Emma Lee Reviews Dominique Hecq’s ‘Kaosmos’

‘Kaosmos’ Dominique Hecq
Melbourne Poets Union Inc
ISBN 978-0-6484301-6-2

‘Kaosmos’ is a long poem in three parts, ‘genesis’, ‘kaosmos’ and ‘unfinished genesis’ that takes James Joyce’s term and experiments, as the epigram states, in ‘a manner of mosaic-memory modified/ in a world of mixed method/ here words merge haphazardly.’ English is the dominant language but phrases in French and Spanish are incorporated too. The first part, ‘genesis’ starts,

‘Pick up        the day by the scruff of the neck
homecomings have sharp

though ignorant of meaning    they bite
taking puppy fat for puppy love

dark     soft          words
melt in ink swirl you call

by drop       it is

your very self
reflected caught gathered

as dark as breath’

The first line begins with an affirmative: take control of the day, and then provides reason, in a dog-eat-dog world, allies will only stay allies if there’s a benefit to them. Some will speak without realising the harm their words do, how their words might be differently interpreted by the listener. The ‘ink swirl’ that becomes a reflective surface hints at narcissism or at least self-interest. Words aren’t just communication, exchanged with others, but also self-expression.

The central and longest section, ‘Kaosmos:’ contemplates language,

‘All languages are

                                                        (some hurt more than others)

The spoken word comes first        writing second

                                                                                (tra la la la la)

Language is messy: the lexicon is

                    (Chomsky would have said as much; I hate Chomsky)

Dictionaries are cumbersome to consult

                                                                              (never up-to-date)

Bilingual dictionaries are elliptic

                                                                         (traduttore, traditore)

Machine-readable dictionaries drive you nuts

                                                                             (try that in Japanese)

Machine translation is a mere machinery of suggestions

                                                                          (meaning is in the gaps)’

Language evolves, has different uses in different contexts. Humans learn to speak before they learn to write, but spoken language is often more direct and innovative than the written word which can be more formal, although not necessarily more accurate, and less likely to play with sound patterns and echoes. Translation adds a layer of complexity, especially in languages with different roots/alphabets where a direct, literal translation may not exist. Dictionaries are not updated as quickly as language evolves to accommodate new inventions or slang. Using programs to help with translation can create more problems than it solves, since, although they may update quicker, they does not necessarily understand context so users need at least some basic knowledge of the language they are trying to get a translation in.

A later part free-associates with word sounds, as if a random word generator,

‘A n e m o n e s—an assortment of artful arcs angling for air
meaning manifold modes manners methods mixing miscarriages
assemblages absences accidents affects attitudes adventurous acts
not necessarily neglecting nebulous narratives never naturalising
nefarious neurotransmitters nor neuroscience’s nomenclatures
envied even expressed in envisioned eras of entropic enjoyment
reeking Reiter Romanticism rooted in (un)real reels of Rousseau
ominous Ooooooooo outmoded since ouija ontology or OULIPO
frameworks featuring frontispieces fright fractured fragments FIN
memorialising momentum Mallarmé Malebranche Malevich
out of overestimation (f)or Ong’s open oeuvre ecO bOomerang
simulacra ssh Saussure screen Schimmel stream of consciousness
aleatory aphasia autobiographics automatism anti-aestheticism
implicit incursions inversions innuendos intuitions invoices
cubist cues castanets cryptic confabulations chirp cre(a)tive crabs
marvellous Madrid mellifluous marshmallows mmm miaow mop
ekphrastic excess engraphy ecphory engram elaboration ex
minimalism more matter movement miracle making Magritte
offering omens ouch organismo orgiastic occurrences hOmer
rumours running over ruptures repressed recollections (e)rr
you’d yawn yap yarn yoke Y letters with yesterday’s yowl yippee’

Note the acrostic (a manner of mosaic memory), which is a quote from the collection’s epigram. The whole poem loops back to ‘Anemones’. Language is not just for communication but also a means of remembering. Sounds are important: rhyme and rhythm are both aide memoires. Those with memory loss still respond to sound and rhythm even when lacking the vocal connections to express what they recall. A later part picks up on this with ‘Dvorak’s New World Symphony‘ providing the soundtrack for the 1969 moon landing, (Sprechstimme is German and translates into English as speaking voice),

‘That day, you skipped away
from childhood’s pitch. Invented
a Sprechstimme. Rehearsed
your part in life’s show

Fifty years on, a live
apocrypha, you excise
words from your score

The first one to go is speech
(how, it swirls up in thin air)
The last one must be voice’

A child copies and then develops its own voice. Decades later, the now middle-aged adult, drops words that no longer serve a purpose, slimming down a vocabulary to what’s deemed necessary and eventually dropping language altogether. However, the voice, the ability to create sounds is last to be lost. The implication is that sounds can be understood and given meaning even if the meaning of the words have been forgotten. How often have we heard something in a foreign language yet understood the gist?

The final part, ‘unfinished genesis’ has an epigram from Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’, ‘To follow knowledge, like a sinking star’, and observes that humans work,

‘like clockwork to the rhythm
of the universe, looking

for non-verbal signs swimming
in our galaxy—a message

from before the Big Bang. Some would
say we’re fishermen in the sea

of stars, or poets of the cosmos’

That’s not the last line, but the implication is that humans keep searching for more meaning, keep searching to understand our place in the universe and explore the unknown.

‘Kaosmos’ is an expansive play of sounds and language in a search to explore memory, understanding and communication. Words are merged and mixed to disturb expected sound patterns to see if communication is still possible, if memories can be triggered and memory-fragments combined to create a narrative. Dominique Hecq has created a Joycean mosaic that challenges and asks questions about understanding and use of language.