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Arp on Arp: Poems, Essays, Memories by Jean Arp

Tuesday, May 24, 2011 § 1

Arp on Arp:  A Masterful Collection of Sublime Dadaist Concrete Poetic Text(ures) 

A Book Review by 
David Detrich

Arp on Arp: Poems, Essays, Memories (1972) by Jean Arp is a collection of poetic writings which span the decades from the youthful exuberance of 1920s Dada, through the more mature years of Surrealism, and finally to the innovative 1960s. This large hardback book features abstract drawings that enhance the esthetic appreciation for the art and poetry of Jean Arp in this edition edited by Marcel Jean. Published in the Documents of 20th Century Art series, edited by Robert Motherwell, and translated by Joachim Neugroschel, the poetic writings of Jean Arp impress the reader with the wit and sophisticated techniques of the art conscious Dadaist poet. We find that Jean Arp is one of the most intelligent poets of the 20th Century, writing with a conscious effort to preserve esthetic sincerity, while expressing a subtle Dadaist sense of humor. Arp on Arp: Poems, Essays, Memories is where the reader will find a life's work in one monumental volume, a masterwork of sublime Dadaist concrete poetics. 

The Manifesto of the Dada Crocodarium (1920) is a short manifesto written in Jean Arp's early style with phrases such as "long live DADA," which begin the trend of youthful exuberance that culminated in Paris Dada: with manifestoes from Tristan Tzara and André Breton, during the decade when theatrical performances created the divergence of Dada into Surrealism.

The poetic writing  from The Cloud Pump (1920), a series of poems written in unpunctuated prose, has the charm of open syntax, a style with a free flowing sense of syntactical structure, that has been developed by other writers of the 20th Century avant garde including: Pablo Picasso, James Joyce, Philippe Sollers, Ronald Sukenick, and Raymond Federman.

in january graphite snows into the goat’s skin in february the bouquet of chalk-white light and white stars appears in march the destroying angel is in heat and the tiles and butterflies flutter by and the stars rock in their rings and the catchwind flowers rattle their chains and the princesses sing in their fog pots who chase on little fingers and wings the morning winds
                                                           The Cloud Pump
                                                           Jean Arp

The metaphor found in the phrase “graphite snows into the goat’s skin” verges on nonsense, yet the mind could imagine a subtle eroticism where “graphite” could be the artist’s pencil, and “snows into the goat’s skin” may represent the skin of the narrator. When the reader imagines these painterly images, one might think of an abstract painting where this image could occur, and the interpretation of these subtle metaphors is similar to the interpretation of modern abstract art.

The artist’s perspective appears in the phrase “the bouquet of chalk-white light and white stars,” which is a visionary abstraction which reminds one of white pastel chalk, and “the destroying angel is in heat” refers to the hierarchy of angels. As I write this essay "the destroying angel" appears in the sense of the pluspresent: when tornadoes and tsunami waves appear as anarchic acts of destruction to our world, which we are trying to defend. “And the stars rock in their rings” is an erotic image that is preceded by “butterflies,” where the poet imagines princesses “who chase on little fingers and wings the morning winds," lines which remind the reader of futuristic erotic images, with rock music perceived from the viewpoint of the voyeur.

Arp wrote The Cloud Pump, a volume of poems that he handed to me personally upon arriving in Berlin in the early twenties. The poems are well formed and full of an ardent joy of colors: they reveal a sense of humor that, never turns monstrous although bordering on the grotesque. Arp aims at totality, depth, essence.
                                                          Memoirs of a 
                                                          Dada Drummer
                                                          Richard Huelsenbeck

The poetic works of Jean Arp are of the finest in modern poetry, with the reaching of metaphor to even the most distant comparison, in a way that the informed reader will recognize as relevant to the moment of writing: the finest comparisons as an exalted poetics. His works imply a futurist esthetic with the use of the double word: a genetic linking of concepts into a new species, defining the sentence structures that we may perceive in the future of poetry, with a more complex meaning appearing in a given sentence. This richness is what attracts many readers to the works of Jean Arp, the Dadaists, Pablo Picasso, and the Surrealist novels, which follow the lines of complex verbal abstraction in the final decades of 20th Century literary development.

sings into the mouth of the goblet the secret that takes its siesta spread out at the bottom which if the white dissolves in such a pale blue it dissolves it sighs in the rose and in ecstasy the yellow faints floats its image in the zephyr and the cambric and a scent of violets and sways along when the clock moves its spider legs to catch a fly 
                                                        The Burial of the Count
                                                        of Orgaz and other poems
                                                        Pablo Picasso

The poetic texts of Pablo Picasso have evolved from the early writings of Jean Arp, a trend which has inspired my own novel-in-progress entitled The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending, which has the esthetic look of concrete poetry, and with the visual design of a novel written in minimal squares of unpunctuated prose. The innovative novel has learned from the writings of the artists, who are aware of the esthetic theories which produce visual images that parallel the abstract writing of the contemporary avant garde novel.

The Three Exemplary Novels (1935) by Hans Arp and Vicente Huidobro feature the Dadaist humor that describes the hermaphroditic globules which may be a product of the future technology, and the collaboration between the two writers has produced literary witticisms that follow the lines of Jean Arp's original esthetic theory: Dada rejects art, and follows nature. This may symbolize the split between the artist and anti-artist, the sophistication of the true artist, or the rebellion against art by the anti-artist.

From The Man Who Lost His Skeleton (1939) is a collaborative novel by Jean Arp, Leonora Carrington, Marcel Duchamp, Paul Eluard, Max Ernst, Georges Hugnet, Henri Pastoureau, Gisèle Prassinos, et al. Chapter Four: The Skeleton on Vacation by Jean Arp shows the influence of Surrealism on the modern novel, with the absurdity of the youthful energies of Dada having evolved into the more accomplished work of the Surrealists in the decades of the 1930s.

The important element introduced then by Arp was “humor” in its subtlest form: the kind of whimsical conceptions that gave to the Dada Movement such an exuberant liveliness as opposed to the purely intellectual tendencies of Cubism and Expressionism... For Arp, art is Arp.
                                                 Marcel Duchamp
                                                 From the Catalog Collection
                                                 of the Société Anonyme 1949

Arp on Arp: Poems, Essays, Memories by Jean Arp shows the development of one of the 20th Century's most artistic poets, whose avant garde writing has the sense of humor and innovative intelligence that make this monumental collection worthy of continued critical attention, and esthetic interpretation.

David Detrich lives in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where he has just completed The Convergence of Two Narrative Lines Ascending, an ultramodern Surrealist novel written in minimal squares. He is working on Dream the Presence of the Circular Breast Starfish Topography, a monumental Surrealist novel written with innovative typographical design. His first novel Big Sur Marvels & Wondrous Delights (2001) is available from Amazon. He is the editor of Innovative Fiction Magazine and Surrealist Star Clustered Illuminations.

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