prior atom by Jukka-Pekka Kervinen
ma press, May 2019
136 pgs / Lulu.com
“Where technology leads, Art follows.”
The broad categories of digital poetry and electronic writing are sub-genres of experimental literature which Russian Formalist Viktor Shklovsky defined as “extreme deviation from that which is familiar.” In his view, experimental writing is “strange”—“defamiliarizing” what we think of as the conventional, particularly, the lyrical, emotional, representational, or meaningful. Writing in the early 20th century, Shklovsky could not have had the electronic methods of Jukka-Pekka Kervinen in mind, but both artists’ visions embody the spirit of disruption of and resistance to the status quo.
prior atom, in its author’s words, is a “procedural/visual text” of computer-generated compositions arranged on the page in a form approximating traditional poems. Each mélange of words, some overlapping, is presented with frequent white spaces, a presentation highlighting every element as a unit capable of standing on its own from which meaning may or may not be derived. Though it is not easy or necessary to categorize the compositions, they may be understood in the context of “collage” writing, a Modernist conception with origins in Cubist visual art (e.g., Picasso), as well as in Dadaism and Surrealism. The Dadaist poet and performance artist Tristan Tzara, for example, advocated in the mid-20th century a “cut-up” method of composition, and, in the late 1990s, the poetry critic Marjorie Perloff stated, “Each element in the collage has a kind of double function: it refers to an external reality even as it’s compositional thrust is to undercut the very referentiality it seems to assert.” Collage poetry, then, is characterized by a juxtaposition of opposing elements—a word’s definition and a composition’s formal radicalism. An example of one of Kervinen’s compositions, included in prior atom, follows:
Jukka-Pekka Kervinen is a Finnish composer, producer, writer, visual artist, and publisher [ma press] focused mainly on algorithmic processes, computer-assisted composition, and various other methods based on cybernetics, chaotic dynamics, and stochastic systems, among others. I asked him, via Facebook, to describe his creative methods, curious especially about whether the formatting of his compositions was intentional or randomly-generated. In his own words, the author informed me that the layout was “computer-generated” but that he wrote the programs by himself, using the computer as an “extended pen, meaning that I have very exact image of what I want to do. Instead of making them ‘traditional’ way by writing/typing/etc, I write a program or programs to make and generate certain decisions and other structures/forms.For ‘prior atom‘ I wrote only one, longer program which generates whole book, vocabulary is mine, i.e., I have maintained and edited this same word selection ca. 15 years, it is very specific for me, and still constantly edited…. All layouts of the pages and choice of words and their placements are generated by my program, under constraints I make beforehand running it, and the program makes finished PDF….”
Kervinen’s methods have historical roots in the textual and visual forms of the OuLiPo movement’s systematic, self-restricting means of making texts, as well as similarities to “asemic” writing’s textual and visual forms (“vispo”) having no necessary or specific semantic content. Certainly, the author’s procedures constitute “word play,” yielding a type of “word salad” or coded mixture. The compositions in prior atom are intended to be seen in a manner similar to the visualization of Gertrude Stein’s writing discussed by the Stein scholar, Ulla Dydo.
Though Kervinen’s compositions resist interpretation and lack formal or logical structure, a “reader” may impose meaning or significance where these are not necessarily intended. A maxim of Postmodernism is that interpretation is in the mind of the “reader”—or visualizer, in this case, and the human brain is designed to seek order within actual or apparent disorder. Thus, some persons accessing these constructs may discover that certain “devices” (Shklovsky) unify the book. For example, references to animals occur throughout—rodent, ferret, lynx, walleye, hen, emu, to name a few, and it might occur to a poetically-inclined visualizer that a list poem could be created from these, or other, repetitions. Similarly, each composition’s makeup lends itself to combination and re-combination of words (e.g., “doable taxonomy,” “rainy forest”) that might be employed as prompts or could be incorporated into verse. While playing with a few of the compositions as if they were databases, I created an original haiku without much effort (“Homicide casework, / forbid unjustly person, / dread stalwart, indeed.”). Many other potential significations and associations are latent in the text.
Perhaps, it can be suggested, that the best way to approach prior atom is to allow the collection’s layout, arrangement, literary style, and format to speak for themselves. As such, each composition has what the Formalist poetry critic Helen Vendler calls, “interpretive power” with the potential to produce verbal, visual, and “psychological transformations.” The consumer of literature is fortunate that Jukka-Pekka Kervinen continues to create experimental writing producing unique formulations and theories of reality and composition, emanating, as a case in point, from this collection that can be “taken at face value,” as well as richly interpreted. prior atom is necessary reading for anyone interested in cutting-edge innovative writing at its best.
Clara B. Jones is a Knowledge Worker practicing in Silver Spring, MD, USA. Among other works, she is author of the collection, Poems for Rachel Dolezal, published in 2019 by GaussPDF.