English 619:003 / Spring 2005 / Susan Tichy / George Mason University



COLLAGE ««««««« Week 3 Feb 8

Poem Material: Canceled Text


What to do before today:

Poem from cut-up round-robin (begun in class last week)

What to read before today:

Tom Phillips: A Humument

This link shows scanned pages from the book. Read as many as you can, and read some chunks of the book in order -- it does tell a story.

At this site, read some of the essays, particularly Daniel Traister's essays "Tom Phillips & A Humument" and "W.H. Mallock & A Human Document." At their Bookstore page you can also buy a copy of A Humument.

A Book of the Book: Phillips:
Notes on A Humument
Derrida on Jabes

Bookstore Reader: 
Hayles: "A Humument as Technotext" (essay)
Johnson: "Radi Os" (a canceled text poem created from Milton's Paradise Lost)

Cobb: "J Poems" (canceling your own text)

Class Photocopies, Pack 2:

An interview with Ronald Johnson, which includes remarks on the writing of RADI OS

And these notes from Mark Scroggins

What we'll do in class / what to bring:

DO: At 7:30, poets from last year's CVC class will visit & bring a few of their poems & projects.

In the second half of class we'll discuss canceled text as a radical form of foregrounding, as a way of creating absence or silence, as a way of compressing, as a visual form, and more. We'll consider the differences between creating new work from a canonical text vs. creating new work from an obscure text, and contrast both to cancellation of a self-made text.

We may have time for a brief workshop of round-robin poems.

For Next Week:

Draft of a poem from canceled text.
Start an altered book.

Here are a few notes by Mark Scroggins', from his essay
"A Fragmentary Poetics (Part Two)"

on the site of The Cultural Society, whose home page may be found here:


Overwriting and crossing out are mirror-image routes to the poetry of the fragment. The English artist Tom Phillips paints over pages of W. H. Mallock's Victorian novel A Human Document to produce his A Humument. Phillips's pages are shimmering with color, pictures, and designs. And on each page, a few words of Mallock's text have been preserved, floating like speech balloons in a Bill Sienkewicz comic book. But the words are joined together by minute umbilici, so that the reader is led from one to the next as overtly as David Hume, with a most un-Scottish geniality, leads you from clause to clause, proposition to conclusion. Phillips claims that there's a narrative here, its protagonist a chap named "Toge" (he can only appear, of course, when Mallock has used the word "together" or "altogether"). I don’t know — I'd rather attend to the interplay of word and design in A Humument. Blake rewrote Milton twice, once by illustrating him, and once by making him the protagonist of an illuminated poem in which the author of Paradise Lost appears (quite un-Puritanically) in the nude. Phillips has rewritten Mallock's A Human Document by making its forgotten narrative into a succession of dazzling poem-illustrations, kin to Blake's composite art.

Ronald Johnson’s Radi Os rewrites the first four books of Paradise Lost by simply erasing most of their words. They remain naked on the page, still in their 1892 typeface (what coincidence caused both Phillips and Johnson to choose books published in that year?), sprinkled like the sparagmatic words of Mallarmé's Un coup de dès. They are fragments in perhaps the purest sense, though Milton's high diction and lofty rhetoric, perforce the only vocabulary Johnson has allowed himself, impose a certain cohesiveness of "poetic" tone upon them, as well as allowing Johnson an ample word-hoard for his favored themes of light and cosmology. But in their scattering, they do not submit to the same hypotactic unity imposed on the words that escape Phillips's overpainting.

                                                      on the vast
          Say first —

Our top-down habits of reading would render these lines "outspread, on the vast Illumine, I Say first —." But our left-to-right habits (by no means inevitable ones — Leonardo, like all writers of Hebrew, wrote right-to-left, and some scripts are written boustrophedron, reversing direction at the end of each line) render them "Illumine, on the vast outspread, I Say first —."Johnson has rewritten Paradise Lost into a transcendentalist celebration of mind, eye, cosmos, and artistic power, in the process losing the whole narrative machinery of Satan, God, and their respective cohorts. But he has also opened Milton's text — or those fragments of Milton's text he has retained — to a fertile syntactic and semantic undecidability, an opportunity for words to interact with their neighbors in ways completely foreign to the seventeenth-century poet.