‘Of Discourse’

‘Of Discourse’, presumably a reference to Derrida’s ‘Of Grammatology’, which is the origin of the phrase “there is nothing outside the text”, is 300 pages of verse and prose, by Giles Goodland, on sale later this month.

Each poem repeats one function word, at least one time in each sentence of the poem, from a selection of about 60. e.g. the first poem in chapter 2 ‘Of the States of Existing’ repeats the function words “Be” (about 40 times in this one page poem, ‘Matter I define to be’), the second “Alone”, and the third “Being”.

Compare

Hearsay particles are high-risen. Utterances are heard better and farther on an evening, and message elements are assigned to those that are to communicate. Membered in the sentences are uncertain paths. Foregrounding languages are featured as phonological and rhythmic. The targets are transposed into the passive. They are low.

This poem (p39) repeats the function word “Are”. There’s a list of which appear in each chapter in the contents, for a particularly sleepy reader. The results seem very musical (and I think somewhat angry, especially as images of torment reappear). I had the sense of each repetition acting like an equally strong beat accompanied by the sentence containing them. A novel and quite compelling form.

There is a sense of place – Oxford – in some phrases “All the buses head in one direction, in a linking of concepts whereby one stands for the other” (“One”), and reserve “of private feeling” (“Of”). The phrases and sentences – which are combined quite surgically – are sometimes Goodland’s own and sometimes quotations from his work for the OED. The rhythm between those two is quite relaxing. The former, or what I assume is Goodland, vaguely reminds me a strange contemporary mixture of Heaney, Stevens and Hardy: “I read the wrong books, only chose what would make no sense”.

One curious feature was sometimes feeling that sentences were indirectly referring to linguistics, e.g. “The first-person pronoun is drunk with morning’s first mouthful” (pro-drop) or “All loss is gone” (simple past tense). Quite ghostly.

These poems made me quite happy. They lack the loveliness of some poetry but are better for that. I am also reminded of Beckett and pathological language, perhaps because of the aforementioned anger and how paragraphs and poems only have the outline of coherence (I don’t necessarily mean no-one can establish or agree on what is being said just that doing so involves more work with the poem as a poem rather than discourse per se).

As to the etymological reading (I believe that Goodland works in that field, which I have neither the memory nor resources to look at except at salient points), all I got through e.g. the poem I quote is a sense of (risen / visible) flesh, from membered, and implied torment (mum / gag) pun with mumbled (repeated with out / utter and its pun with tolerate / bear); folk etymology!