My first sub to a gallery’s call for entries. Writ with the help of a mist friend.
SCRO begins with a handwritten text about my relationship with my aging father. A single paragraph over 24 pages, one for each hour of the day. I manipulate the text on a photocopier, scan the resultant distorted images, and crop those to compose short video poems, 24 of them, each a minute long. The length of each frame determined by chance. The text distressed for my fear of his mental decline. Also for how hard it is for son to know father, or father son, or either one himself. The heart of the practice is my distortion of the ascenders, descenders, bowls and cross-strokes of my written hand. Visual forms, latent in the text, are literally drawn out of it as the words are composted—broken down and let re-flower in proto-signs, pseudo-glyphs, half-made faces and botanic forms. The soundtrack is ambient noise in and around the house for which my father co-signed the loan. He’s made me able to live, here. SCRO, the overlap of “scrotum” and “escrow,” both derived from words for to cut.
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.
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.
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.
Here I love Mr. Moustachio. The back-and-forth between him and “angry” feels equally weighted. And the horizontal distortion bar pleases me.
This might be my favourite. A leaf beetle bearing or born of the word “leaf.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
Mother’s Day’s a hard day for me. My mother and I have been estranged for some years. We’ve started talking a bit by e-mail recently, and that’s good, but this day’s still tough, even with all my humanistic skepticism re: the greeting card–industrial complex.
So I did what I usually do when something tough comes up. In no particular order. Meditated. Neglected the dishes. Wrote in my journal. Cut myself some slack. Stared into space thinking/feeling. Neglected a pile of grading. Pulled some weeds. Chitchatted with neighbours passing.
The journal writing (nothing very new vis-a-vis my mother) (inner mother and outer mother) (a distinction for another post) (one maybe never to be writ) (curious? buy my poetry!) after photocopy mojo looks like this.
Veiled, I know. Do I want you to put the work into decipherment? Ish. Confession, I swing madly between nutshell-to-others and severe overshare. Seriously – I mean no glib appropriation here – I’m close to the spectrum on this one. Can’t figure out the norms, read the signals, can only see the shudder or shoulder-turn when I’ve overstepped.
With that proviso – maybe proof of the point it makes – I’ll for once give the source text of the aasemic text above.
Mother’s Day. Not ever an easy day. With the chime of an email arriving came in quick succession—dread of an email from my mother tearing into me for not writing sooner or in a better way—shame, at that feeling—and, a thought, the connection is broken for good isn’t it. As to that shame: thought later: wherefore? The feeling (dread) verifies itself. I mean I would not feel it if I had never had reason to feel it. So—I thought later working at weeding—instead of shame, maybe, sadness. That I think is what comes in when the shame steps aside a little—sadness, for me, for her too, in the grip of she knew not what———.
I want to affirm three friends, all mothers, who’ve borne me up today.
One, Beth Thomas, an old friend from New York, who told the truth for her about Mother’s Day today on FB and made me feel bold to do likewise.
Another, S., even longer a friend, who wrote to me today
And thinking of you because it’s that day again – how is it that day again so quickly? – and I know it’s a hard one for you. As always, I hope you not just know but believe and feel that you’re loved.
Brings tears cuz I guess I don’t always.
Third, came to me a memory of a student in our program, she’s a mother, maybe a month ago we were both at a reading, her son was with her. And seeing, late in the evening, how heavily and easily her son draped in her arms sleeping – how quietly and carefully she packed up her bag, his toys etc., so as not to wake him – how fixed even so, all the while, her attention was on the reader reading, taking the words in.
Is it strange of me? Do you find it ordinary? It was so moving to me, her undividedness, her totally being nourished by what she was there for – the poetry – and being totally there as what her son needed her to be.
I need, as we all do, to be mother to myself, and lack, as many do, a good interior image of that. And so I savage me.
A lot of my inner life is trying to find relief from that.
Some relief comes from inner resources. Some more comes from chosen works – teaching, say, though I should be grading right now. And some comes from blessings like rain – friendships like these three.
She’s also, that third one, one of the most kickass poets I’ve worked with.
We ask a lot of mothers (fathers also) (children also).
Who are we that we think we get to ask so much.
Donald Drumpf. That’s your koan. Pass it and I’ll vote for you.
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 –
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:
If you get your pareidolia on, that can look like a postmodern Roman frieze, gods, monsters, epic struggle. Next panel.
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.
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 …
Asemic writing is writing you can’t read. Semic writing is writing you can. (A back formation, there’s no such word.) I am at play, finessing the difference, with aasemic writing.
A joy of asemic writing is that it draws all the promise of meaning-making, all the whole multifoliate interpretive apparatus, into activity, w/o resolution or conclusion. It’s Steinian indeterminacy, in not the syntax but the graphemes. It’s the made mark as blastocyst, as stem cell, as potential to become. Is it a Deleuzian plateau? Maybe, still sweating that concept out.
So the aasemic script I’ve been playing with is neither indeterminate nor determinate. (GOD you can take this non-dualist thing too far, mm? how’s this not just centrist squish?) It starts with a journal page transcribed in a projective hand – descender a plunge, cross-stroke a jailbreak. Then I wave or shiver it over the photocopier light bar as it slides under, gathering data in.
All this is lead in to say, The New Post-Literate has posted a few, and that makes me happy, cuz they’re the first bits of Overject to be published, other than here, which don’t count. Here’s the link.
And here are a few other recent offerings there I think especially cool.
The home page of The New Post-Literate where it’s all to be found.
A lot of my trouble w/ academic parlance comes from trying to translate Buddhist vocabulary and values to a non-Buddhist circumstance. Most of the rest of it comes from being a lazy and a lousy Buddhist. (The latter’s 90%.)
Feste to Viola, Twelfth Night, “I am [a] corrupter of words.” After they’ve just rung their changes on live, stand, lie. I compared the move on lie to a triple-axle – Viola to Feste, “yo watch this move” – and one of my students found a sextuple axle in it, bam. Post-structuralism, its insights, e.g., words’re banana peels, dates back at least to Shakespeare, if not to Jesus? “On this rock I build my church,” that’s a pun, Jesus is making a funny, I told them, explaining the finger joints of a dactyl, by way pterodactyl. Petros (Peter), petra (rock). Long live the rhizome. Weed shoot that cracks the rock.