Compositional Poetry (1994 & 1999)

2012/04/02 § Leave a comment

In 1994 in Hobart, Tasmania, I invented ‘Compositional Poetry’. I say invented because I have never seen anything like it anywhere else.

I was pushed into creating this new form because I had been wrestling with a very long poem for months, and could find no way to trim it back into some sort of coherency, so I started to chop it into phrases and allocated these phrases to voices of various responsibility, as if this voice would say that wouldn’t it?

I decided on eight voices or responsibilities because eight is a natural group size for humans from a hunter-gatherer background. Beyond a dozen many human brains start to loose track.

I decided these voices were not ‘characters’ or ‘roles’, but ‘responsibilities’ because the voices were not personalities but drives, concerns, attitudes, needs and desires. Each voice was articulating this ‘energy’ as their responsibility, adding to the performance when necessary, but they were not necessarily competing, nor necessarily co-operating. That was the work of the readers.

To read the compositional poem eight people had to read it aloud together. If you watch or listen to this reading, it is only then a performance. Each performance will have its own character because of those who read it, not because of how I may have written the voices.

Below is the first page from all)bitternessandapathy. Click on it to see it at a better size.

all)Bitternessandapathy

The reading starts with all eight saying ‘all)bitternessandapathy’. Then all eight say ‘all)opening’. Which is what the opening section is called. In this section each of the voices introduce themselves in their nominal or natural order beginning with
1) The killer fills the space between me
then two starts with
2) The power follows content
and here voice 1) also says the word ‘content’ at the same time that 2) does.
They may well read it differently though, with different stress. 2) may say the word ‘content’ as ‘conTENT’, stressing the word’s use indicating satiety or ease. Voice 1) may stress the word as CONtent, emphasizing what is held within.
then voice 3) introduces themselves with
3) the witness sees full denial
while 2) says ‘seeks’ cued to when 30 says ‘sees’
And so on.

Back in 1994 I called this form ‘multi-voice poetry’ but I was never very happy with the term. Six years later while writing Shag Bay I realised that as it was structured like music then it was ‘composed’ not written. Also, a choir is multi-voiced if usually aiming to a uni-vocal completeness, so calling a it multi-voiced after voice rather than how it was written was a bit confusing.

By then I had also read Bergsonism by Delueze and loved the idea of a compositional space. Might be completely wrong for science, but compositional space is great for animals like us to live in. Compositional space feels more alive because it describes the evolutionary reality of our umwelt among umwelten. Of multiple compositions all going on at the same time, and so bringing together competitive cooperation. Relativity in time-space continuums is meh.

Compositional poetry is a making that brings together. The writing is an exploded soliloquy but the reading together is the thing.

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