Introduction to



Robert Grenier

Robert Grenier wrote the two poems presented here relatively quickly in a single, small sized notebook. Several words in the poems come from the text printed on the book's cover by the manufacturer. Bound in a book this way, the poems form a linear sequence, not characteristic of most of Grenier's illuminated poems. But these small pages present some of Grenier's range as a poet. GREETING makes up a sort of round or canon, a clear exposition of some of the more subtle recurrences in larger works, including POND I. POND I reflects some of the quietist tendency in Grenier's work, based in contemplation of natural processes such as wind and rain and the trees and water on which they act. In this poem, runs of several openings often carry the verbal density of a single page of illuminated poems done on larger sheets of paper. The round or canon in this poem insists on the sky and the pond that locate Grenier in his environment. The center of the poem moves into areas of speculation played out in more complexly written characters. As often in the illuminated poems, letters in some words have been left out or elided with others or take on resemblance to other letters or to natural forms or to personal gestalts. The title of this poem is POND I: it is not an isolated work, but the beginning of a series.

I set up the first on-line presentation of Robert Grenier's illuminated poems in such a way as to make it impossible to see complete pages all at once on most monitors. I did this to insist on the importance of line in the work, the immediacy of the writer's hand, with its varying pressures, speeds, and other responses to the paper, as opposed to the generalizing tendency of gallery style presentation. With the present poems, I worked from slides that literally show Grenier's hands holding the notebook. The hands themselves could be read in a number of ways: primarily they perform a gesture of offering, a pervasive background in Grenier's illuminated poems. But they can suggest many other things, some of which Grenier didn't have in mind. He has mentioned their prayer-like aspect, but was surprised when I told him that early Christians prayed with open hands, and only adopted the closed hand gesture, betokening captivity, in the middle ages. They may suggest Mudras in Hindu dance, and to me there's a strong reminiscence of the hands in the murals at Teotihuacan, one of the starting points of art in the Americas, in which patrons of rain and sun pour out gifts. Gestures of offering tend to suggest receptiveness as well. However you read the hands, they provide what to me is an important context in much of Grenier's work, the world around the page. To read his own work, Grenier lays the pages out on the floor or a table, often arranging them in different sequences. In this web presentation, you can see complete openings, not in isolation, but in the context of the hands and bits of the natural environment where Grenier does some of his writing. This points out that the gallery for these poems isn't a cordoned off zone of exclusion, but the world itself.

These graphics come from wonderfully luminous slides taken by Ken Botto, who has photographed a number of Grenier's poems.

- Karl Young

Begin reading GREETING

Begin reading POND I

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