DIY rhizome

Planted asparagus crowns today – kraken jellyfish sprawls – and guess what, they’re rhizomes. In which honour, instead of the grading I meant to, am posting the project I spent the afternoon hatching for my poetry students.


For your final project, instead of a plain old boring ordinary portfolio, you’re going to construct a rhizome of your ownsome. I’ll set some parameters, and then we can work out together, one-on-one, the form each of your rhizomes takes. Please enter this project in the spirit of cheerful exploration you’ve been cultivating (lovely to see) all quarter.

As we discussed, your rhizome needs (1) to do self-reflection; (2) to include finished poetry of your own; (3) to engage with at least one of the poetry texts and one of the poetics texts we’ve read; and (4) to have a non-textual dimension. My hope’s that these parameters will foster rhizome values of heterogeneity, interconnection, polyphony. And I invite but won’t require you (5) to engage with Deleuze and Guattari’s essay “Introduction: Rhizome” itself.


(1) Self-reflection

You’ve read others on their poetics – what about your poetics? Hey what are your poetics? How have your poetics changed over the last ten weeks? What aspects of the course, other courses, your daily round, have affected your poetics? (Williams learns his poetics from an old man with a watch chain; Levertov from a vase of tulips; Cage from street noise and the endlessness of Kansas.) Is there a given word, image, line or line break in one of your poems where your poetics come clear to you? Write about it, talk about it, blog about it, make a sound poem à la Taggart out of it. You’re doing self-reflection if you’re thinking explicitly and incisively about your own work and practice.

(2) Finished poetry

This is the only component of the rhizome I can realistically quantify. There should be five to eight finished poems. (Towards the lower end if other requirements are met outside the poems. Towards the higher end if they’re met within.) Don’t include drafts unless drafts are part of your rhizome-vision (a process-study rhizome…?). Do consider all the feedback you’ve received, everything you’ve learned about poetic inspiration and poetic craft, and your own writerly intuitions, as you revise your work, a little or a lot.

(3) Engagement with poetry and poetics texts

Your rhizome needs to meet one of the poetry texts we’ve read, head-on, and one of the poetics texts, head on. (Spring and All can count as either, but you need to grapple with a second text as well.) Your meeting can be analytical or creative or both. Endless possibilities! Analytical: Say your rhizome’s a blog. You could write a post about your changing understanding of Williams’s line and how it has changed your own line. Creative: Say your rhizome’s a series of manipulations of found texts. You could do an asemic translation of Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing” following an algorithm derived from the square root sequence he uses to structure it.[1]

Whether your work here is creative or analytical, it should be thoughtful and substantive, emerging, in a way that’s clear to an outside reader (me), from a sustained engagement with the text at hand. Quote, converse, argue; analyze, imitate, parody; cut up, write through, collage.

(4) A non-textual dimension

Your rhizome should have a significant non-textual aspect, component, or dimension. It could be one part of the rhizome – a visual poem, in among other textual poems. Or it could be an aspect of the whole – your rhizome presents as hypertext, say, or a mobile for above the crib of your unborn child, or a set of performance poems, or nested boxes you’ve glued up out of grocery store bags and inscribed with your poems in fake blood from the dollar store. Why? Because rhizome.

(5) “Introduction: Rhizome”

Finally, and optionally, I encourage you to make contact with Deleuze and Guattari’s essay, source of this nuttiness. It’s posted on Canvas, along with key excerpts, some of which we’ve discussed. Seems to me even snippets, little phrases, could turn, open, frame, or maybe defenestrate a poem of yours. Take one and build it into a poem it has nothing to do with – see if it opens up things. A love poem with “Don’t bring out the General in you!” as epigraph? An elegy with “Don’t sow, grow offshoots!” as last line? Or, just put your finger down on a page at random, and whatever phrase you land on, write a poem with that as the title. Or, if you’re truly brave, read the essay for real, see if any of it sheds light on the work you’ve done, are doing, have yet to do.


How it comes together

There’s a safe way to do this. A poetry portfolio that includes a visual poem and a self-assess­ment in which you situate your work in relation to the poet who’s had the most effect on you this quarter, and the poetics essay you’ve found most provocative, illuminating, or unsettling.

I hope though you’ll bring out the rhizome in you more so. Consider the interconnecting divergent heterogeneous multimedia genre-bending border-crashing ways you might do this thing. A few we came up with last week: A chapbook. A conspiracy board. A video mashup. A blog. A purse. A potted plant. Do others come to mind?

And consider as you work: what makes the art object whole? We’re well beyond the well-wrought urn here, the neat and tidy closure of the sonnet. Think about all the accounts of wholeness we’ve encountered: the seeming sprawl of Spring and All; the forest network of Ghandl’s stories; Cage’s tightly structured yet breezy improvisatory lecture; Olson’s and Hejinian’s divergent senses of open field and open form.

And no, not one of them means just any old mess passes muster, sorry. (A stake in the heart of Reader Response Theory! Die! It’s not that you’re not right, but you stunt young minds!) What, for Ghandl, Lorca, Cage, Valentine, Taggart, is the difference between whole and not whole? What is the difference for you? Hey, sounds like a question of poetics … maybe one to reflect on …


Finally, practicalities

Our last workshop round will be a rhizome workshop. Bring, for it, whatever will be most helpful to you to discuss – a poem to be part of your rhizome, or a paragraph describing your rhizome scheme, or a link to a blog post or video essay. If the object’s unique and irreproducible – a paper mâché elephant assembled of discarded drafts – bring pictures to pass round, and on the day you’re to be discussed, the object itself, if you can.

Please take note of your date in the schedule. We’re slightly behind, but please, just the same, bring your work on the day your work is due. Allows us max flex. As said, we’ll take care of the backlog at a supplemental meeting, Monday March 14, 5pm at Rudy’s Pizza. Because mushroom.

[1] WTF? See Beaulieu, Flatland. This, BTW, is what Bedient is talking about.

Poetics of the Rhizome

Been a while. Here, a post that takes composting (repurposing) (ok cutting and pasting) to heart – coarse description for my winter poetry workshop. And, cuz the Puritan in me says LAZY BOY for plopping this down, I’ll put in some links, rhizome-style, to what I hope’ll be pleasing surprising ties.

By the way? Rhizome, from Deleuze and Guattari’s “Introduction: Rhizome” from A Thousand Plateaus, which, as I said today to my colleague Oliver, I’d never make an undergrad actually read, though in fact it’s durn pretty cool.

By the way also? Rhizome’s a complicated way of saying Indra’s Net.


English 453: Creative Writing Seminar: Poetry: “Poetics of the Rhizome”

A plant that grows by rhizomes spreads laterally underground, sprouting new plants where chance prompts it or opportunity allows. A rhizomatic plant lets go of where it came from. It extends indefinitely. Sprawls and breaks the rules. Makes its own rules and it don’t look back. Diverse and plural, not a voice but voices, it connects and connects some more. Think aspen, orchid, ginger, bamboo. Think poison oak, horsetails, bunch grass. We’re past good and evil here, beautiful and ugly, the rhizome’s where shit gets real.

In this class, we’ll meet the poem, poetry, as rhizome – a conversation without edges – messy sprawling webs of language that circle the globe, link human prehistory to the present moment, and embed human speech and action in a more-than-human world. Our focus will be student work, but we’ll touch in with ways of thinking-about-poetry, feeling-through-poetry, sympathetic with rhizomatic mind. The post-colonial turn from Anglophone canons to literatures of cultures at the muzzle end of empire. The work of ethnopoetics, fruitful but troubling, to recover pre-techno­logical ways of being and seeing. And the work of ecopoetics to divine, through the dowsing wand of poetry, a human place in the green and toothy world.


Full disclosure, with whine. Do I have time to check out all the links mischief has me propose? Are you kidding? With my working life? You know I make about minimum wage, right, when minimum wage is actually a living wage, as it is in, say, SeaTac? And here I am at 9:50pm eating Coop lasagna from the microwave and drinking a cheap but really not bad Grenache and spending entirely too long on a blog post … well, point is, I’ve given the links a quick scan, they seem fun, but be your own judges. Century of Scatter.


The intent here’s intimately practical. How to widen our notion of the possible in poetry? So count on lots of provocative reading, frequent writing exercises, and thoughtful responses to your work and that of your peers. Too, be ready for conceptions of the poem you hadn’t thought before: poem as prayer, incantation, manifesto, compost pile, neural net. Grades will be based on assigned exercises, writing journal, final portfolio, active and generous participation. Poetry by W.C. Williams, Robert Creeley, John Taggart, Ghandl of the Qayahl Llaanas, Will Alexander, Adonis, Jean Valentine, Coral Bracho. Poetics essays by Williams, Charles Olson, Denise Levertov, John Cage, Charles Bernstein, Lyn Hejinian, Adonis, Adrienne Rich.


More of the promised links to come, friends, but I gotta call it a night. Rhizome mind is hard work. As all ferns and their fronds know.

Be wheat and sway hey la hey

This one composted from a homophonic translation of folio 89V of The Exeter Book.

89V ED
Click once and twice for a zoom happening.

Been a long teaching stretch. They’re working hard and tired, I’m working hard and tired, these compressed summer courses, hmm. Well, we’re halfway there. They’ve spent the week getting blogs up and running, and are making some interesting forays. Latte art, penny textures, Vonnegut on where the sun don’t shine. Over the next while I mean to post ties (ligatures, holdfasts) to their adventures.

Something rhizomatic about blog world. Someone should write something about that sometime.

Mm, quick check says, rhizome’s got co-opted by some digitalists and some corporatists, so nevermind maybe. But here’s a picture from/of the origin. Fans of Deleuze and Guattari will know that’s a bad joke.

From Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus