Thou art an O without a figure ... thou art nothing.
I was reminded of those quotations from T S Eliot's The Waste Land and Shakespeare's Lear when looking at Jeremy Over's poem, 'Kenneth Koch Uncorked', in his new volume Fur Coats in Tahiti. I say 'looking' rather than 'reading' because the poem consists of ten pages of apparently randomly placed letters and those letters are all 'O's!
What are these 'O's? I wondered. Little circles, like corks (I liked that title with the pun on Koch and cork). Or, like bubbles, from an uncorked bottle of fizz.
I turned to the back of the book for help - "'Kenneth Koch uncorked' is an erasure of the first ten pages of Kenneth Koch's When the Sun Tries to Go On, leaving just the explanatory 'O's."
Did this help? Well, a bit ...
I overlapped with Jeremy at the Cumbria Poets' Workshop for a while. His poems were clever, witty, playful, surreal. It would be an understatement to call them experimental.
So the poem is an erasure poem. There's one in Jeremy's previous collection Deceiving Wild Creatures. It's called 'Delight in order' and is subtitled 'Erased Herrick'. Robert Herrick's poem (published 1648) is 'Delight in Disorder' in which the poet delights in his mistress's dishevelled attire. But in Jeremy's poem the words themselves are undressed from the original poem leaving a new bizarre poem behind. Here is the first verse:
But back to the uncorked poem. For those of us still mystified about all those 'O's Jeremy has helpfully put something on the Carcanet blog (see below). The whole poem is printed there. The blog post starts off with Jeremy feeding paper through a musical box - playing the 'O's! I can hear the rustle of paper as well as the tinkle of the single notes. I'm not sure I can follow the poem as score but it's a fun idea. Also on the blog is a very helpful explanation of erasure poems and of this poem in particular. My bubbles were a good guess, but I could have had suns too!
But is it poetry, you ask? Well, you can always think of it as a poetic installation!