Out of Sumer,

I tell my students to trust their boredom, it’s good guidance, better than any outside feedback or creative writing precept can be, when attended to rightly. So when I found I was, at a recent reading I was part of, bored by parts of what I read, I took note.

Revisited really quite excitedly the manuscript, Dumuzi, which I had thought done. Ended up abolishing all the prose poems, compressing the best bits into a preface, which then took on its own life. Herewith. Rated PG13 which for me is pretty risqué.


OUT OF SUMER,

Dumuzi, god of the new, the new green, to be drawn down broken. Flees gazelle to his sis and she reads his dream. Bro she says don’t tell me that dream. Okay so well fire gone out in yr hearth’s desolation of yr green fields she says. The rushes thick round you galla says. The tall firs in terror round you galla says. Run says.

Sent by Inanna the demon galla hover an inch over the earth bright drought angels pursuant. Justice an in-law turns Dumuzi snake and hands and feet the hands and feet of snakes he runs.

Galla working undercover offer sis a water gift a grain gift a corner office gas and groceries for life to give him up nope. They strip her rape her pour in orifices hot pitch nope. When has a sister ever given up a brother they giggle little to large.

A friend upgives Dumuzi and galla fat and thin harvest him. Scale the perimeter barricades and throw down and perforate that face with nails and smush with shepherd crooks that skull. Shit, you’re not even sleeping, nuff faking say. Get the sweet bloody fuck up they say. Hands bound and iron round his neck with aspect of a warrior caught pressed in clay and proud downed head and spade beard okay says show the way.

Some later find his body in a roadside ditch outside the city. A holy fly tells them where. Son my son mother says as mothers must in wars of sons the face is yours the spirit’s gone from. Deal is, fly gets to hear any quarrel any bar diner bedroom anywhere. Come spring, comes Dumuzi, arrogant, wist­ful. Your broad hand lover Inanna says is manna and your sweet little wee toe’s nectar. I stroll with him sings among the standing trees and stand with him sings among the fallen trees.

And their life is orchard. And he wants to want nothing but take joy in her joy. And he’s to be milled packaged traded shipped bought and sold soiled broiled roasted baked and eaten.

At the king’s lap stands the rising cedar.
Plants grow high by their side.
Grains grow high by their side.

When they tire of riding the holy hard-on Inanna gathers her me together for an excursion. The me are powers won from her drunken father Sweetwater back in the day. Dagger and sword and descent to the kur and measuring rod and line and dark bright dress and unbinding her hair and cocksucking assfucking lovemaking weeping and consolement terror dismay and passing judgement conferring power animal husbandry plundering cities and running away and ascent from the kur and spear arrow quiver bow knife AK47 RPG ICBM crows eating eyes on village greens town squares redbrick college plazas faceless high glass offices and lamentation purification bare attention compassion smack acid crank and scribe and stylus and cylinder seal ironwork carpentry leatherwork star of morning star of evening sacred mountain caduceus rosette a fistful of river and bull sheep scorpion apple tree kindling fire extinguishing fire gathering family dispersing seed voice of the whirlwind broken to voices and crown of the grasslands and a black seducing eye-paint and a friend taken too with her partway.

She takes a road no one turns on to the kur underearth where names go to die and her way crosses his every moment at right angles. What says is this as the guard strips her down. Shut it dirt bitch says our ways are perfect immaculate metamorphosis. Shorn of her me. Crown of the grasslands. Double strand of small beads. Wedding gold. Lapis measuring rod and line. Innermost robe.

Naked to throneroom where Queen Thing Mind kicks and slaps punches and cuts and hangs her dear sis up on a wall. Slab of rotting meat hung on a hook.

That sad friend calls 911 gets the dad-man on the line and not too sauced for once he flicks dirt from under his nails and beings of his fashioning, kurgarra (moth), galatur (bee), descend from on high to sprinkle pharmaceuticals on the corpse.

Inanna ascends behung with galla. Comes in turn on her faithful friend her grieving son her other grieving son. I shan’t give up who serviced me well says and with her galla walks on. In Uruk comes upon Dumuzi sitting under an old apple tree. Lost in a thought. Enthroned don’t bow. Anagram, enthorned. Take this one says. Whatevs he says and flees &c.

Ineluctably ariseth. Anagram, hastier, raiseth. I’m shaking why.

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Student work: 80 Flowers poems

The danger on all sides with this exercise was Staying On Topic. Some of the ones below manage to get gorgeously off-topic once and again. Others stick to a putative topic but the texture and resonance of the language exceeds all topicality. In several you can see a hesitant limbering-up in the first line or two then a far more confident soar. I’m really struck, once more, typing these up, how good they are at what they do.


POTATO

The dull dust-bowl craggy-exterior couch
rotten kitchen five-pound-bag wrinkly-skin grocery
Ireland-famine Idaho-farming scarecrow rolling dry
yellow dirt ground roots economy
thin-sliced thanksgiving mashed boring lazy
cook-it boil-it bake-it fry-it mash-it
vegetable grimes lumens old-man harvest
french-fries electrical-currents round brown gun
suds buds crud grudge spud


SIPS OF WHISKEY

Carefree ciaos binding sinners dawn
hairless in feature gruesome quenched
disease be sweet with June
a cloud full as cups
streaking glasses wiggled off noses
revenge useless teeth rotted sunflower
quick slandered years opium swander
easiness night wish us eve


PLUMB

Jump man castle princess save
brick gold life die pit
plant tube bite pants small
underground black greenness gone warp
spring cloud shell wing lift
ghost browning night gap stairs
air fish bridge leap straightaway
fire spin axe fall finish


TEA

Eyeballs until milky bubbling wave
Spiced wet sun sugar thumb
Porcelain Ukraine melts heated eve
Ancient opaque petals stir temple
Black steam with heavy blink
Soothed pinky stains marriage peel
Waking garden hearth quiet pour
Tea-leaf enjoys museum whisper sip


IF NOT, WINTER

white knife winter’s home again
green blade red between lips
ardor-arbor again wet as knife
shoots green movement legs-in-ground come
bouqueted breath mist kneads moon
like-I-scent foxlog winter breathing hoarfrost
tendrils fungi frankly disputing sparrows
youth-blood sapling lusts sorrows spring


Eat coffee grounds running morning
downwind wine orchards grapes making
beans process tea leaves scatter
summer flowers foating dirty water
fallen babes hotchocolate system milk
crash liquid brakes warm throat
stove appliances cats meow food
sleepy timer Nyquil roses out


HERMIT THRUSH

Winter parks ground cup nests
Forests breed westward rare vagrants
Stock speckled dark low wings
Underwing reddish releases nature song
Well known high melody altered
Unassuming harmonic ethereal modern media
Descending spiral pitches uniquely simple
Delicate earth tailed feathered hermit


SIREN

Pearls of wisdom sea salt
green blue glass sand shimmering
wet sting bare feet black-and-brown
aimless below thirty hot disappearing
sails tossed-up stones cuts grins
angel-kisses your game gulls aquamarine
ocean push-and-pull drops chilled out
in cycles shore between toes


WIND TURBINES

Pinwheel wheat fields spinning desert
hotel room hills slow hands
discovery channel children turning sun
energy lights dry crisp miles
telephone wires tattoo distance golden
white semis rise and fall
old highway birds spinning dusk
Columbia Gorge asphalt passengers flicker.


CARTOONS

blue plum slits skin ink
clotted pulled clocks push death
tidy pray box shine we
kneel love spin wheeled wilt
eggs crumble each star reels
breaks brew dolls plotted temples
glum lots drew sticks mud
castes loamed castle knots giggle


Finally some individual lines I really admired:

bone saw reek red cross

stub cylinder opiate lounge chair

Large not purple fat water

treasure wild paper golden by

Lives green in room mountainside

roof yellow circle entrance tree

Spring-bent sprung-scent love

Split-infinity slips toes tips

Exercise: Zukofsky’s word-flowers

This one came in three parts — a reading assignment, a journal assignment, a writing assignment. The first two meant (along with an in-class introduction to metonymy) (in which I promised we’d use the word more broadly than it usually is) (all language I do think it is metonymic just as all of it’s metaphoric) as robust prep for the third. And I was right they would find it a hard exercise! Maybe the hardest of the quarter. It did ask them to set aside things they’d spent years learning to do well, e.g., staying on topic, making proper sentences.

The exercise (with some of their work to follow) —

1. Reading

A few pages from Louis Zukofsky’s late word-flower sequence 80 Flowers. Like that one and this one:

STARGLOW

Starglow dwarf china rose shrubthorn
lantern fashion-fare airing car-tire crushed
young’s churning old rambler’s flown
to sky can cut back
a crown transplanted patient of
drought sun’s gold firerimmed branched
greeting thyme’s autumn sprig head
happier winter sculpt white rose

MOUNTAIN LAUREL

Known color grown mountain laurel
broadleaf of acid earth margin
entire green winter years hoarfrost
mooned pod honesty open unvoiced
May-grown acute 5-petal calicoflower cluster
10-slender rods spring seed sway
trefoil birds throat Not thyme’s
spur-flower calico clusters laurelled well


2. Journal exercise

Metonymy is calling one thing to mind by naming another that’s habitually associated with it. For instance, the phrase “red wheel barrow” calls to mind a barnyard, and perhaps a pile of dirt, or hay bales. Pick two individual words in 80 Flowers and describe the metonymic resonance of each — the things it calls to mind by habitual association. NOTE: Some metonymic associations are personal and idiosyncratic — associat­ing a red wheelbarrow with Indians, say, because there’s a mural with the poem on Indian Street. Try to steer away from those associations, and towards associations you can trust would be shared by a typical reader.

(In a class soon after we looked at how context, a word’s neighbour words, draw some metonymic associations into the foreground, and let others recede into the background.)


3. Writing exercise

Each of Zukofsky’s poems consists of eight five-word lines. Instead of coming together into sentences, the words make a sort of kaleidoscopic image of the flower — fragmentary, unparaphraseable. In fact, you might say that the relationship between any two adjacent words is not syntactic but metonymic, interested not in making a statement, but in drawing out habitual associations. Write a poem that uses the same form: eight five-word lines, compound words as you please, words next to each other not to make sentence sense, but to make richly textured juxtapositions.

Student work: 101 word short story

I was struck by how well many of these came out. Their work with formal or procedural constraints in verse (anagram poem, phone number poem, found poem) seems to be paying off in their work in prose. Or that’s one way anyway of accounting for the leanness of these.

A lot of work to comment on tonight so I’ll post just a couple here. Two I find especially attentive to the shapes of their sentences. And while they are stories — they propose event — they also draw many of their flavours from the prose poem and the flash essay.


GREEN ON YELLOW

The yellow coat is missing a button — it has been for a while now. It just hangs on the rack over muddy rain boots.

Her father sews a new button back on but it doesn’t match the others. He pricks his finger; she plays doctor and dresses the wound in a pink Band-aid.

Arms slide into sleeves and she spins around in the coat like it’s brand new, save for the green button that breaks the yellow. (She picked the button out herself.)

Tugging on boots, she dashes into the rain. He’s in her footsteps, chasing her shadow.


MY NEW HOME

In the woods, around a creek, down a gravel road. I walk in to music, vibrations, occupied air.

I live with four boys. They throw apples at deer.

One is king of the trash fires. He stays up late with the trees.

One is a recluse gamer. With the deepest mind.

Another just shaved his beard and dreads. What a shame.

And then there is one that plays with his hair, while he smiles at me. Such a dangerous combination.

I think of how close I want to get, tension thickens the room. I spend my nights cold.

Exercise: 101 word short story

Read the short short story “Frontiers” by John Daniel, and write a story that has exactly 101 words — including the title. The story:

Frontiers

I’ve never been this far from home. I’ve never stayed up this late. I’m out west.

We rode the train. I slept upstairs. You put your clothes in a hammock. They have Dixie cups.

The world has mountains on the edge, where the sun sets, big black things, and that’s where we’re going.

I’m in the front seat with my mother. I’m five. We’re going to a dude ranch. There will be cowboys.

There’s a soft green glow on the dash board. My mother wears perfume.

I’m traveling. I’ve never been this old.

“The stars are ablaze,” I tell my mother.

Student work: Fall haiku

I propose to students, in this exercise, that haiku as form (three lines of 5 7 5 syllables) is less helpful to us than haiku as genre (quick bright trace of an instant of perception), and invite them to let their poems be absolutely simple.

They work gamely at it but often the temptation of complication maintains its hold. So when their haiku come in, I pick one by each student and pare it back to the bare bones of perception I sense in it. Not to edit their poems but to model a process.

Then I ask them to do likewise with the other four. Doubled up on a verb? Pick the one right one. Added texture with an adjective or an adverb? Try getting rid of it. Straining somewhere for effect? Lighten your touch. Be absolutely simple. Tap into everything a word is and does.

Here are some of the results, which I think are quite lovely, with their edits retained, when they made some.


          An apple
rots from rain,
          never picked.


          This field —
six feet high, dizzy
          dried and dead.


Gray fur coats
the carpet, as the cat
sheds away the summer.


BIRCH LEAF

black dirt speckles
cell blocks in knotted veins
an alligator‘s skin


          Wind eats silence
with whistle and whimper
          debris takes flight.


          Dew crowns blades of grass —
Regal autumn mornings rise,
          No one is awake.


One hour,
stowed away,
for what?


Crop burning fills
lungs with harvest air.
I am displaced.


Rain, rain,
go away —
or don’t.


In the old, blue, houses
          the moisture pleads,
“Can I borrow your coat?”


Even on the sea
leaves of fall
          find me


Black pavement
littered with gold,
trees shed their skin.


Downtown,
moon at its fullest,
leaves float.


          squirrel cracks open
an acorn on the floor
          Basho’s head rolls out


          Rich gravy runs
over white mountains
          on to burnt tongues.


A crow
from the rotting pumpkin
raises a cry.


          Golds litter wet ground,
The bronze moment of the year
          For which I was named.


The day the dead rise,
one night of freedom.
They want candy.


One pumpkin
half dead from of frost
earth eager for earth.


          Inside the bus —
under boots,
          the painful heat wrenches my skin.

          The bus stop —
wet leaves
          on toes.


scents of green
hollowed out skies
rain is falling


The leaves recorded
Eyes are video cameras
switched to on standby


The wind
pushes against the walls
house creaks


Raindrops onto
A red bridge over
Blue waves.


Gravity pulls
Leaves succumb
Trees bare all


Dried roots
Rotten Memories
Snaps of ginger


Uprising mushrooms
Puddles gathering round
Fall mornings


The crunch of leaves
gives way to the coming rain
and soak filled groans.

Crunching
leaves the rain
soaks.


Plants
block my view
of plants.

Exercise: Fall haiku

First . . .

Read the haiku by Bash­ō (here are some). Notice that

  • most have a seasonal reference — something that tells you what season it is;all are three lines, but most do not obey the Japanese formal stricture (5-7-5 syllable count) — haiku tend to work better in English if they’re shorter;
  • they rely on image rather than on statement — they’re vivid to the senses;
  • they often juxtapose two experiences or impressions — sort of the way Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro” does—though there need not be any metaphor;
  • they are completely simple.

. . . and next . . .

Write five fall haiku for next class. Your seasonal reference, a traditional part of the Japanese haiku, should be to fall. Be on guard for clichés!

Draw each haiku from the world you see (and hear, taste, touch, and smell) around you. Rely on image rather than statement. In other words, let the image speak for itself.

Don’t pile on effects. Be completely simple. In the spirit of which — no more than one adjective or one adverb in each.


. . .  and soon to come.

Some of their fall haiku, after a round of rounding them down.