Student work – Poems with no words in ’em

Last day of my vis po class today. Gonna miss these guys, I am. Not often a group comes together so clear real and kind. Mean to post over the next week or two some of their later works, which have been bright and entrusting as ever.


The exercise:

Either compose a poem with no words in it, or compose a poem that is one continuous line (once the pen tip touches the paper, it doesn’t leave the paper, until the poem is done), or do both!

All that follow follow the former prompt. This time round, the latter didn’t work out, quite so well. (I mean to write, before I’m done with this spring class, on how little it matters whether a given ex has worked out for you or not. For most students most of the exes are enh and that’s fine and expected. And one or two make for breakthroughs and that’s giddy and golden.)


This one harks back to our study of Judith Copithorne’s Runes and’s inflected maybe also by flash presentations on graffiti and calligraphy. Though the semblances most evident to me are Arabic script and maybe even Hélène Smith’s Martian writing though I don’t recall us discussing it.

piece 2

Anyway it suggests to me that our early exercise on handwriting, which seemed mostly a bust at the time, might have set some seeds long to germinate.


This one’s a culmination of its author’s preoccupation with forces in the culture, ad copy junk food and so on, conspiring to benumb one.

piece 1

I should mention that the exercise comes in company with our work on Derek Beaulieu’s Local Colour, a reading of Paul Auster’s novella Ghosts that replaces every colour word with a swatch of that colour, all other words with the whiteness of the page.

I could dilate here on the symcomplexity of that project, or on the extraordinary anxiety it induces in some students (“You don’t ask what a waterfall means,” I said today, “why do you ask what the poem means?” “Nature – art,” said one student, and it’s a sound response, and because I didn’t feel like talking about Kant, I went to Bach. “You don’t ask what the Goldberg Variations mean, though, right?, you ask what they do.” Probably not a good pick, but my first thought, Beethoven’s 9th, has words in it, which complicates. A long parenthetical. Gist is, if there’s one, we got into a good discussion of just what one means by meaning, and’s pretty effing giving of a group of graduating seniors, Thursday of Dead Week.), but I’ll just send you to the text itself. Wread it!


Can’t quite put my finger on why this last one blows my mind.

piece 3

Saw its author today on the plaza and asked her what it was like to make it – was she in the zone, an altered space, and she said she kind of was, there on the floor with her scissors and construction paper. What you Buddhists yo call samadhi, one-pointedness, and it does come through, so we get some of it, too.

There’s something inexpressible comes across in the whorls. Its imperfections are perfections. All that’s clumsy about it’s subtle. Makes me want to cry and don’t know whether w/ happy or sad.

This one’s her breakthrough poem; told her so; she thought that, too. Everyone in the class had one this time round, no one left out, some did early, some late, some with fireworks, some as quiet as a snowflake of exclamation points or a photocopy of onion skins. What a privilege to be a part of, my god.

Student work – Inscription

A few responses to the inscription exercise I gave my students last week. They didn’t go quite so well as the first (erasure à la A Humument) and I have a few guesses why.

One is, the model Phillips offers is so accessibly bountiful, it’s hard not to find some practice in there to spring forward oneself from. In comparison, Copithorne proposes a terrifying dexterity, such fluidity with which line becomes letter becomes line, how could I do anything remotely like it, I ain’t an artist like that.

(Admittedly this is one of her most astonishingly ornate ones.)
(Admittedly this is one of her most astonishingly ornate ones.)

‘Nother is, the myriad possible inflections to ordinary inscription – Moorish calligraphy, graffiti in sodium-lit underpasses, Chinese wild grass cursive – weren’t immediately present to them. There as links on our course site but those don’t seem to have been touched, not much. Whose slip up that is, mine, theirs, I amn’t sure, and no big deal.

And a third, simplest and maybe mostest is, handwriting is deep habit, hard to break out of without contrivance. To convey your usual script to an altered script, one not just transferred but translated, is to translate yourself, your hand, your character – two metonyms for “script” never more telling.

Well without further ado here are a few that struck me. One, polylingual, showing the influence of its maker’s explorations in medieval practices of manuscript illumination. As well as, in the errant vegetal forms, maybe a visitation from Wm. Blake.

Handwriting 1

One in which charactery seems to have seen itself in sequin mirrors, doubled and distorted and half disintegrated, seeding a landscape of chimeric forms part Euclid part pencil crayon dream.

Handwriting 2

And this, crowblack lines perfect arcs and rudiments of script.

Handwriting 3a

I scanned it in two versions. One, as above, and one with the plastic bag the student wrapped it in so the charcoal wouldn’t smudge its neighbouring papers. It came out pretty cool.

Handwriting 3b

Nothing like a little distortion to see you through – chance, directed. (Click on it, and again, see it big, the textures. Do!)

Said I was going to fold in a bit of talk about my own work. Doesn’t seem like much beside what these guys are doing. But I will. Tomorrow, I think, as the battery’s fading, and the light, and my mind, and din calls.

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).

Copithorne

Full text of her Runes and some others on UbuWeb.