Summer teaching once more

Decided last week to dumpster my course design for Intro to CrW. It’s gotten old and tired. Was real fresh and alive when I started it (as an overhaul like this one it happens) cuz I made it day by day in relation to what I sensed from my students, who they were, what gave them life. And then, over the next few years, I institutionalized it, why, cuz I belong to an institution, and it presses on me, walls, ceiling, floor, in the form of hours demands infighting and discouragement. Well fuck that shit. I can’t ask my students to keep it fresh if I don’t. So I’m pitching the design and going back to the unknowing my own work comes from.

It’s scarier and it burns more brain glucose, which I want to hoard for my own creative work, but I think a mistake we make in the profession is to feel we’re in a zero sum game. In fact if I’m feeling on a live edge teaching, that enlivens my creative activity, too. As I said to a friend at a little fest held this weekend to mark the vertical publication of the first part of SCRO, the visual poetry courses I’ve taught have fed and informed my own work in visual poetry – have made, in a sense, my current work possible.

So here’s the bit of my syllabus where I explain there’s no plan for the class.

(Overheard at Menace as I write: “Are you really worried about rhizomes?”)


Course Outline

There is none. I’ve taught this course many times and it’s grown hidebound. So I’m doing the same thing with my course design as I tell a student to do with a story or poem or essay when they’re bored with it: throw out your structure, your idea of where it should go, and discover from the materials at hand what it’s supposed to be. It’s scary fun and way more real, as a way to write, a way to teach.

We’re going to wing it, figuring out, class by class, what we’ll do during our time together, and what your assignments are for the next class. I’ll be making the decisions at first, but I expect that, as we come together as a crew, you’ll collaborate in the calls we make. Rest assured, we won’t be structureless; we’ll just discover as we go the structure natural to our being-together. And, by the end of our six weeks, you’ll have met and grappled with most or all of these creative writing constructs:

General

showing and telling
concrete significant details
triggering and generated subjects (Hugo)
diction and etymology
“the writer’s antennae”
using found material
revision and editing

Poetry

sounds
the poetic line
poetry and Poetry
imagery
simile and metaphor
metonymy
making sense less

Fiction

dialogue
characterization
point of view
story structure (inverted checkmark)
text and subtext (Hemingway’s “iceberg”)

Creative Nonfiction

scene and exposition
truth and truthiness
questions of ethics
nonfiction forms

That’s for the worrypants. May send ’em, first day, to Cage’s guidelines:

cagerulesteachersstudents

It’s all just organic form in pedagogy, not so scary.

Spring and All encore

Today planted, from Cloud Mountain Farm, a frost peach, settler apple, self-fertile plum. Here’s in which spirit – a recovered letter writ to my old teacher on WCW’s Spring and All. Maybe the most important text to me ever. Sprawly and incomprehensible though it yeah be.


Dear Don,

First, do no harm. The thing itself suffices. Nothing one says or does should injure it

patches of standing water
the scattering of small trees

Spring and All as articulated innocence. Second, to cleanse perception and return to innocence, the spring of the mind, essential simplicity –

One by one objects are defined –
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

– sharp & rough acts of imagination may be called for, the rending & renewal of the earth even –

The imagination, intoxicated by prohibitions, rises to drunken heights to destroy the world. Let it rage, let it kill…. None to remain; nothing but the lower vertebrates, the molluscs, insects and plants. Then at last will the world be made anew.

Third, against, or alongside, Pound’s “day by day make it new,” the thought that moment by moment it is new –

But the thing he never knows and never dares to know is what he is at the exact moment that he is. And this moment is the only thing in which I am at all interested …

In fact now, for the first time, everything IS new.

It was, is, always new, & now at long last perception, cleansed by the divine flood imagination has unstoppered, catches up with reality –

It is spring. That is to say, it is approaching THE BEGINNING.

Spring and all. Spring in all. Fourth, the poem is not about reality, it is of reality. This might seem a poem about a painting of a pot of flowers –

red where in whorls
petal lays its glow upon petal
round flamegreen throats

– but it’s not actually about anything, it just is … being, disclosed, its unconcealedness. (Right, that is to say, under your nose.)

Fifth, being real, being of what is real, it’s natural, one of the forms of nature –

The work will be in the realm of the imagination as plain as the sky is to a fisherman – A very clouded sentence. The word must be put down for itself, not as a symbol of nature but a part, cognizant of the whole – aware – civilized.

– linking Williams to Coleridge:

it shapes as it develops itself from within, and the fullness of its development is one and the same with the perfection of its outward form.

Organic form. The poem may take the shape of

the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines –

or that of a crowd

moved uniformly
by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them –

but it is organic. (And is not always pretty. Pretty is the road to a beautiful illusion, i.e., a divorce from experience. Whatever it is, rose petal, jaundiced eyeball, let it be unvarnished.) As long as it sees clearly and mimics naught and has no truck with the representational delusion, it is, of necessity, organic. Which brings to mind Robert Bringhurst, whose book The Tree of Meaning I do mean to bring you –

Trees grow in and on the earth. Where do stories grow? They grow in and on storytelling creatures. Stories are epiphytes: organisms that grow on other organisms, in much the same way staghorn ferns and tree-dwelling lichens … grow on trees.

I have a hunch that from a lichen’s point of view, the basic function of a tree is to provide a habitat for lichens. I have a hunch that from a story’s point of view, the function of storytelling creatures – humans for example – is to provide a habitat for stories. I think the stories might be right. That’s what you and I are really for: to make it possible for certain kinds of stories to exist.

– or Weil, whom he quotes:

Il leur appartient de témoigner à la manière d’un pommier en fleurs, à la manière des étoiles.

Sixth, more continuity with Coleridge, his sense of the imagination as what

reveals itself in the balance or reconciliation of opposite or discordant qualities: of sameness, with difference; of the general, with the concrete; the idea, with the image; the individual, with the representative; the sense of novelty and freshness, with old and familiar objects (etc.)


You see I was doing rhizome mind here right?


For Williams too imagination takes disparate parts of experience (“the sight of the sky through a dusty window, birds and clouds and bits of paper flying through the sky, the sound of music from his radio, feelings of anger and love and amusement roused by a letter just received” – Levertov) and joins them into wholes that reveal – what? – that experience was whole to begin with, a small quibbling mind made it seem broken & partial. Poem VIII seems a conscious illustration of just how many & disparate the elements are that can be united: a rhombus of sunlight on a wood floor, song, tires, anemones, Persephone spirited away, an industrial magnate (J. Pluto Morgan), how much & how many it is impossible

to say, impossible
to underestimate –
wind, earthquakes in

Manchuria, a
partridge
from dry leaves

Each stanza here, each plaque of mind-light, seems a place from which one can move in any and all directions. The freedom of the imagination detoxed of prohibition.

This is not “fit” but a unification of experience

The oneness of experience is the oneness of a rose with the space that surrounds it

The fragility of the flower
unbruised
penetrates space

nor does it bruise space

each petal ends in
an edge, the double facet
cementing the grooved

columns of air –

It ends, is edged. Also, pervades, is edgeless. It is at the edge where petal meets air that love moves and lives. Which, seventh, is why “The Red Wheelbarrow” is about its prepositions – about, that is, stationing, edges, points of contact –

So much depends
upon                                                    (and this sort of stationing is on a par with

a red wheel
barrow

glazed with rain                               this sort
water

beside the white                               and this)
chickens

Finally, given all this, how then does one proceed? One moment

a boy of eight who was
looking at the middle of

the man’s belly
at a watchchain –

and then the next

I saw a girl with one leg
over the rail of a balcony

of all of which it is unseemly to speak

It is the presence of a

&

The imagination is a –

Love,
Chris