Exercise: Asemic writing

Gave my poetry workshop an exercise in asemic writing. First time I’ve tried it & they done good. Will post some of their scriptures soon. For now, the exercise, with prelims.


In class, showed some alphabets invented or divined. Hélène Smith‘s Martian:

Smith

Something cool by Andrew Clark I found:

Clark

Razorsharp letterset, with pareidolia, by Christopher Skinner:

Skinner

Wish I’d remembered the Deseret writing created by Brigham Young:

DeseretMore widely used perhaps is Klingon:

Klingon


And then an in-class exercise: Create a new alphabet. You have 15 minutes.

There was time when they were done (!?) so I had them write their names in their alphabet and put them on the board.

photo (9)

Click this one to biggen it, so worth it.

The characters illegible but full of character – I can almost tell, weeks later, whose letters are whose. (Of course the palindrome’s a giveaway.) And that’s asemic writing for you: all the meanings semantic meaning was veiling, when we were distracted by it, shiny toy, creep forth, peek out.


The exercise they went home with: Compose a page of asemic writing. And man did some come out good. I will post post haste.

To those who had trouble with the ex, I said, try it anew with your eyes closed. (Makes me no better than some Obi Wan voiceover, I know.)


Examples of asemic writing I had for them, who now are you, to look at.

Zhang Xu‘s “wild cursive,” or loosely (or wrongly) “wild grass cursive”:

Zhang_Xu_-_Grass_style_calligraphy_(4)

A few by Henri Michaux:

A couple by Paul Klee:

And this wonderful ongoing project, The Geranium Lake Properties, by Lyn Tarczynski, maybe my favourite asemic compositor out there.

And this bed of asemic misadventure, The New Post-literate, edited by one of the mode’s current progenitors, Michael Jacobson.


Also had them read these good orientations on the practice:

Tim Gaze on asemic writing.

Michael Jacobson on asemic writing.

Minnesota Center for Book Arts, “Making Sense of Asemic Writing.”


Postscript. Orientations, orient, Orient, Orientalism. Can’t help but wonder, worry a little, as I play around in the asemic stream, what kinds of othering might be going on. It’s pleasing to make a script one recognizes and doesn’t, cognizes and doesn’t. It gets fantasy circuits firing without any durable duty to, I dunno, the actual world of beings bedded in history. Sort of the way paintings of Turkish harems might have got Euros turned on in the 19th C?

Play’s okay, we all need to sometimes. But while most of the asemic stills in SCRO, my current project, are redolent of leafs and bugs and unraced faces, there are those that might mind one of an ethnographic rattle, or petroglyphs I saw somewhere, and others please me maybe for imping the fluidity of Arabic.

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What the fuck am I redoing the Mikado for the 21st C or something? I don’t mean to, but do I get to claim the privilege of not meaning to? A couple friends and I are putting together a proposal for next year’s CCWWP Convention, theme of necessary conversations in a time of racial and gendered violence. Had thought to propose on this – show some, say my self-questions, see what other questions flew. (Our thinking’s gone another way, another post on that.)


Post-postscript. Are many Arabics gorgeous and asemic to me meaning God.

In the name of Allah
“In the name of Allah beneficent and merciful”

There needs to be room for play of equals. That astonishing face is full of play.


Post-post-postscript. The book that got me started on this whole misadventure – erasure, asemia, the limen, the lumen, the clinamen, compostery even I’d maybe say, is Imagining Language, eds. Steve McCaffery and Jed Rasula. I met Hélène Smith there, e.g. Now out of print. SAD!

Bruce Beasley’s Soul Parts

This weekend I had the pleasure of introducing Bruce Beasley as he read from his new book, All Soul Parts Returned, at Village Books here in Bellingham, WA, on the blue wet coast of America. I’ve learned uncountably much from Bruce over the years. Not least he exemplifies to me how to speak to folks as who you just is. He’s one of the most authentic readers I’ve ever encountered – venues! book him! – and though I don’t come anywhere near that, it’s partly thanks to him I have an inner sensor for when I’m in actual contact with, at one and the same time, my core and those I’m talking to – cuz that’s the trick of it – and when I’ve lost that spirit tripod and am on bullshit autopilot. Well here’s give or take what I said.


It is an honour and a delight to introduce Bruce Beasley, who’s going to read tonight from his book just published by BOA Editions, All Soul Parts Returned.

One thrill of Bruce’s work is how he holds a word or phrase up and turns it a little this way, a little that, to see what light glints off it. “Ordinary of the Mass.” “Torn-to-pieces-hood.” “I have taken leave of several of my senses.” Then he breaks the whole apart to see what light the pieces might have in them.

I’m going to see if I can say something about his book by doing that with his title. And so here we go. All Soul Parts Returned.

Part the first. All soul. All is soul, all spirit – very nice, very idealist. Or all is sole, S-O-L-E, all is alone – so lonely. Or maybe all is alone because all is one, that’s the etymology – “alone,” all one. (If you think I’ve left the book behind you should buy it and read it because I really haven’t.) Now what about All Souls’ Day, because that’s called to mind too, day after the day after Halloween, when the spooky bits are over, and the Saints have had their day – now is when the ordinary faithful departed are honoured and remembered.

In one poem, through the sort of linguistic shattering and regathering I’m talking about, Bruce carries a forgotten Scots couplet

The speaned lambs mene their mithers
As they wimple ower the bent

through mediations and mastications and yet somehow arrow-straight to

The speaned man
menes his mither
as he wimples
ower the bent.

“The grown man mourns his mother as he falls in folds over the field.” That’s not the only way to read the verse, of course, that turn and return. These poems multiply. Multi-ply, many folds.

Part the second. Soul parts. Well doesn’t it just. It just keeps on going off somewhere. Except, off from whom? Wait, aren’t I the one, the soul, from whom the soul would go? (That’s kind of the question of the book.) Or, the soul parts, as in splits, into parts – but how can I be fractured from myself? (That’s sort of the question of the book.) Also, sole, S-O-L-E again. Are we talking sole and uppers, and we’re in a shoe repair workshop? “All sole parts returned.” Buy this book, toll-free, 1-800-SANDALS.

Finally, parts returned. Turned then turned again, re-turned? Are the parts spun round and round? “Turn,” when a poet says it, has to mean verse, has to mean poetry. A turn is a line break, a poem is to turn and re-turn. Are our soul parts being turned round, line after line, till they’re dizzy like kids at a piñata? From “Me Meaneth”:

We could trace it if we wanted to: the dictionary’s
words line up like children in a rush,
blindfolded, to bash

a piñata. We could track
T. S. Cairncross himself,
and his lost poem, and his lambs,

the words that merge
into his last name –

Cairn, cross. This tracing has no beginning and it never ends, marking the markers, death, loss, our observances.

I might seem just to be making up some dumb shit here. But this is the sort of crazed linguistic refraction Bruce’s poetry invites you to. Language in his world is a guide who keeps on ducking behind a screen then jumping back out at you wearing a clown suit and juggling deckchairs jellyfish and metaphysics. Then, just when you’ve got used to that, it steps out wearing a mask of oblivion.

Because the work is, meanwhile, also, terrifying. Nothing escapes question here. Not language, not the self, not whether life here on earth deserves it. (That would be Schopenhauer’s contribution. That philosopher is Bruce’s Satan in the forty-day desert.)

Nothing escapes question except maybe ordinary affection. Before and through and after all the play, affection is ordinal, a compass bearing. Affection for language, affection for wife, and son, and this astonishing biosphere, and a loving appalling God who may or may not – .

It’s an affection as true as the spiritual travail it allows is at times harrowing.

The factual stuff. All Soul Parts Returned is Bruce’s eighth book of poetry, following Theophobia, also published by BOA, in 2012. Other recent books include The Corpse Flower: New and Selected Poems (University of Washington Press, 2007) and Lord Brain (University of Georgia Press, 2005). He has won three Pushcart Prizes and has seen his work anthologized in Lyric Postmodernisms, The Pushcart Book of Poetry, and other collections. His work has appeared in Yale Review, Kenyon Review, Southern Review, New American Writing, Field, and many many other journals.  He’s a Professor of English at Western where he teaches courses in poetry writing, slam poetry, dreamwork, and the ontology of monsters.

Bruce has been a teacher, mentor, guide and friend to me, more than half my life now. I can’t tell you what an honour it is to introduce him to you (although I did just try).

Please join me in welcoming Bruce Beasley.


The image up top is by J. B. Murray, (bio here) untitled. One of his astonishing images graces the cover of All Soul Parts. Here’s another that dovetails with my poetry workshop’s current recent pass through asemic writing –

JBM+154

Valentine’s Shirt in Heaven

Zazen last night at Red Cedar for the first time in some weeks. My mind was a drifty sleepy jello, nothing new there. I moved from following my breath to following sounds. No alertness for me there so I switched to taking refuge

I take refuge in the Buddha
I take refuge in the Dharma
I take refuge in the Sangha

one on each exhalation. Just the utterance for itself, not trying to connect with what it means, I don’t know what they mean, honestly I don’t. I mean, I could try to explicate it, but phhhht. Nothing special happened and I left before service, tired after a long day and under the weather.

What we want’s so simple. To be loved. It’s so little and so much.

This morning, two poems by Jean Valentine, facing pages, saw me face to face.

OPEN

I lay down under language
it left me and I slept

—You, the Comforter, came into the room
I moved my head—

my blood, my mouth
all buttoned away—

Makers of houses, books, clothes-
makers, goodbye—

and

A LEAF, A SHADOW-HAND

A leaf, a shadow-hand
blows over my head
from outside time
now & then
this time of year, September

—this happens—
—it’s well known—
a soul locked away inside
not knowing anyone,
walking around, but inside;

I was like this once,
and you, whose shadow-hand
(kindness) just now blew over my head, again,
you said, “Don’t ever think you’re a monster.”

That Comforter, that kindness, I know them, & not just in memory.

& not only, please let it be, their recipient.


Image above, from a work still incipient, Dura Mater. Click to go bigly:

Image 1 col

Sumas Mountain ochre, olive oil, egg yolk, water on paper.

Happysad snowday

This just in from SCRO.

Watch full screen for the best hit.

I think it’s a sort of breakup poem? Long after the fact but a fresh wave of it.

Oh yes, lotsa wish, loss, yearning, resolution. This little heart wants so much!

Snow’s all round today – air, ground, sky, quiet, lovely.

Yesterday a hummingbird in the snow at the lavender flowers.

Whether “life goes on,” I don’t always know, but living goes on, I do see it.

Image up top, tilt your head sideways. You’ll see the left side of the sad face is the word happy. It made the round forms in the middle, heartlike, applish, insecty.

Go, figure.