How Father Went to EyeRhymes and I Lived
to Tell about It
By Daniel Levchin de Oliveyra
"Do you know what EyeRhymes are?" asked my father as we sat
down to dinner.
"No, you don't know, and neither did I up until this weekend."
Mom and I listened attentively, trying to chew silently, so not to
miss a word. Father has just gotten back from Canada, where he spent a
good part of the long weekend.
"Let me give you an example."
He disappeared into the study emerging shortly with a blank piece of
paper, which he presented before us. Exposing the tip of a thick marker
he wrote on the paper:
"Do you see the EYEs? How they are looking at you. And
the word 'eve', and the sunken 'Y's? Now read it without the second
'EYE', now without the first." He seemed very excited.
"The conference I attended this weekend gathered from all over
the talents who are constantly working on the borders of poetry and visual
art. In all actuality any poem written or printed is visual -- we can see
it. I found out, there is a concept called "sheet graphics."
A poem, not necessarily a rectangular shape, can be written down as one
long line, a helix, spread out chaotically, etc. It can be set down on
wood, stone, glass,with hair or fur or sand. What if the words are of different
size, of different languages? You can write some of them from left to right
and others the opposite way, and directions are infinite. And if so, with
your words you are able to construct a circle, a star, a cross, and an
animal. Apparently, the old Kabbalists had been forming images with their
words since the sixteenth century. And then it became so popular the Christian
and Muslim poets started doing the same thing.
"This is only a solitary branch of visual poetry covered by EyeRhymes,
which is really a festival more than a conference. Presentations would
sometimes turn into performances, like when Clemente Padin, a concrete
poet and researcher from Uruguay presented his definition of concrete poetry.
He said something like 'A concrete poem may often coincide with its own
contents,' and recited one of his latest sonnets.
'This is the first line of the first stanza.
This is the second line of the first stanza.
This is the third line of the first stanza.
This is the fourth line of the first stanza.
This is the first line of the second stanza...'
Here Mom interrupted declaring that she noticed a pattern and that
the example had exhausted its purpose.
"But do you see," father continued "that concrete poetry
may abandon words and signs altogether, leaving just blank paper (or holes
in blank paper)?
"...And then these two Canadian poets/professors - Stephen Scobie
(Victoria) and Doug Barbour (Edmonton.) - delivered just a brilliant performance.
They alternated acting out their poem, a variation of a single line: 'I'll
call you.' The entire thing went on for about half an hour accenting every
word and syllable, not missing a single meaning of the word 'call.' Another
poem of Clemente Padin was brought out as a baking sheet where the word
"Menu" had been laid out in small pastries. Then all of us in
the audience tasted the poem until it was gone."
I think he was not sure of the effect his speech was having on us.
"Does it sound like a big game to you? Of course it does. That's
because there is a very large element of game in all of it. But art is
essentially a game; and game is very, very serious matter, indispensable
to us as a society and to each person individually...
Here he held up his finger, as in just a minute, and once again
disappeared into the study. This time he stayed there for some time, to
the point where Mom and me started giving each other worried looks. But
he did come out in the end carrying a pretty large stack of papers. They
were magazine cutouts, envelopes, leaflets, pamphlets, etc. Carelessly
moving the plates and silverware aside he spread the papers on the table.
"Notice anything strange about these papers, honey?
"No? Read them carefully,.. anything? ... EVERYTHING IS WRITTEN
IN CAPITAL LETTERS. The caps are beginning to dominate the printed word.
There is a steady trend of substituting all letters for capitals. This
practice will create a society where only a select few can read lower-case,
giving that elite absolute control over the rest. All others will be severely
punished for trying to access the secret knowledge...
"Now that's ridiculous, honey," interjected Mom.
"I'm just telling you what I heard. For the closing presentation
a Delaware lady named Martha Carothers was telling us just that,"
father defended himself. "She said that all of it may be taken as
satire, but warned us that it is satire that first warns of things soon
to become reality."
And really, it did not seem all that ridiculous to me. On the way from
school the next day I saw plenty of capital letter around me: buses, billboards,
newsstands, shop windows were full of them. I was so busy trying to gather
these samples I forgot to pay attention to where I was going and eventually
ran full swing into a parking meter. I even had to be taken to the doctor,
but I am all right, otherwise, how would I be telling you any of this.
At the end of that dinner father spoke some more about the conference.
"It is just great that there enough interested people to organize
such a wonderful gathering of talent. Perhaps the next one will be here,
in Chicago, so we can all go."
"Anyone can ask 'Who needs any of it? The world is complicated
enough as it is, when I ask for my lawyer I don't want to be handed an
avocado.' But the language must not be a restricted system. Clarity is
a cage. Logic is a cage. And you always need to keep that cage door open;
so if the owner forgets to feed the bird it won't die hungry. The language
should be able to fly out of its cage every once in a while to look for
some fresh food, you see..."