Small incidental find

The Anglo-Saxons got ear wax out same as the rest of us (sans Qtip)

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Warms my heart, the thought of it. Some warrior, in his downtime back in the ranks, helmet off, little finger reaming his ear out.

Don’t need Game of Thrones to make the medieval real. Just need Bosworth & Toller. (Though when the first of the new season airs I’m there.) Next is look up nosepicking. I mean, they must have, right? a word for it?

 

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Caught then not

Got caught in a post-breakup jag of self-hate for a bit there. No one loves me, no one will want me, why should I bother. You know, that drill. It can be pretty compelling; it can be a rock fast at your head; a rock sunk fast in your head.

For me – I’m noticing this more and more lately, and wonder if it’s a lumpy fruit of years of practice, zazen, psychotherapy, artmaking – it was powerful but also clear-edged, I couldn’t push it away but it couldn’t take me over, either. Like, I can’t repress much anymore, walls of the mind don’t work so well anymore. What arises, I gotta suffer. But as recompense, what arises doesn’t wash me away either.

Or is it just getting older? Anyway, it came with a migraine, there was that much wave to it, and as I lay on my bed in the afternoon, near naked with the sun on me and the cat beside me, window wide open and the wind in the dogwood outside, and all the little birds, and traffic sounds, a thought came, and it was, the world wants you here. And another thought came, and it was, the evidence is, you’re here.

That is all.

 

Summer teaching once more

Decided last week to dumpster my course design for Intro to CrW. It’s gotten old and tired. Was real fresh and alive when I started it (as an overhaul like this one it happens) cuz I made it day by day in relation to what I sensed from my students, who they were, what gave them life. And then, over the next few years, I institutionalized it, why, cuz I belong to an institution, and it presses on me, walls, ceiling, floor, in the form of hours demands infighting and discouragement. Well fuck that shit. I can’t ask my students to keep it fresh if I don’t. So I’m pitching the design and going back to the unknowing my own work comes from.

It’s scarier and it burns more brain glucose, which I want to hoard for my own creative work, but I think a mistake we make in the profession is to feel we’re in a zero sum game. In fact if I’m feeling on a live edge teaching, that enlivens my creative activity, too. As I said to a friend at a little fest held this weekend to mark the vertical publication of the first part of SCRO, the visual poetry courses I’ve taught have fed and informed my own work in visual poetry – have made, in a sense, my current work possible.

So here’s the bit of my syllabus where I explain there’s no plan for the class.

(Overheard at Menace as I write: “Are you really worried about rhizomes?”)


Course Outline

There is none. I’ve taught this course many times and it’s grown hidebound. So I’m doing the same thing with my course design as I tell a student to do with a story or poem or essay when they’re bored with it: throw out your structure, your idea of where it should go, and discover from the materials at hand what it’s supposed to be. It’s scary fun and way more real, as a way to write, a way to teach.

We’re going to wing it, figuring out, class by class, what we’ll do during our time together, and what your assignments are for the next class. I’ll be making the decisions at first, but I expect that, as we come together as a crew, you’ll collaborate in the calls we make. Rest assured, we won’t be structureless; we’ll just discover as we go the structure natural to our being-together. And, by the end of our six weeks, you’ll have met and grappled with most or all of these creative writing constructs:

General

showing and telling
concrete significant details
triggering and generated subjects (Hugo)
diction and etymology
“the writer’s antennae”
using found material
revision and editing

Poetry

sounds
the poetic line
poetry and Poetry
imagery
simile and metaphor
metonymy
making sense less

Fiction

dialogue
characterization
point of view
story structure (inverted checkmark)
text and subtext (Hemingway’s “iceberg”)

Creative Nonfiction

scene and exposition
truth and truthiness
questions of ethics
nonfiction forms

That’s for the worrypants. May send ’em, first day, to Cage’s guidelines:

cagerulesteachersstudents

It’s all just organic form in pedagogy, not so scary.

The Wolf

What I been working on. With a deadline pushing. Speaks tonight to my condition too, a bit lone a bit ferocious. So a bite from Unlikeness Is Us, fourteen carried o’er from the Old English, to come from Gaspereau fall 2017.


THE WOLF

As if one had made the people an offering.
They will receive him if he comes in violence.
      Unlikeness is us.
The wolf is on an island. I am on another.
Mine is secured and surrounded by marsh.
The men on that island are glad at war—
they’ll receive him if he comes in violence.
      Unlikeness is us.
I have borne a wolf on thought’s pathways.
Then it was rainy weather and I sat crying.
When the war-swift one took me in arms,
the joy he gave me, it was that much pain.
Wolf—my Wolf—thoughts of you
sicken me. How seldom you come
makes me anxious, not my hunger.
Listen, overseer, to our miserable whelp
     wolf bears to woods.
Easy to make two what was never one;
     our song together.


THE WOLF

Lē­odum is mīnum          swylce him mon lāc° gife.
Willað hȳ hine āþecgan°          gif hē on þrēat cymeð.
      Ungelīc is ūs.°
Wulf is on īege,          ic on ōþerre.
Faest is þæt ēglond,          fenne biworpen.                                   (5)
Sindon wælrēowe          weras þǣr on ige;
willað hȳ hine āþecgan           gif hē on þrēat cymeð.
      Ungelīce is us.
Wulfes ic mīnes wīdlāstum          w­ēnum dogode°.
Þonne hit wæs rēnig weder          ond ic reotugu sæt.              (10)
Þonne mec se beaducāfa          bōgum bilegde,
wæs mē wyn tō þon,           wæs mē hwæþre ēac lāð.
Wulf, min Wulf,           wēna mē þīne
sēoce gedydon,           þīne seldcymas,
murnende mōd,           nāles metelīste.                                          (15)
Gehyrest þu, ead wacer°,           uncerne earmne hwelp
      bireð wulf tō wuda.°
Þæt mon ēaþe tōslīteð          þætte nǣfre gesomnad wæs,°
      uncer° giedd geador.


COMMENTARY

More commonly “Wulf and Eadwacer.” A woman speaks. She’s pregnant and her people are hostile to the father of the child. Not much else is settled about the poem. Wulf may be a raider from another clan; is their encounter a rape, as has often been thought? That makes her longing for him awfully hard to account for. Something more mutual then. Still though the poem is riven with her ambivalence – she wants him to come, and wants him not to come, and the doubleness in her thought sickens her.

Her ambivalence streaks the poem with ambiguities. A refrain, Ungelīc is ūs, as odd in composition and placement as Stein’s “The difference is spreading.” A female speaker whose relation to the masculine warrior ethos is intimate but aslant and has, for us, only a few interpretive helpmates in the Anglo-Saxon corpus (primarily “Her Case”). Verbs that appear nowhere else in the literature and must be defined in a context as nearly unprecedented as they are. A scribal practice of leaving names uncapitalized that makes it difficult to discern person from epithet from animal. When is wulf a wolf and when is it her Wulf? An oral tradition, not long left behind, in which the utterance “wulf” could function without trouble as both. The scribe, following his lowercase practice, could preserve this ambiguity, but a modern editor has to decide.

I take ead wacer as an epithet, not a name, which plucks out the third party usually thought to be involved – a husband cuckolded by the raider Wulf. That’s extra, a late entry throwing off a poem exquisitely balanced dramatically. Her people and her own mind are opponent enough. Other readers have doubted this third party too: one has, for instance, read the compound as an epithet for Wulf himself, “joy guardian.”

In this translation, which is literally anachronistic, ead wacer is the one who gehyreþ the spoken poem, the wacer of the written poem, the listener, the reader. Not that we’re her imprisoner exactly – but if we weren’t here, she wouldn’t be, either. She’s been hurt into a consciousness so sharp it tears the fabric that gives it voice. Tears the air or page that binds her to, as it divides her from, her first and last interlocutor, us.


NOTES

  1. lāc. Offering or gift, especially in a ritual sense. A sacrifice; in some contexts a message.
  1. āþecgan. The verb appears to mean “receive” in the sense of food, with a suggestion of killing, destruction, consumption.
  1. ungelīc is ūs. Literally, “(it) is different (with) us” or “(it) is different (between) us.” Disagreement whether the difference is between the speaker and Wulf, or between speaker-and-Wulf and the speaker’s people, or both.
  1. dogode. Possibly the past tense of an otherwise unrecorded dogian, meaning something like “to suffer” or “to follow,” maybe here in imagination (Marsden). Some amend to hogode, past tense of hogian, “to consider, to dwell upon” (Muir). My translation draws from both senses.
  1. ead wacer. Most take this as proper name, that of the speaker’s husband. Ead, “riches, prosperity, joy, property.” Wacher, “watcher.” A possessive spouse and enemy to Wulf. However, because the scribe does not use capital letters to distinguish names, the compound can also be taken as an epithet; one reader reads the compound as an epithet for Wulf himself: “joy guardian” (Marsden). I’ve translated something I hear near the core of the phrase, a sense of being thronged by eyes all round. Note that she calls on the watcher not to see but to hear. She will rip him if she can out of his crowning sense function.
  1. bireð wulf tō wuda. The verb, “bears,” may be in either the present or the future tense. Is she crying wolf here or naming her Wolf? Which is it carries, or will, her newborn whelp to the woods and to what end?
  1. Þæt mon ēaþe tōslīteð | þætte nǣfre gesomnad wæs. Literally, “The man easily tears apart what was never joined.” The line doesn’t alliterate. Muir: “[It] has the ring of a gnomic utterance, and may well be an Anglo-Saxon rendering of the biblical ‘Quod ergo Deus coniunxit, homo non separet’ [Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate] (Matt. 19:6), which might account for its not following an accepted alliterative pattern.”
  1. uncer. First-person dual genitive – “of us two.” Ours as in yours and mine.

Image atop, a belt buckle recovered from Sutton Hoo burial site. Shining instance of orþoncbendum, inborn shaping, cunning clasping, what I am more and the more finding in these poems. Sneaky snakework of this mind.

“How will this project contribute to your artistic development? advance artistic practice?”

From, ho hum, another grant application.


I’m certainly entering new terrain as an artist with SCRO. In earlier projects I’ve experimented with visual poetry and with handwriting, and worked on the threshold of legibility, but I’ve always been bound to the page, 8.5 x 11, and to the still image. The only sound I’ve brought to bear has been my own reading voice occasionally. In SCRO, projecting images on a surface, I work with the relation between embodiment (the movements that make the writing and the rocking that creates the distortion) and disembodiment (so many photons on a wall). Putting those images in motion, I have a whole new language in which to think and feel through time and change. Conjoining images with sounds, scriptural marks with audio tracks of household noise, I can create juxtapositions that are not narrative or expository but lyrical, syncretic, and happenstance. The relation of image to sound is a bit like the relation between the singing voice and the played instrument that was once the mainstay of lyric poetry: complementary and complicating. Except here the singing voice is visual, and maybe a bit ’pataphysical, a nonce botanic script.

SCRO is for me a lyric poem. If it advances artistic practice, it does so by testing the range of what’s possible or admissible in the lyric. It goes to the edge of illegibility, then pulls back a step, so its words get to mean by fits and starts – what, it asks, is the feeling tone of that? It takes chance operations, grown cold in the hands of some conceptual poets, and brings them to bear on emotionally hot material – family trauma, the degradations of old age. Can it be a conceptual poem even if (pace Goldsmith) it demands to be read? Can it be a lyric poem even when there’s really no “reading” it? The poem has no coherent “I” to hold it together; he dissolved early in the process of distorting the memoir. Can the 16:9 frame in which nameless shapes come and go do the work of an “I” – be attention, be sentience? If so, is that the acme of lyric experience, or its abolition? I don’t have answers to these questions, just instincts and biases, but faithful attention to SCRO might raise them in some viewers.

Broke stick

I miss my lady. Got my coffee, books piled round me, sun on me through the big window as I work, some beautiful songbird being ceaseless on the patio, it’s all good. And I miss my lady. And it’s still all good. And still I miss her.

Painting of us, hers, angel as broke stick.

 

On being drawn in

Attended this evening, with two dear friends, the opening of the Bellingham National 2017 exhibit at the Whatcom Museum. An excerpt from my video poem SCRO is in a show on the theme of “Drawing Practice.” The curator, Catharina Manchanda of the Seattle Art Museum, has gone past the usual sense of drawing – an implement marking a markable surface – to investigate all the senses of the verb. What’s it to be drawn on? to be drawn to? to be drawn out? to be drawn into?

There are drawings there in the usual sense. Also torn canvases, their matter physically drawn out.

Kirk Yamahira. Untitled (stretched); 2017. Acrylic, pencil, unweaved, deconstructed on canvas.

And sheets of paper drawn across abrasive surfaces. And one video I loved drawing the lens over road lines at traffic speed. Another video watched light draw on water it appeared raw crude had blotched.

What all my favourites (here’s another

Jenna Lynch. Traveling Within, Feeling Through, Dreaming Beyond; The Lines. Watercolor on paper.

) had in common was a quality of absorption. I was drawn in. There was a mind there, its evidence made it over to my mind, and drew it in closer.

My own piece was caringly placed, in a nook of its own, with – am I imagining this? – a bench to sit on and watch.

I feel a bit of an imposter in a gallery, identify as a poet not a video artist, but I guess I do because it suits me to. “Oh I just stumbled into this by accident, I don’t really know what I’m doing …”

Gimme a break. No one knows what they’re doing. It’s no excuse.

p 7 detail

Seven one-minute vids are up. Check ’em out if you’re in town. And, fourteen still to make, so let me know what you think, if you feel so moved.

Link to the exhibition, and the pieces by Yamahira and Lynch, here.