“the opened window”: Facing the Interface—A Review of Yearous-Algozin’s adaptation of Larry Eigner’s “Air the Trees”

In a sense everything has to come of itself, unexpectedly, and has to be faced.

LARRY EIGNER

It is time to acknowledge that all attempts to continue thinking about poetry recycling the concerns/issues from Language poets, Objectivists, or Black Mountain College is the artistic equivalent of Civil War reenactment. If people want to stand in the Gettysburg gift shop, with one eye on each other’s wrists making sure no one is wearing a digital watch, then let them. I’ll be on YouTube.

JOEY YEAROUS-ALGOZIN, “___ Shaped Reading Project Lodge Series 2010”

Joey Yearous-Algozin’s published work often involves the subjectification of closed off texts, poetic or otherwise.  It makes sense, then, that Yearous-Algozin would use negation to confront and inspect the work of Larry Eigner, which itself is more a selection of objects as experienced in space than conventional ‘I-based’ musings. Most of Yearous-Algozin’s work has been published via his affiliation with online poetry groups TROLL THREAD and Gauss-PDF. “Air the Trees” (http://www.gauss-pdf.com/post/49448604514/gpdf071-joey-yearous-algozin-air-the-trees) is a digital work published by Gauss-PDF which aestheticizes Microsoft Word’s presentation of Larry Eigner’s “Air the Trees” (1968). Microsoft Word’s visualization of error (those squiggly spell/grammar check underlines) becomes the subject of the work. Yearous-Algozin subjectifies a utilitarian residue normally confined to the hapless purpose of conforming language to the ‘proper’ strictures of document formatting. But before we delve too far into this work, we should take a brief look at the man behind the ‘errors’, Larry Eigner.

An American poet, principle figure of the Black Mountain School, and deeply influential to Language poets, Eigner was able to create some of the most innovative and “cosmically vivid” poetry of the twentieth century while still living with his parents in Swampscott, Massachusetts. There he spent his days looking out the windows of a glassed in front porch with a typewriter in front of him. Eigner suffered from palsy when he was born because of the way in which he was delivered and thus had to type all his poems out with just his forefinger and thumb due to lack of control of his body.

As for his poems, they are stripped of ornament; words hum, shiver in space as crystalline material still vibrating in time. He documents with photographic love. I like the idea of Eigner not so much typing but graphing his words onto the sheets of paper. Eigner’s handwriting shines through even the uniformity of the typewriter, as he established a formal style that was distinctively his, an overall structure recognizable before a single word is read. Eigner saw events not as momentary occurrences but as traces of continuous paths, curving lengths with no beginning or end. His poetry is a congealment of time in which he recognizes forms failure, or rather recognizes form as but change of form.

In “Air the Trees”, Eigner renders a seascape that, by its nature, cannot be fixed: “tides, a large motion // small waves give boats.” Because of this, Yearous-Algozin may have qualms with Eigner’s work existing as a closed off unit impervious to manipulation; a looking AT the window instead of OUT the window, (to paraphrase Jarmusch’s Down By Law), towards peripheral occasions, changes in light, possibility beyond a one to one exchange:

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 7.11.15 PM (“Air in the Trees”)

In his adaptation of the text, Yearous-Algozin copies Eigner’s “Air the Trees” (probably from this website: http://www.concentric.net/~lndb/leigner1.htm) and pastes it into a word processor, presumably the latest version of Microsoft Word on his laptop. He proceeds to make the text of the document, defaulted at black, white. All that remains to be seen against the white glow of the ‘page’ are a series of green and red wavy lines. When you automatically check spelling and grammar, Microsoft Word uses wavy red underlines to indicate possible spelling errors and wavy green underlines to indicate possible grammatical errors. Because Eigner rarely capitalized the first (or any) words in his lines (Microsoft Word recognizes these instances as grammatical errors) there are a staccato of green wavy lines holding place with where Eigner began each line (with the occasional red spelling error).

This work can really only exist digitally, within the unstable medium of computerized interfaces; interfaces which are becoming more and more interactive in their attempt to hide coding seams, bugs, glitches, mistakes, disabilities. And if you’ve spent any amount of time with them then you know how easy it is to become dependent on these overlapping windows which are incessantly stacked on our computer screens, allowing us to gulp down pages of experience. It is easier to ignore all the ‘ugly’ language that goes into making these digital documents than it is to confront it; “in one window and / out of another” as Eigner notes in “Air the Trees”. In this way, these computerized windows act as our own mind/body extensions, or, one might say, prosthetics. As Eigner himself said: “Radio and TV have been audio-visual prosthesis,”  (areas 163). And Michael Davidson in his essay which examines the poetics of disability in Eigner: “the intrusion of the news also brings with it a world increasingly administered by the media.”

Galway Kinnell once wrote in a 1962 review of Eigner’s On My Eyes (1960) that Eigner writes with “an openness and trust between himself and the world, by which the two blur, and real objects keep dissolving towards a deeper, stranger reality”  This could be the virtual reality Grenier speaks of in his introduction to the third volume of the [Robert Grenier / Curtis Faville] collected [four volumes from Stanford University Press, 2010]:

it’s tempting to think of him as one of the very first (almost ‘interactive’, since the U.S. Mail came fairly quickly, not like letters in the 19th century) ‘Virtual Reality’ American persons – ‘all by themselves’, yet bound up intimately and actively (in their minds), in very significant ‘contact’ with other persons ‘on screen’ (PBS television and…radio…being a ‘participant’ in what he saw and heard, ‘on screen’)

It is thus not difficult to imagine Eigner taking full advantage of today’s distribution technology both within social media and word processers. His physical organism relatively immobile, I think Eigner would have reveled in the rapidity of communication. However, as Yearous-Algozin presents with his “Air the Trees”, perhaps we need to think about digitally preserving the integrity of such works (which depend so much on their intended visual representation on the page) in order to properly engage critically with them (as Grenier and Faville are committed to in their collected). As Eigner inadvertently prophesizes in “Air the Trees”, “soon you may think / in the windows” and imprudently trust in their rerepresentation of reality.

As Vanessa Place puts it in a recent review of Yearous-Algozin’s work: “While we may profitably argue whether the exhortation to “make it new” is anything more than a hoary appellation, and maybe it is, and maybe this is the beauty of it…[Yearous-Algozin’s] approaches [do] make it now” (my emphasis). Microsoft Word is a transient interface, just another format to adjust to in the ever-upgrading updating versions (2.0, 4G, LTE etc.),  all these placeholders of improvement. The format of this piece may even be different in each user’s interaction with it, emphasizing the infrathin difference stacking on itself, growing over time, or rather “growing until it is nothing”, as Eigner wrote. Spell/grammar check may change in coming years, or even months; maybe green underlining will become blue or pink: a changing regularity forcing format nonconformity. It is true that the forms we interact with interact back at us. We may be the better for it, or it may be a false intimation of progress (“they’ve thought enough kinds of windows”), an inflationary ergonomic streamlining “growing until it is nothing”. As Eigner cautions: “horizon is nothing”.

Read it on Gauss PDF

Dane Mainella is poet, actor, and filmmaker living in Philadelphia. He is a senior at University of Pennsylvania studying English and Mechanical Sciences and will be graduating in May 2014. His first book, Desire (2012) is a transcription of every desire experienced over the course of a day. He is currently in post-production of a film he wrote, directed, and starred in called Driving Not Knowing, expected to be released mid-2014, and working on an upcoming web-based collective, d^a^t^a press, which will publish digital works of poetry and poetics.

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