RJ and Mac Hammond

Edmunds, Lowell 2003. Roman Jakobson and Mac Hammond. ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews 16(3): 46-48.

Roman Jakobson's essay "Linguistics and Poetics" has had a longer run than most other twentieth-century works of literary theory (Jakobson 1981). Its diagram linking addresser and addressee continues to be drawn on university blackboards every year. Its specification of the "poetic function" as equivalence or repetition is a lasting contribution of Russian formalism, no matter what the fortune of Jakobson's sorties into literaru interpretation. (Edmunds 2003: 46)
When will it stop?
Toward the end of the essay, Jakobson comments on the power of poetry to reactivate the forgotten semantic contents of names (49). He gives examples from three poets, in this order: Mac Hammond, T.S. Eliot, and Wallace Stevens. The poem by Hammond from which Jakobson quotes three lines, "At An Old Fashion Bar in Manhattan," has never been published. It is among Hammond's papers in the Poetry/Rare Books Collection of the University Library of the State University of New York at Buffalo and is printed here for the first time by permission of his widow, Katka Hammond. (Edmunds 2003: 46)
Proving once again that Jakobson was kind of an obscurist.
Hammond (1926-97) was a professor of English at SUNY Buffalo from 1963 until his retirement in 1993. He received his Ph.D. for a dissertation on Wallace Stevens written under Jakobson's direction at Harvard. In his years in Cambridge (1949-55, 1958-60), Hammond also worked as Jakobson's assistant, served as a teaching fellow at Harvard, and was vice president of Poet's Theater. (Edmunds 2003: 46)
Ah, so quoting his poem was like "Jakobson's bump". (Akin to the "Colbert bump".)
When the Gibson says, "'The cocktails have crowed, not the cocks'," it articulates the comic strategy of the poem, as Jakobson observed. The cocktail names, all of them dead metaphors or banalized at the time of composition, speak out and become newly significant, once troped or treated as common nouns. This process begins in the title. In the propositional phrase in which it appears, "Manhattan" can only be a toponym, but, in the context of the title as a whole, which includes "bar," "Manhattan" also suggests the famous eponymous cocktail. (Edmunds 2003: 47)
"Comic strategy" is a good term. In discussing modern poetry in FB chat I responded to my interlocutor's claim that her acquaintances write bad poetry in such and such manner with a question: "Are your acquaintances Suur Papa?" (A Tallinn rapper with such and such style.) She noticed my "mistake" and corrected that "acquaintances" were plural. I then had to explain that this was intentional - it was a comic strategy, substituting the plural "acquaintances" with a singular known name. In other words, I made a bad joke.
Hammond's construction of a narrative out of cocktail names entails an accumulation of rhetorical equivalences that illustrates Jakobson's main thesis even better than his more limited point concerning the semantics of names. One cannot help reading the poem as a spoof of the "poetic function." (Edmunds 2003: 47-48)
This aspect does seem to concern the semiotics of names (nimesemiootika), in that names can function as common nouns in poetry. One can readily use the rapper's name, "Suur Papa" in such a way, e.g. "Suur Papa pidavat olema väike meeter-seitsmekümnene sitaratas" (Abraham, "Gängstashit").


Post a Comment