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A Subset of Chance

by Martin Nakell

Martin Nakell’s latest work, the far-flung full-frenzy poem A Subset of Chance, dips a web woven of geography and philosophy into the polychromic vat of language. A Subset of Chance obeys two constraints you might think were hard to combine. The first, derived from Chaos Theory, posits that “any arbitrarily small perturbation of the current trajectory will lead to significantly different future composition.”

The other, brought into the American consciousness by the great poet and anthologist Jerome Rothenberg, is Gematria: “a Medieval kabbalistic formula by which letters are translated into numbers.” Nakell explains his procedure:

the letters of my hebrew name transformed by a given formula add up to 133. the poem contains 133 stanzas. each stanza is connected to the preceding and following stanza by a counting following this formula:

  • choose a random word from a stanza
  • look that word up in the Oxford English Dictionary
  • count down from that word to the 133rd word following
  • use that 133rd word in the next stanza
  • choose a random word from the 2nd stanza, etc.

any errors i subsequently discovered in counting i did not correct but let error (a subset of chance) dictate that passage.

So the turbulence of chance and mystic number, yoked by sheer vatic cunning, structure this complex delivery system “come to bring language to a holy people.” Martin Nakell “believes that the experience of art is energy — in literary art, an energy achieved by submitting language to turbulence and so discovering a new language for each work.” In A Subset of Chance that energy spreads, travels, digs in, but like a great jazz riff loops constantly back through the aleph of the constraint.

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Paperbound, hand-sewn
Full color cover, painting by Steve Roden
16 pages

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