Sunday, March 29, 2009

First word, most expensive word

Missed this the first time around: Ian Daly’s great piece on Aram Saroyan’s deployment of what he termed “The Most Expensive Word in History,” a poem that reads, in its entirety, thus:


Saroyan published it in the Chicago Review in 1966 and a year later, George Plimpton put in The American Literary Anthology, which entitled the poem to a $750 check from the NEA. Also outrage from U.S. Representative William Scherle and, as always, the redoubtable Jesse Helms. The NEA (full history here) had to send the deputy chairperson before Congress to explain the poem. I imagine he did a better job than Plimpton, who answered one Congressman by saying, “You are from the Midwest. You are culturally deprived, so you would not understand it anyway.” I love you, George, but have ya heard of audience there, pal?

[Lighght called to mind Kenneth Patchen’s more elaborate (but not by much) “The Murder Of Two Men By A Young Kid Wearing Lemon Colored Gloves,” which consists of the word “Wait” randomly repeated 14 times, followed by a “NOW.” There is a sound recording with Patchen backed by the Chamber Jazz Sextet (Patchen also got to read with Mingus and had a play scored by John Cage, that lucky devil).]

All of this makes me very happy. That one word--and not even an obscene one--could make a lot of money and a lot of controversy seems a testament to the fact that poetry (even in miniature amounts) invokes some kind of quantum syntax.

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