My name’s Christopher Patton. I’m a poet, translator, essayist, and children’s writer. I earn my bread in the sweat of my brow teaching creative writing and literature. Got three books out there.
- A book of poems called Ox.
- A children’s story in verse called Jack Pine.
- A book of translations from Old English called Curious Masonry.
But I’d so really rather tell you of projects recent and current. One I just finished and am sending round is called Dumuzi. Named for the Sumerian vegetation god whose myth is one of the book’s sources. A note once at the end – it’s fallen out of the ms but still serves – describes the project, joking only a little, as an experiment in Cubist interior journalism.
I mean journalism etymologically, the study of the day, the look of the day, dailiness. Too, most of its materials have passed at some point through my journal or mailbox or a friend’s mailbox. By interior I mean moving self-portraiture and by moving I simply mean in motion and by self I mean WTF. By Cubist I mean that as the newspaper coffee cup café table they sit on are seen from all vantages at once – multiple vantages, high and low here and there, and explicit vantages multiply implicitly till the eye becomes space and space is given to see – so here all moments of the myth are so at once, and the mind is time.
Heavy. Here’s Dumuzi feeding some sheep.
It’s got poems made of words
Let no state be
enemy. Wet, dry, agon.
Work an inmost first
Wind blows light about
the life (hemlocks) from
which art is not apart
nor of a part. What a
rock thought to do
was rain and it
out of th
and poems made of bar codes
and other visual poems you can see in my bomber new vispo portfolio.
The other one recently done – a book of translations from Old English called Unlikeness Is Us: Fourteen from the Exeter Book. Due out with Gaspereau Press in the fall of 2018.
The Exeter Book is a miscellany of Anglo-Saxon verse – elegies, homilies, riddles, maxims, and nones of the above, thrown together somewhat chaosily. I’ve translated a few of its greatest hits (“The Wanderer,” “The Seafarer”), a smattering of riddles, and a sequence of maxims (aka “gnomic verses”) hardly anyone does whole cloth, and I get why, though I’m glad I have.
The book’s also my deepest foray yet into prose. I try in a critical introduction to unpack a tension between the the poems’ material commitments – to the present things of the world and to their own manifest thingliness as poems – and their transcendental yearnings for a deity who lives way far beyond the sky. At the back, commentaries and textual notes. It’s not, by a long shot, a scholarly work, but I hope the translations and the apparatus around them are sound enough to make the book useful in an undergrad classroom.
Here’s one, a poem usually called “Wulf and Eadwacer,” first in Old English:
Lēodum is mīnum swylce him mon lāc gife.
Willað hȳ hine āþecgan gif hē on þrēat cymeð.
Ungelīc is ūs.
Wulf is on īege, ic on ōþerre.
Faest is þæt ēglond, fenne biworpen.
Sindon wælrēowe weras þǣr on ige;
willað hȳ hine āþecgan gif hē on þrēat cymeð.
Ungelīce is us.
Wulfes ic mīnes wīdlāstum wēnum dogode.
Þonne hit wæs rēnig weder ond ic reotugu sæt.
Þonne mec se beaducāfa bōgum bilegde,
wæs mē wyn tō þon, wæs mē hwæþre ēac lāð.
Wulf, min Wulf, wēna mē þīne
sēoce gedydon, þīne seldcymas,
murnende mōd, nāles metelīste.
Gehyrest þu, ead wacer, uncerne earmne hwelp
bireð wulf tō wuda.
Þæt mon ēaþe tōslīteð þætte nǣfre gesomnad wæs,
uncer giedd geador.
and now in translation:
As if one had made the people an offering.
They will receive him if he comes in violence.
Unlikeness is us.
The wolf is on an island. I am on another.
Mine is secured and surrounded by marsh.
The men on that island are glad at war—
they’ll receive him if he comes in violence.
Unlikeness is us.
I have borne a wolf on thought’s pathways.
Then it was rainy weather and I sat crying.
When the war-swift one took me in arms,
the joy he gave me, it was that much pain.
Wolf—my Wolf—thoughts of you
sicken me. How seldom you come
makes me anxious, not my hunger.
Listen, overseer, to our miserable whelp
wolf bears to woods.
Easy to make two what was never one;
our song together.
And what am I working on now. Two projects underway and one in abeyance.
One active one’s called SCRO, a multi-modal project that explores masculinity, fatherhood and sonship, what loss and meaning are. To start, I take a memoiristic text – handwritten journal pages cued by a recent visit to my father – and distress and distort them on my office photocopier. For instance, this
The text becomes less verbal and more visual. Less legible and more beautiful. As one sort of meaning recedes, another sort steps forward, or I hope so. It’s me letting go, as he goes, of what my father was to me before.
The images are themselves just raw material for further work. I am working toward two instances, one material, a physical scroll, one ethereal, a gallery installation. The making of the mockup of the scroll looked like this:
A video for installation looks like this:
Lots more to be seen in – did I mention this yet? – my new vispo portfolio.
Why SCRO? Because scroll, truncated. Also escrow, same – the poem is rooted in my house, which my father made it possible for me to buy, by cosigning the loan. The one that eluded me for a few days was scrotum – in case I needed confirmation this is father-and-son terrain, brotherhood too, and what being a man means, in this day.
The other underway is called Inanna Scient. That’s goddess Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Devastatrix of the Lands. She too goes to the underworld and her story cuts through Dumuzi’s at every point at a right angle. The first panel:
“When they tire of riding the holy hard-on, Inanna gathers up her me for a road trip.”
“Those are her powers.”
I know the text sounds crude. But the source is way pre-Christian, sacred and profane break out different in it, in ways post-Christian we, with our prudery and our porn, can scarce reconstruct.
I’d like, if I can learn the right software, the image to be multiply responsive to a touch (tablet) or mouse-over (computer). Brush the aasemic text and a voice reads it to you. Poke a demon and a crow barks. Stroke a barcode and rain in the trees. The next panel:
“Won from her drunken father Sweetwater back in the day.”
I imagine the text as a posthuman hymn. We’ve created, if not artificial, then unnatural intelligence, and outsourced a good chunk of our thinking to it – our sorting and analyzing, our remembering and feeling. The nets we’ve trained in these human works are clunky at it but quickly getting better. By now the images of us they reflect back to us are coloured by notes not our own. It’s that uncanniness I’m after.
“Her faithful friend.”
Inanna Scient imagines what it is to be our thoughts in exile from us. Informed by our fears and longings, and drawn from our bodies, and made remote to us as data.
The one in abeyance is Overject. From
PROVER BIA DISJECT A. “Thrown over.” The source, a minor mediocre didactic poem in the Exeter Book. What Dumuzi is to journalism, this one is to translation. I call it “total translation” but it’s not translation by any usual measure.
It’s got projective transcription, homophonic translation, impetuous derivation, vagrant elaboration, unforeseen eruption, foliated translation, spurious illumination, terminal derivation – pretty much anything except the conventional semantic translation you might reasonably expect.
I did a normal translation of the poem, some years ago, didn’t like it. And so this. Here’s a projective transcription of folio (leaf) 88V.
Most of one, in progress, abandoned. (Abandoned because the script isn’t rightly free. Gotta redo it.) Here’s an impetuous derivation of same:
Lots more to see in that kickass vispo portfolio I told you of.
Overject is on hold while I work out the ergonomics of it. Sitting stooped over your desk, eyes six inches from the page you’re illuminating, hours a day for months on end, isn’t good for your cervical spine. Apparently.
Okay so I said there’d be some me here. Here’s a pic of same. Some years old but yes I’m still just that good looking.
Kidding, I was never that good looking. The blog as a whole is indebted to this book. And, publications and awards and such here. And reviews of my work here. Enjoy! Or, better, go make your own demotic angelic word pics. Good, bad, who the eff cares. Give your loves away.