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
there are cons.
when people cross
whether they have
or not, and
cross our Border,
brood or cuss, err,
many are just
for their own
I respire sunspots
to inspire US press.
or Cpl. Pence, whose
copper wholeness …
he hath every thew.
Must! act! on!
or await slimming ‐
a militarism gown,
animist rim aglow.
I was a grim Milton……
in the world
ye hear anew
in the world.
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
To wrap, the end note I also cooked up today:
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.
Just finished a portfolio, 150 lean & sleek pages, and as many more of student evals, for a teaching award I’m up for, and grateful to be. Maybe I shd just upload the whole GD pedagogical novel, if that’s a genre yet, w/ its doubtful protagonist & his supportive cast of 1,000s, and bellow – HERE. YA.GO.
Instead, just the teaching statement. The only important sentence is the last one.
In my Editing & Publishing class, we were asking about clickbait, and attention as saleable commodity – a vantage that fries my Buddhist ass. Attention is what we live in and offer each other it should be freely, as love. Where’d we be without it? Rocks.
Well, trying to describe an approach that hands some responsibility for the course, its content and character, to my students. I won’t say “flipped classroom,” because bromide, and if I were given such directives, I’d probably do it wrong.
What I do, I have some chance to do right, cuz I stumbled on it, myself.
In my pedagogy, as in my aesthetics, I value the concrete over the general, so I’ll try to convey my teaching by way of example. I teach the advanced poetry workshop at Western as “Poetics of the Rhizome.” Taken from Deleuze and Guattari, the rhizome is a way of seeing that emphasizes multiplicity, connectedness, interbeing. Diversity, robustly. Or Indra’s Net, but contorted, because Western thought. Ranging among William Carlos Williams’s Spring and All, Charles Olson’s “Projective Verse,” Aimé Césaire’s Discourse on Colonialism, Coral Bracho’s selected poems, and Will Alexander’s Towards the Primeval Lightning Field, to name a few of our texts, students face several challenges: (1) Poetry and poetics texts from an outsider Western tradition and from way outside the Anglo-American tradition. (2) An arranging idea, the rhizome, it’s hard to wrap your head around. (3) A student-centred pedagogy that has evolved, as my Socratic teaching style has matured, into a collaborative form of co-teaching. (4) Creative exercises simple on the surface but hard to accomplish: Write a poem that enacts spring. Write a poem that taps into myth consciousness. Write a poem that disputes with itself.
The first half of a class is given to student presentations, which are actually improvisations in co-teaching. Each pair presenting meets with me ahead of time to discuss angles of approach. I pay close attention to the design of their lesson plan – it should be fluid, I tell them, responsive to the moment in the room. I orient them to Socratic method, suggesting they should have, with each question they ask, an issue they want to bring to the fore, and a feeling for how to get there. But they should also know our responses might propose alternative ways there, or open a wholly new line of inquiry. “You’ll be thinking on your feet. When do you stay on track, when do you let a digression keep going? when do you reflect and extend a comment? when do you lean into a term or an idea and interrogate it? when do you leap to something seemingly unrelated, and how can you eventually tie it in?” And of course, I’m modelling Socratic method all quarter long myself. This meta-teaching keeps me on my own toes. In class, at any given moment, I need to decide whether to let be, or raise my hand as a discussant, or help out as one of the co-teachers, or step in as teacher of the co-teachers. The goal here is to democratize Socrates: to hand the role of teacher over to every interlocutor. Evidence of success? Start of the quarter, discussions are hesitant, needing lots of help from me. By the end, they’re running themselves, question, point, follow-up question, counterpoint, dialogue. Scruffy, unpredictable, co-teaching is a surrender of control and dispersal of authority – very much in the spirit of the rhizome.
The second half of each class is given to peer critique. In these sessions, I emphasize non-evaluative feedback, finding peer comments are more perceptive, and student authors more receptive to them, when observations take the place of praise and advice. The approach has a downside – the ego wants to be fed and may complain when it’s not – but most students come to prefer it before long. Teaching process, I emphasize the “writer’s antennae” – the tingle of excitement, sparkle, or charge, or the weight of irritation or dismay, you feel rereading your own work. I believe everyone has these subtle responses and is perfectly equipped to perceive them. But self-doubt, anxiety, or distraction can make it difficult to attend to them, trust them, work with them. A lot of teaching creative writing is showing how to wipe mud off a jewel.
For their final projects, students construct rhizomes of their own. I set some parameters and then work with each, one-on-one, on the forms their rhizomes will take. The parameters: The rhizome needs (1) to do self-reflection; (2) to include finished poetry of their own; to engage with at least (3) one of the poetry texts and (4) one of the poetics texts we’ve read; and (5) to have a non-textual dimension. I also encourage but don’t require them (6) to engage with Deleuze and Guattari’s essay. These parameters, while they appear formal and procedural, foster rhizome values of anarchy, interconnection, and polyphony. And while the resulting project can be close to a conventional portfolio, I urge them towards bolder ventures, and we take time to brainstorm possible rhizome forms: a hypertext, a conspiracy board, a spoken word set uploaded to YouTube, a keepsake box of typewritten scraps. The rhizome needs to build difference into its own body, by talking with or about one of the poets we’ve read, and one of the poetics texts we’ve read, and also by having a non-textual aspect, something pictorial or tactile or auditory about it. Diversity of culture, genre, medium, discourse. For by now we’ve come, with the help of Négritude, Sufism, the Haida Mythworld, Spanish Surrealism, Language Poetry, and John Cage’s screwy Black Mountain take on Sunyata, as well as cheerful scepticism about all these thought-boxes, to see the rhizome as an organism taking difference in without effacing its differentness.
My work in “Poetics of the Rhizome” expresses a pedagogy that’s been years in the making, one I’m ready to drop, any part or the whole damn thing, if it looks to be unhelpful. The last time I taught the course, a student came in to talk about her rhizome, because she’d changed her idea. She wanted now to do a rhizome “about” life and death, or maybe death and rebirth. Was that specific enough? I checked in with my sense of this student, her liking for arranging schemes – her book proposal in my Editing and Publishing course had been for an encyclopedia of all pagan faiths – and compared that to the sharp little momentary poems she’d started making, with no grand designs, just edgy perception and a brave unfinishedness. This assignment could be bad for her. I said, maybe you should just drop the whole rhizome thing. Make five to eight poems, like the ones you’ve been doing. And write something about them and a couple of the readings, you know, but no big deal. She said, I like the sound of that. I said, then you could look at the poems you’ve made, see what they have to tell you, maybe there’s an idea for a rhizome in them. But trust their intelligence; don’t push them around. She looked relieved. My teaching philosophy is, only connect.
The only meaningful thing I have to give, most of the time, is my attention. Which fixes nothing but is not nothing. I know cuz the gaps I find in me, the grievous gaping ones, most have been left by someone’s inattention; my own or another’s. Most of the rest are attentions I couldn’t say no to, and really, that’s inattention of a sort, too. And now we’ve made attention, which is the kindness that binds us – ensconcing a child’s eyes in its mother’s & settling them both in the body of unassailable & enduring love – now we’ve worked out how to make it fungible on the open market. That’s what to #Resist.
Postscript. Even as I was writing, Stephen Colbert was making the same point, in his own adorable way.
An interdisciplinary course bridging literature and the visual arts, “The Arts of Peace and War” would examine how experimental artists of the twentieth century responded to the destructive events of their time. The course would broach two paradoxes of modern avant-garde expression: (1) avant-garde artists have often employed violent or disruptive means in the service of holistic visions; (2) difficult works that might seem to be destined for a small, elite audience, and to confirm that audience in its privileges, have often been created with a radically democratic intent – a revolution of consciousness.
The course description:
The Arts of Peace and War
In this course, we’ll study the practice of creative destruction in the literary and visual arts of Europe and North America in the twentieth century. We’ll begin with a problem embedded in the term “avant-garde,” which implies a military metaphor, an advance force, a corps of troops ahead of the main army. Some early avant-garde poets and painters, the Italian Futurists for instance, did embrace war as a sort of ritual purgation. But many artists of the avant-garde have been apostles of relation and compassion, even if the methods they use in the name of peace – fragmentation, disjunction, erasure, wholesale abuse of reason – can look pretty violent. What do we make of that disconnect, between a holistic ethos and the violent (to language and form) practices artists express that ethos in? How do you beat up your materials (and in a sense your readers or viewers) without suggesting beating-up is okay to do? We’ll begin with poets and painters of pre-WWI Europe – the proto-Fascism of the Futurists, the pacifism of Dada – and end near our own cultural moment, with artists exploring creative destruction as a plural response to patriarchy and white supremacy.
I’ve twice taught the precursor to this course, Poetics of Peace and War, as ENG 311 Literature and Culture V: 20th and 21st Centuries, then a thirty-five-student class. (I have also taught visual and performing arts as academic subjects while an instructor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.) It was a popular and successful course; students without much sympathy for “that kind of art” described it as eye-opening. It may have in ways resembled an Honors seminar – all of my classes use structured Socratic discussion and range across discipline boundaries. However, it was an English course, with visual works in a supporting role, and the size of the class prevented the close study of individual works that writing-intensive courses allow.
The ideal environment for exploring this material would be a small, interdisciplinary, writing-intensive seminar. For one thing, these works pose interpretive problems on which no critical consensus has emerged, including questions about the nature of interpretation itself – ideal matters for Socratic discussion, and writing assignments that foreground the creative dimensions of interpretation, the theoretical aspects of artistic production. For another, these works illuminate each other. A fully interdisciplinary course would draw poems, paintings, sculptures, manifestos, wars, technologies, dinner parties, cultural ephemera, all into the circle of our attention. Students could explore a given work, in class discussion and in critical (and possibly creative) projects, with reference to its precursors, antagonists, chance companions, and disjecta. Finally, the students who take well to this rich, provocative material are inquisitive, self-directed, intellectually restless – traits that in my experience, Western’s Honors students have in abundance.
Tentative reading and viewing list
F.T. Marinetti, “The Futurist Manifesto” & selected poems
Wyndham Lewis et al, BLAST(The War Issue)
Tristan Tzara, “Dada Manifesto”
Hugo Ball, Karawane & other poems
Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons
Ezra Pound, Cathay
William Carlos Williams, Spring and All
George Oppen, “Of Being Numerous”
Lorine Niedecker, North Central
Robert Creeley, Pieces
John Cage, “On Nothing”
Denise Levertov, Evening Train
John Taggart, “Peace on Earth”
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee
Will Alexander, Towards the Primeval Lightning Field
Italian Futurist paintings (e.g. Marinetti, Carrà, Severini)
Marcel Duchamp, readymades & Nude Descending a Staircase
Cubist paintings (Picasso, Braque)
Hilma af Klint, paintings
Pablo Picasso, Guernica & other paintings
Henri Matisse, cut-outs
Georgia O’Keeffe, paintings
John Cage, 4’33”
John Coltrane, A Love Supreme
Louise Bourgeois, sculptures
Andy Warhol, prints & reproductions
Image en haut, a gently cropped version of Gino Severini’s Red Cross Train Passing a Village (1915).
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
there are cons
there are cons
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:
“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
Hardly a wave to the eye. But a wave it was and more’s to come.