From blog to book

It’s a bad idea to turn your blog into a book. And, looks like that’s not going to stop me. About a week ago, revisiting my first posts, I realized there’s a coherence to what I’ve been up to here, and this blog began to look like the foundation of another project.

Gonna take a few years to do right. And some study – of desktop publishing software, and of typesetting and manuscript traditions, European, Asian, South American, at least. I’m pumped. Here’s the prefatory note I knocked out this morning.


About this book

It began as a blog. You can read a rough draft of it at theartofcompost.com.

I’ve translated my blog here into a chimeric bookish form. Chimera, as in hybrid, collage, a robe of patches.

The Chimaera of Lycia in Asia Minor was a lion in front, a goat in the middle, a snake at the rear, said Homer, and breathed fire.

“This old plum tree is boundless. It forms spring; it forms winter. It arouses wind and wild rain. It is the head of a patch-robed monk; it is the eyeball of an ancient buddha. It becomes grass and trees; it becomes pure fragrance. Its whirling, miraculous transformation has no limit.” Dōgen.

The lion of it is the serial poem, as described by the poets Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser. Like a blog, it’s written in sequence, with little or no looking back – Orpheus, rampant, headlong.

The goat, which eats everything, is the commonplace book, where one tends to a moving picture of one’s mind by gathering and arranging discoveries – quotations, letters, poems, recipes, tables of weights and measures, &c. It tends toward miscellany, scrapbookhood; very like a blog.

And the serpent, whose mind is the onset of the idea of form, a marriage of line and curve, so that it moves forward by twisting side to side, is the fashioned page – whose history I have ransacked. Each page here is set in homage to or mimicry of some published surface, its visible arrangement, i.e., its deployment of attention.

With a special place for late medieval manuscript and early modern European typesetting practices, columns of glosses, embankments of notes. Like blog posts, with their frames and hyperlinks, these surfaces tempt attention off its chosen path, lateral movements to a periphery or through doors behind which the unseen.

Nothing says you have to read it in order. Nothing says you have anything.


That last sentence kicked me in the teeth as it came out. Clarified for me that the book will be, not about exactly, but on the terrain of, dispossession. Here’s the first page

Compost library

Working title, A Compost Commonplace. Stay tuned, oh do!

 

 

A taste of rhizome mind

From Poetics of the Rhizome. A course set to start soon.


Before the World Wide Web, there was a worldwide web. Human beings are recent guests in that web, guests often rude and destructive, but sometimes stunned with awe, or love.

[T]he Great Subculture which runs underground through all history … [a] tradition that runs without break from Paleo-Siberian Shamanism and Magdalenian cave-painting; through megaliths and Mysteries, astronomers, ritualists, alchemists and Albigensians; gnostics and vagantes, right down to Golden Gate Park.
                – Gary Snyder, “Why Tribe”

Rats are rhizomes. Burrows are too, in all of their functions of shelter, supply, movement, evasion, and breakout. The rhizome itself assumes very diverse forms, from ramified surface extension in all directions to concretion into bulbs and tubers. When rats swarm over each other. The rhizome includes the best and the worst: potato and couch­grass, or the weed.… The wisdom of the plants: even when they have roots, there is always an outside where they form a rhizome with something else – with the wind, an ani­mal, human beings…. “Drunkenness as a triumphant irruption of the plant in us.”
                – Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

I would describe poetry as ecology in the community of words.
                – Jed Rasula, This Compost

[T]he separate perspectives of my two eyes converge upon the raven and convene there into a single focus. My senses connect up with each other in the things I perceive … each perceived thing gathers my senses together in a coherent way, and it is this that enables me to experience the thing itself as a center of forces.
                – David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous

This old plum tree is boundless. All at once its blossoms open and of itself the fruit is born. It forms spring; it forms winter. It arouses wind and wild rain…. Its whirling, miraculous transformation has no limit. Furthermore, the treeness of the great earth, high sky, bright sun, and clear moon derives from the treeness of the old plum tree.
                – Eihei Dōgen, “Plum Blossoms”

Most of each thing
is whole but contingent
on something about
the nearest one to it
                – Fanny Howe, “The Splinter”

Common threads here are multiplicity and interdependence. There’s no one way to be human. There’s no one way to be a poem. There’s no one way to be at all! And no one way to say so.


Plum Blossoms - detailMy students are you reading. Winter is coming. You’re gonna be asked, early on, to write spring. The image atop is Red and White Plum Blossoms by Ogata Kôrin. You can read a nice treatment of it here.

Here’s what Dōgen Zenji, my teacher’s teacher’s teacher, and on, has to say about painting spring:

When you paint spring, do not paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots – just paint spring. To paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots is to paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots. It is not yet painting spring.

It is not that spring cannot be painted. My late master, old buddha, he alone was a sharp-pointed brush that painted spring.

So be the sharp-pointed brush painting spring. Or whatever.

 

Teaching note

So it’s give or take, who keeps track, the anniversary of this blog, in which honour, here’s from the syllabus to The Art of Compost, the second coming of it.


SOME LIKEMINDED FOLK

Compost is a way of thinking about life and death and art and thought and act. Not a better way but a really quite interesting way. Also, there’s no such thing as compost theory, but if there were, here might be some thoughts of it.

Now I am terrified at the earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions.
          – Walt Whitman, “This Compost”

Beginning again and again is a natural thing even when there is a series.
          – Gertrude Stein, “Composition as Explanation”

write carelessly so that nothing that is not green will survive
          – William Carlos Williams, Paterson

Life is natural
          in the evolution
                    of matter

Nothing supra-rock
          about it
                    simply

butterflies
          are quicker
                    than rock
          – Lorine Niedecker, “Wintergreen Ridge”

It is only the midden heap, Beauty: shards,
                    scraps of leftover food, rottings,
                    the Dump
where we read history, larvae of all dead things,
                    mixd seeds, waste, off-castings, despised
                    treasure, vegetable putrefactions
          – Robert Duncan, “Nor is the Past Pure”

[You] can go by no track other than the one the poem under hand declares, for itself.
          – Charles Olson, “Projective Verse”

After a long time of light, there began to be eyes, and light began looking with itself.
          – Ronald Johnson, Ark

Poetry is biodegradable thought.
          – Jed Rasula, This Compost

Hey try this out. Where you see “poem” or “poetry,” read “writing.” Does the thought hold?


Sorry for the gap between the posts folks. Rough couple of days in headache land. I have trouble turning off. End of the quarter, all ramped up, grading frenzy, plus madness with the student journal I advise, plus getting prepped for summer compost, and having got it all done, instead of relaxing into a week of sunfull ease – whump.

There I am in line at the Home Depot to pick up my new composter and the sparklies start, migraine’s coming, oh no. (Head, meet composter, headComposter, ha, ha.) Mostly through it now so I can get this bit posted but damn, the body, damn.

Some sympathy let’s for those medievals who reviled it and apotheosized the spirit. Yeah they leave us with a cruddy debit. But just think, boils, cramps, agues, rotten tooth roots, and what did they have to heal yehs? Leaves and leeches.

Exercise: Punctuation poem

Next week we turn to the gorgeous Gorgeous Nothings, a collaboration across oceans and generations by Emily Dickinson, Jen Bervin, and Marta Werner. My students’ first exercise will be:

Compose a poem made entirely of punctuation. Then write a short paragraph describing what the poem “means.” Treat the paragraph as a creative extension of the piece — as playful creative nonfiction, not straight-faced literary analysis. Be ready to present both the poem and your explanation to the class.

The examples they’ll have “read” are retrieved from Rasula & McCaffery’s Imagining Language — up next.

We’re going live

So this is The Art of Compost and it’s a blog. Because what the world really needs is another blog. It began with my prep for a course of the same name and soon took on a life of its own at plural intersections of my reading thinking teaching writing speaking feeling looking wondering.

Pretty sure to go in the bin are my thoughts on and misunderstandings of

  • 20th and 21st C. poetry and poetics in North America, esp. objectivist and Black Mountain traditions — what Stephen Burt has called The New Thing.
  • A mostly subterranean lineage connecting us to Very Old Things — busted up clay tablets, cave paintings, the intelligence of stones (sitting still).
  • Whatever collapses, rots, blends, merges, fosters, nourishes.
  • Stray thoughts on teaching, writing, reading, appearing, disappearing.

The impetus comes from Jed Rasula’s This Compost but he has neither reviewed nor approved this usage. Time for a picture of a nurse blog.

image

I hope you’ll check it out. If you like what you see, you can follow on by clicking the “Follow me …” button. Or watch for new posts on Facebook. (If you Like the Facebook page you’ll hear about new posts. I think. Pretty sure.)

And let me know what you think! Leave a comment in the comment box …

Faithfully,
Chris