DIY rhizome

Planted asparagus crowns today – kraken jellyfish sprawls – and guess what, they’re rhizomes. In which honour, instead of the grading I meant to, am posting the project I spent the afternoon hatching for my poetry students.


For your final project, instead of a plain old boring ordinary portfolio, you’re going to construct a rhizome of your ownsome. I’ll set some parameters, and then we can work out together, one-on-one, the form each of your rhizomes takes. Please enter this project in the spirit of cheerful exploration you’ve been cultivating (lovely to see) all quarter.

As we discussed, your rhizome needs (1) to do self-reflection; (2) to include finished poetry of your own; (3) to engage with at least one of the poetry texts and one of the poetics texts we’ve read; and (4) to have a non-textual dimension. My hope’s that these parameters will foster rhizome values of heterogeneity, interconnection, polyphony. And I invite but won’t require you (5) to engage with Deleuze and Guattari’s essay “Introduction: Rhizome” itself.


(1) Self-reflection

You’ve read others on their poetics – what about your poetics? Hey what are your poetics? How have your poetics changed over the last ten weeks? What aspects of the course, other courses, your daily round, have affected your poetics? (Williams learns his poetics from an old man with a watch chain; Levertov from a vase of tulips; Cage from street noise and the endlessness of Kansas.) Is there a given word, image, line or line break in one of your poems where your poetics come clear to you? Write about it, talk about it, blog about it, make a sound poem à la Taggart out of it. You’re doing self-reflection if you’re thinking explicitly and incisively about your own work and practice.

(2) Finished poetry

This is the only component of the rhizome I can realistically quantify. There should be five to eight finished poems. (Towards the lower end if other requirements are met outside the poems. Towards the higher end if they’re met within.) Don’t include drafts unless drafts are part of your rhizome-vision (a process-study rhizome…?). Do consider all the feedback you’ve received, everything you’ve learned about poetic inspiration and poetic craft, and your own writerly intuitions, as you revise your work, a little or a lot.

(3) Engagement with poetry and poetics texts

Your rhizome needs to meet one of the poetry texts we’ve read, head-on, and one of the poetics texts, head on. (Spring and All can count as either, but you need to grapple with a second text as well.) Your meeting can be analytical or creative or both. Endless possibilities! Analytical: Say your rhizome’s a blog. You could write a post about your changing understanding of Williams’s line and how it has changed your own line. Creative: Say your rhizome’s a series of manipulations of found texts. You could do an asemic translation of Cage’s “Lecture on Nothing” following an algorithm derived from the square root sequence he uses to structure it.[1]

Whether your work here is creative or analytical, it should be thoughtful and substantive, emerging, in a way that’s clear to an outside reader (me), from a sustained engagement with the text at hand. Quote, converse, argue; analyze, imitate, parody; cut up, write through, collage.

(4) A non-textual dimension

Your rhizome should have a significant non-textual aspect, component, or dimension. It could be one part of the rhizome – a visual poem, in among other textual poems. Or it could be an aspect of the whole – your rhizome presents as hypertext, say, or a mobile for above the crib of your unborn child, or a set of performance poems, or nested boxes you’ve glued up out of grocery store bags and inscribed with your poems in fake blood from the dollar store. Why? Because rhizome.

(5) “Introduction: Rhizome”

Finally, and optionally, I encourage you to make contact with Deleuze and Guattari’s essay, source of this nuttiness. It’s posted on Canvas, along with key excerpts, some of which we’ve discussed. Seems to me even snippets, little phrases, could turn, open, frame, or maybe defenestrate a poem of yours. Take one and build it into a poem it has nothing to do with – see if it opens up things. A love poem with “Don’t bring out the General in you!” as epigraph? An elegy with “Don’t sow, grow offshoots!” as last line? Or, just put your finger down on a page at random, and whatever phrase you land on, write a poem with that as the title. Or, if you’re truly brave, read the essay for real, see if any of it sheds light on the work you’ve done, are doing, have yet to do.


How it comes together

There’s a safe way to do this. A poetry portfolio that includes a visual poem and a self-assess­ment in which you situate your work in relation to the poet who’s had the most effect on you this quarter, and the poetics essay you’ve found most provocative, illuminating, or unsettling.

I hope though you’ll bring out the rhizome in you more so. Consider the interconnecting divergent heterogeneous multimedia genre-bending border-crashing ways you might do this thing. A few we came up with last week: A chapbook. A conspiracy board. A video mashup. A blog. A purse. A potted plant. Do others come to mind?

And consider as you work: what makes the art object whole? We’re well beyond the well-wrought urn here, the neat and tidy closure of the sonnet. Think about all the accounts of wholeness we’ve encountered: the seeming sprawl of Spring and All; the forest network of Ghandl’s stories; Cage’s tightly structured yet breezy improvisatory lecture; Olson’s and Hejinian’s divergent senses of open field and open form.

And no, not one of them means just any old mess passes muster, sorry. (A stake in the heart of Reader Response Theory! Die! It’s not that you’re not right, but you stunt young minds!) What, for Ghandl, Lorca, Cage, Valentine, Taggart, is the difference between whole and not whole? What is the difference for you? Hey, sounds like a question of poetics … maybe one to reflect on …


Finally, practicalities

Our last workshop round will be a rhizome workshop. Bring, for it, whatever will be most helpful to you to discuss – a poem to be part of your rhizome, or a paragraph describing your rhizome scheme, or a link to a blog post or video essay. If the object’s unique and irreproducible – a paper mâché elephant assembled of discarded drafts – bring pictures to pass round, and on the day you’re to be discussed, the object itself, if you can.

Please take note of your date in the schedule. We’re slightly behind, but please, just the same, bring your work on the day your work is due. Allows us max flex. As said, we’ll take care of the backlog at a supplemental meeting, Monday March 14, 5pm at Rudy’s Pizza. Because mushroom.

[1] WTF? See Beaulieu, Flatland. This, BTW, is what Bedient is talking about.

Spring and All encore

Today planted, from Cloud Mountain Farm, a frost peach, settler apple, self-fertile plum. Here’s in which spirit – a recovered letter writ to my old teacher on WCW’s Spring and All. Maybe the most important text to me ever. Sprawly and incomprehensible though it yeah be.


Dear Don,

First, do no harm. The thing itself suffices. Nothing one says or does should injure it

patches of standing water
the scattering of small trees

Spring and All as articulated innocence. Second, to cleanse perception and return to innocence, the spring of the mind, essential simplicity –

One by one objects are defined –
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

– sharp & rough acts of imagination may be called for, the rending & renewal of the earth even –

The imagination, intoxicated by prohibitions, rises to drunken heights to destroy the world. Let it rage, let it kill…. None to remain; nothing but the lower vertebrates, the molluscs, insects and plants. Then at last will the world be made anew.

Third, against, or alongside, Pound’s “day by day make it new,” the thought that moment by moment it is new –

But the thing he never knows and never dares to know is what he is at the exact moment that he is. And this moment is the only thing in which I am at all interested …

In fact now, for the first time, everything IS new.

It was, is, always new, & now at long last perception, cleansed by the divine flood imagination has unstoppered, catches up with reality –

It is spring. That is to say, it is approaching THE BEGINNING.

Spring and all. Spring in all. Fourth, the poem is not about reality, it is of reality. This might seem a poem about a painting of a pot of flowers –

red where in whorls
petal lays its glow upon petal
round flamegreen throats

– but it’s not actually about anything, it just is … being, disclosed, its unconcealedness. (Right, that is to say, under your nose.)

Fifth, being real, being of what is real, it’s natural, one of the forms of nature –

The work will be in the realm of the imagination as plain as the sky is to a fisherman – A very clouded sentence. The word must be put down for itself, not as a symbol of nature but a part, cognizant of the whole – aware – civilized.

– linking Williams to Coleridge:

it shapes as it develops itself from within, and the fullness of its development is one and the same with the perfection of its outward form.

Organic form. The poem may take the shape of

the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines –

or that of a crowd

moved uniformly
by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them –

but it is organic. (And is not always pretty. Pretty is the road to a beautiful illusion, i.e., a divorce from experience. Whatever it is, rose petal, jaundiced eyeball, let it be unvarnished.) As long as it sees clearly and mimics naught and has no truck with the representational delusion, it is, of necessity, organic. Which brings to mind Robert Bringhurst, whose book The Tree of Meaning I do mean to bring you –

Trees grow in and on the earth. Where do stories grow? They grow in and on storytelling creatures. Stories are epiphytes: organisms that grow on other organisms, in much the same way staghorn ferns and tree-dwelling lichens … grow on trees.

I have a hunch that from a lichen’s point of view, the basic function of a tree is to provide a habitat for lichens. I have a hunch that from a story’s point of view, the function of storytelling creatures – humans for example – is to provide a habitat for stories. I think the stories might be right. That’s what you and I are really for: to make it possible for certain kinds of stories to exist.

– or Weil, whom he quotes:

Il leur appartient de témoigner à la manière d’un pommier en fleurs, à la manière des étoiles.

Sixth, more continuity with Coleridge, his sense of the imagination as what

reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities: of sameness, with difference; of the general, with the concrete; the idea, with the image; the individual, with the representative; the sense of novelty and freshness, with old and familiar objects (etc.)


You see I was doing rhizome mind here right?


For Williams too imagination takes disparate parts of experience (“the sight of the sky through a dusty window, birds and clouds and bits of paper flying through the sky, the sound of music from his radio, feelings of anger and love and amusement roused by a letter just received” – Levertov) and joins them into wholes that reveal – what? – that experience was whole to begin with, a small quibbling mind made it seem broken & partial. Poem VIII seems a conscious illustration of just how many & disparate the elements are that can be united: a rhombus of sunlight on a wood floor, song, tires, anemones, Persephone spirited away, an industrial magnate (J. Pluto Morgan), how much & how many it is impossible

to say, impossible
to underestimate –
wind, earthquakes in

Manchuria, a
partridge
from dry leaves

Each stanza here, each plaque of mind-light, seems a place from which one can move in any and all directions. The freedom of the imagination detoxed of prohibition.

This is not “fit” but a unification of experience

The oneness of experience is the oneness of a rose with the space that surrounds it

The fragility of the flower
unbruised
penetrates space

nor does it bruise space

each petal ends in
an edge, the double facet
cementing the grooved

columns of air –

It ends, is edged. Also, pervades, is edgeless. It is at the edge where petal meets air that love moves and lives. Which, seventh, is why “The Red Wheelbarrow” is about its prepositions – about, that is, stationing, edges, points of contact –

So much depends
upon                                                    (and this sort of stationing is on a par with

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain                               this sort
water

beside the white                               and this)
chickens

Finally, given all this, how then does one proceed? One moment

a boy of eight who was
looking at the middle of

the man’s belly
at a watchchain –

and then the next

I saw a girl with one leg
over the rail of a balcony

of all of which it is unseemly to speak

It is the presence of a

&

The imagination is a –

Love,
Chris

Cage on teacher, student

Found this on a blog that linked to this one and looks kindred but clearer headed. John Cage on being a teacher being a student.

cagerulesteachersstudents

Gonna direct my students to this, and this blog, because honest to G-d, sometimes I think they think I’m making this shit up all on my lonesome.

P.S. No, my students, rule 6 does not sound like Yoda. Yoda sounds like rule 6. Am I sounding testy? It’s that point in the quarter. Nothing is a mistake. Try (note to self) trusting it awhile.

Student work: Poems with no metaphors in ’em

The exercise: Compose a short poem with no metaphor or simile in it.

Not that there’s anything wrong with metaphor. Some of my best friends are metaphors. But we in the West are metaphor junkies, thank you Aristotle (“to be a master of metaphor is the greatest thing by far, a sign of genius”). So it’s good now and then to go dry. What can you do minus that junk? How do you make a poem work without yer fix?

Hello, syntax and line. Hello, metonymy. Hello, objectivist mode, basically, though I save that for elsewhile. And coinages, hello too! Language is full of forces we are totally out of control of and yet surf fluently in our wake and sleep with astonished ease. Tweak them just a bit and you draw them into awareness and that’s poetry. (See what went on there with wake, e.g.? Didn’t intend it, just saw it and commented latterly, and that’s prose.)

Enough preamble, on to some student work.


Here’s one by Steve Lemma – excuse me, that’s “Goldenrod Steve” – that’s quite careful, in a seemingly careless way, with the composition, the putting-in-places, of its syntax – fragments and all. It also has an admirably various line, not just its length, also how little or much torque it asserts upon the syntax of the thought passing through.  

Subtle
fading
ink running down the wrist.

Specifically!

Subtle fading
blues.

Darker than
the
car,

Lighter

than
your irreparable attitude.

Welcome to this side of the world,
kid.

You may n
ever make it back.

The under
belly is hungry
almost
as much as me.

I think a couple of the moves here, re: the line, are stretches, but that’s less important to me, as teacher, than that he’s messing around, trying stuff out. (BTW, I’m counting the comparisons as not similes, since they compare extant objects in the poem’s field, to others the same.)


First aside. “Go dry.” Is that metaphor or metonym? How about “that junk”?


Another one, by Rob Jones – turns out no one wants to be anonymous, why was I doing that, don’t remember, probably had a good reason that’ll come back to bite me – short and sweet –

FREQUENCIES

That ringing,
A sound
I will never hear again.

The frequencies

Heard less
And less frequently,
As my eardrums become less taut.

My proposal to Rob was, cut the last line. With that line the poem is nailed to its occasion. Without it, the occasion’s forgot, and the language can widen beyond whatever thought happened to incite it. (This is an curious case of what Richard Hugo called the “triggering subject” showing up in the last line. But one feels it was held in reserve all the poem long – I’m suggesting, hold it in reserve even longer, till the poem is fine without it.)


Second aside. Compose, not write, because as I did say later, they mighta done a visual poem, and solved their problem right there. I give maddeningly open exercises. But in them every word does matter: “embody spring” means embody spring; “myth consciousness” means myth consciousness. Why so uptight? In the poem, too, every word matters, otherwise no word does, in which case, stop.


Here’s another, by Alex Hastings, who has a very Creeleyan ear for speech under pressure – pressure of strong feeling dimly understood (TOTAL INSIGHT MOMENT: Creeley was an avatar of Shakespeare), and she’s been learning how to get, not just the dimness, also the understanding and the strength, onto the page, by way of line, syntax, the tortured dance of them.

Legs
crossed over
cheap carpet, we
blink at our
each tired
faces and pick
another
fight.

Change the slightest thing here and you wreck it. For instance, fix the syntax, “each other’s tired / faces” – wrecked. The contortion of the syntax there recalls me to how my powers of language flee me when I’m in a fight with someone I love and who says they love me but isn’t seeming like that. I mean, oh my students, you can create great storms of emotion in a poem without ever naming an emotion. Also, FYI, without many adjectives – “cheap,” “tired” are the only here.


Third aside. Since I went to Urban Dictionary (“elsewhile”) – the poetry of that. Our natural unconscious and dionysiac poetic fluency. And let’s aleatorize the fuck out of it. My pasketti is boiling so let’s be quick also. Random number generator to choose letter then entry. Let’s say thrice and see what comes.

 “Zombie company.”

1. A technically bankrupt company that is kept alive with large infusions of government money for the sake of “stability” in the U.S. financial system. 2. A large financial company with negative net worth that continues to operate, despite having no clear path to solvency. 3. The UnDead of Wall Street.

“rrrrrrrrrrs”

what stoner says when mad

stoner 1: rrrrrrrs, i need money to buy weed, but i smoke weed because i have money.

preppie boy 1: wait…..what?

gpoyefd

Gratuitous Picture Of Yourself Every Fucking Day

I see a picture of someone who is asleep in class, “GPOYEFD”

So I was real worried, around word two, how I was going to get a poem out of this, but GPOYEFD saved the day. Does this not come together as an incisive remark upon the tedium a certain once awesome post-apocalyptic fantasia has come to?

AMC ODE

Zombie? Company.
Rrrrrrrs.
Gratuitous picture of yourself,
every fucking day.

I go back and forth on the comma. Imagine it spoken by a career extra.


Coupla more. This by Lauren Edison, who like Alex is working in a short line, not quite as enjambed, and not quite as spare of sense data, but headed in that dir.

DEPRESSION

I wake
to a preset tune
and white plaster walls.
Barren, save for shadows.
I blink. Rollover.
My screen says 7:00
January 18. Monday.

This wall, too, is barren.

Lauren’s syntaxes are intact, untorqued – she looks for what can be got through denotation and lineation within the rules of normative syntax, inhabited austerely. I am on her case about titles.


And one more, from Haley Kenville, which I suddenly now realize is her myth consciousness poem, that I was looking for in the exercise she submitted for that assignment, and was kinda hard on. (I’ll do a post on that ex., I hope.) Hear myth mind in that third bullet point?

In Order;

• Call ahead,
they’ll want to know you’ll be early
• Roll in late with hair
still wet from shower.
• Saturate trees with buds, so
they are prepped for your petal
firework finale
• Reign. Relax.
They have been waiting for your ascension

Not sure what she’s doing there with punc but that last line rocks my world. Because of the indefiniteness of the “you” – possible because the poem has let go of its inciting occasion – it points to me and to you, and anything green in anyone, even as it also calls to the Persephone-figure (as I read her) of the poem’s surface levels.


Last aside. Realizing once more how much of my teaching style comes from my Zen training. Don’t feed the ego – affirm the person. Cultivate intuition, spontaneity, not-knowing. Nourish faith in their inborn abilities, empathy, insight. And, be always poking, wherever they’re at rest, unsettle them.

And, to that last, I am always causing problems – as if my students didn’t have enough problems already? One asks me a question, and instead of answering him, I respond with a question. Then, as he’s working towards an answer, I interrupt him with another question. I must be maddening.

The intent’s generous – how can I in this moment help you further your inquiry – but I’m a limited human being. Right this moment anyway I’m feeling my limits. Often the generous is mixed up with stress or my own shit or simple fatigue or I’ve got a tummyache. I’m not often the Platonic ideal of Socrates the method seems to want.

Dude. Zen, Plato, you should ride a motorcycle, and then maybe write a book.

What am I here to say. I’m grasping towards a place where fucking it up somewhat is still okay. For them or for me. Hurting other people heedlessly is not okay – don’t do that in my classroom. You’ll hurt other people, I have, you will, but not heedlessly, please. Also, don’t be lazy – this is the Zen training coming in – treat this as the matter of life and death it is (OMG did I write that, do I believe it, I do). Other than that, be free.

And with that, my dream syllabus, any course

Don’t hurt anyone heedlessly.
Don’t be lazy.
Treat it as a matter of life and death.
Other than, in that, be free.

this post must come to an end. Oh and here’s Bodhidharma for ya.


bodhidharma2a

Metamorphosis (bbeepp)

Long teaching day, could go on, won’t. Here’s a description of an upcoming course, hope it makes you laugh.


ENG 334: Texts of North America and Europe: Metamorphosis

Change happens. Now, there’s a vulgar way to say that, begins in S and ends in T and says “hello” in the middle. And that about sums it up. Change happens, and we don’t always like it, and so we call it after a process that humiliates us, even as change meets us anyway with an ahem-eating grin.

All that’s to say, Euro-American culture has felt sort of averse, much of the time, to the facts of metamorphosis, and has proposed various stays against it. Platonic Forms. An Eternal Immutable Deity. Your Immortal Soul. Important Things In Capital Letters. But an equally complex literary tradition, the indigenous American one that predates the Euro-American on this soil and now lives uneasily intertwined with it, offers responses to transience, loss, mortality, that at least feel different, and may mean differently, too.

Instead of the hero Aeneas, the trickster Raven. Instead of immortal gods, spirit beings learning to spit mussels from a longhouse roof. Instead of a Heaven incalculably distant, a mythworld alive in your own speech, your own dreaming.

Ah but these binaries are too easy. The West, too, has always been embracing change, the mercurial, even in the middle of texts honouring a changeless God or King or State or whatever. We’re going to read us some of those. Meanwhile the texts of indigenous America express a wish (elegiac) that some changes not ever have happened, and an intention (political) that changes to come go one way not another. And we’re going to read us some of those, too.

Texts of Europe: Cave paintings of Lascaux, Chauvet. Fragments of Herakleitos, Parmenides, Empedokles. Plato’s cave parable. Ovid, from Metamorphoses. Dante, from Inferno. The Bible, Revelation. Shakespeare, The Tempest. bpNichol, from The Martyrology.

Texts of North America: Newspaper Rock. Ghandl, Nine Visits to the Mythworld. Rothenberg, from Technicians of the Sacred. okpik, Corpse Whale. Drunken Boat 15, “Native American Women Poets.” Abel, The Place of Scraps.

bpNichol liked to alter words like this. Storm becomes St. Orm. Strap, St. Rap. Stranglehold, St. Ranglehold. What happens to permanence, and hell to sainthood, when a period can change meaning underfoot, like that?