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Exquisite Corpse - A Journal of Letters and Life

Axial Poetics
by George Quasha ||
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I have a theory
, or, as I actually think it, there's a principle that has had a grip on me for decades:
     In time everything turns itself around to know it's repressed, suppressed or excluded other(s). This may happen unconsciously and with uncertain, even unknown results, or it may happen consciously and with a definite thrill of recognition, radiating outward until, for one charged instant, nothing seems unchanged or unchangeable. Of course things do not remain turned around, but, once turned, they retain a trace, a possibility of further turning - as if already in communication with their future. If the turn is unconscious, fear clings to everything valued; if conscious and willing, excitability rises in the sights, showing movement within identity. You might say, in the latter case, things breathe freely, even as a spirited stillness gives over to the torque of awareness.
     Language tends to take on the condition of things in a world, and especially the active view that holds a world together. One's own language perpetuates one's world; indeed, this may be a primary function of language, world-preservation. To assess the condition of one's world, one might examine the state of one's language, its degree, for instance, of flexibility. It follows that the very possibility for conscious change can be read in the functional range of one's language. Poetry, then, is an art form of this possibility, registered in the sense of verse as intentional turning, including conscious reversal.
     This theory of inevitable turning (around) has the functional status of principle rather than concept, which means that it translates easily into personal practice, but does not imply a particular style or technique or any other "self"-defining orientation.

     That's the general view, and in time I intend to write further about the role of intentional turning and conscious reversal in poetry at large, particularly as the Axial and its specialized execution as Poetic Torsion. For the moment, I'm concerned only to discuss how the principle operates in a particular work of my own. This statement is created to accompany the publications of The Preverbs of Tell: News Torqued from Undertime and its alternate version, Preverb Posters. Let me say once and for all that, for me, the purpose of theory or a particular poetic principle is not polemical but dialogical, by which I mean "metapoetic" - the non-exclusive principle by which any given poetics is an imagination of possible poetry. Or as Blake said: "All things possible to be believed are images of the truth." Poetics, or metapoetics, is the declared (non-competitive) space in which all possible poetics are in conversation.
     Each "Preverb" - that is, each line of The Preverbs of Tell or each page of the Preverb Posters - works in its own way on an AXIAL PRINCIPLE - a principle with both linguistic and non-linguistic expression. In regard to The Preverbs, a working definition might be: the principle by which freedom of being discovers itself as self-aware language turning freely upon its occasion. The AXIAL is not a technique or style or device, but it may acquire certain technical or stylistic tendencies relative to individual practice. Where an AXIAL act is true to its own principle, it will eventually subvert these tendencies, so that at times it may appear unfaithful to its own modality. The AXIAL functions as a declared space of practice - here I am referring to language practice - in which language may discover itself as alive and willful and free of accumulated habits, free, that is, of the dominant tendencies of the generating personality and its received traditions. The space is self-interruptive, self-(re)organizing, self-(re)orienting. It shuns its own success as a danger to principled survival, yet it is in love with its own production, which generates further instance of its possibility. For that reason every AXIAL statement stands alone. That is, even when it stands in a field of resonance and collaborates with statements all around (as in a composed series of lines in The Preverbs of Tell, which may have a "pooling" tendency around certain words or themes or sounds, or a published group of Preverb Posters), it retains its aloneness as a freedom of being and source of immediate energy.
     So an AXIAL LINE is indeterminately situation specific. It has open resonance with its environment. Its form (as line or "poster") is intended to "free" it into local specificity while retaining self-variance. Such open resonance is a principle of "construction" as well as placement, individually and as a body of work.
     An AXIAL LINE suffers every unitary, referential or surcharged connection as if it might be an instance of "original sin" - principle of a first wrong turn - ready for a process of self-immolation. Its cleansing of pattern ends in a free embrace, enacted within appropriate reading.
     What, then, is appropriate reading? An engagement free of extraneous constraints and somehow truly "in the moment" - outside the tug of prepatterning momentum yet following the momentum of the moment (the instant-specific "movement") itself. Something discovered on the spot. A leap into the fire and out at once, a flight in Between. Every flight invents a sequence ordering the data of the topos, a periplus, a mapping of actual bodily trajection, the concrete "presencing" that reverses our thrownness in an instant of time. But we are not necessarily stuck with any one of these orderings - therefore they are free to be truly meaningful, belonging as they do to their moment, where real meaning arises. Chosen meaning exists here by force of self-action. If I map the actual territory I travel, my map is the most accurate possible plan of my occasion, where I fall true. Here is the one place on the map that maps itself, maps truly in my act of pointing (to) it. My condition thereby is AXIAL, and the language I speak in the irreducible event of self-tracking is Preverbal.
     Preverbal? Preverbial? The latter tells the tale that is itself to the degree of being before itself. It rides the edge of its own possibility, between pre- and not, tells the tale that alone takes you along the further edge. We could talk here of something like preverberation -, as an AXIAL neologism of original turning, a lexicographic rendering of intensive resonance at or near zero point, accorded by freed speaking. Such resonance is projective of its occasion, it throws its possible connectedness before it / around it, it fills out its field and is radial. That is why anyone who hears it may feel "chosen" by it, as if something is "meant" to be, synchronistic, aligned in the expression. Resonance at the event horizon creates radical context. Everything surrounds itself with meaning. This might be called the poetic condition itself.
     The Preverb - like its predecessor the "Proverb of Hell" in Blake's invention - is the site of a certain focus, a moving "point" within a radial field, and despite its single-line declarative force, attracts reading by field. The "full meaning" (a quality rather than a quantity) is never fully sourced at the spot of its occurrence. However no account of the "meaning" is richly relevant without reference to the site of exposure to the specific language. The site attracts the meaning. Yet the meaning is not a thing but an occurrence in this time and in this place that makes it possible to think a certain thing in a certain way. A site/situation specific assemblage, a local performance.
     But where is the locus of the local? The AXIAL as a pure force field creates a liminality at the surface - between on and under, conscious and (un)(sub)conscious, above and below. The torsional force (like a twister) joins the contents of above and below, indifferently. No hierarchy of important contents; also no exclusions. Torque busts attitudes.
     So a Preverb occupies the space of wisdom-mouthing, twisting the tongue of truth to include its field of variants, even those not yet considered, yet inevitable. AXIAL wisdom includes its contraries as true friends, baptizes its devils in their own blood. It drives out sanctimonious closure, such as the priestly voice on Sunday that encloses divine words in pretended pre-human tonality, the lure of ultimate comfort. Such closure cannot reach into the heart of present being. We need a crack to crawl out through, a flawed bell to sing its cracked peace, to remind us we are here. The AXIAL self itself cracks, listens in on itself through the new aperture, hears itself by tracking what it lacks, knowing itself as never more than a sound away. A given AXIAL line can lead us out, and pushes a surface toward its outer.
     An AXIAL utterance may seize attention below the threshold of syntax, in the moment before a reading knows it is in a sentence, and carry it over the abyss of unintelligibility by sheer synaptics. When the mind lands, so to speak, it may flood with multiple syntactics as a condition of realizing that real meaning is never without (perhaps unexperienced) choice. An AXIAL moment tends to be self-instructive in the valences of elective likeness. And thinking or speaking about it itself tends to slip into AXIALITY, which can feel a little like dreaming awake. Meaning showing up at once as absolute, vanishing and at variance with itself. A syntactic act can have the structure of sensing that one is being followed, a sudden turning, and catching one's own mind bearing down upon one.
     Of course we can't catch the present moment; the thought that we should be able to is a lure of the Limiter. Non-limitation is a ride of another kind along a vanishing edge. AXIAL poetics is the practice of talking ourself [sic] through. This is a journey in conjunction, and we join our multiplicity to take it at all. Poetic engagement in non-limited/non-linear field dynamics - a participation afield - draws on the energy of possible reading as something like a virtual fact of interconnectedness, the sense and sensing of how we are already "cross-wired" as it were "by nature." The AXIAL keeps these doors swinging.
     The simulations of being thrown into free space may even be training for the great cutting loose at the end of our efforts. At least it does no harm to allow art that kind of force of destiny. One must consider that the mind may be incapable of divesting itself of the wisdom impulse, with all its opportunity for addictive self-delusion, chateau-like constructs where the ego glowers in secret luxury. So faced with an impulse toward wise saying, one can choose among the paths, including, perhaps:

  • to give in to a known thought, a wise way tested on enough minds to assure a certain restfulness;
  • to think better, according to a philosophical or theological method, to accept the challenge of wise saying;
  • to resist with, say, a blank stare, or otherwise (meditatively) allow space to show, to sidestep the habitual, to seek a shift below the threshold of experienced wisdom;
  • to ride it wild till its root (or branched) knowing twists free.

     The Preverbs test-drive the latter. One tries to develop a certain touch - perhaps to stimulate, even if necessary to provoke, the thinking impulse to further awareness in saying itself. It's a kind of persistence in folly, to paraphrase Blake, giving the fool his realized moment. If not to see the full face of one's private angel, at least to read its lips.
     The sound in which one's individual folly is spoken is first of all that of one's own voice. The integrity of that voice is profoundly at stake in the AXIAL. Poets are often obsessed by "finding one's own voice," which usually means something like distinctive style or a sounds-like-me tone. Success in this direction can be effective, charming, even powerful. It promotes the sense of a stable self. In the AXIAL, however, the notion of knowable stability of self is continuously in question. Yet the actual voice individuates, in unpredictable ways, as if its source precedes the known personality. AXIAL utterance aims in any way possible to revive that source at the surface of speaking awareness, or to keep the channel open. Perhaps primary poetic function may be just that maintenance of the open.
     In meditating this possibility of openness I have come to a notion of ZERO POINT VOICE, which stands for the point of origin in speaking that allows an optimal release, negligible pre-patterning and minimal momentum. Each line is generated on the spot from an energy arising just now. In my theory this "point" (of course not really a point) accesses what I call the UNDERTIME of the poem, the non-temporal "time" that runs "below" any formalized rhythmic time, perhaps a sort of ur-time, but in any case a full-potential time that allows radical particularity in any given line. This degree of particularity serves a METAPOETIC PRINCIPLE that allows every poetic act the possibility of an original poetics and, therefore, is non-exclusive as regards poetic possibility.
     With respect to "minimal momentum", there may of course be actual momentum in the carryover from line to line. (I am speaking here of AXIAL lines grouped in apparent sequence, as in The Preverbs of Tell.) On the other hand, there also may not be any line to line momentum; there is the continuous possibility of zero momentum. So the AXIAL as poem space has no built-in principle of beginning or ending or even continuing. It is open, in a potentially unlimited number of ways. The mystery of continuance, then, is particular and ultimately arbitrary from an aesthetic point of view--leaving only an ontological or somehow magical possibility. The line therefore can be AXIAL in the sense that its center of gravity is open, locally reversible, and variously in motion. Because everything is locally reversible, gravity is complementary to levity. What weighs in a voice gives rise to it.
     The actual energetic base here is the physical voice, and where there is intentional engagement at the level of what I am calling AXIAL POETICS, there is a complexity of voice-urge - what makes it begin. It arises out of itself, as it is, where it is and in relation to anything whatsoever, with no obligations to continuity, logic, or any other principle of linkage/necessity, therefore open to all continuities on an immediate basis. In practice, this means that the voice gathers itself anew in each line. There is uninterrupted risk. The wish is to avoid stabilizing and intrinsically coercive forces such as stylized voice, e.g., literary/musical elevation, "personal voice" as carrying the thrust of personality, etc. The voice arising from its zero point is in some sense transparent to complex intentionality, and optimally avoids manipulating in the direction of fore-given aesthetic. The key here is "optimally," and the interest in OPTIMAL POETICS or a "poetics of the optimal" is not purist but open-that only in the condition of openness can a thing be optimally itself. Hence the AXIAL, which is the condition created by an open matrix. In an AXIAL situation the voice can perform itself, its "presence" in multiple ways within the verbal matrix.
     The notion of ZERO POINT has a range of implication, especially with respect to poetic function in the environment, however defined. To be conscious of it implies a discipline of attention that goes beyond a conceptual focus on the zero point itself. It implies a state of listening to and through the voice that returns at every opportunity to the condition of freedom from extraneous momentum. I am suggesting that, as is argued in Zero Point Physics, the zero state paradoxically holds the greatest energy potential, and in that way is the foundational state of poetry itself. Poetry in this view is the result of a discipline of attention that draws on the what is available in the actual voice before constraint by "form" or technique; it could be called an intrinsically charged speaking with listening. This attention allows a potential deepening of participation in the undervoice and the source of the rhythmus, a radical reformulation of the rhythmic impulse itself as singular event. One taps in to the self-refining nature of a poem's energy, which is stepped up energy in many degrees of living intrinsic modulation. To be able to go with it one must discover the special attention appropriate to the poem by joining in the poem's own listening. Its listening requires its zero point. Optimally, poet/reader in each instance entrains to the voice of the poem as close as possible to its zero point. This involves a kind of release into the source of voice itself.
     The intention of this release is to induce a state of AXIALITY. The underlying assumption would be something like the view that freedom of movement, at root (or point of branching), is the STILL POINT / ZERO POINT of primordial possibility. In this state the "wisdom impulse" is AXIALIZED, which means that it is introduced to its basic, you could say primordial, energy in such a way that opens dogma and indeed thinking to being itself. And that could be an original role of the poetic.

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