To translate the translator

Third and last of the aleatory proposals is mine. Strikes me as dullest of the three. Buzz goes, buzz buzz. And with that ringing encomium – read on.


I’ll present on Overject, an exercise in total translation – trans­lation that holds every verbal and visual trace that can be caught of how a poem refracts as it passes through its translator. The project performs various manipulations on its source text, a minor mediocre didactic Old English poem, to investigate the role of the translator’s impurities and opacities in the activity of translation. While the project may not appear classically aleatory, it turns out to encounter and depend on accident at every turn.

SI 3 (89R) - text - newMost of the poems are hand-written, and contingency hangs on the inscription of each character. I set each one down fast, too fast for thought, and a second time just as fast. Then meticulously I ink in the spaces left open between the two passes. The gangly pseudo-graffiti that results is a gestural translation of the scribe’s stately calligraphy. The practice may not be aleatory, strictly speaking, for no random element from outside the poet has been introduced. But although the forms are laid down by my own hand, I experience them to appear from outside my will intention and control. I decide the process, as the aleatory poet decides to roll the dice, then submit to the results. And I take from the practice all the joy and constraint, freedom and burden, the aleatory is famed to offer.

FT 3 (89V)My work with my materials – leaves paper cellophane – also has aleatory respects. Leaves first entered the poem by accident at the corner of my eye, a dogwood in the wind out my window. I picked some and dropped them on a page and that became a thing. Their placement as masks over semantic translations is a mix of chance and design: they fall as they will, then I get to nudge them around, but a little. Meanwhile, most images, after they’re drawn and before I scan them, are put at risk, torn on all sides. What course the tear takes is not altogether up to me. Nor can I say which parts of the tear line will appear, and which will stay invisible, when I take the scrap to my scanner. Lines of scanner noise that become hills and clouds, the very lay of the land.

Questions I expect to address or at least brush on: How do aleatory practices intersect with proprioceptive elements (the embodied gesture) and objectivist concerns (the thing­liness of the poem)? Burroughs said that all writing is cutups – is there a meaningful sense in which all writing is aleatory? Does a practice count as aleatory when the random factor comes from the poet herself or himself? What sympathies exist between the drive to the aleatory and longings among our poets for the organic, the spontaneous, the irrational, the impersonal?


Yeah whatevs. To come soon, student blogs. Some are striding into readiness, a few yes are trudging, a couple have fleeted there. Links to those last, anon.

One more for Elise Partridge

Hello friends. A three-way conversation between Barbara Nickel, Stephanie Bolster, and myself on the life and work of our loved friend Elise Partridge has now gone live at the Winnipeg Review. It’s to be found here.

And, if you’re curious, I wrote a bit about the challenge and wonderment of the conversation itself here. You can read some more about Elise herself here. And Barb’s wonderful blog is here. Steph doesn’t have a blog but here’s her publisher’s page here. Enjoy, please, do.


I hope Elise’s spirit won’t mind me appending this.

I was invited to a celebration of Rosh Hashanah tonight and we were asked as part of our lovely evening to express an intention for the year to come. Mine was, to be more patient with others and myself. What’s this have to do with Elise? She wasn’t especially patient with herself or others. In fact I loved her impatience, it was was wise, it was holy! At least when she was skewering someone’s pretensions it was, very.

But my impatience is most often crap. (And that, that’s impatience with impatience. Yeah baby gotcha.) And I’ve just now started sitting zazen again, after years off the cushion, and I’m feeling what a difference it makes to be okay with not getting it exactly right all the time. And a little bit more patient with me, I’m a little more so with some other, too. Does seem to go that way.

Came as this a few ago

TD 90V - imageKshanti paramita = the perfection of patience, or patience beyond patience. Patience so sunk in itself you might not recognize it as patience. That was Elise, too. Barb, Steph, tell me, wasn’t it?

Death’s a dog w/ dragonbreath

Okay, still working away at erasures and illuminations of that minor poem in The Exeter Book, and I think I nailed something, check these moves out, yo.

90V SI 5
Click on me & sibs for bigs.

Source text for this one, you’ve seen before (along w/ a short account of how these images get made):

 5.

Moving among the company,
everywhere always, house throughout,
greeting her lord, she pours his cup first;
in greatness gives and keeps counsel,
they make a house, two
of one mind.

Next up (I thought for a while, these could fall in any order, but they seem to want the order of their first making):

90V SI 6

You’ve seen that one before too, as well as this one:

90V SI 7

Haven’t posted this one yet tho –

90V SI 8

– for whom the source text is:

8.

When the time’s right,

he comes home whole—unless
the wave swell bears him elsewhere;
sea has him in hand, desire’s terror’s pleasure.

(I’m sure that last line’s a mistranslation – the Old English, very obscure, the translator, me, very shaky.) And one more also new to the blog –

90V SI 9

Source text for this one is:

9.

A man his goods, king in castle,
they both sell you crap.
                                                Summer comes,
you take to the home woods and waters offer
and find food, before you’re too weak to.

You can sit in the sun and still starve to death.

To get the streakies I photocopied the drawing on the lightest setting through four layers of cellophane.

I owe the move to one Marlise, a student in my vis po course this spring, whose portfolio made me cry and the whole of which I mean to post soon.

Till then, wishing you joys in your labours.

Shadow w/o the slick

Okay, trying to get that shadow effect, without the slicky quality. Good people (or bad people, I like bad people, too) tell what you think.

SI 6 (90V)
Clicks!

The diff? Paled it with the photocopier, instead of by MSWord’s “wash out” filter. More imprecision, gets more imperfection, gets more texture. Mistah Plato, he dead.

Why the poem’s so affirming, the main face so scary, I dunno. Am not in charge of the contradictions. Source text, for those to whom such matters:

6.

Ship is nailed, shield bound
in staves of light linden wood –
her love comes to the Frisian
wife, keel draws near,
breadwinner home
                                        she cries
out to him
                       rinses the sea
from his shirt, finds him clean clothes,
offers on land what his love asks of her.

Have not, as yet, taken up Theresa’s totally solid suggestion to free the shadow man (or free the shadow, man?) and am curious as to my resistance. Am I yet beholden to M. Plateau after all?

But there’s something persistent in this project about doublings. All the characters are made, e.g., by filling in the gap between a letterform and an imperfect iteration of it. And something compels me about one of these glyphs, broadcast large and pale, being the landscape the mind that thought it gets to wander a while.

Maybe the shadow ain’t ready to be quite that free just yet. Interesting. As I believe Wile E. Coyote said to the air rushing up below him.

Here and far / off

Another made by the erasure & illumination practice I been telling you about.

Click on me, and again, for some close-up time.
Click on me, and again, for some close-up time.

The source text for this one (that same minor poem late in the Exeter Book):

              7.

She’ll stay true to him.
He’ll keep her name clean.

Many are steadfast,
                                           some curious
and one too free with a stranger.

Far off, he thinks of her, hopes
where he cannot compel.

The relation of source to the poem I get to – always mysterious to me. (Just as is, the relation of those two, to the image that arrives, just as much.) But I suppose I, or someone in here, wanted to get under the surface of the sexual jealousy story, ask, what makes this he and this she tick, as they surely do.

If I’ve a worry with this one, it’s that I’ve used a filter to wash out the image so I can post it, big, to the background. A sort of move I’ve mostly foresworn. I don’t want no clipart looks here, and no Photoshop tricksies. I try to get my pretty effects from low tech – Sharpies, tree leaves. When I use high tech for effects I go for fails and distortions – scanner noise, leaf stem blur.

But I just so love how the image, blown that large, makes a surreal hillscape, and it’s gotta be grey. Left black it’s too chunky and too foreground.

Have I sold out? Thoughts, any?


And just a note to self. If I do end up feeling okay about the enlarged and greyed out forms – they have real potential for the animations. Surreal backgrounds and vertiginous shifts of scale.

Abjected forms of a divine spark

Another image from Overject. Got by inscribing, very quick, two phrases, over and over at all angles, till they become mostly unintelligible. Then beginning to complete the forms the collisions of the letter forms propose.

Click on me once, and again, for some up close face time.
Click on me once, and again, for some way up close face time.

The circles are outlines of kitchen saucers. The phrases:

90R tear - abjected and90R tear - but I'm notBeen thinking through, with a couple of friends, the aleatory – chance operations – and how contingency pokes out in places not usually thought of as aleatory.

In the above image, I got the base layer, the tangle of intersecting phrase noise, by inscribing so rapidly I wasn’t in charge of anything, except that one phrase cohered mostly around one circle, the other mostly around the other. I experienced the end result as a set of accidents whose conditions I needed to work among. No dice were thrown, no darts. But how different really was my procedure from a full-blooded aleatory procedure?

It’s just, maybe, that I was the dice.

And the phrases themselves, “I” didn’t “write” them, they just “came to me,” on the treadmill of all places. Where exactly is the edge where the aleatory ends and deliberate design, or however you want to label all the other poetry being made, begins?

The panel proposal we’re drafting: “Everywhere Is Aleatory.” More soon.

Beasties, animated, to be

Whereas it’s been long since a post. Whereas we’re all about repurposing here. And whereas I resist going back to work on a panel proposal. Herewith, the juicy bits from a grant proposal, wherein The Poet Asks for $$ to Learn to Flash Adobe.


I’ll begin with a passage I’ve translated from an untitled Old English poem found in the Exeter Book –

5.

Moving among the company,
everywhere always, house throughout,
greeting her lord, she pours his cup first;
in greatness gives and keeps counsel,
they make a house, two
of one mind.

A selection process, adapted from poets Ronald Johnson and Jen Bervin and now in general use among restless poets everywhere, yields a visual pattern to work with:

90V SI 5 image 1

The selected text also generates, with some recombinations, a verbal poem –

SI 5 (90V) - text 2

– but I’ll focus here on my work with the selection marks, for that is where my practice, though first inspired by visual artist Tom Phillips, largely departs from other practices I know of. It’s here too that my practice points towards terrain I’d like funding to explore.

Elaboration of the selection marks goes through several stages, like so,

90V SI 5 image 2

and so,

90V SI 5 image 3

and so,

90V SI 5 image 4

and so,

90V SI 5 image 6

to produce an image

90V SI 5 image 8

somewhere in a dream terrain where Salvador Dali and Jim Henson commune with Louis Comfort Tiffany.

The images are an exploration of pareidolia, the mind’s tendency to make faces at the drop of a hat. They exhume natural and biological forms latent in the alphabet (“A” – ox; “N” – water; “O” – eye). They tap into the animism residual in the process of silent solitary reading (see David Abram, Spell of the Sensuous). And they undertake a fitful and pata­physical, i.e., seriously unserious, investigation of the mystical dimensions of the material text (see bpNichol, “Probable Systems 14: Re-Discovery of the 22 Letter Alphabet”).

Their main shortcoming, as I look at them now in Dumuzi (recently finished) and Overject (presently underway), is that they have had to sit still.

I want in my next project to animate them – to put the demonic, angelic, and zoological forms that arise through the illumination process into motion. Even more, I want to animate the illumination process itself, obviating the need for clumsy accounts like the one just finished. I envision digital publication and performance events, the latter more akin to video installations in gallery spaces than to conventional poetry readings.


Demons and angels weightless shadows across wall, floor, ceiling. Let’s see if I can stand to learn the program though. It’s that or start the search for – my collaborator.