Teaching my compost course, one of the points I make a lot is, how much can be got from how little. E.g., from this scrap
spoke by Ereshkigal, Queen of the U-world, to bright canny way out of her depth sis Inanna, on their first meeting in eons – how are you bitch & die – I got, with some photocopier and computer play, to this asemic poem,
which I hope suggests a face to more than pareidoliac me. From there it wasn’t far to this diplomatic transcript –
It’s heady, I guess. These transcriptions of my own asemy are the most conceptual half-book of poetry I’ll ever write, likely. Here’s the page whole, to get down to rude felt stuff again, the undermud.
Inanna’s in some trouble. That’s her, down low at the left, hat knocked off, humbled. I made her, she’s bar codes & engine noise, but I do, and I’m not kidding, feel for her. She could die here. I could die here.
The only student I ever put in a poem took her life this summer.
It was just her first initial, and it became an asemic poem. Still though she was there in it with me. She was a checkout clerk at my grocery store and shooting the shit with her after teaching before walking in my front door softened by day a bit.
Then she was my student and we talked some more. Poems, ups and downs, ways to stay more steady through ups & downs. I hoped so, for her.
You want to save all of them. And you can’t and you shouldn’t try – you’d just become annoying. I did that not long ago, trying to save, not the one in front of me, but the one who’d gone.
The poem’s a picture of the face-to-face A. had inside and almost every time she won. I made the ground before I’d met her but it doesn’t matter. Hell only feels private.
From Inanna Scient – the penultimate panels. Whole thing, as you may have heard me mention before, collaged out of junk mail.
Was wondering the other day why I’m so preoccupied with depth effects in it. And thought, might be something to do w/ how I’m approaching obliquely (as one does gorgons in a polished shield) the phantasm of machine intelligence.
Try this. The appearance of depth on the page is analogous to the appearance of intelligence in AI. It may be more or less convincing but the only actual depth the page has to offer is the thickness of its paper. A machine, though it may sail through its Turing test and appear to possess what we would like to call a mind, it’s a semblance, a contrivance. The only consciousness there is whatever consciousness inheres anyway in the matter the machine’s made from.
Recently had a breakthrough with Dumuzi. Realized the embedded chapbook telling Inanna’s story – descent to the underworld and return here – had to bust out and become a freestanding being. So I’ve been at work on that …
But, in a funk these last couple of days. So instead of making poems I’ve been updating web pages. Vanity 1 art 0. Here’s some new stuff I wrote about the goddess project, now called Inanna Scient, because her undertaking all is to know.
Goddess Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Devastatrix of the Lands. Her story cuts through Dumuzi’s at every point at a right angle. I thought she was part of his book, but just now she broke out to become her own text – electronic and multi-modal, I think. The first panel:
I know the text sounds crude. The source is way pre-Christian, open to sacred profanity, in ways post-Christian we, split between prudery and porn, can but long for.
I’d like, if I can learn the right software, for 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:
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.
Inanna Scient imagines what it is to be our thoughts in exile from us. Informed by our fears and longings, drawn out of our bodies, made remote to us as data. Inanna and her faithful friend (Ninshubur) are those codes the P.O. prints on our mail to sort it. The backgrounds are security envelope linings. The blocky little creatures, galla from the kur, underworld demons, are postal meter codes blown way up.
Mail because commerce. Inanna and Dumuzi are grain deities, and from the roots of the grain springs trade, flowers writing, spread cities, all our gorgeous disasters.
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:
Something cool by Andrew Clark I found:
Razorsharp letterset, with pareidolia, by Christopher Skinner:
Wish I’d remembered the Deseret writing created by Brigham Young:
More widely used perhaps is 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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
I’m certainly entering new terrain as an artist with SCRO. In earlier projects I’ve experimented with visual poetry and with handwriting, and worked on the threshold of legibility, but I’ve always been bound to the page, 8.5 x 11, and to the still image. The only sound I’ve brought to bear has been my own reading voice occasionally. In SCRO, projecting images on a surface, I work with the relation between embodiment (the movements that make the writing and the rocking that creates the distortion) and disembodiment (so many photons on a wall). Putting those images in motion, I have a whole new language in which to think and feel through time and change. Conjoining images with sounds, scriptural marks with audio tracks of household noise, I can create juxtapositions that are not narrative or expository but lyrical, syncretic, and happenstance. The relation of image to sound is a bit like the relation between the singing voice and the played instrument that was once the mainstay of lyric poetry: complementary and complicating. Except here the singing voice is visual, and maybe a bit ’pataphysical, a nonce botanic script.
SCRO is for me a lyric poem. If it advances artistic practice, it does so by testing the range of what’s possible or admissible in the lyric. It goes to the edge of illegibility, then pulls back a step, so its words get to mean by fits and starts – what, it asks, is the feeling tone of that? It takes chance operations, grown cold in the hands of some conceptual poets, and brings them to bear on emotionally hot material – family trauma, the degradations of old age. Can it be a conceptual poem even if (pace Goldsmith) it demands to be read? Can it be a lyric poem even when there’s really no “reading” it? The poem has no coherent “I” to hold it together; he dissolved early in the process of distorting the memoir. Can the 16:9 frame in which nameless shapes come and go do the work of an “I” – be attention, be sentience? If so, is that the acme of lyric experience, or its abolition? I don’t have answers to these questions, just instincts and biases, but faithful attention to SCRO might raise them in some viewers.