This phenomenon was uncovered by Andy Woodruff, a cartographer (who lives in Massachusetts, damn fur’ner). Woodruff was driving through our state when he suddenly realized that Ohio has 88 counties, a piano has 88 keys, and, well, the next step is obvious..............create a musical map of our state on which each county is assigned one of the 88 piano notes. Woodruff’s map can play you through the drive from Cleveland to Cincinnati or through a variety of data-based organizations of the counties, from average family size to number of farms.
But wait. Does this have anything to do with poetry? I think that any symbolization or substitution of one thing for another that transforms the original is poetic, but I’d like to know what you think.
But wait again. Before you tell me what you think, I’ve borrowed Woodruff’s idea of using Ohio’s counties to create something else, but I’ve done it with words rather than musical notes. Is it poetry? Again, I’d like your feedback.
In my first pass at it, I found a poem with 88 words, including the title. Disappointment, by August Kleinzahler (a poet I highly recommend reading). I assigned each word of the poem to each of Ohio’s counties – the words of the poem in the order of the poem, starting with the title, and the counties in alphabetical order. Then I made what I’m going to call poems.
Here is a trip along the shore of Lake Erie, east to west:
Or perhaps you’d prefer to follow the Ohio River:
that disappointment close
pang of look
then embroidering whole
I’ll let you read bottom up to enjoy the poems of the return trips.
Next, I made a poem using words found within the names of the counties. This gave me more word choices. Again, the trip along the lake shore:
bush lake guy
The river journey:
then I lag anew
won no man
Lastly, sound poems. Trying reading them aloud and attending to how you feel as you do it before you dismiss them.
The Lake: Ash-La-Cu-Lo-Er-Ot-Luc
The River: Co-Je-Bel-Mo-Wash-At-Me-Ga-La-Sci-Ad-Bro-Cler-Ha
What I’m getting at here are really questions about creativity (What is it? Does it serve a purpose and if so, what?) and meaning (Must creative work have meaning? Must it have the same meaning for everyone? Since humans are meaning-creating machines, can a poet leave it to others to create the meaning in a poem?).
As a reward for reading through this post and thinking about these questions, please enjoy this rendition of She Blinded Me With Science, sung by online dictionaries.