Friday, September 28, 2007

to write is to score

I've been thinking about how we can learn to understand poetry and poetics through sound, as distinct from - or in addition to - the text versions of the poem. Not a new topic, but I want to keep myself to basics. I want to start again in thinking about this. Build the story a piece (or measure) at a time.

The first thing I observe, again thinking in the simplest way about all this, is that the English word for writing is unlike the word in most other European languages; most derive their word for "write" from the Latin "scrib" root (scribere). We in English have "scribe," of course, which came over from secular Latin scriba meaning the keeper of accounts or secretary. And "script," etc. But "write" derives from a Germanic root writanen meaning tear, scratch at, but also to outline, to draw, to design, to sketch. See the German "reissen." Or, in other words, to score.

Writing as scoring.**

When we write language on a page, is it just alphabetical? It is that perhaps secondarily and more recently. But primarily it was and could still be artisanal: make marks on a surface to indicate a design by indentation or to indicate the way sounds are to be said altogether.

Our word for writing - for whatever reason - has come to us with a visual sense and an aural sense.

It doesn't surprise me that so many concrete poets are also interested in sound. Both are alternatives to the meaning-driven tradition of writing.

** Score as a noun (printed piece of music) is a late entry, coming in around 1700. But the verb score to indicate setting out how sounds should be sung or played is older. Of course the verb meaning to cut with incisions or notches is older, first in evidence around 1400.