Student work: Asemic page

Last day of my poetry workshop today. We ended on a sweet sad silly happy blue note, or several of them, everyone is feeling lots, and it’s all good. Delicate uncertain care. I’m honoured to be in the presence of so much true feeling. The texture of such a moment can’t always be got across – though, poets, we try – in words. Thank goodness there are for these occasions unwords!

Strained transition but man I’m blasted. Sometime when it’s over I’ll write why. Right now I want to share a few of their asemic compositions.

The exercise: Compose a page of asemic writing. The post I wrote round it here.


This first one is peacock. And bravery and has such boldness in its made mark. I love it for that and learn from it. Some of its sworls – that big blue swoop with the edge of a robin’s egg, e.g. – are not just proto-charactery but the prelim of true things.

Then there’s that centred square of no-sense going on as if it were all the order in the world – ain’t no thing, just move on. Five by five, or almost, like a Tang dynasty poem. But yet not. This poem is but yet not.

MB


This one to me marks an opening for its author. Every crook and curve is of note, as if it belonged to a musical score. And her work after, it got smaller, sharper, every syllable counted (literally – she grooved to syllabics) and enjambments suddenly heartbreakingly present. 

Every student in this striking group had a breakthrough poem. I do think this was hers. Look how even as it proceeds it opens and bravens. 
HS


This one touches the spirit of Oulipo, or something ‘Pataphysical, geometry of a universe soon to be invented. And of all the ones that came in, it took the most care with the page as a material object, which like a universe has more than one side, is all turnings.


This one is wholly free in its spirit of gesture and direction. The poet said she didn’t think much of it but what I love is she didn’t think much in it she just did it. Her not-thinking transmits with no loss of energy her embodied gesture to this embodied eye and the mind of it.

AP

Dōgen: “When Yaoshan was sitting, a monk asked him, ‘In steadfast sitting, what do you think?” Yaoshan said, ‘Think not-thinking.’ ‘How do you think not-thinking?’ Yaoshan replied, ‘Non-thinking.'” This is that!


My conversation with the poet of this one went something like

—Why does this work so well??! (me)

—I don’t know! (her)

—I don’t either but it does!

—I know!

It’s barely more than scriggles. But that it gave me a word, scriggles, totally for free, means lots. It’s second-order creative; it creates creativity; it’s generative. Those earth and vegetal tones are life-in-potential. (Even what colourblind I thinks to be purple, the chlorophyll of the low-light set.) Just as asemic writing itself is meaning-in-potential.

ES

A student in my other class, damn but I love her ambition, and so see myself in it, wants to elicit from Marvell’s “A Dialogue Between the Soul and the Body” the whole mind-body problem, link back to the Buddha on that and connect forward to modern materialist theories positing mind as an emergent property of material systems. Had to say, that’s an MA thesis, not a ten-page critical research paper. But emergence is where it’s at, complexity, new reals irreducible. (Why the eff am I advisor to a journal called Occam’s Razor?) And I trust her to find a scope to make it work. And – point of the digression – emergence is what’s here, too.

I do love this teaching thing. However good I may be at it, it is better to me. I hope the overseers will let me keep doing my work as intuition says to. How do you say, though, to an office oriented to conduct codes, chapters and verses, that I want and try to teach from prajna?

Exercise: Asemic writing

Gave my poetry workshop an exercise in asemic writing. First time I’ve tried it & they done good. Will post some of their scriptures soon. For now, the exercise, with prelims.


In class, showed some alphabets invented or divined. Hélène Smith‘s Martian:

Smith

Something cool by Andrew Clark I found:

Clark

Razorsharp letterset, with pareidolia, by Christopher Skinner:

Skinner

Wish I’d remembered the Deseret writing created by Brigham Young:

DeseretMore widely used perhaps is Klingon:

Klingon


And then an in-class exercise: Create a new alphabet. You have 15 minutes.

There was time when they were done (!?) so I had them write their names in their alphabet and put them on the board.

photo (9)

Click this one to biggen it, so worth it.

The characters illegible but full of character – I can almost tell, weeks later, whose letters are whose. (Of course the palindrome’s a giveaway.) And that’s asemic writing for you: all the meanings semantic meaning was veiling, when we were distracted by it, shiny toy, creep forth, peek out.


The exercise they went home with: Compose a page of asemic writing. And man did some come out good. I will post post haste.

To those who had trouble with the ex, I said, try it anew with your eyes closed. (Makes me no better than some Obi Wan voiceover, I know.)


Examples of asemic writing I had for them, who now are you, to look at.

Zhang Xu‘s “wild cursive,” or loosely (or wrongly) “wild grass cursive”:

Zhang_Xu_-_Grass_style_calligraphy_(4)

A few by Henri Michaux:

A couple by Paul Klee:

And this wonderful ongoing project, The Geranium Lake Properties, by Lyn Tarczynski, maybe my favourite asemic compositor out there.

And this bed of asemic misadventure, The New Post-literate, edited by one of the mode’s current progenitors, Michael Jacobson.


Also had them read these good orientations on the practice:

Tim Gaze on asemic writing.

Michael Jacobson on asemic writing.

Minnesota Center for Book Arts, “Making Sense of Asemic Writing.”


Postscript. Orientations, orient, Orient, Orientalism. Can’t help but wonder, worry a little, as I play around in the asemic stream, what kinds of othering might be going on. It’s pleasing to make a script one recognizes and doesn’t, cognizes and doesn’t. It gets fantasy circuits firing without any durable duty to, I dunno, the actual world of beings bedded in history. Sort of the way paintings of Turkish harems might have got Euros turned on in the 19th C?

Play’s okay, we all need to sometimes. But while most of the asemic stills in SCRO, my current project, are redolent of leafs and bugs and unraced faces, there are those that might mind one of an ethnographic rattle, or petroglyphs I saw somewhere, and others please me maybe for imping the fluidity of Arabic.

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What the fuck am I redoing the Mikado for the 21st C or something? I don’t mean to, but do I get to claim the privilege of not meaning to? A couple friends and I are putting together a proposal for next year’s CCWWP Convention, theme of necessary conversations in a time of racial and gendered violence. Had thought to propose on this – show some, say my self-questions, see what other questions flew. (Our thinking’s gone another way, another post on that.)


Post-postscript. Are many Arabics gorgeous and asemic to me meaning God.

In the name of Allah
“In the name of Allah beneficent and merciful”

There needs to be room for play of equals. That astonishing face is full of play.


Post-post-postscript. The book that got me started on this whole misadventure – erasure, asemia, the limen, the lumen, the clinamen, compostery even I’d maybe say, is Imagining Language, eds. Steve McCaffery and Jed Rasula. I met Hélène Smith there, e.g. Now out of print. SAD!

Bruce Beasley’s Soul Parts

This weekend I had the pleasure of introducing Bruce Beasley as he read from his new book, All Soul Parts Returned, at Village Books here in Bellingham, WA, on the blue wet coast of America. I’ve learned uncountably much from Bruce over the years. Not least he exemplifies to me how to speak to folks as who you just is. He’s one of the most authentic readers I’ve ever encountered – venues! book him! – and though I don’t come anywhere near that, it’s partly thanks to him I have an inner sensor for when I’m in actual contact with, at one and the same time, my core and those I’m talking to – cuz that’s the trick of it – and when I’ve lost that spirit tripod and am on bullshit autopilot. Well here’s give or take what I said.


It is an honour and a delight to introduce Bruce Beasley, who’s going to read tonight from his book just published by BOA Editions, All Soul Parts Returned.

One thrill of Bruce’s work is how he holds a word or phrase up and turns it a little this way, a little that, to see what light glints off it. “Ordinary of the Mass.” “Torn-to-pieces-hood.” “I have taken leave of several of my senses.” Then he breaks the whole apart to see what light the pieces might have in them.

I’m going to see if I can say something about his book by doing that with his title. And so here we go. All Soul Parts Returned.

Part the first. All soul. All is soul, all spirit – very nice, very idealist. Or all is sole, S-O-L-E, all is alone – so lonely. Or maybe all is alone because all is one, that’s the etymology – “alone,” all one. (If you think I’ve left the book behind you should buy it and read it because I really haven’t.) Now what about All Souls’ Day, because that’s called to mind too, day after the day after Halloween, when the spooky bits are over, and the Saints have had their day – now is when the ordinary faithful departed are honoured and remembered.

In one poem, through the sort of linguistic shattering and regathering I’m talking about, Bruce carries a forgotten Scots couplet

The speaned lambs mene their mithers
As they wimple ower the bent

through mediations and mastications and yet somehow arrow-straight to

The speaned man
menes his mither
as he wimples
ower the bent.

“The grown man mourns his mother as he falls in folds over the field.” That’s not the only way to read the verse, of course, that turn and return. These poems multiply. Multi-ply, many folds.

Part the second. Soul parts. Well doesn’t it just. It just keeps on going off somewhere. Except, off from whom? Wait, aren’t I the one, the soul, from whom the soul would go? (That’s kind of the question of the book.) Or, the soul parts, as in splits, into parts – but how can I be fractured from myself? (That’s sort of the question of the book.) Also, sole, S-O-L-E again. Are we talking sole and uppers, and we’re in a shoe repair workshop? “All sole parts returned.” Buy this book, toll-free, 1-800-SANDALS.

Finally, parts returned. Turned then turned again, re-turned? Are the parts spun round and round? “Turn,” when a poet says it, has to mean verse, has to mean poetry. A turn is a line break, a poem is to turn and re-turn. Are our soul parts being turned round, line after line, till they’re dizzy like kids at a piñata? From “Me Meaneth”:

We could trace it if we wanted to: the dictionary’s
words line up like children in a rush,
blindfolded, to bash

a piñata. We could track
T. S. Cairncross himself,
and his lost poem, and his lambs,

the words that merge
into his last name –

Cairn, cross. This tracing has no beginning and it never ends, marking the markers, death, loss, our observances.

I might seem just to be making up some dumb shit here. But this is the sort of crazed linguistic refraction Bruce’s poetry invites you to. Language in his world is a guide who keeps on ducking behind a screen then jumping back out at you wearing a clown suit and juggling deckchairs jellyfish and metaphysics. Then, just when you’ve got used to that, it steps out wearing a mask of oblivion.

Because the work is, meanwhile, also, terrifying. Nothing escapes question here. Not language, not the self, not whether life here on earth deserves it. (That would be Schopenhauer’s contribution. That philosopher is Bruce’s Satan in the forty-day desert.)

Nothing escapes question except maybe ordinary affection. Before and through and after all the play, affection is ordinal, a compass bearing. Affection for language, affection for wife, and son, and this astonishing biosphere, and a loving appalling God who may or may not – .

It’s an affection as true as the spiritual travail it allows is at times harrowing.

The factual stuff. All Soul Parts Returned is Bruce’s eighth book of poetry, following Theophobia, also published by BOA, in 2012. Other recent books include The Corpse Flower: New and Selected Poems (University of Washington Press, 2007) and Lord Brain (University of Georgia Press, 2005). He has won three Pushcart Prizes and has seen his work anthologized in Lyric Postmodernisms, The Pushcart Book of Poetry, and other collections. His work has appeared in Yale Review, Kenyon Review, Southern Review, New American Writing, Field, and many many other journals.  He’s a Professor of English at Western where he teaches courses in poetry writing, slam poetry, dreamwork, and the ontology of monsters.

Bruce has been a teacher, mentor, guide and friend to me, more than half my life now. I can’t tell you what an honour it is to introduce him to you (although I did just try).

Please join me in welcoming Bruce Beasley.


The image up top is by J. B. Murray, (bio here) untitled. One of his astonishing images graces the cover of All Soul Parts. Here’s another that dovetails with my poetry workshop’s current recent pass through asemic writing –

JBM+154

Happysad snowday

This just in from SCRO.

Watch full screen for the best hit.

I think it’s a sort of breakup poem? Long after the fact but a fresh wave of it.

Oh yes, lotsa wish, loss, yearning, resolution. This little heart wants so much!

Snow’s all round today – air, ground, sky, quiet, lovely.

Yesterday a hummingbird in the snow at the lavender flowers.

Whether “life goes on,” I don’t always know, but living goes on, I do see it.

Image up top, tilt your head sideways. You’ll see the left side of the sad face is the word happy. It made the round forms in the middle, heartlike, applish, insecty.

Go, figure.

On being drawn in

Attended this evening, with two dear friends, the opening of the Bellingham National 2017 exhibit at the Whatcom Museum. An excerpt from my video poem SCRO is in a show on the theme of “Drawing Practice.” The curator, Catharina Manchanda of the Seattle Art Museum, has gone past the usual sense of drawing – an implement marking a markable surface – to investigate all the senses of the verb. What’s it to be drawn on? to be drawn to? to be drawn out? to be drawn into?

There are drawings there in the usual sense. Also torn canvases, their matter physically drawn out.

Kirk Yamahira. Untitled (stretched); 2017. Acrylic, pencil, unweaved, deconstructed on canvas.

And sheets of paper drawn across abrasive surfaces. And one video I loved drawing the lens over road lines at traffic speed. Another video watched light draw on water it appeared raw crude had blotched.

What all my favourites (here’s another

Jenna Lynch. Traveling Within, Feeling Through, Dreaming Beyond; The Lines. Watercolor on paper.

) had in common was a quality of absorption. I was drawn in. There was a mind there, its evidence made it over to my mind, and drew it in closer.

My own piece was caringly placed, in a nook of its own, with – am I imagining this? – a bench to sit on and watch.

I feel a bit of an imposter in a gallery, identify as a poet not a video artist, but I guess I do because it suits me to. “Oh I just stumbled into this by accident, I don’t really know what I’m doing …”

Gimme a break. No one knows what they’re doing. It’s no excuse.

p 7 detail

Seven one-minute vids are up. Check ’em out if you’re in town. And, fourteen still to make, so let me know what you think, if you feel so moved.

Link to the exhibition, and the pieces by Yamahira and Lynch, here.

A first home for SCRO

I’m thrilled to have a bit of SCRO in this upcoming exhibit at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. Case you’re somewhere round Minneapolis, the deets:

Asemic Writing: Offline & In the Gallery
March 10, 2017 – May 28, 2017
MCBA Main Gallery

Opening reception Friday, March 10; 6-9pm

Asemic writing is a wordless semantic form that often has the appearance of abstract calligraphy. It allows writers to present visual narratives that move beyond language and are open to interpretation, relying on the viewer for context and meaning. Beyond works on paper, asemic writing enjoys a growing presence online and continues to evolve with new performance-based explorations and animated films.

Asemic Writing: Offline & In the Gallery, curated by Michael Jacobson, is the first large-scale exhibition of asemic art in the United States, featuring the work of over 50 international artists who together create an eclectic assemblage of inventing, designing, and dreaming.

Asemic Translations
Saturday, March 25; 7-9pm
Free and open to the public

Join us for a special reading by various asemic artists and scholars, and music by Ghostband. This event is sponsored by Rain Taxi.

A few screen shots from my sequence, SCRO 9am, 10am, 12pm.

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Artist’s statement (SCRO)

My first sub to a gallery’s call for entries. Writ with the help of a mist friend.


SCRO begins with a handwritten text about my relationship with my aging father. A single paragraph over 24 pages, one for each hour of the day. I manipulate the text on a photocopier, scan the resultant distorted images, and crop those to compose short video poems, 24 of them, each a minute long. The length of each frame determined by chance. The text distressed for my fear of his mental decline. Also for how hard it is for son to know father, or father son, or either one himself. The heart of the practice is my distortion of the ascenders, descenders, bowls and cross-strokes of my written hand. Visual forms, latent in the text, are literally drawn out of it as the words are composted—broken down and let re-flower in proto-signs, pseudo-glyphs, half-made faces and botanic forms. The soundtrack is ambient noise in and around the house for which my father co-signed the loan. He’s made me able to live, here. SCRO, the overlap of “scrotum” and “escrow,” both derived from words for to cut.


The stills I sent:

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And here’s one of the things themselves.