John Cage

Blackbird #14

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There’s comfort in understanding what works and what doesn’t work in language. But what happens when a man like John Cage gets “uncreative” and wants to take syntax out of language to make language more “un-understandable”? Cage claimed the linguistic status quo was “demilitarizing language” and would continue to bang his head against a wall until he achieved what he wanted. And this passionate want to emancipate language inspired me to place Wallace Stevens’ “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird” into Cage’s beloved mesostic generator (click here to view mesostic generator). And once generated, I concluded this new poem, Blackbird #14, as 1.) a clipped visual representation of conceptual art with new sounds and linguistic experiences, and 2.) a computer generated WOA (aka work of art) regurgitating cryptic language with a deterministic message hidden in plain sight.

Looking at a mesostic poem is like looking at conceptual art. It appears Stevens’ blackbird was clipped in physical length (mesostic generator only condensed). The poem’s focal point was centered around a ‘spine phrase’ which ran down the length of the poem. The spine phrase was capitalized giving the poem “lifts” in mid-words (i.e., “among tWenty snowy mountains…the blAckbird walks”). Since the original poem omits syntax we’re left with tongue-tied phrases (going against formal language). It was very beautiful to see words doubled-up (and and, the of the…). My favorite part of Blackbird #14 (incorporating visual and sound) was the “ii” and “iii” and “eyes.” The “i’s” flowed nicely within the poem. The Roman numerals had new meaning (i.e., the numerals changed and appeared as a reference to time). The “iv” appeared to look like “I’ve”. And “x” followed the word “marked” as in X marks the spot. The line “euphony over equipage be all,” was a pleasing alliteration.

Blackbird #14 does not die in its complexity. Lines including “indecipheraBle” and “inescapable” were almost cryptic in meaning; connecting in an unintentional but intentional way (can’t escape trying to make sense of it all). This uncreative poem was not completely non-intentional since I could control the message within the spine phrase. The spine phrase that I made up was generic: “wallace stevens fourteenth blackbird.” (Upon further inspection my mind omitted the “n” after I did this analysis.  (I didn’t change this error since changing it would mean I was being more creative).  Lines which produced interesting “innuendos” were: “i Know too that/Blackbird/Is involved what i know…beauty of inflections/beauty of innuendoes.” I wanted every word to soar from the mesostic generator. I wanted to control the language to make it right; to make it mean something more. Then in the end, I realized it’s more about the process and not about hidden meanings.

I value Stevens’ original blackbird contrasting life, flying full circle, ending on a sentinel perch. It’s a powerful image. And, in some bizarre way I was stunned to discover both artists were inspired by haiku and Japanese art. Both artists, composer and poet, achieved the same goal by different means. They broke away from traditional poetic modes. And by applying Stevens’ originaL “ThIrteen Ways of LooKing at a Blackbird” into John CagEs ambitious head bang, BlaCkbird #14 wAs born, set into motion, on another fliGht, toward nEw horizons!

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird