The word "experiment" derives from Latin. It might refer to an event that involved some kind of action. It also might refer to any gesture that signifies effort, a big toe thrust into freezing water. The word can be a noun or a verb: a thing born of action or action itself. Experimental poetry could be said to be both event and action, at once a registry and call for new experiences. In this week's issue, The Offending Adam offers its readers selections from Marthe Reed, Daniel Bosch, Travis Macdonald, and j/j hastain. Each day, a different experiment will be published for our readers to review. Or, perhaps it's better to say that each selection will be published for our readers to try. Today's selections from Marthe Reed's "After Swann" project remind me that the word "experiment" always implies "to try." These poems attempt. They essay. Their beauty stems from a gestural quality, the poetic equivalent of flecked paint or sound swatches. These poems demand that we read them as abstract and concrete entities simultaneously. They never quite cohere into the definite shape of narrative or argument; however, these lyrics still sing with self-conscious physicality. Their sound, their gestural power remains present precisely in the absence of coherent meaning.
Daniel Bosch's work shows us that experiments in poetry almost always imply experiments in form. The two poems published here, "To Lis-" and "Maturity," speak to and about Lisa, a beloved who is sometimes distant and cold, sometimes dear and familiar, and sometimes the winner of Delta Delta Delta wet t-shirt contests. "To Lis-" is written in the form versos de cabo razos, made particularly famous in the opening to Don Quixote, in which a dash substitutes for the last syllable of every line. The effect is reminiscent of l337 speak, a typographic gesture that simultaneously conceals and teases with obfuscation. The dash stands in for Lisa as both metonym and metaphor: at once the registration of unfulfilled desire and of the ineffable, the dash marks both absence and presence.
I imagine these paragraphs from j/j hastain's Letters to the Divergents as genetically modified organisms that have escaped a secret government lab. Here are your dinosaur chickens, your chupacabras, those darling and disturbing phosphorescent rabbits running amok. Yet, for the intense strangeness of these poems, hastain's speaker takes a measured, calculating approach. Readers will find a beloved informs each of these poems, as well as the urge to reorder the world after it has already fallen apart. Hastain has added to these epistolary experiments the additional heading of "A Cryptozoologic for Xems," a project of capturing and studying after an experiment has exploded its controls. This particular cryptozoologic is a field experiment exploring what hastain, in an introduction to the project, calls "[s]weet divergents: animals, mysteries or other aspects of existence that I feel have inspirational qualities (like xems do) even though they are reviled, disliked or simply not accepted by the status quo."
Travis Macdonald's aptly titled "Bookquet" is a found poem project that documents the visible type on paper flowers that were used as decorations in Macdonald's own wedding celebration. The project might be described as aleatoric, in the same spirit as Cage's improvisations; however, I remain struck by the ambivalence of language gleaned from flower-shapes. On the one hand, these selections from "Bookquet" encourage readers to make connections across arbitrary breaks in meaning. On the other hand, the project reminds us of the strange way that deliberateness in one dimension often produces chaos in another. The careful folding that has created a flower from paper also produces "Embassy where a convoy / the con was even."