Junk mail bricolage II

On the far side of an intense burst of poem making. For a few weeks there I could do no wrong. Now though most of what I do is a strained imitation of what came full-throatedly before. If I were one of my students I’d tell me not to worry – time to lie fallow a bit is all. Since I’m me though I say time for some bloggery.


Here’s a fancy word I learned recently. Pareidolia. The tendency to see Christ in burnt toast, the Virgin Mary in soot stains on a wall, a man or a rabbit in the seas (the “seas”) of the moon.

We’re all pareidoliasts. My proof:

O       O

______

If you don’t see a face there you can stop reading – we have nothing in common.

From the Greek, para, beside, near, from, against, contrary to, + eidolon, appearance, image, ultimately from eidos, form, shape – the word Plato uses for his damnable forms. To make art out of such para-forms, and that’s where I’m headed, is give the philosopher an itch he shan’t ever manage to scratch.


Pareidolia coheres most around the human face – we’re made to make it out, and early, so early. Infant to mother, eyes to eyes, our survival in spirit depends on it, as much as our survival as bodies depends on the sustenance of touch those eyes signify.

But it seems to me there are other forms we are prone to see with hardly any prompting – trees, say.

Terror of tall trees

Fig. 1 Terror of the Tall Trees

This image is built out of junk mail bar codes (and the visual noise left behind by the strips of paper the codes are on when xeroxed). It’s the first one to show up in Dumuzi and is meant to sit right on the edge between “burnt toast” and “the ghost of Christ in burnt toast.”

The allusion is to Dumuzi’s dream, which he recounts to his sister, and the signs aren’t good.

Out of Sumer

A bit more about the handwriting sometime later. Working on a pretty/ugly hand that looks a bit like hurried wedged impressions in clay and a bit like clumsy medieval calligraphy and a bit like where my head was at when I make the strokes up to down and left to right.

K so fire

And run he does. Not that it gets he anywhere but deeper to wit

Terror of tall trees – detail

Fig. 2 Terror of the Tall Trees (detail)

And that’s what I got of an evening. Tell me what you think if you have thoughts. All this is new to and for and from and of me. C.

Junk mail bricolage (I)

A few weeks ago I took Dumuzi – a manuscript I had thought pretty much done – back into the shop for an overhaul. Started incorporating handwritten bits, pages of journal writing, fragments of the myth stroked out on scraps torn from junk mail envelopes, and’ve been pretty pumped about where it seems to be headed.

And my feelings in the wake of Elise’s passing, which have surprised me in their intensity, though why should they really, I loved her as a true friend, far from derailing the work seem to have thrown themselves into it for fuel. (I showed her one of them, not posted here today, and true to generous form, she flared, though it was far outside her taste, gladness on my behalf.)

Here’s one. I should say, this is the part of the book that tells the story of Dumuzi’s consort’s, Inanna’s, journey to the underworld, i.e., death and metamorphosis. As she readies for her journey (as if anyone chose such a journey) she gathers her me, her powers, which are all the powers of culture, our being as civilized beings.

her-me-1-3.jpg

And the other.

her-me-2-3.jpg

You’ll see some anger in it. Okay so yeah I’m pissed. Some of it’s, I’m pissed at the world, it took my friend. Even, let’s say it, pissed at my friend, she got took. And, some of it’s anger at, well, junk mail, and a life among and as commodity, even as it’s also an effort to subvert commodification. Sounding like a lit prof now shutting up.


What am I doing here. I don’t know. Something about an elegy in motion. If blog (I first typed glob) as form lets me do something my private journal nor a public statement won’t, too, it’s to do with catching the gist of the feel of the thought on the fly.

Photocopier poems

My paper towel star cluster poems. Made in five minutes on the department photocopier (and then some cropping via Picassa.) Somewhere in here, somehow, is the fact of having watched  Under the Skin, the first half, last night. Kinda slow, but the opening sequence, mating planet and iris, seems to have stayed with.

Exercise: Photocopier poem

Here’s their “writing” exercise for tomorrow:

After “reading” the examples, compose a poem by messing around on a photocopier. You should try out several kinds of manipulation (e.g., twisting, turning, shaking, fluttering) on several kinds of original (e.g., text, image, object) before deciding on a practice and a source to commit to. And then don’t be dismayed if it takes further trials to get to a poem you feel pleased enough with to hand in.

I played around on the department photocopier today (keeping a wary eye out for L. who had just cleaned the glass to a sparkle) with paperclips, paper towels, binder tabs. The paper towel rolls came out best & I’ll post them tonight.

Exercise: Strange surfaces

Write a fragment, prose or verse, on an unconventional surface. In other words, what Emily Dickinson does in The Gorgeous Nothings, you do too, on some other inscribable surface.

For instance, you might take a paper bag and cut a shape from it. Triangle, rhombus, hourglass, angel wing? Make sure it has interesting surface features. Seams and ledges and creases.

Then to write on it a text that heeds the shapes available. Do you ride right over seams between paper zones? Or arrange your thought to accommodate ledges, flaps, secret corners? Does the form of the surface maybe inflect the words you set down there?

The distinction between prose and verse starts to decay here.

FOR ADVANCED USERS (that’s anyone). Pay attention also to your writing implement. Dickinson’s envelope poems leave traces of her process — for instance, some variants were surely pencilled in later, after the whole was composed, if the quality of pencil line (darker, slimmer) is any guide at all.

The word for it’s materiality — that the matter matters.

Etymologically, matter is mother.

Hebrew: Adam = “red earth.”

Haida: human = “ordinary surface bird.”

We’re earth children you and I. Squawk and g’night.

Exercise: Punctuation poem

Next week we turn to the gorgeous Gorgeous Nothings, a collaboration across oceans and generations by Emily Dickinson, Jen Bervin, and Marta Werner. My students’ first exercise will be:

Compose a poem made entirely of punctuation. Then write a short paragraph describing what the poem “means.” Treat the paragraph as a creative extension of the piece — as playful creative nonfiction, not straight-faced literary analysis. Be ready to present both the poem and your explanation to the class.

The examples they’ll have “read” are retrieved from Rasula & McCaffery’s Imagining Language — up next.

On erasure practice (II)

Yestereven, erasure marked typographically, as with Carson and Schwerner, giving a feel of fidelity, though that’s often mock. Also, erasure as palimpsest, as in Bervin’s Nets, the source poem receding into the page but not altogether invisible.

The maybe most austere mode is just to leave the page untouched in its white or creamy presentness. That’s Ronald Johnson’s approach in Radi Os, his seminal erasure of Milton’s Paradise Lost

image

If austere is one end of a spectrum, and illuminative the other, somewhere in the middle’s any practice that retains the erasure marks, making what art of them they propose. Can find a precursor to that in this page from Johnson’s draft copy of Paradise Lost

image

It’s a question I’ve messed with some in Overject, erasures I’ve tried out of a minor Anglo-Saxon poem sequence variously called “Maxims” or “Gnomic Verses” or (by me) “Proverbs.” Here I work up the redaction marks to make some funny (and some not-so-funny) faces.

image

At the illuminative end of the spectrum (both ends and all middles presided over majestically by Wm. Blake) must for sure be Tom Phillips’s A Humument.

Fun fact. My college roommate, Johnny Carrera, my first year at Oberlin, recently had a show with Phillips at MassMOCA. And that’s all for tonight, mes amis, dormez bien.

On erasure practice (I)

Gonna hit erasure practice hard next week with my class. So thought here to summate. So much, to lift a word or three from a forebear to this sprawly lineage, depends on how you mark the missingness of what’s missing.

There’s a typography angel (sic) taken by Anne Carson in her Sappho —

image

Okay wow so the first clump suddenly recalls me to the borderline people in my life. And the second clump to how I’ve answered them. Well anyway I do love the aberrant slant in the image. Too, Armand Schwerner in his Tablets

image

Brackets, ellipses, squares, circles, squared circles, enlisted to mark the polyambience of what’s missing, or imagined to be. Though nothing is really missing, is the message, as I take it, of erasure practice. The blank page a perfect poem no one has ever managed to write.

Then there’s the palimpsest, where the new poem greys out, but doesn’t quite white out, the old. Jen Bervin’s erasures of Shakespeare’s sonnets in Nets work here, both stilly

imageand movingly, as here, where the palimpsest of it flickers in and out. That’s it for tonight, happy sultry (for here) weather all, more tomorrow.