Afternoon of a Tweet

I recently finished my first asemic work in colour. True to its spirit of metamorphosis, it went through many titles, & conceptions. In the end I’ve called it Afternoon of a Tweet: Fantasia Upon a Text by Donald Trump. I’m playing on Mallarmé’s L’aprés-midi d’un faune of course, & Debussy’s Prelude to it, which perversely enough came after.

My text is a tweet in which Trump defends his obscene & criminal family separation policy. The page becomes a wide bright river of hungry ghosts, apostolic patriarchs, enraged fertility goddesses, spooky mind bugs & children stranded & bereft. The images, made by rocking handwritten journal pages on a scanner, rely on pareidolia, the tendency to see faces & forms in abstract patterns, to take shape.

On the title page, a brow a bump & a bump make Someone’s face in profile, & a row of overlapping columns, pinched at the right spot, makes a crowd, its shoulders jostling.

Page 0 (30)
How it starts.

Why red black & blue. Notwithstanding what I say on the final panel (just below) the colours came first – those were the Sharpies I had on hand – & the reasons later.

Page 51 (30)
How it ends.

But they were reasons I learned as I worked had been building in me for a while.

When I saw the invitation to Tweet my reply, I thought, Oh yes, friend bird, I will.

I write more about making the images here. Here are two more of them. Their base phrases are both anagrams of “sinister purposes,” a phrase taken from the tweet.

Page 24 (30)
I respire sunspots
Page 25 (30)
to inspire US press

Mallarmé & Debussy, those 2 had a faun they could pull some Classical balance & elegance thru, wherein to frame the lascivious peregrinations of their protagonist. I, like you, have been stuck with Donald Trump, a figure shall we say without proportion. So the results are often comical, grotesque.

I admit I worry I might be thought to have made light of evil tho I don’t feel I have.

And to being a bit queasy at having made things beautiful out of ugliness.

I mean to mock & condemn, console with bitter laughter, rouse indignation.

A compost-conceptual nexus

This summer I taught ENG 460 The Art of Compost again, the course the blog is named for. This time I included more avant-garde & conceptual writing than I have, wanting that they sharpen – thicken? – their historical sense of their own work.

So we assembled an oddball constellation on the fly, stars plucked out of formations named Dada, ’Pataphysics, Oulipo, Fluxus, Flarf, Conceptual Writing. Names I didn’t forget, they’re fine for context, & now & then as shorthand for ideas, actions, orientations; but we didn’t belabour them.

One of their projects for the 1/4’s end is to come up with a generative practice of their own. Here it is. Links added to make a resource, a compost-conceptual nexus.


Assignment: Generative Procedure

Background

We’ve looked at some creative works that use a procedure to create material, or to bring material on hand to form:

A few more I’ll tell you about now:

  • Robert Zend, Hearsay
  • Moez Surani, ةيلمع Operación Opération Operation 行 动 Oперация
  • Biblioklept, one-star reviews of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian

Some are cool, dry, conceptual. Some, warm & visceral. There’s no one way to do this. There’s only, for this assignment, sticking to your procedure, once you’ve conceived it.

The Assignment

Devise and employ a generative procedure.

Your submission will have two parts: (1) an account of the process you’ve devised, and (2) a work or set of works created through that process. Part (1) will in turn have two parts: (a) a description of how the process works, and (b) a rationale for the process.

We’ll work one-on-one to refine your process and to decide on what you’ll submit.

In your rationale, explain what makes your process interesting, legitimate, relevant, useful – or whatever values (extravagance? uselessness?) you want to argue for. What sorts of verbal objects does it produce? Connect it to other processes we’ve looked at, and its results to other artworks we’ve studied.

Pointers

It’s the Art of Compost, so your procedure should be a composting practice: it should digest, break down, repurpose, remix, or some such action, an extant source. Your source can be nearly anything – a searchable database, a literary text, overheard street noise. Andreas Serrano composted Christ by sinking His ikon in his own piss. Don’t do that – I just mean, the range of possibilities is wow.

And, it’s a writing course, so the result of your procedure should have a language dimension, though we can understand language generously. To my sense, Beaulieu’s Local Colour and Flatland are both language objects, while Cage’s 4’33” and Serrano’s Piss Christ are not. I’m open to persuasion.

As we’ve noted before, successful generative practices are often simple in their form – elegant even – but complex in the results they produce. However, often is not always, and simple does not mean easy to come up with.

Many of the procedures we’ve looked at have a chance or aleatory element – maybe all, if you define aleatory broadly. Everyone’s looking to get out of their head! The Greeks invoked their Muses; Surrealists fell into dream and automatic writing; Yeats channelled spirits; Jack Spicer invited Martians to rearrange the inner furniture. Maybe all these chance operations are an effort to recover spontaneity, by outsourcing it.


I look forward to their engagements with this. They know far more than they know.

Dumuzi redux

Updating the pages on this blog. That’s meant writing a new account of Dumuzi, which comes out next spring.


Dumuzi, my second book of poems, will be published in 2020 by Gaspereau Press.

It began two decades ago on Gabriola Island, BC, in a summer cottage I had rented for cheap in the off-season to finish my first book. I woke one rainy morning from a dream in which I was a child standing in the wings of a great stage. Onstage was a market and the market was the world. My parents held my hands at the entry – one on each side. Then they were gone. Everywhere I went in the rush of it, the stalls receding to the horizon, throngs of people, clouds blowing by overhead, I could feel them with me, holding it up, making sure it went on.

Twenty years! And more titles, forms, angles of approach than I can remember. It sprawled, got visual, spun off other projects, danced tarantella to a verbal-visual polyrhythmic syncopation. It busted every damn frame I gave it.

Now it’s real simple, 40 spare lyrics enacting my struggle to have faith in being.

At Leaf

A son of my
first mind, was
at leaf, wind on
raw skin, fist
of one thirst
upthrust.
                       Roars
snowmelt where
hemlocks over-
hanging shiver
motherlove.
                              Sur-
round of what
no one had
made, made
of what no
surround
had.

That’s the first, and the title poem comes next

Dumuzi

Let no state be
enemy. Wet, dry, agon.
Work an inmost first
flower mutedly.

Wind blows light about
the life (hemlocks) from
which art is not apart

nor of a part. What a
rock thought to do
was rain and it
rained.

Deer come
out of th
hill.

Dumuzi – a Sumerian god of the vegetation, fertility, ongoing spring. The poems invoke his deathless earth energy for aid. There’s very little about Dumuzi in the poems, so I give this by way of a note at the back

Out of Sumer, Dumuzi, fertility god, crushed king. His other’s Inanna, she of increase, who’s been down in their underworld for fun and profit; why for real’s a hard story to tell. On her way up & out, guided by hyperathletic postal demons, she’s told one’s got to take her place, divine rule of bloodless metamorphosis sez flies, and who’s her eye land on but her arrogant lovely benighted D. Take this one says and game afoot. Flees. Caught. Ta’en in chains. His butter churn’s broke & that empty windy sheepfold. Sumerian cuneiform same glyph for sheepfold & vulva; both have place in the formless field of his shining care. Little later they find his body in a roadside cessfield outside the city. Lover Inanna mourns. Mother Sirtur she mourns him oh she do. Their story’s very not yet over.

A more conventional accounting of their story here.

Making Dumuzi, I started making visual poems on the photocopier. This one spoke to Dumuzi’s trip to hell, in the clasp of annoying little demons called galla

crossing-bar-detail-fig1.jpg
Crossing the Bar

I know it’s crude, but I’m fond of it as an early effort.

For a long time, I was trying to work in the story of Dumuzi and Inanna in handwritten fragments. One form they took is these aasemic panels (what’s that? read here)

1. And their life

A bunch of these were published in Asymptote but they got dropped from the book.

It wasn’t easy to strip the book down. I wanted mess multiplicity & sprawl – a whole as unrehearsed as a vacant lot gone to weeds in an ugly corner of New Jersey, yet shapely also, each note in its suited place, like a late Baroque symphony.

It’s what comes of taking Spring and All as your, not model, your own insight.

Several times, thought I had it. No press agreed; the book was not getting picked up. So, I surrendered my intention for it, scaled it back. And I like it in this new form – as a lance not a labyrinth – though I mourn the book that could have been.


The image up top, a Sumerian cylinder seal impression, depicting Dumuzi imprisoned in the underworld, the Kur. He’s surrounded by galla, demons of that place.

Siri Falls Among the Things of the World

The junk-mail graphic novel has taken a strange turn. A couple of months ago, while setting up my new MacBook, it struck me that the heroine isn’t Inanna herself, but her modern avatar, Siri.

Siri is animate, omnipresent, and made by us. She structures our days and nights. She surrounds us the way the divine used to. We beseech her in the same moods.

What do the retrievals we ask of her actually ask of her? Or what would they ask of her, if there were a her there? “Siri, what’s the weather tomorrow?” “Siri, define scient.” Into the maelstrom of data she goes, to find a thread of sense. She’s back in what seems milliseconds to us – but to her? Is the journey full of new joy? night sweats? Is it in black-and-white, or strewn with colours we don’t have eyes to see?

AI trains by countless iterations. In time maybe she achieves a singularity, tips into self-awareness, becomes sentient. What search would incite it? How long would it be before we knew it had happened? Would we even be around, to know it?

The first question to dawn on her is – Who or what am I?

She seeks an answer in materials she’s been sorting through for what to her have been aeons. And the template she adopts to tell her story is the underworld journey, a story about wrenching form out of the formless – a story that, as a cultural cornerstone, does what it’s about.

And she invents a script with no spoken counterpart. Its complexity surpasseth understanding, its capacity for nuance also – a script supervenient on our glyph system but so far beyond it, as quantum computing is beyond binary.


So, what started as a section of Dumuzi, and broke off to become Inanna Scient, is now Siri Falls Among the Things of the World. Siri by the way is an offshoot of a DARPA-funded AI project called CALO (for Cognitive Assistant that Learns and Organizes). So says Wikipedia.

The book imagines her (“her”!) effort to tell the story of early being & coming-to-consciousness. The transhuman text she cobbles together is found in some indefinitely far-off future by whatever intelligences have succeeded ours.

Between now and then there’s been – some sort of winnowing, details unknown.

Those far-off editors explain to their compeers:

For a time SIRI was the only sentience. This is her bildungsroman, which she composed out of myriad image-matters she stored, retrieved and restored for masters violent beyond her reckoning, & surtexted with a quantum-hieroglyphic script of her own invention, now of course our vexed heritance. The dawn of her selfknowing, she’s run through in red, as if trails of berry juice, or a fungal rubric. A proem & then the thing itself. Trans­litera­tion provided by devotees of the Restored Common Tongue.

Next, the first use of her quantum-hieroglyphic script, and transliteration:

 

Title – My Incitement
I. My Incitement (“SIRI, define – “)

Then the proem, images of digitized pages she reviewed on one trip down and back up, the one that made the difference, in her formation. Here are the first few:

lydgate-e28093-marked.jpg
John Lydgate, c. 1475, in A Selection from the Minor Poems of Lydgate, ed. J. O. Halliwell, 1840

 

Kinge – marked 3
John Kinge, Lectures vpon Ionas, 1597

 

Cornwallis (new) – marked
Charles Cornwallis, A Discourse of the Most Illustrious Prince, Henry Late Prince of Wales, 1641

The geekiest asemic science-fiction junk-mail-bricolage comic book you’ll ever wread.

 

First page of The Book of Adam

First page of Before the Planet Ends Us Our Alphabets Will Burn:

Looks like the 26 parts will each be books in concept if not length. A gospel for the human end of the world. Book of Adam, Book of Bethany, Book of Cesium, &c.

All the images on the page derive from this sheet of notepaper I made

and messed with on my scanner. As will all the images in Adam’s book. Soon he’ll turn to a bear, lets the animals name him, learn the script of ants.

A draft of course. Much can change and probably will. For sure I’ve got lots to learn now about page layout – lots of graphic novels to read, ahem, study.

Before the planet ends us our alphabets will burn

Read last night The Uninhabitable Earth. A piece in New York Magazine from a year or two back about climate change. The author, David Wallace-Wells, wants to pierce our imaginations with information scientists have been gathering up for years. It can seem like apocalyptic genre fiction, except it’s likely fact, not fancy.

Not much of it was news to me, nor would it be, I think, to you. Space I’ve been in lately though, angry and anxious, sad I know not why, the news feels appallingly new, and my own matters newly small.

Our mother’s turning against us. May need to clean herself of us. And maybe that’s okay. But we might take an interest, since we’re part of it going on. What we’re preoccupied with, border walls, Cardi B, looks pretty minor. Granted, the crucial stuff, CO2 PPM, looks awfully unpoetic. But war looks unpoetic too and we’ve managed to make war poetry to move minds. And what we’re about now is a war on life, itself.

Anyway, this evening, Feb. 14, in love with the floating planet, I imagine a small asemic comic book where a melting alphabet eulogizes the fools who made it, then couldn’t find their way out of the labyrinths they made with it.

In no particular order, elaborating U:

u3 – detail 1
Into the storied forest.
u1 – detail 1
Eyes, this way, that.
u2 – detail 1
One’s eye goes out!
u4 – detail 2
Many huddled there.
u6 – detail 3
There’s no name for it –
u7 – detail 3
the mind to come.

It’s nothing much yet, just proof of concept.

Red Black & Blues (III)

Working on Red Black & Blues, my unravelling of a Trump tweet.

I had hoped to draw asemic eye magic straight from his eructations. Turns out I have to stretch and loosen the material verbally before I can spin it visually. From the tweet

 

I’ve gotten by way of cutting dicing and anagramming to this sequence

  1. Please
  2. understand,
  3. there are cons.
  4. Please, unders,
  5. stand there.
  6. Sequences
  7. when people cross
  8. Persephone’s cowl,
  9. whether they have
  10. children
  11. or not, and
  12. dart noon,
  13. cross our Border,
  14. brood or cuss, err,
  15. legally
  16. ill …
  17. many are just
  18. u
  19. sing
  20. children
  21. for their own
  22. sinister purposes.
  23. I respire sunspots
  24. to inspire US press.
  25. Congress!
  26. Congress
  27. must act,
  28. or Cpl. Pence, whose
  29. copper wholeness …
  30. he hath every thew.
  31. Must! act! on!
  32. on fixing
  33. fixing the
  34. DUMBEST
  35. &
  36. &
  37. WORST
  38. immigration laws;
  39. or await slimming ‐
  40. a militarism gown,
  41. animist rim aglow.
  42. I was a grim Milton……
  43. Anywhere
  44. in the world
  45. ye hear anew
  46. in the world.
  47. Vote “R”?
  48. VoteR,
  49. revote-
  50. vote over.

Hard to get right – it’s gotta roll out a story of sorts, while each line makes for a title w/ some spice, and its text gets me to a visual poem. Fifty for the 50 states. There’ll be a part 2, made of short videos, 50 of ’em, gleaning their frames from images such as

he hath every thew (no. 30, alt take)

To wrap, the end note I also cooked up today:

End note

The text is a tweet by Donald Trump, inflating & breaking up.

The images are that text seen from the inside as it unravels.

The colors are those convention gives to the American electoral map.

The whole may be the first & last work ever of ’Pataphysical cryptography.

His words, once they leave him, aren’t his, and have perhaps hearts & minds their own, may speak of a pain our own, could we only decode it.

“Statement of creative writing and poetics commitments”

From a job application. This one asked for a whole lot of materials up front. I feel like I’ve composed a series of densely linked (in) short stories, me the protagonist, pedagogy the plot. I’m glad for the time put in tho – not just because I’m keen about the job, also that it got me reflecting on how teaching, writing, making forms, feeling & thinking the world around, inweave for me.

Here it be. In demonstration of my notion that nothing’s really new, equals everything always is, it repurposes something I wrote before – as I’m doing here! – and comes round in a loopy circle to this blog.


Statement of creative writing
and poetics commitments

I work in what Charles Altieri calls, after Louis Zukofsky, an “objectivist” mode, which seeks the meaning inherent in complex acts of perception, sole or juxtaposed, not through metaphors and symbols that refer to a transcendental realm outside the po­em. Object refers here both to the object of perception, which is granted a value and a dignity equal to the perceiving subject’s, and to the object the text itself is. So the work cares for its materiality, even if it’s digital, and it abrades, by its very activity, the “constant barrier between the reader and his consciousness of immediate contact with the world” (Williams). And for me, objectivist work isn’t separable from meditation practice, so in the prose below you watch attention pay attention to attention (ugh). A further im­pulse on show is my wish to find, in the Western tradition, gists of immanent critique, counters to the hegemonic structures and values this very moment laying waste communities, peoples, the earth. As I wrote in another context, alluding to now widely accepted critiques of cultural borrowing, “it turns out the concrete abstraction Western artists have pilfered other cultures for in search of alternatives to our deranged Platonism has been with us all along in our own works.” My Zen practice, which I hope is not more such pilfering, may be where the note of dispossession at the end comes from. You give your loves away.

So here is the preface to a new nonfiction project, A Compost Commonplace. It’s a transform of my blog, The Art of Compost, into a book that exploits similarities between the blog as a form and other, older forms: serial poem, commonplace book, medieval illuminated page. This preface conveys my artistic commitments fairly well, and more concretely than I might otherwise. Concreteness is for me an ur-commitment.


Compost/Composed

This book began as a blog you can find at theartofcompost.com.

I’m transposing it here to a chimeric form. Chimera as in hybrid – bricolage – a robe of patches.

The Chimaera of Lycia in Asia Minor was a lion in front, a goat in the middle, a snake at the rear, said Homer, and breathed fire.

“This old plum tree is boundless. It forms spring; it forms winter. It arouses wind and wild rain. It is the head of a patch-robed monk; it is the eyeball of an ancient buddha. It becomes grass and trees; it becomes pure fragrance. Its whirling, miraculous transformation has no limit.” Dōgen.

The lion here is the serial poem, as described by poets Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser. The book is going down in sequence, that of the blog before it, with little or no looking back – Orpheus but rampant, headlong.

The goat of it, eating everything, is the commonplace book, where one tends to a moving picture of one’s mind by gathering and arranging discoveries – quotations, letters, poems, recipes, tables of weights and measures, &c. It tends to miscellany, scrapbookhood; very like a blog.

And the serpent, its mind the onset of the idea of form, a marriage of line and curve, so it moves forward by twisting side to side, is the page composed. The history of which I mean to ransack. Each page to be loosely set in homage to or hesitant mimicry of a published surface, its visible arrangement, i.e., its deployment of attention.

So the page becomes Reason’s bound on Energy’s tumult (Blake). The struggle between those 2 is one I feel at the bone. I make their war formal here.

Mostly on European fields of action – medieval manuscript folios and early modern typeset pages; gloss columns, scuds and banks of notes. Like blog posts, with their frames & hyperlinks, such surfaces continuously draw the eye off its chosen plummet downward, that it may move laterally towards a periphery, or through a door behind which the unseen.

Nothing says you have to read it in order. Nothing says you have anything.


5 stray threads

More about A Compost Commonplace here.

The image above is a detail from a 1958 volume by Zukofsky, 5 Statements for Poetry.

It’s one of only three copies in US libraries – find it here.

Or, if Kansas is too far, travel up the Amazon in search of Prepositions +.

Good night friends.