A digital version of Robert Grenier’s seminal Sentences. My students have a great time with it and the questions it raises—what’s part and what’s whole? what’s the function in a poem of silence and empty space? how does dispersal of the poem as a digital edition affect its prior existence as a pricey handmade edition? when he writes “bird,” does he mean a bird, or does he mean “bird”?—keep us happy and hopping a long time.
Whalecloth’s home page, with a bit of context for the poem.
Robert Grenier’s Sentences
From If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, trans. Anne Carson
Drove down to Samish Island this morning for a dharma talk by Norman Fischer. A bit remains with me from the life of Dongshan. He was walking up in the mountains, newly a teacher, chewing on the question of suchness, his teacher Yunyan’s “just this,” came to fastmoving stream and was startled by his fastmoving reflection in the water.
“Wherever I go,” he wrote in the poem the moment gave him, “there he is, with me. He’s me. But I’m not him.” Norman, I hope I have that right.
Drove away with a feeling for the dreamlike spaciousness of the country around—green fields, tidal flats, starlings in the road, hawk on a powerline. If I could amend it, it would be to say, “He’s me. And I’m not him.”
A few points of contact. Narcissus staring at his reflection in the water. Chuangtzu’s butterfly. (Was I Chuangtzu dreaming I was a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming I’m Chuangtzu?) And the spacious light of Sappho’s fragments (rereading them for my compost course) in Carson’s translation:
(She won the Griffin Prize this year, as did Brenda Hillman, on the international side. Wonderful.) More to come on Carson’s Sappho, how it seems to me compost might be a way to speak of them.
One sign that it’s composting is that it doesn’t try to return to origins—the drive is onward not recuperative. (Projective not bounded.) (Paratactic not hypotactic.) (A serial poem not a crown of sonnets.)
Soil is where anything turns to potentially anything else. Passing as it has to through a phase of being no-thing. Compost is human participation in soil, as gardener or corpse.
This by Robert Duncan, in Rasula’s This Compost, out of the body of which many of my thoughts here take sprout.
It is only the midden heap, Beauty: shards,
scraps of leftover food, rottings,
where we read history, larvae of all dead things,
mixd seeds, waste, off-castings, despised
treasure, vegetable putrefactions
– Robert Duncan, “Nor is the Past Pure”
Speaking of the opened field. I’ve found a good prompt for working a way into Olson’s “Projective Verse” with students is to ask them just what that “field” in “composition by field” might be. Last time I did it I was way taken by the breadth of their answers. The page. The sensuous surround at a given perceptive moment. The expanse of possible questions.
I’m paraphrasing here, but my gist is, they helped me see how “composition by field” is itself composed by field, meaning at multiple vectors fruitfully.
If the blog’s to be companion to the course, the course can be companion to the blog also, and I hope they’ll be buds, swapping gists and piths. Here’s what the syllabus will say to our brave company at the opening.
When you make compost you break down old forms to make new forms. From banana peels and lawn clippings you grow a lemon tree. From street signs and Twitter feeds you grow a poem or a flash essay. In this class you’ll turn a fairytale inside-out. You’ll burrow wormwise through your own prose in search of the secret text it holds. You’ll build a poem out of physical objects. What you won’t do is stare at a blank page or screen trying to figure out “what on earth to say.” In other words, your life’s already a perfect poem, a perfect story, a perfect meditation, you just need to compose it a bit.
I’m new to bloggery but already very struck by how form and process extend the content and back again. I’ve long loved the thought and the fact of the serial poem (e.g., Spicer’s Language, Blaser’s Moth Poem) but haven’t till now come close to composing one …
(There’s a thought in me half-formed about Black Mountain prose style, its relentless parataxis, and how like that the serial poem is in its play ethic. Something about going on your nerve, not resorting to a supervisory intelligence, the mind that knows as the sentence begins what the whole of it will say. A dead form, nature mort. Gonna mull this one a bit more.)