elliptical fragment something which remains when something has been taken away (into which one might put the practice of erasures—[Jen Bervin, Mary Ruefle and many others]—or Lisa Jarnot’s visual collagesin Another Kind of Mission, pictured below right). In this case, the idea is less of retrieving from everywhere but rather a thing in place from which a part has been taken away.
·         Thus ellipsis includes also work which is about division, eruption/explosion, segmentation, fracture of identityà signaling ruptures in the couple, family, individual person (self/ author/authorial voices) or a multiplication of selves.
·         This is also fragment as the stutter, the stammer, the voice struggling to take hold or to locate itself in and through 1 or multiple languages (Dickinson to Stein to Hejinian and Susan Howe and to many contemporary authors like Carol Snow or Laura Mullen, who are
Lisa Jarnot
working with this kind of fragment. This type of Fragment is sometimes used as a method of retrieval, as recently readdressed in certain multilingual or minority work seeking to address erasures of voice and culture and to embody on the page the struggle to relocate those, such as in Dictee by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, the books of Myung Mi Kim and recently Craig Perez Santos’ work, Saina)
·         In France, authors like Claude Royet-Journoud could be put into this group (perhaps alongside others known as part of the poésie blanche period of the 1970s—Jean Daive,Anne Marie Albiach, Emmanuel Hocquard, etc) but I think of Journoud as a special case because of how extreme his elimination practice is—writing 500+ pages and whittling it down to small intense collections of fragmented lines. For him, this relates poetic practice and that of crime fiction—going in search of the body, in pursuit of an answer to a mystery since the answer is not there at first and may never be. This also relates or ties the fragment back to type 1, as it relates it to the fragment as “incomplete logic” (see critic Jeon’s writings on MM Kim for more thoughts on this)
·         Erosion / accretion are fundamental to this definition of the fragment—especially as it relates to the process of reading
·         Reader’s role: to (and how to) or not to combine the materials in front of you

FRAGMENT N°3 looked at more closely:
·         Fragment as interruption--making a place for the unsayable, the white page to act as a unit of (unspoken) speech, including in this case a densification of the pause or caesura.
Susan Howe
·         In this case, as in Fragment 2, fragment can appear as bits of something broken, but now includes as much the white as fragment as a unit of language, as space of embodiedthought or/and sound—
·         language spaced over a or many pages opening up the white of the page to various ends, fractured narratives and identities, ruptured languages, silences, philosophical reflection space, space to breathe (This has become so popular a way to think that it for example practically defines one online magazine’s way of presenting the kind of work they seek and publish, as the ‘Dear Sir’ site explains: “Dear Sir, follows a minimalist layout, where the frame of the page defers to the writing within (where site is retina then writing = iris and page the sclera).”)
·         This kind of fragment gives a new texture to the text/page—both read aloud and on the page and likely also opened the door to a lot of the hypertext work of today which seeks to layer things as if that original white on the page were now 3-D in space/time of the computer (digital age) 
·         Among the new textures this kind of fragment adds to the text one can mention
1)     First, white as where all disappears or has emerged from—the abyss or the original of language.
2)     Secondly, in this case the white is a space for the unsayable, indicating greater hidden narratives—sometimes this is also because of trauma, that which cannot be voiced because it is too difficult to say or because saying weakens its force, language is inadequate to the task of speaking the event and
3)     Third, the texture it may add is simply a space for reader participation—blanks to or not to fill in (some literally like children’s exercises)—Sawako Nakayasu, MM Kim, Cha--other times it is to invite participation by the reader—as digital work often does on an even larger level.
·         This fill-in the blank aspect likely emerged out of the practice of poetry as part of enigma

writing and answering
·         That said, on a deeper level, this kind of fragment as opening of the page originated in large part in Mallarmé’s UCDD. He was looking at the typographical work being done on

posters and then reapplied that to poetic practice opening up
a) typography as indicating sound (louder, quieter)
b) the reading direction of a page so that it could be read in many directions or question even what direction one reads in and
c) the sense of the page as a kind of canvas—language as paint, as mark which made way for a century and a quarter of explorations of language on and off the page.
A kind of tug-of-war between poetry as voiced (sonore) and visual (textual, to be read and seen) has ensued but both likely find their origin in UCC which practiced both in tandem. Cole Swensen, writing on Mallarmé, stated:

[…] such use of the page offers far more than novelty, that it is not haphazard or arbitrary, and that instead it actively does things : It constitutes a refusal of stasis. It sends the reading in many directions, and those directions themselves are not determinate, not stable. They keep rerouting themselves, offering new combinations. So that rather than being a “thing,” the text becomes a machine for producing things. The reading eye is the fuel that drives this machine. This refusal of stasis also results in another kind of refusal of closure because there are in effect several ends posited […] And perhaps most important, it insists on the page as a work of visual art […]
·         In the USA, this is also closely intertwined with the idea of field poetics—the page as a field, and much should be relooked at while giving Charles Olson’s classic Projective Verse essay yet another read, wouldn't you say?
Charles Olson