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.

Shadow w/o the slick

Okay, trying to get that shadow effect, without the slicky quality. Good people (or bad people, I like bad people, too) tell what you think.

SI 6 (90V)
Clicks!

The diff? Paled it with the photocopier, instead of by MSWord’s “wash out” filter. More imprecision, gets more imperfection, gets more texture. Mistah Plato, he dead.

Why the poem’s so affirming, the main face so scary, I dunno. Am not in charge of the contradictions. Source text, for those to whom such matters:

6.

Ship is nailed, shield bound
in staves of light linden wood –
her love comes to the Frisian
wife, keel draws near,
breadwinner home
                                        she cries
out to him
                       rinses the sea
from his shirt, finds him clean clothes,
offers on land what his love asks of her.

Have not, as yet, taken up Theresa’s totally solid suggestion to free the shadow man (or free the shadow, man?) and am curious as to my resistance. Am I yet beholden to M. Plateau after all?

But there’s something persistent in this project about doublings. All the characters are made, e.g., by filling in the gap between a letterform and an imperfect iteration of it. And something compels me about one of these glyphs, broadcast large and pale, being the landscape the mind that thought it gets to wander a while.

Maybe the shadow ain’t ready to be quite that free just yet. Interesting. As I believe Wile E. Coyote said to the air rushing up below him.

Here and far / off

Another made by the erasure & illumination practice I been telling you about.

Click on me, and again, for some close-up time.
Click on me, and again, for some close-up time.

The source text for this one (that same minor poem late in the Exeter Book):

              7.

She’ll stay true to him.
He’ll keep her name clean.

Many are steadfast,
                                           some curious
and one too free with a stranger.

Far off, he thinks of her, hopes
where he cannot compel.

The relation of source to the poem I get to – always mysterious to me. (Just as is, the relation of those two, to the image that arrives, just as much.) But I suppose I, or someone in here, wanted to get under the surface of the sexual jealousy story, ask, what makes this he and this she tick, as they surely do.

If I’ve a worry with this one, it’s that I’ve used a filter to wash out the image so I can post it, big, to the background. A sort of move I’ve mostly foresworn. I don’t want no clipart looks here, and no Photoshop tricksies. I try to get my pretty effects from low tech – Sharpies, tree leaves. When I use high tech for effects I go for fails and distortions – scanner noise, leaf stem blur.

But I just so love how the image, blown that large, makes a surreal hillscape, and it’s gotta be grey. Left black it’s too chunky and too foreground.

Have I sold out? Thoughts, any?


And just a note to self. If I do end up feeling okay about the enlarged and greyed out forms – they have real potential for the animations. Surreal backgrounds and vertiginous shifts of scale.

Beasties, animated, to be

Whereas it’s been long since a post. Whereas we’re all about repurposing here. And whereas I resist going back to work on a panel proposal. Herewith, the juicy bits from a grant proposal, wherein The Poet Asks for $$ to Learn to Flash Adobe.


I’ll begin with a passage I’ve translated from an untitled Old English poem found in the Exeter Book –

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.

A selection process, adapted from poets Ronald Johnson and Jen Bervin and now in general use among restless poets everywhere, yields a visual pattern to work with:

90V SI 5 image 1

The selected text also generates, with some recombinations, a verbal poem –

SI 5 (90V) - text 2

– but I’ll focus here on my work with the selection marks, for that is where my practice, though first inspired by visual artist Tom Phillips, largely departs from other practices I know of. It’s here too that my practice points towards terrain I’d like funding to explore.

Elaboration of the selection marks goes through several stages, like so,

90V SI 5 image 2

and so,

90V SI 5 image 3

and so,

90V SI 5 image 4

and so,

90V SI 5 image 6

to produce an image

90V SI 5 image 8

somewhere in a dream terrain where Salvador Dali and Jim Henson commune with Louis Comfort Tiffany.

The images are an exploration of pareidolia, the mind’s tendency to make faces at the drop of a hat. They exhume natural and biological forms latent in the alphabet (“A” – ox; “N” – water; “O” – eye). They tap into the animism residual in the process of silent solitary reading (see David Abram, Spell of the Sensuous). And they undertake a fitful and pata­physical, i.e., seriously unserious, investigation of the mystical dimensions of the material text (see bpNichol, “Probable Systems 14: Re-Discovery of the 22 Letter Alphabet”).

Their main shortcoming, as I look at them now in Dumuzi (recently finished) and Overject (presently underway), is that they have had to sit still.

I want in my next project to animate them – to put the demonic, angelic, and zoological forms that arise through the illumination process into motion. Even more, I want to animate the illumination process itself, obviating the need for clumsy accounts like the one just finished. I envision digital publication and performance events, the latter more akin to video installations in gallery spaces than to conventional poetry readings.


Demons and angels weightless shadows across wall, floor, ceiling. Let’s see if I can stand to learn the program though. It’s that or start the search for – my collaborator.

Disruption of the text

Had thought to take a break from Overject, I really had. Bundled up 60 pages of it, handed them to my two most trusted readers, and I told me, This would be the time to take a breather, get some distance, reapproach in a little while with some new perspective.

Not.

What’s to tell? I just couldn’t get happy till I was back at it with the Sharpies.

So here I am, embarked on part II, and am at a perilous juncture, because I can’t just keep doing what I done, that would be dull and dumb, but my sense of what’s next and vital is dim as yet.

The danger – making it new, not out of a sense of fresh energy, but just for to be newfangled. Oldest tiredest play in the book. (Old as books themselves are, and maybe, I’m not sure, not much older.)

So this is where I maybe ask for help. (Oh my recent students, I know a few of you are reading, here’s your chance to have at it.) This morning I wrote out a homophonic translation of the lower half of folio 90V of the Exeter Book. Here’s what it looks like unaltered.

90R HT unaltered

Same approach as I took in the first section of the ms. How to make it new? As I did the scripting I found me thinking about the place of violence in the text at hand. The violence of the patriarchal warrior culture it arose in. The violence time did to the work as it made its way from anciency to now. (Dude. Can you believe anciency really is a word?) The violence of my disruptive translation, me carrying on as if sound itself bore sense across intact.

Meanwhile asters in my back yard, recently in bloom, were blowing this way and that. On a whim I went and cut five or six and scattered the petals on my scanner. That image, overlaid on the first, got me this.

90R HT astered

Asters, named for stars, whose fallen petals look like sword gashes. While the most common masculine case ending in Old English, -an, has become the work’s heroine, Anne.


I teach, by the way, a course called Poetics of Peace and War, because I’m very interested in this question, how acts that look destructive when brought to bear on language, may be nourishing when the results are offered to persons.


Also a redtailed hawk just perched in the pine tree outside my study window.


So the petals resisted the eye but lightly. I wanted for what reason I know not something more savage-taloned. So I tore it in pieces then laid the pieces down as shingles or come to think of it feathers. (“Complicate,” from plicare, fold, layer.)

90R HT collaged

I am in love BTW with scanner noise. I could eat a whole big bowl of it.

The last one I want to show you roughs the text up most – tears and asters it both. Roughs it up most, and is least considerate of your wish for a sensible meaning. And yet it’s the one I think I’m fondest of! Am I just a big meanie?

90R HT collaged and astered

The ask for help part. What do you think? Do any of these move, please, tickle, amuse, intrigue you? Any sense what about them does? Send a comment, do!


If you’re curious, here’s the actual Old English text –

Forst sceal freosan fyr wudu meltan eorþe
growan is brycgian   wæter helm wegan wundrū lucan
eorþan ciþas   ansceal inbindan forstes fetre
fela meahtig god ∙ winter sceal geweorpan   weder eft cu
man sumor swegle hat sund unstille deop d eada wæg
dyrne bið lengest holen sceal inæled ẏrfe gedæled deades
monnes dōm biþ selast ∙ Cyning sceal mid ceape cwene ge
bicgan bunum ⁊beagum bu sceolon   ærest geofum gōd
wesan ∙ guð sceal ineorle wig geweaxan ⁊wif geþeon lof mid
hyre leodum leoht mod wesan rune healdan rum heort
beon mearum ⁊maþmum ∙ meodo rædenne forge sið
mægen symle æghwær eodor æþelinge ærest gegretan

(The ⁊ is a medieval &.) And here’s what normal people would call a translation –

1.

Frost freezes, fire eats wood,
earth springs out, ice houses,
water sheathes.
                               A wonder
there’s one to snap frost’s fetters,
break seed earth, mighty God.

 2.

Winter turns, comes warm unstill
weather, summer skysound.
Deep dead ways are secret longest,
holly burning, cattle shared out.
Dead men’s laws are the best laws.

3.

A king can buy a queen with cattle.
That they give lots away is the main thing.

4.

War forces him
to be brave.
                        She grows dear
to her people, her shining mind
hoards whispers, her spacious heart
holds treasures.

            5.

Moving among the company,
everywhere always, house throughout,
greeting her lord, she pours his cup first;

 Now I can’t see the hawk but I can hear her high cries.

On total translation

A foolish notion. What would it be to translate not only for meaning, what we usually mean by “meaning,” reference, signification, the pointy ends of words, but also for everything else about, within, around them: their loops and curls, textures of their paper, sleepiness of the scribe, slips in the book’s stitching, burn marks at the edges of pages, how a sequence of ascenders and descenders read as skyline or script for a roller coaster.

Crazy yeah. But if (1) you’ve come to feel translation’s originary no matter what, and (2) your semantic translation of a poem has sucked no matter what, and (3) you’re not done with said poem, and (4) you have a decorative itch – well, you might come round to a like crazy. You might start to wonder if þine heortan geþohtas, the force of your heart’s thought, might be most truly got not via narrowly focused semantic emissions, but through a sprawling heterogeneous relation of potentially everything in the nexus of poet poem scribe translator reader annotator and medium.


Semantic reference is a span of human meaning about as sliver as visible light is to the electromagnetic spectrum.


88vMy guiding thought in Overject has become, assume you know nothing about what should or shouldn’t be translated. 88V post-it 1Feel like translating handwriting? Translate handwriting. Feel like transmitting hesitation? Transmit hesitation. Anything honest in the encounter between old damaged minor text and ignorant inexpert minor reader’s fair game.

Now if at every point everything is open to translation – how do you decide? I’ve found me guided by intuition and accident.

Gut, and happenstance. Who have led me to handwriting. My work with which in Dumuzi had drawn me to more exuberant organic loops and sweeps than the hell scraps there could suit. Into Overject went the overflow. And the self-indulgence of translating nothing but handwriting pushed up in me little spikelets of self-doubt. And one of those has made it to a post-it.

88V card 1And the possibility of annotating my translations bloomed hard and fast in my head and the next flower was a notecard on which I found a bit of semantic translation wanted (musewise, it wasn’t I who wanted, but just who let it) to burst in. And these three – transcription, post-it, notecard – plus a ghost face who poked in from a later page, became assemblage.

88v p1


The next major adventure is homophonic translation, of which I’ve written before. Here too annotation and anima. (The abrupt edge on the right is a scanner error. Not all accident is welcome.)

88v p2

“D.P.” = Dramatis Personae. One way I hope to make this work a little less esoteric in the end is, draw names out of the sonic surround, faces out of the visual noise, and see what storylines they hint at (no more, dear hearts, than that).


Oh now the lure of semiosis. Not from the meanings of the “original poem.” Rather from the nexus formed when that poem’s meanings intersect with recent homophonic accidents and my momentary interior weather and demonic images yet to be actualized. An ambivalent compound arises.

88v p3


Comes now a grave move. So much is lost in this moment! The haecceity, the suchness, of each t, each l, each g, unlike any other anywhere in existence, all now made to be of a same sameness.

I take the manuscript page and I type it up.

I try to make up the loss. I follow the leads of ascenders and descenders. After selecting some text, à la Phillips, I black out the remainder with a Sharpie. The thickness of the erasure line is governed by the heights and depths to which the line (or portion thereof) reaches. No ascender? It thins. No descender either? That thins it further. One et (⁊) and it goes down a long way. One thorn (þ) and it reaches both high and low.

88v p4

The whole of the rest of the design, mouths and eyes, windows and doors, lions and tigers and heroes and hydras, or here a school bus climbing a hill, is begun from the thicks and thins of the bars, and the white slits left between.


The chosen text has the quality of a code. As if a minor character in Beowulf had got his hands on an Enigma machine. Crypto-crisis. So I put on my tinfoil Turing cap and coughed up this.

88v p5

And when I got to that, I felt I was an inch or two closer, maybe not more, to a true translation of folio 88V of the Exeter Book.


Closer anyway than my semantic translation of that folio, which I did some years ago, and goes like this.

Ask me straight out. Don’t hide your whole life
what only you know. I won’t tell you what matters
if you hold the force of the heart of your thought back.

The wise work in riddles, praise God foremost,
our Father who said of His Creation we could
live here a while, a gift he’d remind us of.

In glory Measurer, on earth humankind,
young here is old, God is eternal with us,
events don’t touch Him, illness

You can hear the strain in it. Couldn’t care less about these pieties. Why’s the poem compel me at all? Nothing in its answers speaks to me. The pressure I hear in its questions – in the failure of its answers to relieve the pressure – that moves me.


Around here I realized two things. One, my epigraph, it spoke to me out of Job, “Where shall wisdom be found?” Is that what I’m translating, the Exeter poet asking it, into me asking it?

Other is, the work has to be in earnest. I can fuck around as much as I like, goof off, poke fun, mess shit up, that’s fine, but the asking has to be in earnest, otherwise this’ll be a dumb game I’m sick of real soon. Flip side, as long as it’s for heartfelt for me, it can be totally way goofball, and still live, short I and long.