A longish tradition, whose most recent heir might be minimalism, holds that poetry (or indeed, language generally) is most piercing stripped of superfluity: adjectives and adverbs come in for particular abuse. Ezra Pound wrote that “the natural object is always the adequate symbol,” and William Carlos Williams wrote “no ideas but in things.” A recent book explores what its editor calls Evocative Objects (which is the book’s title as well): its essays examine their authors’ relations with everything from a cello to a laptop to a rolling pin.
It occurs to me that visual art is in some ways better equipped than language to be a vehicle for this minimalism of evocation, and indeed, some illustrators exhibit a fascination with particular objects, objects that recur in their work. I’m thinking of Peter Blegvad (also a musician) and his fascination with milk, for example, or his “amateur” essays exploring “numinosity,” or his illustrations of objects such as a “yolk of leather in a tobacco egg” or an “arrow of ice wrapped in surgical gauze.” I’ll note, though, that Blegvad (with his tongue always hovering in close proximity to his cheek) argues that giving such illustrations evocative titles increases their numinosity – and of course, the words describing such illustrations (as above) themselves tend to be made up of common nouns (or common objects) in unconventional juxtapositions.
Three different approaches to a stripped-down lyricism of nouns in music. Wire’s “Kidney Bingos” consists of almost nothing but nouns, and cleverly evokes ’80s material excess: its plot appears to involve people who sell bodily organs to finance their clubbing excesses (probably not a coincidence that this song is Wire’s most commercial-sounding). In another mood entirely, Syd Barrett’s “Word Song” comes close to the spirit of Blegvad’s investigations of numinosity, consisting of words that seem evocative or resonant to Barrett. Finally, the Minutemen pop out a raft of words, abstract and concrete, and query: “what’s the verb behind it all?”