“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.

Illogical Operators

A few alt takes from Red Black & Blues just published in The New Post-Literate.

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Click to go to ’em

The base text is taken, as all in this project are, from a single tweet by you know who.

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The phrase for this one, “or not – and.” The pages before they got all shook up:

 

The finished pages are, as said, on Michael Jacobson’s site, here. Just finished a page describing the project, it’s here. Thanks for wreading!

Three collaborations

Thinking about authority, the fiction of it. I visited my father over Christmas and his authority is both gone (dementia) and intact (father). To raise the stakes, he’s an emotional tyrant, bossing, judging, huffing, storming. With his memory going and his reason close behind, his displays are imposing and ridiculous in equal measure. To me as his son they are. To one more or differently outside, maybe they’re just absurd.

Beside this, the fun of teaching, and getting beat at, five-card draw by hyper & precocious eight- & ten-year-year-olds. It’s a joy to be defeated by children. Their green outdoes me. Watching my father go replays my loss of him in childhood and predicts my own losses to come, aging body, faltering mind. Watching these kids, no relation to me, knowing their minds are taking in what I say and do at a lightning rate – amazing.

No one’s in charge. White supremacy, patriarchy, unitary self – the delusion is someone or thing’s in charge. Teacher & student isn’t any of these, but it’s an asymmetry, and best not to reify it. A girl can be a teacher and an old man can be a child.

While in California, I worked at redesigning a course I’m to teach this winter, ENG 459 Editing and Publishing. I’m creating modules, collaborative and solo projects, for the students to choose among, and leaving more than usual to be figured out by the students, or among us all.

I don’t talk a lot about “diversity.” It’s too cramped a construct for the revolution of perception asked of us, though we’re fixed on it right now because of accidents of American jurisprudence. But these projects are an effort to diversify viewpoint and redistribute authority. They may look less radical than other such efforts. But you become what you hate by inverting it. I’m trying here for a pedagogical madhyamaka, a middle way.


Module A: Collaborative projects

There are three collaborative projects in this course. You’ll each be assigned to one of them – your first choice, I hope, at worst your second. All three ask for a lot of independence and self-direction. I give you goals, parameters, and grading criteria, and ask you to work out, as a group, how to get from here (aspiration) to there (accomplishment). Why so hands-off? The more you figure out for yourselves, the more you learn.

And, these are works-in-progress. I’ve taught the course before, but not in this form, and I’ll be learning how this modular design works. Students maybe don’t like to hear their teachers are learning alongside them, but we are, or should be, and it’s good to acknowledge the fact at the outset, or I think so anyway. Be ready for me to make adjustments as we proceed. Maybe in response to feedback from you, and maybe, apologies, if later I see dodges I want to block I don’t see now.

Each group will hand in a portfolio that represents their preparatory work and final product. We’ll work out its contents together as the projects take shape.

Webzine

This group will produce one issue of an online literary journal – soliciting, evaluating, editing, and publishing creative content in a form that’s on a par with professionally edited online literary journals.

I’ll give you examples of online literary journals, some produced entirely by creative writing students, and you’ll have in-class time to formulate an action plan. How do you get from here to there? What tasks need to be accomplished, in what order? How should responsibilities be assigned? What can you learn from the online examples about how they were created? Don’t be shy about looking for further examples.

Goal. One issue of an online literary journal, of professional quality in both content and presentation.

Parameters. Content may be partially or wholly by Western students, but no content from students in this class, and I encourage you to think beyond Western, and to solicit work from established writers. Content may be poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and/or multimedia, including visual work. Literary values count here – no light verse, no genre fiction, no self-help prose. The platform should be a website, not a blog.

Grading criteria. Literary quality of content. Expressive range of content. Creative vision as manifest in both content and form. Attention to zine as a web object – design and navigation. Mechanics – format consistency, editorial correctness.

Chapbook series

This group will produce and distribute a series of chapbooks, soliciting, evaluating, and publishing creative work by a diverse range of authors.

I’ll give you a few examples, and suggest how you might find more. You’ll have in-class time to formulate an action plan. How do you get from here to there? What tasks need to be accomplished and in what order? How should responsibilities be assigned? What can you learn from the examples about how they were made? Are there ways you might do better than the examples on offer?

We’ll figure out the number of issues (three to five seems reasonable) and the print runs (I’m thinking 50-75 copies) as the logistics clarify. I think we’ll be able to coordinate the printing without cost to us. Remember that effective distribution is part of this project.

Goal. Production and distribution of a short series of chapbooks containing literary work by a diverse range of authors.

Parameters. Content may be partially or wholly by Western students, but no content from students in this class. Chapbooks are an ideal venue for emerging writers, so I encourage you to think as editors giving new writers a helping hand. Content may be poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, and/or cross-genre. Literary values count here – no light verse, no genre fiction, no self-help prose.

Grading criteria. Literary integrity and quality of each chapbook. Diversity across chapbook series. Creative vision of series as manifest in both content and form. Attention to chapbook as a physical object – design, materiality. Mechanics – format consistency, editorial correctness.

Reading series

This group will curate (organize and promote) a reading series (at least three occasions) off campus involving both student and non-student writers.

I’ll fill you in on reading series in town, and student-run reading series I know of elsewhere. You’ll have in-class time to formulate an action plan. How do you get from here to there? What tasks need to be accomplished and in what order? How should responsibilities be assigned? What can you learn from the examples about how they were made? Are there ways you might do better than the examples on offer?

Goal. A well-attended off-campus reading series involving both student and non-student writers on at least three occasions.

Parameters. Readings must be at a venue or venues off campus. Some readers may be Western students but some must be unaffiliated with Western (not students or faculty). Readings should be promoted. Readers should be introduced by one or more MC’s.

Grading criteria. Appropriateness of venue. Effectiveness of promotion. Size and engagement of audience (best-effort basis). Quality of readers’ work and presentation (best-effort basis). Fluency of MCs’ framing.


That’s what I got. Joy to you at the turning of this year. May the new one bring succor to all those in need of it.

 

Red Black & Blues (II)

This project’s taking wing. Decided I need a base text not my own words and chose our president’s. Cuz who invites – anticipates – distortion of our discourse more gorgeously than he. Here’s what I’ve got so far

The plan is, take a tweet of his and unravel it, asemically. This may be a dry run, or maybe the thing itself, not sure yet. The execrable tweet:

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“Tweet your reply.” Oh I’ll do more than that, friend bird.

Might be heavyhanded in the chapbook, but here I’ll paste in as a final image (typo: impage, as in imped wing, or I’m page), the arrangement of red black and blue that gave DT his answer, a few months later

1000px-US_House_2018.svg

Hardly a wave to the eye. But a wave it was and more’s to come.

Red Black & Blues (I)

Should not be starting a new project till I get one done.

Or at least till I’m done w/ grading. But this one descended on me, and so.

Working title, “Redblack & Blues,” after our bruised flag & subdivided maps.

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Iamother 1

Iamother-2.jpg
Iamother 2

Iamother-3.jpg
Iamother 3

The text is just that: “Iamother.”

What is more American, in our widespread confusion, than m/otherhood.

Oh my, I’m making political poetry, took me long enough.

W/ thanks to my Art of Compost students, whose asemic & photocopy play, which I got to grading today, opened boxes in my head, & surprises leapt out.

I’ll post some of their own delightful work soon.

Note to group 6

Always, in my Intro to Shakespeare class, some of the performance projects go real well, and some, a lot less well. Today we had, side by side, what will probably turn out to be the best performance (Othello 5.2) and the least best (MSND 3.2).

Everything lined up for the Othello group – a skilled director, lots of acting talent, a harmonious group, all members able to give the project their full care. Things didn’t line up so well for the Midsummer Night’s Dream group. Their performance was postponed because Oberon – also their director – caught pneumonia; and it turned out she’d only attended rehearsals fitfully. The student who took over directing also had, as Puck, the most lines to memorize, and didn’t fully. And the group as a whole just didn’t cohere.

Group projects are great, and suck, for about the same reasons. Here’s the e-mail to the Midsummer group I’ve spent this evening writing and rewriting – maybe I try too hard to get these things right. But I hope they’ll find in the dross of their experience today something shining, worth more, Rumi says, than money or power.


Hello Group 6,

I wanted to follow up about today’s performance, and your portfolio. It wasn’t hard to see you were disappointed by how the performance turned out. Our conversation afterward may also have been discouraging. But I hope this project can still be meaningful for you – worth having done, maybe even rewarding.

Group projects are great in a lot of ways, but they can be unfair. Some people might end up doing a lot more work than others. And if one person in the group withdraws, the rest can be left scrambling to fill the hole the one who’s departed has left.

Life after college is going to deal you similar situations: unexpected, unfair, undoable. And in life after college, if you don’t respond skillfully, you might lose a job, a house, a relationship. Right now, in a class, you’re quite protected. The most you can lose here is the good grade your own individual work might have earned you.

So I hope you’ll approach the rest of this project – preparing your portfolio – as practice. Practice, specifically, in what to do when you’re dealt a crappy hand.

I’ve already suggested that in preparing your individual statements, you explain how the withdrawal of one member required you to redistribute responsibilities. Please don’t cast blame – we don’t know that one member’s circumstances, and aren’t in a position to judge. Instead, give a realistic appraisal of a difficult situation, and measures you took to cope with it, and which measures worked, and which didn’t.

If it helps, imagine you’re a team in a corporation. You were given a project. Because of problems with planning and execution – some thanks to circumstances beyond your control, and some to mistakes your team made – things didn’t go the way you, or your bosses, wanted. Now you’re writing the report that explains how and why.

You don’t want to be defensive, or make excuses, or blame everything on external factors – you need to take responsibility. But also, you had difficult circumstances to work with, and you should identify and describe them clearly. No special pleading; no falling on swords. Help your reader see you as fully human beings, earnest, fallible.

A point of comparison. Sometimes a class goes south on me. I try this, I try that, and it fails anyway. My first impulse is to make excuses: I’m blameless, there was something wrong with the students, or my department was stupid to give me the course in the first place. But even if there’s some truth to that, I can’t write it that way. I need, rather, to take responsibility for my misjudgements; also, to describe conditions outside my control, without making excuses; and to highlight what I’ve learned, so you can see I’m committed to learning and growing as a teacher. Nowhere do I falsify – nor would I suggest you falsify. I just describe, as honestly as I can, the conditions I was working with, as I highlight my openness to learning from the experience.

You will, I promise you, face like situations in your life: unkind, unfair, unwanted. If this class can help prepare you for that, well damn, that would be a fine thing. Then we could say, of all the groups in this class, yours had gotten the most out of this project. The rest learned how to read, act, direct. You learned how to live in difficulty.

I do wish that for you. If you want to talk about how to shape your portfolio, just let me know. You have my admiration.

Chris


The image atop is a detail from

Paton - Quarrel
Sir Joseph Noel Paton, The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, 1849

The bathos of Donald Trump

From an anthology yet to be conceived, The Accidental Wit and Wisdom of  Donald Trump. The subject, climate change. The source, this interview with the Washington Post.

“No. 2”

If you go back
and if you look at articles
they talked about
global freezing.

They talked about
at some point the planets
could have freezed
to death.

Then it’s going to
die of heat exhaustion.
There is movement in
the atmosphere!

There’s no question
as to whether or not it’s
manmade and
whether

or not the effects
that you’re talking
about are there.

I don’t see it.
Not nearly like it is.

With a nod to Pieces of Intelligence: The Existential Poetry of Donald Rumsfeld, by Hart Seely. The image up top is from A. Richard Allen’s homage to Katshushika Hokusai’s Great Wave off Kanagawa.

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Read more about it here.