by Cole Swensen
Solmizate: to sing any object into place. Most literally, it's singing by the syllables of the do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do sequence. That's all it may be, literally, but I happened to get introduced to the word with a slight error in it—one of those errors that is, in fact, an errancy, a wandering off from the beaten path, and, as with the "knight-errant," the "word-errant" also has something inherently noble about it. It is off on a mission to create more meaning in the world. In the case of this errant word solmizate, I first heard it used to describe the process of singing the birds on a bank of telephone wires as if they were notes on a musical staff, an endless composition that keeps refining itself with the coming and going of the flock.
By extension, this image seemed to suggest that any object has an inherently musical relationship with those objects around it, and that any given scene, say, the one framed by a window, is its own orchestra, quartet, duo, depending on what's going on out there. Through solmization, all objects have a voice, which changes in relation to the others around it, some coming together in chords, others in discord.
Errancy operates yet another way in this situation and introduces another of my favorite words, constellation. If we look out the window and try to sing the birds on the telephone wires, we're effectively collapsing a three-dimensional space into a two-dimensional one. Yet if we don't, if we refuse that collapse, and instead accept depth as a new musical value in order to account not only for birds on wires farther away but also other things—a tree branch, a distant chimney, a passing airplane—that enter into the scene, we end up with a spherical music that creates new relationships in the way a constellation does, as it takes one star from Galaxy A, another from Galaxy C, and so on, and makes of them a new system while leaving them still functioning in their old ones.
In the long fight to dethrone linear thinking from its default position and come up with other ways of arranging the world, the constellation offers a nice alternative in its complete flexibility. The problem, one could say, is that the constellation principle offers too many possibilities—how do we decide which disparate elements to bring into new systems? Here, solmization offers a guiding principle. We choose those that make beautiful music.
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Cole Swensen is the author of twelve books of poetry, most recently Ours (University of California Press). Her other books include a finalist for the National Book Award and winners of the Iowa Poetry Prize, the San Francisco State Poetry Center Book Award, and the National Poetry Series.