Poetry News

Ernest M. Robson's Phonetic-Linguistic Approach to Prosody to Produce Poems, Thanks to Lewis Freedman

By Harriet Staff


Lewis Freedman on what we have not forgotten, at Flying Object (or what we won't, now, thanks to him). These "Scans by Lew" are to be an ongoing, monthly feature "reintroducing experimental books of poetry that, despite their ambitious radicalities, don’t seem to be much in circulation, at least among the poets [he's] been hanging out with." First up is TRANSWHICHICS, by Ernest M. Robson, published by Dufour Editions in 1969. Freedman writes:

One way to read alot of books is to try and read the entire run of a particular press. A couple of years ago and now too I was reading as much as I could get a hold of of Dick Higgins totally amazing Something Else Press (there’s just mind-blowing stuff on Something Else Press like The Four Suits, Johnson’s The Paper Snake, Giorno’s Cancer in My Left Ball, etc., &c., etc) and it was in this process that I encountered Ernest M. Robson’s strange early novella, Thomas Onetwo (like one two). Written in 1926 but unpublished until 1971, Thomas Onetwo is Robson’s attempt at “pop literature,” and constitutes “a description of the roaring twenties in terms of the sale of a pickle” (as self-described by Robson in his article “Research of the Sounds of Literature: Formant Music and a Prosodic Notation for Performance” [Leonardo 20:2]).

My interest piqued by Thomas Onetwo (or is it peeked, or peaked?), I began to search for other work by Robson which led me to TRANSWHICHICS, which, as you shall see, details and performs Robson’s experiments with a phonetic-linguistic approach to prosody to produce poems which have built into their physical type a notation of their own vowel pitch modulation and prosodic duration and intensity (a detailed exhibit of how to read this notation exist on pages 16-18 of your scan [10-12 by book page number]). The poems produced by this are often highly peculiar to look at and challenging to read as they interrupt, slow, and speed-up our learned reading tendencies. It’s helpful to know, I think, when encountering Robson’s experiments that Robson approaches poetry as “a language art designed to arouse interest, pleasure, and discovery in pattern recognitions within language and by means of language” (from the intro. of Robson’s book I Only Work Here). This is to say that Robson’s notational method produces an immense attention to linguistic patterning, an attention I’m drawn to, not so much for its pleasures and arousals (its art for art’s sakeness), but for its operation upon the patterns of repetition that condition and contain the experience of experience, a problem we’re never without.

To see the text entire, visit the great Flying Object. Looking forward to more!

Originally Published: January 24th, 2014