Cage often used mesostics as part of his creative process. A mesostic is a poem or other typography such that a vertical phrase intersects lines of horizontal text: “Words come first from here and then from there. The situation is not linear. It is as though I’m in a forest hunting for ideas.” Cage used texts such as James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and regarded them as oracles, instructing him where to go next in his ‘exploration of nonintention’.
Making mesostics with gallery visitors, we were immediately struck by how deceptively difficult this is. We adults are very bad at playing with words in a freeform way, maybe because they are usually so embedded in structure and intent. Only young Thomas Denton wrote a mesostic all on his own, the play hasn’t been knocked out of him. The rest were group efforts and happened slowly, interspersed with lots of fine conversation about John Cage, chance and nonintention.