Exercise: Asemic writing

Gave my poetry workshop an exercise in asemic writing. First time I’ve tried it & they done good. Will post some of their scriptures soon. For now, the exercise, with prelims.


In class, showed some alphabets invented or divined. Hélène Smith‘s Martian:

Smith

Something cool by Andrew Clark I found:

Clark

Razorsharp letterset, with pareidolia, by Christopher Skinner:

Skinner

Wish I’d remembered the Deseret writing created by Brigham Young:

DeseretMore widely used perhaps is Klingon:

Klingon


And then an in-class exercise: Create a new alphabet. You have 15 minutes.

There was time when they were done (!?) so I had them write their names in their alphabet and put them on the board.

photo (9)

Click this one to biggen it, so worth it.

The characters illegible but full of character – I can almost tell, weeks later, whose letters are whose. (Of course the palindrome’s a giveaway.) And that’s asemic writing for you: all the meanings semantic meaning was veiling, when we were distracted by it, shiny toy, creep forth, peek out.


The exercise they went home with: Compose a page of asemic writing. And man did some come out good. I will post post haste.

To those who had trouble with the ex, I said, try it anew with your eyes closed. (Makes me no better than some Obi Wan voiceover, I know.)


Examples of asemic writing I had for them, who now are you, to look at.

Zhang Xu‘s “wild cursive,” or loosely (or wrongly) “wild grass cursive”:

Zhang_Xu_-_Grass_style_calligraphy_(4)

A few by Henri Michaux:

A couple by Paul Klee:

And this wonderful ongoing project, The Geranium Lake Properties, by Lyn Tarczynski, maybe my favourite asemic compositor out there.

And this bed of asemic misadventure, The New Post-literate, edited by one of the mode’s current progenitors, Michael Jacobson.


Also had them read these good orientations on the practice:

Tim Gaze on asemic writing.

Michael Jacobson on asemic writing.

Minnesota Center for Book Arts, “Making Sense of Asemic Writing.”


Postscript. Orientations, orient, Orient, Orientalism. Can’t help but wonder, worry a little, as I play around in the asemic stream, what kinds of othering might be going on. It’s pleasing to make a script one recognizes and doesn’t, cognizes and doesn’t. It gets fantasy circuits firing without any durable duty to, I dunno, the actual world of beings bedded in history. Sort of the way paintings of Turkish harems might have got Euros turned on in the 19th C?

Play’s okay, we all need to sometimes. But while most of the asemic stills in SCRO, my current project, are redolent of leafs and bugs and unraced faces, there are those that might mind one of an ethnographic rattle, or petroglyphs I saw somewhere, and others please me maybe for imping the fluidity of Arabic.

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What the fuck am I redoing the Mikado for the 21st C or something? I don’t mean to, but do I get to claim the privilege of not meaning to? A couple friends and I are putting together a proposal for next year’s CCWWP Convention, theme of necessary conversations in a time of racial and gendered violence. Had thought to propose on this – show some, say my self-questions, see what other questions flew. (Our thinking’s gone another way, another post on that.)


Post-postscript. Are many Arabics gorgeous and asemic to me meaning God.

In the name of Allah
“In the name of Allah beneficent and merciful”

There needs to be room for play of equals. That astonishing face is full of play.


Post-post-postscript. The book that got me started on this whole misadventure – erasure, asemia, the limen, the lumen, the clinamen, compostery even I’d maybe say, is Imagining Language, eds. Steve McCaffery and Jed Rasula. I met Hélène Smith there, e.g. Now out of print. SAD!

Happysad snowday

This just in from SCRO.

Watch full screen for the best hit.

I think it’s a sort of breakup poem? Long after the fact but a fresh wave of it.

Oh yes, lotsa wish, loss, yearning, resolution. This little heart wants so much!

Snow’s all round today – air, ground, sky, quiet, lovely.

Yesterday a hummingbird in the snow at the lavender flowers.

Whether “life goes on,” I don’t always know, but living goes on, I do see it.

Image up top, tilt your head sideways. You’ll see the left side of the sad face is the word happy. It made the round forms in the middle, heartlike, applish, insecty.

Go, figure.

“How will this project contribute to your artistic development? advance artistic practice?”

From, ho hum, another grant application.


I’m certainly entering new terrain as an artist with SCRO. In earlier projects I’ve experimented with visual poetry and with handwriting, and worked on the threshold of legibility, but I’ve always been bound to the page, 8.5 x 11, and to the still image. The only sound I’ve brought to bear has been my own reading voice occasionally. In SCRO, projecting images on a surface, I work with the relation between embodiment (the movements that make the writing and the rocking that creates the distortion) and disembodiment (so many photons on a wall). Putting those images in motion, I have a whole new language in which to think and feel through time and change. Conjoining images with sounds, scriptural marks with audio tracks of household noise, I can create juxtapositions that are not narrative or expository but lyrical, syncretic, and happenstance. The relation of image to sound is a bit like the relation between the singing voice and the played instrument that was once the mainstay of lyric poetry: complementary and complicating. Except here the singing voice is visual, and maybe a bit ’pataphysical, a nonce botanic script.

SCRO is for me a lyric poem. If it advances artistic practice, it does so by testing the range of what’s possible or admissible in the lyric. It goes to the edge of illegibility, then pulls back a step, so its words get to mean by fits and starts – what, it asks, is the feeling tone of that? It takes chance operations, grown cold in the hands of some conceptual poets, and brings them to bear on emotionally hot material – family trauma, the degradations of old age. Can it be a conceptual poem even if (pace Goldsmith) it demands to be read? Can it be a lyric poem even when there’s really no “reading” it? The poem has no coherent “I” to hold it together; he dissolved early in the process of distorting the memoir. Can the 16:9 frame in which nameless shapes come and go do the work of an “I” – be attention, be sentience? If so, is that the acme of lyric experience, or its abolition? I don’t have answers to these questions, just instincts and biases, but faithful attention to SCRO might raise them in some viewers.

On being drawn in

Attended this evening, with two dear friends, the opening of the Bellingham National 2017 exhibit at the Whatcom Museum. An excerpt from my video poem SCRO is in a show on the theme of “Drawing Practice.” The curator, Catharina Manchanda of the Seattle Art Museum, has gone past the usual sense of drawing – an implement marking a markable surface – to investigate all the senses of the verb. What’s it to be drawn on? to be drawn to? to be drawn out? to be drawn into?

There are drawings there in the usual sense. Also torn canvases, their matter physically drawn out.

Kirk Yamahira. Untitled (stretched); 2017. Acrylic, pencil, unweaved, deconstructed on canvas.

And sheets of paper drawn across abrasive surfaces. And one video I loved drawing the lens over road lines at traffic speed. Another video watched light draw on water it appeared raw crude had blotched.

What all my favourites (here’s another

Jenna Lynch. Traveling Within, Feeling Through, Dreaming Beyond; The Lines. Watercolor on paper.

) had in common was a quality of absorption. I was drawn in. There was a mind there, its evidence made it over to my mind, and drew it in closer.

My own piece was caringly placed, in a nook of its own, with – am I imagining this? – a bench to sit on and watch.

I feel a bit of an imposter in a gallery, identify as a poet not a video artist, but I guess I do because it suits me to. “Oh I just stumbled into this by accident, I don’t really know what I’m doing …”

Gimme a break. No one knows what they’re doing. It’s no excuse.

p 7 detail

Seven one-minute vids are up. Check ’em out if you’re in town. And, fourteen still to make, so let me know what you think, if you feel so moved.

Link to the exhibition, and the pieces by Yamahira and Lynch, here.

A first home for SCRO

I’m thrilled to have a bit of SCRO in this upcoming exhibit at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. Case you’re somewhere round Minneapolis, the deets:

Asemic Writing: Offline & In the Gallery
March 10, 2017 – May 28, 2017
MCBA Main Gallery

Opening reception Friday, March 10; 6-9pm

Asemic writing is a wordless semantic form that often has the appearance of abstract calligraphy. It allows writers to present visual narratives that move beyond language and are open to interpretation, relying on the viewer for context and meaning. Beyond works on paper, asemic writing enjoys a growing presence online and continues to evolve with new performance-based explorations and animated films.

Asemic Writing: Offline & In the Gallery, curated by Michael Jacobson, is the first large-scale exhibition of asemic art in the United States, featuring the work of over 50 international artists who together create an eclectic assemblage of inventing, designing, and dreaming.

Asemic Translations
Saturday, March 25; 7-9pm
Free and open to the public

Join us for a special reading by various asemic artists and scholars, and music by Ghostband. This event is sponsored by Rain Taxi.

A few screen shots from my sequence, SCRO 9am, 10am, 12pm.

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Artist’s statement (SCRO)

My first sub to a gallery’s call for entries. Writ with the help of a mist friend.


SCRO begins with a handwritten text about my relationship with my aging father. A single paragraph over 24 pages, one for each hour of the day. I manipulate the text on a photocopier, scan the resultant distorted images, and crop those to compose short video poems, 24 of them, each a minute long. The length of each frame determined by chance. The text distressed for my fear of his mental decline. Also for how hard it is for son to know father, or father son, or either one himself. The heart of the practice is my distortion of the ascenders, descenders, bowls and cross-strokes of my written hand. Visual forms, latent in the text, are literally drawn out of it as the words are composted—broken down and let re-flower in proto-signs, pseudo-glyphs, half-made faces and botanic forms. The soundtrack is ambient noise in and around the house for which my father co-signed the loan. He’s made me able to live, here. SCRO, the overlap of “scrotum” and “escrow,” both derived from words for to cut.


The stills I sent:

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And here’s one of the things themselves.

Dear Canada Council, love, C.

A grant application I done sent.


Page 1 base textSCRO began after a visit to my father, 84 years old, in California. I wrote many pages in my journal, worries and fears about his health and state of mind, thoughts on our relationship, childhood memories of him. In time I arrived at a base text of 24 handwritten pages, one page for each hour of the day. To the right is the first. Wandering in time and space, thought and feeling, the text comes home time and again to my little house, which my father, co-signing a loan, made me able to buy. “SCRO,” a truncated form of escrow. Also of scroll – one form the poem will take. And the title can’t fail to call to mind scrotum. The poem’s a study of father and son, and whatever manhood is, and continuity and rupture. Scroll and escrow both derive from a Germanic root meaning “shred.”


p 1 600 cropped
Next I distort the handwriting on the photocopier, rocking it up and down as the scan bar moves underneath, gathering in data, losing information, abandoning and reforming context. Poet Tim Gaze coined the term asemic, one a, for unreadable writing that calls your sense-making apparatus into play without letting it resolve on any given meaning. Steinian indeterminacy on the level of the grapheme. I’ve in turn coined the term aasemic, two a’s, the negative negated, for writing you neither can nor cannot read. I want for these texts to hang on the threshold between signal and noise. Why threshold. Because I’m afraid my father’s going to where he’ll be unreachable; unreadable. Because of how hard it is to know each other at the best of times. Because how of hard it is to read yourself, what you even feel, at same. Most of a given moment’s unintelligible. And, something happens when the mind somehow eases anyway into that state of things, just not getting it. These are experiments toward such ease.

SCRO will have two lives, at least. One, a scroll built of 24 aasemic panels like the one above, flown seamlessly together. That will take some time; the base text is written, but the asemic pages need to be re-generated, most or all of them. Then I need to build a mock-up scroll before I begin to approach publishers.

The other is a series of 24 one-minute video-poems. I start with close-up stills from the aasemic panels described above.

While the panels, as wholes, are to be flown into a scroll, the close-up stills drawn from them are enlisted in brief, meditative animations. Chance operations dictate the length of each clip. Why chance. Because letting in the accidents – patterns not of my choosing; patterns I inherit, my father’s kar­ma, my father’s genes – not my choosing or his. And so, given 60 seconds to fill, I take the factors of 60, excepting 1 and 60, which are 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, and 30, and choose at random from that sequence how long each still will last. If a given choice pushes my total over 60 seconds, I throw that choice out and I select again. For instance, the stills for 6:00 am are 2, 3, 15, 3, 6, 6, 2, 2, 15, 2, and 4 seconds long. Made this way, each one-minute video gets to a rhythm I’d not have on my own. The world is rhythmic I find if I let it.

I use two freeware programs, GIMP and Audacity, for image and audio editing, and iMovie to compose the video. The last is limited but its limits guide me the way her rhyme scheme does a poet prone to sonnets. The audio track is quiet but integral: ambient sound, household or neighbourly, recorded the hour of the day the asemic page was made.

How will these video poems find a public. Easy to shove them around online of course. But I want to throw them big and severally on gallery walls, let them be embodied again, with persons in their bodies moving among, stopping between a projector and a receiving wall to interrupt my images, occlude my words, to intercede – for what, for whom? From whatever I thought to mean. To join in the play on the edge between real and ideal, material and im.

I picture a large or warrened gallery space, each of the videos set separate, a big one here, small one there. Each cast on its bit of wall, far enough from others for its companion sound to adhere to it. As you move round the space the sounds mix up. Soundtracks spare enough for the mix not to muddy.  The effect would be like that on the mind in meditation – relaxing into the hereness of a shape, sound, texture, mixture thereof you have no name for as it passes.