A note on serial poetry


This is intended as a quick footnote to a few poems I wrote in 1993: the term "serial poetry" as used here has nothing to do with the serial poems of Jack Spicer and Robin Blaser (which I hadn't heard about then) but is a reference to the serial music of Arnold Schönberg and others, in which each of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale are used equally often. My accent of spoken English (I come from Glasgow) has twelve vowel and diphthong phonemes, and the poems are written in groups of twelve words, with each of these twelve phonemes being represented exactly once in the main stressed syllable of a word in each group. No regard is paid to sentence stress, or to vowels in the unstressed syllables of polysyllabic words. Here is an analysis of the first 24 words of my poem Serial Drunken Boat Fragment (after Rimbaud) (note that the IPA symbols will only be correctly reproduced if you have a unicode font installed in your computer):

Word IPA Word IPA
1: I ʌɪ 13: landward a
2: sailed e 14: nailed e
3: impassive a 15: by ʌɪ
4: streams i 16: redskins ɛ
5: soon u 17: to u
6: unannoyed ɔɪ 18: trees' i
7: sensed ɛ 19: bloodied ʌ
8: the ɪ 20: boles o
9: coward ʌu 21: flint ɪ
10: boatmen'd o 22: points ɔɪ
11: fucked ʌ 23: shot ɔ
12: off ɔ 24: out ʌu

I wrote five or six poems using this procedure, two of which, Campaign for Really Authentic Poetry and Serial Drunken Boat Fragment (after Rimbaud) are available on this site. I abandoned the procedure after writing down the following sequence of words, quite without plan:

Hear now voiced echoes of your face going transparent in buttercup light

(see section 8 of The Liver)

and discovering it to be serial.

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