A desk lamp illuminates a few sheets of paper and a small book with protruding page markers. An elderly man with an austere face and a youthful air sits behind the desk. His slender hands pick up the book, open it very slowly, and, with a voice that is velvety but clear, he begins to read a poem written by Hans Arp in 1933: Vier Knöpfe zwei Löcher vier Besen (Four buttons two holes four brooms). The reader is the poet Franz Mon, who was invited by Hans Thill, the curator of the series Arp im Ohr (Arp in your ear), to engage with the work of Hans Arp.
Mon wrote six poems, or rather ‘word constructions’, especially for the occasion. Slowly, with a quiet voice that gradually gathers speed, then slows down again, only to accelerate once more, Mon continues reading, now reciting his own work: ‘Vier Knöpfe, zwei Löcher, vier Besen, vier Köpfe, vier Kröpfe, vier Körbe … vier Busen …’ (Four buttons, two holes, four brooms, four heads, four craws, four baskets … four breasts …) as his own variation on Arp’s text. He groups similar-sounding words into rows of three. Suddenly, in the listener’s mind’s eye, three columns of words start piling up. Mon calls his approach ‘sculptural’, and the way he assembles individual words associatively by sound and form into a sprawling sculpture really does resemble a work of abstract art that goes beyond any reference to reality. In 1970, Mon described the relationship between language and the world as follows: ‘The naive correspondence between word and object, expression and reality, is worn down by the actual use of language and by the phenomenal divide between the facts of this reality and the words that are supposed to deal with it.’
Mon’s literary work has always inhabited a place that is open to artistic transgressions in all directions. Born in 1926, he published his first book articulationen (articulations) in 1959 and edited the movens anthology with Walter Höllerer and Manfred de la Motte in 1960, before founding Typos Press in 1962 to publish works of concrete and visual poetry.
Mon writes and uses collages and various typographies to compose and build the kind of word constructions that were to make him well-known around the world in the 1960s.
The reading at the Arp Museum again highlighted the degree to which Mon’s poems open up the meaning of language to the materiality of text and voice. For him, the surface on which a written word appears is not just a background but also always part of the composition. In one text, the size of the letters seems to grow with each word; in another they seem to shrink;
sometimes the words are packed close together, sometimes isolated. And this optical quality of the text is always interwoven with its acoustic dimension. It is only when Mon begins to paint these word structures in the air with his voice that the picture is completed. So, by analogy with Arp im Ohr, his performance might be described as ‘Mon in your eye’.
Translated by Nicholas Grindell