Dumuzi the meta-poem

Realized last night that the table of contents to Dumuzi, the book I’ve been at work on since, I don’t know, late in the Sumerian era, is itself somewhat a poem. So here, in the spirit of self-composting, and also to celebrate my having once more called the damn thing done, and for reals this time, no really, it is.


DUMUZI

At Leaf
Dumuzi
His Spaces
(T)error
White Teeth
O [Sumer],
A Loud Water
A Map in the Brush
Atonement
Pastoral
I stroll w/ him
Lascaux
Orchard
And a boy
Agora
K so fire
Rain in nature
Terror of the tall trees
I thought I
Blue Mountains Walking
Fast
Clay to eat
Thou
Dawns
A thorn of
Spring Snow
They find
Moriah
Imago
The Friend
In Rain
Deal is
A Path Down It
“Spring Snow” (detail)
Mind, Eurydice
At Anchor
Omnia Quae Sunt, Lumina Sunt
Shouts heard
“… of the tall trees” (detail)
Galla fat and thin
Pest
Q.E.D.
At Moor
(C)lear
Nooo
A Room
Weeds
An inner governor
Rest Stop
Head Is All Ought
Crossing the bar
They are fences
Red Ink
Sez flies
In Ruin
Root Mind Sight
Hands bound
Eorðgrap
One Night Pound
No room for
One leans down
A Stone
Terro(i)r
Through the Morning
Is You Is or Is You Ain’t
And their life is orchard.
Eyes not scornful
Union Square
Yarrow

paperwhites, for Elise


Not strong on narrative, okay, but there’s a sort of arc in it, a greeny rainbow.

Coupla updates

Friends. Just updated a couple parts of this blog, thought I’d let you know.

New words about my two current projects, Overject and SCROhere.

A portfolio of my adventures in visual poetry here.

The latter turned into a narrative essay of sorts. Writing it, I learned a few things about what I think I’m up to. Cool when that happens. Please enjoy –

C.

 

Beasties, animated, to be

Whereas it’s been long since a post. Whereas we’re all about repurposing here. And whereas I resist going back to work on a panel proposal. Herewith, the juicy bits from a grant proposal, wherein The Poet Asks for $$ to Learn to Flash Adobe.


I’ll begin with a passage I’ve translated from an untitled Old English poem found in the Exeter Book –

5.

Moving among the company,
everywhere always, house throughout,
greeting her lord, she pours his cup first;
in greatness gives and keeps counsel,
they make a house, two
of one mind.

A selection process, adapted from poets Ronald Johnson and Jen Bervin and now in general use among restless poets everywhere, yields a visual pattern to work with:

90V SI 5 image 1

The selected text also generates, with some recombinations, a verbal poem –

SI 5 (90V) - text 2

– but I’ll focus here on my work with the selection marks, for that is where my practice, though first inspired by visual artist Tom Phillips, largely departs from other practices I know of. It’s here too that my practice points towards terrain I’d like funding to explore.

Elaboration of the selection marks goes through several stages, like so,

90V SI 5 image 2

and so,

90V SI 5 image 3

and so,

90V SI 5 image 4

and so,

90V SI 5 image 6

to produce an image

90V SI 5 image 8

somewhere in a dream terrain where Salvador Dali and Jim Henson commune with Louis Comfort Tiffany.

The images are an exploration of pareidolia, the mind’s tendency to make faces at the drop of a hat. They exhume natural and biological forms latent in the alphabet (“A” – ox; “N” – water; “O” – eye). They tap into the animism residual in the process of silent solitary reading (see David Abram, Spell of the Sensuous). And they undertake a fitful and pata­physical, i.e., seriously unserious, investigation of the mystical dimensions of the material text (see bpNichol, “Probable Systems 14: Re-Discovery of the 22 Letter Alphabet”).

Their main shortcoming, as I look at them now in Dumuzi (recently finished) and Overject (presently underway), is that they have had to sit still.

I want in my next project to animate them – to put the demonic, angelic, and zoological forms that arise through the illumination process into motion. Even more, I want to animate the illumination process itself, obviating the need for clumsy accounts like the one just finished. I envision digital publication and performance events, the latter more akin to video installations in gallery spaces than to conventional poetry readings.


Demons and angels weightless shadows across wall, floor, ceiling. Let’s see if I can stand to learn the program though. It’s that or start the search for – my collaborator.

A bit more on inscription

My handwriting has always been execrable. Cramped, crabbed, sotted, befuggled. Never mattered how hard I tried – after the first few sentences, the forms collapsed into a grapheme porridge pretty much only I could read, and even I only mostly.

I always thought it was impatience – hand not keeping up with thought. I was just too smart for my own embodiment! is how my thinking went. My a’s lost their stems and decayed into c’s, my f’s forgot their cross strokes and masqueraded as long l’s, my p’s omitted to close their loops, all were just too keen to get on to, well, to whatever came next.

I open my journal at random for an example and come upon notes for the course that gave birth to this blog.

Journal scrap

Translation:

Egypt/n Book of the Dead

Mesopotamian afterlife

y is hell underground? b/c that’s where rot is

the ecological imperative – to make also highest the lowest on the foodchain – the microbes + maggots that discompose the corpse

Ex: invent a verbal decay process and enact it

Ex: build a poem out of recycled objects / objs in yr recycling bin. (e.g. collage of beer bottle labels; contrap/n of cut coop plastic)


Around the new year I revisited Dumuzi to overhaul and conclude him and made a discovery. In certain brief and to me potent inscriptions I found I wanted to drop my descender hard and strike my cross stroke fast.

Journal scrap 2

Something, in those moments, that had been chained felt freed, an energy. The stroke could go as long hard far high fast wide as it wanted. As I wanted. As it in me wanted out of me. And what else happened was the rest of my hand began to clarify. The above is hardly beautiful but you don’t need my translation of it.

As if, in letting those flights of energy forth, the rest of my script could quiet down, take time to make the mark in the time given to make the mark. I felt I had felt Olson’s projective for the first time at the nerve ends – as matter in, of, motion.

I tried it out more general. And Dumuzi got altered lots by it – rather shockingly naked journal pages, and junk mail scraps inscribed with myth bits in a hand that feels a bit cuneiform a bit calligraphy a bit graffiti.At Uruk

But my thought here isn’t to rehash that. It’s first to acknowledge just how bloody hard it is to work with handwriting – the deep habit our script is in us. And second, just quick, to give a few pics of how I’ve worked since with script, my scriptural breakthrough.


These are from Overject, a translation project I’ve recently brought back into the shop for smashdown and overhaul. The source text is a really rather minor poem from The Exeter Book, a miscellany of Old English poetry with a few real knockouts – “The Wanderer,” “The Seafarer,” “The Ruin” – and a lot of stuff not much translated.

The one I’m working with is often called “Maxims” or “Gnomic Verses” but I’ve called it “Proverbs.” There’s something about its mix of sententious piety and anxious disjunction that strikes me as prematurely postmodern.

Overject, from Proverbia Disjecta, tries to release the anxious poem from the pious poem by means of wayward translation methods.


The first method is diplomatic transcription. Usually that means going from manuscript to typescript, getting as best you can the peculiar individual features of inscription into the uniformity of typesetting. Like drugging clowns to dress them in army fatigues!

My approach is different. I translate the handwriting of the Exeter scribe into my own handwriting. Here’s the scribe’s version:

88vTakes me three passes to get to my version. On the first, I do the script I told you of, let all the energy into ascenders, descenders, cross strokes they want. And damn but don’t it feel nice to.

88V dip transcrip pass 1

You’ll notice, three lines from the bottom, leftmost character, I’ve translated the scribe’s sleepiness. Not by translating some error directly, no slavish copying here, but by allowing my momentary inattention, my slip of a modern “w” where I should have writ the rune ƿ (wynn, “joy”), to stand and be overwrit, just as the scribe has done elsewhere (e for æ, say) when he’s drifted off.

How subtle this translation process gets. Best to go slow, not to assume anything, the least stroke might paralyze you.


Second pass is to set, roughly, the outlines of the characters.

88V dip transcrip pass 2

Third fills them in. This is the fussy part. If at the start it’s quick expressive sweeps of the pen – I toss the sheet and start over if I’ve got too in my head (the Sharpie is a perfect compass) – at the end it’s meticulous distribution of microns of ink, glasses off, eyes a couple inches from the receptive surface (and still I eff it up in six places).

88V dip transcrip pass 3

Not an improvement, nor deprovement, from dear anon’s, nor proof of no sort, but a difference. But a difference that makes a difference? Amn’t sure yet. I think it’s a base text, ground for sthg. more to grow upon, not sure what, annotation, emendation, error compounded upon error … well, stay tuned, if you wish.

Trust yr boredom

Well isn’t that interesting. I said I’d post some stuff about my adventures in erasure and now I find I just don’t feel like it. I tell my students over and over – trust your boredom – it’s some of the best guidance you’re going to get. Bored with a line? Cut it. Bored with a poem? Throw it away.

A sour and maybe cranky wakefulness but wakeful just the same. Could I ask of them something I won’t of myself?

face 2The deal I made with me when I started this blog was – write when I feel a wish to and write what I feel a wish to and not otherwise. Lots of duties and such elsewhere. Here I’ll see if what I’ve heard about whim is so, its fructiveness and sufficiency. So far it’s borne out well. Some fallow periods, some heavy fertile swells, an amiable rhythm.

So, having erased erasure, what do I mean to write about? I sat down without knowing. That’s the scary or even terrifying thing about trusting your boredom wholeheartedly. It might tell you what not without telling you what to.

face 3One thing I do, when in this place, and I mean to offer this to my students wherever you are, is just shine an inquisitive light over all the terrain of my mind open at that time, and see what gleams back, even tinily. That might be the place where whatever the counter to boredom is, is waiting.

Here what shone back in mind was an image of a red rock cliff in an essay I’d run my eyes over a few minutes earlier, looking for something on erasure I might want to use.

My thought was a propensity for seeing faces where they ain’t, and then my thought was, that’s where I want to go, that’s where the living interest is, the way inert matter makes faces at us, or the way we make it into faces.

face 1

Project onto it a sentience it doesn’t have, if you’re the sort of materialist most people today are, or acknowledge the sentience we intuit it to have, if you’re the sort of postmodern animist I’m coming to give myself permission to be.

Gleaming in mind, I think, because I spent some of yesterday, and today, turning a portion of Dumuzi into a chapbook ms, title Junk Inanna Down, which will go off to a contest tomorrow. The final image, built out of junk mail, is this

10. Eyes

Those eyes move me some. They’re a mother’s looking down at an infant in her arms. They’re Kuanyin coming to poor lowered noble Ezra in that Pisan tent. They’re the trademark stamp on the Bank of America logo blown up about 1600%. Sacred just bitch-slapped profane, ’bout time. Her earrings are the rest of the same logo disassembled. Her headdress is one of those scan codes you see on the front of an envelope a machine reads to shunt its news unwanted to you more speedily.

This one’s for Don, with love.