Plastic Figures

When I first encountered this essay in Open Letter I was stymied. It began with a long footnote on Eric Auerbach and his essay "Figura". It is when I encountered the essay again in Nilling that I was at ease to explore its content for the form was alive with an appropriate typography. Thank you BookThug for a layout in point sizes that delimit note from body and permit a more graceful entry into Lisa Robertson's starting "Time in the Codex". When the footnote spills over on to the next page we are not frightened when body and note are typographically distinguished. It is with relish we can say that the note figures the body. How so?

Let's us review Auerbach's summary of figural interpretation and watch as interpretation provides fire to the cloaked and shivering history.

Thus history, with all its concrete force, remains forever a figure, cloaked and needful of interpretation. In this light history of no epoch ever has the practical self-sufficiency which, from the standpoint both of primitive man and of modern science, resides in the accomplished fact; all history, rather, remains open and questionable, points to something still concealed, and the tentativeness of events in the figural interpretation is fundamentally different from tentativeness of events in the modern view of historical development.
Robertson in her note rehearses Auerbach's resume of the difference between figural and symbolic interpretation. She also brings to bear stress on the plasticity of the figural which is a large part of the beginning of Auerbach's essay where he philologically traces the word through Latin. What I want to do here is to tie Robertson's stress on the plasticity to the tri-temporal structure of figural interpretation: two events in the past are connected by the figure, one is the prophecy of the other which is the fulfillment of the first and these two are related to a third yet to come. In Christian readings the third is the revelation of a second coming and the establishment of a new kingdom. One wonders if figural interpretation can be shorn of its eschatological roots and enact a postmodern apocalyptics of hope.

Plasticity is the key. Robertson ends her note thus
This plasticity — this propensity of the figure to actively fold within itself an agency, an inflection that modulates perception — is the trait that permits the ongoing activity of the figure in time.
This agency is connected to the activity of reading which of course is deployed in time. We read in the body of the essay these postulations:
Reading shows the wrongness of the habitual reifications of "the social" and "the personal" in a binary system of values. It submits this binary to a ruinous foundering. And so, an erotics.
Reading is the practice that allows us to relate two events separated in time and to interpret them through a third yet to come event. It is an activity that allows us to root through cultures — our own and other's — and envisage a future. In spatial terms, it is like remembering where the sun rises in one spot, being transported to another locale and noting where the sun rises, and link these two observations with the belief that the sun will also rise again somewhere. The figural is on the cusp of the scientific. Thinking by homology is the precursor to thinking by cause and effect. The scientific displaces the first cause and submits our binaries (footnote and body) to ruinous foundering.

And so for day 1053

Angry Androgynes

A discussion about the political uses of anger (and the dangers of internalized unexpressed anger) led me to reread "The Phenomenology of Anger" by Adrienne Rich. It is found in Diving Into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972. Nestled mid-way in the volume, the poem begins not with a depiction of anger but with one of madness.

1.    The freedom of the wholly mad
to smear & play with her madness
write with her fingers dipped in it
the length of a room
And it ends, sections later
Every act of becoming conscious
(it says here in this book)
is an unnatural act
And then, to search out more clues to this unnatural act mediated by books, I turned to the other poems and recalled the figure of the merman-mermaid from the poem which gives its title to the collection, "Diving into the Wreck" and found more. There is the androgyne from "The Stranger".
I am the androgyne
I am the living mind you fail to describe
in your dead language
the letters of my name are written under the lids
of the newborn child.
I raise the presence of these images of the androgyne because they are associated with the expression of anger. Earlier in the first stanza of "The Stranger" there is an assertion/cancellation of gender
walking as I've walked before
like a man, like a woman, in the city
my visionary anger cleansing my sight
and the detailed perceptions of mercy
flowering from that anger
Blossoms all wholly unnatural. And here is that passage from "Diving into the Wreck":
This is the place
And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair
streams black, the merman in his armored body
We circle silently
about the wreck
we dive into the hold
I am she: I am he
"Diving into the Wreck" ends with a brief catalogue of items carried by this composite being; the last to be enumerated is a book, "a book of myths / in which / our names do not appear". Naming is of course a path to power (a theme that was to preoccupy feminist thought and practice, see for example Mary Daly's deconstructions and reconstructions in Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism. Beacon Press, 1978). For Rich, the work with language is a quotidian task, something that arises out of daily interventions and constant attention to the mundane and its links to greater systems. Emotion becomes a route to analysis and creation or rather a re-creation. I close with this concluding passage from the first section of "Incipience" — what appears to be a synecdoche for full scale conflagration is also a figure for trust in the cumulative impact of small gestures.
to feel the fiery future
of every matchstick in the kitchen

Nothing can be done
but by inches. I write out my life
hour by hour, word by word
gazing into the anger of old women on the bus
numbering the striations
of air inside the ice cube
imagining the existence
of something uncreated
this poem
our lives
Androgynes may not be popular mythical figures these days but they've not lost their historical lustre, they shine with righteousness, lighting a path to the yet to become.

And so for day 1052

Scapegoat Ideology

Nicola Graimes begins The Greatest Ever Vegetarian Cookbook with an introduction that ranges through history and geography to enumerate the healing properties of food.

Throughout history every culture has used food to prevent and treat illness and disease, and promote good health. The Egyptians praised the lentil for its ability to enlighten the mind; the Ancient Greeks and Romans used honey to heal wounds; and in China, sprouted beans and grains were used to treat a wide range of illnesses, from constipation to dropsy.
This survey veers to condemnation.
However, around the time of the industrial revolution, people in Western countries came to disregard the medicinal and therapeutic properties of food and it is only relatively recently that interest in the healing qualities of food has been revived.
Obviously a deficit of mind opening lentils is at play in this revisionist history that partakes of a grand narrative of fall and recuperation. Some people living through the Industrial Revolution were concerned with food distribution: witness the development of canning and pasteurization.

Aside: It is with fondness that I recall tinned peaches from my childhood. Now my memory finds its place in a long line of succession. There were many others before me to value summer in a jar served in mid-winter.

So many of the fresh ingredients in Graimes's book depend upon refrigeration and rapid transportation to reach their destination. These are technologies of a later Industrial Revolution. If we are mindful of history we are led into thinking of systems of production and a more encompassing picture of (ecological) health.

And so for day 1051

From Sounds to Functions

Sometimes words sound sexier in French. Take for example

which means
padded shoulder strap
Not to be confused with "bourdaloue", a type of pear pie or an implement for easing relief, both I believe named after a Jesuit priest.

And so for day 1050

Long Flight To Crash Instants

On the DVD of Ferlingetti: A Rebirth of Wonder there is a bonus track of the poet reading "History of Airplanes". He is wearing a leather aviator cap and goggles. The performance is disarming. He looks goofy and the viewer smiles as the poem begins with the Wright brothers hoping the invention of aviation would lead to peace. And on the poem goes and the historical examples accumulate until you think this is just another recitation by a peacenik, harmless commentary. Sentimental in a Charlie Chaplin fashion.

The poem ends with the Third World striking back and America becoming "a part / of the scorched earth of the world". And on the screen we see smoke billowing out of the Twin Towers.

And a wind of ashes blows across the land
And for one long moment in eternity
There is chaos and despair

And buried loves and voices
Cries and whispers
Fill the air

Note: it's not "a history", it is simply "history" as if there were only one. The grand gesture is founded in the title. And it is this sweep that generates a tone of patriotic sentimentality. Nonetheless, I find this an effective poem. I like how it builds. The examples of "man-made birds" cumulate and a warning is sounded:
And so then clever men built bigger and faster flying machines and
these great man-made birds with jet plumage flew higher than any
real birds and seemed about to fly into the sun and melt their wings
and like Icarus crash to earth
The stanzas are knit together by the bootless search for the doves of peace. None to be found.

The lines lengthen, stanza by stanza, until the ending quoted above where they return as simple shortened descriptions that stand alone without commentary. All the commentary has proceeded and the poet knows when to pull back. What remains for the imagination to contemplate is the notion that history could have been otherwise, if men had been but wise and humans alive to the dangers of exceptionalism and subsuming all histories under the one history.

And so for day 1049


This poet reminds me of Suzanne Buffam of the "Little Commentaries" section of The Irrationalist. A distinguishing characteristic is the turn. Here is one in full — I like how the title reads as a first line so that the whole is structured like a miniature ode with strophe, antistrophe and epode.

Reality, of continuing interest

The highway patrol often overestimate
the speed of a car painted red

Persons subject to leadfoot
often drive red-coloured cars
David Bromige. Tiny Courts in a world without scales.

And for good measure one from Suzanne Buffam. One that also provides a turn.
On Suicide

People who commit suicide don't fail to believe in life.
They fail to believe in death.
One could gorge oneself on such epigrams.

And so for day 1048

Tuneful Origins

There is a certain whimsy in the recitation offered by Jean-Jacques Lecercle in The Force of Language of the various speculations about origins.

Indeed, among the theories of the origin of language, one will not only find the 'bow-wow' theory (language as imitative of natural sounds), the 'yo-he-ho' theory, which I favour (language originates in communal work), the 'ding-dong' theory (language is the offspring of musical rhythmic 'ejaculations'), but also the 'come hither' theory, where language comes to humankind as a preliminary to sexual congress.
I vote for music because I am much taken by the argument put forth in The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body by Steven Mithen. Got a song on my mind:
Catchy, eh?

And so for day 1047

Friendship's Infelicities

Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas, editors. The Work of Mourning by Jacques Derrida. Preparing the ground, the editors lead up to a discussion of what it might mean to mourn for a generation by these thoughts on the cumulative.

Each time we mourn, then, we add another name to the series of singular mournings and so commit what may be called a sort of "posthumous infidelity" with regard to the others. Even worse, if friendship is always structured by the possibility of one friend will die before the other, then simply to have friends — more than one — would already be to commit this infidelity. The infidelity that occurs after death will have begun already before it. The singular friendship, the singular mourning, the first mourning, will have already been repeated; posthumous infidelity would thus structure all our friendships from the very beginning. If our friendships, and thus our mournings, end up being inscribed or iterated in a series relating each unique death to others, then this series would also appear fatally to presage other mournings of its kind.
What if the term "infidelity" were substituted by "a promiscuous serial monogamy"? What if each and every relationship (not merely friendship) were permeated by moments of attention that were evanescent? Where is the betrayal? Especially, when one realizes that Brault and Naas are referencing and infidelity "in regards to the others", when one takes on board a practice of honouring the plural, my friend does not stand in memory as single and alone, he contains multitudes and yet the friend is a unique constellation.

Fidelity here is the flip slide of jealousy (not envy, jealousy, that is guarding access for oneself).

Mourning is a kind of filtering of the other's relationship to us. All their other ties are subordinated to the one tie they have to us. Mourning is about our own woundedness. Mourning is a practice that keeps alive the promiscuous nutrients of relation and helps us husband our surprise: what the other has given we are able to repurpose and in such reimaginings we extend the giving. What this means is that the object of mourning circulates among many relations — friend, foe, stranger — for at any point in time I can project wounding, healing and simple delight by the mechanisms of memory. And the show is full of serendipity: to myself I am alien, faithfully alien.

And so for day 1046

Heart Flare

Denise Riley in the "Bad Words" chapter from The Force of Language has a very visceral evocation of the lasting hurt of words meant to injure.

Old word-scars embody a 'knowing it by heart', as if phrases had been hurled like darts into that thickly pulsating organ.
That thickly pulsating organ reminds one that offerings of one's heart à la Valentine's is not all sweetness and light — what is on offer is damaged goods. That is all we may offer — broken hearts.

"Fado" the opening poem from D.M. McClatchy's Hazmat begins with the supposition of a broken heart and runs on to imagining the reception of a proffered mass of dangerous tissue set afire. Here is the heart of the matter:
Suppose my heart had broken
Out of its cage of bone,
Suppose then I could hold it
Out towards you, could feel
Its growling hound of blood
     Brought to heel,
Would you then stretch your hand
To take my scalding gift?
There is a hint of ambiguity of reference in the stanza devoted to the metaphor of the hound. One is not sure who can feel the hound brought to heel. Is it the speaker of the poem or the addressee? But that is an effect of too rapid a reading for the comma makes it clear that the initial feeling is that of the speaker preparing the way for the addressee to consider after the heart is exposed as a synecdoche ("Its scarred skin grown taut / With anticipating your touch, / The tentative caress / Or sudden clutch.")

What juxtaposing Riley and McClatchy uncovers about the somatic preservations of pain is that pain exposed comes into the orbit of exhilaration by a sort of contagion through language. The poet offers us a type of verbal homeopathy. And permission to pick at our own old scars and be mindful of the pulse accelerating and the beat skipped and the ever-breaking broken...

And so for day 1045


The figure of St. Sebastian, the martyr, is the object of an identificatory moment in Richard Howard's "Purgatory, formerly Paradise" collected in Fellow Feelings. This one line stands out for our purposes:

so that the arrows in us become our prayers
That is a mighty triumph to turn pain into exultation. (Abetted in the case of Howard's poem by the hint of race privilege: "we are free / to pray, unless we are holding a sword or scrip, / or unless our hands are tied behind our white back / so that the arrows in us become our prayers.") Still we are puzzled by the transmutation. There is the intimation of an efficacious process at play.

Consider Howard's description in the light of some thoughts about the power of damaging words. Denise Riley begins the "Bad Words" chapter from The Force of Language with the following:
The worst words revivify themselves within us, vampirically. Injurious speech echoes relentlessly, years after the occasion of its utterance, in the mind of the one at whom it was aimed: the bad word, splinter-like, pierces to lodge. In its violently emotional materiality, the word is indeed made flesh and dwells amongst us — often long outstaying its welcome. Old word-scars embody a 'knowing it by heart', as if phrases had been hurled like darts into that thickly pulsating organ. But their resonances are not amorous. Where amnesia would help us, we cannot forget.
So very tempting to consider scar-words as the precursors to prayer: setting the stage for pleading. Before its expression in language, prayer is more like tears.
and we cry when objects penetrate our hide
writes David Bromige in Tiny Courts in a world without scales.

What is prayer? But an apostrophe to a place of power. Before the address to the power that resides there, there is a judgement, an assertion that there is indeed power there. And an apostrophe? A request for channelling some of that power. How can an atheist pray? By engineering the material world, re-enforcing the shields, and aiming the bow for the heart.

And so for day 1044

There Goes The Neighbourhood

Inspired by Jean-Jacques Lecercle's introduction to The Force of Language (by Jean-Jacques Lecercle and Denise Riley) I am about to play an obliteration game (in reverse) with a segment by Lisa Robertson. First, Lecercle's example generated by dropping one word at a time.

Oh, Sir Jasper, please do not touch me!
Oh, Sir Jasper, please do not touch!
Oh, Sir Jasper, please do not!
Oh, Sir Jasper, please do!
Oh, Sir Jasper, please!
Oh, Sir Jasper!
And also inspired by bp nichol and his "Translating Translating Appollinaire" we tackle this from Lisa Robertson's The Apothecary
I was mobilized during a company thinktank to become
an entrepreneur so by porous analysis I refashioned my
rank altering crude plumbing to unmarred landscape
in one abridged gesture then called my document a
Initial step - strip out all but first letters
I w m d a c t t b
a e s b p a I r m
r a c p t u l
i o a g t c m d a
Next step - some restoration
I wa mo du a co th to be
an en so by po an I re my
ra al cr pl to un la
in on ab ge th ca my do a
I was mob dur a com thi to bec
an ent so by por ana I ref my
ran alt cru plu to unm lan
in one abr ges the cal my doc a
I was mobi duri a comp thin to beco
an entr so by poro anal I refa my
rank alte crud plum to unma land
in one abri gest then call my docu a
Bear with us More
I was mobil durin a compa think to becom
an entre so by porou analy I refas my
rank alter crude plumb to unmar lands
in one abrid gestu then calle my docum a
And a whinny we continue
I was mobili during a compan thinkt to become
an entrep so by porous analys I refash my
rank alteri crude plumb to unmarr landsc
in one abridg gestur then called my docume a
Getting there
I was mobiliz during a company thinkta to become
an entrepr so by porous analysi I refashi my
rank alterin crude plumbi to unmarre landsca
in one abridge gesture then called my documen a
Resisting the desire to rush on Getting there
I was mobilize during a company thinktan to become
an entrepre so by porous analysis I refashio my
rank altering crude plumbin to unmarred landscap
in one abridged gesture then called my document a
See what dangles uncompleted
I was mobilized during a company thinktank to become
an entrepren so by porous analysis I refashion my
rank altering crude plumbing to unmarred landscape
in one abridged gesture then called my document a
Only three spots
I was mobilized during a company thinktank to become
an entreprene so by porous analysis I refashione my
rank altering crude plumbing to unmarred landscape
in one abridged gesture then called my document a
Then there were two
I was mobilized during a company thinktank to become
an entrepreneu so by porous analysis I refashioned my
rank altering crude plumbing to unmarred landscape
in one abridged gesture then called my document a
Who will be the last?
I was mobilized during a company thinktank to become
an entrepreneur so by porous analysis I refashioned my
rank altering crude plumbing to unmarred landscape
in one abridged gesture then called my document a
In the hood...
I was mobilized during a company thinktank to become
an entrepreneur so by porous analysis I refashioned my
rank altering crude plumbing to unmarred landscape
in one abridged gesture then called my document a
I knew upon first reading that "neighbourhood" was privileged by its position and suspected also by its length. The letter by letter reconstruction confirms this. It also reveals the space accorded to entrepreneurial refashioning.

And so for day 1043

A Path to Paths

idolize, idealize

it's done in imagining it, poetry, can suffer

we are not saved by appeal to the plural

there is still a sense of an organism at play, an ecology at work

I hope never to idealize poetry — it has suffered enough from that. Poetry is not a healing lotion, an emotional massage, a kind of linguistic aromatherapy. Neither is it a blueprint, nor an instruction manual, nor a billboard. There is no universal Poetry anyway, only poetries and poetics, and the streaming, intertwining histories to which they belong.
Poetry and Commitment by Adrienne Rich (Norton, 2007) in a smart little handbook edition with a purple cover and palm-sized dimensions (51 p. ; 16 cm.).

And so for day 1042

Assembled Members of a Set

Some notations on "Final Notations" from An Atlas of the Difficult World by Adrienne Rich

What is its meaning?

Try memorizing the first stanza. Be mindful of what gets laid down quickly and where the memory catches.

It's itself.
It is Poetry.
It is the Other of Poetry.
It's Life.

And that second stanza. With its capital You. We are changing gears. Note each you need not reference the same entity. It is quite possible what we have here is the assembled members of a set. Each "you" is a deictic picking out individuals or groups. You, you, you and you.

The first stanza with its "It". The second stanza with its play of "us" and "you". The third? - a fragile interplay between it and you that rests on one possessive pronoun "your".

That will become your will? Hints of Schopenhauer The World as Will and Representation. From Wikipedia:

Schopenhauer's philosophy holds that all nature, including man, is the expression of an insatiable will to life. It is through the will that mankind finds all their suffering. Desire for more is what causes this suffering.
Its meaning? - About being in the world. Want more?

And so for day 1041

Questioning Legacy

Richard Howard commands us to pay attention to a poetic voice that would argue that all ties to the past are severed. We run over title and epigraph and find opening stanzas set off by indentation on left and right. It's a sort of narrator's comment on the more "personal" stanzas that follow and run to more narrow margins.

[...] The dead
take away the world they made
certain was theirs—they die
knowing we never can have it.
And I am led to think that at best we leave behind clear water and pure air. I am reminded that I never attended the Armory Show but have read about its influence. I recall a conversation with someone who did not know either tune or lyrics to Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock."

Are these pieces of a world that is passing? Like every step is a falling, every breath a dying. And so, Howard ends the poem with an address that belies its beginning, it marks an exception.
The difference, then, between
your death and all those others
is this: you did not take
a certain world away, after
all. After you, because of you,
all songs are possible.
The poem is "Again for Hephaistos, the Last Time October 1, 1973" in Fellow Feelings. There is another Hephaistos poem in the earlier Damages. It too revolves around a relation to W.H. Auden and its penultimate stanza provides a meditation on not the anxiety of influence but the necessity of carrying something broken away.
Wondering, I forgot my words and lost
All presence of mind as you labored past.
And yet you taught me, taught us all a way
To speak our minds, and only now, at last
Free of you, my old ventriloquist,
Have I suspected what I have to say
Without hearing you say it for me first.
Like my old love, I have survived you best
By leaving you, and so you're here to stay.
Pure water. Clear Light. Parts of a world. Never a whole. Atoms. Always on the go. Gone are the particles I have touched and still others out of reach ...

And so for day 1040

Expect the Unexpected

For someone who thought "demure" meant "slutty", an excerpt from Fowler's Modern English Usuage (2nd edition revised by Sir Ernest Gowers): this little quotation from the entry on "irony" which after the discussion of Socratic and dramatic irony provides this enlightenment

And the double audience for the irony of Fate? Nature persuades most of us that the course of events is within wide limits foreseeable, that things will follow their usual course and that violent outrage on our sense of the probable or reasonable need not be looked for. These 'most of us' are the uncomprehending outsiders; the elect or inner circle with whom Fate shares her amusement at our consternation are the few to whom it is not an occasional maxim, but a living conviction, that what happens is the unexpected.
I do count among the unexpected the notion that demure should somehow convey salaciousness.

And so for day 1039

Recognition Scenes

This is how it begins

The image/      the pawnees
in their earth-lodge villages,
the clear image
of teton sioux, wild
fickle people the chronicler says,
This is how it ends
in our desires, our desires,
mirages, mirrors, that are theirs, hard-
riding desires, and they
become our true forbears, moulded
by the same wind or rain,
and in this land we
are their people, come
back to life.
The poem is "The Pride" by John Newlove and it concludes the 1968 Black Night Window &mdash note the tension that is created by the alternative positioning of "we" and "they".

Now consider this ending for Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, the last short story being "October 2057: The Million-Year Picnic" (Note how the third person narration leaves a lot of room for the reader to be astonished and choose to identify (or not) with the action.) The final sentence reads:
The Martians stared back up at them from a long, long silent time from the rippling water....
And I am indebted to the Wikipedia entry for this summary (and the information that the story was first published in 1946).
A family saves a rocket that the government would have used in the nuclear war and leaves Earth on a "fishing trip" to Mars. The family picks a city to live in and call home, destroying the rocket so that they cannot return to Earth. They enter and the father burns tax documents and other government papers in a campfire, explaining that he is burning a misguided way of life. A map of Earth is the last thing to be burned. Later, he offers his sons a gift in the form of their new world. He introduces them to Martians—their own reflections in a canal.
A third recognition scene is from Pogo = "we have met the enemy and he is us".

And so for day 1038

The Players

The game is more than just a game and nothing but a game. Richard Howard in Quantities begins "The Old Men Playing Boccie on Leroy Street"

A sense of Fall without the trees
That make their rot so decorous,
And on through the middle of the poem
The old men play until I think
Their laughter is the bravest sport
And I can't bear it to end. I want to stay with the prime image. As the poet says "Something has been given up / But they are playing" and that is how I choose to remember them. Why? Because I am led to this honouring by the poet. And you may be too.

And so for day 1037

Rebar Feathers

from "Fletched" in Phil Hall. The Small Nouns Crying Faith

A flower     no I mean one who     unplucked     flows     the o as in holy     not ouch
I adore how in reading this line the mind is forced back by the phonemic indications to revise its pronunciations and the meaning it attaches to the initial word — almost like pricking oneself on the thorn of a rose.

And so for day 1036


Almost ringing the changes of the puer aeternus theme, Roo Borson concludes a prose poem "Summer" from The Whole Night, Coming Home with an image that brushes up against melancholy but refreshes the mind with its sparkling originality.

No matter how many nights these boys lie alone on the rough sheets, they still won't know why autumn will come, altering everything, bringing amnesia of the little they've understood, listening dumbly, happily, to the crickets, the sleighbells of summer.
Winter is evoked but subject to a forgetting. Nothing melts.

And so for day 1035


from the Sixth Walk...

Then the rippling of fibres converted themselves again to foliage, as all speech converts itself to foliage in the night, and I felt this rippling simultaneously all over my skin. It was not necessary to differentiate the sensations of particular organs or leaves since this rippling unknit the proprieties and zones of affect—the entire body became an instrument played by weather and chance. We are so honoured to live with chance.
Lisa Robertson. Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture.

Less than a calling for a dérèglement de tous les sens à la Rimbaud and more observational openness to chance operations and their musics. The sentence just before what we have quoted also reminds us of conducive power of attention to ephemerality: "We can approach structures but not the substance, which is really more like a moving current."

And so for day 1034

Furnishing Intuition

Lisa Robertson's essay on "Atget's Interiors" collected in Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture at one point draws on lectures by Gertrude Stein.

Atget's neighbor Gertrude Stein said that paragraphs are emotional, sentences are not. We could extend her distinction: A room is emotional; an object is not.
The comparison as it is extended by Robertson continues through some succinct class analysis and then we arrive at the following and we must slow our reading down if we are not to mistake intuitions for institutions.
An item of furniture is a kind of preposition. "By," "with," and "of" are material intuitions. Of is a cupboard. With is a table. By is a chair. Each is a kind of household god. It intuits us.
The play with prepositions although it doesn't specifically mention Tender Buttons reminds one of Stein's book with its divisions of Objects, Food and Rooms.

BTW, Robertson notes that "Habit is emotional, intuition is not."

And so for day 1033

Sartorial Splendour

from "Value Village Lyric"

We think of the casual bravado of Baudelaire's tied black cravat against the scrim of white collar in the photograph by Nadar. The fabric of his coat is stiff, with shiny folds at the torso. The shoulders have an unfamiliar, mincing cut. The upper collar is velvet. Where his hand rests in trouser pocket the jacket flips back to show the dark silk facing. We wish we could experience the fit of this jacket, slip our arms into the ruched sleeves of Baudelaire. Its odd skimpiness would translate our stance. Its worn cuff would brush our books, absorb our ink. We would realize the place of the pronoun beneath the binding torso of the tailored jacket, which would give our soul troublesome deluxe shape. We would be handsome and sparkling.
The is the penultimate paragraph of Lisa Robertson's excursion into the "House of V" and provides a new view on vintage. It is collected in Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture which is itself a fine accessory to a fitting wardrobe. As a sometimes user of fountain pens, I am particularly captured by the touch of the cuff absorbing ink.

And so for day 1032


Poetry is a sort of divination. This is an old and respectable trope. One that plays in the background of "Wabakimi Lake" (in Breaker). Sue Sinclair invites the addressee to be both the subject and object of scrutiny. The twisting intestines of a setting sun provide intimations of mortality. This is a very beautiful conclusion with enticing enjambement and the signifier entrails buried deep within a line as the signified is located deep, deep down on the lake bottom. And there is the predatory note hinted at by the use of lair (indeed one is almost caught by the beauty).

The forces of mind and heart are everywhere visible
in the sublittoral stillness; you are looking far into the eye
of your intended end, feel the part of you that will return
to earth returning already. The dense lake bottom
draws you and the sun's entrails down, down
into its tawny lair, far out of sight.
"Burn me, I'm a witch." begins the riposte. We know that witches were often thrown into water: sinking (and drowning) denoting truth telling and innocence; floaters found death by fire (the doom of living by a different truth).

The witch asks "what of the parts that do not return to earth?" and more pointedly: "what parts do not return?" For soothe do we not all die whole — all of us perish? In which case, the poet in the exaltation of the moment might well bear in mind that the stillness is but an artefact of mind and heart. Nothing stops. Motion is everywhere and everywhen. Elsewhere I have commented on Sinclair's suspicion of the "up" and the "out" intimating that it bespeaks a failure of ecstasy (and I am mightily suspicious of those that stop short of a full embrace of our material embodiment). If the forces of mind and heart are visible in the sublittoral stillness what manifests itself on the shore? I would venture to say that there is a "you" there kin to the addressee that sinks. Someone who is satisfied with a materialism that leaves no parts behind and who consumes fully the lie of its return. Ashes to ashes. All is immolated in transformation: there is no going back only more dispersal. Still it's nice to hang out in the tawny lair for a while dazzled by the sun's entrails. And there to remember our travels. "We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon" as Joni reminds us (and the class of '69 Princeton inscribed on a monument in a little garden near the Princeton University Art Museum). Lapidary magic. A stone I am willing to cast and watch sink however deep the water.

And so for day 1031

Travels With Oscar

Oscar of Between was announced in Breathing the Page: Reading the Act of Writing by Betsy Warland.

It was then she became a writer.

Oscar was not yet then, but only Betsy. It takes four and half decades. In her sixtieth year, she chooses a parallel given name. Oscar. Names her unnamed self.
And it takes only an instant to become accustomed to referring to Oscar as she. What is intriguing about the website where Oscar of Between lives is the interleaving of work by Guest Writers and Artists. Along with the curating, moderated comments supplement the work-in-progress. As the work unfolds, one finds there kernels that invite further speculation and elaboration, kernels such as
Post bilateral mastectomy, others’ expectations. For prostheses. That Oscar.

— pros(e)thesis —
a kernel that appears at first to be mere back story and yet enables further unfolding of possible connections when one searches for that exact combination "pros(e)thesis" — thus fans out the theory writing into terms of embodiment and flesh —

[See Chris Land's marshalling of the construction "prose(e)thesis" in relation to the work of N. Katherine Hayles in Technology, Text, Subject: ‘After’ the Human in Tamara: Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science Vol 3 (4) 2005.] More in betweens for Oscar and Warland explorers.

And so for day 1030

Least Terms

There erupts a passage from Lisa Robertson "The Fountain Transcript"

Nevertheless, flow in itself, with its fatal grandeur, does not interest us: we prefer to describe obstacles to flow, little impediments, affect-mechanisms, miniaturizations of subliminity.
as I am contemplating poems by Sue Sinclair, twice I find myself missing prepositions that aren't there. And the publications are years apart (2001 and 2008).

In a poem describing wolf willow the blooms are personified.
Wolf willow: whistle
and it will not come; its tiny flowers
pretend not to hear; hidden in the cleft
between leaf and branch, they close
their eyes, hoping you will go
For no apparent reason (perhaps however conditioned by the expectation of "tiny" made big by focus), I hear a a ghost-word: "between leaf and branch, they close up / their eyes" begging for an echo of something slightly unidiomatic "close up your eyes". That is indeed the secret — the persistence of the second person singular address meshes via line breaks with the actions of the wolf willow (just who is whistling remains suspended for an instant) — the wolf willow comes to signify you the reader. Notwithstanding the pronouns, the wolf willow flowers are focalized from the narrative position of the reader. Indeed, they are so vividly anthropomorphized that the reader identifies with their expectant position, longing for "the one they want". See
Wolf willow: whistle
and it will not come; its tiny flowers
pretend not to hear; hidden in the cleft
between leaf and branch, they close
their eyes, hoping you will go
so they can go on remembering her,
the one they want,
the one who isn't home yet.
They or you or her all mingle in the pervasive scent of the wolf-willow which is by the way the title of the poem: "The Scent of Wolf Willow".

The next preposition encounter comes for me in the penultimate line of a poem called "Drought" which ironically fills the ears with the sounds of "Bleating crickets. Rustle of dry stalks." before inscribing silence and a description of its action that comes across as stage whisper injunction.
The silence pushes you toward yourself:
it's time to walk deep into the heart of what troubles you.
This time I want "out" to orient the movement of the self: a push out towards oneself. Out into the landscape. Out into the rustling. The silence pushes you out toward yourself deep into the heart of what troubles you. That the preposition is only imagined gives pause.

You are made to want to swerve. Sinclair's anthropomorphism, keen and thrilling, is in the service of the swerving. Consider the car appearing in "March"
in the country. But what are you to do
when even the car remembers the green
sides of the road, the bright air,
how its pistons purred?
The vehicle almost has a mind of its own. It is in its nature to travel. And what is our nature? Perhaps the final lines of a poem devoted to the perennial rain ("St. Phillip's, Rain") explain why motion is often skewed offside in a Sinclair poem. The problem is posed of how to exist without a metaphysics:
the rest of us sick with longing for a god
we no longer believe in, our faces
like spoons, plain and hungry.
I will venture that we hunger for exactly this stark nutrient. We unbelievers have an appetite for beautiful images such as the hungry spoon — such a satisfying morsel.

All this prepositional pecking that I have been at is inspired in part by the emblematic least terns whose shell collecting activities are the subject of another poem which makes of them a kind of dream totem for being at home. And like the birds, I pick up snippets on my own terms.
After Sue Sinclair:

When the sky falls
only the tiniest tern
mosaic flower in nest bottom
Lisa Robertson. Occasional Work and Seven Walks from the Office of Soft Architecture.
Sue Sinclair. Secrets of Weather & Hope.
Sue Sinclair. Breaker.

And so for day 1029


Two of many things are going on in Hannah Weiner's "Research Important Conflict Two Obediant" (in Writing 25). One is a set of variations on continuous paragraphs of evocative strings in which words are repeated and transposed — a sort of music ensues. And given this texture, it is not remarkable that the proper name of an American composer is inscribed (by steps) into the sequences. We first get a capitalized "Glass" in a flow of uncapitalized words and further on more of the name appears. And likewise the poet's own name is subject to a morsel-like inscription. And we have music that reads a little like this sample:

stay with the paragraph until omitted some people document please sentence write backward omitted add climax unfit is unjustifiable long sis its silence power spell requires short period put someone would complete and sentence since its say name you would omit object add sentences style like forbidden we live silently handle properly since its long period some complain entrance toward forgive paragraph someone substructure without cruel would understand speak cruel put in words definite destroy attitude your name would add a hurry structure complete put in another sentence end put name say forward always interest own subject corrected substantive in culture object observative slightly awkward sentence
And of course some semantics are at play in these paragraphs that "until omitted some people" carry on and at times incorporate commentary on the proces — just what the introduction of a name might cause: "your name would add a hurry structure".

And so for day 1028

New Senses Old Work

Each line is a delicate tissue. "The house is each day more fragile. We suffer / And laugh and swim. We go"

Lucretius meets Cage.

The names release birds and animals
into wild chance. Fruit trees
don't stop changing either — each thing
ripens its own space
and the determined light flows around our bodies
so we become cormorants and gulls
with new senses
Cage salutes Lucretius
It transpires that murmurs and clickings
Are nature to each body
Sound never resolves itself
And what we hear erupts into other senses
Or perhaps it sways like a footbridge
Even our hands dream of stuff
They dream of pigments and fruit trees and puzzles
They dream of the honey that escapes from our work
Two passages from the same sequence. But different. One is populated by punctuation; the other begins its lines with capital letters. Each set in a sense ripens its own space. Each is a fragile house.

Lisa Robertson. Lisa Robertson's Magenta Soul Whip

And so for day 1027

Know Knot

Beyond annoyance accidentals can trigger speculation. Take the McClelland and Stewart 1968 imprint of Black Night Window by John Newlove. The poem is called "There Are No Innocent People in Vancouver". It begins:

We all know that, or something like it:
no innocent people, that's your dream,
and it ends:
it said: We all know that
there are know innocent people in Vancouver.
"there are know"

an extra letter? — "there are now"
a wholesale word replacement? — "there are no"
a missing letter? — "there are known"

"know no known now"

And so for day 1026


"double / back again"

It's the line break that caught my attention in the poem "Essay: The Love of Old Houses" by Mark Doty

here it's proved that time requires
a deeper, better verb than pass;
it's more like pool, and ebb, and double
back again, my history, his, yours,
I first encountered the poem in fire to fire and learnt it came from the collection Source where the information is supplied about an earlier version in the periodical Witness.

Witness was not in any of the libraries I frequent (a university research library and a public library). And back issues are sold out. One kind soul supplied me with images of the Doty poem in Love in America Vol. XIII No. 2 (1999). Here transcribed:
that time requires a deeper, better
verb than pass; it's more like pool,
and ebb, and double back again,
my history, his, and yours
The enjambement in the later version "double / back again" is more like the flow of a fish arcing its back than the unbroken "double back again" and is more in keeping with the theme of ebb and pool. The new placement of the italicized pass at line's end lends it more prominence and its cusp position lends it a greater note of transience. As well, the addition of a comma after "yours" orchestrates the linkage into the next stanza.
subsumed into the steadying frame
of a phrase I love: a building
both noun and verb, where we live
and what we do: fill it with ourselves,
And retroactively we sense that pass too is a noun, a place of the going through, much like a line of poetry.

Credit to Doty for inviting a peek at the poet's workshop (he writes at the beginning of Source that earlier versions appeared).

And thanks to Joseph Langdon, Managing Editor, Witness, for providing me with images of the Witness variants.

And so for day 1025


Seemingly intimate with the ways of gardeners, Earle Birney in a poem about visiting for the first time Al Purdy's Ameliasburg (collected in Rag and Boneshop) supplies a horticultural image in touch with the growing process:

horsecrap-fattened peonies
And Mark Doty brought a singular poppy gathered from School of the Arts and pressed between the pages of Fire to Fire.
Pink fist.Iron frill.
Essential frippery.Fierce embroidery.
Core decor.Severe extravagance.
Lip of otherness.Evidence.

And a spray from Amy Lowell: "The evening primrose, comrade of the stars."

And so for day 1024

Space Time Silences

Frank Bidart in an interview with Christopher Hennessy

If a poem's any good, it must be a visceral experience. The way the eye moves down the page is physical. A body exists in space. A poem exists in space. Words on the page exist in space in the way that words spoken aloud exist in time. Words in time are surrounded by silence; words on the page are surrounded by space. It's not a simple equivalence, a matter of a space being like a pause, but you have to make a dynamic on the page that corresponds to the dynamic of the word, as it exists in the sentence as you hear it in your mind.
From Outside The Lines: Talking with Contemporary Gay Poets.

And so for day 1023