Teaching note

So it’s give or take, who keeps track, the anniversary of this blog, in which honour, here’s from the syllabus to The Art of Compost, the second coming of it.


SOME LIKEMINDED FOLK

Compost is a way of thinking about life and death and art and thought and act. Not a better way but a really quite interesting way. Also, there’s no such thing as compost theory, but if there were, here might be some thoughts of it.

Now I am terrified at the earth, it is that calm and patient,
It grows such sweet things out of such corruptions.
          – Walt Whitman, “This Compost”

Beginning again and again is a natural thing even when there is a series.
          – Gertrude Stein, “Composition as Explanation”

write carelessly so that nothing that is not green will survive
          – William Carlos Williams, Paterson

Life is natural
          in the evolution
                    of matter

Nothing supra-rock
          about it
                    simply

butterflies
          are quicker
                    than rock
          – Lorine Niedecker, “Wintergreen Ridge”

It is only the midden heap, Beauty: shards,
                    scraps of leftover food, rottings,
                    the Dump
where we read history, larvae of all dead things,
                    mixd seeds, waste, off-castings, despised
                    treasure, vegetable putrefactions
          – Robert Duncan, “Nor is the Past Pure”

[You] can go by no track other than the one the poem under hand declares, for itself.
          – Charles Olson, “Projective Verse”

After a long time of light, there began to be eyes, and light began looking with itself.
          – Ronald Johnson, Ark

Poetry is biodegradable thought.
          – Jed Rasula, This Compost

Hey try this out. Where you see “poem” or “poetry,” read “writing.” Does the thought hold?


Sorry for the gap between the posts folks. Rough couple of days in headache land. I have trouble turning off. End of the quarter, all ramped up, grading frenzy, plus madness with the student journal I advise, plus getting prepped for summer compost, and having got it all done, instead of relaxing into a week of sunfull ease – whump.

There I am in line at the Home Depot to pick up my new composter and the sparklies start, migraine’s coming, oh no. (Head, meet composter, headComposter, ha, ha.) Mostly through it now so I can get this bit posted but damn, the body, damn.

Some sympathy let’s for those medievals who reviled it and apotheosized the spirit. Yeah they leave us with a cruddy debit. But just think, boils, cramps, agues, rotten tooth roots, and what did they have to heal yehs? Leaves and leeches.

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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.

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

image

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

image

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.

image

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.

Rock & flowers

That language is material, yes, but alongside it, that matter is a thinking.

earth is interesting:
ice is interesting
stone is interesting

flowers are
Carbon
Carbon is
Carboniferous
Pennsylvania

Age
under
Dogtown
the stone

the watered
rock Carbon
flowers, rills

– Charles Olson, “Maximus—from Dogtown, II”

Brings to mind Issa, that we walk on the roof of hell, gazing at flowers. And Ronald Johnson’s thought that light evolved the eye in order to see itself.

What I’ve been reading here. Jed Rasula, This Compost. Charles Olson, The Maximus Poems.