Post by Sylvia Matas on Jan 6, 2023 12:01:27 GMT -5
Denny, thanks for the quote from Mandelbrot. If the parts of a fractal are a reduced copy of the whole, it has me thinking how does this apply to the poem? For example the individual returning library books could be seen as a reduced version of “big history”. There is the history of libraries, cities, and even our notation of time that results in the books being overdue. There is the history of language and writing as well. I like thinking of this personal, quotidian moment as containing all of these things.
Knowing this to be a single page excerpted from a much longer poem feels constrained as if one were to see a detail of a painting without seeing the painting as a whole. I like the eccentric z shape of this page and the breezy satirical humor. I’ve never really understood what fractals are though they are intriguing. Here’s a quote about them from Mandelbrot regarding fractals "A fractal is a rough or fragmented geometric shape that can be split into parts, each of which is (at least approximately) a reduced-size copy of the whole."
Post by alantoltzis on Jan 6, 2023 12:01:43 GMT -5
#28 as a Share Poem
A poem that uses fractals (“fractal geometry”) as a metaphor for human history, and that itself has a distinctive shape, needs to be considered as a shape poem. Some of the comments have already alluded to the distinctive shape of #28. Rather than seeing it as a Z, I’d like to offer that the poem is two chevrons (or arrowheads), one pointing right (forward?) one pointing left (backwards?). It’s a good visual metaphor for history or human progress. We stay in a period of history (the flat stanzas) and then there are bridges (like the narrow angular section) that connects us to the next period in history. A chevron is a universal shape that has been used throughout much of human history—in architecture, on military uniforms, flags, art, and more—so it seems like a good choice for Retallack, considering the message of the poem.
And now something just for fun (or is it?). Since KWH is a Philadelphia institution I would like to suggest a Philadelphianism Retallack includes. The last short line ends (and connects) to the wide line of the last stanza with the word “you’ve,” which Retallack breaks into two parts, “yo” and “u’ve”. She reads it aloud as one word, “you’ve”. But just for fun, take that last line and read it as written, as the classic Philadelphia exclamation, “and yo!” to take us out of the poem, get our attention, and then address us directly in the next line with, “u’ve (you have) worked hard …” Maybe it’s a nod to Philadelphia, maybe not
Post by Barbara Nilsen on Jan 6, 2023 13:00:52 GMT -5
I was curious about the end of the poem where 'THAT WHICH IS' is divided between female and male traits. According to a brief google search, the traits seem to parallel the interpretation of Yin and Yang. The Yin Yang symbol does have inner circles which seem to indicate that nothing is absolute. JR's poem has many reminders that where we place our attention impacts our perception; there are no absolute ways of seeing, and the exceptions to our own rule, differences, may be the most difficult and most important things to pay serious attention to.
Post by Kathy Florence on Jan 6, 2023 13:32:07 GMT -5
After partially defining fractals—many replicating breaks, many changes of scale--Retallack hangs her images on a framework of opposites organized with random (according to line meaning) and not random (creating a shape) line breaks.
Here are some of her opposites: Huge—history Tiny—bees and the garbage needing to go out
Turbulent—gophers Calm—the experts agree
Frozen in time—excavation Ever changing—adding decimals to pi (although the idea of adding to the infinite is quite funny)
Done—garden is beautiful Undone—those recurring gophers!
Male and female stereotypical attributes—maybe circling back to turbulent, knowing that her audience will react to those statements
Although this poem doesn’t specifically mention combinations and permutations, the idea of replication pointing back to disconnected points in personal and cultural history may also imply that the combinations are infinite--like people, people’s lives, poetry. (Outing myself as one of those people who believe that all poems are metapoems).
Post by Hannah Linden on Jan 6, 2023 14:02:50 GMT -5
Loving the discussion points raised so far so will just mention those last lines from THAT WHICH IS to the end.
Interesting turn from zooming in to the details (domestic and historical events) to the capitalised sections. So are fractals understood by zooming in or out?... what is'THAT WHICH IS' in this context... the details, the macro view?
And then she turns it all on its head by introducing bipolar descriptions of what is male vs female. And then topples them with 'surely/you jest' with those last two words destabilising the whole form structure of the large Z.
So, to me it looks like she's looking at patriarchal hegemony here... and she's signposted this with the tortoise and hare gender play. How are we constructed? If we zoom in, is gender fractal? Or gender politics? She's being playful but also very serious, I feel.
Also thinking of the old theories about a homunculus where you could zoom in (imaginatively) inside a womb to see the 'little man' inside. Is that the lens history as fractal is trying to get us to use?
Not sure, of course, that she intends this reading....
Post by Ray Schrempf on Jan 6, 2023 14:05:10 GMT -5
I see a continuation here of Retallack’s suggestion in a poem like “The Ventriloquist’s Dilemma” that going beyond the basic objective emergence of a sound, a word, an event or a history is an unreal metaphor. There is an a priori imperative for taking pleasure in the basic emergence rather than indulging in over interpreting and systematizing.
Fractal geometry is used to demonstrate in biology and astronomy, for instance, that there is a formulaic in what is ostensibly random. Much of the poem is a process of excavation with surprising emergences. The line break slashes are disrupted by emergent line forms that begin to suggest a shape. We are excavating Troy and trying to manicure our gardens but we just end up with mounds of dirt and pesky gophers (like the hare in the frontispiece kicking up clouds of dust). At the end Retallack offers that surely you jest. I’m not sure if she is saying that the female / male, dark / light, THAT WHICH IS is a kind of fractal formulaic that can be used to make sense of history - or if she is making fun of this human impulse to provide exegetical formulations that make sense to us. I’ll go with making fun I think. I think the capitalization is a sort of parody of self-importance.
Yale’s fractal geometry site says, “The geometric characterization of the simplest fractals is self-similarity: the shape is made of smaller copies of itself. The copies are similar to the whole: same shape but different size.”
Mark Twain is said to have said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”
Many have said that history is written by the victors or the powers that be or old white men (take your pick). There are at least 2 geometries of attention (I think). There’s the official geometry (history repeats itself, because the official histories are just variations on a theme and use the same “formula” for describing the past) and there’s the new geometry (which Retallack says in The Poethical Wager can yield “oblique vectors ricocheting between authoritative generic poles, describing unforeseen patterns”).
The official fractals can include such nonsensical assumptions about what constitutes maleness and femaleness and such (to most people) useless information as the 63 trillion decimal places of pi. The new fractals would (I think) work backwards from the mundane to discover new patterns present in the present.
Like others, I enjoyed Retallack’s reading of this piece (but I almost always enjoy poets’ own readings). About the “Z,” I offer this: history (poetry) is richer than fractals. This poem reminds me of my own meditations. They can start out at a serious place (a meaningful question) and end up wandering through everything else that’s going on in my life, and, if I’m not focused, they can end up leading to zzzzzzzzzzz.
To begin with, the play on the genders is wonderful, and makes me laugh a little bit. And then to be wrapped up in the fractal discussion? Women are always in the background doing thing such as paying the library fees, and putting out the garbage - ie life by fractals. And yet, for as much as you can go deeper, and deeper, it's all the same; bigger, the same thing as well. A community of women, interspersed, that hold up the world (that men live in, and think they run the world).
I love the lines breaks and word breaks everywhere. It forces us to slow down and re-evaluate where we are in the poem. So to the Z form that the poem takes (as well as how it mimics the fractal base).
I did a short story years ago and used the fractal base to explain it, so this was very familiar, and made me smile.
Post by marciacamino on Jan 6, 2023 15:14:33 GMT -5
Ha! Just a visual perspective response since I'm in the passenger seat driving through Mass on my way back to Maine in MUCH SNOW where all kinds of shapes and low vibration colors make me think of inkiness. Fun poem from A to Z with heavy focus on Z. It's a Z but not exactly, like typesetters who inked up badly their letters. Big stretch here that this design reminds me a bit of a Haibun. So much on top with a little thing supporting it at the bottom--the letter Z held up with "Fig. 28." Think Bonsai tree in super small pot or big bouquet in tight vase. Think big snowy trees with zipping by cars and a flat gray road.
Post by Carla Stein on Jan 6, 2023 15:30:27 GMT -5
Some really fun stuff going on in this poem. Love the way the enjambment - the syllables split as though they are words in themselves, causing the reader to have a "What does that say?"moment and pause to figure out that the syllables complete on the next line - but do the syllables themselves have meaning? And the turn at the end of the poem prefaced by the bolded and underlined "and yo" -- a sort of "Hey, pay attention callout. Then the "That which Is" in all caps and twice repeated which seems to offer up the thought that "Is that which is really that which is?" and then, of course, the idea playing with the micro in the macro. Do we see history as distinct elements, broken up fragments or fractals of the whole? Or do we step back to view the elements in the context of the macro - in this case the "Z" of the poem's shape, "Z" also being the endpoint of the alphabet...mmmmm There is so much in this poem to discover!
Post by C.J. Prince on Jan 6, 2023 16:11:43 GMT -5
I read it aloud with a pause at the line breaks. It made me think/hear differently. I was disappointed now to hear her read it that way, just plunging on as if l evel was just another word. Perhaps reading it with poignant pauses makes it more fractalic.
Fractals seem to be too complex (and, well, let's say too scientific) if we speak about traditional approach to literature and poetry. But if we try to combine all our knowledge about our world, we can see that they just reflect its complicated, multifaceted nature. It seems that they help to visualize internal rules of poetic harmony which works at all levels of writing, from sound to shape of letters and the whole form of a poem on a page. This type of writing makes text ironic. And "Fig.28" in the end looks like a scientific reference to graphic material in articles but it also reminds of biblical references format (Gen 9, or Exod/Ex 1). Thus readers get an impression of net in which all patterns occupy their places and realize their functions. Fractal form makes evident structure, and poetry is based on structures and schemes, and depends on internal rhythm while many people still perceive it as a result of some ephemeral inspiration, pure incomprehensible art, etc.
Post by Ray Schrempf on Jan 6, 2023 16:58:31 GMT -5
I was looking at what wiilb said about the form of the poem resolving into a “z” and then to zzzzzzzz. (Sorry, I can’t figure out how to snip something and reply to it.). Actually I can’t help thinking you are on to something willb, even though you politely went on to indicate that you were kidding. Maybe in concluding with surely you jest the poet is saying are you/we/I serious? zzzzzzzz
It makes me think of Bo Peep in the cover piece. Speaking of origins and history, “bo peep” goes back a long way. You can go back to the 16th century for “bo-peep” being used as a reference to the children’s game of peek-a-boo. This poem is partly about making sense of how things pop up unexpectedly. There is a feeling both in the cover piece and the poem that the exegetical approach to this is rather childish.
In the 14th century there is an interesting usage of “to play bo peep”. This was a form of punishment where the transgressor was pilloried in the public square and subjected to ridicule and indignity. I think it is fair to ask why Bo-Peep in this material dealing with the extraction of sense in history. I think the poet may be subjecting the exegetical approach to history to ridicule. And I think it is lovely the way that the poet can playfully use this to suggest a reading.
Post by davesinclair on Jan 6, 2023 18:32:37 GMT -5
My reaction to the poem, at least on the first couple of listenings is I think similar to Vijaya. I get the sense the poem is questioning the certainty that we often assume exists in our world, and is questioning the sense of comfortableness that comes with the (mistaken) assumption that the world is a stable, secure, fixed environment that we can live our lives in. As the poem points out though, the closer you look, the more you find that is similar but new. The harder you look at PI the more digits you find. The closer you look at the fractal, the more sub-fractals you find. The world is neither stable nor unchanging.
My question though is: If the poem is meant to be read aloud by a speaker and listened to an audience - why does it matter how the poem is laid out on the page? Is the Z form, the line splits etc simply indications (like stage instructions) to the speaker? If so, I'm afraid I could not detect any 'Z'ness in the way that Joan Retallack read out the poem. And if the layout on the page is important, then is listening to a reading of the poem, where that page layout is at least to some extent distanced or obscured, then a reduced form of the poem? Is reading the poem directly off the page, or listening to the poem via a human speaker thus two different ways of instantiating the same poetic meaning?