Spring and All and all

One week in, both my classes, and they’re so nice! In a life that feels, gonna just say it, a bit thin for human company, my teaching is textured, rugose. They go by fast, these students, even those I connect with beyond the usual. (They’ve got lives to get on with, yo?) But in their meteoric transits through, briefly they’re as if my kids – kids I never raised, but get to feel tender toward a spell, aren’t they.

Didn’t think to go there. (Even the ones who don’t remember my name. The ones whose names I have to reach for. Somehow, and more than formally, them too. What is that?) (A leopard makes a rhizome with a newborn baboon. Our instincts, drives, are endlessly various and flexible; are originally free; hence, maybe, art.*) (There’s a thesis for you – interspecies bonds and art happen by the same mechanisms.**)

My mind goes this way, these ways, thanks to William Carlos Williams’s Spring and All, first text of our rhizome workshop, whose motive is life and more life, life in nooks and crannies, life in standing water and sickbeds. Spring and yes are synonyms.

It’s late, Sunday tracking to Monday, so just this, second para:

There is a constant barrier between the reader and his consciousness of immediate contact with the world. If there is an ocean it is here. Or rather, the whole world is between:

Consider how odd that is. Intimacy with the world is intact. Consciousness of intimacy with the world is intact. There’s a barrier, and it’s constant, but it’s not anywhere you’d think to posit it. More than intact, maybe, inviolable, and yet, a barrier, a constant one.

And more – the barrier between you and your awareness of intimacy with the world – is the world. How are you not intimate with that?

Dharma of a red wheelbarrow. Why the participle glazed matters, why the prepositions, their stationing in mental space, matters.

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

And a key to Paterson. I think so. Williams is a shitkicker, but his question’s a loving one, why don’t we treat each other more tenderly as we might? That’s not rhetorical – if it were it’d be schlock. He’s really asking. He puts a life’s energy into asking.

He moved me to ask it too. I tend to ask in the first person singular, cuz the plural feels presumptuous, though as I’ve looked at my poetry this weekend, I’ve had fears of narcissism … I, I, I, the vowel in die, the vowel in live (adj.) …

In which vein, this little one came yesterday, out of crumpled disjecta, I see a bear cub, but that may be my pareidolia talking.


Disjecta scan 1.jpg

* Check out that link! See if you don’t think art is incipient there. In the leopard’s uncertainty – do I nurture or do I pounce. In its unfitness – how will it feed its new charge. And in its untowardness – it’s ventured where it should not have. Those are three of the uns of art, yes, no?

It’s broken, I mean, into a new space, which it, and the baby baboon, and the forest, and 2 million YouTube views all honour in their ways.

As I do you by tapping “Publish.” G’night.

** (Next morning.) Try this. Art is second-order play. Art is when play becomes the content of new play. Which could be why it feels to us both vital and inutile, and why its nature slips out of our grasp, and why we’re tempted to think of it as transcendent, when in fact it’s supervenient …

Down boy. You’re supposed to be lesson planning.


Syrians to Canada (II)

Some friends on Salt Spring Island are raising money so they can invite two, maybe three Syrian families to come live there with them there. Maybe they will make new lives, new starts, there. Maybe they will go from faces in the news to friends you run into in the grocery store. How nice is that?

It strikes me as the most, a sliver of the only, important thing.

If you want to send them a few bucks you can here.

It’s hard to feel loss even when it’s right in your face. My dad, he’s in decline, I don’t want to see it. Three hours after we’d had lunch together he was asking if I’d had lunch with them. He’s going. Next time I see him he’ll be a little more gone. Don’t want to see or feel any of it. And yet I don’t want not to more.

And when it’s not your family, and not your people, and not your problem …

And yet it is, and it is, and it is – and you know it, yo?

A taste of rhizome mind

From Poetics of the Rhizome. A course set to start soon.

Before the World Wide Web, there was a worldwide web. Human beings are recent guests in that web, guests often rude and destructive, but sometimes stunned with awe, or love.

[T]he Great Subculture which runs underground through all history … [a] tradition that runs without break from Paleo-Siberian Shamanism and Magdalenian cave-painting; through megaliths and Mysteries, astronomers, ritualists, alchemists and Albigensians; gnostics and vagantes, right down to Golden Gate Park.
                – Gary Snyder, “Why Tribe”

Rats are rhizomes. Burrows are too, in all of their functions of shelter, supply, movement, evasion, and breakout. The rhizome itself assumes very diverse forms, from ramified surface extension in all directions to concretion into bulbs and tubers. When rats swarm over each other. The rhizome includes the best and the worst: potato and couch­grass, or the weed.… The wisdom of the plants: even when they have roots, there is always an outside where they form a rhizome with something else – with the wind, an ani­mal, human beings…. “Drunkenness as a triumphant irruption of the plant in us.”
                – Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

I would describe poetry as ecology in the community of words.
                – Jed Rasula, This Compost

[T]he separate perspectives of my two eyes converge upon the raven and convene there into a single focus. My senses connect up with each other in the things I perceive … each perceived thing gathers my senses together in a coherent way, and it is this that enables me to experience the thing itself as a center of forces.
                – David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

This old plum tree is boundless. All at once its blossoms open and of itself the fruit is born. It forms spring; it forms winter. It arouses wind and wild rain…. Its whirling, miraculous transformation has no limit. Furthermore, the treeness of the great earth, high sky, bright sun, and clear moon derives from the treeness of the old plum tree.
                – Eihei Dōgen, “Plum Blossoms”

Most of each thing
is whole but contingent
on something about
the nearest one to it
                – Fanny Howe, “The Splinter”

Common threads here are multiplicity and interdependence. There’s no one way to be human. There’s no one way to be a poem. There’s no one way to be at all! And no one way to say so.

Plum Blossoms - detailMy students are you reading. Winter is coming. You’re gonna be asked, early on, to write spring. The image atop is Red and White Plum Blossoms by Ogata Kôrin. You can read a nice treatment of it here.

Here’s what Dōgen Zenji, my teacher’s teacher’s teacher, and on, has to say about painting spring:

When you paint spring, do not paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots – just paint spring. To paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots is to paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots. It is not yet painting spring.

It is not that spring cannot be painted. My late master, old buddha, he alone was a sharp-pointed brush that painted spring.

So be the sharp-pointed brush painting spring. Or whatever.


On trauma, karma, genre

I’ve felt ashamed, in the face of Paris, Homs, Beirut, drowning seas off Turkey and Lesbos, murdered and maimed Frenchwomen and men, Syrian migrants around whom walls of the mind have now reached further skyward, to have been vexed by my little troubles – though for whatever reason, surgery, readiness, the fall’s brought them forward for my study.

But harm is harm. Sometimes we confuse the perspectives of justice and mindfulness. From the perspective of justice (redress) one harm does weigh against another, more, less. From that of compassion, though, there’s maybe just whatever’s in you, filling the cup. To weigh a present this against a remembered that is it-consciousness (Buber). And it-consciousness is the original harm.

What is sin? Distance from God. Don’t believe in God yet I believe that.

I don’t get to separate. That’s the meaning, as I take it, of the precepts my teacher gave me. (He told me the meaning of my name, endless spring, and asked Do you understand. I have the pine needles he brushed my forehead with on my altar.) It means the assholes gunning down concertgoers in a club in Paris are me. The lost boy in Roseburg executing his schoolmates in coldness is me.

I don’t mean I know what it’s like to be them, that would presume. I mean what they’re burning in, I’m burning in.

Shit, I’m going all Christian sounding, or Eliot or something, because I don’t know how to express something I feel as dimly as I do strongly. I just feel it matters how I take care of my undone karma, the busted-up places, even if to a calculative eye, my trials are small to nil.

I don’t get to separate from any of it. All I get is to choose whether or not to create craziness. I’m not ever, as this body, going to pick up a gun. I doubt I’m ever, as this body, going to even punch anyone. But I already have, as the gunner, goddamn him, as the suicide bomber, goddamn him and him and him, and him and him and him – God I want to cut their throats – given up to my craziness and slaughtered scores.

Of course I’m ashamed, of course I’m stricken.

So I’ve been wondering, is there any art, a possibility of art, in my dim stumbling efforts to take charge of my own karma. Harms I’ve received and want not to make more harm of (than I surely already have).

Not an art found by sifting and refining records of those efforts. Rather, could those records, taken whole in all their roughness, with minimal alteration, move. Could there be beauty, insight, transport, in the very awkward transparent mostly untransformed material mess of them.

Here’s one such, a journal entry, lightly edited. It begins as a memory that became an episode of lucid dreaming – the transition is around where “I” kick out the handle of the car door.

Journal page 2

I mean it as a visual poem. It has to be handwritten – doesn’t work typed. Every cross-stroke is a jailbreak, the force of the kick breaking the boy free.

For context, since I’m disclosing bravely here, this was a little bit of solo EMDR work. EMDR’s a protocol for working with traumatic memories that instead of describing in detail I’ll just link to here. I picked a memory that was charged, but not too charged, because I’m still learning how to handle this practice, and can easily get overwhelmed by it.

I’m so curious the friend morphs gender. The friend’s my mother and father, I think so, as I knew they could also be. Not as I would get them to be if I were good enough – fuck that, done with that. But as they are now, somehow, in me. volvo-122-1966-6

To end, an image I found online, eerily like the very car. Right navy/eggplant colour. BC license plate though the landscape looks more Delta/Surrey than West Van where the memory lives …

ADDENDUM. Came to feel, in the setting of Overject, the text needed more alterity – to be more other to itself. Started playing with moving it on the photocopier glass as the blue light bar moved along under the glass gathering in the image. And found, this was nice, that when I induced the movement that the text, its content, and yes my students I do still care about content, that the text induced in me, waving or trembling or rocking or whatever – that was the image that felt most true.

In the case of the page above (reinscribed) that was this.

She'd storm - warped (new)
Getting my HTML on. Click to enlarge and then some.

Not asemic writing, properly, because it has legibility (versus “is legible”). Aasemic writing?

Note to blog self

There are nouns one might hear as verbs rather. Living processes we make things of. Reify. Not that there’s anything wrong with things. Some of my best friends are things. But things are just actions sitting still a moment.

Life as a verb. Okay.

Death as a verb. Oh shit.

Self as a verb. Oh my.

Peace as a verb. “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”

Blog as a verb. Oh get over it.

Ernest Fenollosa, in The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry:

A true noun, an isolated thing, does not exist in nature. Things are only the terminal points, or rather the meeting points of actions, cross-sections cut through actions, snap-shots. Neither can a pure verb, an abstract motion, be possible in nature.

Is nature a noun or a verb. Yes.

But we of the West weight the noun. BEING, eternal forms, ειδοσ, Plato, that crapola, so to recover the living act, transmutation, you and me in flux, Heraclitean, who knows what comes in the next instant – terrifying, marvellous, necessary –

Let’s get it edgier. Benjamin Lee Whorf, in Language, Thought, and Reality, with some composting.

[A member of the Hopi nation] has no general notion or intuition of TIME as a smooth flowing continuum in which everything in the universe proceeds at an equal rate, out of a future, through a present, into a past. At the same time, the Hopi language is capable of accounting for and describing correctly all observable phenomena of the universe.

The Hopi metaphysics has its cosmic forms comparable to those of the West, past, present, and future, in scale and scope. It imposes on the universe two grand cosmic forms, which we may call MANIFESTED and MANIFESTING (or, UNMANIFEST) or, again, OBJECTIVE and SUBJECTIVE.

The objective or manifested comprises all that is or has been accessible to the senses, the historical physical universe, in fact, with no attempt to distinguish between present and past, but excluding everything that we call future. The subjective or manifesting comprises all that we call future, BUT NOT MERELY THIS; it includes equally and indistinguishably all that we call mental – everything that appears or exists in the mind, or, as the Hopi would prefer to say, in the HEART, no only the heart of man, but the heart of animals, plants, and things, and behind and within all the forms and appearances of nature in the heart of nature.

Don’t know how good this is as anthropology. Could be Whorf’s wet dream of an escape from Plato’s noun. Or a projection of Heidegger onto decimated tribes. But there is at least dimly an intuition of alterity in it, salutary.

Roseburg OR

So when you become a Buddhist you take some precepts, and one of them’s don’t be angry. That’s a precept, not a rule or a prohibition, in other words a live edge no one can tell you what means, at a given moment, or whether you’re being true to or not, but you.

One of the things I find me wondering tonight is, when does keeping the precept mean, yeah, be stinking mad. I went to my President wanting righteous anger (lead, man, lead) and did get some –

He’s a good man. And doing better now he’s unelectable. But I want flames out his eyes. I want Old Testament prophet apocalypse. I want leave no prisoners in righteous fury. What kind of insanely deformed social contract could imagine, let alone allow, let alone allow so often we’ve grown used to it, battlefield weaponry in the hands of a gravely mentally ill young man?

I teach. What if it happened here, on my campus, what if he’s in the hallway outside my classroom? Would I fold up, or would I have the cool command I want to think I would? (I faced down a grizzly once, how about a gunman?) I’ve never touched a gun. But in my imagination of this moment, my whole body and mind is a gun, and one purpose, cease the threat to my kids.

I’d kill to save my children if I had children. I think I would.

My whole body and mind a gun. I’m not a peaceful man. That’s why I need the precept. Too, we’re all animals, we’ve all got some fight in us, and that’s as it should be, isn’t it? There should be room for flames to come out our eyes.

Also there should be no such thing as guns.

But, since there are, there should be real gun laws, don’t you think?

Write to someone in that sort of power. See if we might make it so.

One more for Elise Partridge

Hello friends. A three-way conversation between Barbara Nickel, Stephanie Bolster, and myself on the life and work of our loved friend Elise Partridge has now gone live at the Winnipeg Review. It’s to be found here.

And, if you’re curious, I wrote a bit about the challenge and wonderment of the conversation itself here. You can read some more about Elise herself here. And Barb’s wonderful blog is here. Steph doesn’t have a blog but here’s her publisher’s page here. Enjoy, please, do.

I hope Elise’s spirit won’t mind me appending this.

I was invited to a celebration of Rosh Hashanah tonight and we were asked as part of our lovely evening to express an intention for the year to come. Mine was, to be more patient with others and myself. What’s this have to do with Elise? She wasn’t especially patient with herself or others. In fact I loved her impatience, it was was wise, it was holy! At least when she was skewering someone’s pretensions it was, very.

But my impatience is most often crap. (And that, that’s impatience with impatience. Yeah baby gotcha.) And I’ve just now started sitting zazen again, after years off the cushion, and I’m feeling what a difference it makes to be okay with not getting it exactly right all the time. And a little bit more patient with me, I’m a little more so with some other, too. Does seem to go that way.

Came as this a few ago

TD 90V - imageKshanti paramita = the perfection of patience, or patience beyond patience. Patience so sunk in itself you might not recognize it as patience. That was Elise, too. Barb, Steph, tell me, wasn’t it?

Student work – Poems with no words in ’em

Last day of my vis po class today. Gonna miss these guys, I am. Not often a group comes together so clear real and kind. Mean to post over the next week or two some of their later works, which have been bright and entrusting as ever.

The exercise:

Either compose a poem with no words in it, or compose a poem that is one continuous line (once the pen tip touches the paper, it doesn’t leave the paper, until the poem is done), or do both!

All that follow follow the former prompt. This time round, the latter didn’t work out, quite so well. (I mean to write, before I’m done with this spring class, on how little it matters whether a given ex has worked out for you or not. For most students most of the exes are enh and that’s fine and expected. And one or two make for breakthroughs and that’s giddy and golden.)

This one harks back to our study of Judith Copithorne’s Runes and’s inflected maybe also by flash presentations on graffiti and calligraphy. Though the semblances most evident to me are Arabic script and maybe even Hélène Smith’s Martian writing though I don’t recall us discussing it.

piece 2

Anyway it suggests to me that our early exercise on handwriting, which seemed mostly a bust at the time, might have set some seeds long to germinate.

This one’s a culmination of its author’s preoccupation with forces in the culture, ad copy junk food and so on, conspiring to benumb one.

piece 1

I should mention that the exercise comes in company with our work on Derek Beaulieu’s Local Colour, a reading of Paul Auster’s novella Ghosts that replaces every colour word with a swatch of that colour, all other words with the whiteness of the page.

I could dilate here on the symcomplexity of that project, or on the extraordinary anxiety it induces in some students (“You don’t ask what a waterfall means,” I said today, “why do you ask what the poem means?” “Nature – art,” said one student, and it’s a sound response, and because I didn’t feel like talking about Kant, I went to Bach. “You don’t ask what the Goldberg Variations mean, though, right?, you ask what they do.” Probably not a good pick, but my first thought, Beethoven’s 9th, has words in it, which complicates. A long parenthetical. Gist is, if there’s one, we got into a good discussion of just what one means by meaning, and’s pretty effing giving of a group of graduating seniors, Thursday of Dead Week.), but I’ll just send you to the text itself. Wread it!

Can’t quite put my finger on why this last one blows my mind.

piece 3

Saw its author today on the plaza and asked her what it was like to make it – was she in the zone, an altered space, and she said she kind of was, there on the floor with her scissors and construction paper. What you Buddhists yo call samadhi, one-pointedness, and it does come through, so we get some of it, too.

There’s something inexpressible comes across in the whorls. Its imperfections are perfections. All that’s clumsy about it’s subtle. Makes me want to cry and don’t know whether w/ happy or sad.

This one’s her breakthrough poem; told her so; she thought that, too. Everyone in the class had one this time round, no one left out, some did early, some late, some with fireworks, some as quiet as a snowflake of exclamation points or a photocopy of onion skins. What a privilege to be a part of, my god.

On playing well w/ others (II)

The other live collaboration is teaching. My vis po group delights me yet with their attention and good cheer. I love spending time with them; they’re a twenty-one-person friend; I’m going to miss her him them when we’re done.

One thing happening, new for me, is what I’ve been calling co-teaching. Instead of breaking up the class period – student presents then I teach – I’ve let the presentations go long and tried to weave my teaching into their teaching. That’s made for challenges. I can’t wholly recede into the role of just-one-more-student. There are lines of inquiry I’m best positioned as teacher to introduce. If I just chill and let the conversation go wherever it wants to then I’m not really doing my job.

How to do my work then? My best work has always been done Socratically. But it’s been hard to work Socratically in this new context. Turns out there may be space for only one Socrates in the room. Is that what Athens meant by the hemlock?

Gist of my last post was, look how strong these friendships are, that they can withstand some sore tension, be hardly shaken. Here my gist is, look how strong this class is, its esprit de corps, that they can let me learn along with them, so exposedly.

No question I feel exposed – they see me fuck up half a dozen times a day – but some mix of apology teasing and good cheer keeps me persistent. The fabric feels not injured by my error.

Half a dozen times a class, I need to make a call, do I step in here, redirect our line of inquiry, and if so, by two degrees, or twenty? (How does anyone teach who’s not OMG a martial artist of the mind? What all factors are in play that moment? My sense of the presenter’s confidence level. Of her command of the material. Of the chances she was headed there anyway. Of the class’s interest and engagement. Of who does and doesn’t have the text. Of X’s irritation at not being called on five minutes ago. Mirror neuron overload. Also I need to pee.)

Let’s say I do, I step in. I want several things at once. I want to model, for the presenter, the Socratic method – how to use questioning to lead your charges down a path of inquiry. (Coupla troubles with that I see now. One’s time frame – I’m wanting to deliver in seconds a lesson that may need weeks months years to offer. Another’s ego – why should my given method be template for another?) I also want the class to taste the fruits of Socratic method in action – if we can get there that way then someone has been actively making connections. And I want maybe also to sustain the arc momentum substance of the class.

I wonder why I’m tired after a two-hour class and ravenous? Surely my brain has burned a burrito’s worth of blood sugar.

In practice, as often as not, stepping in, I knock the presenter off his game. He feels interrupted, disrupted, not I hope corrupted. And I do my Socratic thing, pursue a line of questioning, maybe get to an answer, maybe also model the process in the way I’ve meant to. Then awkwardly hand the presentation back, perhaps with apologies, and we laugh, but it’s awkward.

I often don’t know where I’m headed with a blog post when I start one. That’s what makes these worth writing – what makes them live, long I, the way poems are live. The reason I’ve spent hours on this one (yeah, believe it, hours) is that I’ve slowly come to see, in my own internalized Socratic process, that I’ve been headed for something all along. It’s this.

It’s this. Though it’s been awkward, though students have felt off-put, though I’ve felt sorely mixed about the move I’ve made, these may have been the most important moments in our time together.

I’ll say it again. It may be that exactly in these most awkward moments we’ve done our best learning and our best teaching.

One thing that happens in such a moment – I’m exposed as not in charge and not not in charge. That’s not nothing. Another thing that happens – the presenter’s been challenged without being told she’s doing it right or told she’s doing it wrong. That’s huge. (She’s doing it a perfect that’s other than right or wrong.) Another – everyone in the room has been witness to these aporias, these insoluble knots, and that’s gotta shake your head.

Any of this can only be done, sorry to go all dharma on y’all, this can only be done in a context of perfect and complete, one bright pearl. That is to say, the joy I’m feeling in this company is the joy of sangha, like minds gathered in.

Most focally, sangha means, community of fellow practitioners, meditators, followers of the eight-fold path. Most widely it means all sentient beings, and maybe some mosses too, rocks and stones, broke girders. Somewhere between those two it means hanging out with some folk who get some sides of you as they are.

I fell out of formal Buddhist practice a while ago but seem to keep stumbling into it informally and here I see’s been one way.

Have I gone on long enough? I think so! Wanted last to say though, these have been good teaching days, both classes. My intro to Brit Lit, we hung out with Billy Blakefish today, I don’t know why I call him by that. They seemed to get quite quickly that this prodding


is invite to wander out of the lockbox of the senses, enter a life of imagination, of Imagination, the world-making faculty of mind, which for Blake was undifferentiable from God. Before we were done one offered, prompted by nought but irritation & consequent inquiry, that this Proverb of Hell

Where man is not, nature is barren

(which pissed me the hell off, too, when I first read it, and it still can) made sense in that light. Nature is made to be nature by human mind. Not anthropocentrism – phenomenology in embryo.

Paperwhites, for Elise

An exercise I give my poetry students: “Write a flower. Don’t write about a flower. Just write a flower.” Heh heh. Evil sumbitch I am. But I think I might have done that this morning. I had vaguely in mind to cut some paperwhites (narcissus) I had growing indoors from bulbs when they first began to falter and bring them to the photocopier and see what they had by way of elegy in them.

So I did. This one’s I think the best to stand alone. If I keep thinking so it’ll end Dumuzi as Paperwhites, for Elise.

Paperwhites, for Elise

Elise was always a bit scandalized (and skeptical and intrigued and mortified and drawn) by my drift in this direction (“Chris, you’re not going to abandon MUSIC, are you?!?!?”) and I offer her this elegy in the cheerful teasing spirit in which our overlapping divergent aesthetics met. I’ve rarely loved disagreeing, being disagreed with, so much.

(Really. That many ?s and !s and more. Of how many people can you expect to say you’ll miss their e-mails acutely?)

Of the two dozen or so scans I made, quick quick, little thinking, the latter half come together as a tableau I think, and elegy. And something about ones and twos and threes, and how when you’re close to yourself there are more and fewer than one there, just as when you’re close to a friend there are more and fewer than two there.