Ian Monk: Family Archaeology

Ian Monk is a brilliant Oulipian born near London in 1960. He's included in The Oulipo Compendium (Atlas Press, 1998), edited by Harry Mathews and Alistair Brotchie. Method as genial madness is part of Oulipo's claim. It has traditionally valued the production of writing forms rather than the systematic employment of its established forms for the creation of Literature.

Monk's 2004 book, Family Archaeology, is an amazing piece of work, not only as method but also for its thetic purposiveness. The lengthy title poem consists of squared incremental counted verse (2 words to the line x 2 lines to the stanza x 2 stanzas; 3 words to the line x 3 lines x 3 stanzas, and so on until the poem ends at 10 x 10). At the same time, the poem's typesize decreases from 24 point to 18 to 14, concluding with something like 6 point). You have to read it to believe it. Refences to family are threaded through but are not systematic, accretionary, or cross-referential. One of my favorite works in the book is "A Ladder with Butterflies" (A Pananagrammatoum)." It consists of three formal systems: the pangram (a work containing all the letters of the alphabet), a pantoum, and an anagram. The first stanza is: Wild bite art flashed true. / What fired us, created lilt? / If salt tide laughter drew / Hearts judder we fail, tilt.

Kenneth Goldsmith writes of the book, "Once upon a time there was potential literature; now, thankfully, it's been realized. Ian Monk's concrete language hits you like a ton a bricks. As visual as it is verbal, Monk's quantification of the contemporary churns the mundane into the exotic. Charting the unknown turf of the normal, once again gab is new."

Harry Mathews: "The engagement with experience that these poems discover reveal a character of fire, a razor-sharp intellect, and a heart as big as Harrod's." Fire, as in the Heraclitean tradition of change, process, and indeterminacy that holds sway over the Other Tradition, even in its formalisms.

The book is published by Make Now Press, Los Angeles, edited by Ara Shirinyan.

Field Trip Cancelled

From Signs of the Times by Paul Hoover. Just published by The Alternative Press, 1207 Henry Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104. Letter press on durable card stock. Strictly 4" by 6".