Sometime in 2014, Coffeetown Press will bring out my second volume of poetry: Satori, Poems by Jack Remick. In this post, I put down some of the poetics leading to that collection. I’ve been working on the transposition doublet for a while to find out how it works in the place of rime so that the echoic nature of the anagram pleases the ear and why. In the end there has to be a way to get rid of rime and end stop lines. The transposition doublet first came to me as a possibility when I was studying Baudelaire’s Les fleurs du mal. I came across a line: J’ai demande souvent a des vins captieux. In several editions of Les fleurs that line showed up as J’ai demande souvent a des vins capiteux. Change one letter, one position and you get a double meaning to the line. One means “heady”, capiteux, the other captieux means “specious, captious, fallacious. So Baudelaire’s line changes meaning with the capriciousness of the typesetter. Not at all what Charles had in mind but there you are. As I worked in English, I watched these chance events change the meaning of my own lines like wild horses trampling the oats and I asked myself–can I harness this craziness and turn it into a poetics? Here we go:
Free Verse, Rime, and the Transposition Doublet
Elements of an Arcane Poetics
© 2013 by Jack Remick
Six lines or eight, Jack Moodey said, when I asked him if he’d ever written an epic poem. That taught me something about poetics, the line, compression, density and how hard it is to write a poem of any kind. Poetry is hard, dying is easy. You take your mentors where you find them, but most of the time they find you—you have to live with chance—the chance that of all the people in the world you somehow connect with this one and you have to wonder—if not this one, who?
I live in a universe of words. Each one a special friend, each one comes out of somewhere and sticks around and you have to wonder why that word and not another right there—in the water—where does that come from?
Listening to him talk was an adventure because there was no logic to his spin on reality but it wasn’t surreal—surreal—no one knows any more what surreal means—most people think surreal means weird, but surreal is about joining two objects, thoughts, ideas together that don’t belong together. Weird is wrong. Weird is something else.
So where does that leave me?
When you run out of story do you also run out of desire?
What drives the fiction engine?
Where does the fire come from?
What is rime and how do you avoid it?
Rime is a plague, an anachronism, a rat bearing the plague-flea.
Pure sound is better, vowel harmony is better than rime.The first rule is music. You sing the vowels that’s why you don’t end a line with a preposition and most poets don’t know how to breathe or to turn the line on the vowel to link, but instead stop or fail to breathe. What is breath?
Still refining the idea of a poetics—what is the constant? What is the universal? Does half-rime, para-rhyme have more traction in a modern poetics than pure rime? Yes, because the cage of consonants lets the vowel harmony of the assonance sing whereas the pure rime jars and breaks the fluidity, the liquidity of the flow and rime is always the target in the metered, rimed line so the line weakens as it builds to the rime then clunks into the wall full stop.
In the universe of words, rime is an orphan, a residual tail left after the evolution of sound. Once connected to a deeper poetics but always riding on the surface. Assonance and half rime take you deep by evocative sonority instead of completing the image and extending the possible.
In this mix of sound and expectation I stumble on the transposition doublet—the simplest form of the anagram. REST is a doublet for ERST but most transposition doublets are accidental discoveries. Vowel and consonant work in tandem as in VILE-VEIL LIVE-EVIL. But the transposition doublet gives you more. FORTH-FROTH. The transposition of a single letter gives you a certain kind of harmony—minimal rime, assonance, consonance the whole package.
The transposition doublet is the purest kind of writing because the visual cue of similar letters is comforting but the end is disjunctive hence a surprise and so very valuable.
VEIL-VILE-LIVE-EVIL all visual but not with the purity of the transposition doublet which is, as I said, an accident that you discover only after the fact. I cannot, as I write, pull out a list of doublets but as I write I find a word that suggests another—say, LIST, just back there, suggests STILL. In English, no geminate consonant is pronounced, orthography a residual of an ancient time as is rime, so STILL-STALL, TALK, TALC, LIST-LAST all suggestive but not transposition doublets—which tells us something about the nuggets of sound and sight represented by the accidental.
LAST-LOST which is assonance, gives the half rime but the visual here has the power of the evocative tone—the rule then, if there is a rule, which I doubt—is to avoid end links but to use the doublets as conduplication down the page.
Deep in the root of the doublet there is a challenge that relieves the poet of the burden of forced rime and lets a free verse develop. Free verse doesn’t mean there are not poetics driving the line, rather free verse is deliverance from the tyranny of imposed and archaic structure—meter, end stop rime, forcing the complexity of English into shackles brought from other poetics. Free verse has its own poetics, but in this universe of creativity, all poetics are personal. What this means to me is that poetry cannot be taught—while form and distortion can be imposed—it can only be facilitated or discovered in the same way that a transposition doublet can’t be forced but must be the result of chance. Even now, as I write, I wait for one to appear—but I see the word NOW and I see a near doublet—OWN-NOW-WON. OWN-WON, a true doublet that I will use sometime. Pushing the anagrammatic engine, I discover that in the triplet—too far afield—there is much MEAT—TAME–MATE, anagrammatically correct but still not a doublet, but NOT-TON—close reading of the stream isolates candidates and I see in CANDIDATES the ATES which gives me TEAS—a homophone with TEASE and TEES—so the playfulness of the accident—ACCIDENT—DENT-END-TEND all in the realm of harmony. He tended to the dent in the fender.
Accidentals are at the root of Bach’s variables and anomalies in his fugal writing. And the weak composer writes the strict fugue just as the traditional poet writes the strict meter rime poem—whereas the enlightened poet understands the value and virtue of vowel harmony and looks beyond but straight at the words to find near-rime, assonance, and with its accidental reality—the doublet. STOP-TOPS, still not a list, but close.
That shows us how elusive functional doublets are—how wild they are, wild as rabbits or aurochs which gave us cattle in the wildness is the energy untamed—TAME-MEAT-MEET-METE-TEAM-TEEM all these sounds and harmonies are a song, all the homophones false doublets—the purity, I am after purity here, is elusive. But we find them functional as in: Gushing forth like froth from my word-wound. Now that line is rich in poetics—analyze—doublet FORTH-FROTH; triple alliteration—FROM-FORTH-FROTH; the kenning—WORD-WOUND.
So in a single line much happens that is beyond and past the simple poetics of rime and meter but does not lapse into a gongoristic complexity—although Gongora is a God of Goliards and a saint as well. WORD-WOUND, as you know, is a metaphor and kenning for MOUTH.
The quest then is for an accidental that rides on a rigorous set of generative dynamics in the same way story rides on its myth and ritual.
But with this difference—The poetics must generate music first, whereas the primary in story is STORY—the tale. English is so rich in homophones—TALE-TAIL and so powerful with its minimal pairs (PEARS,PARES)—bit/bet; sit/set; time/tame—that rime of that kind is a parody. But listen to the harmony of RIME of that KIND—itself an accident which gives a quotidian and mundane line some music—showing once again that the goal of our writing is first music, then grace. (see the Zen Poetics on this blog)
The closeness of the change of a single letter—LATTER-LADDER-LETTER (geminate consonants in English are phonemic) is magic.
In a modern poetics even a poetics of the personal, we do not have to abandon story or fiction but we can enhance the writing with a layer of music such that the surface sings (at last, toward the end of this writing, a true transposition doublet emerges—SINGS-SIGNS; SING-SIGN—an accident) while the metaphor, riding on its ritual and myth punches down into the depths of the archetypes and sings directly to the unconscious—liberating the universal and in this we have pure art—surface sound that Moodey wrote of—when the dream comes—and universal depth connecting one to all.
A LIST OF SOME TRANSPOSITION DOUBLETS AND SOME NOT:
Transposition Doublets: (nm=near miss but no banana)
Shit-this-hits –just an anagram.
Now-won (nm weird palindrome)
Touch-tough Not a transposition doublet but an assonance.
Dry ice—dry eyes
Chief architect of the modern world
Gravity-motion of an object through time
Archimedes, Newton grandson of Archimedes