Saturday, September 08, 2012

Behind the Curtain: A Loveless Marriage

This is probably the first poem I've written in a while that almost demands an explanation.  In fact, it's possible that the process will prove to be more interesting than the poem itself.

Except for a few stray phrases, this poem began on Wednesday, September 4, the 100th anniversary of John Cage's birthday. The NPR story mentioned that at one point, John Cage determined the motifs for a piece of work by throwing the I Ching; this was his way of removing his ego, and introducing an element of chance. I wondered whether this might be done with a poem.

Over the previous weekend, I had watched a documentary on William S. Burroughs, A Man Within. Burroughs, of course, is best known for his "cut up" technique — which was initiated by his friend Brion Gysin. This I Ching experiment seemed perfect for cut up.

I've also been reading John Neihardt's Black Elk Speaks. There are several phrases and images in this text I've found arresting, "poetic", no doubt because they are "foreign" to my experience.

So the last piece was to throw the I Ching. I couldn't find my copy, so I found a website that would virtually throw the coins. I asked the question, “Who is the blue man?” The "blue man" is a figure from Black Elk's vision. The resulting hexagram was number 54, Kuei Mei, which the website translated as “A Loveless Marriage” (another source translates it as "Converting the Maiden"). I pulled some phrases and images from the hexagram and individual trigrams (top & bottom) and wrote them on an index card. I had already written snippets related to Burroughs (Bill Lee) on an index card, and images from Black Elk on another index card

I assigned each card a value of Yin, changing; Yang, changing; Yin; and Yang. I simply copied out lines from each card, in order, as determined by whether the corresponding part of the hexagram was Yin or Yang.

The resulting poem seems to me fragmentary, but there are moments when the juxtaposition of fragments seem to point to a “meaning”. But clearly, this is a case where any meaning will be assigned by each individual reader. It's a fun process, which I may try again.


Addendum: I went to the second hand bookstore yesterday, thinking I might pick up a copy of the I Ching. There was a hard cover copy of Wilhelm's translation for $7.99; inside was a book mark from a family-owned bookstore I used to work for. Carl Jung believed the I Ching was an expression of synchronicity. This could well be an example. I didn't buy it, but I still might (the weekend is still young).

No comments: