"Monica Aasprong’s Soldatmarkedet is a work in progress. Not in the sense that it’s a work nearing completion, for instance in the book-lengt poem published as Soldatmarkedet by N. W. Damm & Søn this autumn. Rather, the title designates a heterogenous body of work, a series of texts and installations. During the last three years, Aasprong has published poems in various magazines and small magazines such as Grønn kylling (arb.tittel), Ny poesi, Lyrikvännen, OEI, Ratatosk and Luj (the latter of which she herself was one of the editors). In addition, a chap book has been published by the small press Gasspedal, and installations with text as the main element has been exhibited in both Sweden and Norway. Some parts of the work have been realized through collaborations with the media technician Erik Sjödin and the composer and voice artist Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje. Each part of this ongoing work is clearly defined by the context it is presented in, and the format it is published in, as for instance the page layout of the magazine or the scroll function of a web browser.
The first characteristic which makes it relevant to discuss Aasprong’s work under the title «Reinventing concrete poetry», even though it’s detached from the historical context of concretism, is its use of letters to make visual forms and surfaces. There are no verbal elements in Soldatmarkedet which don’t also have a strong visual quality–and the other way around: there are no visual elements in her work which aren’t also verbal, that is, composed of latin letters. The visual elements subvert or extend the linear and semantically focused reading process, by foregrounding linguistic non-discursiveness, i.e. those aspects of language which cannot be reduced to an ideality of meaning. Of course, one could say that all texts have visual form, that the verse in poetry is primarily a visual phenomenon–and that escaping reduction to paraphrasable statements is a characteristic common to all poetry. But there are further reasons to discuss Aasprong’s poetry in relation to concrete poetry.
In a text commenting upon her own project, published a few months ago on the Nypoesi web site, Aasprong states: «I started working on Soldatmarkedet in 2003, and essential to the work is the title itself, to approach different possible meanings of this specific word. In parts of the project the single letters of this word has functioned as a reservoir of linguistic matter.» This last sentence resonates with the key imperative in Öyvind Fahlström’s Manifesto for Concrete Poetry (1954), which Jesper Olsson gave a talke about yesterday: «Krama språkmateria», meaning «knead/form the linguistic matter».
Many of Aasprong’s texts literally decompose the title word, to divide, rearrange and duplicate its smallest constituent elements, in long series and geometrical, iconic or seemingly random shapes. But–and this is something which the book published this winter makes very clear–integrated in these works characterized by an extreme dispersion and discontinuity, there is a more semantically based study of the connotations of the title word, its referential qualities, a drifting through its historical, social and imaginative surroundings.
So what does this word, Soldatmarkedet, mean, quite literally? The English title would be The Soldiers’ Market or The Soldiers’ Square, and the German, Gendarmenmarkt. The reason I mention the German translation is of course that Gendarmenmarkt is the name of a very well known city square in Berlin. Aasprong’s translation of the square’s name–a composite word or a neologism–is taken from the Norwegian novelist Dag Solstad and his autobiographical novel 16.07.41, or in English: July 16th 1941, published in 2003. This novel is in large parts a sort of subjective, topographical study of several areas of Berlin which Solstad came to know during the time he lived there. Let me quote parts of the paragraph where Solstad comes across
[....] a beatiful square. Gendarmenmarkt, the soldiers’ market. It reminds us that Berlin was once the capital of The Kingdom of Preussia, and a soldiers’ city, a garrison city. The city walls erected by Friedrich The Great marked a large circumference around the city center, from several of its gates you had to cross large, open areas of land before you entered the city itself. There, the king’s regiments exercised. In the Gendarmenmarkt square, there are three monumental buildings, two churces, of which one is the Huguenots’ church, which surround an impressive theater. (Solstad 2003:69)
To supply Solstad’s description, I’ll mention that Gendarmenmarkt got its name when a regiment built stables on the square in the 17th century. The three «monumental buildings» which Solstad mentions, are the French Cathedral, The German Cathedral and Schinkel’s concert house from 1821. In other words, in this square, activities like religious practice, art (there’s also a statue of Schiller on the square), the military and the commercial sphere, meet. Aasprong’s expressed strategy, «to approach different possible meanings of this specific word», is a statement about how this seemingly simple word suggests a diversity of historical material, a wide range of human activities and meaning in referential as well as existential terms."
Language as topograhy: we were also discussing the topography of cities, Naples, Istanbul, Saigon, Hanoi, Paris, the last few days. Of course, seeing language as topography -or the city as a poetic landscape- points to the deep connection between word and the visual in contemporary sensibility.
This is different from what is traditionally considered concrete poetry, where, I think, poetry is coupled more with the plastic arts.
Language as topography has to do with the invention of the lens, specifically photography. Because the lens has an independence from the photographer -it can see more than he or she does- the photographic space contains an unconsciou-explorable by the viewer's eye.
The unconscious language possesses is in its evolution, its etymological cross currents.
Parallel to "soldatmarkedet," here is a passage on the Turkish poet Ece Ayhan's "Miss Kinar's Water" (the passage is from the afterword in "The Blind Cat Black and Orthodoxies, Ece Ayhan" published by Sun & Moon in 1997):
"'Miss Kinar's Waters' is a lyric poem with no unifying "I," but atomized appearances of "he"s, "she"s. "it"s; proper and common names merging, weaving themselves into a mournful, raging, elusive melody of the suppressed. The melody of the poem is the music of the Turkish syntactical cadence responding, bending, being distorted by this pronoun dissolution. The assumed interiority of the lyric "I" is shifted to an experience of the "other"; fragments of body, of gestures weave a counter melody in the space emptied by "I."
The very name of the title, "Kinar," points to this peripheral movement, vacuuming of the center. "Kinar" is a non-existent -zero- word or name in Turkish; echoes "pinar," which means "river"; echoes "kin," which means "hatred"; "kin" itself means "sheath, scabbard, torment, pain, slave born in the family"; echoes "kanar," which means "it bleeds, it is duped by." The way "Kinar" is decentered -itself means nothing, but shed shadows- the lyric "I" is decentered, a "tantra," weaving, tracing a subversive, opaque, "thin" victim melody.
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