Introduction to Cyberpoetry
by Jeffrey Woodward
How rarely do we discover in one person the combined gifts of the artist and poet? The Tang landscape painter Wang Wei, the Edo literati-painter Yosa Buson, the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo, the Romantic engraver William Blake or the Dadaist sculptor and collagist Hans Arp -- few other names come to mind.
Werner Reichhold's early educational background and training in Hamburg and Berlin -- in a Germany still overshadowed by the great war, foreign occupation and reconstruction -- centered upon the fine arts. From 1955-1995, in group and individual exhibitions, his reputation was primarily that of a professional artist. He came to poetry gradually it seems, during a long process of maturation and in an adopted homeland --California.
The rarity of such gifts might be further weighed with the knowledge that his poetry is a consequence not only of removal to an alien environment but also of immersion in a second language -- English. The artist's long-time marriage to an accomplished American sculptor, ceramicist and poet, Jane Reichhold, may have eased this transition somewhat.
The parallels between the creative life of the author of Cyberpoetry and that of his elder countryman, Hans Arp, are quite remarkable in this respect. Both men first received recognition for their sculpture, though Hans often publicly stated that he was a poet first, an artist second -- a formulation, perhaps, inverted for Werner. Both men wrote poetry in their native German as well as in an adopted tongue -- French for Hans, English for Werner. Both men benefited from a long marital collaboration with another artist -- Hans with Sophie Tauber, Werner with Jane.
I queried the poet about these similarities and was delighted to discover that in Hamburg in 1953, as a youthful twenty-eight year-old art student, he made the acquaintance of Arp, with whom he felt a true affinity, and the famous artist kindly showed a personal interest in his early drawings.
If I have dwelt at length upon the poets fine arts training, career and affiliations, I have done so only to emphasize that, from the large drawings and installations to the poetic language of the printed page, there is a marked continuity in the work of this man. The line in his drawings, for example, is rapid and forever shifting, the hand and eye allowing chameleon-like transformations as well as a repeated return to certain motifs, only representational in passing, that hint at personal obsession. A close reading of his poetry demonstrates a similar nervous energy, an unwillingness to admit of any fixed referent -- a contextual environment, in other words, as susceptible to immediate and constant permutation as is the artists graphic line.
Haiku and tanka are the two poetic forms most often recognizable in Werner Reichhold's work, though he is scarcely a practitioner of either form in a rigidly traditional sense. Haiku and tanka are employed, instead, along with free-verse, prose, ghazals, dialogues and even riddles, as foundational elements or building blocks of the larger compositions that he designates as inter-genre sequences (the use, in one text, of these many differing compositional structures) or symbiotic sequences (similar heterogeneous texts but framed with one or more collaborators).
To state the above, however, is neither to dismiss nor excuse the poets haiku and tanka styles. Let us look closely at two haiku for sake of illustration:
summer is hiding
in a single cloud
From "Unnamed Visible" (1993)
on our plate
a painted swan takes off
the white of porcelain
From "Swim of a Narrative" (2001)
The sensory perceptions are sharp and the language craftily framed. Ambiguity and paradox tempt the reader with an array of possible meanings. The haikai spirit of casual effort and playfulness dominate. I offer these observations to dissuade representatives of haiku orthodoxy from any easy dismissal of the poets individual style as idiosyncratic. He writes in the manner that he does, in brief, not by accident or ineptitude but by design. That he can write a perfectly sound and traditional haiku is evident from the examples above.
The defender of a poet may easily prove to be his betrayer as well. Ive cited two of Reichhold's haiku in isolation, having forcibly torn them from the sequences in which they appear. No representation, in fact, could be more unfair to this particular poets stated aims. The subtitle of this book, after all, is inter-genre sequences, and not selected or collected poems.
An excellent introduction to the poet's methods and concerns is afforded by an early symbiotic sequence written with his wife Jane, "Blackbird Shadowing the Barbaric" (1993). Here, after the Baroque manner, the sixth stanza of Wallace Steven's celebrated poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," is appropriated and playfully glossed by Werner and Jane, the initial word of each 3 liner being determined by a borrowing from Steven's stanza. The work as a whole adopts the form of linked verse, with an alternation of three and two verse units, but without any concern for the requirements of moon or blossom stanzas, seasonal words or any of the other major or minor arcana of this highly regulated art. The outer form of renga is employed but emptied of its conventional contents. Hence, one would not be too far astray in describing this practice as a cannibalization of form. One sees three collaborators at work here: the passive text of Stevens, now reconstructed and recontextualized, with that of the voices of two living poets.
Where adherence to haiku or tanka conventions is largely illusory, where the semblance of these forms lies only in the retention of their standard lineation of three or five lines, one may perceive a logical aesthetic progression from the usurping of the outer form for new purposes, as in "Blackbird Shadowing the Barbaric," to what only a few years later, in "On Stage" (1995) and "In One Space Chill of a Split" (1996), is transformed into a desire to animate the now vacant and static typographical form by simultaneity and a multiplication of variable readings of a text.
How is this achieved? In standard haiku or tanka, multiple readings (or what was classically termed surplus meaning) result largely from an understated and fragmentary text, from ambiguity that is derived from restraint, limitation and design. The nonce form that is explored in these two titles -- a form that Reichhold dubs a helix, for the poem can be read both ways, first vertically and also horizontally -- seeks to expand contextual relations exponentially.
garden tendrils characters
growing they become trapped
part of the house within their stream
snake skin bent the pair
a laughter moves it making eggs
almost shedding alike
Earlier this year, "Hours on My Path" continued this general line of experimentation and introduced a further degree of sophistication:
like a heron in no action upstream dozing the rafts man
spilling gin spilling spasm
Midsummer over willows
pebbles in my sponge like tears on an albatross I greet the fetal shoreline
as if there will be learning
on the longitude of sailors
The careful reader will readily recognize, in the left-to-right horizontal line as well as in the top-to-bottom vertical composition of the third column, a mimicry of haiku --- two haiku in this instance. If the reader follows this same movement continuously, however, from left-to-right and top-to-bottom without interruption, he discovers that the five lines that constitute two haiku simultaneously equal one tanka. "Hours on My Path" moves through twelve such stanzas with a mercurial shifting of person, place and thing and of their intimate complex of contextual relations.
One must admire the coherence of an artistic and poetic career that spans two continents and six decades as well as the continued verve and resolution that Werner Reichhold brings to the written word --- both in his native German and in his adopted English. I have only managed to pass lightly over his artistic achievement in these prefatory notes. I invite the reader to enter and partake of Reichhold's vision now and to allow his poetry to fulfill the promise that a commentary cannot.
Inter-genre Poetry Previous Published
Sequence I - Six inter-genre Poems
1 Larval In Waiting - ahapoetry.com, Lynx, 2006
2 Swim of a Narrative - ahapoetry.com, Lynx, 2001
3 Ocean City - ahapoetry.com, Lynx, 2004
4 In Search - Aha Books, Cybertry III, 1998
5 It Passes - Aha Books, Cybertry II, 2002
6 Copper on a Minaret - ahapoetry.com, Lynx, 2003
7 Sampling - ahapoetry.com, Lynx, 2005
8 Silently in My Hide - ahapoetry.com, Lynx, 2004
9 Unnamed Visible - Aha Books, Mirrors, 1993
10 Hours on My Path - ahapoetry.com, Lynx, 2007
11 Tailored Pillows - Aha Books, Lynx, 1997
12 The Tightrope Walker -
TSA Journal, Ribbons, 2006
13 Fairy Waters - ahapoetry.com, Lynx, 2002
14 This I An Early Knot - Tanka Journal, Japan, 2002
15 Flying - ahapoetry.com, Lynx, 2005
16 Not Even Daylight - ahapoetry.com, Lynx, 1999
17 Drifts by Contract - ahapoetry.com, 2003
Sequence III - Nine Inter-genre Plays
18 Pina Bausch - Aha Books, Cybertry II, 1996
19 Cybernetically - ahapoetry.com, Lynx, 2001
20 Briefing - Lynx 1997
21 Oscillations - Lynx 1997
22 Interactions - Lynx 1997
23 Soft Sparks - Lynx 1997
24 A Pair of Points - Lynx 1997
25 No - play - Lynx 1997
26 WWW. ahapoetry.com, Lynx, 2004
27 Unobstrusive Permissible - Lynx 1998
28 On Stage - Lynx 1995
29 In One Space Chill of a Split - Lynx 1996
30 Two Complementary Short Stories - ahapoetry.com, Lynx, 2004
31 Syrup’s Territory - Lynx, 1994
by Werner Reichhold and Jane Reichhold
32 If I were Younger - Lynx, 1997
by Jane Reichhold and Werner Reichhold
33 Wireless Rivals - Lynx, 1997
by Werner Reichhold and Jane Reichhold
34 Blackbird Shadowing The Barbaric - Lynx, 1993
by Wallace Stevens, Jane Reichhold
and Werner Reichhold
35 Natural Joke And Variable - Lynx, 1993
by Gertrude Stein, Werner Reichhold and Jane Reichhold
36 Leaving Gold - Aha Books, Mirrors, 1992
by Virginia Woolf and Werner Reichhold
37 The Leaf Danced - Aha Books, Mirrors, 1993
by Virginia Woolf and Werner Reichhold
38 The Keeper of Two Doors -
by James Joyce and Werner Reichhold - Lost and Found Times, Luna Bisonte Prods, 2004
39 The Apparition Gyrated - ahapoetry.com, 2003
by James Joyce and Werner Reichhold