Junk mail bricolage II

On the far side of an intense burst of poem making. For a few weeks there I could do no wrong. Now though most of what I do is a strained imitation of what came full-throatedly before. If I were one of my students I’d tell me not to worry — time to lie fallow a bit is all. Since I’m me though I say time for some bloggery.


Here’s a fancy word I learned recently. Pareidolia. The tendency to see Christ in burnt toast, the Virgin Mary in soot stains on a wall, a man or a rabbit in the seas (the “seas”) of the moon.

We’re all pareidoliasts. My proof:

O       O

______

If you don’t see a face there you can stop reading — we have nothing in common.

From the Greek, para, beside, near, from, against, contrary to, + eidolon, appearance, image, ultimately from eidos, form, shape — the word Plato uses for his damnable forms. To make art out of such para-forms, and that’s where I’m headed, is give the philosopher an itch he shan’t ever manage to scratch.


Pareidolia coheres most around the human face — we’re made to make it out, and early, so early. Infant to mother, eyes to eyes, our survival in spirit depends on it, as much as our survival as bodies depends on the sustenance of touch those eyes signify.

But it seems to me there are other forms we are prone to see with hardly any prompting — trees, say.

1. Terror of tall trees

This image is built out of junk mail bar codes (and the visual noise left behind by the strips of paper the codes are on when xeroxed). It’s the first one to show up in Dumuzi and is meant to sit right on the edge between “burnt toast” and “the ghost of Christ in burnt toast.”

The allusion is to Dumuzi’s dream, which he recounts to his sister, and the signs aren’t good.

Out of Sumer

A bit more about the handwriting sometime later. Working on a pretty/ugly hand that looks a bit like hurried wedged impressions in clay and a bit like clumsy medieval calligraphy and a bit like where my head was at when I make the strokes up to down and left to right.

K so fire

And run he does. Not that it gets he anywhere but deeper to wit

2. Tall trees (detail)

And that’s what I got of an evening. Tell me what you think if you have thoughts. All this is new to and for and from and of me. C.

Dougal Fraser, 1944 – 2014

Tomorrow is the memorial for a favourite teacher, Dougal Fraser, up in Vancouver, and I’m not going to make it, having been laid low with bronchitis and a slipped disk (yes one can cough that hard), so I’ll post here the remarks I’d thought to make there.


Mostly I want to say that Dougal helped instil in me a love of poetry that will last me my life long. And that’s a comfort I thank him for. And so I thought I’d read a few bits of poetry that came to mind when the invitation came to speak today.

One speaks to my sense of something dark or even tragic in his seeing. Because it’s hard being a person, it just is, and he knew it, and he wanted us to enter the world not ignorant of the fact.

This is from the Old English poem “The Seafarer.” The speaker is saying why he prefers a life of restless wandering at sea to one of easy complacency on land. And today I hear in his words a case for a life of restless wandering in mind.

The Old English poem, the bit I have in mind, looks like this

Seafarer

and sounds

a little like this

and translated goes a bit like this

Always, for each, one of three things
near the end has thrown all in doubt:
illness, old age, or rage of the sword
wrests life from all who must, fated
to die, go forth. The best word-trace
a man may leave is the praise of those
who live to speak afterward: how he
brought to pass, before he went on,
good works on earth against evil,
daring acts to confound the devil,
the children of men praise him after,
that praise resounds forever and ever
among angels, the glory of eternal life,
joy in the host of heaven. Those days
of majesty on earth have passed now
though, there are no kings or caesars
or goldgivers like there once were,
performing the most glorious deeds
and living in lordly renown. Fallen
that company and past those joys.


Dougal was also, as all who knew him know, a reservoir of joy, and irreverent unto high iconoclasm, by which I mean a great clown, a clown of greatness. So Shakespeare’s Falstaff comes too to mind — the one whose wit’s so sharp it might skewer not just kings but kingship. Here he is on the verge of undoing the whole code of manhood and warmongering.

How then? Can honour set to a leg? No. Or an arm? No. Or take away the grief of a wound? No. Honour hath no skill in surgery, then? No. What is honour? A word. What is in that word ‘honour’? What is that ‘honour’? Air. A trim reckoning. Who hath it? He that died o’Wednesday. Doth he feel it? No. Doth he hear it? No. ‘Tis insensible then? Yea, to the dead. But it will not live with the living? No. Why? Detraction will not suffer it. Therefore I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon. And so ends my catechism.

Scutcheon: decorative heraldic panel. That his agenda’s mostly selfish just sweetens the dish.


I didn’t come to either of these works in my studies with Dougal — only later. As a last taste, one bit from something we did read together in Brit Lit 12, whose magnificent rhythms made it through my thick intemperate skin somehow. This from 1 Corinthians 13:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Dougal, I don’t know who you are seeing face to face right now — maybe a heavenly host, maybe a diet of worms — but I hope you are having a good laugh together. You were brilliant and fickle and kind and mean in the best imaginable way and one of the most fully human beings it has been my good fortune to know.

Paperwhites, for Elise

An exercise I give my poetry students: “Write a flower. Don’t write about a flower. Just write a flower.” Heh heh. Evil sumbitch I am. But I think I might have done that this morning. I had vaguely in mind to cut some paperwhites (narcissus) I had growing indoors from bulbs when they first began to falter and bring them to the photocopier and see what they had by way of elegy in them.

So I did. This one’s I think the best to stand alone. If I keep thinking so it’ll end Dumuzi under a title something like “Paperwhites, for Elise.” Click on it once, twice for a blowup.

Image 16 - 8

Elise was always a bit scandalized (and skeptical and intrigued and mortified and drawn) by my drift in this direction (“Chris, you’re not going to abandon MUSIC, are you?!?!?”) and I offer her this elegy in the cheerful teasing spirit in which our overlapping divergent aesthetics met. I’ve rarely loved disagreeing, being disagreed with, so much.

(Really. That many ?s and !s and more. Of how many people can you truly expect to say that you’ll miss their e-mails acutely?)

Of the two dozen or so scans I made, quick quick, little thinking, the latter half come together as a kind of sequence I think, also elegy. And something about ones and twos and threes, and how when you’re close to yourself there are more and fewer than one there, just as when you’re close to a friend there are more and fewer than two there.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Junk mail bricolage

A few weeks ago I took Dumuzi — a manuscript I had thought pretty much done — back into the shop for an overhaul. Started incorporating handwritten bits, pages of journal writing, fragments of the myth stroked out on scraps torn from junk mail envelopes, and’ve been pretty pumped about where it seems to be headed.

And my feelings in the wake of Elise’s passing, which have surprised me in their intensity, though why should they really, I loved her as a true friend, far from derailing the work seem to have thrown themselves into it for fuel. (I showed her one of them, not posted here today, and true to generous form, she flared, though it was far outside her taste, amazement on my behalf.)

Here’s one. I should say, this is the part of the book that tells the story of Dumuzi’s consort’s, Inanna’s, journey to the underworld, i.e., death and metamorphosis. As she readies for her journey (as if anyone chose such a journey) she gathers her me, her powers, which are all the powers of culture, our being as civilized beings.

Her me (1) 3

And the other.

Her me (2) 3

You’ll see some anger in it. Okay so yeah I’m pissed. Some of it’s, I’m pissed at the world, it took my friend. Even, let’s say it, pissed at my friend, she got took. Shan’t pretend to be more admirable than I am. And, some of it’s anger at, well, junk mail, and a life among and as commodity, even as it’s also an effort to subvert commodification — oh Christ I’m sounding like a lit prof shut me the fuck up.


What am I doing here. I don’t quite know. Something about an elegy in motion. If the blog (I first typed glob) as form lets me do something my private journal nor a public statement don’t, as well, it’s something to do with catching the gist of the feel and the feel of the thought on the fly.

More with Elise

Stunned by how hard this is. Made it through a day of teaching and mostly held my shit together — even managed to tell the nice coffee lady why I was sad without breaking even one tear — but I’m stunned by how much this hurts. Have I hurt this much before in my adult life when no rejection, zero, was involved?

On some level I’m just baffled. Elise was here, now she’s gone — wha? I was JUST talking to her. I mean, it’s the art of fucking compost, people, you’d think he’d get it, decay, metamorphosis? Heraclitus, hello?

Thought I had in a calmer moment. Part of growing into mind is what they call object constancy. Mommy went out of the room but she still is. Toy rolled under the couch but it still is. Epistemology of peekaboo. Death points in the other direction. Is that part of the hard of it, that it cuts against the grain of the growth of thought, how our thought grows up?

Also feeling, I’ll share with you, intensely mixed feelings about blogging this. Elise is becoming a public commodity — becoming, as I think it was Auden said of Yeats, her admirers — and I resist it, she had a texture, a grain, a personhood inimitably her own, and I hate seeing it already being made something consumable.

The thought that I might contribute to that galls me. So does the thought that I might be pimping private feelings at a public wall. And yet. Even with all that I feel moved to say what she meant and means to me. Even if most of what I’m saying is mostly inchoate.

I’m growing a poem in some glass drops I’ll post when it’s ready. In the meantime this by Jean Valentine I wanted to read her when I saw her last. We didn’t get to it — we read a few poems by Bishop instead and it was lovely to me to live with her a spell in the touch of the light sharp seeing they shared — so here it is.

DOOR IN THE MOUNTAIN

Never ran this hard through the valley
never ate so many stars

I was carrying a dead deer
tied on to my neck and shoulders

deer legs hanging in front of me
heavy on my chest

People are not wanting
to let me in

Door in the mountain
let me in

Elise Partridge

My dear dear friend Elise Partridge passed away yesterday evening. She was a marvellous poet and an even more so person. Warm loving acute witty skeptical wry and humane. I am sort of reeling with it (though her death was known to be coming for a while) and don’t have much more to offer than that right now. Here though the first lines of the first poem (“Everglades”) of her first book (Chameleon Hours) —

Nothing fled when we walked up to it,
nor did we flinch

Not a bad note on which to open a life’s work. No fear and no frightening. God I’m going to miss her.