Thursday, December 20, 2012

Review of Stroud's Alphabet Soup & Soundpaths

Stroud is a poet, director, actor, teacher, and performance artist in Northern Ohio. He’s also the publisher of HobGob Press, a micro-press devoted to experimental writing. Lots of presses claim to be experimental, but Stroud truly lives up to this claim. The two collections I’ve read of his are very disparate, but very unique. I read a lot of poetry, but Stroud’s work truly stands out as something different.

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Alphabet Soup, by Stroud. Ohio, HobGob Press, 2012.

I can’t exactly call this a poetry collection, but rather perhaps it’s one long poem. What Stroud has done, here, is collect words and phrases in seemingly random order, broken with spaces, line breaks, and tabs. But amongst the chaos, patterns and meaning appear. Stroud urges the reader to use these words and phrases “when you need them. May you find meaning in chaos.” Stroud’s placement does imply order, at times, though. “Time tells/a/binary/such a passion behind it/it is a job/everyday/Pull me//This is permanent/you know?” he says near the beginning. It’s easy to connect these ideas as a commentary on difficulties in life.

Stroud’s “disharmony of words” offers vivid images that not only could be read to imply all sorts of meaning, but the fact of his arrangement is a commentary on poetry, and reading poetry, itself. How often do two different people discover totally disparate readings of a poem? More often than we care to admit, trained as we are to seek out and settle on the “one” meaning of a poem. Stroud has cut out the middle man so that the reader can simply apply his or her own meaning, without narrative getting in the way. This works, of course, because our minds impose narrative. Stroud has created a Rorschach of words. And so many of them stand out as meaningful that, even though I know it’s purely my own self I’m projecting onto the page, I connect these images and lines because there are some lovely turns of phrase: “Trees scraping at the sky.” “88 percent of all giraffes.” “Hunting for thing.” “watermelon Sunday.” “ever been a won’t?” He includes literary references, the odd quote, and words, words.

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Soundpaths, by Stroud. Ohio, HobGob Press, 2012.

Stroud explains that “Soundpaths are an artistic form bridging between language arts and musical composition, in which the phonetic aspects of human speech are foregrounded instead of more conventional semantic and syntactic values. Soundpaths are educational tools intended primarily for performance and creating memorable aesthetic experiences.” Basically, the idea is to focus on sound to arrive at meaning, rather than words. Stroud uses pitch, volume, etc. represented by “shapes and designed lines that represent sounds.” The concept reminds me of the idea of the “charge” of a word, used when teaching vocabulary (does it “sound” positive or negative, etc.?). “Think of a Soundpath as a maze for your finger to follow” he explains. Check out some of thess Soundpaths at the HobGob Press site.

Stroud goes on to demonstrate various educational uses of this technique, which, frankly, look really fun. He includes lessons for teaching vowel and consonant sounds and various words. It’s a little challenging to fully grasp Stroud’s intent on the page; I imagine that seeing him perform these Soundpaths live must be very entertaining and informative. I would love to see him include a DVD or video links with the book. But what really stands out, here, is the power of an innovative use of language and sound for real, hands-on purposes. Stroud has taken an approach to abstract or experimental (or whatever you’d like to call it) poetry and turned it into a fun educational tool. It’s an impressive feat.

-CL Bledsoe


Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

Excellent critique and review of this guy's work.

CLBledsoe said...