Overdraft

First of three sections of Overject, very roughed out, on my dining room table.
Overject draftFifty pages give or take. This baby’s going to be a monster. Next is to feed it some foliage. The little leaf impresses you can see there are oceanspray red osier dogwood and vine maple from my back garden. Quaking aspen to come (for some scary bits).

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On total translation

A foolish notion. What would it be to translate not only for meaning, what we usually mean by “meaning,” reference, signification, the pointy ends of words, but also for everything else about, within, around them: their loops and curls, textures of their paper, sleepiness of the scribe, slips in the book’s stitching, burn marks at the edges of pages, how a sequence of ascenders and descenders read as skyline or script for a roller coaster.

Crazy yeah. But if (1) you’ve come to feel translation’s originary no matter what, and (2) your semantic translation of a poem has sucked no matter what, and (3) you’re not done with said poem, and (4) you have a decorative itch – well, you might come round to a like crazy. You might start to wonder if þine heortan geþohtas, the force of your heart’s thought, might be most truly got not via narrowly focused semantic emissions, but through a sprawling heterogeneous relation of potentially everything in the nexus of poet poem scribe translator reader annotator and medium.


Semantic reference is a span of human meaning about as sliver as visible light is to the electromagnetic spectrum.


88vMy guiding thought in Overject has become, assume you know nothing about what should or shouldn’t be translated. 88V post-it 1Feel like translating handwriting? Translate handwriting. Feel like transmitting hesitation? Transmit hesitation. Anything honest in the encounter between old damaged minor text and ignorant inexpert minor reader’s fair game.

Now if at every point everything is open to translation – how do you decide? I’ve found me guided by intuition and accident.

Gut, and happenstance. Who have led me to handwriting. My work with which in Dumuzi had drawn me to more exuberant organic loops and sweeps than the hell scraps there could suit. Into Overject went the overflow. And the self-indulgence of translating nothing but handwriting pushed up in me little spikelets of self-doubt. And one of those has made it to a post-it.

88V card 1And the possibility of annotating my translations bloomed hard and fast in my head and the next flower was a notecard on which I found a bit of semantic translation wanted (musewise, it wasn’t I who wanted, but just who let it) to burst in. And these three – transcription, post-it, notecard – plus a ghost face who poked in from a later page, became assemblage.

88v p1


The next major adventure is homophonic translation, of which I’ve written before. Here too annotation and anima. (The abrupt edge on the right is a scanner error. Not all accident is welcome.)

88v p2

“D.P.” = Dramatis Personae. One way I hope to make this work a little less esoteric in the end is, draw names out of the sonic surround, faces out of the visual noise, and see what storylines they hint at (no more, dear hearts, than that).


Oh now the lure of semiosis. Not from the meanings of the “original poem.” Rather from the nexus formed when that poem’s meanings intersect with recent homophonic accidents and my momentary interior weather and demonic images yet to be actualized. An ambivalent compound arises.

88v p3


Comes now a grave move. So much is lost in this moment! The haecceity, the suchness, of each t, each l, each g, unlike any other anywhere in existence, all now made to be of a same sameness.

I take the manuscript page and I type it up.

I try to make up the loss. I follow the leads of ascenders and descenders. After selecting some text, à la Phillips, I black out the remainder with a Sharpie. The thickness of the erasure line is governed by the heights and depths to which the line (or portion thereof) reaches. No ascender? It thins. No descender either? That thins it further. One et (⁊) and it goes down a long way. One thorn (þ) and it reaches both high and low.

88v p4

The whole of the rest of the design, mouths and eyes, windows and doors, lions and tigers and heroes and hydras, or here a school bus climbing a hill, is begun from the thicks and thins of the bars, and the white slits left between.


The chosen text has the quality of a code. As if a minor character in Beowulf had got his hands on an Enigma machine. Crypto-crisis. So I put on my tinfoil Turing cap and coughed up this.

88v p5

And when I got to that, I felt I was an inch or two closer, maybe not more, to a true translation of folio 88V of the Exeter Book.


Closer anyway than my semantic translation of that folio, which I did some years ago, and goes like this.

Ask me straight out. Don’t hide your whole life
what only you know. I won’t tell you what matters
if you hold the force of the heart of your thought back.

The wise work in riddles, praise God foremost,
our Father who said of His Creation we could
live here a while, a gift he’d remind us of.

In glory Measurer, on earth humankind,
young here is old, God is eternal with us,
events don’t touch Him, illness

You can hear the strain in it. Couldn’t care less about these pieties. Why’s the poem compel me at all? Nothing in its answers speaks to me. The pressure I hear in its questions – in the failure of its answers to relieve the pressure – that moves me.


Around here I realized two things. One, my epigraph, it spoke to me out of Job, “Where shall wisdom be found?” Is that what I’m translating, the Exeter poet asking it, into me asking it?

Other is, the work has to be in earnest. I can fuck around as much as I like, goof off, poke fun, mess shit up, that’s fine, but the asking has to be in earnest, otherwise this’ll be a dumb game I’m sick of real soon. Flip side, as long as it’s for heartfelt for me, it can be totally way goofball, and still live, short I and long.

Student work – Treated page

A few responses to the treated page exercise I gave my students as we met and read and viewed and wrestled with Tom Phillips’s A Humument. All struck me. Each differs from the others plenty. None imitates Phillips servilely. All take care with their erasural gestures, understand them to be, as they are, presences in their own right.

One that foreswears mimesis almost entirely and uses abstract form pattern and colour to expose the ickiness of its source text’s speaker. (A lot depends with this exercise on the right kind of friction with one’s source text.)

Treated page 4

One that goes maximal, takes erasure as a baroque occasion. (I neglected to note the source text here, oops.) It actually has texture under your fingertips. Glitter that bites back.

Treated page 2

And one that goes minimal, erases erasure, or proposes that we omit omission, or something like that, its ironies tangle my head. The source text is Strunk & White’s Elements of Style and it mucks with their most famous pro-imposition, “Omit needless words.”

Treated page 3

A dismantlement of text that can’t help but call to mind Susan Howe’s, as this from “Fragment of the Wedding Dress of Sarah Pierpont Edwards” in Souls of the Labadie Tract:

Howe - wedding dress (A poet I’ve never had the guts to try to teach.) There were others good, wonderful even, or that didn’t in themselves transcend but were important explorations for their fashioners. There’s in fact no knowing what will beget what. That’s why I don’t grade these, they should be done in great spirited freedom.


In a few I’ll hope to write a bit about my own muckings about with treated pages. Nothing so colourful as these. Also want to write about really good discussions we had today on qualities of line (actual and implied, that’s from Taylor) and the non-blankness of the blank page. First though dinner – steak!

Teaching note

Wrestling a bit with the question, in my visual poetry course, whether and how to involve my own creative efforts. My thought has always been, a teacher should keep his work to his own damn self, none of that preening, thanks much to yehs. And yet I’m a living working maker and maybe that could be of help to my students. Esp. since almost every prompt I give them emerges from some struggle I’ve found myself in and found a way at least partway through. Abnegation of ego is more ego.

(Too, I’ve already stretched the envelope, posting their work on this blog. All kinds of sound reasons not to do such a thing. And the effects seem to have been good, benign, affirming, from the signs I’ve been given to see.)

So well my thought is to post, among the prompts I give my students, and some of the works they do in response, a few of my own efforts, recent or distant, with maybe a few comments. Maybe they’ll come see them maybe no.

E.g., recently posted a treated page exercise, soon will post a few of their lovely answers, and might be – helpful?? amusing? cause for benign condescending laughter 106 years hence among as yet unmade inhabitants of star system X93 in galaxy P1945Q? – watch that self-abnegation engine whirr into action – for me to post as well some of my efforts on the same terrain. And so I think I will.

I was cleaning the house, sorting papers, and the itch came to post to my blog, and so here we are.

The treated page I will write about when and if I do:

Laces

(That took me, guys, so you know, months. More, more than a decade, if you go back to the date of the source text – a dream I had of wandering as a child at ease in a marketplace.)

They are such a kind group. I was observed by a tenured colleague on Tuesday, no reason to be nervous, but of course I was, and they did beautifully, bore me up wonderfully, just by being themselves. Mean to tell them tomorrow how grateful I am.

all things bear one up
robins in the high meadow

Six Hungry Ghost Abatement Protocols

Wrote this up for a job app and thought I’d post it here—after revising blogwise. Medium is so message.

Been working about a year on a manuscript called Six Hungry Ghost Abatement Protocols. It’s a study of creative process done at a crossroads of word and image. In which crash prose passages go through a series of verbal and visual metamorphoses—extraction, precipitation, illumination, inspiration.

My thought here is that even well tamed verbal structures possess a wildness inherent in language. In that wildering I feel less that I am writing and drawing poems than that the poems are drawing me out and writing me down.

Themewise the book takes on the Buddhist figure of the hungry ghost, a being of insatiable hunger, unassuageable suffering, to trace some connections among desire, attachment, loss, release. Process and content are very interwoven here: renunciations asked of the poems in their proceeding, as each gives way to a successor, are kin to renunciations they wrestle with in mind.

The transformations in their turns.


Extraction

I begin with a passage from my journal, streamlined and depunctuated, for instance this dream transcript.

I’m with R. on roads in the mountains ∙ at the
base of a ski hill we are looking at trail maps ∙ a
web or net of red lines thrown down over a
volcanic core ∙ a whole series of them side by
side ∙ each to the left steps back a bit further ∙
takes more in ∙ the gradations so fine I have to
take more steps across to get to the map that
has what I want to show than I thought to ∙ at it
I point to the road or trail on a southwestern
shoulder of a mountain ∙ One branch goes west­-
ward ∙ that’s somewhere we’ve been ∙ one goes
rightward across the valley of the Stehekin
though we’re in Colorado ∙ that’s the trip I’m
talking about ∙ somewhere else I am saying how
full the colours were up there ∙ Even in winter ∙
a lake in the mountains ∙ sunlight on it and me
through firs on the far side ∙ bleached wood of
fallen snags half-submerged in the water ∙ in
the foreground tall as I am so I must be crouch-
ing ∙ brilliant red blueberry leaves ∙ a few in a
bare bush ∙ the colours give life to the sun and
to me ∙ then in a car with R. driving in and
away from the mountains ∙ he says he doesn’t
use trails when hiking ∙ he just pulls over to the
side of the road and starts bushwhacking up ∙
because of how his mother taught him hillwalk-
ing ∙ she was crazy or maybe just very intense ∙
I laugh too loud ∙ say ∙ But that was in Scotland
where they cut down the forests centuries ago ∙
do you really want to bushwhack through fir
thickets ∙ I wake picturing different sorts of fir
woods ∙ an impassable thicket of small dead
densely interwoven branches ∙ a stand of ma-
ture trees ∙ spacious and cool ∙ a floor of moss

Next I mine this source material for word clusters that bear poetic charge. Here’s the same prose with the mined bits prominent.

I’m with R. on roads in the mountains ∙ at the
base of a ski hill we are looking at trail maps ∙ a
web or net of red lines thrown down over a
volcanic core ∙ a whole series of them side by
side ∙ each to the left steps back a bit further ∙
takes more in ∙ the gradations so fine I have to
take more steps across to get to the map that
has what I want to show than I thought to ∙ at it
I point to the road or trail on a southwestern
shoulder of a mountain ∙ One branch goes west­-
ward ∙ that’s somewhere we’ve been ∙ one goes
rightward across the valley of the Stehekin
though we’re in Colorado ∙ that’s the trip I’m
talking about ∙ somewhere else I am saying how
full the colours were up there ∙ Even in winter ∙
a lake in the mountains ∙ sunlight on it and me
through firs on the far side ∙ bleached wood of
fallen snags half-submerged in the water ∙ in
the foreground tall as I am so I must be crouch
ing ∙ brilliant red blueberry leaves ∙ a few in a
bare bush ∙ the colours give life to the sun and
to me ∙ then in a car with R. driving in and
away from the mountains ∙ he says he doesn’t
use trails when hiking ∙ he just pulls over to the
side of the road and starts bushwhacking up ∙
because of how his mother taught him hillwalk-
ing ∙ she was crazy or maybe just very intense ∙
I laugh too loud ∙ say ∙ But that was in Scotland
where they cut down the forests centuries ago ∙
do you really want to bushwhack through fir
thickets ∙ I wake picturing different sorts of fir
woods ∙ an impassable thicket of small dead
densely interwoven branches ∙ a stand of ma
ture trees ∙ spacious and cool ∙ a floor of moss

I compile my extractions to make a shorter stranger paragraph.

The roads in are look thrown down over a side
of them a bit further ∙ so fine I have to map that
too ∙ each step I want more a mountain road to
where the valley of what else I am even in win-
ter sunlight on it and me bleached wood in the
water in a crouch ∙ a lake fallen through firs in
the foreground ∙ brilliant bare red bush ∙ then in
a car with the mountains hiking us ∙ art a moth
taught us ∙ Just be at rest as you hack through a
rent sort of small dead ∙ the trees here really do
wake an interwoven densely spacious impasse

And perform the same extraction operation on this paragraph. This time my record of the process becomes a visual poem in its own right at hang on a threshold between signal and noise.

The roads in are look thrown down over a side
of them a bit further ∙ so fine I have to map that
too ∙ each step I want more a mountain road to
where the valley of what else I am even in win-
ter sunlight on it and me bleached wood in the
water in a crouch ∙ a lake fallen through firs in
the foreground ∙ brilliant bare red bush ∙ then in
a car with the mountains hiking us ∙ art a moth
taught us ∙ Just be at rest as you hack through a
rent sort of small dead ∙ the trees here really do
wake an interwoven densely spacious impasse

Extracted text stays black, a corona of greyscale text persists about it, the rest of it’s let fade to the colour of the page.


Precipitation

The second round of extraction yields a material enough enriched for the next transformation—precipitation of a verse poem. In this process material drawn from the prose paragraph descends and settles into verbal strata.

RED KING

Look so fine.
I want what else I am brilliant at.

Red
king, hack us through these
here red trees.

Each step bit them.
Am really in a rough pass.
Winter oven.

I count myself free, making this one, to arrange words and lines as I wish. But only get to use words I can plausibly find in the source paragraph. I interpret “plausibly” often quite and sometimes really very generously.


Illumination

A book made just of these poems seemed a cold prospect, too procedural, not human enough, so I started to think and feel my way towards companion poems—poems born of those already made, but freely, with no constraint or set procedure.

At first nothing came. One morning, though, staring at an extraction record in frustration, I started drawing lines around the black text, then round the grey. I thickened lines and emphasized the faces and forms I began to think I saw. The result was a monstrous assemblage of eyes and mouths, horns and spikes and tusks. Faces predominated, mostly in profile, and I found them both frightening and endearing. They seemed spirits caught up in all sorts of longing and yet capable of illumination.

I decided to trust the weirdness and began to do the same with other extraction records. Sometimes the process yielded a compost of half-formed faces. Other times, I came to a single form, as here, where illumination got me a frog.

Image - Frog Star

The extraction process may be familiar from Ronald Johnson’s Radi Os and Jen Bervin’s Nets, the precipitation process from Srikanth Reddy’s Voyager. Likewise these illuminations owe a debt to the work of Tom Phillips in A Humument. But as far as I know these methods haven’t been combined in this way or directed to quite these ends. Quite possibly for good reason.


Illumination

The ghosts showed me the way to the fourth poem, the companion poem, which I hear as the voice of their suffering as it grows aware of itself. No constraints now except that the poem share a page with its illuminated precursor.

STAR FROG

The
size of the real
is fly

That we
never were
may be

the only
thing we need
never

fear
say I an unironic self
digesting fly.

The term “inspiration” may want scare quotes. One point here is to challenge our still persistent notion of the poet as a solitary figure fashioning her art ex nihilo. But still I feel that something in these poems draws a deep breath.


All Together Now

The four poems together make a two-page spread.

Upper left: prose scarred by an extraction process
Lower left: verse precipitated from the extracted ore
Upper right: illumination of the extraction scars
Lower right: verse inspired by the longing of the image

Click on me!
Click on me!