To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Anselm Hollo: Six from Arno Holz's “Phantasus”

I want to know all the secrets!

All the stars with roiling seas I scoop up into my palm.

Waves revolve into my dreams,
and I am delighted by the smallest nest
a pair of swallows builds
under my eaves.

The quietest chirp from it
touches my heart!

I lie between dark mirror walls.

Green glittering star fish,
eyes that stare
a huge skate opens wide its maw.

A push, and they shine!

Through a red coral forest sails a silver moon fish!

I recline
and suck on my water pipe.


Seven billion years before I was born
I was an Iris.

My roots
drove themselves down
into a star.

On its dark waters
my gigantic
blue flower


Somewhere in the backwoods of India
I must have lived, somehow, somewhen.

A small percentage of myself
contributed to the creation of Gautama Buddha,
and even tonight, in a dream
when I can't quite control him,
he drinks his palm wine
from a rhino horn.


Don't try to listen for hidden meanings. Don't strain to know. Don't try to find yourself.

You don't exist!

You are the evanescent blue smoke that curls out of your cigar
the drop of water that struck the window pane
the quietly crackling song your lamp sings through the silence.


He can't stand the twittering of birds.

The so-called natural songs of nightingales and larks
disgust him.

His brain
is lined
wall to wall
with cotton balls.

In the center
squats a tiny Rococo Venus
and pees out of her silver bladder
into a golden chamber pot.


by Jerome Rothenberg & Jeffrey Robinson
"You revolutionize an art only by revolutionizing its means. And again: To allow words their original values, without inflating or bronzing or wrapping them in cotton balls, that is the whole secret. (Both quotes from A.H. in his notes to Phantasus, 1898) Or his quasi-mathematical definition of “art”: Kunst = Natur – x.”

(1) He was, according to the great twentieth-century German experimentalist Helmut Heissenbüttel, an artist-of-the-word who drew first from Heine’s materialist aesthetic, then went beyond it into a new aesthetic of the word (Wortkunst). His objective, on the level of language, was “[a] poetry that abandons all musical use of words as an end in itself, that purely formally is carried only by a rhythm vivified by what strives for expression through it.” The shape of his poems on the page is immediately striking – a “middle-axis poetry” (Mittelachsenverse), in which all the lines of a poem are typographicaly centered & resemble on a first viewing the structures of a late twentieth-century poet like Michael McClure or, by a further stretch, the mesostics & centered writings of John Cage. What may be less obvious is that Holz’s invented form became for him, as with McClure & Cage, the vehicle for a new stance-toward-reality – a konsequenter Naturalismus (consistent naturalism) he called it – that underlay & determined his choice of language (demotic) & content (simultaneously quotidian & historically referential). Holz’s own early work, aside from the beginnings of his multi-volume long poem Phantasus (a major breakthrough & the foreshadowing of a new genre), included a book of short prose sketches, Papa Hamlet (with Johannes Schlaf, 1889); the drama Die Familie Selicke (also with Schlaf, 1890); Die Kunst – ihr Wesen und ihre Gesetze [writings on art] (1891); & a theoretical work, Revolution der Lyrik (1899). Increasingly experimental in his later writings (Phatasus would expand to 60,000 lines by 1925 & show a Pound-like ambition to write a “Weltgedicht: a Nuova-Divinia after Dante or Über-Odysee after Homer”), he reemerges today as a still vital linking figure across the nineteenth- & twentieth-century divide.

(2) “Holz not only replaced rhyme with a number of acoustic effects; he also asked ‘why the eye should not have its particular pleasures in the printed type of a poem.’ These pleasures are not miniature images of Man and World, but rather (as if they were calculated on the tachistoscope) ergonomically optimal uses of reading time. Beginning in 1897, Holz typographically centered the lines of his poetry for physiological reading ease. ‘If I left the axis at the beginning of the line, rather than in the middle, the eye would always be forced to travel twice as far.’ What the verses have in view, then, are not readers and their understanding, but eyes and their psychophysics, in other words: ‘Movements of matter, which are not subject to the laws of intelligence and for that reason are much more significant.’ Holz’s Phantasus, rather than addressing fantasy as the surrogate of all senses in the finest romantic manner, reckons with unconscious optokinetics.” (From Friedrich Kittler, Discourse Networks, 1800/1900, translated by Michael Metteer)
Further translations from Holz's Phantasus -- those by David Dodd -- can be found at


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Anonymous said...


Can you provide a reference source for Holz's use of typographic innovation (i.e., poetry without capitalization or punctuation, variance of word spacing to signify pauses)?