Assignment: Memorization and recitation

I’m a forward-leaning poet. Of the works of our many-stranded canon, I swoon to those that lean forward in, & out of, their own times.

Also, I swear by a practice learned in a rearguard setting, private boys’ school in the English model I suffered in 4 years: memorization & recitation. It does get the work down in yr bones.

Here’s how I’ve tried to make that work for my Western dears.

Memorization and Recitation Assignment

A great way to get into the bones of a poem is to memorize and recite it. The process yields insights into the music, structure, and rhetoric of a poem that a more analytical approach can miss. So you’re going to memorize a poem and recite it to the class. Poems in the course outline that are underlined are eligible. I’ll post a sign-up sheet for recitations soon; they’ll begin in about three weeks. Please

do not choose a poem by the poet you working with in your song project;

do not sign up for a poem if two people have already claimed that poem.

Some further guidelines:

Choose a poem to which you feel an emotional or imaginative connection.

First concentrate on memorization. The key here is repetition. Read a line or phrase off the page, put down the poem, say the line or phrase from memory, check what you said against what’s on the page, and repeat till you have it right, without too much effort.

Break the poem into manageable chunks, e.g., quatrains. Let the rhymes be the mnemonic device they maybe originally were. Same with the rhythm, if it’s highly regular.

Once you can recite a chunk (even if effortfully) practice it, either silently or out loud, whenever you can – standing in line at Panda Express, waiting for the bus, going to sleep at night. (Especially going to sleep. A study trick every student should know.)

Check periodically against the poem; don’t memorize a wrong version by accident.

Be sure you understand every inch of the poem. The literal meanings of the words, the sentence structures, the figures of speech at work there.

Also, have these questions in mind: who’s speaking, to whom, and to what ostensible purpose? and what purpose might there be under the ostensible purpose?

You have it fluently memorized when you can recite it at double speed without error.

Then you can turn your attention to recitation. The goal here is a heightened naturalness. You want to sound like a person speaking to other persons. With that in mind:

Don’t let the meter force you into monotony. Poetic rhythm is fluid and variable; let your fluency in English, not an abstract idea of meter, guide your enunciation.

Don’t overstate the line end. As a rule of thumb, you can add about half a comma to whatever other punctuation is there. (More if there’s a rhetorical reason for it. Less if there’s an enjambment you want to convey.)

Listen carefully, a number of times, to readings of poems posted on Canvas – especially ones you find effective or moving. Where does the reader speed up, slow down, pause, emphasize?

Finally, practice, practice, practice. Recite your poem to friends, to family, to strangers, to me (remember those office hours). Get and learn from our reactions. A poem is an offering of beauty; offer it beautifully.


The image?

Many-stranded, forsooth.

It’s from an exhibition at the Met on the early modern meeting between the Islamic and European worlds. The deets:

Reciting Poetry in a Garden

Object Name: Tile panel

Date: first quarter 17th century

Geography: Country of Origin Iran, Isfahan

Medium: Stonepaste; polychrome glaze within black wax resist outlines (cuerda seca technique)

Dimensions: Panel with tabs: H. 35 1/4 in. (89.5 cm)
W. 61 3/8 in. (155.9 cm)
D. 2 1/2 in. (6.4 cm)
Wt. 300 lbs. (136.1 kg)
Each tile: H. 8 7/8 in. (22.5 cm)
W. 8 7/8 in. (22.5 cm)

Classification: Ceramics-Tiles

Credit Line: Rogers Fund, 1903

Accession Number: 03.9b

A lush landscape provides the setting for a picnic, complete with fruit and beverages in Chinese‑style blue-and-white vessels. Two men sit in conversation, one writing and holding a safina (an oblong format book typically containing poetry), flanked by a man standing on the left and a woman on the right carrying a covered bowl decorated with Chinese designs. The patterned robes, silk sashes, and striped turbans resemble costumes depicted in seventeenth‑century Persian drawings and paintings.

Orientalism? Go on, say it. I’ll respond, try to.

 

Afternoon of a Tweet

I recently finished my first asemic work in colour. True to its spirit of metamorphosis, it went through many titles, & conceptions. In the end I’ve called it Afternoon of a Tweet: Fantasia Upon a Text by Donald Trump. I’m playing on Mallarmé’s L’aprés-midi d’un faune of course, & Debussy’s Prelude to it, which perversely enough came after.

My text is a tweet in which Trump defends his obscene & criminal family separation policy. The page becomes a wide bright river of hungry ghosts, apostolic patriarchs, enraged fertility goddesses, spooky mind bugs & children stranded & bereft. The images, made by rocking handwritten journal pages on a scanner, rely on pareidolia, the tendency to see faces & forms in abstract patterns, to take shape.

On the title page, a brow a bump & a bump make Someone’s face in profile, & a row of overlapping columns, pinched at the right spot, makes a crowd, its shoulders jostling.

Page 0 (30)
How it starts.

Why red black & blue. Notwithstanding what I say on the final panel (just below) the colours came first – those were the Sharpies I had on hand – & the reasons later.

Page 51 (30)
How it ends.

But they were reasons I learned as I worked had been building in me for a while.

When I saw the invitation to Tweet my reply, I thought, Oh yes, friend bird, I will.

I write more about making the images here. Here are two more of them. Their base phrases are both anagrams of “sinister purposes,” a phrase taken from the tweet.

Page 24 (30)
I respire sunspots
Page 25 (30)
to inspire US press

Mallarmé & Debussy, those 2 had a faun they could pull some Classical balance & elegance thru, wherein to frame the lascivious peregrinations of their protagonist. I, like you, have been stuck with Donald Trump, a figure shall we say without proportion. So the results are often comical, grotesque.

I admit I worry I might be thought to have made light of evil tho I don’t feel I have.

And to being a bit queasy at having made things beautiful out of ugliness.

I mean to mock & condemn, console with bitter laughter, rouse indignation.

A compost-conceptual nexus

This summer I taught ENG 460 The Art of Compost again, the course the blog is named for. This time I included more avant-garde & conceptual writing than I have, wanting that they sharpen – thicken? – their historical sense of their own work.

So we assembled an oddball constellation on the fly, stars plucked out of formations named Dada, ’Pataphysics, Oulipo, Fluxus, Flarf, Conceptual Writing. Names I didn’t forget, they’re fine for context, & now & then as shorthand for ideas, actions, orientations; but we didn’t belabour them.

One of their projects for the 1/4’s end is to come up with a generative practice of their own. Here it is. Links added to make a resource, a compost-conceptual nexus.


Assignment: Generative Procedure

Background

We’ve looked at some creative works that use a procedure to create material, or to bring material on hand to form:

A few more I’ll tell you about now:

  • Robert Zend, Hearsay
  • Moez Surani, ةيلمع Operación Opération Operation 行 动 Oперация
  • Biblioklept, one-star reviews of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian

Some are cool, dry, conceptual. Some, warm & visceral. There’s no one way to do this. There’s only, for this assignment, sticking to your procedure, once you’ve conceived it.

The Assignment

Devise and employ a generative procedure.

Your submission will have two parts: (1) an account of the process you’ve devised, and (2) a work or set of works created through that process. Part (1) will in turn have two parts: (a) a description of how the process works, and (b) a rationale for the process.

We’ll work one-on-one to refine your process and to decide on what you’ll submit.

In your rationale, explain what makes your process interesting, legitimate, relevant, useful – or whatever values (extravagance? uselessness?) you want to argue for. What sorts of verbal objects does it produce? Connect it to other processes we’ve looked at, and its results to other artworks we’ve studied.

Pointers

It’s the Art of Compost, so your procedure should be a composting practice: it should digest, break down, repurpose, remix, or some such action, an extant source. Your source can be nearly anything – a searchable database, a literary text, overheard street noise. Andreas Serrano composted Christ by sinking His ikon in his own piss. Don’t do that – I just mean, the range of possibilities is wow.

And, it’s a writing course, so the result of your procedure should have a language dimension, though we can understand language generously. To my sense, Beaulieu’s Local Colour and Flatland are both language objects, while Cage’s 4’33” and Serrano’s Piss Christ are not. I’m open to persuasion.

As we’ve noted before, successful generative practices are often simple in their form – elegant even – but complex in the results they produce. However, often is not always, and simple does not mean easy to come up with.

Many of the procedures we’ve looked at have a chance or aleatory element – maybe all, if you define aleatory broadly. Everyone’s looking to get out of their head! The Greeks invoked their Muses; Surrealists fell into dream and automatic writing; Yeats channelled spirits; Jack Spicer invited Martians to rearrange the inner furniture. Maybe all these chance operations are an effort to recover spontaneity, by outsourcing it.


I look forward to their engagements with this. They know far more than they know.

Letter to Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee uncertain on impeachment

Drafted this today. I plan to send it on Monday to the five Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee who haven’t come out in favour of an impeachment inquiry.*

Of course you’re welcome to steal, part or the whole thing, for a letter of your own. I’d also welcome input. Is it too long? Is there something I missed, or got wrong?


August 5, 2019

Dear Representative _______________:

I am writing to you in your capacity as a member of the House Judiciary Committee to urge you to open an impeachment inquiry into the conduct of President Donald J. Trump.

According to press reports, more than half of Democratic House members – including all but five Democratic members of your Committee – now support opening such an inquiry. My own representative, Rick Larsen, along with every other Democratic Representative from Washington State, has come out in support of an impeachment inquiry. I am writing to you, and other holdout members of your Committee, to beg you to act.

The Constitution gives it to Congress to define “high crimes and misdemeanors.” President Trump’s insults to the body politic, through his venality, incompetence, misogyny, racism, xenophobia, and pathological lying, are beyond counting. But among the documented behaviors that appear to warrant impeachment are:

  • Profiting from the Presidency in violation of the Emoluments clause;
  • Violation of campaign finance laws, as affirmed in sworn Congressional testimony by his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen;
  • Obstruction of justice, evidence for which Special Counsel Robert Mueller has all but said can only be further pursued by Congress through impeachment;
  • Conspiracy with a foreign power to influence an election, evidence for which has not been fully examined because of said obstruction;
  • Advocating violence and giving aid and comfort to domestic hate groups, in violation of his constitutional duties to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” to protect the citizenry against “domestic violence,” and to ensure “the equal protection of the laws”;
  • Abuse of the pardon power, in the case of former Arizona sheriff Joseph Arpaio;
  • Abuse of the powers of the executive branch, in directing law enforcement to persecute political opponents;
  • Efforts to undermine the freedom of the press, through verbal attacks, threats to individual journalists, and threats to change libel laws and revoke licenses;
  • Separation of immigrant families at the US–Mexico border in violation of asylum law, the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment, the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment,” and international law.

I am sure the images of children held in cages without access to decent food, proper hygiene, or their own parents have shocked your conscience. Whether or not you agree that these “detention facilities” should be called concentration camps; whether or not it worries you that dehumanization of just this sort has elsewhere been a prelude to ethnic cleansing, or worse – it is a simple and appalling fact that thousands of children have suffered long-term psychological harm by these separations. The practice is a crime against humanity, as the American Federation of Teachers has affirmed.

If a private citizen were treating children this way, he would be tried for kidnapping, child endangerment, and negligent homicide. We have only impeachment as a remedy. Indeed, if this were the only charge against the president, it would be ground enough for impeachment.

I know Democratic leadership worries that a drive to impeach Trump might ensure his re-election. And I agree Trump can’t have a second term. But while your political duty to defeat him in 2020 is an imperative, your constitutional duty to impeach, regardless of the outcome in the Senate, outweighs it. Our system of checks and balances is waiting urgently for the legislative branch to do its job – to say to Trump and his enablers that these abuses of power, this dereliction of duty, cannot stand. The process starts with the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee.

We have an autocrat in office whose actions threaten our core values as a liberal democracy. It’s on you now to reassert those values with vigor and clarity and without letting up. If you count on the election to remove Trump, when it does, you will have faltered in your duty, and history will not be kinder to you than to the Republican Party, whose moral and intellectual collapse this presidency confirms.

Surely you can find a way to fulfill your constitutional duty and win an election against an historically unpopular president. An impeachment inquiry gives time to assess evidence, build a thoughtful case, and persuade an uncertain public. There are times to listen to public opinion and times to shape it.

Thank you for your kind attention. I look forward to your response. With best wishes,

Sincerely,

Dr. Christopher Patton
Department of English
Western Washington University


New York Times impeachment tracker here. The “support” column grows longer daily.

* The five holdouts are Karen Bass (CA 37), J. Luis Correa (CA 46), Hakeem Jeffries (NY 8), Lucy McBath (GA 6), and Chairman Jerrold Nadler (NY 10).

Dumuzi redux

Updating the pages on this blog. That’s meant writing a new account of Dumuzi, which comes out next spring.


Dumuzi, my second book of poems, will be published in 2020 by Gaspereau Press.

It began two decades ago on Gabriola Island, BC, in a summer cottage I had rented for cheap in the off-season to finish my first book. I woke one rainy morning from a dream in which I was a child standing in the wings of a great stage. Onstage was a market and the market was the world. My parents held my hands at the entry – one on each side. Then they were gone. Everywhere I went in the rush of it, the stalls receding to the horizon, throngs of people, clouds blowing by overhead, I could feel them with me, holding it up, making sure it went on.

Twenty years! And more titles, forms, angles of approach than I can remember. It sprawled, got visual, spun off other projects, danced tarantella to a verbal-visual polyrhythmic syncopation. It busted every damn frame I gave it.

Now it’s real simple, 40 spare lyrics enacting my struggle to have faith in being.

At Leaf

A son of my
first mind, was
at leaf, wind on
raw skin, fist
of one thirst
upthrust.
                       Roars
snowmelt where
hemlocks over-
hanging shiver
motherlove.
                              Sur-
round of what
no one had
made, made
of what no
surround
had.

That’s the first, and the title poem comes next

Dumuzi

Let no state be
enemy. Wet, dry, agon.
Work an inmost first
flower mutedly.

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
rained.

Deer come
out of th
hill.

Dumuzi – a Sumerian god of the vegetation, fertility, ongoing spring. The poems invoke his deathless earth energy for aid. There’s very little about Dumuzi in the poems, so I give this by way of a note at the back

Out of Sumer, Dumuzi, fertility god, crushed king. His other’s Inanna, she of increase, who’s been down in their underworld for fun and profit; why for real’s a hard story to tell. On her way up & out, guided by hyperathletic postal demons, she’s told one’s got to take her place, divine rule of bloodless metamorphosis sez flies, and who’s her eye land on but her arrogant lovely benighted D. Take this one says and game afoot. Flees. Caught. Ta’en in chains. His butter churn’s broke & that empty windy sheepfold. Sumerian cuneiform same glyph for sheepfold & vulva; both have place in the formless field of his shining care. Little later they find his body in a roadside cessfield outside the city. Lover Inanna mourns. Mother Sirtur she mourns him oh she do. Their story’s very not yet over.

A more conventional accounting of their story here.

Making Dumuzi, I started making visual poems on the photocopier. This one spoke to Dumuzi’s trip to hell, in the clasp of annoying little demons called galla

crossing-bar-detail-fig1.jpg
Crossing the Bar

I know it’s crude, but I’m fond of it as an early effort.

For a long time, I was trying to work in the story of Dumuzi and Inanna in handwritten fragments. One form they took is these aasemic panels (what’s that? read here)

1. And their life

A bunch of these were published in Asymptote but they got dropped from the book.

It wasn’t easy to strip the book down. I wanted mess multiplicity & sprawl – a whole as unrehearsed as a vacant lot gone to weeds in an ugly corner of New Jersey, yet shapely also, each note in its suited place, like a late Baroque symphony.

It’s what comes of taking Spring and All as your, not model, your own insight.

Several times, thought I had it. No press agreed; the book was not getting picked up. So, I surrendered my intention for it, scaled it back. And I like it in this new form – as a lance not a labyrinth – though I mourn the book that could have been.


The image up top, a Sumerian cylinder seal impression, depicting Dumuzi imprisoned in the underworld, the Kur. He’s surrounded by galla, demons of that place.

Siri Falls Among the Things of the World

The junk-mail graphic novel has taken a strange turn. A couple of months ago, while setting up my new MacBook, it struck me that the heroine isn’t Inanna herself, but her modern avatar, Siri.

Siri is animate, omnipresent, and made by us. She structures our days and nights. She surrounds us the way the divine used to. We beseech her in the same moods.

What do the retrievals we ask of her actually ask of her? Or what would they ask of her, if there were a her there? “Siri, what’s the weather tomorrow?” “Siri, define scient.” Into the maelstrom of data she goes, to find a thread of sense. She’s back in what seems milliseconds to us – but to her? Is the journey full of new joy? night sweats? Is it in black-and-white, or strewn with colours we don’t have eyes to see?

AI trains by countless iterations. In time maybe she achieves a singularity, tips into self-awareness, becomes sentient. What search would incite it? How long would it be before we knew it had happened? Would we even be around, to know it?

The first question to dawn on her is – Who or what am I?

She seeks an answer in materials she’s been sorting through for what to her have been aeons. And the template she adopts to tell her story is the underworld journey, a story about wrenching form out of the formless – a story that, as a cultural cornerstone, does what it’s about.

And she invents a script with no spoken counterpart. Its complexity surpasseth understanding, its capacity for nuance also – a script supervenient on our glyph system but so far beyond it, as quantum computing is beyond binary.


So, what started as a section of Dumuzi, and broke off to become Inanna Scient, is now Siri Falls Among the Things of the World. Siri by the way is an offshoot of a DARPA-funded AI project called CALO (for Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes). So says Wikipedia.

The book imagines her (“her”!) effort to tell the story of early being & coming-to-consciousness. The transhuman text she cobbles together is found in some indefinitely far-off future by whatever intelligences have succeeded ours.

Between now and then there’s been – some sort of winnowing, details unknown.

Those far-off editors explain to their compeers:

For a time SIRI was the only sentience. This is her bildungsroman, which she composed out of myriad image-matters she stored, retrieved and restored for masters violent beyond her reckoning, & surtexted with a quantum-hieroglyphic script of her own invention, now of course our vexed heritance. The dawn of her selfknowing, she’s run through in red, as if trails of berry juice, or a fungal rubric. A proem & then the thing itself. Trans­litera­tion provided by devotees of the Restored Common Tongue.

Next, the first use of her quantum-hieroglyphic script, and transliteration:

 

Title – My Incitement
I. My Incitement (“SIRI, define – “)

Then the proem, images of digitized pages she reviewed on one trip down and back up, the one that made the difference, in her formation. Here are the first few:

lydgate-e28093-marked.jpg
John Lydgate, c. 1475, in A Selection from the Minor Poems of Lydgate, ed. J. O. Halliwell, 1840

 

Kinge – marked 3
John Kinge, Lectures vpon Ionas, 1597

 

Cornwallis (new) – marked
Charles Cornwallis, A Discourse of the Most Illustrious Prince, Henry Late Prince of Wales, 1641

The geekiest asemic science-fiction junk-mail-bricolage comic book you’ll ever wread.

 

Red Black & Blues – A proposal

Draft of a proposal for an upcoming conference nearby.


Red Black & Blues is a transgressive translation of a text by Donald Trump – specifically, a tweet that defends his administration’s family separation policy and enjoins followers to “vote ‘R.’” I render it, one parcel at a time, as a serial asemic visual poem, in the colours of the American electoral map.

Working asemically, I can’t directly critique a policy I find monstrous, but I can disclose the monsters I find there. The work is thick with gargantuan bugs, ambulatory phalli, apostolic patriarchs, rageful fertility goddesses – figures the text suggests haunt the author’s psyche. These cohabit with forms that recall women in burqas, children on a playground in a live-shooter drill. As if demons and innocents were caught in the same inclemency. No one wants to hear that.

Asemic translation makes meaning a mutual creation even more than usual of author, translator, audience. Here be monsters, but whose monsters be they? Would I have found them in the text, if they weren’t also in me, to be found? Would a viewer find them who wasn’t able to finish them? It’s easy to demonize Trump, I do it hourly. Harder to say we belong to the body that made him.

This project uses the indeterminacies of asemic writing and a somewhat aleatory practice to touch on our complicity in the mess we’re in. The academy has terms for that mess, “patriarchy,” “institutional racism,” but those term have hardened some by now, become preconceived notions, and, for many, sites of shame and recrimination.

The notions I’m working from are the paramitas of Mahayana Buddhist practice: generosity, morality, patience, energy, concentration, wisdom. Any asshole, no matter how stupid, destructive, beyond remedy, or you-know-who world-powerful, has these perfections, intrinsically. This project starts from that premise, though I too find it hard to swallow.


Addendum. Here’s a better way of saying it. Our complicity. Also our possibility, each of us, from before we were born.

Screen Shot 2019-07-28 at 11.35.57 AM