No one tells you when to breathe. These hands.

A second effort at scriptural overlay. (First pass was scruptrual and I may stick with that.) First was here. This one I think the composition’s a bit livelier.

No one tells you

Working with phrases talismanic to me for deep and private reasons. I have trouble with such language, artistically, because it won’t let me go, but won’t convert easily to poem, either – won’t get adequately ironic, won’t have the transparent sentiment washed from its smeary face. So this here’s a try at that.

A try at what, do you mean? At being oblique enough for the spirit of the current moment of our art. Which is my spirit too oh trust me. Obliquity, and, yet, a core sample. Knowing the core empty I still find me trudging there for a sample.

The source text for this’un:

No one tells you - source text

Thanks for reading. For reals.

Pee, ess, this one wants to spin. Tried to set it in motion as a GIF but couldn’t find a way, w/ my limited skill set and prog means, to get it working. Am signed up for first date with Flash at the end of the month. Am hopeful, heart in throat.

This one invites you in

Migraine, salmonella, I gotta say, been a crappy week off. Too, though, a sunny Sunday morning, I sit here on the couch sipping tea and eating a few berries, my gut don’t hurt too much of the moment & my cat’s basking in the sun, and so.

The week of serious concerted poem-making I pictured has not happened. (Nor have the coincident weeks of serious gardening or concerted bill paying.) But did come one I’d love to show you.

It began with a glimpse just of a picture poem by Robert Grenier on Craig Dworkin’s Eclipse archive –

– and in particular the overlaying of words: I and my, am and heart, a and is, (something) and beating.

I’ve been working for a while on a script got by writing something over twice – as I’ve written about here. What, I then wondered, if the overtext weren’t just the undertext, shifted. What if a good deal more difference were let in.

As it turned out, I worked with just one phrase, this one that popped up in earlier work on Overject

89R scrap 2 upI inscribed the phrase over and over, following a protocol dictated by the digits of π, and when that felt done I stopped, and then I started filling in some of the spaces created by the intersections of overlapping letterforms. After a while I got to this.

This one invites ...Don’t honestly know if it’s any good. But it’s, at least, a new method I’m curious of. Click on it maybe to see how the details go. Thoughts?

On total translation

A foolish notion. What would it be to translate not only for meaning, what we usually mean by “meaning,” reference, signification, the pointy ends of words, but also for everything else about, within, around them: their loops and curls, textures of their paper, sleepiness of the scribe, slips in the book’s stitching, burn marks at the edges of pages, how a sequence of ascenders and descenders read as skyline or script for a roller coaster.

Crazy yeah. But if (1) you’ve come to feel translation’s originary no matter what, and (2) your semantic translation of a poem has sucked no matter what, and (3) you’re not done with said poem, and (4) you have a decorative itch – well, you might come round to a like crazy. You might start to wonder if þine heortan geþohtas, the force of your heart’s thought, might be most truly got not via narrowly focused semantic emissions, but through a sprawling heterogeneous relation of potentially everything in the nexus of poet poem scribe translator reader annotator and medium.

Semantic reference is a span of human meaning about as sliver as visible light is to the electromagnetic spectrum.

88vMy guiding thought in Overject has become, assume you know nothing about what should or shouldn’t be translated. 88V post-it 1Feel like translating handwriting? Translate handwriting. Feel like transmitting hesitation? Transmit hesitation. Anything honest in the encounter between old damaged minor text and ignorant inexpert minor reader’s fair game.

Now if at every point everything is open to translation – how do you decide? I’ve found me guided by intuition and accident.

Gut, and happenstance. Who have led me to handwriting. My work with which in Dumuzi had drawn me to more exuberant organic loops and sweeps than the hell scraps there could suit. Into Overject went the overflow. And the self-indulgence of translating nothing but handwriting pushed up in me little spikelets of self-doubt. And one of those has made it to a post-it.

88V card 1And the possibility of annotating my translations bloomed hard and fast in my head and the next flower was a notecard on which I found a bit of semantic translation wanted (musewise, it wasn’t I who wanted, but just who let it) to burst in. And these three – transcription, post-it, notecard – plus a ghost face who poked in from a later page, became assemblage.

88v p1

The next major adventure is homophonic translation, of which I’ve written before. Here too annotation and anima. (The abrupt edge on the right is a scanner error. Not all accident is welcome.)

88v p2

“D.P.” = Dramatis Personae. One way I hope to make this work a little less esoteric in the end is, draw names out of the sonic surround, faces out of the visual noise, and see what storylines they hint at (no more, dear hearts, than that).

Oh now the lure of semiosis. Not from the meanings of the “original poem.” Rather from the nexus formed when that poem’s meanings intersect with recent homophonic accidents and my momentary interior weather and demonic images yet to be actualized. An ambivalent compound arises.

88v p3

Comes now a grave move. So much is lost in this moment! The haecceity, the suchness, of each t, each l, each g, unlike any other anywhere in existence, all now made to be of a same sameness.

I take the manuscript page and I type it up.

I try to make up the loss. I follow the leads of ascenders and descenders. After selecting some text, à la Phillips, I black out the remainder with a Sharpie. The thickness of the erasure line is governed by the heights and depths to which the line (or portion thereof) reaches. No ascender? It thins. No descender either? That thins it further. One et (⁊) and it goes down a long way. One thorn (þ) and it reaches both high and low.

88v p4

The whole of the rest of the design, mouths and eyes, windows and doors, lions and tigers and heroes and hydras, or here a school bus climbing a hill, is begun from the thicks and thins of the bars, and the white slits left between.

The chosen text has the quality of a code. As if a minor character in Beowulf had got his hands on an Enigma machine. Crypto-crisis. So I put on my tinfoil Turing cap and coughed up this.

88v p5

And when I got to that, I felt I was an inch or two closer, maybe not more, to a true translation of folio 88V of the Exeter Book.

Closer anyway than my semantic translation of that folio, which I did some years ago, and goes like this.

Ask me straight out. Don’t hide your whole life
what only you know. I won’t tell you what matters
if you hold the force of the heart of your thought back.

The wise work in riddles, praise God foremost,
our Father who said of His Creation we could
live here a while, a gift he’d remind us of.

In glory Measurer, on earth humankind,
young here is old, God is eternal with us,
events don’t touch Him, illness

You can hear the strain in it. Couldn’t care less about these pieties. Why’s the poem compel me at all? Nothing in its answers speaks to me. The pressure I hear in its questions – in the failure of its answers to relieve the pressure – that moves me.

Around here I realized two things. One, my epigraph, it spoke to me out of Job, “Where shall wisdom be found?” Is that what I’m translating, the Exeter poet asking it, into me asking it?

Other is, the work has to be in earnest. I can fuck around as much as I like, goof off, poke fun, mess shit up, that’s fine, but the asking has to be in earnest, otherwise this’ll be a dumb game I’m sick of real soon. Flip side, as long as it’s for heartfelt for me, it can be totally way goofball, and still live, short I and long.

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


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.

Exercise – Inscription

The second exercise to my visual poetry group. Who keep doing wonderfully – our conversations together, their serious play, astound me. I wish I had leisure to write how much fun it was to talk with them today about Grenier’s Sentences and Cage’s 4:33 and Olson’s “high-energy construct” and Duchamp’s readymades.

Back. On. Track. An exercise cued by Judith Copithorne’s Runes, rather more obscure than A Humument, but very delicious, and in its way more luscious, an investigation of the threshold where grapheme becomes idly wandering line.

The prompt. Write a poem by hand in which the character of the writing is central to the experience of the poem.

Pointers. Again, by all means, take Copithorne as your model, but avoid slavish imitation. You might start by exploring ways of stylizing your usual handwriting. What happens when the cross-strokes on your t’s, the loops on your g’s, are allowed to run riot?

I’ll post a few of their soon. Till then, a bit from Copithorne (what, BTW, a lovely Norsish name).


Full text of her Runes and some others on UbuWeb.


Funny how one thing connects to another. The mind’s a rhizome. In the mix right now for me so many. My friend Elise’s memorial yesterday. (What’s that you ask. Drafted this the day after never finished and come back to it now.) Voices of twins I woke to on NPR a few mornings ago and couldn’t shake from my head and bought the CD on iTunes (I never do that) and now listen to twice daily entracedly. The intertitles of a sweet fond symbolist early silent filmic confection called The Blue Bird by Maurice Tourneur.

A phrase underlined won’t suffice. Must embed them. My friend:

Read this poet's poems! Click to get to some.
Elise Partridge (click and go to her website)

And these amazing haunting singers, somehow right at the core of a cross where sensual & spiritual & naive & old soul meet (okay little crush):

Ibeyi (click and go to their river)

And the only intertitle I can find online from The Blue Bird:

(The sentiment — gah. But — the elegance with which the H curls to encase the quotation mark and the terminal r stretches out to offer shelter to the ellipses. Decadence, sure, but guileless.)

All linking and clicking and clinking in unexpected ways. I have, e.g., and am sure of it, been trying to rescue Elise from the grave by making Inanna of her and bearing her through hell and out the other side. I spoke at the memorial about my propensity for magical thinking but didn’t get into the thick and gristle of it.

I don’t think it’s going to work, I think she’s gone from matter, already metamorphic-indestructible otherwise, but it’s a rite I seem to need to go through. So when I post, in weeks to come, comic book panels collaged out of junk mail depicting Inanna’s trip underearth and back, you can know it’s her, too, my friend, too.

Here are the first two. A bit of opening narration:

1. When they tire

And her setting out:

2. Hell (tattoos)

All the visual elements, script aside, are derived from junk mail, mine or friends’. (Sorry about the crud on the right side, my damn scanner.) Galla: demons come to claim their due.

Going in the script for something a bit like cuneiform and a bit like the scribal hand in medieval Old English manuscripts and a bit like graffiti and with a bit of the energy moving my hand through ascenders and descenders and cross-strokes in the moment of marking. A bit of embodiment that’s been a long time coming and I find me greedy for it increasingly.

So that’s what Elise has been up to in here. The intertitles? Ibeyi? Together they suggested a possible elegance —

5. Sister is - title

— about which I’ll hope to have more to say later. For now a link to my friend Kaveh Askari’s book on early cinema including Tourneau’s The Blue Bird:

Read this book!