The Swan

From Unlikeness Is Us. With thoughts on the Anglo-Saxon riddle as a threshold genre, and how can the more-than-human speak in our rather human poems.


The Swan

My dress silent when I walk on land,
or house myself, or stir up the water.
Sometimes my clothing and the air
lift me above the human dwellings,
and for that all the powers of cloud
bear me on – my white vestments
sound loudly and resound sweetly,
sing clearly, when I rest on neither
earth nor water, wandering spirit.

The Swan

Hrægl mīn swīgað°          þonne ic hrūsan trede,
oþþe þā wīc būge,          oþþe wado drēfe.
Hwīlum mec āhebbað          ofer hæleþa byht
hyrste mīne          ond þēos hēa lyft,
ond mec þonne wīde          wolcna strengu°                         (5)
ofer folc byreð.          Frætwe° mīne
swōgað hlūde          ond swinsiað,
torhte singað,          þonne ic getenge ne bēom ⬩°
flōde ond foldan,          fērende gǣst°. ⬩   :⁊

Commentary

There are ninety-five riddle poems in the Exeter Book. Give or take – a few short poems, whether or not they’re riddles is an open question. A few haven’t been solved for sure; some effectively announce the answer in the first line. In some the thing speaks for itself; in others it’s described by a curious or bemused third party. Most are marked by compact wordplay, many by playful, occasionally salacious banter. Some end with a challenge – name what this is.

“The Swan,” like many of them, offers speech to a thing we would have thought speechless (a kind of prosopopoeia). What to make of that depends on how hard you look. Pressed lightly, the poem is a happy game of make-believe. “Imagine a swan could speak!” And it’s nice to find a ludic impulse in a body of work often thought wholly gloomy in its celebration of heroes done in by wyrd. Read at this pressure, the riddle poems show a debt to a post-Classical genre that dates back at least to Symphosius (ca. 4th–5th C.), whose three-line, apparently extempore Ænigmata inspired translations and imitations by Aldhelm (639–709), bishop of Sherborne, and Tatwine (ca. 670–734), archbishop of Canterbury, among others. The influence of these precursors, all in Latin, can be felt in the Exeter riddles, but the latter aren’t for the most part translations or imitations; they tend to be longer, more detailed, and more playful stylistically than their forebears (Marsden 310).

Look harder, the ludic becomes lucid, as the brute world is found to be sentient. A swan speaks; later in these poems, a cuckoo does; elsewhere among the riddles, mead, a tree, a mail coat, a reed pen. The poems recall for us an old human premise we’ve forgotten or grown unconscious to – the sensuous surround of stones and trees and birds and bugs is awake, articulate. Maybe in these poems the notion was just taken down from a shelf in the mind for use in a verbal parlour game; maybe it also touched on grave true belief. Compare an earlier instance, both playful and earnest, an Archaic Greek cup on which the words are inscribed, “I am Raven’s wine cup.” Robert Bringhurst writes of it:

[What] the Lindos cup asserts, apart from its owner’s name, is its own articulate vitality: “I am.” This is an animate, vocal drinking vessel, likely to cry for help if you should put it in your pocket and walk off. (175)

That cup, this poem, belong to an animist inheritance, the final human universal.[1] The first-person riddle poems take it as a given that our minds engage in a larger network of minds endowed with sense and speech and reciprocal responsibility. In this they rebut the Seafarer and the Earthwalker, who in their ascetic commitments aim to leave earthly being behind; for them the meaning that matters is not in matter – is, as for Augustine, immaterial and indefinitely deferred. But even they, lonely and cold, can’t help but take birdcalls for human chatter, the birds themselves as human comrades. They can’t escape their own imaginations, any more than they can be not an animal, or evade having been born.

All objects potentially subjects. The notion sits near the heart of the objectivist mode. You see it especially in the Objectivist poets after whom the mode is named. When George Oppen avows the life of objects in “Of Being Numerous”

So spoke of the existence of things,
An unmanageable pantheon

Absolute, but they say
Arid.
           (“Of Being Numerous”)

or Lorine Niedecker lays for that pantheon a sensate material ground

“We have a lovely
          finite parentage
                    mineral

vegetable
          animal”
                    Nearby dark wood –
                               (“Wintergreen Ridge”)

they’re stepping into a way of thinking the riddle poets walked before them. The habit of mind went underground, not away.

That’s one side of it – the object is hallowed.

The other is, it’s hollowed out – appropriated, made to speak with a human tongue, of human things. The swan has not feathers but hrægl “garments,” which are later seen as frætwe “ornaments” – as if a bird had clothes and vanity and the social energy for all that. As it rises from the world we know, flood and field, it calls itself fērende gǣst “wandering spirit,” or else fērende gæst “wayfaring guest” – terms that connote the soul, a guest on earth, fleeting in flesh before it ascends to Heaven. The living creature is made to do a job in a Christian sign system, and in this respect, it’s made a tool. The swan is here to shed light on the human world, its social and ecclesiastic arrangements. This is the mind of resource extraction, alert to use-value. That that value is cultural, then production of meanings, rather than grossly material, the production of food or drink, tractors, iPhones, matters not so much. The swan belongs to us, it has been baptized, domesticated. [2]

And, yet, some of its swanness hangs about it still. Made a tool, it’s not reduced to tool. Put in human terms, it’s marked by its distance from human realms: not on land, not on water, far above our dwellings. The sky it flies across calls to mind Heaven but stays a material sky. And the swan is only crossing, notheaded upward, as the soul we might  want it to stand for would be. As it leaves our sight and the poem, if we feel the affirmation of a Christian construct, we feel as much a visit from outside our constructions. And even as it is made to speak human (how else could the poem make it understood?) its words make the sounds its wings would in flight: swīgað, swōgað, swinsiað – sounds that also point, as Lockhart notes, to its name, the riddle’s answer, OE swan. In the sign-realm the swan is put to work, as said, doing our heavy lifting; in the sound-realm it sends, by onomatopoeia, a coded message, one true to its name in human speech, but also to the swish of its wings. Is it ours, then, or not ours, an it or a thou?

The poem’s a cross-section through a dialectic unfolding on a threshold. The human realm commodifies a non-human mode of being for tool-use, even as that more-than-human being brushes us with meanings not our own. Abiding on that threshold is how the poem appears to tremble. The riddle poems draw their other into the borderlands of human use, where the mystery of what it was before contact with human hand or mind (a tree, a seed, honey, the inside of an egg) still hangs about it as aura, and the mind of utility, seeing a tool (rune stick) or food (onion) or drink (mead) or sign (cuckoo) possible, works to harvest the mystery.

The poem is a look at that work, right at the moment of naming, when the name is a shining new thing, as for Adam.


I wanted to go somewhere with unclosedness: that language, though inescapably human, in its indeterminacy leaves gaps the non-human comes streaming in thru – thinking especially of that gǣst/gæst play at the end, how it multiplies meanings and leaves something unresolved, uncompletable. Because rhizome. But it’ll have to wait for another day. Got a heap of other poems to comment on & a tight deadline.


Notes

1     swīgað. Marsden notes a play between this word, “be silent,” and swōgað (l. 7) “make sound.”

5     wolcna strengu. “Power of clouds (or skies).” A kenning for wind.

6     Frætwe. Literally, “ornaments.” In other contexts, fields that cover the earth and armour that covers a warrior’s body are described as frætwe. Here the word refers to the bird’s plumage.

8     The punctum, appearing mid-sentence, emphasizes the speaker’s absence, ne bēom. In an MS without line breaks, it also, with the punctum that follows, sets off the last line as a compositional unit:

flode ond foldan ferende gæst

9     gǣst. Vowel length is unmarked in the manuscript, so this word may be read as gǣst “soul, spirit,” as gæst “guest,” or as both.


[1] An exercise I used to give: “Take a pencil and paper and make a quick sketch of a friend. Include whatever makes them them to you – how their hair curls, their unfashionable glasses. Now take your pencil and stab the eyes out. Stop. No need to do it. Instead just notice what happened in you the moment I asked you to.” We’re all still animists. I don’t think there’s any art without it. I stopped giving students the exercise because it made the point too well, disturbed all of us.

[2] What men want to learn from nature is how to use it in order to wholly dominate it and other men. That is the only aim. There is to be no mystery. And this disenchantment of the world is the extirpation of animism. In time the multiplicity of forms is reduced to position and arrangement, history to fact, things to matter. —Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment (5–7 passim)

Small incidental find

The Anglo-Saxons got ear wax out same as the rest of us (sans Qtip)

Screen Shot 2017-06-26 at 9.26.26 PM

Warms my heart, the thought of it. Some warrior, in his downtime back in the ranks, helmet off, little finger reaming his ear out.

Don’t need Game of Thrones to make the medieval real. Just need Bosworth & Toller. (Though when the first of the new season airs I’m there.) Next is look up nosepicking. I mean, they must have, right? a word for it?

 

The Wolf

What I been working on. With a deadline pushing. Speaks tonight to my condition too, a bit lone a bit ferocious. So a bite from Unlikeness Is Us, fourteen carried o’er from the Old English, to come from Gaspereau fall 2017 2018!


THE WOLF

As if one had made the people an offering.
They will receive him if he comes in violence.
      Unlikeness is us.
The wolf is on an island. I am on another.
Mine is secured and surrounded by marsh.
The men on that island are glad at war—
they’ll receive him if he comes in violence.
      Unlikeness is us.
I have borne a wolf on thought’s pathways.
Then it was rainy weather and I sat crying.
When the war-swift one took me in arms,
the joy he gave me, it was that much pain.
Wolf—my Wolf—thoughts of you
sicken me. How seldom you come
makes me anxious, not my hunger.
Listen, overseer, to our miserable whelp
     wolf bears to woods.
Easy to make two what was never one;
     our song together.


THE WOLF

Lē­odum is mīnum          swylce him mon lāc° gife.
Willað hȳ hine āþecgan°          gif hē on þrēat cymeð.
      Ungelīc is ūs.°
Wulf is on īege,          ic on ōþerre.
Faest is þæt ēglond,          fenne biworpen.                                   (5)
Sindon wælrēowe          weras þǣr on ige;
willað hȳ hine āþecgan           gif hē on þrēat cymeð.
      Ungelīce is us.
Wulfes ic mīnes wīdlāstum          w­ēnum dogode°.
Þonne hit wæs rēnig weder          ond ic reotugu sæt.              (10)
Þonne mec se beaducāfa          bōgum bilegde,
wæs mē wyn tō þon,           wæs mē hwæþre ēac lāð.
Wulf, min Wulf,           wēna mē þīne
sēoce gedydon,           þīne seldcymas,
murnende mōd,           nāles metelīste.                                          (15)
Gehyrest þu, ead wacer°,           uncerne earmne hwelp
      bireð wulf tō wuda.°
Þæt mon ēaþe tōslīteð          þætte nǣfre gesomnad wæs,°
      uncer° giedd geador.


COMMENTARY

More commonly “Wulf and Eadwacer.” A woman speaks. She’s pregnant and her people are hostile to the father of the child. Not much else is settled about the poem. Wulf may be a raider from another clan; is their encounter a rape, as has often been thought? That makes her longing for him awfully hard to account for. Something more mutual then. Still though the poem is riven with her ambivalence – she wants him to come, and wants him not to come, and the doubleness in her thought sickens her.

Her ambivalence streaks the poem with ambiguities. A refrain, Ungelīc is ūs, as odd in composition and placement as Stein’s “The difference is spreading.” A female speaker whose relation to the masculine warrior ethos is intimate but aslant and has, for us, only a few interpretive helpmates in the Anglo-Saxon corpus (primarily “Her Case”). Verbs that appear nowhere else in the literature and must be defined in a context as nearly unprecedented as they are. A scribal practice of leaving names uncapitalized that makes it difficult to discern person from epithet from animal. When is wulf a wolf and when is it her Wulf? An oral tradition, not long left behind, in which the utterance “wulf” could function without trouble as both. The scribe, following his lowercase practice, could preserve this ambiguity, but a modern editor has to decide.

I take ead wacer as an epithet, not a name, which plucks out the third party usually thought to be involved – a husband cuckolded by the raider Wulf. That’s extra, a late entry throwing off a poem exquisitely balanced dramatically. Her people and her own mind are opponent enough. Other readers have doubted this third party too: one has, for instance, read the compound as an epithet for Wulf himself, “joy guardian.”

In this translation, which is literally anachronistic, ead wacer is the one who gehyreþ the spoken poem, the wacer of the written poem, the listener, the reader. Not that we’re her imprisoner exactly – but if we weren’t here, she wouldn’t be, either. She’s been hurt into a consciousness so sharp it tears the fabric that gives it voice. Tears the air or page that binds her to, as it divides her from, her first and last interlocutor, us.


NOTES

  1. lāc. Offering or gift, especially in a ritual sense. A sacrifice; in some contexts a message.
  1. āþecgan. The verb appears to mean “receive” in the sense of food, with a suggestion of killing, destruction, consumption.
  1. ungelīc is ūs. Literally, “(it) is different (with) us” or “(it) is different (between) us.” Disagreement whether the difference is between the speaker and Wulf, or between speaker-and-Wulf and the speaker’s people, or both.
  1. dogode. Possibly the past tense of an otherwise unrecorded dogian, meaning something like “to suffer” or “to follow,” maybe here in imagination (Marsden). Some amend to hogode, past tense of hogian, “to consider, to dwell upon” (Muir). My translation draws from both senses.
  1. ead wacer. Most take this as proper name, that of the speaker’s husband. Ead, “riches, prosperity, joy, property.” Wacher, “watcher.” A possessive spouse and enemy to Wulf. However, because the scribe does not use capital letters to distinguish names, the compound can also be taken as an epithet; one reader reads the compound as an epithet for Wulf himself: “joy guardian” (Marsden). I’ve translated something I hear near the core of the phrase, a sense of being thronged by eyes all round. Note that she calls on the watcher not to see but to hear. She will rip him if she can out of his crowning sense function.
  1. bireð wulf tō wuda. The verb, “bears,” may be in either the present or the future tense. Is she crying wolf here or naming her Wolf? Which is it carries, or will, her newborn whelp to the woods and to what end?
  1. Þæt mon ēaþe tōslīteð | þætte nǣfre gesomnad wæs. Literally, “The man easily tears apart what was never joined.” The line doesn’t alliterate. Muir: “[It] has the ring of a gnomic utterance, and may well be an Anglo-Saxon rendering of the biblical ‘Quod ergo Deus coniunxit, homo non separet’ [Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate] (Matt. 19:6), which might account for its not following an accepted alliterative pattern.”
  1. uncer. First-person dual genitive – “of us two.” Ours as in yours and mine.

Image atop, a belt buckle recovered from Sutton Hoo burial site. Shining instance of orþoncbendum, inborn shaping, cunning clasping, what I am more and the more finding in these poems. Sneaky snakework of this mind.

Messages across seas

Delighted to share with you a translation just now out in the journal Asymptote. I love this journal, its global intention attention & compass. Check out this map of their scope & multiplicity.

Screen Shot 2017-04-18 at 7.07.20 PM
Click for a live version

My little poem is a pre-modern throwback in an issue otherwise on translation’s front edge. (Okay, there’s some Tzara, too, but he’s still.) Grateful they thought to find room for it. Thematically it does I guess fit an issue called “People from the In-between.” It’s got people at a loss, unbridgeable textual gaps, & runes – runes how to make meaning from which is all dispute.

Well see what you think it’s here. Poem I’ve called His Message and usually goes by The Husband’s Message. With floating footnotes, & the Old English, & me reading said Old English badly, should you wish to go there.

Whole issue’s rad. Especially worth your time and heart, the special feature on “literature from banned countries,” i.e. those 7 or 6 singled out by the present US administration’s unconscionable incoherent & never mind that they’re unconstitutional travel bans. I’m having trouble finding the section as a cluster, but go to the headline piece, then you can just wander over borders, as surely mostly we should be.

Wander or sojourn or flee as our luck has it. I avoid the word “privilege” as calcified but I am luck-filled. Many on the map above are not. Many pressed against borders are getting fucked by the stick of the world. May you come to places of rest. You should have, & it’s in the UN Declaration of Human Rights, Trumpwad, so you’re a signatory, you should have a place to live that’s safe for you to love & work & love more & live & die meaningful lives and deaths.

Reading this article in The New Yorker has shocked the living shit out of me.

These women girls & men are moving up Africa along the old slave-trading routes. What they endure on the journey & when they arrive, if they do arrive, seems, to this far away safely sheltered reader, no less than what the slaves did in olden days, when they were fuelling the economic growth of the Americas.

More to say here. Such as, bringing it to my nonfiction workshop’s notice, putting it beside Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, his effort to broaden a indictment of systemic American racism into a critique of global inequality, including climate change. That’s for another post. God & damn it’s all connected. Where to snip the thread? Thank you friend. May I call you friend? If you’ve read this far.

Found poem (w/ rune painting)

A near perfect haiku came from my love by text earlier this eve.

Im making my moms
moms cake for dessert , it
is called “my cake”

I get pissy about 5-7-5 for haiku in English. Wordy. Haiku’s genre for us not form, moment of unanticipated in-seeing. Count your blesses! not your sylls!

Also the search has been on since at least Kerouac for authentic American haiku. Now and then one’s found, and this looks to me like one.

Serendipitous also, her rune tanka, 5-7-5-7-7, pigments made of ochres from the whole planet. No fool I haven’t counted the sylls. It’s a five-realm rainbow.

Heidi - runes 2

H. painted it in quick accord with these runes in the OE poem “His Message.” The which no one knows how for sure to read

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 9.25.16 PM

Have a trans. of it coming out soon in Asymptote, will post a link of it when up.

Aasemic writing

Asemic writing is writing you can’t read. Semic writing is writing you can. (A back formation, there’s no such word.) I am at play, finessing the difference, with aasemic writing.

A joy of asemic writing is that it draws all the promise of meaning-making, all the whole multifoliate interpretive apparatus, into activity, w/o resolution or conclusion. It’s Steinian indeterminacy, in not the syntax but the graphemes. It’s the made mark as blastocyst, as stem cell, as potential to become. Is it a Deleuzian plateau? Maybe, still sweating that concept out.

So the aasemic script I’ve been playing with is neither indeterminate nor determinate. (GOD you can take this non-dualist thing too far, mm? how’s this not just centrist squish?) It starts with a journal page transcribed in a projective hand – descender a plunge, cross-stroke a jailbreak. Then I wave or shiver it over the photocopier light bar as it slides under, gathering data in.

All this is lead in to say, The New Post-Literate has posted a few, and that makes me happy, cuz they’re the first bits of Overject to be published, other than here, which don’t count. Here’s the link.

And here are a few other recent offerings there I think especially cool.

The home page of The New Post-Literate where it’s all to be found.


A lot of my trouble w/ academic parlance comes from trying to translate Buddhist vocabulary and values to a non-Buddhist circumstance. Most of the rest of it comes from being a lazy and a lousy Buddhist. (The latter’s 90%.)


Feste to Viola, Twelfth Night, “I am [a] corrupter of words.” After they’ve just rung their changes on live, stand, lie. I compared the move on lie to a triple-axle – Viola to Feste, “yo watch this move” – and one of my students found a sextuple axle in it, bam. Post-structuralism, its insights, e.g., words’re banana peels, dates back at least to Shakespeare, if not to Jesus? “On this rock I build my church,” that’s a pun, Jesus is making a funny, I told them, explaining the finger joints of a dactyl, by way pterodactyl. Petros (Peter), petra (rock). Long live the rhizome. Weed shoot that cracks the rock.

Hwæt (the movie)

Last week I had the pleasure of reading in the epic recital of Beowulf at Bellingham’s local meadery, Honey Moon, þæt wæs good fun. The opening lines wouldn’t quit me after so I kept messing with them. Here’s the result.

My first movie. Crude stuff, okay, but what I’m keen on? Putting images I’ve made by hand in motion and putting sound and voice to them. Doubt I’m done exploring that.

Check out, while I’m channeling the pre-mod, Benjamin Bagby’s astonishing recreation of these same lines. My Old English is too crappy for me to know for sure, but I think he’s probably the Olivier, the Brannagh, of the scop set.

On a question of genre

A hard spell. More than a bit PTSDy after my surgery – anxiety waves, wanting to cry lots, panic in the grocery store. Halloween freaked me the fuck out, roving packs in darkened streets and shouts and bangs at all sides.

The trauma’s been here many years, but hasn’t surfaced like this in a while … all the work I’ve done, it’s done some good. But maybe no surprise a minor surgery (hernia repair) brought it back? A knife’s an insult the body knows of, unconsciousness or no, and frozen there, can do nothing about. And this knife in especial was working not very far, in Mitchell’s translation of Rilke’s of Apollo’s of original fire, from that dark centre where procreation flared.

A line from ago I never used and suddenly remember: “Shouts in the street were pieces of me in the mouths of dogs.”

Rousseau had it, I’m sure of it.

[A] word to speak, the least trifle to perform, appear an intolerable labor; everything alarms and terrifies me; the very buzzing of a fly makes me tremble. (Confessions)


This morning I went to the Farmers’ Market and saw Rich and Kendall, also Sean, a former student, and chatting was nice, good. I was looking for herbs to plant in my newly landscaped (or still landscaping) front yard but found instead some apple cider and a chocolate croissant. This afternoon I went to the grocery store and got a flu shot and an anxiety pulse. Tomorrow I’ll drive out to Cloud Mountain Farm and look again for herbs, also fruit trees, apple, plum, frost peach.


My workouts have become meditation by other means – access to inward, when I’m otherwise too distracted or resistant to tune in. So it’s good to be back on the treadmill. Not running, yet, but walking hard up a steep pitch, hard enough for a heartmind opening.

Today it was this. (And tears came in a jag. Which no one can see, nor will anyone, even, if a sob comes loose. Workout a perfected disguise.) There’s a core wound. You can hold it as what’s given to you to hold. Or you can keep living out of it and creating craziness.


This post is actually about a question of genre. Because I can write about this stuff, directly, apparently, in a blog post. And it’s not impermissible either in nonfiction, in memoir. A bit edgy, maybe, but hardly forbidden. But in poetry … no, you can’t do that in poetry, put it in an image, please.

Don’t want it in an image. Want the banal exposed awkward inarticulacy with which it came to me. Because that’s my subject. So fuck peach blossoms and fuck the objective correlative. Here’s what I wrote in my journal when I got home –

journal scrap 3

– and here’s the notecard I did, yes, transpose it to:

notecard
The notecards, yes, are simulacra.

I look about in vain for precedents. Loads of treacly banal sentiment dumps in verse, sure. But I mean legit artistic practices drawing straight from how you speak to yourself about your own feelings and what you do with them and they with you. George Oppen makes concrete poetic objects out of carefully configured abstract surfaces set at colluding angles –

The sad marvels;

Of this was told
A tale of our wickedness.
It is not our wickedness.

– but his concerns are moral and ontological not psychological (“The self is no mystery …”). In many of Frank Bidart’s poems the speaker wrestles semi-articulately with a tormented inner life –

An adult’s forgiveness of his parents
born out of increasing age and empathy

which really forgives nothing,—
but is loathing, rage, revenge,

yet forgiveness as well—;

– but the poem gets its charge from the distance cut open by a persona.

Is what I want, direct speech of and from an emotional life without resort to irony or persona, just inadmissible in poetry? Why permissible in memoir, but not in poetry, when in so many other respects, they’re known to overlap? And where lives the voice, anyway, that says impermissible?


I wonder how I’ll feel about my little notecard when a few days have passed.

I can say this. It belongs, in intent, to Overject as a whole, which means to translate every feature it can of its source text, a minor didactic Old English poem, into the current moment. For that poem is, I have come to feel sure, a trauma document, full to brim with opacities, deferrals, fractures, hapless power moves, inadvertent tender disclosures.

This too I’ll say, writing it has mattered, as writing about it has mattered.

Before you decide my little notecard belongs in the dustbin of banalities, read it for the thoughts and feelings between its phrases and clauses. Those are the ones I took the most care to articulate.

Disruption of the text

Had thought to take a break from Overject, I really had. Bundled up 60 pages of it, handed them to my two most trusted readers, and I told me, This would be the time to take a breather, get some distance, reapproach in a little while with some new perspective.

Not.

What’s to tell? I just couldn’t get happy till I was back at it with the Sharpies.

So here I am, embarked on part II, and am at a perilous juncture, because I can’t just keep doing what I done, that would be dull and dumb, but my sense of what’s next and vital is dim as yet.

The danger – making it new, not out of a sense of fresh energy, but just for to be newfangled. Oldest tiredest play in the book. (Old as books themselves are, and maybe, I’m not sure, not much older.)

So this is where I maybe ask for help. (Oh my recent students, I know a few of you are reading, here’s your chance to have at it.) This morning I wrote out a homophonic translation of the lower half of folio 90V of the Exeter Book. Here’s what it looks like unaltered.

90R HT unaltered

Same approach as I took in the first section of the ms. How to make it new? As I did the scripting I found me thinking about the place of violence in the text at hand. The violence of the patriarchal warrior culture it arose in. The violence time did to the work as it made its way from anciency to now. (Dude. Can you believe anciency really is a word?) The violence of my disruptive translation, me carrying on as if sound itself bore sense across intact.

Meanwhile asters in my back yard, recently in bloom, were blowing this way and that. On a whim I went and cut five or six and scattered the petals on my scanner. That image, overlaid on the first, got me this.

90R HT astered

Asters, named for stars, whose fallen petals look like sword gashes. While the most common masculine case ending in Old English, -an, has become the work’s heroine, Anne.


I teach, by the way, a course called Poetics of Peace and War, because I’m very interested in this question, how acts that look destructive when brought to bear on language, may be nourishing when the results are offered to persons.


Also a redtailed hawk just perched in the pine tree outside my study window.


So the petals resisted the eye but lightly. I wanted for what reason I know not something more savage-taloned. So I tore it in pieces then laid the pieces down as shingles or come to think of it feathers. (“Complicate,” from plicare, fold, layer.)

90R HT collaged

I am in love BTW with scanner noise. I could eat a whole big bowl of it.

The last one I want to show you roughs the text up most – tears and asters it both. Roughs it up most, and is least considerate of your wish for a sensible meaning. And yet it’s the one I think I’m fondest of! Am I just a big meanie?

90R HT collaged and astered

The ask for help part. What do you think? Do any of these move, please, tickle, amuse, intrigue you? Any sense what about them does? Send a comment, do!


If you’re curious, here’s the actual Old English text –

Forst sceal freosan fyr wudu meltan eorþe
growan is brycgian   wæter helm wegan wundrū lucan
eorþan ciþas   ansceal inbindan forstes fetre
fela meahtig god ∙ winter sceal geweorpan   weder eft cu
man sumor swegle hat sund unstille deop d eada wæg
dyrne bið lengest holen sceal inæled ẏrfe gedæled deades
monnes dōm biþ selast ∙ Cyning sceal mid ceape cwene ge
bicgan bunum ⁊beagum bu sceolon   ærest geofum gōd
wesan ∙ guð sceal ineorle wig geweaxan ⁊wif geþeon lof mid
hyre leodum leoht mod wesan rune healdan rum heort
beon mearum ⁊maþmum ∙ meodo rædenne forge sið
mægen symle æghwær eodor æþelinge ærest gegretan

(The ⁊ is a medieval &.) And here’s what normal people would call a translation –

1.

Frost freezes, fire eats wood,
earth springs out, ice houses,
water sheathes.
                               A wonder
there’s one to snap frost’s fetters,
break seed earth, mighty God.

 2.

Winter turns, comes warm unstill
weather, summer skysound.
Deep dead ways are secret longest,
holly burning, cattle shared out.
Dead men’s laws are the best laws.

3.

A king can buy a queen with cattle.
That they give lots away is the main thing.

4.

War forces him
to be brave.
                        She grows dear
to her people, her shining mind
hoards whispers, her spacious heart
holds treasures.

            5.

Moving among the company,
everywhere always, house throughout,
greeting her lord, she pours his cup first;

 Now I can’t see the hawk but I can hear her high cries.

birds are obscene fuckers

One of the blogs went in an avian direction, and it’s something how many ways you can go, when you’re up in the air.

finch binch

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 10.22.52 PM

sup birders,

so, I’m taking this really weird but great class called The Art of Compost (or more officially, Multi-Genre Creative Writing) and our hw for the evening is to listen to bird calls and translate them into “human.”

EXCEPT ALL I CAN HEAR ARE OBSCENITIES. THESE BINCHES HAVE THE DIRTIEST BEAKS.

listen to the calls here and find the birds I have translated below !

1. white-throated sparrow (the tamest of the bunch)

please please you may / please please release / hear hear me

2. American crow

fuck u dum prick / why u even here / fuck u get out now

3. blue jay

bleat for fun / or none

4. northern cardinal

*catcalls* / fuck you fuck you fuck you

5. common raven

twat twat twat / twat twat / twat twat twat

I think this says a lot more about me than the birds tbh…like srsly, what do…

View original post 14 more words