Learning to talk was not easy for me because, amongst other aberrances, I famously pronounced the color of the sun “lellow”. There was no “Y”. I remember the impediment but not the therapy my mother insists I underwent to repair that sometimes vowel to the alphabet. But that was lesterday and this is now.
I’ve heard obstreperous disputes in bars over how to say words the right way, and I have raised my sword a time or two. My friend Phil always laments the pandemic butchering of quay – you know that thing that is a dock or something. Sailors say it. It sounds like clay if you can’t pronounce “ls”. Kway. Well, apparently, it unlocks doors and flavors because you say it key and I think that’s pretty dumb. There’s a similar story with “forte”. Everyone says that word all the time but apparently in French it sounds like you’re building one. So saying fortay is like saying Targay or budgay. At least according to one drunk person I met outside Supper in the East Village two years ago.
My other friend, Andrew, says that the dictionary does not define words, our sensibilities as poets do. Which is sort of why I think it’s important to mispronounce quay and forte because if you don’t, well, confusion will ensue. But what’s wrong with that. Do with meaning what you do with sound. Alter it slightly. In workshops I always lowered my eyes and uttered the phrase “phonetic narrative” to explain my poems. That is just redonkulous right. The story – and how I hated stories – was in the sound. This device espoused terabytes of the most abstruse and purposeful claptrap known to my notebooks. But I knew it would lead to something lively and apart; I hoped it would. I was teaching myself how to sound a sentence, to paraphrase Richard Brautigan and, yes, I just did, so I hope you’re sitting down. I thought about paraphrasing that line from that Barthelme story called The Dullard where the guy talks about using the word “claymore” to freshen your line, but I can only remember those three words exactly and even they might have drifted off.
What exactly is the effect he’s talking about there. I guess it’s surprise. Or a kind of oxbow for your mouth whereby meaning pools up behind an obstruction and flows around it, or inside the obstruction itself – the odd word that makes the odd sound. Wait, hang on, I think Richard Dawkins talks about this in Unweaving The Rainbow. He does. He talks about how every sound you make when you’re saying a word basically has a harmonic barcode, and that “when the barcodes are patterned in time to form phonemes, syllables, words and sentences, the range of ideas that can be communicated is unlimited” – but nevertheless reducible to binary. This is in his discussion of Ode to a Nightingale in which, Dawkins argues, the harmonic barcode engenders sublimity independent of the words themselves as units of meaning.
I find a parallel in granular synthesis, which is a very abstract way of creating musical sound in units called grains, explored by Iannis Xenakis and Bon Iver alike. It’s like sampling a sample: playing a little piece of sound at different speeds, in layers, and various other manipulations, to various effects. I believe poetry subjects words and ideas to a similar system of manipulation, a collaged sonata auto-arranging itself out of disparate significances and contusions.
Deformed feet I was also born with, but special shoes fixed them in about the same timeframe. But I’m not too keen, I don’t think, on special shoes. I think I prefer the mutation. I will go the kway and I will hack the ropes with my katana to release the trireme that will spirit the abducted princess away to relative safety. I will hack up the choicest samples, drop a beat and dance because the hills are alive, literally, figuratively, alive.
Peter Milne Greiner was born in Massachusetts in 1984. He studied poetry at The New School under Sekou Sundiata and Albert Mobilio. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fence, Stone Telling, Leveler, Exit Strata, Diner Journal, FAQNP, Coldfront, You’re Beautiful, New York, and the anthology Here, We Cross, a collection of queer and gender fluid poetry. He has also sent a poem into space via the Jamesburg Earth Station in Carmel Valley, CA, through the Lone Signal service. He is a co-creator of DrunknSailor, a somewhat ensemble and highly occasional reading series and maker of event-specific publications which has held readings in New York City at McNally Jackson, Capricious Space, and ICP-Bard, among others. He lives and studies science in Brooklyn.