Poetic – means borrowed.

Leo Tolstoy.

In an indignant letter, written on 12 December 1918, to S. Nevile Foster, editor of Land and Water, the novelist and former ship’s captain, Joseph Conrad, questions the suitability of the illustration of his story ‘Rescue’, which they were about to publish. He begins by describing himself ‘as an artist in another medium’, and remarking that he had ‘always been treated by his illustrators with a certain amount of consideration … with that loyalty which is due from a conscientious artist to the conceptions of another’. He questions whether the illustrator of ‘Rescue’ has ‘ever seen a yacht’s gig’ (a type of boat)? Or a man standing in one? Or any boat that looked like the one in the illustration? Had he ‘looked with an artist’s eye ever in his life at the leech of a sail, either full or aback, the most definite and expressive line in the world? The whole thing’, Conrad adds, ‘is false enough to set one’s teeth on edge; and of unpardonable ugliness … There are ways of rendering the luminous quality of a tropical night & there was no reason to cram ugliness into the very sky.’

The title of Toby Fitch’s book Where Only The Sky Had Hung Before (a John Ashbery quote from Girls on the Run, repurposed in a poem in the book) at first suggested to me an alternative reality, from a children’s book or a Surrealist painting. This past summer’s weather events (fire tornadoes and dry lightning; mud rain) suggest that the sky – and our perception of it – might be changing. A brief internet search throws up articles on the changing night sky: on the change, to the view from earth, of star alignment over millennia, as well as the change in the view of stars, due to satellites. A Malaysian newspaper, The Star reports: ‘The cost of launching things into space is finally cheap, so the number of things in space is going to explode.’ The article raises the notion, given that the proliferation of satellites will provide greater and cheaper internet access, that taking pleasure from gazing at the stars is possibly a ‘selfish’ occupation.

The road to the internet is paved with literature. It is, like Fitch’s book in miniature, loaded with pretexts, a poetics theory of which follows below. That Fitch provides a ‘Notes on Sources’ at the back of Where Only the Sky, gives primacy to the poems, and makes the sources look like afterthoughts, whereas, of course, they are provided as originary information. A kind of pre-echo. The book is compiled – composed – through attempts to make its poem-echoes as strong as, or stronger, than their originals. The repurposing of their forms, the cutting up, the troping of these texts, takes however, Harold Bloom’s theory of influence (‘poems rise … from other poems’) beyond that of the thematic-semantic, where a formal ‘ruminative’ paradigm is assumed. While Bloom praised Ashbery – an important precursor for Fitch – he is known to have considered his ‘disjunctive’ collaging work, The Tennis Court Oath, as Daniel Kane notes, ‘an embarrassing if temporary detour’. Fitch gives a number of names to his strategic rewritings, including supercut, ghosting, rephrasing, recalibration, version. These terms are not merely synonyms but point to a repertoire of what we might call meta-tropes.

A reading of Fitch’s title that is mindful of such literary inheritance – or poetics argy-bargy – might summon Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés. Since its publication in 1897, the possibilities of linearity, page space (including the gutter), and typographical variation, have never been the same. Some of this influence likely came to Australia via effects on American poets, but there is an explicit relation between Mallarmé’s poem and that of Australian – we might even say Sydney – poetry, notably Christopher Brennan’s Musicopoematographoscope (written in 1897, immediately following Brennan’s reading of Mallarmé’s original, but not published until 1981; the poem has more than one component, but the largest is a pastiche of Un Coup de Dés). This link was reemphasised more recently by Chris Edwards’ A Fluke, subtitled, A mistranslation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s ‘Un Coup de Dés’ with parallel French pretext (2005). These poems both participate, in Roland-François Lack’s terms, in a ‘poetics of the pretext’. Lack is concerned with ‘the pursuit of texts that have been rephrased in Ducasse’s work’: Isidore Ducasse, aka the Comte de Lautréamont. Lack writes that ‘many such plagiarisms await discovery in the “landes inexplorées” of Ducasse’s œuvre’. In distinguishing his theory of pretextuality from Julia Kristeva’s better known theory of intertextuality, Lack explains that pretextuality ‘foregrounds obsessively a text’s determination by precedence, the text’s own sense of dependency on something that pre-exists and our sense, as readers, that our knowledge of the text depends on prior knowledge’. His key examples are ‘the allegories in [Ducasse’s] the Chants de Maldoror and the plagiarisms of Poésies’.

There is, however, no pursuit required in Brennan’s or Edwards’ Mallarméan poems: nor in Fitch’s haunting or otherwise mobilising pretexts, as the poems’ sources are provided, although the finer details might be investigated further. Yet where Fitch’s pretextual practice differs, and distinguishes itself from Lack’s theory of poetics, as explicated, is through its varieties of troping, or its ‘tics’. Lack notes ‘tics’ as a key term for Ducasse, commenting that ‘it is a tic of this writer to not keep promises’. Punning, a kind of rephrasing, is a tic for Fitch, as is pastiche, cut-up, allusion – to the extent that the poems appear to ‘foreground obsessively’ the poetic tics of the pretext, while having reinvented them. Fitch has written about the Mallarmé-Brennan relation also, as well as his own more immediate ‘tic’-ing Sydney precursors in Edwards and John Tranter.

Reviewing Brennan’s belated publication in the Sydney Morning Herald, Tranter suggests that it was ‘probably the first ever parody of free verse in the history of English literature’. We can imagine a minor poetics history of Australian poets parodying things first before taking them seriously: understanding through parody perhaps. What Tranter refers to as the poem’s ‘complaint’: ‘I DON’T GIVE A TINKER’S DAMN FOR THE PUBLIC AND THEY RETURN THE COMPLIMENT’, could be attached to numerous global avant-gardes, not to mention the self-representations of individual writers and artists. (Post-rock’n’roll / Oscar Wilde, it could also be called a capitalist motif.)

What becomes evident is that, at least since the 1890s, Australian poetry in English has its own French history. John Hawke writes of the Francophile Bulletin, and of its literary editor, A.G. Stephens’, ‘critical introductions to the French Symbolist poets’.The application, therefore, ofFrench theory to Australian (settler) poetry – such as Kate Fagan’s Deriddean reading of Brennan’s Mallarmé (as much as we might regret Derrida’s neglect of Brennan) is only apt. Fagan cites Edwards’ own citation of Georges Bataille: ‘It is clear that the world is purely parodic – in other words, that each thing seen is the parody of another, or is the same thing in a different form’. Bataille’s vision conforms to early poetic perceptions of Australia, as expressed, for example, in Barron Field’s poem ‘Kangaroo’, which approaches its subject by describing it as a monstrous parody, comparable to the ‘hippogriff’ or ‘camélopard’ [i.e. camel leopard, or giraffe]. Edwards’ text is not just a visual parody of Mallarmé’s ‘thing seen’, but an aural one, sounded through, in Fagan’s assessment, ‘mistranslation … via absurdist homophonic and homological puns and improvised associations sprinkled with occasional literal translations’. Lack writes, ‘a poet, like any star, is a complex text, made up from a multiplicity of contextual discourses’: discourses which make up the ‘star-text’, and which he goes on to list: ‘Gossip, scandal, anecdotes, accounts of appearances in court … citations, reviews’ and more. Ulrich Baer, in a chapter-length discussion of the sky in Baudelaire, cites Walter Benjamin’s memorable description of Baudelaire’s oeuvre as a ‘star without atmosphere’. Star poets and star-texts look and sound differently, here, in Australia – and in the here of the twenty-first century.

As Rosanna Warren reports, Mallarmé, in a letter to André Gide, figures the text of the poem, ‘Un Coup de Dés’, as both ‘constellation’ and ship – or shipwreck. A series of poems in Where Only the Sky, titled ‘Strange Rain’, printed white on black, give the notion of letters as stars a pronounced emphasis. The page as a metaphorical sky is an alternative to the later, more dominant paradigm of the poem as a field, driven by American poet Charles Olson. Fitch may not be pointing to a future, satellite-filled, possibility, but rather to the past: of seeing the night sky as a readable text – in a more aestheticised way than that of sea navigators or astrologers. The notion of reading sky and earth for meaning is a traditional one, but also gnostic, in Christian terms. The following quote comes from the Gospel of St Thomas (my source is Leo Steinberg) and is addressed to would-be believers by Jesus: ‘You read the face of the sky and of the earth, but you have not recognized the one who is before you’. According to contemporary Christian internet presence, Robert McLaughlin Bible Ministries (based in Seekonk, Massachusetts), the Gosple [sic] message of Jesus is written in ‘plain sight’ in the stars, and is a message that has been obscured by Satan, who ‘offered astrology to replace the true meaning of the stars’. Fitch, like a whimsical sailor, is more concerned with pattern, than sign. Fitch was, it seems – like Susan Howe – ‘born under the sign of Concrete’, to borrow a fancy of Marjorie Perloff’s.

The poem’s title also evokes an earlier, poetic and Parisian, sky patterning, in alluding to Guillaume Apollinaire’s ‘Il Pleut’ (‘It’s Raining’). We have been here before, but differently, in Fitch’s The Bloomin’ Notions of Other and Beau (2016), and the poem ‘Pandora’s Paro*idia’ which features a cut-up text in the form of rain, with some of the text upside down. Where Only the Sky has none of the explicit collages that were a feature of the previous book; yet the combinatory poetics, the visual emphasis, and the Franco-New York-ophile aspects remain. I have suggested elsewhere that Fitch’s case of tradition is one that gestures towards the French, who might have been our Imperial Masters, but weren’t, cocking a snook at those who were. Colin Dyer writes of the French (who admittedly behaved dismally elsewhere) and Australia: ‘They came and they saw, but they made no attempt to conquer.’ Summarily, the English gave us poetic tradition, but the French showed us how to be modern.

The internet has changed the way we think about protagonists in space: (outer) space being as operative a metaphor as any, if we think of ourselves as being in little spaceships sending messages out to the world, or stumbling around on a planet that seems uninhabited (anywhere during lockdown; Canberra at any time). We still have cinema and literature as backup pretexts – and video games. It is the interactive, creative, de- and re-creative possibilities of games that seems to inform one of the most interesting autobiographical poems I’ve ever read: ‘In Memory of My Furlings.’ Fitch’s poem’s title puns on O’Hara’s mid-century classic, ‘In Memory of My Feelings’ (it is referred to as a ‘ghosting of’ the earlier poem in the notes). The first line, for instance, parodies O’Hara’s original, which begins:

My quietness has a man in it, he is transparent
and he carries me quietly, like a gondola, through the streets.

While Fitch, clearly availing himself of the pretext, has:

My anxiety has a dog in it, she’s opaque
and drags me slowly, like a creaky ship, through the CBD.

‘Furlings’ is not a dictionary word. The sense that it is the positive of the more common negative, ‘unfurlings’ (again not normally pluralised), is confirmed by the poem’s closing reference to ‘the furlings and unfurlings’. As a conventional verb ‘furl’ means to gather a sail, and that’s a nice enough image, for the wrapping up of a quasi-narrative poem, in O’Hara’s ‘I do this, I do that,’ mode, where ‘this and that’ are not the doings – like driving or playing with dogs – we are used to in the New York poet’s poems. ‘Furled’ has a queer, nineteenth-century precedent in Michael Field’s diary verse, dedicated to that parodist bird, the cuckoo:

I hear thine iterating Voice in flight,
While in the hedgerow other song is furled:
To rise like thee! To take my range of light,
And spread unravished echoes through the world!

Here the cuckoo’s copy-song takes precedent over the furling original. An instant memory: of another’s furling. The speaker appears to identify with the hedge song, while aspiring to be a greater echo. The copy, ironically but logically, has the distributive advantage. The more we consider the term, the less it seems like a jokey parody of ‘feelings’, but rather an operable word for poetics discussion, a metaphor for throwing our ideas to the wind, and having them take shape to sail with, and not be lost.

Wikipedia suggests further furling possibilities. Furlings are the names of characters from a 1993 children’s animation film, Once Upon a Forest, one Fitch might conceivably have watched. That, in the movie, furlings are the name for ‘animal children’ seems apt for the poem. The plot concerns four furlings of different species who are caught up in a chemical spill disaster. Rotten Tomatoes’ Critics Consensus says of it, ‘Inert animation and generically chipper characters rob Once Upon a Forest of any personality despite its well-intentioned message and critter appeal for very young children’. Furlings are also characters in Stargate, the sci-fi TV series (1997-2007). In the show, Furlings are one of the four great races of the Stargate universe (humans aspiring to be the fifth). The mystery of the nature of the Furlings becomes a ‘running gag’, and they are not depicted until the tenth season, and even then the depiction is highly mediated: they appear within ‘an imagined scene from a movie script based on the fictional television series ‘Wormhole X-Treme!’, a parody of Stargate SG-1 set in the Stargate SG-1 universe’. They are ‘depicted as Ewok-like, or Koala-like creatures that are destroyed by the Goa’uld’ (snakelike aliens).

This level of allusion and parody seems to fit with the Fitch universe, as well as broaden the possibilities of reading character in poems. His speaker says of their selves: ‘They won’t find each other/ any more than my others’ll find me, each of us/in our respective wormholes’. It’s not that I’m trying to persuade myself, or any reader, of the influence, or pastiche, or modelling, of such narratives in Fitch’s poem. Rather, I’m indicating that there is a difference between thinking poems, in relation to speculative spaces, or universes, contemporarily, and that of the available thinking of the mid-twentieth century before the advent of the internet. While much has been made of the internet as a space for presenting poetry, connecting poetry and poets, and as an archival and storage resource, it has also provided a ready analogy for a space analogical to the imaginative or conceptual one of the poem.

Poets have had millennia to write poems in relation to the sky – albeit the advent of astronomy, for one thing, shifts the perspective of what the sky is. A sonnet of fragments, ‘Bear the Sky’, provides us momentarily with a langpo-babytalk (‘bubble headed pencil tail’) mix. Again, Fitch’s poems emerge from his relation to other people’s discourse, or pretext: whether in talk, or writing, or song. The following ‘Argo Notes’ (referred to as calligrammes, another nod to Apollinaire) is, riskily enough, a series of poems that point to bodies, pregnancy, selves, gender, and affects: following Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts.As shapes they might be said to queer form (‘1’ ends with ‘queer as pregnancy itself’), or expand, extend it, as different things, like foetuses, do to bodies.

It raises the question of how normative this poetry – this poetics – is in the context of Empire, this overtaking, troping, colonising? Or to frame it slightly differently, how do these networked compositions present in terms of attracted bodies (borrowing from Sara Ahmed) here? It seems to me to depend at what time in the process the reader enters. To flay French texts has its precedent in Brennan, and to continually raid the golden fleece of ‘Un Coup de Dés’ might be seen as homage to Brennan as much as to Mallarmé: it can also be seen as practice, apprenticeship. If we approach the queer representatives of Empire: O’Hara, Ashbery, and Nelson, as explicit examples in Where Only the Sky, does that create a form of transnational queer solidarity that challenges Empire in any way (perhaps ignoring its right to exist, as Ashbery said of O’Hara’s politics), or is it to merely to practice the collusion of consumption? What attracts us, as readers? It is perhaps up to us to read non-normatively, if we want to queer Imperial Poetics. At the very least, Fitch demonstrates how texts are also pretexts, and, as bodies, that their forms are not any more determined than our own.

The original Argonauts myth is about theft, and sovereignty, but not, obviously at least, about colonisation. Ships also become different shapes as they move, furl sails, or wreck. Each poem within the sequence suggests a morphing stanza, and could appear so if the poem was on a large poster rather than sequential pages. In Bloom’s terms, Fitch’s skirmishes – or huntings – he has a dog in his anxiety, after all – with such pretexts, might, I think, refer to either of the figures of clinamen, or kenosis, in that Fitch evades the ultimate precursor (being Mallarmé) to dally with less overwhelming opponents. Or pit them against each other: Ashbery against Borges for example, in a poem where the title is represented by a black rectangle, as if it has been redacted.The opening line puns on both blindness and (being) lit (‘you wake up blind like in so many lit scenarios’), affirming the title’s suggestion of blackout and darkness; of an unlit room, of sleep’s closed eyes and the seal of dreams.

The poem combines spaces, that of a ‘room’ and a ‘dream’. Here Fitch revives the trope of the ‘room w/in a room’ not just combined with the alternate space of the dream, but also with (or against) virtual spaces: ‘peeps in other rooms … a set of avatars to be friends w/ across all social media platforms’. This ups the ante of the infinite to the meta-infinite, or of parallel, or mixed infinities, possibly. While rooms within rooms might seem like a dream or videogame concept, it takes on relative materiality when we consider that the virtual realm largely happens within rooms: and gives us a concrete example of a room within a room. Fitch further represents such replicating occupations in composing the poem through parenthesised statements within parenthesised statements: ‘(as in a room w/in a room (as in a treasure-house of darkness))’. Roughly half-way through, the statements build up to a statement requiring seven closed parentheses:

now (or of celebrities who won the internet (w/perfectly timed
tweets that summed up what most people felt
about the latest trends in intersectional social activism)))))))

 and then rebuilding towards the end of the poem to fifteen:

(as if your eyes are in cahoots
w/ the dream of the room w/in a room w/in a treasure-house
of lightness (wave upon wave of it)))))))))))))))

‘Is there room in the room that you room in?’ we might ask, citing Ted Berrigan’s meme-ish line, from The Sonnets. The line is referred to by Yasmin Shamma as one of Berrigan’s ‘subversions’; commenting on the effect of its recurrence in Berrigan’s sequence that: ‘the unavailability of rooms is felt, alongside the crowdedness of the existing rooms’. In John Steen’s therapeutically framed argument, the line becomes a ‘contagion’: he writes, ‘Far from containing his aggression and reparation in self-sufficient poems, Berrigan attempted elaborate renovation of existing poetic rooms … and in making room for himself and in inviting others into his space Berrigan’s collages [i.e. the collaged form of The Sonnets] reveal the circulations of an affective environment unlike any other’. Ken Bolton also cites this line more than once, and perhaps inevitably, takes it less seriously than Shamma or Steen, rephrasing it in ‘An Empty Space For Us’, from Untimely Meditations as: ‘“there is room/ in the room the I room in” (joke). Room everywhere’; and quotes it again, for instance, in The Circus, where an elephant sings the line in a dream(!). Is there room in the poem that you poem in asks Fitch? Let’s find out, Fitch replies.

In his introductory discussion of German-Swedish writer and artist Peter Weiss’s three-volume novel The Aesthetics of Resistance, Fredric Jameson indicates the importance of rooms for Weiss. Weiss painted or drew ‘virtually every room he dwelt in over the course of his life’. Weiss’s use of collage – that art of putting in more than there’s room for – as both playwright and artist – forms the background of the discussion. Jameson writes:

The portrait of the room thus becomes a virtual genre in the framework of a work whose originality was, among other things, to have modified any number of traditional genres in idiosyncratic and profoundly meaningful ways. To memorialize your daily life in the form of the room is certainly to say something significant about that daily life … it is to produce a new category … Not to amass materials in view of some future account of a life, then, so much as to underscore some new conception of a life as the story of a movement from room to room ….

In the novel, the movement from room to room, in the context of clandestine political activity, is not just a version of homelessness, but of secrecy, where people in rooms of a dwelling do not necessarily know of the existence of other rooms – or their residents. There is also a teleological tendency, as Jameson notes, towards the final room of the cell: or, as Fitch’s poem ends, ‘it’s a black hole and it sucks you in’.

Reading and writing are bodies within bodies and rooms within each other. Fitch’s poetry is exemplary in terms of showing us the possibilities – and impossibilities (like reading in a dark room, like being in spaces we aren’t) – of the reading/writing (or pretext/text) relation. But there is no separate room or compartment where we house our reading: writing brings back all kinds of memories of mental and affective experience, including those involving digital forms, and material art. There is nowhere to draw the line, either, between reading and other life experience. Reading can open up possibilities beyond life experience: not least science fiction, which is easy enough to index through the impersonal tone of a humanoid or robot, or through absurd corporate names (‘Occupy the Sky’s ‘Upper Echelons Inc.’), or through representing technological realities which seem beyond present capacities. While science fiction narratives create worlds, poets are under no obligation to do this, and so can mix temporalities and realities within a poem. Time and perception can be collaged in ways that fiction (or film) rarely attempt. This poetic approach need only be confusing if we insist on personae, or a consistent perspective: a self-identical voice. But Fitch’s poems counter that the personal is not consistent or able to be reduced to one perspective (‘anxiety has a dog in it’: or, to cite Ashbery, from ‘This Room’, the poem used by Fitch, ‘The oval portrait/ of a dog was me at an early age.’). ‘“Being” means participating in multiplicity’, as Antonio Negri has it.

The poem ‘Fractoidal’ is largely constituted through bringing multiple aspects of information into relation through punning: on fracture, fractal, fracking. While at some level such poems might appear manically encyclopedic – if not totalising – they need have no end – and cannot, it appears, refrain from the French, or, to me, specifically Bretonesque image: ‘A blue whale’s heart is the size of a Volkswagen’; or the more Dadaist ‘poetry is a person on fire’). The image of the whale demonstrates how surrealism links to older image practices, such as the riddle, and joke: if ‘A blue whale’s heart is the size of a Volkswagen’ what colour is the Volkswagen? The image functions as a conceptual pun.

Traditionally, poems are constituted through extant tropes, such as metaphor, irony, metonym, hyperbole, bathos, etcetera. However much Where Only the Sky may rely upon Google, Fitch is, arguably, more in love with pattern, and with troping – the pun, in particular – than with information, or even concept. As ‘Fractoidal’ demonstrates, puns can be highly mobilising aids to critique, and in using puns to jump considerations like theme and linearity, they model game movement.

Puns morph language – are a kind of sound metaphor. They enable irony and enrich a poetic text. The poetic system seems, in this as in many other instances, to operate separately from other currents. That puns, as a form of wordplay, enable poetry, and need not be comedic, is not something considered by a 2015 article in The Atlantic, ‘Why Do Puns Make People Groan?’ which discusses the opposition of haters and supporters of puns. Despite citing both the punning Shakespeare and the anti-punning Samuel Johnson, the contemporary focus is on Twitter, and on puns as jokes. In other words, on the staged pun, rather than the pun which creates movement: Fitch’s poem, ‘Cultivate A New Foot’, complexly puns on types of movement, such as growing or metrical composition; another – ‘Life Stream’ – mocks the digital movement of contemporary life..

Earlier I floated the notion that, in Bloom’s terms, Fitch might be seen as practising a version of clinamen or kenosis – two of Bloom’s six strategic categories of overcoming a precursor poet. Yet I think we might also consider yet another, which Bloom refers to as daemonization: in this scenario, Fitch manipulates the pun as a trope – or power –that is greater than either Mallarmé or Ashbery. While the puns in Ashbery’s poetry are not outside of comedy, nor immune from being groaned at by self-conscious critics;,the more generous Bloom refers to an instance of an Ashbery pun as being ‘sublime’. Fitch’s puns are not embedded in his poems in the way that Ashbery’s interpreters find his to be, but work, rather, as explicit compositional devices: less ruminative, more structuring, a ‘counter-sublime’

One of many articles written about tropes (in the sense of clichés) in hip-hop notes that, the form ‘was born out of re-inventing pre-existing works of art’. The pretexts of hip-hop are not necessarily other hip-hop tracks, or even other songs (the movie Scarface is one cliché example)any more than a Fitch poem necessarily relies on a poem as pretext (e.g., the insurance claim form that became ‘Occupy the Sky’). Hip-hop could also be said to be carrying on a troping conversation, if not campaign, with peers as well as precursors. If we consider wordplay as a synonym for troping, then the revisions and corrections of hip-hop’s arguments become just one aspect of the compositional repertoire. Along with puns, for example. Not that hip-hop isn’t immune to groaners, like Tyler, The Creator’s ‘I’m not gay, I just wanna boogie to some Marvin’, a ‘great example’ according to Da’Shan Smith, or Travis Scott’s ‘It’s summer time, why they tryna throw shade?’, which Preezy thinks one of the twenty best lyrics from his Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight album – but not the line itself – rather, its place as introducing a long ‘a’ sound series of half-rhymes. Wittier, as a stand-alone pun, is Lil Wayne’s ‘I’m so fly watch out fa the power lines’ – but perhaps, again, it is the half-rhyme that makes it.

Rappers have the advantage of delivery: the pun is jammed between other forms of wordplay, so we don’t have time to predict a line – or to groan, before the next line comes. Tyler the Creator’s throwaway sexuality reference emphasises that aspect of the meaning, for those who care, rather than the line as a line. This trope-jamming is the impossibility that Fitch reaches for on the page. An instructional video on YouTube, ‘A Simple Way to Master Wordplay in Rap’, demonstrates how a rap can be composed through literalising a ‘common saying’ by inventing a ‘creative context’, and then adding rhymes. As in poetry, puns in hip-hop can frame a song through a (possibly pretextual) title: like Lil Uzi Vert’s funny ‘Strawberry Peels’ (feat. Gunna and Young Thug). ‘Rebel Without A Pause’, Public Enemy’s brilliant, major, pun, and song-title, does not ‘foreground’ its cinematic pretext – that’s the whole point. It does not need to, but rather lets the titles of the song and the film function as representative, opposed, concepts: the reified sentiments of mid-century white Hollywood jadedness versus a contemporary, ironically aggressive, black street aesthetic annihilation (male in both cases). As dynamic as the lyrics are, the title alone functions as devastating cultural critique. That is what a trope, at its best, can do.

Works Cited

Sara Ahmed. Queer Phenomenology: Orientations, Objects, Others. Duke University Press, 2006.

John Ashbery. ‘This Room’. Notes from the Air: Selected Later Poems. The Ecco Press, 2007.

Ulrich Baer. Remnants of Song: Trauma and the Experience of Modernity in Charles Baudelaire and Paul Celan. Stanford University Press, 2000.

Ted Berrigan. The Sonnets. United Artists Books, 1982.

Harold Bloom. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. Oxford University Press, 1997.

—. ‘The Breaking of Form.’ In Bloom, ed. Deconstruction and Criticism. Seabury, 1979.

Ken Bolton. The Circus. Wakefield Press, 2010.

—. Untimely Meditations. Wakefield Press, 1997.

Christopher Brennan. Musicopoematographoscope & Pocket Musicopoematographoscope. Ed. Axel Clark. Sydney: Hale & Ironmonger, 1981.

Joseph Conrad. The Selected Letters of Joseph Conrad. Laurence Davies, ed. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Colin Dyer. The French Explorers and the Aboriginal Australians 1772-1839. University of Queensland Press, 2005.

Chris Edwards. A Fluke: A Mistranslation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s ‘Un Coup de Dés’ With Parallel French Pretext. Monogene, 2005

Michael Farrell. ‘Contra Empire: Unsettlement and Contemporary Australian Poetics’. Cátedra Abierta en Homenaje a Roberto Bolaño. Universidad Diego Portales. YouTube, 22 June 2018.

Michael Field, cited in Yopi Prins. Victorian Sappho. Princeton UP, 1999.

Toby Fitch ‘Aussi / Or: Un Coup de dés and Mistranslation in the Antipodes’. Cordite Poetry Review, 1 May 2019.

—. The Bloomin’ Notions of Other and Beau. Vagabond, 2016.

Faye Flam. ‘Satellites are Changing the Night Sky as We Know It’. The Star ePaper.

John Hawke. Australian Literature and the Symbolist Movement. University of Wollongong Press, 2009.

Oli Hazzard. John Ashbery and Anglo-American Exchange: The Minor Eras. Oxford University Press, 2018.

Fredric Jameson. ‘Foreword: A Monument to Radical Instants’. vii-xlix. Peter Weiss. The Aesthetics of Resistance. Trans. Joachim Neugroschel. Duke UP, 2005.

Roland-François Lack. Poetics of the Pretext: Reading Lautréamont. University of Exter Press, 1998.

Daniel Kane. ‘Reading John Ashbery’s The Tennis Court Oath through Man Ray’s eye’. Textual Practice, 21:3, 551-575, 2007.

Lil Uzi Vert. ‘Strawberry Peels’, on Eternal Atake. Gerneration Now; Atlantic, 6 Mar 2020.

Lil Wayne. ‘Cash Money Millionaires’, on Tha Carter. Cash Money; Universal, 29 June 2004.

Robert McLaughlin Bible Ministries. ‘The Gosple of Jesus Christ is written in the stars’.

Antonio Negri. Subversive Spinoza: (Un)contemporary Variations. Ed. Timothy S. Murphy; trans. Timothy S. Murphy, Michael Hardt, Ted Stolze and Charles T. Wolfe. Manchester University Press, 2004.

Frank O’Hara. ‘In Memory of My Feelings.’ The Selected Poems of Frank O’Hara. Ed. Donald Allen. Vintage, 1973.

Marjorie Perloff. Unoriginal Genius: Poetry by Other Means in the New Century. University of Chicago Press, 2010.

Preezy. ‘20 of the Best Lyrics From Travis Scott’s Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight Album’. XXL 6 September 2016.

Public Enemy. ‘Rebel Without a Pause’, on It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. Def Jam, 28 July, 1987.

Rapping Manual. ‘A Simple Way to Master Wordplay in Rap’. 20 March 2018, YouTube.

Rotten Tomatoes. ‘Critics Consensus.’ https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/once_upon_a_forest

Yasmine Shamma. Spatial Poetics: Second Generation New York School Poetry. Oxford University Press, 2018.

Da’Shan Smith. ‘A Rap Playbook: 26 great examples of lyrical wordplay’. Revolt. 6 September 2018.

John Steen. Affect, Psychoanalysis, and American Poetry: This Feeling of Exaltation. Bloomsbury, 2018.

Leo Steinberg. The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion. University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Leo N. Tolstoy. What is Art? Trans. Almyer Maude. Macmillan Publishing, 1985.

John Tranter. ‘Brennan’s Tinker’s Damn.’ Jacket 29. Republication of review originally published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 9 January 1982. http://jacketmagazine.com/29/musicopoem-rev.html

Rosanna Warren. ‘Orpheus the Painter: Apollinaire and Robert Delaunay’, in James McCorkle, ed. Conversant Essays: Contemporary Poets on Poetry. Wayne State University Press, 1990.

Published May 11, 2020
Part of Juncture: JUNCTURE is a fellowship program presenting a series of new essays on Australian and international literature by leading critics.  All Juncture essays →
Michael Farrell

Michael Farrell is the author of Writing Australian Unsettlement: Modes of Poetic Invention 1796-1945...

Essays by Michael Farrell →