Asemic writing is writing you can’t read. Semic writing is writing you can. (A back formation, there’s no such word.) I am at play, finessing the difference, with aasemic writing.
A joy of asemic writing is that it draws all the promise of meaning-making, all the whole multifoliate interpretive apparatus, into activity, w/o resolution or conclusion. It’s Steinian indeterminacy, in not the syntax but the graphemes. It’s the made mark as blastocyst, as stem cell, as potential to become. Is it a Deleuzian plateau? Maybe, still sweating that concept out.
So the aasemic script I’ve been playing with is neither indeterminate nor determinate. (GOD you can take this non-dualist thing too far, mm? how’s this not just centrist squish?) It starts with a journal page transcribed in a projective hand – descender a plunge, cross-stroke a jailbreak. Then I wave or shiver it over the photocopier light bar as it slides under, gathering data in.
All this is lead in to say, The New Post-Literate has posted a few, and that makes me happy, cuz they’re the first bits of Overject to be published, other than here, which don’t count. Here’s the link.
And here are a few other recent offerings there I think especially cool.
The home page of The New Post-Literate where it’s all to be found.
A lot of my trouble w/ academic parlance comes from trying to translate Buddhist vocabulary and values to a non-Buddhist circumstance. Most of the rest of it comes from being a lazy and a lousy Buddhist. (The latter’s 90%.)
Feste to Viola, Twelfth Night, “I am [a] corrupter of words.” After they’ve just rung their changes on live, stand, lie. I compared the move on lie to a triple-axle – Viola to Feste, “yo watch this move” – and one of my students found a sextuple axle in it, bam. Post-structuralism, its insights, e.g., words’re banana peels, dates back at least to Shakespeare, if not to Jesus? “On this rock I build my church,” that’s a pun, Jesus is making a funny, I told them, explaining the finger joints of a dactyl, by way pterodactyl. Petros (Peter), petra (rock). Long live the rhizome. Weed shoot that cracks the rock.
I was at a lovely poetry event last night, Kitchen Sessions Bellingham, very capacious in its tastes (its heart also), though the emphasis was spoken word, and I found me thinking near the end, Cool. Spoken word poets are the scops, the bards, of our time. And this form they work in, spoken word, is about the one form we’ve got that says direct intense heartfelt personal disclosure is crucial to (not an impediment to) the art.
And here you are (we in here said to me) doing “total translation” of an oral poem. Which means sometime or other you’re going to need to translate its orality. Meanwhile here you also are, wanting to draw intense heartfelt you into art, without arting it up the way your literary training says you’re supposed to.*
And so why not (we in here said to me) take these journal pages you’ve been making, and rewrite them as performance poems?
Brilliant! Didn’t work.
Who knows, maybe I’ll make and do a performance poem, now that I see I’m not done till I also translate the poem’s oral being, but the journal pages (here’s the one I’ve been working with tonight –
–) are wood, not plastic, have grain, can’t be remoulded into just any shape.
These thoughts come quick on the heels of an e-mail exchange with one of my most trusted readers about a draft of a bit of Overject. She expressed, not doubts, not trepidation, nor unease – astonishment, that’s the word, a mix of consternation and amazement – about the journal pages, of which the above’s one of three. And they were the three I was most concerned of, not for the personal exposure, surprisingly that don’t fret me much, but for the aesthetic risks they run, which are grave: banality, triteness.
So, the other play I’ve tried out this evening, is to rock** or wave the sheet up and down as the scanner scans. A translation of orality, I suppose, in that it makes visual the scop‘s or the slam poet’s speeds and slows. Sort of, sort of.
And I think, we’ll see, that’s how it’ll look in the book.
The Martians are writing us.
Not to us – us.
* Why not? I think we’re back at “total translation = translate the translator.” The text is made of layers, some of them finished, some of them inchoate. The translator is made of layers, some of them public, some of them inchoate.
** How is rock the verb for the gentlest most restful action imaginable, the noun for the oldest hardest substance known to us? (I’m setting the music aside for the mo.)
I’ve felt ashamed, in the face of Paris, Homs, Beirut, drowning seas off Turkey and Lesbos, murdered and maimed Frenchwomen and men, Syrian migrants around whom walls of the mind have now reached further skyward, to have been vexed by my little troubles – though for whatever reason, surgery, readiness, the fall’s brought them forward for my study.
But harm is harm. Sometimes we confuse the perspectives of justice and mindfulness. From the perspective of justice (redress) one harm does weigh against another, more, less. From that of compassion, though, there’s maybe just whatever’s in you, filling the cup. To weigh a present this against a remembered that is it-consciousness (Buber). And it-consciousness is the original harm.
What is sin? Distance from God. Don’t believe in God yet I believe that.
I don’t get to separate. That’s the meaning, as I take it, of the precepts my teacher gave me. (He told me the meaning of my name, endless spring, and asked Do you understand. I have the pine needles he brushed my forehead with on my altar.) It means the assholes gunning down concertgoers in a club in Paris are me. The lost boy in Roseburg executing his schoolmates in coldness is me.
I don’t mean I know what it’s like to be them, that would presume. I mean what they’re burning in, I’m burning in.
Shit, I’m going all Christian sounding, or Eliot or something, because I don’t know how to express something I feel as dimly as I do strongly. I just feel it matters how I take care of my undone karma, the busted-up places, even if to a calculative eye, my trials are small to nil.
I don’t get to separate from any of it. All I get is to choose whether or not to create craziness. I’m not ever, as this body, going to pick up a gun. I doubt I’m ever, as this body, going to even punch anyone. But I already have, as the gunner, goddamn him, as the suicide bomber, goddamn him and him and him, and him and him and him – God I want to cut their throats – given up to my craziness and slaughtered scores.
Of course I’m ashamed, of course I’m stricken.
So I’ve been wondering, is there any art, a possibility of art, in my dim stumbling efforts to take charge of my own karma. Harms I’ve received and want not to make more harm of (than I surely already have).
Not an art found by sifting and refining records of those efforts. Rather, could those records, taken whole in all their roughness, with minimal alteration, move. Could there be beauty, insight, transport, in the very awkward transparent mostly untransformed material mess of them.
Here’s one such, a journal entry, lightly edited. It begins as a memory that became an episode of lucid dreaming – the transition is around where “I” kick out the handle of the car door.
I mean it as a visual poem. It has to be handwritten – doesn’t work typed. Every cross-stroke is a jailbreak, the force of the kick breaking the boy free.
For context, since I’m disclosing bravely here, this was a little bit of solo EMDR work. EMDR’s a protocol for working with traumatic memories that instead of describing in detail I’ll just link to here. I picked a memory that was charged, but not too charged, because I’m still learning how to handle this practice, and can easily get overwhelmed by it.
I’m so curious the friend morphs gender. The friend’s my mother and father, I think so, as I knew they could also be. Not as I would get them to be if I were good enough – fuck that, done with that. But as they are now, somehow, in me.
To end, an image I found online, eerily like the very car. Right navy/eggplant colour. BC license plate though the landscape looks more Delta/Surrey than West Van where the memory lives …
ADDENDUM. Came to feel, in the setting of Overject, the text needed more alterity – to be more other to itself. Started playing with moving it on the photocopier glass as the blue light bar moved along under the glass gathering in the image. And found, this was nice, that when I induced the movement that the text, its content, and yes my students I do still care about content, that the text induced in me, waving or trembling or rocking or whatever – that was the image that felt most true.
Not asemic writing, properly, because it has legibility (versus “is legible”). Aasemic writing?
A hard spell. More than a bit PTSDy after my surgery – anxiety waves, wanting to cry lots, panic in the grocery store. Halloween freaked me the fuck out, roving packs in darkened streets and shouts and bangs at all sides.
The trauma’s been here many years, but hasn’t surfaced like this in a while … all the work I’ve done, it’s done some good. But maybe no surprise a minor surgery (hernia repair) brought it back? A knife’s an insult the body knows of, unconsciousness or no, and frozen there, can do nothing about. And this knife in especial was working not very far, in Mitchell’s translation of Rilke’s of Apollo’s of original fire, from that dark centre where procreation flared.
A line from ago I never used and suddenly remember: “Shouts in the street were pieces of me in the mouths of dogs.”
Rousseau had it, I’m sure of it.
[A] word to speak, the least trifle to perform, appear an intolerable labor; everything alarms and terrifies me; the very buzzing of a fly makes me tremble. (Confessions)
This morning I went to the Farmers’ Market and saw Rich and Kendall, also Sean, a former student, and chatting was nice, good. I was looking for herbs to plant in my newly landscaped (or still landscaping) front yard but found instead some apple cider and a chocolate croissant. This afternoon I went to the grocery store and got a flu shot and an anxiety pulse. Tomorrow I’ll drive out to Cloud Mountain Farm and look again for herbs, also fruit trees, apple, plum, frost peach.
My workouts have become meditation by other means – access to inward, when I’m otherwise too distracted or resistant to tune in. So it’s good to be back on the treadmill. Not running, yet, but walking hard up a steep pitch, hard enough for a heartmind opening.
Today it was this. (And tears came in a jag. Which no one can see, nor will anyone, even, if a sob comes loose. Workout a perfected disguise.) There’s a core wound. You can hold it as what’s given to you to hold. Or you can keep living out of it and creating craziness.
This post is actually about a question of genre. Because I can write about this stuff, directly, apparently, in a blog post. And it’s not impermissible either in nonfiction, in memoir. A bit edgy, maybe, but hardly forbidden. But in poetry … no, you can’t do that in poetry, put it in an image, please.
Don’t want it in an image. Want the banal exposed awkward inarticulacy with which it came to me. Because that’s my subject. So fuck peach blossoms and fuck the objective correlative. Here’s what I wrote in my journal when I got home –
– and here’s the notecard I did, yes, transpose it to:
I look about in vain for precedents. Loads of treacly banal sentiment dumps in verse, sure. But I mean legit artistic practices drawing straight from how you speak to yourself about your own feelings and what you do with them and they with you. George Oppen makes concrete poetic objects out of carefully configured abstract surfaces set at colluding angles –
The sad marvels;
Of this was told
A tale of our wickedness.
It is not our wickedness.
– but his concerns are moral and ontological not psychological (“The self is no mystery …”). In many of Frank Bidart’s poems the speaker wrestles semi-articulately with a tormented inner life –
An adult’s forgiveness of his parents
born out of increasing age and empathy
which really forgives nothing,—
but is loathing, rage, revenge,
yet forgiveness as well—;
– but the poem gets its charge from the distance cut open by a persona.
Is what I want, direct speech of and from an emotional life without resort to irony or persona, just inadmissible in poetry? Why permissible in memoir, but not in poetry, when in so many other respects, they’re known to overlap? And where lives the voice, anyway, that says impermissible?
I wonder how I’ll feel about my little notecard when a few days have passed.
I can say this. It belongs, in intent, to Overject as a whole, which means to translate every feature it can of its source text, a minor didactic Old English poem, into the current moment. For that poem is, I have come to feel sure, a trauma document, full to brim with opacities, deferrals, fractures, hapless power moves, inadvertent tender disclosures.
This too I’ll say, writing it has mattered, as writing about it has mattered.
Before you decide my little notecard belongs in the dustbin of banalities, read it for the thoughts and feelings between its phrases and clauses. Those are the ones I took the most care to articulate.
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.
Most 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.
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.
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.
Source text for this one, you’ve seen before (along w/ a short account of how these images get made):
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):
Haven’t posted this one yet tho –
– for whom the source text is:
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 –
Source text for this one is:
A man his goods, king in castle,
they both sell you crap.
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.
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.
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:
Ship is nailed, shield bound
in staves of light linden wood –
her love comes to the Frisian
wife, keel draws near,
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.
Another made by the erasure & illumination practice I been telling you about.
The source text for this one (that same minor poem late in the Exeter Book):
She’ll stay true to him.
He’ll keep her name clean.
Many are steadfast,
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.
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.
The circles are outlines of kitchen saucers. The phrases:
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.