The Formalist Landscape: Forced Formalism in “Landscapes”

Bill Marsh’s Landscapes is an electronic poem comprised of five short segments. Each segment contains two partially obscured stanzas of Biblical proverbs, and a vibrant geometric landscape drawing. 

“Landscapes” is extremely abstract and seems to purposefully lack a fundamental interpretation. In fact, the poem forces the reader to engage in a formalist interpretation of the short segments and psychedelic graphic designs in order to achieve any form of understanding.It is only through the application of this particular theory that the reader of Marsh’s “Landscapes” will be able to analyze it.

The poem is as follows: 

o1. desert drive-in 

I did not hide my face / and spitting from insult 

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02. variation on a summer theme

I have set my face like flint / and I know that I shall not be put to shame 

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 03. city by moonlight 

I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have / set themselves against me round about

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04. flags waving over capital

I will protect him because he knows my name / I will answer him when he calls to me

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05. fog at sunrise

I will bring them back / from the depths of the sea 

Formalism is a literary theory, which relies primarily on the intrinsic qualities of a text for interpretation. Marsh’s “Landscapes” possesses as its intrinsic quality uncertainty. That is, the independents elements of the poem increase contribute to the reader’s sense of uncertainty in terms of analyzation. The abstract manner in which the Biblical proverbs are organized cause prevents the reader from arriving at a concrete meaning or interpretation of the piece. The geometric landscapes suggest give no additional information in terms of analyzation. In addition, the landscapes also obscure the words of the poem from the reader. Making it somewhat difficult place the intended order of the words.

A formalist analysis of the text and design of “Landscapes” inform us that the poem itself relies heavily on the concept abstract. The elements of “Landscapes” purposefully force the reader into contemplation of the meaning. In the end the form of the poem as is displayed by the graphic design and construction of the prose reveals that the poem is meant to intensify the feeling of abstract and uncertainty.

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