Teaching note (adjunct life)

What made me think to redesign two courses, poetry workshop, Shakespeare intro, at the same time? I sniffle this at the tail end of a 60 hour week, on my way into another, having calced that, when I work I mere 40 hour week, I earn what I would serving burgers in SeaTac, where a sane minimum wage is on offer. Last week, and this, more like $10 an hour. It’s good I love what I do.

And I do. Above’s not what I sat me down to whine. Sat down rather with this.

Was slipping across campus, fat binder in hand, full of matter I spent days compiling for a teaching award I am, for reals, honoured to be considered for. That compiling said matter for consideration is exhausting depleting and ironic is no one person’s fault and goes some way to explaining abstractions like Patriarchy and The Man.

Was gliding across campus, one student evaluation in there heavier than all the others, it called my course asinine and me moronic. Now I’m insecure about a lot but smart ain’t on the list. (About the only thing not on the list? Uh oh.) But that someone was harbouring that much hate and I didn’t know – K that hurt.

Friend teachers, you know this, right? A hundred evals, ten adoring, thirty really fond of you, thirty more are favourable, twenty-five more are various flavours of meh, and five kinda somewhat negative, and one of those over-the-top hostile. Which one stays with you? Which do you have conversations with in the 3 am? Way to get my attention.

All this is to say, I’m lugging this fat portfolio to the office where I need to drop it, and I run into A., a former student, and we say a happy hi. She says, you look exhausted, I say, that’s funny, I am exhausted. I ask how she is. She says not so hot. I say what’s up. She tells me what’s up, a bit. I say, are you getting some help. She says she is. I say, come by and talk, and we make a plan for her to.

A couple hours later, I remember talking to my chair, about a senior colleague poaching my classroom, in a way that felt, I’ll use the word uncollegial. And K., my chair, getting it and asking, how can I help, and me saying and I really meant it – the help I need, you’re giving by hearing me.

Brushed my mind, remembering that, maybe I might have been something like that, a little, for this kid. Why do I give a flying fuck about evaluations.

They’re momentary gestures of mind, captured freeze-dried and framed.

I teach a poetics of the moment. I’m testing a pedagogy of the moment. What would be an institution of the moment? Anarchy, probably.

Anyway, I dropped off my fat gelid binder of congealed impressions, and back on the same walkway, happily met two current poetry students, both smart and talented, one quiet and very keen, one confident and a bit slacker, and we chatted a couple minutes about John Taggart’s “Rothko Chapel Poem,” which, ahem, at least the second hadn’t started, but still I came away thinking, you guys are why I do this.

An award would be nice. Won’t get it but that’s beside the point. Only connect. It keeps recurring in Tom Phillips’s A Humument and while superficially it’s a shout-out to Forster I think more truly it’s a distillation of all that’s holy in the English literary tradition, worthy of salvage. I find it writ large in Taggart –

To love to love those to love those who
are in to love those who are in a condition
in a condition
of hiding to love those who are in
a condition of hiding to
love those as children as the
valiant children who have gone into hiding
children who hide in a house from the roaring.

Care touches the face, untwists the face.
                                        (“Peace on Earth”)

and even crosswise in Malvolio, the poor sod. We’re bound to misunderstand each other. Is that what his cross-gartering means. I thank him either way for saying so.

I was having trouble finding an image for topside. Liked this I found in Jacket 2 but it felt in the wrong key for the post –

John Taggart

Decided, blogger of the mo, to just plug in a phrase from Taggart, “care touches the face,” and use something from the first screen of image results.

Oh my fucking dear.

Want to try it? Try “care touches the face” as an exact search string, w/ quotation marks, see how much comes up, how much care we have for this great man and his work. (I got 3 images.)

Now try ‘care touches the face’ without quotation marks. What great care we have for skin care products, deathlessness, commerce, sex, and the pubic triangle one of those sits at the centre of.

I got lucky (“got lucky”), the latter search, specs set to large image, got me to this somewhat earnest site, God love ’em. Gotta go teach tomorrow, g’night.


Erasure and treatment

Started looking round, wondering where to start a post on my own efforts in erasure and treatment, creative demolition and reformation of a source text – a loving demolition, a savage reformation. I sure am not going to subject you, nor endure myself, some blow by blow account of my misadventures. But it was interesting to see where I got started. I’d forgotten.

Salt Lake City circa 2010 and I’m finishing my diss. I’ve read into the shining spaces in Johnson’s Radi Os and been blindsided by the Blakean rainbows of Phillips’s A Humument. I’ve a stash of found matter (NYT clippings) ten years after a day I’ve not been able to write of to around or about. And I understand, post-Bervin, erasure’s growing old, as too 9/11 and poems about 9/11 have some time since grown old. Understand as well my sense of old and the currency of old are not maybe typical of the avant-garde I maybe or maybe not aspire to keep company with.

Well anyhoo. Our discourse around 9/11 seemed censorious in all sorts of ways. Repression that made it seem past in ways it was present and present in ways it was past. Repression with political beginnings and a mercantile middle and self-preening ends. And with black bars I could maybe indict the targets both obvious (war crimes of the Bush admin) and subtle (oh come let’s say it liberal friends we can be sanctimonious). Also black bars seemed easy to make even for such graphically mega-challenged as I.

So I went there with the redactors and they there with me. Made a few heaps of found material and did a selection thing derived a bit from Johnson a bit from Phillips and a bit from Bervin.

OrderI never ended up publishing these in any version or trying very hard to. A good friend, one I showed them to early on, was upset by them, and she’s a New Yorker, and that she was offended, though I didn’t get it then, I took serious, and thought best to move on. So maybe Sal you saved me from something stupid. Where Sal by the way ARE you?

WodeAnd well now I do get it. Seems kinda obvious now. Sal I didn’t mean to silence the voices of the victims. I meant that the voices of the victims had been silenced. But yeah thanks for saving me from my stupid. Still though where ARE you?

SillsPretty crude, yes? compared to what my students have been up to. Gonna skip a bunch of steps in my own progress to get to where I’m about at now. That’s the next post.

And then, after that, because onward is always, their next adventure – handwriting. The inscribed line, thick or thin, mischief or dutiful, studied or fleeting, how it expresses a moment of spirit, before and in language.

Student work – Treated page

A few responses to the treated page exercise I gave my students as we met and read and viewed and wrestled with Tom Phillips’s A Humument. All struck me. Each differs from the others plenty. None imitates Phillips servilely. All take care with their erasural gestures, understand them to be, as they are, presences in their own right.

One that foreswears mimesis almost entirely and uses abstract form pattern and colour to expose the ickiness of its source text’s speaker. (A lot depends with this exercise on the right kind of friction with one’s source text.)

Treated page 4

One that goes maximal, takes erasure as a baroque occasion. (I neglected to note the source text here, oops.) It actually has texture under your fingertips. Glitter that bites back.

Treated page 2

And one that goes minimal, erases erasure, or proposes that we omit omission, or something like that, its ironies tangle my head. The source text is Strunk & White’s Elements of Style and it mucks with their most famous pro-imposition, “Omit needless words.”

Treated page 3

A dismantlement of text that can’t help but call to mind Susan Howe’s, as this from “Fragment of the Wedding Dress of Sarah Pierpont Edwards” in Souls of the Labadie Tract:

Howe - wedding dress (A poet I’ve never had the guts to try to teach.) There were others good, wonderful even, or that didn’t in themselves transcend but were important explorations for their fashioners. There’s in fact no knowing what will beget what. That’s why I don’t grade these, they should be done in great spirited freedom.

In a few I’ll hope to write a bit about my own muckings about with treated pages. Nothing so colourful as these. Also want to write about really good discussions we had today on qualities of line (actual and implied, that’s from Taylor) and the non-blankness of the blank page. First though dinner – steak!

Exercise — Treated page

So here’s the first exercise of the quarter for my visual poetry class. Cued by our wandering through Tom Phillips’s well known widely loved yet not for all that at all worn out A Humument.

The book’s an object lesson in the power of powering forward not knowing where the sweet bloody fuck you’re going. Glory of the aleatory. Here’s he in his Blakean vein —

The exercise. Treat a page of a prose work as Phillips has treated the pages of A Human Document.

Pointers. Be inspired by A Humument, by all means, steal moves from Phillips, but don’t imitate slavishly. The composition should feel to you like your process. Do take care with your erasure marks. They should do more than just cross out. They should express, manifest, draw eye and mind.

They’re doing beautifully by the way. What lovely conversations we have. We seem already friends in the free and easy wandering in mind I remember reading of in the Chuang Tzu … lessee if I can find it … nope. But this is as good, Chuang Tzu to Hui Tzu, who’s just told him his words are big clunky useless, like a gnarled and lumpy tree, so everyone ignores it, carpenters, painters.

Now you have this big tree and you’re distressed because it’s useless. Why don’t you plant it in Not-Even-Anything Village, or in the field of Broad-and-Boundless, relax and do nothing by its side, or lie down for a free and easy sleep under it?

The sleep I want for my students when they make their poems.

P.S. Speaking of Cezanne, and Mont St. Victoire, saw a pretty indifferent one in Vancouver, apparently the only one he composed in a portrait orientation, and I saw why. But what blew me away, and made me excited about in and for the VAG for the first time in my admittedly little life, was an exhibit I wandered into mostly accidentally of contemporary Chinese art that poked and prodded and nursed and scowled at the long awesomely durable tradition of Chinese landscape painting.

I’ll hope to write more soon on what I saw there and what it seemed to see in me. For now a link to the curator’s intro for you.

On erasure practice (II)

Yestereven, erasure marked typographically, as with Carson and Schwerner, giving a feel of fidelity, though that’s often mock. Also, erasure as palimpsest, as in Bervin’s Nets, the source poem receding into the page but not altogether invisible.

The maybe most austere mode is just to leave the page untouched in its white or creamy presentness. That’s Ronald Johnson’s approach in Radi Os, his seminal erasure of Milton’s Paradise Lost


If austere is one end of a spectrum, and illuminative the other, somewhere in the middle’s any practice that retains the erasure marks, making what art of them they propose. Can find a precursor to that in this page from Johnson’s draft copy of Paradise Lost


It’s a question I’ve messed with some in Overject, erasures I’ve tried out of a minor Anglo-Saxon poem sequence variously called “Maxims” or “Gnomic Verses” or (by me) “Proverbs.” Here I work up the redaction marks to make some funny (and some not-so-funny) faces.


At the illuminative end of the spectrum (both ends and all middles presided over majestically by Wm. Blake) must for sure be Tom Phillips’s A Humument.

Fun fact. My college roommate, Johnny Carrera, my first year at Oberlin, recently had a show with Phillips at MassMOCA. And that’s all for tonight, mes amis, dormez bien.

Been playing around awhile

with a composting practice. Take a transcript of a dream, embarrassingly open maybe, and type it up as a paragraph, stripping out punctuation and caps, a first stage of digestion. Then, burrow through it, wormwise, a la Tom Phillips, making phrases you’d never a thunk of, on yer own. Compose those phrases as a poem.

I’ll post one of those sometime soon probably. But here now’s to tell, I’m playing with a modified practice of that, two stages. One, worm through a dream transcript to make a prose poem, such as

The roads in are look thrown down over a side
of them a bit further ∙ so fine I have to map that
too ∙ each step I want more a mountain road to
where the valley of what else I am even in win-
ter sunlight on it and me bleached wood in the
water in a crouch ∙ a lake fallen through firs in
the foreground ∙ brilliant bare red bush ∙ then in
a car with the mountains hiking us ∙ art a moth
taught us ∙ Just be at rest as you hack through a
rent sort of small dead ∙ the trees here really do
wake an interwoven densely spacious impasse

And then, pass through again, wormwise as before, to make verse poems as castings, as here


Look fine.
I want what else I am brilliant at.

king, hack us through these
here red trees.

Each step bit them.
Am really in a rough pass
Winter oven.

Feels to me, it has more of me in it, the me most meaningful to me, for having about zero autobiographical to offer.