COMPLETE MINIMAL POEMS by Aram Saroyan, 1st edition and 2nd Edition (Edited by Aram Saroyan and James Hoff)
(Ugly Duckling Presse / Primary Information, 2014)
and its review in GR #22 by Eileen Tabios
An Epistolary Engagement
Read your engagement of Aram Saroyan’s poems from ‘Complete Minimal Poems’ in GR 22 and found it interesting. It made me go make a reference to Symborska and the first edition of Saroyan’s book. I’ll tell you why I went back to Symborska first:
I went through Saroyan’s “POEM” [A new/telephone/on the table] and your discussion of it. I was trying to consider the same aspects of line-breaks in the first stanza and the absence of these in the last stanza. What struck me was the word ‘new’, and ‘telephone’ as an invention. Telephony itself was ‘new’ in the last century. So it shouldn’t matter if Aram Saroyan actually hinted a brand new telephone as a product in the living room where he saw it (or was it in a museum?) . And if he were to refer to the telephone only as an instrument at home, then he could have achieved it without talking about the ‘newness’ of it. So it struck me, he emphasized something age-‘old’ in his poem. The telephone is ‘Old wine in new bottle’.
Then I considered the indentations in the poem. The stanzas in this poem are unusually placed one on that side, another on this side. The second stanza opens with a quotation mark but has no speaker identified.
“If I really see anything,
I hear it too.”
That sounded like an adage, and the visual arrangement of the stanza clearly refers to the invisible speaker on the ‘other side’ of another telephone (which may be old or new).
To me, Saroyan’s "POEM" spoke of light and sound interactions. It brought to my mind a line from Symborska on the same theme- she had spoken about the speed of light and sound in one of her poems, and I had a vague thought, she inverted their relationship. I couldn’t recollect which poem it was or which lines from a poem it was. That brought me back to Symborska’s “Greeting the Supersonics”:
“we’ll turn sound into the Tortoise
And light into the Hare.”
That Light travels faster than Sound doesn’t always make Light the winner. Yes, I see lightning first, then I hear thunder, but when I am asleep, it is only thunder that wakes me up. For a moment, if the effect of light is nullified, i.e., if LIGHT=0, then I get to understand sound without being influenced by light. In the poem by Saroyan, he actually plays on a paradox. His speaker says, he waits for the light to first let him ‘see’, and then the hearing happens. But his speaker is invisible; the brand ‘NEW’ invention has made hearing possible without seeing.
And then, the invention is taken for granted. That’s how, for me, the line breaks become no more necessary in the last stanza. A/P/P/L/E (or A/PP/L/E), and once I learn to spell it right, I take the word as a whole for granted: apple.
Then I read the poem ‘PAUL KLee’, and found your interpretation apt. I actually wanted to read ‘LOUIS’ in the same manner as the poem ‘PAUL Klee’. The trailing off sound of ‘ee’ pushes the emphasis on the last ‘L’ and the e’s becomes insignificant in comparison; the capital letters convey as much information in one go.
I found a paradox at work here. The name Zukofsky is foreign. [The American coin is more interesting in England?]. The word ‘LOUIS’ too, could be foreign, and if French, would ‘silence’ the last letter ‘S’ and hence ‘noisy’.
I tried to interpret the repetition of ‘ly’ in his poem that you discuss in the beginning, and located that poem in the book. I then tried to see the poems around it, and found this:
The single word was printed twice, and spread in four directions. The word ‘or’ allows choosing one thing from the two on its side (If more than two things, the word ‘or’ needs the help of a comma or it should repeat itself). I felt he was devising a means to make a choice from a larger sample with minimal expression: I can choose 1 of 4 in the above example.
In the section that contains the ‘ly’ poem, I came across the poem ‘lighght’ which I remembered having read earlier.
Saroyan zooms into the silence by repetition.
And then, I read the poem ‘night’ which has the word ‘night’ repeated several times on the page. I thought I understood the two poems better:
Light contains darkness.
Night is dark.
Night is silent.
Light is (not) night.
Thanks for making me go back to Saroyan and Symborska.
SS Prasad is the author of 100 Poems. He writes from Bangalore, India.