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.

On abandonment

 

Been my work to report from the inside of what Winnicott calls “unthinkable anxieties” or “primitive agonies.” Others have said “annihilation terror.” The feeling I’m about to be snuffed out, next instant, makes no sense I’m going on being at all. Whole universe withdrawing from me in the mode of female rejection. Times I’ve wanted to help the process along, step in front of a truck. No, not now, not for a long time – I’m okay. This is a field report not a plea.

All the childs feel them. Belongs to being human, animal part stone part star. Most of us probably have echoes in us, form of nightmares, neuroses, phobias, premonitions. And some us saints been left with ’em more wholesale.

A rupture with my lover (screwy and I hope brief) and another with my mother (my choice and I fear for good) have me in a rough pinch right now. Add an intrusive procedure this AM to look at my bladder by the only route on offer – I fucking wept, not with pain, it hurt bad but was the intrusion got my sorrow on – and I really am in a way this evening.

A life’s work, wow, yeah. Tracing and reporting on it. How I hollow out inside. Or how the whole world, every perceptible instant, birdsong say, recedes from me, becomes alien, taunting, hostile.

Those who got stuck at this juncture with me will know it already. Those who made it through may not remember it. The forgetting is salutary, why should I ask you to remember. I have no good answer to that, right now.

But also, points of exit, relief. This terror, when I’m in it, is my ground – I’m looking to speak my ground. But also to find the ground under my ground and to soar from it.

Well. I’m sitting at Menace Brewing, trying to work on my Old English ms, due sooner than I fear I can manage, but this blog post called. I want to write about Winnicott, kindest of the psychoanalysts, but if I start I won’t stop, and I’m away from my books anyway. His interfusions with the buddhadharma are many. I have a feeling he underwrites, already, my Dura Mater.

And sorrows of these women I don’t understand, and have had a hand in, and feel held to account for. Sorry I’m mysterious there. The only life I get to strip mine here is my own.

I’m a man nearing 50 with a squalling inconsolable babe in me.

This grabbed (later) from Maggie Nelson’s Argonauts:

As concepts such as “good enough” mothering suggest, Winnicott is a fairly sanguine soul. But he also takes pains to remind us what a baby will experience should the holding environment not be good enough:

The primitive agonies

Falling for ever
All kinds of disintegration
Things that disunite the psyche and the body

The fruits of privation

going to pieces
falling for ever
dying and dying and dying
losing all vestige of the hope of the renewal of contacts

Mothers they got it tough. I don’t know how any of them do it. And its going wrong, well, Winnicott thought some of the world’s hurt could be explained there.

I say to me, you got to mother yourself, no one else will, you got to father yourself, no one else will. Everything that is here is here with you. What’s the practice of that though.

A lifetime looking, and I’ll be honest, not not finding.

Hard to remember when the fear sweeps through you as nebula.

 

Dear Canada Council, love, C.

A grant application I done sent.


Page 1 base textSCRO began after a visit to my father, 84 years old, in California. I wrote many pages in my journal, worries and fears about his health and state of mind, thoughts on our relationship, childhood memories of him. In time I arrived at a base text of 24 handwritten pages, one page for each hour of the day. To the right is the first. Wandering in time and space, thought and feeling, the text comes home time and again to my little house, which my father, co-signing a loan, made me able to buy. “SCRO,” a truncated form of escrow. Also of scroll – one form the poem will take. And the title can’t fail to call to mind scrotum. The poem’s a study of father and son, and whatever manhood is, and continuity and rupture. Scroll and escrow both derive from a Germanic root meaning “shred.”


p 1 600 cropped
Next I distort the handwriting on the photocopier, rocking it up and down as the scan bar moves underneath, gathering in data, losing information, abandoning and reforming context. Poet Tim Gaze coined the term asemic, one a, for unreadable writing that calls your sense-making apparatus into play without letting it resolve on any given meaning. Steinian indeterminacy on the level of the grapheme. I’ve in turn coined the term aasemic, two a’s, the negative negated, for writing you neither can nor cannot read. I want for these texts to hang on the threshold between signal and noise. Why threshold. Because I’m afraid my father’s going to where he’ll be unreachable; unreadable. Because of how hard it is to know each other at the best of times. Because how of hard it is to read yourself, what you even feel, at same. Most of a given moment’s unintelligible. And, something happens when the mind somehow eases anyway into that state of things, just not getting it. These are experiments toward such ease.

SCRO will have two lives, at least. One, a scroll built of 24 aasemic panels like the one above, flown seamlessly together. That will take some time; the base text is written, but the asemic pages need to be re-generated, most or all of them. Then I need to build a mock-up scroll before I begin to approach publishers.

The other is a series of 24 one-minute video-poems. I start with close-up stills from the aasemic panels described above.

While the panels, as wholes, are to be flown into a scroll, the close-up stills drawn from them are enlisted in brief, meditative animations. Chance operations dictate the length of each clip. Why chance. Because letting in the accidents – patterns not of my choosing; patterns I inherit, my father’s kar­ma, my father’s genes – not my choosing or his. And so, given 60 seconds to fill, I take the factors of 60, excepting 1 and 60, which are 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, and 30, and choose at random from that sequence how long each still will last. If a given choice pushes my total over 60 seconds, I throw that choice out and I select again. For instance, the stills for 6:00 am are 2, 3, 15, 3, 6, 6, 2, 2, 15, 2, and 4 seconds long. Made this way, each one-minute video gets to a rhythm I’d not have on my own. The world is rhythmic I find if I let it.

I use two freeware programs, GIMP and Audacity, for image and audio editing, and iMovie to compose the video. The last is limited but its limits guide me the way her rhyme scheme does a poet prone to sonnets. The audio track is quiet but integral: ambient sound, household or neighbourly, recorded the hour of the day the asemic page was made.

How will these video poems find a public. Easy to shove them around online of course. But I want to throw them big and severally on gallery walls, let them be embodied again, with persons in their bodies moving among, stopping between a projector and a receiving wall to interrupt my images, occlude my words, to intercede – for what, for whom? From whatever I thought to mean. To join in the play on the edge between real and ideal, material and im.

I picture a large or warrened gallery space, each of the videos set separate, a big one here, small one there. Each cast on its bit of wall, far enough from others for its companion sound to adhere to it. As you move round the space the sounds mix up. Soundtracks spare enough for the mix not to muddy.  The effect would be like that on the mind in meditation – relaxing into the hereness of a shape, sound, texture, mixture thereof you have no name for as it passes.

Coupla updates

Friends. Just updated a couple parts of this blog, thought I’d let you know.

New words about my two current projects, Overject and SCROhere.

A portfolio of my adventures in visual poetry here.

The latter turned into a narrative essay of sorts. Writing it, I learned a few things about what I think I’m up to. Cool when that happens. Please enjoy –

C.

 

SCRO (II)

Right so where were we. SCRO will have a life as ink on paper, another as light in the air. That’s what I imagine right now anyway. Both start from a shaken aasemic journal page like this.

Page 3 600
Click to zoom in and wander about.

The black wavy areas are my fingers (to the left) and wrists (to the right) where they press the paper to the glass. (“Are”?) This one came out unusually white on the left because of how afternoon sunlight had soaked my study just then. The checker pattern on the right’s what my scanner does with a grey that hovers, to its this-or-that B&W mind, discomfitingly between.

The first one to come out white like this was a shock. Shitty shit, I thought, I just got this toner cartridge, I hate going to Office Depot. Then I waited for a cloud, tried again, the scan came out black, I thought aha, oho.

I’d already planned 24 pages, for dailiness, the quotidian, now I saw I needed to do the pages one an hour over the course of a single day. When a learned a week or two later about the Poetry Marathon, I knew what day it would be.


The printed form, if I can find a chapbook publisher willing and able to take this on, will be a continuous scroll of these pages, looking something like this.

photo 1 (4)
The page above, in situ.
photo 2 (3)
And a bit more in situ.

Just a mockup, assembled by X-acto knife and scotch tape …

I’ll be starting at 6 am, around sunrise. If the day’s sunny, I should get the brightest backings in mid-afternoon, when my south and west windows take in the sun. From there it will go, as the poet said, into the dark.


The other life I imagine for this – patterns of dark and light cast on a wall.

I opened up iMovie, thinking I’d mess around there for a bit, then learn some real video editing software. But as I hit the program’s limitations, I started to feel they were a help to me – limits I could make constraints on the poem. Plus, holding myself to ordinary means (Sharpie, home-office photocopier, iPhone voice-notes app) suits this project, which is all about nothing special.

Working quickly, not deliberating much, I cropped some 16:9 stills from the page I’d scanned. (At 1200 dpi, the highest res I can. Some kinds of data loss I love. Not pixellation. And if I want these images on the big screen one day.) Here are a few.

Some grabbed me because their language did what it meant.Page 3 detail 1

 

Here I love Mr. Moustachio. The back-and-forth between him and “angry” feels equally weighted. And the horizontal distortion bar pleases me.

Page 3 detail 4

 

This might be my favourite. A leaf beetle bearing or born of the word “leaf.”

Page 3 detail 15

 

This one’s mostly abstract – I’m keen on the way markings call our language faculty into play without allowing it to resolve in a determinate meaning – but “city” resonated well with the audio clip I had by this point found.

Page 3 detail 17


Cuz I’d also begun grabbing clips of ambient sound with my iPhone’s voice-notes app. At first thought I was just practicing for when I could borrow real recording gear. But after a few test clips I found the homemadeness of the sound suited me just fine. Also the sounds of me recording or abiding – shifting in my seat, clinking my coffee cup on the tile coaster.

The audio for the clip I posted yesterday – chainsaw crew next door taking out my neighbour’s lilac, in preparation for raising a new fence – me closing my study window – clink of said coffee cup.


How to put it together? It’s about letting the accidents in – patterns not of my choosing. Including patterns I inherit, my father’s karma, my father’s genes. (Not my choosing or his.) Each page of the scroll takes about a minute to read aloud and I know I might want, in some iterations, to read the poem aloud in company of the moving images.

First decision, each of 24 passages gets a minute each.

So I’m in the realm of number, 24 passages, 60 seconds each. If each still is Phoenician, in a wildering course that never travels wholly out of view of phonetic charactery, for their sequencing in time I’ll go to Babylon, where our minutes and seconds, our degrees and zodiacal houses come from.

I did some reading about 60. It’s a cool number. A unitary perfect number, one of only five known, being the sum of its unitary divisors. A highly composite number, having more factors than any smaller number. An abundant number, the sum of its divisors greater than itself.

Count the joints on the fingers of one hand, once through, thumb doing the counting, you get 12 – that’s a day. Do it with both hands – that’s 24, a day and a night. Do it five times, you get 60. So much for the inevitability of base 10 systems.

Sixty also has a sweet number of factors: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 12, 15, 20, 30, 60.

Decided, each clip will be x seconds long, where x is one of the first ten divisors of 60, randomly generated.

If x yields a sum longer than 60 seconds, discard and generate a new x (as in darts when you’re playing to 300). So clips will tend to accelerate at the end. Whoosh.


The results for x in this clip

were 5, 20, 12, 5, 3, 2, 3, 3, 1, 1, 5. I got to decide what clips in what order. Also how slow or quick the transition between two clips. One set I set in motion.

Overlaid the soundtrack with no effort to coordinate it to the clips. That the window slides closed just as one black blade glides over another is just good luck.

That so many things are tuned to their neighbours – without any assertion on my part – seems to me more than luck.


One more for ya, different page, sprocket hole study.

If you’ve made it this far. The cross-fade and the “Ken Burns effect” in iMovie can both be cheesy very easily. Have I avoided cheese entirely? Comments section, be honest, I need to know. And thank you for reading.

SCRO (I)

For a few months now I’ve been laying the groundwork for a new project called SCRO. In a couple of weeks, over a 24 hour span and in the company of a few hundred other poets around the globe (see here), I’m going to generate the images and sounds for the poem actual.

I thought, while I wait for that day – the base text is written and the process mostly set – I’d tell you about the scheme and share a few bits of the mockup.


The base text is 24 pages of journal writing, reworked and streamlined, begun shortly after a visit to my father in California. The visit stirred feelings, worries, memories. Maybe because I was writing in my house, for which my dad helped me secure the loan, the ground of the poem became this house.

Vallette House

The illegibility – you’ll see what I mean – is for how hard it is to get another person. Also for how hard it is to get yourself. Also for my fear my father is slipping away, his mind, to a place where he’s not to be reachable.

Here’s the third page, before any funny business.

Page 3 base text

I rework the writing a bit, streamline it, but try to preserve the blushful emotional directness. This one’s not so exposing, but later ones, oh yes. I want to work with the language I speak in when I’m speaking just to me and maybe in difficulty. I’m interested in dailiness, inner sounds, outer sounds.


I want to bring the banal into the lyric in way that doesn’t sink my practice but ballasts it. I know some of the known ways: irony and pastiche in written lyric, cadence and insistence in spoken word. But those don’t come to me so natural. So I’m stumbling towards a chimerical way with proprioceptive foreparts and digital hindquarters.

Dude, obscure. I take the page and shiver it on the photocopier in the corner of my study. My gesture, slow, fast, does something to the scripture; the scan bar, turning strokes and loops by light to bits, does something to it en même temps

I scan that on black-and-white to further the data loss and get


Page 3 600

What I’ve called aasemic writing and have written of here.


SCRO as a truncated form of scroll – the form I want it to take. Also escrow – a debt that binds me to my father. Both from a Germanic root meaning shred.

Only later did I realize the sound-cluster calls to mind scrotum. Hello hidden mind (u stinking bastard). That’s what this scroll book is though. Query into the broken unbroken ties between me and my dad that manhood are.


This post’ll need to be in 2 parts. Gotta grill me some chicken and torrent some Mr. Robot. Just quick, I’m looking at two final objects – a scroll I hope I can find some chapbook press willing to fashion, and an audio-video thing I imagine installed big on a gallery wall. Here’s a foretaste: