Routineless Ritual

Aspen Art Museum
Educator Notes
December 15, 2017–November 25, 2018

The Educator Notes list a series of probing questions. What attracted my attention was the embedding of one particular line of inquiry in this set: the difference between ritual and routine.

What do you do every day that you most look forward to?

How is ritual different from routine?

What rituals did you learn from your family? What rituals did you pick up from your friends?

What can we learn from ourselves by identifying our daily rituals?
"How is ritual different from routine?" is a question that seemed unanswerable until I came across one of the epigraphs in Catherine Bell Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice. "Ritual is pure activity, without meaning or goal." [Frits Staal, "The Meaninglessness of Ritual," Numen 26, no. 1 (1975), 9].

Ritual is akin to aesthetic experience giving access to a time and space that is not tied to mundane purpose but is accessed for itself. It is thus distinguished from routine which we think of as goal-directed (e.g. brushing one's teeth). Ritual is programless. This doesn't quite seem to stick — ritual seems in my mind connected to the practice of magic which is anything but meaningless.

So we seek other definitions.

A ritual "is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence".[] Rituals may be prescribed by the traditions of a community, including a religious community. Rituals are characterized but not defined by formalism, traditionalism, invariance, rule-governance, sacral symbolism, and performance.[Bell, Catherine (1997). Ritual: Perspectives and Dimensions. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 138–169.]
From this I grasp two points: special space and sequence.

And so for day 2269

On the Menu

Kate Young. The Little Library Cookbook "On Reading"

Whenever I've neglected them, books have sat, waiting patiently, always ready for me to come back. They are the true constant in my life, the grounding force, the comfort when I am homesick, anxious or lonely, a true joy when I am not. With them, I can travel in space and time, around the world and to places that don't exist, except on the page.
And have conversations with the other neglecters, the others affected by true constants, and the fellow travellers.

And so for day 2268

And the Steam Also Rises

Elizabeth David
French Country Cooking
Escalopes de Veau en Papillotes

The recipe ends with a paean to these parcels.

The nicest way to serve them, if your guests don't mind getting their fingers messy, is piled up in the dish in their paper bags, so that none of the aromas have a chance to evaporate until the food is ready to be eaten.
I once had success in charming guests with a presentation of salmon topped with slivers of ginger and wrapped in individual packets of parchment paper. Not quite the messy pile but offering nonetheless a mouth-watering aroma.

And so for day 2267

Eschatology Eschewed

Gary Thomas Morse
Safety Sand
The "Safe Spaces" sequence

In the opening section, where we are asked to "admit difficulty" from line one, there is a comment that is almost a metacommentary: "when cognitive / tinkering went rogue with / baroque treatment". A few pages later in the second section, we cross a reference to a "chiaroscuro peep show", another sort of metacommentary. Section 21 splits slaughter into an s-curve and laughter or sutures an "s" to "laughter" — we can be difficult about which direction to read the flow. See:

scenes of familial bondage
with accidental
judgments & casual s-
laughter on a bigger screen
around the throat of an
albatross underdog
at the base
        of the great orgy
Elsewhere in the Safe Spaces sequence, there is reference to an "estranged methodology" and taking on this alien method, I venture once again to this minimal unit: this s- conjures for me Hogarth's Analysis of Beauty and the serpentine line. Interesting that this curve is cast in relief by a straight dash. Not an ending. Another metacommentary.

And so for day 2266

Telling Tools

Patricio Dávila
Curator Diagrams of Power

Maps, diagrams and visualizations are both artifacts and processes. They are tools that tell a story, and create ways of bringing people and things together in the telling of that story. The outcomes are often visualized so that they can be viewed and inspected, but also performed so that they can be heard and felt.
Interesting appeal to the dual senses of seeing and hearing — the rational eye and the emotional ear — to provoke a holistic experience. Still puzzled by the persistence of this mapping of faculties and senses. For does not the ear follow argument and does not the eye thrill to colour, shape and form?

And so for day 2265

Affinities Infinities Protestations

Two resistances.

Ronald Johnson's last line in ARK 88 is "flying the marble kite" which I am prone to mis-remember as "flying the marble flag" — a form of protest.

Tom Crewe reviewing a number of books about AIDS (and protests) ends his review thus:

'As I sweat it out in the early hours, a "guilty victim" of the scourge,' Jarman wrote in his diary in September 1989, 'I want to bear witness how happy I am, and will be until the day I die, that I was part of the hated sexual revolution; and that I don't regret a single step or encounter I made in that time; and if I write in future with regret, it will be a reflection of a temporary indisposition.'
Modern Nature: The Journals of Derek Jarman, 1989-90 by Derek Jarman
Smiling in Slow Motion: The Journals of Derek Jarman, 1991-94 by Derek Jarman
The Ward by Gideon Mendel
Patient Zero and the Making of the Aids Epidemic by Richard A. McKay
How to Survive a Plague: The Story of How Activists and Scientists Tamed Aids by David France

And so for day 2264

Do You Believe in Magic?

Philip Pullman in The Guardian presents the case for a way of seeing connectedness.

I’m relying on poetry to make this point because I think that poetry itself is a kind of enchantment. The effect that certain lines and images can have on us can’t be explained by translating them into simple modern English. The very form is part of the meaning, and the sound the poem makes works like a spell on our senses and not only on our minds. But it’s not just true of poetry. Everything that touches human life is surrounded by a penumbra of associations, memories, echoes and correspondences that extend far into the unknown. In this way of seeing things, the world is full of tenuous filaments of meaning, and the very worst way of trying to see these shadowy existences is to shine a light on them.
Reminds me that "the real" extends to "the imaginary".

And so for day 2263

Blue Jay Marker

Little borough. Big library stamp (4 in. x 4 in.)

East York Library stamp

East York was amalgamated into the City of Toronto. This trace of the previous municipal structure survives in one of the holdings of the Toronto Public Library. A charming crest.

And so for day 2262

Wanting Pell Mell

J.D. McClatchy
Division of Spoils
"Tea with the Local Saint"

The pull of desire is nicely captured in this anaphora.

I wanted to feel the stalk rise and the blade fall.
I wanted my life's arithmetic glazed and fired.
I wanted the hush, the wingstroke, the shudder.
Despite the repetition there is something jagged in these lines, like life itself.

And so for day 2261

Pun: Hook, Line and Sinker

Madhur Anand
New Index for Predicting Catastrophes
"Nature Morte with Zoological Professor"

The poem ends on a delightful jeux de mots invoking the homonymic possibilities of the bated/baited pair: "1 man / is going fishing today to forget about brains, / casting bated lines". So tiny a shift easy to miss. Like bran for brains.

And so for day 2260

Madhur Anand's Science of Words: Cycling and Recycling

"Moving On" — its beginning and end...

I'm on a stationary bike looking at numbers.
Heart rate, calories consumed, distance travelled, time spent,
instantaneous speed. Each motivates, differently.
By half the year's end I'm not where I thought I would be.
This meditation finds a neat echo in the last line of the next poem ("Type One Error"): "One deterministic seed, the mind recounting when / counting is not enough, though where many poems begin." including of course the preceding poem — "Moving On".

Madhur Anand also demonstrates a knack for recontextualizing by lifting lines from scientific papers and laying out the results in intriguing and suggestive poems collected in A New Index for Predicting Catastrophes. There is here an ecological sensibility. Or should we say echo-logical?

And so for day 2259

The Ineffable in Autumn

John Williams
The Necessary Lie
"For My Students, Returning to College”

Now splintered grass encrusts the yard
And crisp leaves slant the brittle air;
Impassive, close, the neutral sky
Engages buildings lean and spare,
           The day is lean and hard.

Within these rooms the truth must lie.
Immortal, of the mortal brain,
It burns inert in cold black print
And warms the lifeless grasp to gain:
           The concept does not die.

Here we have come to search the gray
And sullen stubbor[n]ness of fact:
To learn that we can never sense
Or know what we can never act
           Or what we cannot say.
Like coal - condensed to burn bright - action hooked to speech.

And so for day 2258

Protean Position: Sitting

I admire her self-possession and her imagination and, as the poet stresses, her ability to sit very still. Here are the concluding stanzas to her portrait. We are captivated by her swift transformations.


First she is an ancient queen
In pomp and purple veil.
Soon she is a signing wind,
and, next, a nightingale.

How fine to be Narcissa,
A-changing like all that!
While sitting still, as still, as still
As anyone ever sat!
Gwendolyn Brooks Bronzeville Boys and Girls

And so for day 2257

Sketch as Stretch

I admire his sequencing. Alain de Botton in The Art of Travel provides a lovely set up to his discussion of de Maistre's Travel around My Bedroom (found in the chapter "On Habit" in the section "Return") by in the previous chapter ("On Possessing Beauty") introducing Ruskin's reccomendation to sketch or word-paint in order to implant one's experience of a place into memory. de Botton stresses along with Ruskin that aesthetic attainment is not the point; the practice is.

And, as he had pointed out when presented with a series of misshapen drawings that a group of his pupils had produced on their travels through the English countryside: 'I believe that the sight is a more important thing than the drawing; and I would rather teach drawing that my pupils may learn to love nature, than teach the looking at nature that they may learn to draw.'
It's all about paying attention wherever one's steps may lead.

Thus ends a chapter and here ends the last chapter of the book...
There are some who have crossed deserts, floated on ice caps and cut their way through jungles but whose souls we would search in vain for evidence of what they have witnessed. Dressed in pink-and-blue pyjamas, satisfied within the confines of his own bedroom, Xavier de Maistre was gently nudging us to try, before taking off for distant hemispheres, to notice what we have already seen
Off to sketch.

And so for day 2256

Good Technique Pays

A sample from The Beggar's Handbook: A Guide To Successful Panhandling by M.T. Pockets (Loompanics Unlimited, 1989).

To be a successful panhandler you must lead the intended giver to believe that you will be slightly improved by the gift, however small. When you make your approach, be fearful, be distressed, be upset, even be a little disoriented, but be coherent. Lead the intended giver to believe that his or her gift will restore your equilibrium. This will lead the giver to believe that he or she will feel good about this transaction afterward. Of course, when you get what you want, look relieved. The giver will feel every bit as good about the transaction as you do. There is no sense doing it the other way; all that does is engender hostility and — just possibly — problems with the authorities in and around your chosen place of work. Once you are marked as a troublemaker, you will be forced to move on and that can mean giving up a goldmine for a tin quarry. I do not need to further belabor the implications in terms of dollars received for effort made.
cover of Beggar's Handbook
Good tips on how to gather those tokens of appreciation and relieve apprehension.

And so for day 2255

Dignity Not Cheap

The poverty of means...

Exercises for Ear
(The Ferry Press, 1968)
Stephen Jonas

in america
          the rich
are poor &
          the poor
        since no

peasant tra-
to lend

nity to cheap-
... the riches of reading.

The rich are cheap and lacking in dignity because their efforts require no sacrifice. That's one way to toss the coin.

And so for day 2254

Two Examples of Attunement

Exercises for Ear
(The Ferry Press, 1968)
Stephen Jonas

A fine pitch, an idiom in key:


        we ain't got
but ghee'tars
Sure to send you back to Ovid:
Echo, a beautiful nymph
   loved the woodland sports

         tho' favored of Diana,
she had one fault:
                  she talked
too much

     the rest
needs no repeating
Half the fun is in the layout upon the page — sends you grappling.

And so for day 2253

Terminus Tact

I love how the title page of Exercises for Ear (The Ferry Press, 1968) characterizes its author as "Stephen Jonas / Gentleman". And it is the touch of the gentle man that concludes the book with a wry aside to Jack [Spicer?].

             strange abt women
when they discover you

on to their secret; they never
trust you

         again   alone
w/ their husbands
The full title (Exercises for Ear being a Primer for the Beginner in the American Idiom) explains some of the abbreviations deployed and the ellipsis of "are". Also explains the use of the expression "on to someone" — be on to someone: be close to discovering the truth about an illegal or undesirable activity that someone is engaging in. We never quite know the secret but we do get a vivid picture of the reaction to coming close.

And so for day 2252

Yellow Mellow Waves

I got to see this broadside at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. It was issued by Karyl Klopp's Pomegranate Press in 1973. It's a concrete poem by Ronald Johnson. Bright yellow with inventive use of letter forms and negative space.

That section to the right above the signature block serves as an epigraph and is a quotation from Nijinsky.
The earth is the head of God. God is the fire in the head. I am alive as long as there is fire in my head. My pulse is like an earthquake.
On the verticals one reads Maze, Mane, Wane. On the horizontals, MMW, AAA, ZNN, EEE.

And so for day 2251

Food in Time

Rooting food in temporality.

This is not a manual of cookery but a book about enjoying food. Few of the recipes in it will contribute much to the repertoire of those who like to produced dinner for six in thirty minutes flat. I think food, its quality, its origins, its preparation, is something to be thought about in the same way as any other aspect of human existence.


When one thinks of the civilization implied in the development of peaches from the wild fruit or of apricots, grapes, pears, plums, when one thinks of those millions of gardeners from ancient China right across Asia and the Middle East to Rome, then across the Alps north to France, Holland and England of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, how can we so crassly, so brutishly, reduce the exquisite results of their labour to cans full of syrup and cardboard-wrapped blocks of ice?

Cooking something delicious is really much more satisfactory than painting pictures or making pottery. At least for most of us. Food has the tact to disappear, leaving room and opportunity for masterpieces to come. The mistakes don't hang on the walls or stand on the shelves to reproach you forever.
Jane Grigson, introduction to Good Things

And so for day 2250


Stein's line has its own Wikipedia entry Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose

Ronald Johnson in ARK 60 Fireworks I reconstructs the visual impact by a bit of clever homophony:

arose a battleground:
rows on rows of roses
wound round and round
And so arises great delight.

And so for day 2249


ARK 34, Spire on the Death of L.Z.

to say then head wedded nail and hammer to the
work of vision
of the word
at hand
that is paradise,
this is called spine of white cypress
roughly cylindrical
on the principle
of the intervals between cuckoos
and molecules, and molecules
The spine of cypress in this poem by Ronald Johnson caught my attention in part because it reminded me of having recently read Alain de Botton on the cypresses in the paintings of Van Gogh and how the painting reorganized de Botton's sense of the landscape of Provence (and his general argument that good writing and innovative painting allow us to see anew):
It was a clear day, with a mistral blowing that ruffled the heads of the wheat in the adjacent field. I had sat in this same spot the day before, but only now did I notice that there were two large cypresses growing at the end of the garden, a discovery that was not unconnected to the chapter I had read the night before on van Gogh's treatment of the tree. He had sketched a series of cypresses in 1888 and 1889. 'They are constantly occupying my thoughts,' he told his brother. 'It astonishes me that they have not yet been done as I see them. The cypress is as beautiful in line and proportion as an Egyptian obelisk. and the green has a quality of such distinction. It is a splash of black in a sunny landscape, but it is one of the most interesting black notes, and the most difficult to get exactly right.'

Alain de Botton, "On Eye-Opening Art" in The Art of Travel
It is with great joy that I came across another cypress later in ARK. It occurs suitably in a poem (ARK 75, Arches IX (from Van Gogh's Letters)) that stitches together quotations from the painter's letters.
a terrace with two cypresses
a nameless black
charged with electricity
Charged like a conducting spine.

And so for day 2248

Square Composition

The typewriter not only provided space for recording breathings, it has also been an instrument for pattern making.

                        COILED STANZAS


         Home                            Heart

               Ohm is where the Art is

       Heart                           Home

                  Resist Stances

A "corner" poem from my Juvenilia similar in structure to Ronald Johnson's "Puss-in-the-Corner" except his is more spare.


        Whisker                         Paw


        Claw                            Pounce

in Sports and Divertissments ([Ian Hamilton Finlay's] Wild Hawthorn Press, 1965)

Almost like recognizing a kindred spirit. Most like.

And so for day 2247

More Than Fruit Storage

Charles Olson comparing and contrasting the Maya and Americans in his essay "Human Universe"

And when a people are so disposed, it should come as no surprise that, long before any of these accomplishments, the same people did an improvement on nature — the domestication of maize — which remains one of the world's wonders, even to a nation of Burbanks, and that long after all their accomplishments, they still carry their bodies with some of the savor and flavor that the bodies of the Americans are as missing in as is their irrigated lettuce and their green-picked refrigerator-ripened fruit. For the truth is, that the management of external nature so that none of its virtu is lost, in vegetables or in art, is as much a delicate juggling of her content as is the same juggling by any one of us of our own.
Refrigerator Cakes. Refrigerator Poems.

And so for day 2246

Palm and Sole

Ronald Johnson ARK (Albuquerque: Living Batch Press, 1996)

You are immersed in a sequence of poems, you turn the page and face

ronald johnson beam 18

A hand print.

Sends me back to my first imprints. Recording weight and length and even the name of the "accoucheur". Tag (with the metadata) and footprint have been kept together by a pretty pink ribbon.

birth info - lachance
baby footprint
My Signature Reply to Beam 18 by Ronald Johnson
RJ: ARK is a all a strumming of the lyre.
Now accompanied by a stomping (estampe) of the foot — a different beat.

ADDENDUM: Ronald Johnson's "Still Life" in A Line of Poetry, A Row of Trees lists a number of objects and in the last position is headed by an ampersand ("eye")
& the palm of a hand with an eye the Indians made.
The poem ends:
What hand will reach out to see the world?
And leave its prints for others to see?

And so for day 2245

Fantasia on a Materialist Epiphany

Unfolding the mind of one youthful version of Alan Turing

To his great surprise his materialism is not so sad. He moves with greater ease and resilience and less fear. It is as though his eyes have suddenly come into focus from a nauseating blue and the whole world looks brilliant. All of his senses have sharpened so that colors and sounds and smells and textures are splendid and vibrant, his experience of them a heart-soaring joy. Every blade of grass glistens. The hard Cambridge wind batters respect out of him. The barren twist of every branch of every tree, even the weak fog of light, the whole of the world sings out to him as though he has never seen or heard anything before. With the sheer pleasure of this tactile awakening, his love of nature intensifies as though he has finally given over to her, wholly and without inhibition. Within days his spiritualism is no more than a mildly embarrassing, childish memory. In its place is calm, impervious materialism — nothing like the sad, bleak emptiness he feared. He would have a bad time trying to put it into words. No single word could mean this thing. He would have to write something lengthy with many caveats and tangents and even then he knows he would not successfully express the immediacy or the splendor of the visceral experience. Maybe in another's mind better words would come, but not in his. And so his mind offers him something simple. only one world comes to him over and again, and it could be only this — a word he doesn't often think to use: "beautiful." It is beautiful.
Janna Levin. A madman dreams of Turing machines

And so for day 2244

Wall of Brass Keys

The character, Kurt Gödel, is in Paris, stop-over on his way back to Vienna, and is in some distress. Out of this unease peers a cinematic eye.

He hid in a small hotel of single rooms near the train station, terrified of the girl behind the desk, of her silhouette against the hanging keys, a frozen rainfall of brass.
Janna Levin. A madman dreams of Turing machines

The image is arresting for is control of stasis that hinges on "silhouette" and "frozen" while the movement is present in "hanging" and "rainfall". All constructed by nimble use of parallelism.

And so for day 2243

Light and Its Aftereffects

Lux fiat. Verbum est.

Stepping out of the tradition into a displacement of sorts.

this account of light
as an acquired characteristic
became propositional

just as every forest
would come to speak to us
as a verb
"North by South" Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent Liz Howard

Other instances of illumination gave us a blood moon & plenum and another moon caught in gutter water. All emanating from that peculiar poetic direction: north by south.

And so for day 2242