Juxtaposition & Obfuscation: A Manifesto

image by Tom Will

Juxtaposition is the most basic element of creation, and therefore of writing, and therefore of writing poetry. The term juxtaposition should be understood less as the extreme farness of the elements gathered, and understood more as the extreme nearness of their new shared location. Juxta-near, posit-place. 

Juxtaposition is the 2 coming from the 1. Saying the 1st thing begs a 2nd thing be said. And perhaps a 3rd and 4th. The Fibonacci Sequence is juxtaposition. “I feel rainy” is juxtaposition. Man Ray is juxtaposition. Photomontage is juxtaposition.  Juxtaposition is the “skill of choosing” that Ann Lauterbach talks about in her book The Night Sky. And for the reader; Juxtaposition means the pleasure of reading good choices, of seeing good outcomes. Juxtaposition is the “skill of choosing” in Huidobro’s Creationism movement, best exemplified in his book-length poem Altazor

The 1 to the 2 creates a bond between the 1 and the 2. This bond, this relationship, is a binaural beat. 104hz and 144hz create a 3rd note that is the mathematical difference between 144hz and 104hz. This 3rd tone is perceived, in the brain, at 40hz. A bond, then another bond, then another bond, then another bond. Even the most basic sentences are sequences of 1 and 2 and their bonds, and the bonds of those bonds. This is the primacy of juxtaposition in creation. Even Hokmah to Binah is juxtaposition. 

Saying the 1st thing begs a 2nd thing be said. The 1st word begs for a 2nd, a 2nd for a 3rd. Dealing with the begging is writing as an author, and often poetry. To ignore the begging is likely not poetry; it will likely be most philosophy; and all school books, recipes, and driving directions. These things have a place, and these things can always be used to serve as an element of an act of juxtaposition. Nothing is beyond use. 

The threat of the act of juxtaposition, is obfuscation. A poor “skill of choosing” is obfuscation. A lack of choosing is poor choosing by default. An overgrown garden is obfuscation. 2 things growing side by side but unchecked, so they obscure each other. 2 or more things, in most cases; growing side by side by side, in most cases. There is no bond created when obfuscation has occurred. 1 to 2 does not beget a 3 with obfuscation, and if it does it is impotent like a mule, but not nearly as useful as a mule. 2 liquids are combined in 1 glass and the result is murky and unclear. The challenge of poetry is to juxtapose while not obfuscating any of the comprising elements. 

This is not to say that 2 things should not enter each other and change each other. They could and may. When 2 things enter into each other they can avoid obfuscation if the 2 things are somewhat translucent towards each other. Like a Venn diagram or a good cocktail. Or like a glass vase with flowers in it. You can see how the stems exist in the vase and vice versa. Nothing is obscured, only juxtaposed. Something pure is conducive to juxtaposition with other clear things, or unclear things. 

This is not to say that the 2 objects being juxtaposed must be wholly scoped out, surveyed, and understood by any reader or writer. To insist on this is to press towards minimalism. Something minimal is something which has no potential to extend, and should be avoided in any discipline. The 2 objects can extend up and down and many other directions. Direction is not obscure, but it is not translucent. Two lines can cross without obscuring each other. 

The “near place” of juxtaposition is a question. Are we placing the 2 objects merely near each other or are we placing both things near to a 3rd thing? Yes to both. Both the objects must be placed near each other and then placed in the heart. They must be placed in the heart of both the writer and then of the reader. This is the next plane of juxtaposition, the plane that lifts a poem off the page. The writer is 1 and the reader is 2 on this new plane, this new dimension. 

If the writer and the reader both place the 2 objects close together within the confines of their hearts, then the sequence, that is, the poem, is passed from writer to reader. Reading a poem then, is itself juxtaposition. The reader holds the poem in his heart, placed near him; and one day the reader will speak or write to another, to a new reader or listener, and the chain of juxtaposition again will continue. A closed heart anywhere in this sequence will poison; that is, a closed heart will create obfuscation. In this sense obfuscation is dangerous to the aim of poetry existing off of the page, of existing on this higher plane. It can poison forwards and backwards, poison the original writer, the original word, the future writer, and the future word. 

Juxtaposition, between a writer and reader, propels the poems, and poetry, forward into time. 

Different poets have had different relationships to juxtaposition as I am discussing it; and the personality of this relationship is how I like to regard the personality of their poetics. For example; Francis Ponge is in a sort of beautiful denial and Frank Stanford is in a state of overcommitted acceptance. And I am quite fond of both these poets. Both are in my heart and in my writing. 

I would encourage you, reading this, to apply this to your poems if you like. And apply it to poems you are fond of, if you like. If you do this and I am right, you can propel poetry forward into time.

— Tom Will is a poet and has a Twitter account

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