Student blog: Words the Rede Fulfill

A lot of ways to believe in Aphrodite, Ἀφρόδιτα, whom Sappho calls ἀθανάτ and ποικίλοφρον, athanatos, poikilophron, deathless and spangled in mind, as I wrote about once here.

She could be for you an outer being as real as mom or dad or auroch or furniture. Or did anyone ever believe in spirit beings in quite that way? Maybe only atheists ever have.

She could be something liminal, a threshold being, as she seems to have been for Sappho in that astonishing Hymn, nor outer nor inner, but bridging that perhaps in her time widening divide (Heidegger, comment here?). Gist of so many of her invocations being, come here, to me; bring her, to me. To, unto, into.

She could be what we, now, dissociated, have liked to call an “objective correlative,” an external object saturated with an inner state, longing for what we cannot have, let alone be.

Phenomenological to the core, I spit TSE on your objective correlative – as I know you wished to, too.

One thing more I learn from my student is, wiccans, like monty pythons, fear bunnies among them, as well they might. Check it out.

Another is, witchery is about intimacy, not harming what you’re close to, and seeing you’re close to all of it. Check that out.

Addendum. A book in the mail by my old teacher, Don Revell, out of which these lines, which I am still plumbing (as am I them all).

(In Paradise, remember to tell Hart Crane Tom Eliot was his kitten in the wilderness; the fact that Tom grew up into three white leopards is neither here nor there. That Bohemia should be an island crowded with magical shepherds is neither here nor there. Canons are funny that way.)

Neither here nor there because the Imagination is every where.

On erasure practice (I)

Gonna hit erasure practice hard next week with my class. So thought here to summate. So much, to lift a word or three from a forebear to this sprawly lineage, depends on how you mark the missingness of what’s missing.

There’s a typography angel (sic) taken by Anne Carson in her Sappho —


Okay wow so the first clump suddenly recalls me to the borderline people in my life. And the second clump to how I’ve answered them. Well anyway I do love the aberrant slant in the image. Too, Armand Schwerner in his Tablets


Brackets, ellipses, squares, circles, squared circles, enlisted to mark the polyambience of what’s missing, or imagined to be. Though nothing is really missing, is the message, as I take it, of erasure practice. The blank page a perfect poem no one has ever managed to write.

Then there’s the palimpsest, where the new poem greys out, but doesn’t quite white out, the old. Jen Bervin’s erasures of Shakespeare’s sonnets in Nets work here, both stilly

imageand movingly, as here, where the palimpsest of it flickers in and out. That’s it for tonight, happy sultry (for here) weather all, more tomorrow.

The eros aspect

What’s not been touched on yet — the eros of the fragment. Eros, Carson writes in Eros the Bittersweet, is the god of what in oneself seems lost, when momently found in the beauty of another. “All desire is for part of oneself gone missing.” What’s genius in If Not, Winter is, the loss of the beloved object, the imago, that the poems are about, and the lack the poems in their fragmented state endure, are found to be the same lack, suffered here in flesh and bone, suffered there in ink and surface. I put it better in a review of the book some years ago so I’ll just link now to that.

The line composts the sentence

Carson’s Sappho composts a dozen ways and more. One one student noted is, the enjambed and lightly punctuated line breaks a (propositional) thought into smaller (experiential) thoughts.

And in it cold water makes a clear sound through
apple branches and with roses the whole place
is shadowed and down from radiant-shaking leaves
sleep comes dropping.

The poet composes the line. The line composts the sentence. That’s general to poetry but more prominent here than often it is. “And in it cold water makes a clear sound through” is a whole phase and phrase and frame of feeling. Notwithstanding its unfinish as a sentence. The effect is to reorient thought — to reorient thinking — away from proposition and toward proprioception.

Sappho is a compost occasion

We found as a class three things compost does. One, there’s a breaking down of old forms, cauliflower leaves corn cobs egg shells radish greens, they begin to lose the walls that bound them as what they were. Two, there’s a blending and a merging, as the elements released in the breakdown start to wander in search of new figurations. (See mandibles in Empedokles, the clinamen of Lucretius, the fact that matter does wander, that’s its nature, that is nature.) Three, something’s nourished, as nutrients released by the breakdown and rearranged in the blending become the constituents of new forms, new ways of being life.

And found all three at work Carson’s translations of Sappho in If Not, Winter. Just one for now (all things in their times). The first line of the one poem of hers we have whole, called often her “Hymn to Aphrodite,” in the Greek is

Ποικίλοφρον ἀθανάτ Ἀφρόδιτα

Transliterated that is, I think, I have no Greek,

Poikilophron athanat’ Aphrodita

And translated word for word,

Spangle-minded deathless Aphrodite

One character is in question. Where Carson reads phi (φ), others read theta (θ), and that one difference, between a sphere crossed vertically and an ellipse crossed horizontally, is a difference between poikilophron, mind, and poikilothron, throne. Is it the mind of Aphrodite, or the chair she sits in, that’s glinting, variegated, subtle, ambiguous, changeful?

What makes this compost is that the two readings coexist. A word Sappho wrote, or had written, was made by time two words, jostling. We can never get rid of one of the other. Time’s co-author of the poem.

Deathless Aphrodite of the spangled mind

First day of class

First day of class tomorrow, a bit of butterflies now, as I always have.

Want to remember my classes go best when I don’t plan too much. Have something in mind about tearing pages and discerning poems in the strips we’ve made — as prep for the fragments we have of Sappho, many recovered from the mummies her poems were recycled to bear on in the afterworld.

Have a couple of books on hand of W.C. Williams, already spine-split and spilling their pages. They should make good material.

Am struck by — a feeling the books are sacrosanct! shouldn’t be torn with! Interesting.

Exercise: Fragment work (2)

Pick a fragment where most has gone missing and fill in the gaps. You don’t need to sound like Sappho here. Instead, sound how the few remaining words feel to you. For example, given


one might get to

And anxiety.
How the ground.
Rises to meet.
A body.

Drawing a blank I stole another move from Carson. Her “Life of Towns.”

Exercise: Fragment work (1)

Imagine you are time. Pick a fragment from Carson’s Sappho that looks whole and erase most of it. Use brackets and the space of the page, à la Carson, to indicate where things have gone missing. Aim for a fragment just as resonant after your treatment as it was before. For example

and gold chickpeas were growing on the banks

might become

gold [                                      ] wing

No Narcissus

Drove down to Samish Island this morning for a dharma talk by Norman Fischer. A bit remains with me from the life of Dongshan. He was walking up in the mountains, newly a teacher, chewing on the question of suchness, his teacher Yunyan’s “just this,” came to fastmoving stream and was startled by his fastmoving reflection in the water.

“Wherever I go,” he wrote in the poem the moment gave him, “there he is, with me. He’s me. But I’m not him.” Norman, I hope I have that right.

Drove away with a feeling for the dreamlike spaciousness of the country around—green fields, tidal flats, starlings in the road, hawk on a powerline. If I could amend it, it would be to say, “He’s me. And I’m not him.”

A few points of contact. Narcissus staring at his reflection in the water. Chuangtzu’s butterfly. (Was I Chuangtzu dreaming I was a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming I’m Chuangtzu?) And the spacious light of Sappho’s fragments (rereading them for my compost course) in Carson’s translation:

] thought
] barefoot

(She won the Griffin Prize this year, as did Brenda Hillman, on the international side. Wonderful.) More to come on Carson’s Sappho, how it seems to me compost might be a way to speak of them.