AN ALPHABET FOR TWO
When Marcel Duchamp took a urinal and reconstituted it as sculpture by adding the title Fountain , 1917 , he implicated language in the construction of contemporary art ; and signified the possibility that words , like plumbing fixtures , could be readymades . By providing a new interpretation for a familiar noun , he made visible not words or their meanings , but the delicate relationship between the two .
Our cultural authority on words and meanings is the dictionary ; which is also a readymade treasury of art materials . This suggested one possibility for the conjoining of poetry and contemporary art : I sent a poem in the form of an alphabetical list to Murray Edmond . Unexpectedly , he responded in kind by composing a poem of complementary words , each in some way inspired by its alphabetical equivalent on the first list . This is part of the enjoyment of being a member of a community of practitioners : receiving such gifts .
What Murray gave me included more than the pleasure of his verbal adroitness and wit ; by siteing
me as reader at the point of intersection where his words change the intentions of mine , Murray enabled me to appreciate how I had constructed my relationship between words and meaning . This led to a third list , a poem to evince how Murray’s words changed my own thinking . Reading down each list reveals a poem while reading the lists together , and reading across the rows of words , yields a surplus ; in this surplus is another consideration of Duchamp’s practice .
A poem is a text ; as readers , we tend to follow it like a map , trying to determine how its material topography delineates the writer’s construction of meaning . But in this combined work meaning is performative , occuring between writers , between poems ; these lists represent the space of meaning as topology or the dynamics of movement .
This is network space , through which meaning is transiting ; it is not located in the text but is generated by hypertextual connections , which can be both random and linguistically or subjectively ordered .The work itself is an event ; enfolded within but not identical to the text object .
For Duchamp , modern art needed to interrogate and exceed the occular ; he uses language to confront and confound our usual ways of seeing . Poetry too is more than a visual artform : the voice resonating in the cavity of the body before entering the domain of the audience ; the structure of the stanza referring , through the Italian derivation of the word , to a chamber , a room to be entered . Poetry is a spatial artform , not confined to the finite dimensions of the page .
An innovation in printing enabled Mallarme to use the field of the page to represent the space of thought in Un Coup de Des , 1895 ; perhaps one way we can locate our writing practice in the materiality of contemporary life is to work with this new experience of space . The network , the mutability of meaning , creative collaboration ; this is a current locality in Aotearoa .