A lot of the Hungry Ghost poems have been coming lately with royal or tyrannic classical riders. Lear, Oedipus, Romulus.
Partly accident—a lot of verbs, look, take, sneak, poke, cough up kings when pressed to participle. But in a project like this, which is harnessed accident, I still get to take responsibility.
Something here of hunger for a lost father, a father whose power to shelter shatters. It’s funny, the sorts of ways I used to write, I got or had to go through the whole emotional travail, the past and its unprocessed sadnesses, to get the poem through.
I felt on the far side I’d come through a narrow sharp defile with a few verbal berries at hand and my ongoing breathing.
The plus of that. Authenticity. The minus of it. Harrowing.
High ∙ beat up ∙ on a couch ∙ beside me paper hands and a spine of lace ∙ sohere’s a split a poem led me back to ∙ Dad gettingthe door riffed onthemanylarge thinguarded anthills and how soundcollapsedtheir city∙ nobody knows howhe agonized∙ thenand there∙ no one more out thereor into itthan he∙ leadis dropping into a neighbouring city ∙ we just ta- ble it though and go where tobe seen is to be housed∙ to be housed known∙ the king oflack woke to a fist of bees some kids tossed at him
This erasure and treatment process, I seem to bypass much of that, the harrowing. The poem comes through semiautomatic processes I watch happen in amaze. On the far side, less of the deeply grateful, I said what it was or is like for me, and plenty of a differently glad, this is a potent made thing-being here.
The one, I’m writing myself through language, other, language writes a poem through me. Viz. Spicer’s Martians.
We fed who knows,
sd th King of Thebes, how
many more than the
We than that had no body more.
No, nobody lead, we just—
a sound out there
splits the thought.
One more boring show and how.
Guard the heir.
That’s one I redid this morning. The other is
A POEM HANDS HIGH
Dad’s getting so thin.
Goes out a sand door.
So where now do we go to be?
And that’s how Rome
woke to a regal glare.
—A heathen deal.
—Yes and some of it lethal.
Dad’s getting so thin.
Go go death gadget.
“Go go gadget” a phrase that stood out in a student’s poem last year (thank you Reilly) and somehow got stuck in my mind and forgotten there and returned to view when some of “Dad getting” anagrammed to “gadget.” Had, of course, to look up the ref, cuz my geekiest student is hipper than I.
Speaking of which. Many bonus points to anyone who can for me explicate the directive, “shred the sauce.” Urban Dictionary lets me down here. Written on a student eval last year and I might like to try but no idea how.
Last thought. To give a reading (maybe this upcoming one at Western) wholly of poems initiated or inflected by my work with students. A thread blogwork attunes me to is the continousness of teaching writing reading thinking moving being.
Last last thought. Mistype Western and you get Wetern, as in, “wetter’n,” as in “ahm wetter’n a flounder at the bottom of the sea in this rain.” Sorry, that’s the country music at Liz Station, on now, and maybe Cormac McCarthy doing their work in me.
Wrote this up for a job app and thought I’d post it here—after revising blogwise. Medium is so message.
Been working about a year on a manuscript called Six Hungry Ghost Abatement Protocols. It’s a study of creative process done at a crossroads of word and image. In which crash prose passages go through a series of verbal and visual metamorphoses—extraction, precipitation, illumination, inspiration.
My thought here is that even well tamed verbal structures possess a wildness inherent in language. In that wildering I feel less that I am writing and drawing poems than that the poems are drawing me out and writing me down.
Themewise the book takes on the Buddhist figure of the hungry ghost, a being of insatiable hunger, unassuageable suffering, to trace some connections among desire, attachment, loss, release. Process and content are very interwoven here: renunciations asked of the poems in their proceeding, as each gives way to a successor, are kin to renunciations they wrestle with in mind.
The transformations in their turns.
I begin with a passage from my journal, streamlined and depunctuated, for instance this dream transcript.
I’m with R. on roads in the mountains ∙ at the
base of a ski hill we are looking at trail maps ∙ a
web or net of red lines thrown down over a
volcanic core ∙ a whole series of them side by
side ∙ each to the left steps back a bit further ∙
takes more in ∙ the gradations so fine I have to
take more steps across to get to the map that
has what I want to show than I thought to ∙ at it
I point to the road or trail on a southwestern
shoulder of a mountain ∙ One branch goes west-
ward ∙ that’s somewhere we’ve been ∙ one goes
rightward across the valley of the Stehekin
though we’re in Colorado ∙ that’s the trip I’m
talking about ∙ somewhere else I am saying how
full the colours were up there ∙ Even in winter ∙
a lake in the mountains ∙ sunlight on it and me
through firs on the far side ∙ bleached wood of
fallen snags half-submerged in the water ∙ in
the foreground tall as I am so I must be crouch-
ing ∙ brilliant red blueberry leaves ∙ a few in a
bare bush ∙ the colours give life to the sun and
to me ∙ then in a car with R. driving in and
away from the mountains ∙ he says he doesn’t
use trails when hiking ∙ he just pulls over to the
side of the road and starts bushwhacking up ∙
because of how his mother taught him hillwalk-
ing ∙ she was crazy or maybe just very intense ∙
I laugh too loud ∙ say ∙ But that was in Scotland
where they cut down the forests centuries ago ∙
do you really want to bushwhack through fir
thickets ∙ I wake picturing different sorts of fir
woods ∙ an impassable thicket of small dead
densely interwoven branches ∙ a stand of ma-
ture trees ∙ spacious and cool ∙ a floor of moss
Next I mine this source material for word clusters that bear poetic charge. Here’s the same prose with the mined bits prominent.
I’m with R. onroads in the mountains ∙ at the base of a ski hill weare looking at trail maps ∙ a web or net of red linesthrown down over a volcanic core ∙ a whole seriesof them sideby side∙ each tothe left steps backa bit further ∙ takesmorein ∙ the gradationsso fine I have to take moresteps across to get to themap that has what I want to show than I thoughtto ∙ at it I point to theroador trail on a southwestern shoulder ofa mountain ∙ One branch goes west- ward ∙ that’s somewhere we’ve been ∙ one goes rightward acrossthe valley ofthe Stehekin though we’re in Colorado ∙ that’s the trip I’m talking about ∙ somewhereelse I am saying how full the colours were up there∙ Even in winter ∙ a lake in the mountains∙ sunlight on it and me through firson the far side∙ bleached wood of fallen snags half-submergedin the water ∙in the foregroundtall as I am so I must becrouch– ing∙ brilliant redblueberry leaves ∙ a fewin a bare bush ∙the colours give life to the sun and to me∙ then in a car withR. driving in and away fromthe mountains ∙ he says he doesn’t use trails whenhiking ∙ he just pulls over to the side of the roadand starts bushwhacking up ∙ because of how hismothertaughthim hillwalk- ing ∙ she was crazy or maybe just very intense ∙ I laugh too loud ∙ say ∙ But thatwasin Scotland where they cut down the forests centuries ago ∙ do you reallywant to bushwhack throughfir thickets ∙ Iwake picturing different sortsoffir woods∙ an impassable thicket of small dead densely interwovenbranches ∙ a stand of ma– turetrees ∙ spaciousand cool ∙ a floor of moss
I compile my extractions to make a shorter stranger paragraph.
The roads in are look thrown down over a side
of them a bit further ∙ so fine I have to map that
too ∙ each step I want more a mountain road to
where the valley of what else I am even in win-
ter sunlight on it and me bleached wood in the
water in a crouch ∙ a lake fallen through firs in
the foreground ∙ brilliant bare red bush ∙ then in
a car with the mountains hiking us ∙ art a moth
taught us ∙ Just be at rest as you hack through a
rent sort of small dead ∙ the trees here really do
wake an interwoven densely spacious impasse
And perform the same extraction operation on this paragraph. This time my record of the process becomes a visual poem in its own right at hang on a threshold between signal and noise.
The roadsinarelookthrown down over a side ofthemabitfurther∙ so fineI have to map that too ∙ each step I wantmore a mountain road to where the valley ofwhat else I ameven in win- ter sunlight on it and me bleached wood in the water in acrouch ∙ a lake fallenthroughfirs in the foreground∙ brilliantbarered bush ∙ then in a car with the mountains hiking us ∙artamoth taught us ∙ Just be at rest as youhackthrougha rent sort of small dead∙ the trees here reallydo wake aninterwovendensely spacious impasse
Extracted text stays black, a corona of greyscale text persists about it, the rest of it’s let fade to the colour of the page.
The second round of extraction yields a material enough enriched for the next transformation—precipitation of a verse poem. In this process material drawn from the prose paragraph descends and settles into verbal strata.
Look so fine.
I want what else I am brilliant at.
king, hack us through these
here red trees.
Each step bit them.
Am really in a rough pass.
I count myself free, making this one, to arrange words and lines as I wish. But only get to use words I can plausibly find in the source paragraph. I interpret “plausibly” often quite and sometimes really very generously.
A book made just of these poems seemed a cold prospect, too procedural, not human enough, so I started to think and feel my way towards companion poems—poems born of those already made, but freely, with no constraint or set procedure.
At first nothing came. One morning, though, staring at an extraction record in frustration, I started drawing lines around the black text, then round the grey. I thickened lines and emphasized the faces and forms I began to think I saw. The result was a monstrous assemblage of eyes and mouths, horns and spikes and tusks. Faces predominated, mostly in profile, and I found them both frightening and endearing. They seemed spirits caught up in all sorts of longing and yet capable of illumination.
I decided to trust the weirdness and began to do the same with other extraction records. Sometimes the process yielded a compost of half-formed faces. Other times, I came to a single form, as here, where illumination got me a frog.
The extraction process may be familiar from Ronald Johnson’s Radi Os and Jen Bervin’s Nets, the precipitation process from Srikanth Reddy’s Voyager. Likewise these illuminations owe a debt to the work of Tom Phillips in A Humument. But as far as I know these methods haven’t been combined in this way or directed to quite these ends. Quite possibly for good reason.
The ghosts showed me the way to the fourth poem, the companion poem, which I hear as the voice of their suffering as it grows aware of itself. No constraints now except that the poem share a page with its illuminated precursor.
size of the real
thing we need
say I an unironic self
The term “inspiration” may want scare quotes. One point here is to challenge our still persistent notion of the poet as a solitary figure fashioning her art ex nihilo. But still I feel that something in these poems draws a deep breath.
All Together Now
The four poems together make a two-page spread.
Upper left: prose scarred by an extraction process
Lower left: verse precipitated from the extracted ore
Upper right: illumination of the extraction scars
Lower right: verse inspired by the longing of the image
So I promised an upward facing compost poem in counter to a sad East. Here, I think’s, it. First the compost heap —
Up I say to mad friends and now stop ∙ stay seated ∙ turnround ∙ spot theashriver a sad king thoughtto face at a right angle andbe wed towar in these rockscape hills ∙ toeach angel comes a kind ofrest ∙ aHellno lucent woman or manmaybe other to ∙ so I own thatinmost forge where in woods a road runs to anisland
And then the worm work —
No man island.
At each weed angle
dew be angel.
urn, in these ash even,
a kind of May.
Allusion too of course is composting. None of them here were deliberate, and that they showed up spontaneous, is the clearest sign of my over-education any could wish for. Donne in line 1. Dogen in lines 2 and 3. Cleanth Brooks in lines 4 and 5. Argh! Well but I still like it.
Postscript Sept. 30. And, line 6, William Carlos Williams’s “Locust Tree in Flower,” which I taught just today, on which, something soon, very soon, very very soon.
Apologies, been away a bit, teaching, making poems. Thought I’d post a most recent one. The process I’ve been working out, I take a transcript of a dream from my journal, streamline it a bit, and type it up as a column of text about three inches wide. Looks something like this:
Across the waterto an island ∙I’ve left my clothesin a woods a road runsthrough and forget where ∙a woods fullofthe light of an inmostsummer ∙ feeling naked on my way to town Ibacktrack and find myself in a tent of translucent fabric full of that same light ∙ a youngwomancomes in ∙ we’ve not ever seen each other∙ Hello she says and lies downbeside me ∙ I putmy armaround her and my hand comes to rest onher breast ∙ she moves it off witha kindness that seems to mean our love for each other is ∙ but is notthat ∙it was recalling on wakingher kindness that made me so awfully sad ∙now I have clothes on and have hitched a lifttoward town with a trucker ∙ we go up and downhills ∙ through mountainous sunsoaked
landscapes ∙ we come to a stop ∙ the road is an upward rocky path with breaks and ledges at skewed angles ∙ I’d like to get out of the truck butstay seated ∙The better way ∙ I say to me ∙ is to be right therefor what’s given ∙ what’s really upthoughisI don’t want to look a coward ∙ the driver takes a deep breath ∙ starts the engine ∙ we crashforward to the other side ∙ at another spot thepath is a notch between a boulder and a rockface ∙ I or my mind amoris outside the cab∙ a postwith a box on top blocks the path ∙ and nowI’m at the ferry terminal where my friendshave made it over in their large toy cars ∙ mad how long it took to get here ∙ they mean to turn roundand get the next boat home ∙ Wait I saywe can all go to my place now ∙ that cheers us up ∙though evening the light persists in me
It’s far from being a poem. In fact, speaking of feeling naked, I feel quite exposed posting it! But I know we’re all friends here.
Given a source text, I burrow through, finding phrases that please or scare me. It’s pretty quick and quite intuitive … things go wrong when I become deliberate or try to make “strategic” choices. Starting at the bottom of the column, and hewing mostly to the left side, I get to this paragraph:
UpI say to mad friends and now stop∙ stay seated ∙ turn round ∙ spot the ash river asad kingthought to faceatarightangle and bewed towarin these rockscape hills ∙ to eachangel comes akind of rest ∙ aHellno lucentwoman ormanmay be other to∙ soI own that inmost forgewhere in woodsa roadruns to an island
Not awful. Could stand on its own as a prose poem maybe. But I feel undone with it so I burrow through again. Here’s, this evening, the poem I got to:
Comes war to forge a man.
Eats up to king.
Hell, so a road.
Hills, right at the stop end.
a woe angle.
I know it’s a downward poem and that’s about it. There’s an upward poem in there too, its complement, next to be writ.
with a composting practice. Take a transcript of a dream, embarrassingly open maybe, and type it up as a paragraph, stripping out punctuation and caps, a first stage of digestion. Then, burrow through it, wormwise, a la Tom Phillips, making phrases you’d never a thunk of, on yer own. Compose those phrases as a poem.
I’ll post one of those sometime soon probably. But here now’s to tell, I’m playing with a modified practice of that, two stages. One, worm through a dream transcript to make a prose poem, such as
The roadsinarelookthrown down over a side ofthemabitfurther∙ so fine I have to map that too∙ each step I wantmore a mountain road to where the valley ofwhat else I ameven in win- ter sunlight on it and me bleached wood in the water in a crouch ∙ a lake fallenthrough firs in the foreground∙ brilliantbareredbush ∙ then in a car with the mountains hiking us ∙artamoth taught us ∙ Just be at rest as youhackthrougha rent sort of small dead∙ the trees here reallydo wake aninterwovendensely spacious impasse
And then, pass through again, wormwise as before, to make verse poems as castings, as here
I want what else I am brilliant at.
king, hack us through these
here red trees.
Each step bit them.
Am really in a rough pass
Feels to me, it has more of me in it, the me most meaningful to me, for having about zero autobiographical to offer.