our recent podcast with experimental poet Christian Bök, I spoke with a poet who
has a truly scientific approach to poetry, who ‘conducts experiments through
language.’ He accepts that some experiments won’t work, but is committed to
seeing them through, even if they represent decades of work through complex
processes. His poetry can be termed ‘process poetry’: work where the act of
creating becomes part of the content.
delighted to be able to bring you our second podcast, with experimental poet Christian
Bök. Christian’s approach to poetry is scientific. He uses experiments in
poetry to test ideas and capacities, unsure of outcomes. He has dedicated
himself to ‘formalistic innovations’ and ‘exploratory procedures,’ which means
that his work is intimately bound up with process.
need to be able to inhabit the place of unknowing, in order to bring new
realisations, techniques, forms and processes into the known world. In an article
recently published in TEXT, ‘A New Suite: The Process of Knowing through Poetry’,
I highlight the fact that the noun ‘knowledge’ is unnecessarily
privileged in western writing, compared with the verb ‘knowing’, and emphasise
that knowing how to do something is the most important aspect of knowledge.
That knowing how to do something is what matters most is an idea found in
various forms in writers as diverse as Aristotle (the knowledge of how to make
things); William Carlos Williams (knowledge as ‘a living current’); Mark
Johnson (knowing as a process of inquiry); and Jen Webb (poets offering ‘new ways
of knowing and doing’). These are all descriptions of active states
characterised by the verb ‘to know’. But we don’t always know how to do
something until we’re doing it and working it out in process.
I recently revisited the text of UK poet Philip Gross’ keynote speech ‘Together in the Space Between: Collaboration as a Window on Creative Process’ given at the Poetry on the Move festival in 2015 and later published in Axon. Gross has had the advantage of a number of productive creative collaborations, both with artists from other media and, less commonly, with a fellow writer. Early in his career, he worked in a mixed group of painters and musicians from several traditions gathered around John Eaves’ huge charcoal drawings of Stonehenge, a collaboration which was extended to include the artist FJ Kennedy. The topic of Stonehenge is one shrouded in unknowing, which was deemed inviting to creative adventure, to leaving behind preconceived notions and to improvising.
One of the first pieces of writing I remember reading about process is Amy Lowell’s essay ‘The Process of Making Poetry’ (from a book originally published in 1930). Lowell was an early shaker in the Imagist movement, and experimented with lineation and what we now call prose poetry. She also wrote haiku and is anthologised in the recent Haiku in English: The First Hundred Years.