Opening the field

This by Robert Duncan, in Rasula’s This Compost, out of the body of which many of my thoughts here take sprout.

It is only the midden heap, Beauty: shards,
          scraps of leftover food, rottings,
          the Dump
where we read history, larvae of all dead things,
          mixd seeds, waste, off-castings, despised
          treasure, vegetable putrefactions
– Robert Duncan, “Nor is the Past Pure”

Speaking of the opened field. I’ve found a good prompt for working a way into Olson’s “Projective Verse” with students is to ask them just what that “field” in “composition by field” might be. Last time I did it I was way taken by the breadth of their answers. The page. The sensuous surround at a given perceptive moment. The expanse of possible questions.

I’m paraphrasing here, but my gist is, they helped me see how “composition by field” is itself composed by field, meaning at multiple vectors fruitfully.

The course

If the blog’s to be companion to the course, the course can be companion to the blog also, and I hope they’ll be buds, swapping gists and piths. Here’s what the syllabus will say to our brave company at the opening.

When you make compost you break down old forms to make new forms. From banana peels and lawn clippings you grow a lemon tree. From street signs and Twitter feeds you grow a poem or a flash essay. In this class you’ll turn a fairytale inside-out. You’ll burrow wormwise through your own prose in search of the secret text it holds. You’ll build a poem out of physical objects. What you won’t do is stare at a blank page or screen trying to figure out “what on earth to say.” In other words, your life’s already a perfect poem, a perfect story, a perfect meditation, you just need to compose it a bit.

I’m new to bloggery but already very struck by how form and process extend the content and back again. I’ve long loved the thought and the fact of the serial poem (e.g., Spicer’s Language, Blaser’s Moth Poem) but haven’t till now come close to composing one …

(There’s a thought in me half-formed about Black Mountain prose style, its relentless parataxis, and how like that the serial poem is in its play ethic. Something about going on your nerve, not resorting to a supervisory intelligence, the mind that knows as the sentence begins what the whole of it will say. A dead form, nature mort. Gonna mull this one a bit more.)

On origins, variously

Gone meta

This is a big fat post because wordpress doesn’t wish to import my very first early tumblr posts. So I’m piling ’em in here. Maybe I should just let it go but I’m not good at that. This blog, and rotting things generally, cuz I’m not, here come to teach me.


On tablets

Archaeologists unearthing clay tablets (Gilgamesh) and mummies wrapped in strips of recycled papyrus (Sappho) have developed a robust minor vocabulary for what’s gone missing.

Ellipses. Italics. Round brackets, square brackets, curly brackets, angle brackets, half square brackets. Each to mark a different sort of goneness.

Armand Schwerner had some fun with that vocabulary and in the process turned marks of absences to presences in their own right. This page from his Tablets takes it to one extreme.

Schwerner - Tablet X

And, at that extreme, beyond the last palm of the mind, something winks at Stevens, his “Man on the Dump”: “The the.” Hee hee. Schwerner probably also had in mind Pound’s “Papyrus”:

Spring .  .  .  .  .  .  .
Too long .  .  .  .  .  .
Gongula .  .  .  .  .  .

What I’ve been reading here. Armand Schwerner, The Tablets. Sappho, If Not, Winter (Anne Carson trans.). James B. Pritchard (ed.), The Ancient Near East: An Anthology of Texts and Pictures.

Here’s a bit of Gilgamesh for ya. G’night.

image


Biblical

The Bible is a huge gorgeous reeking compost pile. Take Genesis. Three or more authors have their hands in it. The earliest is known as J, the Yahwist, and his God is fierce, dangerous, fallible, embodied. He likes to walk in the shade on a hot day. Then there’s P, the Priestly writer, his God’s detached and magisterial, his words are pure act, no dirtying of the hands, just let there be light. And E, the Elohist, his name for God Elohim, inconveniently plural.

Drawing it all together, somewhat skilled and somewhat hapless, R, the Redactor, trying to get a coherent account out of it all. He could cut and paste but couldn’t alter much the texts he received as sacred.

He succeeded insofar as we have a single thing called “The Bible.” He failed gorgeously insofar as we have two overlapping Creation accounts, glaring contradictions in the story of the Flood, and not one, not two, but three iterations of the “Hey, Pharaoh, that’s no sister, that’s my wife” gag.

Writings are readings. Readings are restlessly multiple. Thank God for which.

What I’ve been reading here. R. Crumb, The Book of Genesis Illustrated. David Rosenberg and Harold Bloom, The Book of J. Stephen Mitchell, Genesis.

Lastly, the beauty, to this atheist, of two thoughts in Genesis. That the created is good. And that even omnipotent beings come to rest.


Opening

So I’m starting to think about a course called “The Art of Compost” I’m set to teach this summer. And I thought, why not a blog, work out some ideas there.


Root quote

The recovery of the compost library extends in all directions.

– Jed Rasula, This Compost