Inanna, a chapbook

Some nice news! A swatch of poems from Dumuzi will be published as a chapbook by Little Red Leaves. I’ve loved their books (fabric covers, hand sewn, venturesome poems) since I first came across them. Sew colour me thrilled. (Sorry, terrible.)

Title to come but I’m thinking simply Inanna Sent. The poems are a graphic novella, collaged out of junk mail, that tells the story of Inanna’s trip to the underworld. Thought I’d post a few panels, final versions. Here’s the first –


Panel 1

The strata are the linings of security envelopes. Inanna and her sidekick, the scancodes you see on autosorted mail. Her jaunty cap, the Bank of America logo, while he sports the NBC paycock (Pound’s spelling). The speaker is one of the galla, demons of the underworld; to them’s given the work of narration. They’re all blown up out of these:


scan code

If you get your pareidolia on, that can look like a postmodern Roman frieze, gods, monsters, epic struggle. Next panel.


Panel 2
As Inanna gets deeper in, her logo-feather-flame hat dirties and darkens. Small serendipities: with each new panel, I lifted the logo from the last with a letter opener and taped it down on the new one. Each move brought more scuffing, each layer of tape more obscuration and road dust. One more.


Panel 3
Scancodes and photocopy noise. Have written some more about Inanna, what and why she means to me, the space I was in (an intense one) making these poems, here and here and here and here. And a bit at the end here. If curious. (Old images there, the script far less open, but in the spirit of blog, I’m going to leave as was.)

Oh and the grainy oblique smudges above “Her sad eyes”? Bits of pinewood, my writing desk, pulled up by scotch tape I’d stuck there momently while I spotted a paperscrap just right. The meaning of the whole is, make peace with your accidents. (Not in a hey-do-this sort of way. In a note-to-self sort of way.)

Tried to explain the desk splinters to Stephen Burt when he asked me about my work. Talk about happy accident! But, he seemed not so impressed. Oh well.


If you’ve made it this far, thoughts on the title? I sent it out as Junk Inanna Down. That now feels like a hostile mouthful. Do you think so too? What about Inanna Sent? Too mild? Comment away …

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Trust yr boredom

Well isn’t that interesting. I said I’d post some stuff about my adventures in erasure and now I find I just don’t feel like it. I tell my students over and over – trust your boredom – it’s some of the best guidance you’re going to get. Bored with a line? Cut it. Bored with a poem? Throw it away.

A sour and maybe cranky wakefulness but wakeful just the same. Could I ask of them something I won’t of myself?

face 2The deal I made with me when I started this blog was – write when I feel a wish to and write what I feel a wish to and not otherwise. Lots of duties and such elsewhere. Here I’ll see if what I’ve heard about whim is so, its fructiveness and sufficiency. So far it’s borne out well. Some fallow periods, some heavy fertile swells, an amiable rhythm.

So, having erased erasure, what do I mean to write about? I sat down without knowing. That’s the scary or even terrifying thing about trusting your boredom wholeheartedly. It might tell you what not without telling you what to.

face 3One thing I do, when in this place, and I mean to offer this to my students wherever you are, is just shine an inquisitive light over all the terrain of my mind open at that time, and see what gleams back, even tinily. That might be the place where whatever the counter to boredom is, is waiting.

Here what shone back in mind was an image of a red rock cliff in an essay I’d run my eyes over a few minutes earlier, looking for something on erasure I might want to use.

My thought was a propensity for seeing faces where they ain’t, and then my thought was, that’s where I want to go, that’s where the living interest is, the way inert matter makes faces at us, or the way we make it into faces.

face 1

Project onto it a sentience it doesn’t have, if you’re the sort of materialist most people today are, or acknowledge the sentience we intuit it to have, if you’re the sort of postmodern animist I’m coming to give myself permission to be.

Gleaming in mind, I think, because I spent some of yesterday, and today, turning a portion of Dumuzi into a chapbook ms, title Junk Inanna Down, which will go off to a contest tomorrow. The final image, built out of junk mail, is this

10. Eyes

Those eyes move me some. They’re a mother’s looking down at an infant in her arms. They’re Kuanyin coming to poor lowered noble Ezra in that Pisan tent. They’re the trademark stamp on the Bank of America logo blown up about 1600%. Sacred just bitch-slapped profane, ’bout time. Her earrings are the rest of the same logo disassembled. Her headdress is one of those scan codes you see on the front of an envelope a machine reads to shunt its news unwanted to you more speedily.

This one’s for Don, with love.

Now goth Inanna under wode

There’s an old quatrain from out the middle ages I first met as epigraph to Robert Hass’s Sun Under Wood.

Now goth sonne under wode —
Me reweth, Marie, thi faire rode.
Now goth sonne under tre —
Me reweth, Marie, thi sonne and thee.

A book and a poet that’ve always resounded for me for how tenderly they assay the harms to which the mother-son bond is prone. Terrain I work in too as uncrampedly as I can.


What sat me down to write though were a father and a daughter. Watched Interstellar a second time last night and was moved (again) by all it did well and dismayed (again) at all it did poorly. And what I felt most (again) wasn’t the admittedly spectacular black hole wrung with light, or the rungs of sooty frozen clouds the astronauts clamber among, but the intimate distance of father and daughter the astonishing otherness of those sights makes visual.

It kinda broke me. I suddenly got I’m almost for sure not going to have that in my life. I’m a bit too broken to have a kid or have taken a bit too long to get me whole enough to do it. I’d probably do okay at it now but the window’s closing or closed.

A bit later the okay-voices came to say there’s plenty else to make a life meaningful, and they’re right, but for a bit it broke me.


You see why I go to junk mail. It gets dark fast around here sometimes. A few galla for you — one’s trying to hide behind a bit of beachwrack. (Goeth galla under driftwood.)At Troy


If I’m more open here than I’ve been, I thank Hass a little, my students a lot, who’ve braved to write about trials and disorders known by name but not plumbed for real in the halls of DSM V. To write and make beautiful and indeed sublime sentences out of. (Therapy prose: the more honest it is the more you cringe. Transformative prose: the more honest the more you soar.)

I do have to say, a joy of teaching is, the wish in me to father is met, not as it would be by a child, I know, but still, it is, and meaningfully. That’s for a different post — maybe a different blog — but it’s probably the most meaningful thing about teaching for me, equalled maybe only by the creative incitement the most happy arrangements have had to offer me.

Thought on the way to the grocery store yesterday evening: if at the end of my life I’ve touched more people as a teacher than as a poet, that’ll be okay, I guess.


So, Inanna goth under wode, and I’ve had to go with her, goddammher. No point putting it off, let’s get this road trip started.

She takes

The text’s a bit hard to read (working on that) so —

She takes the road no one turns on to the kur where our names go to die.

The kur is the Sumerian underworld — ruled by her sad sister Ereshkigal. Her snazzy feather is the Bank of America logo. The terrain she and her trusty friend navigate at some peril is a treacherous assemblage of security envelope linings.

From a later (Akkadian) text, “The Descent of Ishtar to the Nether World” (just for funs):

To the Land of no Return, the realm of [Ereshkigal],
Ishtar, the daughter of Sin, [set] her mind.
Yea, the daughter of Sin set [her] mind
To the dark house, the abode of Irkal[la],
To the house from which none leave who have entered it,
To the road from which there is no way back,
To the house wherein the entrants are bereft of li[ght],
Where dust is their fare and clay their food …

Don’t make too much of the pun on Sin. But think about it — a road you can only go one way on. Really, there’s no such thing as a one-way street, you can always go the other way when no one’s looking. Anyway, this passage has always been striking to me, for how through its stiffness it still haunts and shudders.


In my version anyway Inanna grows smaller as the scope of her task dawns on her.

Her way crosses

Her faithful friend at a remove now, unable to follow any further, Inanna’s entered the weave of one of the earth’s textures, her feather guttering smokily, some sort of torch.

Inanna, her powers

Inanna is that we are here together at all. Among the powers she connived from her father early in her life in a drinking game and stole away with by boat and brought to the docks of the great Sumerian cities were —

dagger and sword
black garment
colourful garment
loosening of the hair
binding of the hair

art of the hero
art of power
art of treachery
art of straightforwardness
plundering of cities
setting up of lamentations
rejoicing of the heart

She’s how a meal is more than feeding a hole and sex more than rutting and shelter more than reeds against the wind. She’s all the powers of civilization including the power to pull down a civilization. Not good or bad but bigger and smaller than that. The voice from the whirlwind when the voice is in roughly equal measures Leviathan and Coyote and they who made them.

As she readies for her trip the underworld she gathers the powers (me) drawn to the fore of her by good times with her shepherd king Dumuzi. An array likely to make her nether sister Ereshkigal (sexually voracious apparently and intensely lonely) more rageful than welcoming.

She placed the shugurra, the crown of the steppe, on her head.
She arranged the locks of hair across her forehead.
She tied the small lapis beads around her neck,
Let the double strand of beads fall to her breast,
And wrapped the royal robe around her body.
She daubed her eyes with ointment called “Let him come, Let him come,”
Bound the breastplate called “Come, man, come!” around her chest,
Slipped the gold ring over her wrist,
And took the lapis measuring rod and line in her hand.

Archaic but still kind of hot. I picture her with a hardhat and an orange safety vest carrying a surveyor’s tripod.

For this point in the book I need a broader account of her powers — need to say how great a disaster her departure is — so I’ve gone back to the survey of her me in her drinking game with her father. I’ve posted this once before but here it is again, somewhat improved. The first page —

7. Her me (1)

And the second —

8. Her me (2)

Why junk mail. A fertility myth tells how grain gets from the ground to your table to your belly. At some point it invokes sex (and not metaphorically, what those grasses are doing in the wind is fucking) and at some point it acknowledges the marketplace — grain’s not going to get from the ground to your gut without being bought and sold as a commodity, not anymore, not by the time such a myth as this comes about.

Junk mail is one mark of the marketplace in our day. It is somehow all at once ephemeral (who stops to read this shit before tossing it in the recycling?) and archaic (print? in envelopes? in my mailbox? really?) and omniscient (how on earth did they find me?) and omnipresent (day in, day out, my lord). So, that, and, too, if I can comedically resacralize the peacock by turning the Comcast logo into a funny hat, well, that’s a small whee for me.

Inanna hellbound

No saying why Inanna heads to hell. She’s queen of 2/3 of the universe — the whole of the known universe. What’s the call of the third third to her? Her ejected other? a secret melancholy? just a lust to acquire more turf? The “measuring rod and line” she takes as one of her me, her powers, suggests she means to chart and apportion the unapportionable. Or maybe she goes to rescue the lover she sent there a little while earlier.

Whyever she goes, she hears the call, and goes.

From the Great Above she opened her ear to the Great Below.
From the Great Above the goddess opened her ear to the Great Below.
From the Great Above Inanna opened her ear to the Great Below.

Why 3X? Because liturgy. An altered state we’re invited to enter the goddess through. And ear if I remember right is metonym for wisdom. Well anyway she abandons heaven and earth and holy office and all her earthly temples to fall to the underworld. If you got abandonment issues this is the goddess for you.

When they tire

Hard to read on this scale so the text goes:

When they tire of riding the holy hardon Inanna gathers her me together for a road trip.

Those are her powers.

Won from her drunken father Sweetwater back in the day.

I’ve crassed it up some, sorry. But I wanted to bind it to their apex, when all is going lovelyly for both Dumuzi and Inanna, lettuce sprouting in its furrow, black boat quickened with cream, etc. The faces are harvested from scan codes on envelopes like this one.

scan code

Riding the pareidolia wave again. They’ve become for me the galla, the demons come from the underworld to claim their own. They’re neither inner nor outer and terrify me. The whole book’s my effort to make a peace with them. That’s why they get to narrate this whole sequence — thought being, give them some say, they might quiet down some?

I’ll hope to remember to write of Milarepa and his demons sometime, that tale, what I think it taught me. In the meantime we know this about the galla they have

No mothers

Oooh scary right? Anyway I want to get brave Inanna, sad Inanna, maddening Inanna, on the road so I can go have some dinner, so here she is, with her galla attendant, and her faithful sidekick, cut from the same barcode as she. Thanks for your indulgences, many.

Hell (tattoos

Sad Inanna

I’ve been posting scattershot this and that from Dumuzi and am feeling moved now to be a bit more steady and thoroughgoing at it. So I think I’ll post, as they come into their final framing, the picture poems I’ve made to tell the descent to hell and rescue and apotheosis of Inanna.

She’s the one who drew me into this biz in the first place many years ago. Before my true north turned out to be her rather less empowered but dearer to me now shepherd lover. She for me has been every woman, starting with the first of me, I have wanted to save or hold or leave or be safe with or from. “Devastatrix of the Lands.” O she’s a terror. And too she’s those eyes in the tent with Pound at Pisa not scornful. Kuanyin, what gentles.

So that got heavy. Also this is a comic book built out of junk mail. Anyway I’m thinking here at blog to intersperse the images with the source texts — in a way I won’t be able to in Dumuzi itself. If anyone’s ever fool enough to publish the damn fool thing.


The sequence begins with a word poem I hope gets the hapless awe one feels in the face of powers orders of magnitude huger than anything one could imagine mustering.

REFT

Tears
off a face
in bad

weather
at an altar
torn in

weather of
another
order.

Holy
sweet being
shining

gone
and the mountain
ashes in

flower.

The title came from Pound’s “What thou lov’st well shall not be reft from thee.”


Next, a picture poem.

6. The lovers - fig

Kinda porny, I know, sorry. Goes with the territory (fertility myth). Intertitle, to tuck in at lower right, looks like this.

6. The lovers - title

The ground for it, the coitus and the tristesse, looks like this in the source where I first found them (The Ancient Near East: A New Anthology of Texts and Pictures, Vol. II, ed. James B. Pritchard).

The “honey-man,” the “honey-man” sweetens me ever,
My lord, the “honey-man” of the gods, my favored of the womb,
Whose hand is honey, whose foot is honey, sweetens me ever.
Whose limbs are honey sweet, sweetens me ever.

My sweetener of the . . . navel, [my favored of the womb],
My . . . of the fair thighs, he is lettuce [planted by the water].
It is a balbale of Inanna.

Somewhat more felicitous, and just for that more blushful, is Diane Wolkstein and Samuel Noah Kramer’s translation in Inanna: Queen of Heaven and Earth:

He shaped my loins with his fair hands,
The shepherd Dumuzi filled my lap with cream and milk,
He stroked my pubic hair,
He watered my womb.
He laid his hands on my holy vulva,
He smoothed my black boat with cream,
He quickened my narrow boat with milk,
He caressed me on the bed.

I prefer the anatomically more precise term “happy place.” Anyway, as all things must, this comes to dust. Says Inanna:

Now, my sweet love is sated.
Now he says:
“Set me free, my sister, set me free.
You will be a little daughter to my father.
Come, my beloved sister, I would go to the palace.
Set me free . . .”

I gave the restless to her cuz she’s the one to go awandering. That’s up soon. Thanks for scanning.