Red Black & Blues – A proposal

Draft of a proposal for an upcoming conference nearby.


Red Black & Blues is a transgressive translation of a text by Donald Trump – specifically, a tweet that defends his administration’s family separation policy and enjoins followers to “vote ‘R.’” I render it, one parcel at a time, as a serial asemic visual poem, in the colours of the American electoral map.

Working asemically, I can’t directly critique a policy I find monstrous, but I can disclose the monsters I find there. The work is thick with gargantuan bugs, ambulatory phalli, apostolic patriarchs, rageful fertility goddesses – figures the text suggests haunt the author’s psyche. These cohabit with forms that recall women in burqas, children on a playground in a live-shooter drill. As if demons and innocents were caught in the same inclemency. No one wants to hear that.

Asemic translation makes meaning a mutual creation even more than usual of author, translator, audience. Here be monsters, but whose monsters be they? Would I have found them in the text, if they weren’t also in me, to be found? Would a viewer find them who wasn’t able to finish them? It’s easy to demonize Trump, I do it hourly. Harder to say we belong to the body that made him.

This project uses the indeterminacies of asemic writing and a somewhat aleatory practice to touch on our complicity in the mess we’re in. The academy has terms for that mess, “patriarchy,” “institutional racism,” but those term have hardened some by now, become preconceived notions, and, for many, sites of shame and recrimination.

The notions I’m working from are the paramitas of Mahayana Buddhist practice: generosity, morality, patience, energy, concentration, wisdom. Any asshole, no matter how stupid, destructive, beyond remedy, or you-know-who world-powerful, has these perfections, intrinsically. This project starts from that premise, though I too find it hard to swallow.


Addendum. Here’s a better way of saying it. Our complicity. Also our possibility, each of us, from before we were born.

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E-mail to a student

Replying to a student who asked – respectfully, she’s nice upon nice, but persistently – why she got an A- not an A for participation, and so an A- for the course. It was going to trash her 4.0.


Sorry for my delay responding; I’m just back from the AWP conference. It’s important to understand that an A is a rare and exceptional grade. Or it should be, if grades are to mean anything at all. In fact A’s have become common in our field, because grade inflation is rampant in the humanities.

That’s especially true in creative writing, maybe because grading in this field can’t be justified empirically or pedagogically. So we grade high, because of the warmth of the relationships we cultivate with our students, and our knowledge that they will in turn be grading us, in their evaluations of us. The latter factor is all the more pressing for adjuncts like myself who have to deal with chronic job insecurity.

Every time I give a low, or even a lowish grade, especially towards the end of the quarter, I think to myself, and I hate it that I do, “How’s this going to affect the evaluation this student gives me?” 

This is more context than you asked for. But my point is, the system is a crock. These grades are fictions. They have nothing to do with your worth and surprisingly little to do with the worth of your work. 

If I can presume to advise you. Be in school for the intrinsic value of it. The people you meet, the values you have tested, the skills you pick up, the insights that come as you put X and Y and oranges together.

Also? A GPA of 4.0 will not be better for you than a GPA of, say, 3.9. No one should get a 4.0. Maybe in high school, where the college admission stakes are insane, but the game’s different now. With a GPA of 4.0 you risk looking to say an employer like you went to a fluff school or did a fluff major. An A- or two on your transcript will help it to look it more real. A touch of grit, if you like.

Anyway, grade inflation. It’s a big problem. And I’m committed to not worsening it. So I grade tougher than some creative writing teachers do. But I do put a lot of care into grading fairly.

All right. You asked why an A- and not an A for participation. I gave generally high grades for participation in this class because there was really good group cohesion and everyone contributed to that. I liked you guys a lot. An A went to the, I think 2 people who were conversation spurs – they ventured an idea or a perspective when they couldn’t be sure what I’d think, or whether it was even in the right ballpark. They brought new energy to the conversation, helping to move it forward. They fostered the inquiry.

We all did. That A- means you did, too, a lot. Maybe I went on so long up there about grade inflation because I’d love for a student to be delighted to receive an A- for their work in my class. I can’t say what an A- means in another class, but in mine it means you and your work have my respect and admiration.

Chris


I see a tension rereading it. I say grades have surprisingly little to do with the worth of your work. And I say her A- has a definite meaning, that she and her work have my respect and admiration.

Maybe, in trying to soften the blow of an A-, I’ve bent over backwards, nice on nice, same as I said my student has. I do do that. Could be why I see it in her & want, though it’s not my place, to jolt her into being displeasing sometimes.

And yet I do feel both sides are true. It’s my expression of them that’s fallen short, making what seems a contradiction.

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.

Assignment: Profile of a literary journal

Too whupped, truth be told, to pivot from one vispo project (a draft is done) to another (undone draft awaits) this particular evening. But I got some juice to do something, and so this post. The template I gave my Editing & Publishing students, those who are on the Literary Publishing project. BTW the modular design seems mostly successful, though I see where I can improve it for next time.

The student-centred thought behind it is vital for me. Mostly I don’t want the authority given me by the system and the culture and the process. But I don’t get to just forswear it. If I throw my authority to the winds, that’s an authoritarian move, because only I know what I mean by it, and only I can determine its consequences. I have to own my authority and use it honestly.

And that carries me beyond what I meant to do in preamble for this post. Which too’s a matter of authority, inwardly, and how your thought stream defies it.

The assignment:


Use this template to compose a profile of a literary journal. (You’ll do three of them for your portfolio.) It’s fine if your profile proceeds as a numbered list, answering the questions in turn, but each answer should be in paragraph form. It’s also fine if your answers journey away from the inciting question, as long as the transit yields insights into the journal’s character. Each profile should be 1000–1500 words.

  1. Describe its material design – moves that make it the thing it is, and not another. Print journal: trim size, texture of the paper, fonts used; whether and how it uses images and what sorts of images; cover, cover image, binding; front and back matter. Online journal: its home page; the architecture and means of navigation; use of images and other digital media; what distinctive uses does it make of its online platform?

  2. Describe its formal design – the moves that distinguish how it thinks from other journals in your line-up. What genres are in it, and how much or little does it obey genre boundaries? How does one piece follow another – by similarity, contrast, theme and variation, or maybe haphazardly, by, say, alphabetic order? Do you see trends, thematic or otherwise, among the stories, poems, creative nonfiction, or other genres?

  3. Narrate the journal’s history, as best you can learn it – how and when it was founded, by whom, and why. This is the place to talk about purpose, vision, ethos, mission.

  4. Research one person on the masthead – best is an editor who might be reading work you submit. Google them. Look for their work online or in the library. What have they published? What’s their work like? Are there interviews you can find? Viral tweets or FB posts? What can you learn from these sources about their taste or judgement? (Your sense of an editor’s taste shouldn’t change your work. But it might affect which pieces you send them.) Describe the guesses you can make about their literary tastes and biases, and maybe, if you’re lucky, about the sort of work they’re keen to see.

  5. Describe the journal’s aesthetic – what it seems to look for in the work it publishes. Look at how it describes itself (online, its “about” page, and submissions guidelines, and maybe a GD vision statement) but more at the work it publishes – especially in the genre you’re submitting in. Maybe make a list of adjectives describing the sort of work it publishes, and then put them into sentences: “Journal X likes work that’s …”. Does their description of what they’re up to line up with your sense of what they do?

  6. How well does your work fit the journal’s aesthetic? You might, as you explain, make a Venn diagram – your aesthetic, carefully described, in one circle, and the journal’s aesthetic, carefully described, in another. How do you describe the area where they overlap? All things considered, how optimistic do you feel about submitting to this journal?

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.