some sort of scaffolding, narrow as it might be, for him to walk upon towards apprehension. None is apparent here, except perhaps in the title. Even then there are cultural and linguistic barriers set up here for a speaker who knows only English. The intended pun on ‘frogs as Frenchmen’ - obvious as it might seem to North American readers – and ‘the game of finding French words in English’, are too culturally specific to be transparent to speakers of English elsewhere. It would have served the poet’s purpose better to construct the line such that the brevity is retained but not at the expense of the general reader. There is also the possibility of misapprehension- even for the North American reader of English. “Jar  din” could be read as an anagram of ‘garden’ merely, without the reader making any conclusive semantic deductions –  except, perhaps, with the weak prop of the titling, which might suggest to him that someone is catching physical frogs in the garden and that there is a ‘din’ (noise) in the ‘jar’ where the frogs are dropped. The punning insinuated in the bilingualism would be lost due to a cultural opacity. It is indeed a brilliant ploy but one that leaves too much room for ambiguity, unless the poet intended to append footnotes! This is brevity at its most unnecessarily extreme. But of course Bretts is discussing avant-garde experimental or language poetry, which probes the limits of a language that we are ‘forced into’.

 

That language is arbitrary and difficult to master does not mean that there are no agreed units, rules and modes of signification. Once we learn the signs in a particular language, such a language’s arbitrariness is then delimited by rules of communication. This structuralist fallacy of eternal arbitrariness would then be unmasked. We do use words to mean, irrespective of whether they are arbitrary or not; words, that is, in syntactical relationships within the sentence or a line of verse. Contractions, in the form of syntactical brevity or ellipses, should expand the field of signification through its omissions not raise cultural semantic blocks, semantic ambiguity or doubts. Otherwise such construction would fall under what one might call ‘witticisms’, perhaps not quite the ‘false wit’ of the Augustan epigram since the tropes involved and effects intended or achieved might be different. 

 

For our purposes witticisms are forms, which – through the instrument of figures and syntactical constructions other than that of Augustan poetics; or a mixture of the latter’s features and different or similar contemporary tropes – begin to bend towards the false wit of Augustan poetics. In this model the above example of an over-contraction of a poem would be a witticism; so would be the lippogram, because it relies on a preponderance of phonic punning and, like the Augustan epigram and its conceits, resemble what Sir William Temple, according to Lund, in complaining about the influence of Martial on the Augustan period, describes as 

 

“an Ingredient that gave Taste to Compositions which had little of themselves; 'twas a Sauce that gave Point to Meat that was Flat, and some Life to Colours that were Fading. . . . However it were, this Vein first over-flowed our modern [read contemporary] Poetry, and with so little Distinction or Judgment that we would have Conceit as well as Rhyme in every Two Lines, and run through all our long Scribbles as well as the short, and the whole Body of the Poem, whatever it is.”

 

 Temple’s observation would apply to most areas of the contemporary avant-garde. For example Augustan Poetry- as insinuated by Hunter- emphasised “special representations on the page like symmetrical rectangles […] or other repeated shapes”. He contends that modern poetry, meaning poetry as it is today, shuns the overt rhyme and does not call attention to its shape and patterns of repetition. We must assume that Hunter has not read much of the contemporary avant-garde! Certainly he has not read a lippogram.

 

The avant-garde over-reaches itself in the phenomenon of the plunderverse, which purports to save the ‘waste’ of language by creating poems from other already finished text by other poets. It is not a parody, no; nor is plunderverse satisfied with intertextuality or the literary allusion but it must tear down other texts completely to make its perverse points; it simply plunders! These language games do not represent true innovation or

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Sentinel Poetry (Online) #44  

THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF POETRY & GRAPHICS...since 2002

ISSN 1479-425X Editor: Amatoritsero Ede                                                            

 

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