The course where it unbegan

This fall I’m teaching The Art of Compost, the course that hatched this blog, for the first time in three years. Thought I’d share with you the page that greets students when they go to the course’s online platform. Meant to open them to a composty way of thinking about word objects.


Welcome to 

ENG 460: The Art of Compost

“Look at my butterflies, my stamps, my old shoes!”
What does one do with all this crap?
–Jack Spicer

In the beginning, there was compost.

Crumb – Genesis 1 – sized
R. Crumb, The Illustrated Genesis

 
The Bible is a compost pile.

The story of the Flood is floodwrack of a Sumerian epic, Gilgamesh.

The Song of Solomon, proclaiming the devotion of the Hebrews to their God in really quite erotic terms, is a compost of Canaanite love poetry.

The New Testament cannibalizes the Old to make Jesus make more sense.

 

Sappho - Papyrus
Sappho, a fragment

A bit of poem by Sappho.

The fragment only survives
because the poem was torn to strips,

and the strips (papyrus)
used to wrap a mummy.

Glyph

A novel digested yields
precious rare verse nutrients.

Phillips – Humument – sized
Tom Phillips, A Humument (fifth edition)

Tom Phillips found a bad Victorian novel in a London bookstore in 1966 and bought it on a dare.

He’s spent the last 48 years releasing the eye poems he finds in it.

Its protagonist, Toge, carved out of the words together, altogether.

Its human meaning, here and there uttered and everywhere embodied: “only connect.”

Glyph

A composted mass of poems
becomes a lettery soil.

Screenshot - Spicer.png
Jack Spicer, After Lorca

Jack Spicer didn’t write his poems.

Some were dictated to him by Martians.

Others came to him over the radio. The poet is a radio, he said, a counter-punching radio.

Glyph

You can compost something as impromptu
as an envelope jotting . . .

Bervin – Gorgeous – sized
Emily Dickinson, Jen Bervin, & Marta Werner, The Gorgeous Nothings

Jen Bervin and Marta Werner have found, in diplomatic transcriptions of the envelope jottings of Emily Dickinson, a curious new sort of visual poem.

. . . or grandiose as an extinct civilization
extant only in mind

Schwerner – Tablet X – sized 2Armand Schwerner imagines the discovery of tablets left behind by a hitherto unknown ancient culture.

The brackets and ellipses scholars use to transcribe broken ancient texts become the building blocks for visual poems elucidating

perception illumination annihilation enlightenment dissolution regeneration
sex birth death irrigation animal husbandry

Glyph

Compost will be our trope
for how writers take extant works
and break them down to pieces they can
use to make new works that will be
broken down in turn to
make new works
&c.


Whew. That took longer than you’d think to format. As you can see, it raises more questions than it answers. Our primary texts, w/ links:

Compost as trope, as topos, as practice. It’s a way of digging intertextuality and materiality without going all theory. It’s also ecopoetics as I myself feel it, not nature-as-leafy-green-stuff one swoons to in words, though that’s well and good, but interbeing discovered as your textual ground. Indra’s Net, felt on the breath, that it becomes the texture of our works, our days.


Our reading practice is fluid, but some of these may swim into our ken:

Works co-authored by time

The same except make-believe

20th C. ur-texts composed by bricolage

Objectivist &c. poems &c. at play in their wake

Translations that foreground their compost nature . . .

. . . and translations into a language of pure form

Other conceptual undertakings

Prose compendia and extravaganza with a compost face

Works that suggest to compose just is to compost

Instructions and conceptions

Images and sounds

The bin of the thing


It’s the bare thin start of a compost rolodex.

Later will try to get some more recent workings in.

Here, for now, the wormipede I just found on my kitchen floor, WTF.

Wormipede

Lastly, why so Euro? I need to dwell more on that, but it’s got to do with a hankering for diagnosis. Our thought, I mean the West’s, has been sick a good long time. One way to get a bead on what ails us might be to trace the shadows that remain of cultures who before their ruinous contact with us lacked our afflictions. “Ethnopoetics.” If we’re amiss, our others may offer a glance of salutary haleness. While I admire elders like Robert Bringhurst and Jerome Rothenberg, deep and sincere in an exogenous practice, it may have felt to some of its objects – it surely would to me were I to try on any such regard – like more of the same damn thievery.

Another way is endogenous – sift the debris all round us of our own works and ages.

Inanna, reddening

Inanna, asemic, found her way to colour.


From the great Above

Red b/c she one, bleeds and two, draws blood. The source text –

From the great Above
she opened her ear
to the great Below.

From the great Above
the goddess opened
her ear to the
great Below.

From the great Above
Inanna opened her
ear to the great
Below.

And, aleatory gift, at the bottom my colophon and spun from the word below, the goddess recumbent – a bullet or some such flung from her brain.

Glyph

A compost instance

From these

Plate 24 + 24 – materialscame these

Plate 23
Plate 23
Plate 24
Plate 24

From Inanna Scient – the penultimate panels. Whole thing, as you may have heard me mention before, collaged out of junk mail.

Was wondering the other day why I’m so preoccupied with depth effects in it. And thought, might be something to do w/ how I’m approaching obliquely (as one does gorgons in a polished shield) the phantasm of machine intelligence.

Try this. The appearance of depth on the page is analogous to the appearance of intelligence in AI. It may be more or less convincing but the only actual depth the page has to offer is the thickness of its paper. A machine, though it may sail through its Turing test and appear to possess what we would like to call a mind, it’s a semblance, a contrivance. The only consciousness there is whatever consciousness inheres anyway in the matter the machine’s made from.

Inanna Scient

Recently had a breakthrough with Dumuzi. Realized the embedded chapbook telling Inanna’s story – descent to the underworld and return here – had to bust out and become a freestanding being. So I’ve been at work on that …

But, in a funk these last couple of days. So instead of making poems I’ve been updating  web pages. Vanity 1 art 0. Here’s some new stuff I wrote about the goddess project, now called Inanna Scient, because her undertaking all is to know.


Goddess Inanna, Queen of Heaven and Earth, Devastatrix of the Lands. Her story cuts through Dumuzi’s at every point at a right angle. I thought she was part of his book, but just now she broke out to become her own text – electronic and multi-modal, I think. The first panel:

“When they tire of riding the holy hard-on, Inanna gathers up her me for a road trip.”     “Those are her powers.”

I know the text sounds crude. The source is way pre-Christian, open to sacred profanity, in ways post-Christian we, split between prudery and porn, can but long for.

I’d like, if I can learn the right software, for the image to be multiply responsive to a touch (tablet) or mouse-over (computer). Brush the aasemic text and a voice reads it to you. Poke a demon and a crow barks. Stroke a barcode and rain in the trees. The next panel:

Won from
“Won from her drunken father Sweetwater back in the day”

I imagine the text as a “posthuman hymn.” We’ve created, if not artificial, then unnatural intelligence, and outsourced a good chunk of our thinking to it – our sorting and analyzing, our remembering and feeling. The nets we’ve trained in these human works are clunky at it but quickly getting better. By now the images of us they reflect back to us are coloured by notes not our own. It’s that uncanniness I’m after.

Inanna
“Inanna”     “Her faithful friend”

Inanna Scient imagines what it is to be our thoughts in exile from us. Informed by our fears and longings, drawn out of our bodies, made remote to us as data. Inanna and her faithful friend (Ninshubur) are those codes the P.O. prints on our mail to sort it. The backgrounds are security envelope linings. The blocky little creatures, galla from the kur, underworld demons, are postal meter codes blown way up.

Mail because commerce. Inanna and Dumuzi are grain deities, and from the roots of the grain springs trade, flowers writing, spread cities, all our gorgeous disasters.

 

Inanna, a chapbook

Some nice news! A swatch of poems from Dumuzi will be published as a chapbook by Little Red Leaves. I’ve loved their books (fabric covers, hand sewn, venturesome poems) since I first came across them. Sew colour me thrilled. (Sorry, terrible.)

Title to come but I’m thinking simply Inanna Sent. The poems are a graphic novella, collaged out of junk mail, that tells the story of Inanna’s trip to the underworld. Thought I’d post a few panels, final versions. Here’s the first –


Panel 1

The strata are the linings of security envelopes. Inanna and her sidekick, the scancodes you see on autosorted mail. Her jaunty cap, the Bank of America logo, while he sports the NBC paycock (Pound’s spelling). The speaker is one of the galla, demons of the underworld; to them’s given the work of narration. They’re all blown up out of these:


scan code

If you get your pareidolia on, that can look like a postmodern Roman frieze, gods, monsters, epic struggle. Next panel.


Panel 2
As Inanna gets deeper in, her logo-feather-flame hat dirties and darkens. Small serendipities: with each new panel, I lifted the logo from the last with a letter opener and taped it down on the new one. Each move brought more scuffing, each layer of tape more obscuration and road dust. One more.


Panel 3
Scancodes and photocopy noise. Have written some more about Inanna, what and why she means to me, the space I was in (an intense one) making these poems, here and here and here and here. And a bit at the end here. If curious. (Old images there, the script far less open, but in the spirit of blog, I’m going to leave as was.)

Oh and the grainy oblique smudges above “Her sad eyes”? Bits of pinewood, my writing desk, pulled up by scotch tape I’d stuck there momently while I spotted a paperscrap just right. The meaning of the whole is, make peace with your accidents. (Not in a hey-do-this sort of way. In a note-to-self sort of way.)

Tried to explain the desk splinters to Stephen Burt when he asked me about my work. Talk about happy accident! But, he seemed not so impressed. Oh well.


If you’ve made it this far, thoughts on the title? I sent it out as Junk Inanna Down. That now feels like a hostile mouthful. Do you think so too? What about Inanna Sent? Too mild? Comment away …

that scamp’s still in the know

Some fine high play here with mockingbirds and finches. A reminder that for all that’s at stake morally and spiritually and politically in Lee’s so powerful novel and its latterly published and from all reports really pretty indifferent draft, her characters are ink on paper stirring forms in mind, there is no Atticus about whom to uncover shocking truths. Well that’s what I mean I don’t know if it’s what Theresa means. But her compositions here are provoking and provoked so check them out.