Wednesday, February 06, 2013

concrete minimal beatles...


picked up this tiny first edition (300 copies) of aram saroyan's 'the beatles', from 1970, at the LA art book fair last weekend. i'd never seen this tiny book before, and similarly had not seen much reference to it (it was not included in the 2007 complete minimal poems, but was reprinted in 2000 by granary press.) i wouldn't call myself a beatles freak by any stretch, but i found the minimal/concrete text and form to be incredibly compelling.

at first, i was kind of underwhelmed with the formality - full names, not in alphabetical order, but in the order that the beatles names were generally spoken - as john, paul, george and ringo (and i wonder if this was to emphasize a hierarchy among the bandmates). after staring at it for awhile, the tiny book began to overwhelm me, particularly at all of the things that the words started to evoke in me. i started to think about the word "stone" or "water" and how such words evoke general relationships or evocations, while the names - or wordnames - were able to conjure up the faces,  voices, the singular and the group, the songs... and the words themselves began to move from seeming very simple and precise (even dry) things without potential... and then suddenly the words offered a rush of evocations - still images, moving images, words, songs, etc.

in a way, the beatles poem is indicative of how most of saroyan's minimal poems work. they seem to be matter of fact - informational statements or facts, while the poems are hiding behind these word-facades. take for instance this poem:

sausalito, california
is the home 
of a friend of mine, 
mr. richard kolmar. 

like the beatles book, this poem relies on the fact that the reader will know something of sausalito, or california, or perhaps, even, mr. richard kolmar in order to grasp such a text... yet on the other hand even without such knowledge, the poem isn't devoid of meaning or interpretation, as it allows itself to be read it as:

this place
is the home
of a friend of mine,
a man.

with the beatles book, it is no different (although the potential of someone not knowing these names would obviously be difficult to find).

an organization (or group of insects)
each with a mans name:

names are somewhat common words in saroyan's minimal poems, and of them contain only one or two words, such as these four poems from the complete minimal poems:

Pablo Picasso




when i brought the tiny beatles book home (it is pictured above actual size), i stood it up on my bookshelf next to another tiny book, la monte young's "compositions 1961". the two books are almost exactly the same size (although because young's is 1 inch taller, it's shape is a square). both of them also offer what would appear to be a "slight" amount of 'fixed' information; and while young's book (which is actually a score) is 36 pages long, each page has almost the exact same text - the only difference being the consecutive number of each score and date:

Composition 1961 no. 13, june 6
Draw a straight line and follow it.

aside from the micro-size of each book, the minimal nature of both texts, there is room for more conversation between the two - as if the act of drawing a straight line and following it might suggest repeating the words: john, paul, george and ringo once a day or every week. whether spoken or chanted, screamed or whispered, both incantations offer the potential of continual re-interpretation. when a litany is repeated over and over again it can slowly degrade to a place where language is stilled and stripped down so that a word, half-word, letter, initials or a name are all that remain. in such situations 'fixed objects' seem to offer very little, forcing one to find ways to open it up, again.

from the almanac of the month, june 1846