Poetry doesn’t always age well. Several traditional forms of poetry seem to be on their last dying breath. I run a literary journal. If anyone submits a sonnet or a villanelle to us, it’s a safe bet that the form is used somehow ironically.
I’m generally in favor of poets moving beyond traditional forms. But author Lane Chasek does the world an important service by reviving one nearly forgotten form of poetry: sound poetry. Unlike most established forms of poetry, which are based on strict structural rules, sound poetry is exactly the opposite, insisting on no formal structure whatsoever. Sound poetry goes so far as to do away with syntax and semantics entirely. This enables sound poems to explore musical and theatrical elements unlike any other form of poetry.
Although sound poetry was officially invented in the 20th century, it’s also an ancient form, with its roots in oral poetry traditions. In his book, “Hugo Ball and the Fate of the Universe: Adventures in Sound Poetry,” Chasek unites the ancient form with its 20th century figureheads, and then pulls it all into the present day. His book is also a reflection on the creative process more broadly, offering a personal narrative about the struggles of a poet in the modern world.
Below is an interview I conducted with Chasek via email about the making of his new book.
What got you interested in sound poetry?
Lane Chasek: I learned about the Dada movement from a friend I used to attend poetry open mics with, and I learned about sound poetry soon after. I never attempted writing a sound poem back then, but the idea always lingered in the back of my brain until I started writing this book. This was during my freshman year of college, so that would have been 2013.
But my fascination with nonsense dates back to childhood. I used to invent long, meaningless words when I first learned to read and write, and I’d plaster those words on my bedroom walls and the pages of any notebook I could get my hands on. It was fun, but I really think this phase was my way of testing the limits of language. I was only six or seven, and the idea of words was still fresh to me. I didn’t know what they could do, so I went a little wild with them.