A form for my father

Five years ago, after a visit in which the signs of his dementia could no longer be ignored, I handwrote a paragraph across 24 pages of notebook paper, one for each hour of the day, about my father and my relationship with him. It became the base text for an asemic writing project called SCRO. I never meant it to be read.

I visited for the first time in 18 months this June and saw with shock how far his condition has advanced. My stepmother can’t really look after him on her own anymore, though she persists with immense courage. Thankfully, she’s letting go her resistance to bringing in a home-care aide. And though my father can’t remember a conversation 30 seconds past, he’s become kinder and sweeter, affectionate even with N., and that’s a blessing, given how much it takes out of her to look after him, now.

His doctor wants him in a facility, which is not going to happen, while N. is alive. I assuage my desire to fix every fucking thing on this painfield with a mantra: You’ve got to let them die as they’ve chosen to live. I’m surprised to find I can let that matter more than my awfully good ideas for their welfare.

SCRO had two aspects: a scroll and a sequence of short videos. The former I finished but never found a home for. The latter, I found after doing 12 of them, I was out of moves. A few were included in a couple of exhibitions and I moved on.

After my visit, the text feels alive to me again, not as the start of something else, but as itself. I put it here as a tribute to my father, our sometimes strained and usually unspoken but always unbreakable love for each other. In places it’s unkind to me or another. I think it lacks compassion for my mother. And there are a great many verbal infelicities. I’ve left all the flaws unimproved, feeling that moments of meanness, smallness, self-pity, they too belong to a life. The text is a record of a feeling process, one I hope that, in this new framing, becomes itself a feeling process.

In the first 13 sections, the image is linked to the video made for that hour. There are also 24 aleatory Easter eggs hidden in plain sight. Easter, festival of the sun’s rebirth, is, I know you know, derived from the name Ishtar. Her lines of flight from my text touch down on pages pulled from books pulled by chance procedure from the Google shelf. Because the page is a field where my father and I met early and long in beauty.

TW: Discussion of suicide and suicidal thoughts from 7 to 10 pm.


SCRO

[6 am]

– pictures of my house I could send him now the landscaping’s almost done. Bay & I put in raised beds, two big ones for summer vegetables & three smaller where I’m going to plant fruit trees I need to drive up to Cloud Mountain Farm to choose. There’s a greeting. Another, before I even heard the mortgage was more than a bank was going to lend me on my own, he emailed to ask if he could help. The house is my own, bought with my labour, & his name verifies mine. A bed under the living room window for perennial herbs, a bed under the kitchen window for edible flowers. We laid drainage in the fall & raised & levelled the yard with topsoil to dry

[7 am]

it out. My house got shorter. Where is he going? into nothing? I miss him already. You always missed him. Sitting at his red kitchen table from a garage sale in Vancouver, at his house there, CBC News on the radio before dinner, steam from his shower after running welling into the hallway. That table’s my brother’s now, I think, down in their rec room. Dad would’ve picked pole beans or beet greens – always hated those – for steaming for dinner. The rototiller & smell of grass-cuttings & old gas in his garage. The tractor shed at Spruce Run still smelled the same as when I was god, what, five, when we went there a few years ago to spread his sister’s ashes, they

[8 am

were granules more, on the slope above the creek. Dad wasn’t with us. In a recent email to me he wondered if it had ever really been called Spruce Run. His father’d had an orchid greenhouse there, by then collapsed & since restored by Lowe’s Home Improvement & the City of Columbus School Board. I can barely keep a bean row. Crows are shouting now in the drizzle out back & a willow or something sticky-uppy in leaf across the lane. Bay & I planted all native species, idea being, they should thrive without too very much care. My last visit to California, Dad kept saying how much he’d have saved if only he hadn’t sued for custody. At least once maybe twice a day. Felt stupid for being hurt by that & angry for feeling stupid. I want his

[9 am]

suit to have been a quixotic attempt to save us from what I want to think he saw closing down around us. Apparently R. wasn’t our mother’s first infidelity either. He was just the one who took. I suppose she would say Dad’s need to run her forced her to it. And controlling for sure he is. I asked N. why she didn’t get her own e-mail account so we could talk privately about what’s going on. You go to the library a lot, couldn’t you use a terminal there? I said. Oh, no, your dad won’t let me go on my own, & when we’re there he wants to be in & out, he hovers over me. Whenever I read To the Lighthouse Mr. Ramsay sets me trembling. And Dad, the infant in him, is only going to come all the more out. And all the controllingness & jealousness in me that I

[10 am]

wrestle down – will they too, when I’m there, & that, come out? N. sees what’s up but won’t see it. Oh, that’s just your dad, he’s always been forgetful irritable antisocial set in his ways. Dad sees it too & it makes him rageful. Well it’s easy enough for me to call it denial, I’m not the one who’s got to live with the degraded future & the loss of what makes me me. On the walks we took with him on his weekends in Kerrisdale, or in North Arlington visiting his mother summers or Christmas in hot-cold Ohio, we two were always long-striding to keep up. That memory’s sweet to me. He knew the names of trees & things & said them: buckeye, Osage orange. He said hi to people we passed & that was sort of strange to me, & it softened something in

[11 am]

the world, enkinded it a bit. The days before his region of the summer I would cry in bed till my mother came down to comfort me. The change from her to him was a lurch up the curb of the world. The change back was the same curb back down. I don’t know how I’ve become a man; don’t know for sure I have. My father got his doctorate from Harvard, he earned tenure, he had children, got rich, has a doting wife. And I, I am a shitty adjunct, obscure & nameless, having no child, having no woman, just as alone as he was all those years, & I probably always will be. I think I wasn’t made for other people. Or I was, but poorly. Hello I am crap mind. Seems I’m lonely for my father & trying to summon one up out of lint & leaf-bits. Dad-

[12 pm]

dy’s going again. Am I going to do it inside this time the way I did it last time? My bad? That won’t be any good for me. It won’t be any help to him. If you haven’t grown up yet time to now. He still walks twice daily “religiously” in Guerneville, his stride a short sort of shuffle-step painful to watch. Oh bitter son let be. His heart’s good & strong. The meds are controlling the atrial fibrillation well. It’s unlikely that what I’m sure’s dementia’s from the sort of mini-strokes that took his sister one by one. No way to know for sure of course without he gets to a doctor for it. He gets to the top of the hill without needing a rest tho stops to feed Babe’s cat (she’s 94) & take her paper

[1 pm]

to her & pet Riley & chat with neighbours. It’s as happy as I see him. Once only have I seen him cry. It was a summer night in Ohio, after a birthday picnic for T. & me, in the car, his mother had choked in a bit of hotdog. I saw & I pointed. Her finger had been raised as if to gather our attention to a point we might consider also. The ambulance took half an hour after a wrong turn on the way to the state park & they said she was in fibrillation & took her to a hospital. Uncle D. was driving us there with Dad in the front & T. and me in the back & D. was saying something Dad didn’t want us two to hear. I didn’t understand the argument & then I didn’t under-

[2 pm]

stand Dad crying. Then there was some waiting & then Dot was dead. I had the feeling when she raised her finger that she wasn’t trying very hard. She looked slow, thick, numb, far underwater. Probably? I spiked adrenaline & everything slowed way the fuck down. Just got that now. My father wanted to protect me. He’d have – why am I crying? – he’d have flashed fire for me. He’d have fistfought a bear for us. N. says what he means by “could have saved so much money” is their mother did so much better a job than I would have. Maybe? A diagnosis of dementia will shatter him. How clouded is my view of this by my anger he’s not smart anymore? He has been to me the acme of intellect, all of what reason’s capable of shining, & I could outwit

[3 pm]

him now at checkers. I won’t get another father. He told me once of walking with me in a contraption on his back in the woods, & he tripped on a root & I flew out, & he ran forward stumbling to catch me & caught me in mid-air in his arms. He’d have laid down his life for me. Either of them would have. So what sort of weirdly quivering thing am I to have thought the powers they unleashed in each other were headed to kill me rather? A mystery tho they lifted not a finger on them to guard me from themselves. Yes & but why did I think, do I think, the rage they lavished on each other (it was always for each other) was meant for me? Too much of a kind

[4 pm]

of sensitivity I guess. I was sitting on a wood floor in a hallway in the dark, trying to put two cars or three cars of a toy train together. My father knelt down beside me. He & my mother wouldn’t be living in the same house anymore. It was not our fault – they loved us very much. I thought fault? And his apartment in Vancouver. And walks with him around the Haney house looking at & naming different kinds of earthmoving equipment. And this when they still were together – a beard he had! Sitting on a chair, bearded, playing guitar, bent over it, concentrated. The room was bare, there was nothing & no one in it. Picasso’s Blind Man’s Meal. It’s going to get worse. Steel yourself. Little by little & more by more he’s going to just blurt

[5 pm]

out whatever he feels. And it’s easy to say I leave it be & don’t push for a medical intervention & so on. But if N. falters he’s going to fall to me. He can’t live with me. I can’t live with him. Brutal boy. That tyrant gaze, it asks a subjection which wrecks me inly to give. I see it sap N. daily the same. She chose it – but would she now? He can’t live on his own down there. Up here, assisted living? He’ll say he would rather die, & I will have to say, you don’t get to yet. Listen, right?, the powers they brought to bear on each other, they were not going – however you might have felt it otherwise – to bear down on you with. They kept you safe from them that much. Say it. They kept me safe from them that much. This morning they said on the radio that

[6 pm]

matter, the whole world of it, has a sound, heaviness itself has a sound, the dark has a sound. Everyone’s glad it does. It’s the fruit of someone’s curious unpossessive reach from a little small local core of care. Can’t be only for me it’s hard to be a person. Can’t be any it’s not for probably. They could have said I don’t have time for this. I’m not going to be a father, probably, more than I already am to hundreds or thousands in traces, and I guess I’m okay with that. But who will come see to me in my elderly decay? That’s not for a while yet. These migraines I inherit from Dad are getting worse for all I do for them. Four different medications & biofeedback & physio & chiropractice. A gift of it I guess – one I don’t really want – is that I get a

[7 pm]

feel now for how Mom’s world is contracted to a little nut of pain. Yesterday I was out all afternoon pulling horsetails. My week away in TO they’d all pushed up thru the earth. I was there to give a talk on chance operations in my work but what stays with me is telling B. over breakfast about J.’s suicide, how I didn’t know him well, hadn’t seen him in years, but the news hit me hard anyway, it had come the same day as I’d said to my J. how thoughts of ending my life had been brushing me – not, I said, that we needed to worry about me, but low-level chronic pain’s a bitch, & actually being back in touch with my mom apparently isn’t good for me, I’ve got something to lose again, before I’d already lost the worst, her love, you know?,

[8 pm]

& I’d lived. My resilience felt shot to hell, & my liking for myself, I couldn’t find it anywhere. Might’ve added, but for wanting not to be too much, when I heard word of ending things on say the radio, the notion seemed, for a moment, a relief. Come rest, it said, come to rest. And that it did spooked me shitless. I told B. I could see sense in J.’s choice even as I raged at it. I looked at the strawberries on the cuttingboard & heard some little bird cheeping out the open window. J. said, no more to this, or that, I put it down. Why would I even ask why am I crying? No more of this, or that, for me, I’m done. I got it. I saw that it was sane. And I saw that it wasn’t mine.

[9 pm]

I wanted more of it, another moment, & another, whatever was in it. I didn’t say yes to it – yes said me to it. As to this no I carry with me everywhere, yes to this too, if it’s the cost of being at all for me. It may yet find its right bearing. I may have to break it off with Mom again. Her mind has resumed a place in mine where it is injurious to me. If I do break it off, there’s gonna be blowback, & I gots to father me in it. There’s no one else going to. That student, A., who told me she’d been feeling suicidal in the winter, I asked her, What’ll you do if you find you’re in that place again? I’ll call my boyfriend. Okay so well what if you can’t find him? I guess I’ll call my parents. Okay but what if they don’t pick up? I’ll call the suicide hotline. Okay, do you have,

[10 pm]

you have the number in your phone? When I called the person that answered was useless. Say they let you down. Say all the people you reach out to let you down. What are you going to do? She shrugged. I’ll tell you what you’re going to do. You’re going to get yourself to the ER at St. Joseph’s, & you’re going to tell them you’re suicidal, & they’re going to look after you. If you can’t get there on your own, you’re going to call 911, okay? Okay. I want you to promise me. I promise. A few weeks later she had to go there, & went there, & she was okay, she was fine, she was good. The conference was fine, the conference was good. A seagull shat on my head & shoulders, three hours before my talk, great gobs of seagull shit, good luck, I was told later, on a

[11 pm]

date – a date, WTF? The talk went fine, it was good! Got back, the horsetails, shit-tons of them, pulling them now for the Oregon sunshine & the oxalis to get their light on again. The yarrow’s establishing well. I wish he could see it, I wish he could visit. But he doesn’t travel anymore, no further than, I don’t know, Santa Rosa. I learned from N. on my last visit that his urinary sitch is worse than I’d known, it’s not just frequency, it’s incontinence, but will he see a doctor about it, oh, no. Instead N. buys menstrual pads & she stitches them in his briefs & while he’s as thrifty as she, well, that one must unman him twice over. The aspens, up from suckers, are shaking most glorious this morning. Ache of fathering forth out of Hopkins in them. Same

[12 am]

wind as shakes this page. The gift of the gift B. gave me came a little later as I stepped out of the shower in the vaguely depressing residence we were in, came as just, health in body & mind, get back to that, you got off track a bit. Why do I feel that’s selfish? This body’s a vessel of life, this mind’s a vessel of life, why selfish? The least stone in the path so why not me. Even affirming it I elide any me in it. The “possessive.” Who or what on earth could ever possess? This body is my body – remember? Say it. This body is my body. I’m done work for front out now. Beans are clambering up their poles, & cherry tomatoes are goldening at their end of the asparagus bed & I’m turning

[1 am]

now in mind to the back, which is thick with horsetails again, & morning glory, & I’ll be out there among, this weekend, the day-lilies flowering & the blackcurrant flowering & the cinquefoil gone to seed. These two yards, front & back, of my escrowed house – two seed sacs astride an attuned & capricious life-discharging waste-discharging vessel that swells & wanes at a passing thought. Hm. Something to that. Something about a signless sign. It’s aasemic writing yo. Started last night to wean from the goddamned gabapentin from the goddamned hernia op. Which did fix the nut pain but dropped two new pains down there nearby too. If I had known. Well, the pain’s still there, but the shit makes me fat, & I want it out

[2 am]

of me. Cut the dose by half, that made for a doomy mood. Tossed & turned last night & dreamed high hedges with holes with children in them. Hallowe’en candy in the alleys. I don’t think the world needs me to have children. Of course it doesn’t. But I had this sense of loss on waking which I don’t even know how to put words to how I don’t know how to put words to it. Those summers in Ohio we played catch, he had no idea what was in us, he threw, we caught & threw, he praised, we missed, ran & threw, he chided, & then he praised. Does he know what’s happening to him. Early early stage, probably he does, knows & doesn’t, knows & refuses. Stubborn cunt. The going isn’t ever only going, that was the thought I had on waking, it’s al-

[3 am]

ways also – a forwarding? the word was greeting. I don’t know what I meant by that; wasn’t I that meant it. He didn’t know what was in us, or what we were in, but still by inches he drew us out & into the present he was in. Is that what it is to father? A student in my summer class, L., she goes very far away inside. First day, she wouldn’t speak, not even her name, she just stared at the floor till I moved on. Eyes darting this way & that. I thought, trauma, bad, dissociative disorder, but I don’t know. I care for her tho I don’t think she likes me. Been trying to clear a path for her to help. Like the system can help. Got mad at her once for making me feel useless, stupid,

[4 am]

helpless to help. The way you might at a hurt bird for outwitting your little need to hold it. That’s a stupid anger. Also stupid to be angry at me for it. Let be. Let be. All I’ve got is practice & I don’t even know what practice is! Well, I like her smile, all those awful teeth. I don’t know what her hurt are but I feel their rhyme with those in me. I wish I could lift them from her. I’m going to stop asking me why crying & trust answer. Daido said trust yourself & I said WTF. This is the fuck. At dinner a couple of nights ago at a friend’s place a man, older, good friend of good friends, not really a friend of mine, he shouted at me for some reason, probably not no reason, to shut up, & some rage, & some blood, & some tears, they all rose in me,

[5 am]

I felt them all in my face, & they wouldn’t settle. After a bit I got up & said good night. Halfway home, almost stopped & walked back, I wanted to tear into him, Christ I wanted to, I almost tore into him. That’s a pun, it’s his name, a somewhat dim Norse god’s. God that would have felt good. But our host, she had made us a lovely dinner, & her father’s dying, & I didn’t want, & don’t, to be out of peace. And the man knows no more than I how to be one or to ride the righteous wave that feels like a god in you but’s not. Warrior should be inward, guns should be gone, we’re too goddamn dumb. I could name cities & not be done & not be done & not be done. Ah dawn is coming – has come – a gift I could send him – pictures of my house

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.”


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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.

Coupla updates

Friends. Just updated a couple parts of this blog, thought I’d let you know.

New words about my two current projects, Overject and SCROhere.

A portfolio of my adventures in visual poetry here.

The latter turned into a narrative essay of sorts. Writing it, I learned a few things about what I think I’m up to. Cool when that happens. Please enjoy –

C.

 

SCRO (II)

Right so where were we. SCRO will have a life as ink on paper, another as light in the air. That’s what I imagine right now anyway. Both start from a shaken aasemic journal page like this.

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Click to zoom in and wander about.

The black wavy areas are my fingers (to the left) and wrists (to the right) where they press the paper to the glass. (“Are”?) This one came out unusually white on the left because of how afternoon sunlight had soaked my study just then. The checker pattern on the right’s what my scanner does with a grey that hovers, to its this-or-that B&W mind, discomfitingly between.

The first one to come out white like this was a shock. Shitty shit, I thought, I just got this toner cartridge, I hate going to Office Depot. Then I waited for a cloud, tried again, the scan came out black, I thought aha, oho.

I’d already planned 24 pages, for dailiness, the quotidian, now I saw I needed to do the pages one an hour over the course of a single day. When a learned a week or two later about the Poetry Marathon, I knew what day it would be.


The printed form, if I can find a chapbook publisher willing and able to take this on, will be a continuous scroll of these pages, looking something like this.

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The page above, in situ.

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And a bit more in situ.

Just a mockup, assembled by X-acto knife and scotch tape …

I’ll be starting at 6 am, around sunrise. If the day’s sunny, I should get the brightest backings in mid-afternoon, when my south and west windows take in the sun. From there it will go, as the poet said, into the dark.


The other life I imagine for this – patterns of dark and light cast on a wall.

I opened up iMovie, thinking I’d mess around there for a bit, then learn some real video editing software. But as I hit the program’s limitations, I started to feel they were a help to me – limits I could make constraints on the poem. Plus, holding myself to ordinary means (Sharpie, home-office photocopier, iPhone voice-notes app) suits this project, which is all about nothing special.

Working quickly, not deliberating much, I cropped some 16:9 stills from the page I’d scanned. (At 1200 dpi, the highest res I can. Some kinds of data loss I love. Not pixellation. And if I want these images on the big screen one day.) Here are a few.

Some grabbed me because their language did what it meant.Page 3 detail 1

 

Here I love Mr. Moustachio. The back-and-forth between him and “angry” feels equally weighted. And the horizontal distortion bar pleases me.

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This might be my favourite. A leaf beetle bearing or born of the word “leaf.”

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This one’s mostly abstract – I’m keen on the way markings call our language faculty into play without allowing it to resolve in a determinate meaning – but “city” resonated well with the audio clip I had by this point found.

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Cuz I’d also begun grabbing clips of ambient sound with my iPhone’s voice-notes app. At first thought I was just practicing for when I could borrow real recording gear. But after a few test clips I found the homemadeness of the sound suited me just fine. Also the sounds of me recording or abiding – shifting in my seat, clinking my coffee cup on the tile coaster.

The audio for the clip I posted yesterday – chainsaw crew next door taking out my neighbour’s lilac, in preparation for raising a new fence – me closing my study window – clink of said coffee cup.


How to put it together? It’s about letting the accidents in – patterns not of my choosing. Including patterns I inherit, my father’s karma, my father’s genes. (Not my choosing or his.) Each page of the scroll takes about a minute to read aloud and I know I might want, in some iterations, to read the poem aloud in company of the moving images.

First decision, each of 24 passages gets a minute each.

So I’m in the realm of number, 24 passages, 60 seconds each. If each still is Phoenician, in a wildering course that never travels wholly out of view of phonetic charactery, for their sequencing in time I’ll go to Babylon, where our minutes and seconds, our degrees and zodiacal houses come from.

I did some reading about 60. It’s a cool number. A unitary perfect number, one of only five known, being the sum of its unitary divisors. A highly composite number, having more factors than any smaller number. An abundant number, the sum of its divisors greater than itself.

Count the joints on the fingers of one hand, once through, thumb doing the counting, you get 12 – that’s a day. Do it with both hands – that’s 24, a day and a night. Do it five times, you get 60. So much for the inevitability of base 10 systems.

Sixty also has a sweet number of factors: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30, 60.

Decided, each clip will be x seconds long, where x is one of the first ten divisors of 60, randomly generated.

If x yields a sum longer than 60 seconds, discard and generate a new x (as in darts when you’re playing to 300). So clips will tend to accelerate at the end. Whoosh.


The results for x in this clip

were 5, 20, 12, 5, 3, 2, 3, 3, 1, 1, 5. I got to decide what clips in what order. Also how slow or quick the transition between two clips. One set I set in motion.

Overlaid the soundtrack with no effort to coordinate it to the clips. That the window slides closed just as one black blade glides over another is just good luck.

That so many things are tuned to their neighbours – without any assertion on my part – seems to me more than luck.


One more for ya, different page, sprocket hole study.

If you’ve made it this far. The cross-fade and the “Ken Burns effect” in iMovie can both be cheesy very easily. Have I avoided cheese entirely? Comments section, be honest, I need to know. And thank you for reading.