Category: Logan Fry

Joseph Mosconi’s Word Search

There’s this theory I have about reading. It’s that, at this moment, in rooms about this very nation, over seminar tables, hunched and with a hand, perhaps, against the face, perhaps—this pose of and perhaps even activation of thinking, hinging on the show of it—, young people in MFAs are not reading they poems they are, at this very moment, reading. They have not read the poems they have read and are speaking about. If this is indictment I count myself indicted. Many of the poems I’ve read I haven’t read. Nor am I interested in disparaging the MFA. If there’s a single axis of responsibility for this non-reading reading phenomenon, it’s the workshop; it’s just that the MFA’s ecosystem—one that comprises the broadest institutional reach of readership, authorship, and scholarship—is the workshop. And the workshop’s matrix is of speaking on, of creating the most convincing words about. Reading the text as the text does little to further this outcome. The workshop’s framing interaction with a poem is rarely culled from the poem itself, from its words—the (maybe) right ones in (perhaps) the right order. The workshoppers search for words, for words to say, as though the words are elsewhere.

In Joseph Mosconi’s Word Search, the words are right there, both in plain sight and hidden in plain sight. The words themselves are not Mosconi’s; they’re Robert Creeley’s. The order of the words, however, is not Creeley’s. It is either chosen by Mosconi or randomly determined—but either way, what’s important about the order of the words in the keyword list is that it has no discernable logic. The words of Creeley’s poems have been stripped of everything but their words, and they’ve been placed into a word bank. The reader’s job is to search for the word bank’s words in the square block of capital letters above—to read the words into the block of letters. Or rather, to read them out of it.


“The Pool,” unread

Is this process of interacting with Word Search a way of reading? At base level, it is certainly a way of recognizing. Say I’m searching for “embarrassment” from “The Pool” (you know how a word search works but humor me here for a moment): I scan row by row searching for the easy-to-spot pairs of letters, “ss” and “rr,” and if I find either combination, I scan around the pair in a little loop to see if there’s useful connective tissue.  This seems to me a sensible approach. But it hasn’t netted me great success. I have the impression that I’m a subpar word-searcher; it’s taking me an extraordinary amount of time to find “embarrassment”; it’s embarrassing. But the fact that I can’t consider my task complete until I’ve located the word qua word—that I can’t settle for approximations via connotation or overconfidence in vocabulary and can’t read around the word with an analysis narrative or invocation of theory—speaks to the linguistic integrity of the project. The only way to interact with these poems is to locate their language. Once located, nothing is to be done with what’s found. There is no second step. The word remains word, and the circle of a pen lassos it, corrals it, walls it off, makes a monument of it, a mausoleum.


“The Pool,” read

Not all of the words in Word Search meet with the finality of finding them, however. Where Word Search deviates from the traditional word search puzzle’s fundamental criteria is its inclusion of one- and two-letter words—articles, abbreviations, prepositions—that may appear five times within the letter grid for every inclusion on the keyword list. To continue with “The Pool” as our example, the article “a” appears in the keywords list six times. This alone disrupts a word search’s integrity, and it is all the more confounded by the fact that there are 35 As to be found in the letter grid. Even with all the other words found, and all the As saved for last, there are still an extra eight unaccounted for As. Which As are the right As? How can such indeterminacy factor into a project exemplifying the linguistic integrity I claimed above?

While it is useful to focus on the determinacy involved in Mosconi’s project, the gaps that chance and uncertainly open up in the project are a reminder that a poetic system shouldn’t be foisted into a separate context to be engaged with, just as it shouldn’t be regarded distantly, abstractedly only, a closed and sealed-off system. The question of selecting the “correct” A finds its analogue in the anxiety of interpretation, which, I contend, is the drive shaft of the non-reading reading tendency. Perhaps Mosconi’s experiment can serve as not only a game, but as a model of the instrumental practices of reading a text that can often get lost in the teleological process of having read. Though the process of reading the poems in Word Search takes the form of a puzzle, there is no way to engage in them without reading faithfully. The operation is defined and determined, but the game must be played for there to be a game at all.

Available from Poetic Research Bureau Publication as a free PDF. Originally published by OMG! in 2010.

An Ohio native, Logan Fry lives in Austin, Texas where he received his MFA at the University of Texas and teaches at Texas State. He is the founder and co-editor of Flag + Void with Matthew Moore, and his poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Artifice, Columbia Poetry Review, DIAGRAM, Bestoned, The Cultural Society, Forklift, Ohio, and elsewhere.


John Paetsch’s brnt ghst vlnt

Screenshot 2014-01-16 at 5.12.36 PM

brnt ghst vlnt was selected as one of The Volta’s books of the year for 2013

There is a moment in “Come Down to Us,” the final track on Burial’s recent Rival Dealer EP, when, the song’s rhythm having slunk itself into yet another fragmentary dissolve of tape hiss and crackling static, Bevan’s signature vocal pitch-shifting rises as if on wings—yeah, wings, angel wings—and upon rising is cut down by the blade of quick, slicing DJ scratches. I’m pinpointing this moment to begin discussing John Paetsch’s brnt ghst vlnt, released by Gauss PDF in October 2013, because Bevan’s acuity for patching sources into a blurred-beyond-context cathartic sheen seems the distillation of Paetsch’s operation in this text. brnt ghst vlnt resists the reader’s traditional impulses in approaching a text in order to repackage and redeliver them with surprising potency. Both “Come Down to Us” and brnt ghst vlnt accumulate their energy through the sectioning and fragmentation of a sustained idea, and, as the sword-like slashing of the record scratching demonstrates, these are works of art whose joints are stronger for their breaking, allowing for more and greater fusion to occur in the broken places. Paetsch’s use for this fragmentation and fusion is to “Deduce their universal principles in excessively tinseled hierarchies” (39). In a world whose framework is that “all / Bodies have been eclipsed by Existence, to toil in its / shadow” (69), such deduction is a task that demands approaches both ephemeral and rigorous, and where Paetsch successfully fuses these two, brnt ghst vlnt rises like a hulking computation from a near and nearly-probable future.

 In brnt ghst vlnt’s fragmentary landscape the reader encounters competing linguistic registers, drastically-shifting and -evolving forms, snippets of basic grammar primers, NBA coach Rick Adelman, and “eNcHaiNtEd” Bodies, plus the three Mansions of Virtuality, Existence, and Unrealty. Many of these and other touchstones of the text are staunchly in the periphery; but the periphery of brnt ghst vlnt is one that continually intrudes and dissolves into the reader’s view. Forms and ways of viewing are particularly important to a book like this, where, from early on, the text is heavily textured and feels imagistic and actual images are interspersed within the text. The first is of a glowing blue figure in a rocky desert landscape, the image in-between sequences, like a VHS tape with tracking issues; the second of a similar figure in the same landscape, this time floating just off the ground in pyramid frame composed of the same white-blue glowing light. There is undeniably a straight-to-VHS, public-access mysticism to these images, which do not seek to exalt their figure but to frame a figure—any figure—within the degraded magnetic representation of the stark physical imposition of the desert. This tactic of communicating (often un- or only partially-identifiable) feeling through the accumulation of competing sources and impulses is itself nothing new, especially in the mediums of electronic and experimental music and film. But where a musician like Burial can evoke nostalgia and pathos—and torque these responses into something distinct from their base emotion—immediately and with great complexity due to his medium’s properties, a similar textual layering is nearly impossible to accomplish with such clarity and proximity. Yet Paetsch’s unrelenting application of the technique forces brnt ghst vlnt into an unexpectedly nuanced range; by not granting the reader any point of exit from the text’s mode of operation (it is a closed system; it is only system), Paetsch forces the reader into finding her own point of entry.

 Written in three largely-undefined but evident sections, brnt ghst vlnt is inhabited by myriad potential arrangements and readings. The aforementioned layering of the text provides a local example of this, but on the global scale the book’s mutations come unannounced and unexplained: a form will appear for a few pages, then never again; a section will slowly dissolve and grind along in sparse inscrutable symbols, then revive itself, wholly changed; a “SET OF SETS OF OBJECTI ONS” will suggest synthesis but continually evade it as it recurs over a dozen pages. The book’s most distinct section is the one at its center, the rigid philosophical inquiry into the Mansions of Virtuality, Existence, and Unrealty (70). Coming in after sixty-some pages of fragmentary txtspeaking, “Tru-speaking” (119), and theorizing on unspecified subjects, the middle section is the most engaging portion of the book, designed to serve as brnt ghst vlnt’s anchor. Extended axiomatic proofs have a way of reading weighty however metaphysical their topic, and Paetsch casts some of his cleverest and most stimulating alloys via this philosophical structure. The below excerpt of two consecutive pages demonstrates the range Paetsch can traverse without sacrificing either pole to a secondary function:

 A3: If a Master can produce an effect, it will produce that effect.

Lemma 1: If a Master can make a play, it will make

that play continually. It will “make it rain.”

Corollary 1: Since by IsC1 every Body has at last one

Master, and since by A2 a Master may produce effects in a

Body at all times, by A3 it follows that Masters make plays

continually on a Body so long as it is unreal, which is always. (81)

//{part} : Thus the Body is eNcHaiNtEd, for every second is the small

gateway in time through which the Master may enter to empty

dishes and overturn tables for strays. But there are many ways to do

this, to get ahead.

D2: That in Unrealty played at all times, lacking necessity, I

call an Automaton.

P2: By C1, it is evident that all Bodies are Automatons.

//{producer} : Seeing a Body as an Automaton is analogous to seeing one

figure as a limiting case or variant of another. “I believe he is not an

Automaton,” just like that, so far makes no sense. (82)

Most of my favorite single moments in the book arise from the stark juxtaposition of rigid axiom with post-ironic idiosyncrasy. Paetsch maximizes the effectiveness of his playful and witty turns not by carving out a space for it but by embedding it whole within the philosophy’s granite. Thus, to “make it rain” is a sly reference to rap culture and showy rituals of excess as well as a fitting and evocative expression of his axiom. The two are fused, and it is the energy gained by this fusion that gives what could be another alienating portion of the book an energy that ripples out into the sections that flank it.

 In earnest dialectical fashion, the third section synthesizes the previous two, taking section one’s ghostly fragmentation and section two’s philosophizing into a single flow of “Objections and Replies.” Yet the synthesis does nothing to transcend into a higher dialectic; there is no foothold to give a leg up into the crawlspace beyond. Rather, the synthesis reveals the degradation Paetsch theorized in section two: section three is language-construction, and language-construction, in one of the various ways defined by Paetsch, is

 the residua of Thought

expiring in an Automaton, the linguistic plane evaporating

at it Limit, correlate of the conceptual plane. Its

condensations- these language-constructions- opaquely

refract, neither transparent nor iridescent. (100)

 Do these opaquely-refracted language-constructions describe Paetsch’s own? This is one explanation for the embedded text of the first section, its hierarchies of text color and spatial positioning. It also provides an answer for the function of the text(s) in section one: that which is most recognizably textual material, the body of the poem, will contain the highest levels of grammatical, syntactical, and linguistic iridescence-opacity. Conversely, the peripheral text, in its ghostly and its reference-book manifestations, will contain the greatest degree of transparency. Its opacity is literally contained within its make-up, presented by being difficult, at times, to read, to even see, and otherwise provide additional disruptions to the reading of the “body” text. The effect is a disorienting besiege, the modes various enough and the codes switched quick enough to leave the reader continually on the verge of—if not comprehension—the anchor that will, grappled, sink her to a seafloor where solidity exists, some firmness, even if the firmness means she’s drowning.

 Where Paetsch’s impulses can be located, they are located in a system whose disorienting pathways enforce its totalitarian origins. In brnt ghst vlnt, Paetsch has fabricated a nexus of information and competing wavelengths of linguistic data whose authority stems from its unlocatability; we treat with most awe what reveals itself minimally and forcibly. Beyond the surface sheen of mysticism in the book’s visual aesthetic, the void tended by this authority-by-absence is where brnt ghst vlnt’s mystery accumulates. The middle section’s philosophy primes the void because its form takes a shape recognizable enough to respond with that biblical awe, though the first section’s sustained resistance to the surly bonds of Existence (the most grounded of Paetsch’s Mansions), makes for a polarity that the book, in the end, cannot entirely weather. But it may not need to, because brnt ghst vlnt “is no place. There are no objects. Take a look at my files” (126).

Available as a free PDF from Gauss PDF and for purchase in B/W ($5.90) and Color ($29.81)

read more at Contemporary Practice, from Andy Martrich

 An Ohio native, Logan Fry lives in Austin, Texas where he received his MFA at the University of Texas and teaches at Texas State. He is the founder and co-editor of Flag + Void with Matthew Moore, and his poetry has appeared in Columbia Poetry Review, DIAGRAM, Bestoned, The Cultural Society, Forklift, Ohio, and elsewhere.