Notes for Diagrams Series 4

The accompanying diagrams are published electronically on-demand under the title Diagrams Series 4, (c) 1984 by Jim Rosenberg. They are the latest in a series of works going back to 1968. They were not really designed to be viewed on a CRT, but to be printed out. Many of the diagrams are longer than 66 lines and require a double-page spread; none are longer than 132 lines and all fit in 80 columns.

The stimulus for the idea behind these diagrams came from an effort to confront in poetry a concept common in music called tone clusters. A tone cluster is simply a group of sounds occurring simultaneously but with no necessary structural relation to one another other than their mere juxtaposition. I began by wanting to carry this idea to poetry and to experiment with what the concept of word clusters might mean. This presented a serious problem over what to do about syntax. Syntactical information is carried partly by the word itself and partly by the context. When a cluster of words is brought together by direct juxtaposition -- to occupy the same point in space -- that part of the syntax signal carried by the word itself becomes jumbled. As an answer to this problem the idea of having a separate channel, so to speak, for syntactical information immediately presented itself, and thus was born the beginnings of the current diagram notation.

As the work progressed I became less and less interested in word clusters, and the words at each node in the diagrams have tended to become more numerous and more grammatical in the ordinary sense. At the same time certain possibilities became evident for types of structural relationships that are easy to do in the diagram notation but quite difficult to do in ordinary syntax. Two examples of this are: (1) the ability of the diagram syntax to include a relationship between a part and a whole, and (2) the ability of the diagram syntax to incorporate feedback loops.

Although I'm quite interested in the questions this type of notation poses for language as a whole, those questions are not what my work is "about". My work is simply poetry, my method is simply another way to make poetry, no more, no less. Some of the Concrete Poets have done major damage by taking the odious and obnoxious position that their way of writing made "traditional" poetry obsolete. Computers may be capable of becoming obsolete, but not poems nor ways of making poetry. A sincere and conscientious avant garde must have as its goal expanding the field of possibilities for making art. An aesthetic that seeks to replace an existing set of possibilities for ways of making art by a new set of possibilities, just as narrow, is neither progressive nor desirable. The experimentalist is no different from any other artist; all art is an experiment (as each life is an experiment.) By accepting the label of experimentalist the artist merely acknowledges a willingness to put the questions at the forefront rather than the answers.

To be a poet in a culture that places little value in poetry one must be driven to it; so also the experimentalist is driven by the compulsion to perform the experiment. Having fallen into the fly-bottle, to borrow the Wittgenstein phrase, does not make one a superior being to those who haven't fallen in; it simply leaves one with the duty to try not to break the glass, and to hope that in getting out, the vibrations of flight will leave that glass to resonate on its own, if only for a moment.

December 1986, Grindstone,PA.

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