Dan Sankowsky: from the inside
art | writing | teaching
Sonic Poetry :: Introduction
Just before I started my academic career, I had some time on my hands and I bought a typewriter. It had a font that that really got my attention. (it’s actually a precursor to the Arial font most of us have on our computers). I started playing around with words, just to see how they looked on the page. A style emerged. Calling this "sonic poetry," I have been crafting poems in this style ever since. Thirty of them appear on this site.
The balance between content/meaning and texture/feel is the key to my poetry. That balance is essentially the "composition": it parallels the graphic relationship between figure and shape. There is an issue here in "seeing/hearing as": when individuals focus only on "What is it? What does it mean?" with fixed categories, they are in performance mode, lessening their chances of fully experiencing and making new connections. I believe in some denotative grounding, but strive for the "edge of ambiguity" to enhance an experiential orientation.
Another guiding principle to the poetry comes from observing myself interacting with others. I find that a conversation nurtures me when it (a) has a rhythm apart from the content, even if based on that content; and (b) ultimately reveals a theme, a direction, a connection, a discovery, one that emerges in the process of conversing. What I learn in terms of information has a place, but experientially, the rhythm and the connection hold me. They comprise the "art" of conversing, also enhancing relationships between the individuals involved.
To implement these principles in my work, I rely on sound clusters at certain "joints" of the writing. Specifically, just when the reader is going along and "understanding" (in the usual, but routine sense making manner), I throw in a phrase that cannot be so understood, e.g., adjectives that don’t normally go with their noun or two nouns in succession (consider "lacquered consolation"; "poplar dean"; "Origami trail"). This device helps to rebalance the reader so that he or she can still hold the thread of a theme, but does so in a more experiential way. That means that the reader can’t pin down and articulate precisely the essence of that theme but rather, rides it as a surfer would a wave. Backing away from meaning just when the reader expects it and is growing too "comfortable" with it tends to highlight the feeling/texture aspect.
I also use some standardized phrases such as "can you believe that?" These redirect and rebalance, as in a collage. Rather than look inside them for comprehension, readers tend to perceive them as whole structural units as they would words like "however." A smattering of these phrases mixed in with the jolt of grammatically correct, but denotatively nonsensical sound clusters helps build a rhythm and ultimately a direction. Referring back to words used in the clusters or to loosely related phrases then begins to create internal connections, enhancing the feeling of moving toward something.
What I’m after is not only a particular discovery or theme (reader: this is what he’s saying here), but more importantly the essence of the feeling of discovery (this is what it feels like to make that kind of connection) and ultimately the location of that feeling in the reader. He or she will then identify a place inside him or herself (I recognize this as the feeling of discovery). The words are merely a vehicle. My hope is that these sound clusters and collages, comprising a composition that rebalances toward texture and away from meaning, will act in this capacity.
Ideally, the sound clusters have an intrinsic appeal and stand alone, just as a well-turned phrase or a sound argument byte would. They should be arresting, punchy, and aesthetically pleasing. But to figure in a poem, they must be woven together and be more than "purely decorative." They should also help create and constitute a flow, a movement, and a swirl of phrases. Borrowing from and paralleling the graphic arts, that is also part of the composition. Continuing with this parallel, the sentences themselves need to flow, separate from meaning, as "shapes," patterns of discourse. Reconnecting with the other model, they should also capture the essence of good conversation, with texture and rhythm for all.