? more or less ?
in this pool the moon
will be reflected
when the cloud passes
its most pallid face
will wane and stammer
with the plaint of plovers
Inevitably, I was led again to muse on the relationships — the affinities and associations, the incongruities and dissimilarities, the convergences and divergences between words and things; where they brush shoulders, occasionally embrace (but seldom couple, never fuse) and where the gulf between them is such that they appear inherently irreconcilable. I have also been endeavoring, as always, to know how much to “say”, not just in words, but in the various (and innumerable) combinations and configurations of shape, tone, colour, texture — both visual and tactile — that constitute an object. I know that this challenge is inevitable, unavoidable; it’s one of the thrills and one of the trials of the enterprise. Perhaps, of any enterprise.
It could be said that every word, every shape, every mark, every sound — in fact every aspect of an artifact (as well any so-called naturally occurring stimulus) has the capacity to prompt memories (real or dreamed, desired or dreaded) and to provoke the imagination. Each word, the particular choice of noun or verb, yet another adjective or adverb, a shift in syntax; each sound, note, pitch, timbre, chord, tremolo or trill; each mark, colour, scratch, surface, tonal gradation, level of transparency or opacity — everything either explicitly states, or implies, or resonates with something. Such is the wondrous and provocative role of memory!
Conversely, it could be said that every word, every mark, every expressed nuance fills a space in which the imagination might otherwise revel, undirected, unencumbered by prompts. Do we romp more joyously with the aid of a certain timbre, colour, noun, adverb? Consider blue. Are we more affected by the sight of a particular light having a spectral wavelength of around 440–490 nanometers, the resonance of a chord in a particular key, probably, but not necessarily, minor (played by the Miles Davis Sextet, perhaps) or the word blue? Or are we able “do” blue unaided ― at the mere thought of the word? And if we try to think the word “unaided”, what do we see and/or hear in the eyes and/or ears of our imagination? At what point does the plethora of particulars so (over)determine what is being contemplated that the mind becomes cluttered, closed, resistant, or, most deleteriously, complacent. We are familiar with the aphorisms “less is more”, “silence is golden”, “empty pots make the most sound”. All true indeed, and undoubtedly apt today, when we are stimulated to stupefaction; but in total silence we become traumatized by the sound of our own heart-beat.
In his (in)famous musical composition 4’33”, in which the pianist went to the piano and did not touch the keys for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, John Cage coerced his audience to seek sound (or music) where apparently there was none. Encouraged by viewing the white, empty paintings Robert Rauschenberg (1951) Cage wrote
"I have nothing to say / and I am saying it / and that is poetry / as I need it".
I think also of Kasimir Malevich’s black square (1913) or his thought-provoking white on white paintings of 1918, where extreme subtlety or perceived deficit becomes an irritant, provoking outrage or urging reflection; and of haiku, with its stringent discipline of seventeen syllables in three phrases of five, seven, five as the ultimate use of few words to fire the imagination.
Basho does it time and time again:
hung on a nail
dashed to bits
perhaps that says it all?
Personally, I have a preference for minimal input, leaving me room to contemplate, to muse, to breathe. However, I am also enthralled by the complex reverberations of Shakespeare or the King James translation of the Bible, the wondrously verbose and mischievous convolutions of Marcel Proust’s recollections, the rich tapestry of Wagnerian opera, the sumptuous and dazzling encrustations of royal jewels.
The presence of more or less “information” in an object of innately succinct character — in this case, my current preoccupations: the brooch and the poem — is critical. How much is too much? How little amounts to deprivation?
I have not — probably will not — come to any conclusion, other than to observe, what we all know: that we differ each from another, and within ourselves, according to our humor and the moment. Variety spices our lives. Surfeit nauseates.
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As for Matilda: she demands demonstrations of affection as well as solitude And her diet is spiced with variety. I have a list of some forty-plus possibilities she has taste-tested, including a cardboard box she has been earnestly demolishing for some weeks now (her “project”), dried cat food (which appears similar, though she munches it up it with great enthusiasm) Camembert cheese (a favourite), duck pate, chicken liver, tuna, yoghourt, whiting fillet, prawn ― preferably raw, chicken neck (which she often spurns), and, at lunch-time today, gravalax!
>>> visit the website of Margaret West: www.margaretwest.com.au
About the author
Margaret West is an artist who sometimes makes jewellery; she writes: mostly poetry essays. She has exhibited widely in Australia overseas. She lives in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia.
About this blog
Touching the thingness of words the wordness of things.
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