Envelope poems

Yeah been weeks. And nothing now much to say of my own. Goes that way. But saw this on my friend Barbara Nickel’s blog and wanted to share. She’s been perusing Bervin & Werner’s compilation of Dickinson’s envelope poems, and a lovely blog post’s the fruit borne –

The Yarrow Graces – magnolia, forsythia, peach, even the bleeding heart – have been serviced lately. Town abloom on the first day of Poetry Month; thank you Emily Dickinson for getting it right – spring always seems – at least in this part of the world, not on the prairies where I grew up – somehow too gorgeous, masking the inevitable sting; the other day a violist died.

Read the all of it here, with vis poem, rejection slip made projective,

Barb's arrow

and regrets into egress.


Not much to say, except, don’t eat foraged morels and drink wine, or not much anyway. Lost a coupla days there. Viz. Probably should have sautéed them longer, too. But hells they was tasty.

 

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Erasure and treatment

Started looking round, wondering where to start a post on my own efforts in erasure and treatment, creative demolition and reformation of a source text – a loving demolition, a savage reformation. I sure am not going to subject you, nor endure myself, some blow by blow account of my misadventures. But it was interesting to see where I got started. I’d forgotten.

Salt Lake City circa 2010 and I’m finishing my diss. I’ve read into the shining spaces in Johnson’s Radi Os and been blindsided by the Blakean rainbows of Phillips’s A Humument. I’ve a stash of found matter (NYT clippings) ten years after a day I’ve not been able to write of to around or about. And I understand, post-Bervin, erasure’s growing old, as too 9/11 and poems about 9/11 have some time since grown old. Understand as well my sense of old and the currency of old are not maybe typical of the avant-garde I maybe or maybe not aspire to keep company with.

Well anyhoo. Our discourse around 9/11 seemed censorious in all sorts of ways. Repression that made it seem past in ways it was present and present in ways it was past. Repression with political beginnings and a mercantile middle and self-preening ends. And with black bars I could maybe indict the targets both obvious (war crimes of the Bush admin) and subtle (oh come let’s say it liberal friends we can be sanctimonious). Also black bars seemed easy to make even for such graphically mega-challenged as I.

So I went there with the redactors and they there with me. Made a few heaps of found material and did a selection thing derived a bit from Johnson a bit from Phillips and a bit from Bervin.

OrderI never ended up publishing these in any version or trying very hard to. A good friend, one I showed them to early on, was upset by them, and she’s a New Yorker, and that she was offended, though I didn’t get it then, I took serious, and thought best to move on. So maybe Sal you saved me from something stupid. Where Sal by the way ARE you?

WodeAnd well now I do get it. Seems kinda obvious now. Sal I didn’t mean to silence the voices of the victims. I meant that the voices of the victims had been silenced. But yeah thanks for saving me from my stupid. Still though where ARE you?

SillsPretty crude, yes? compared to what my students have been up to. Gonna skip a bunch of steps in my own progress to get to where I’m about at now. That’s the next post.

And then, after that, because onward is always, their next adventure – handwriting. The inscribed line, thick or thin, mischief or dutiful, studied or fleeting, how it expresses a moment of spirit, before and in language.

Exercise: Strange surfaces

Write a fragment, prose or verse, on an unconventional surface. In other words, what Emily Dickinson does in The Gorgeous Nothings, you do too, on some other inscribable surface.

For instance, you might take a paper bag and cut a shape from it. Triangle, rhombus, hourglass, angel wing? Make sure it has interesting surface features. Seams and ledges and creases.

Then to write on it a text that heeds the shapes available. Do you ride right over seams between paper zones? Or arrange your thought to accommodate ledges, flaps, secret corners? Does the form of the surface maybe inflect the words you set down there?

The distinction between prose and verse starts to decay here.

FOR ADVANCED USERS (that’s anyone). Pay attention also to your writing implement. Dickinson’s envelope poems leave traces of her process — for instance, some variants were surely pencilled in later, after the whole was composed, if the quality of pencil line (darker, slimmer) is any guide at all.

The word for it’s materiality — that the matter matters.

Etymologically, matter is mother.

Hebrew: Adam = “red earth.”

Haida: human = “ordinary surface bird.”

We’re earth children you and I. Squawk and g’night.

Exercise: Punctuation poem

Next week we turn to the gorgeous Gorgeous Nothings, a collaboration across oceans and generations by Emily Dickinson, Jen Bervin, and Marta Werner. My students’ first exercise will be:

Compose a poem made entirely of punctuation. Then write a short paragraph describing what the poem “means.” Treat the paragraph as a creative extension of the piece — as playful creative nonfiction, not straight-faced literary analysis. Be ready to present both the poem and your explanation to the class.

The examples they’ll have “read” are retrieved from Rasula & McCaffery’s Imagining Language — up next.

On erasure practice (II)

Yestereven, erasure marked typographically, as with Carson and Schwerner, giving a feel of fidelity, though that’s often mock. Also, erasure as palimpsest, as in Bervin’s Nets, the source poem receding into the page but not altogether invisible.

The maybe most austere mode is just to leave the page untouched in its white or creamy presentness. That’s Ronald Johnson’s approach in Radi Os, his seminal erasure of Milton’s Paradise Lost

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If austere is one end of a spectrum, and illuminative the other, somewhere in the middle’s any practice that retains the erasure marks, making what art of them they propose. Can find a precursor to that in this page from Johnson’s draft copy of Paradise Lost

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It’s a question I’ve messed with some in Overject, erasures I’ve tried out of a minor Anglo-Saxon poem sequence variously called “Maxims” or “Gnomic Verses” or (by me) “Proverbs.” Here I work up the redaction marks to make some funny (and some not-so-funny) faces.

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At the illuminative end of the spectrum (both ends and all middles presided over majestically by Wm. Blake) must for sure be Tom Phillips’s A Humument.

Fun fact. My college roommate, Johnny Carrera, my first year at Oberlin, recently had a show with Phillips at MassMOCA. And that’s all for tonight, mes amis, dormez bien.

On erasure practice (I)

Gonna hit erasure practice hard next week with my class. So thought here to summate. So much, to lift a word or three from a forebear to this sprawly lineage, depends on how you mark the missingness of what’s missing.

There’s a typography angel (sic) taken by Anne Carson in her Sappho —

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Okay wow so the first clump suddenly recalls me to the borderline people in my life. And the second clump to how I’ve answered them. Well anyway I do love the aberrant slant in the image. Too, Armand Schwerner in his Tablets

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Brackets, ellipses, squares, circles, squared circles, enlisted to mark the polyambience of what’s missing, or imagined to be. Though nothing is really missing, is the message, as I take it, of erasure practice. The blank page a perfect poem no one has ever managed to write.

Then there’s the palimpsest, where the new poem greys out, but doesn’t quite white out, the old. Jen Bervin’s erasures of Shakespeare’s sonnets in Nets work here, both stilly

imageand movingly, as here, where the palimpsest of it flickers in and out. That’s it for tonight, happy sultry (for here) weather all, more tomorrow.