Death’s a dog w/ dragonbreath

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.

90V SI 5
Click on me & sibs for bigs.

Source text for this one, you’ve seen before (along w/ a short account of how these images get made):

 5.

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):

90V SI 6

You’ve seen that one before too, as well as this one:

90V SI 7

Haven’t posted this one yet tho –

90V SI 8

– for whom the source text is:

8.

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 –

90V SI 9

Source text for this one is:

9.

A man his goods, king in castle,
they both sell you crap.
                                                Summer comes,
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.

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.

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.

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.

Teaching phil (expandated)

Go figure. Work on another teaching statement for another job app snagged my active engaged interest. Results here. Wary be, some loftiness ahead. And still enamoured of the pilcrow.


The more I write and teach the less I know. In my writing, most of a poem now is found in the moment at hand, in what senses, breath, and mind, each attuned to each, have to say. In that same spirit of unknowing, though, I am less prone than I was, as a young teacher, to think my process a template for my students. More and more they teach me how to teach them. I teach revision as re-vision, deep new seeing. Some students see newly by reworking one body of words: with each pass they come closer to what they meant, or might mean anew. For others, revision means turning the page; rework­ing one piece, they worry it to death. So I have students try it both ways and work with them as they come to a sense of their own practices. My workshops emphasize non-evaluative feedback. I find peer comments are more perceptive, and student authors more receptive to them, when praise and advice are set mostly aside. This ap­proach has a downside—the ego wants to be fed and may complain when it’s not—but I find most students come to prefer it before long. I emphasize the “writ­er’s antennae”—the capacity for close attention to the texture of your moment-to-moment experience of your own writing. I find faithful attention to those tingles of excitement, those pulses of boredom, guides composition and revision more reliably than any creative writing precept or external feedback. And I believe everyone has that capacity, though it’s often obscured by self-doubt or anxiety. A lot of teaching creative writing is showing how to wipe mud off a jewel. All the methods I use in the classroom—peer critique, small group work, class discussion, wacky writing prompts—are meant to foster that process of clarification. Many also ask students to work with differences of background and temperament they may have with their peers. For instance, I often put students in pairs to restore line breaks to a poem I’ve set as a para­graph. One is to make sure the line breaks are expressive, the other that the line itself has integrity. Each has to contact her felt sense of the poem’s language, and to feel through how new lineations will create new patterns of energy. And each has, as she articulates her perceptions, to accommodate the perhaps quite different values and priorities of her partner. In this way, the sort of difference a line break is, brushes against the sort of difference another person is. The values I’ve set out here, self-aware­ness, self-inquiry, empathy across differences, have meaning beyond the creative writing classroom. They are, to my mind, crucial to any humanistic education, and have something real to offer the business major, the nurse in training, the nascent physicist. And creative writing has ways of eliciting these values maybe not to be found elsewhere.  But far fewer of a given school’s students will take a creative writing workshop than take a general education course. So it’s important to me, in my general university courses, which at Western are capped at 60 or 75 students, to carry over all I can from my practice as a creative writing teacher. I rarely lecture for more than two or three minutes at a time. My mini-lectures are usually impromptu—offered as our conversation seems to warrant. I make a point of learning everyone’s names, and make getting a student’s name wrong a point of fun at my expense, to model that I’m learning, too. Really a pretty small expense. I use small group work so everyone can collaborate in their own education. And I give assignments that draw on both creative and analytical faculties—per­form­ance projects, formal debates, journal assignments that ask students to write a soliloquy in blank verse or a scene in the post-apocalyptic creole in which the novel we’re reading is narrated. My hope is that, through activities like these, students will draw their creative, intuitive, emotional, and analytic faculties closer together, and they will be more available to them in their other coursework, their careers, and their social and spiritual lives.

Student work: 20 little poetry projects

Some excerpts from my students’ work with Jim Simmerman’s exercise “Twenty Little Poetry Projects.” Good funs. Oh and I had them do a cutting-and-paring exercise on them … where those went especially well I’ll include the stuff cut.


Lemons are the sun.
Each yellow drop is a blinding, burning, ray in the green.
Wet tongue slides across teeth,
tasting squeezed citrus,
that sprayed lemon into my nose,
the slice of the knife in the skin is a whisper,
the yellow color tart and sweet.
My Nonna’s lemons turned to limoncello in the Italian sun.
Nonna died—those are my lemons.
The first time I lay on wet grass, I was barefoot.

Really effective cuts here opening up spaces that bring Tomas Tranströmer to mind. Only bit I might miss is “Nonna died …”.


I.

Yesterday
a little death. But
today. Rise. rise
get up
again.

II.

40 white teeth
a smiling hole
40 teeth each
Its mouth 
exploding
New Year’s Eve
Children smile
into the white
Everything knows
this white.

III.

Rancid milk steaming
In her eyes
one million orchids
opening
Irises white          blank
skin pressed against
night
with the last energy
turned to heat
all is
heat now
small crackles

Yeah good cuts here too. I admit I suggested some but the poet’s assent to them’s what matters. Again it’s about opening spaces. Here I hear tones of Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.” Just cuz of the roman numerals? Am I that susceptible?


Tom Waits for me, wishing he was in New Orleans.
Ain’t it a crying shame, he says just like that
except that isn’t the way it’s said at all—
after all, the only way to stay together
is to drive in opposite directions.

Echo here for me (that seems to be my track tonight) is Frank O’Hara. Specifically “A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island.” Specifically specifically the good cheer of the sun. It’s everywhere! How could it not be in a good mood! And that infects Frank and us. Poem as a high-pleasure construct.


A light crack on that little ankle bone on the inside that sticks out far, but the eleven floors otherwise treated her well in the last several seconds.
Zing was upset about the lag.
Effectively, they will no longer speak unless it is to reiterate the tension previously created, and this pact is now effective.

K that long line is just crazy. (Hard to set here. Read each sentence as its own line.) Whitman’s expansiveness, Ginsberg’s hypermania, Moore’s polysyllabism.

A few more …


This dismal abyss of cottage cheese Christmas
is just a fridge full of impulse.
Ms. Mary stole the cobweb from the shelf
Mama Tits has proof.

Where ballad meets blues meets Breton.


You are what you eat.
No purple antelopes here—
taste bitter roads and
hot rain, prickly on ends with
wafting scents of
mud puddles? Dark, but
cracked. Clicking nails
seeing Stairway to Heaven, la la
even Bill Nye believes in Jericho
where antelopes of purple hue
roam freely
from stars in galaxies afar
palooshing each other until
skidding off with fear.

A strange and sardonic turn on its opening truism. Most of the cuts sharpen the sense of line very nicely.


I cut off my arms and replace them with refrigerators.
And I taste my consciousness outside me
Excusez-moi, qui a pété?
I lift my hopes higher with my diamond-studded weasel arms.

Something of Lorca here …


Eu non podo deixar de chorar
I did not know I knew that.
Fate tips his hat and waves as he passes by.
The leaves fly out of my vision, whisked away by a stronger breeze, while I remain grounded.

No surprise, I guess, that a lot of these remind me of Spanish and American surrealists. Here, James Wright, the line at once taut and languid.


I fail horribly at taking a “selfie.”
Since my arms are short and my point of view is warped.
“I literally can’t even.”
The ridiculous clown and his pride ruined the atmosphere of the wake.
And your family was as accommodating as a state penitentiary.

Here I’m taken especially by the passages in quotation marks. As if the poem became aware briefly of its own language and raised a skeptical eyebrow.


He has the heart of a lion.
Does will do as does do.
Though he is not exactly what I would call courageous.
Okay, maybe he actually was.
Though he thrust his hands up in the air and shouted “YOLO!”

The cuts here have little lion hearts. Make bold to take out the connective tissue. The pun in line two liketh me much, acts, deers.

Some more to come later today. Thanks again to mes etudiants for allowing me to post ses leurs travailles.

Teaching phil

(Spillover from a job app. Why am I putting it here? Someone might be curious? And, I was having fun with the pilcrow.)


Teaching Statement

The more I write and teach the less I know. In my writing, most of a poem now is found in the moment at hand, in what senses, breath, and mind, each attuned to each, have to say. In that same spirit of unknowing, though, I am less prone than I was, as a young teach­er, to think my process a template for my students. More and more they teach me how to teach them. I teach revision as re-vision, deep new seeing. Some students see newly by reworking one body of words: with each pass they come closer to what they meant, or might mean anew. For others, revision means turning the page; rework­ing one piece, they worry it to death. So I have students try it both ways, and work with them in conference as they come to a sense of their own practices. My workshops emphasize non-evaluative feedback. I find that peer comments are more perceptive, and student authors more receptive to them, when praise and advice are set mostly aside. This ap­proach has a downside—the ego wants to be fed and may complain when it’s not—but I find most students come to prefer it before long. I emphasize the “writ­er’s antennae”—the capacity for close attention to the texture of your moment-to-moment experience of your own writing. I find that faithful attention to those tingles of excitement, those pulses of boredom, guides composition and revision more reliably than any creative writing precept or external feedback. And I believe everyone has that capacity, though it’s often obscured by self-doubt or anxiety. A lot of teaching creative writing is showing how to wipe mud off a jewel. All the methods I use in the classroom—peer critique, small group work, class discussion, wacky writing prompts—are meant to foster that process of clarification. Many also ask students to negotiate differences of background and temperament they might have with their peers. For instance, I often put students in pairs to restore line breaks to a poem I’ve set as a prose para­graph. One is to make sure that the line breaks are expressive, the other that the line itself has integrity. Each has to contact her felt sense of the poem’s language, and to feel through how new lineations will create new patterns of energy. And each has, as she articulates her perceptions, to accommodate the perhaps quite different values and priorities of her partner. In this way, the sort of difference a line break is, brushes on the sort of difference another person is.


POSTSCRIPT. Reading about the pilcrow in Keith Houston’s Shady Characters: The Secret Life of Punctuation, Symbols, and Other Typographical Marks. Good fun and some neat finds. But dreadful editing. Dangling modifiers so thick methinks I need a machete. Come on, Norton, you’re better than this.