Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Silent letters

Over at dbqp, Geof Huth has also weighed in with an interpretation of Aram Saroyan's one-word poem, "lighght." His reading — which he positions in contrast to mine, from Monday's post — emphasizes silence in its address of the doubled "gh" letter combination that is, in essence, the very essence of the poem:
The internal elongation of the word adds two letters, letters that are usually audible when read aloud in English, but letters which, in this case, are silent when paired together. The doubling of “gh” extends the silence within the word, and that silence represents the weight of light and its movement through space. No matter the number of gh’s added to the pwoermd, the center of it will always be silent, and light will extend itself continuously through space.
There's nothing I can really argue with here. In fact, I almost feel obligated to defer to Huth's expertise on the subject of vispo, minimalism, and one-word poems.


Except there's something in this interpretation that doesn't satisfy me. It's not that the interpretation is wrong; it is, in fact, more likely that my reading — or sounding, rather — of Saroyan's poem is off-base. Nevertheless, the interpretation misses what is for me a crucial mark: namely, that the poem is absolutely confounding. It was when I saw it for the first time, maybe ten or eleven years ago, and it is when I see it today. The poem presents itself first as problem, as impossibility. And, to my mind at least, reading the doubled "gh" as an extension of the silence in "light" reduces this crucial aspect of "lighght."

It's its strangeness — the problem the poem presents (itself as) — that I was attempting to apprehend with my attention to sound on Monday. It isn't that any of the sounded senses I suggested are particularly satisfying — and, in fact, none of them are, as I mentioned in my earlier post. But they point, or I meant to point through them, to a dynamic the poem itself relies on: that it troubles the act of reading on its most fundamental levels. I might have approached the poem in another way, without referring to phonetics, and noted that it compels us to stumble on that — the ghostly "gh" — which we, in English, pass over in silence. Silence here as stammer.

In the end, it's that the poem — read as sound, as word, or as image — doesn't settle into the visual and sonic puns of "eyeye" that makes it the more satisfying of the two texts. It's the same, for me, with its meanings: I want the poem to resist an interpretation as lucid as the one Huth suggests, if only because it seems to tame "lighght" too much.

[NOTE: For those not in the know, "pwoermd" is a term Huth created specifically for neologistic one-word poems such as "lighght" or "eyeye."]


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