Experience Points: The Dungeon Master as Poet

(first part of an essay in progress)

 Neither of these guys is Rutger Hauer.

Geeks today rule the world. But to be a nerd or a geek twenty years ago was to be a marginal figure, as demonstrated by such period pieces as Revenge of the Nerds. Disappointed or frustrated by the limited social options presented to us, my fellow gaming nerds sought participation in a social world that from the outside seemed limited to ourselves, though it was in fact one of many coterie subcultures thriving and sometimes overlapping at that time. Such a coterie was, and remains, a society in search of transcendence. Gaming was an open door to experiences that the real world had seemingly foreclosed, either out of sheer mundanity (life in a cubicle) or because its experiential rewards (sex, money, power) seemed to have been reserved for the jocks and cheerleaders who were best adapted to that world. Role-playing games were for me, for us, our "systematic derangement of the senses"; they cleansed the doors of perception the way drugs did for our parents. 

From adolescence on I was addicted to Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games (I still play occasionally). Most fantasy RPGs are a form of pastoral. Not only is the pseudo-medieval setting deeply conservative and feudal in its structure, but the rules themselves offer the players a kind of refuge from the real world's bewildering complexities. As William Empson observed, pastoral is always a simplification, and there's a clean and elemental quality to the rules and tables and dice rolls that compose a gamer's environment. Social interactions, in real life so complex and unpredictable (and generally unsatisfactory, particularly when it came to girls), were here quantified: if you had a Charisma score of 18 you were eminently likeable and you had the die-roll bonuses to prove it. The world of the game is highly coherent, not to say overdetermined: good and evil are clearly defined, and you can always kill monsters with a clean conscience (your friends too: if your character was "Chaotic Evil," say, you could backstab your buddies and then point to your alignment, as in the fable of the scorpion and the frog: "It's my nature!").

Most often my role was that of the Dungeon Master: the referee and chief storyteller of the game. Each player has a single role to play, as warrior or wizard, etc., while the DM plays everyone else: innkeepers, wenches, orcs, dragons, etc. I loved planning and prepping for games almost more than I enjoyed playing them, and spent countless hours in my room drawing maps on graph paper or writing up descriptions of the political systems of imaginary nations. When I got the chance to run a game, I usually ended up frustrated by my few players' inability to take the game world as seriously as I wanted them to; to try and hold their attention I'd shower their characters with gold and magic items in classic "Monty Haul" fashion. The actual games never lived up to the games in my imagination, but I persisted in playing them, because once in a while there would come a glimmer of that intensity, that heightened sense of life, that I craved, and that my everyday existence as a shy, pimply, unathletic, bookish beta male almost never provided.

Things changed dramatically in college, where I met a group of gamers as passionate as I was, brought together by our addiction to a new game called "Breakout." It was a homebrew ruleset and campaign created by my friend Josh Wright, who was probably the closest to an actual adventurer that I had met up to that time (the son of a well-known archeologist he had already done time at digs in Egypt and India; nowadays he himself is a landscape archeologist who specializes in Outer Mongolia). Breakout was more fluid and unusual in its concept and playing style than any game I'd encountered before. Not only could the player characters come from any setting, but the settings in which our adventures took place were constantly shifting, often without warning, from one moment to the next. Some of the player characters were of familiar D&D stock--fighters, magic-users, thieves, etc.--but we also had in our party 1940's-style private detectives and mystical gunslingers and a Catholic farmgirl from turn-of-the-century Texas and a Japanese anime character and the economist Paul Volcker (played by a prospective econ major with wild enthusiasm for Volcker’s tenure as chairman of the Federal Reserve—as I recall, his version of Volcker wielded a quarterstaff with surprising effectiveness). Sometimes we operated in a typically pseudo-medieval fantasy world, but there were other times we found ourselves on a spaceship on the fringe of a dying galaxy or in a Middle American supermarket that was under attack by zombies. It all seemed to make sense at the time, for we felt ourselves to be advancing along the lines of a classic good vs. evil plot that was also about--not just about, it was--the creation of the game universe itself. Terry Gilliam's 1981 film Time Bandits does the best job of any film I can think of conveying what it felt like to play.

 Still from  Time Bandits  (1981)

One of Josh Wright's mantras, frequently on the lips of the various non-player characters we encountered, was Free your mind and your ass will follow. Sometimes, having passed various tests within the game--sometimes tests we didn't realize we were taking--our adventurers would find ourselves translated from one world to the next, just as the dwarfs in Time Bandits find themselves tumbling from one cosmic locale to another with the aid of their mystical Map. Sometimes transcendence of a given locale took the form of rescue and escape. Sometimes we were catapulted into greater peril, even insanity and horror (H.P Lovecraft and Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu made up a significant portion of Breakout's DNA). As in life our choices mattered, but the results were unpredictable and sometimes we felt ourselves to be caught up in a pattern that we could never fully comprehend. It was a game of riddles and hints and enigmas--every session Josh handed out a "quote sheet" of cryptic sayings collated from pop culture and past sessions that suggested the theme or arc that we would try to follow or bend for that day. Sometimes we tried to force things, translating the level of confrontation from characters in the gaming world to player versus game master. The results were generally disastrous results; as Alfred North Whitehead notes in Process and Reality, "Insistence on birth in the wrong season is the trick of evil." But birth is still birth, and it was possible to suffer death and defeat within the context of the game and yet believe, as one could not quite believe of mundane actuality, that such suffering would be redeemed by the ongoingness of the story. (Besides, one could always roll up another character.)

Breakout was, in short, different from Dungeons and Dragons and the other role-playing games I'd played. The rules, cobbled together from half-a-dozen different sources and from Josh Wright's own mind, were always evolving. There were no alignments and the morality of our actions and those of our foes were often murky. If you wanted to charm the snake priestess into releasing you from bondage, you couldn't just make a Charisma roll, you had to act it out. And the world itself was constantly shifting under our feet: our adventures were enjambed, a collage of whatever struck us as cool that week (some of the predominant influences of that time and place: Japanese anime, especially AkiraHighlander; Stephen King's Gunslinger novels; John Carpenter films, especially those starring Kurt Russell; William Gibson; The Terminator and Conan the Barbarian; Terry Gilliam movies; Alan Moore; etc, etc.). As game master, Josh Wright was the ultimate arbiter of the rules and the world, but we as players had considerable influence on how the game was played and on the evolution of its world. It was a story we told together that was sometimes more compelling than real life. (Okay, it was almost always more compelling than real life. My college transcript will attest to this.)

For a few decisive years, Breakout was life: life lived with intensity, vividness, transcendence. Not the brute transcendence of the adolescent power fantasy, or not completely so, but the transcendence of adventure. The root of the word is the Latin advenire (to arrive) and adventurus (about to happen), and it is very close to the idea of becoming. I began playing with a lot of resistance to this idea, actually. I spent hour upon hour creating characters in Josh Wright's dorm room, dreaming up idealized and magical personae for myself, with complex backstories that I typed up on my Mac SE and presented to Josh, who would receive them with an ironically lifted eyebrow. He understood, as I did not yet, that I was thinking like a D&D player, or a writer of fantasy fiction. Breakout was something else. The game world did not exist to ratify my fantasies; in fact, my elaborately designed heroes more often than not met absurd or humiliating ends.

Gradually I came to understand that Breakout wasn't like fiction, and that the most interesting characters were formed not by my mind working on its own but in the course of their adventures, which were after all as real as any of my other experiences in the sense that they were shared, the warp and woof of our little misfit society. Which was more meaningful: the backstory in my own mind or the actual adventure shared with comrades which we could then discuss and argue over in the days and weeks that followed? The spirit of adventure, of letting things come, ruled Breakout. As with the ancient alchemists, the acquisition of gold was not the true point: the gold was a virtuality. The success of the character or alter-ego that I used was not an end in itself, but a vehicle for transformation. The quest of the player had the same object as all Romantic questing, whether that looks like Percival seeking the Grail, Dante seeking Beatrice, or Scott Pilgrim taking on the world: more life.

What did Josh Wright get out of it all? I suppose I could just ask him, but I suspect the satisfaction he took in Breakout was not dissimilar to the satisfaction of any creative artist. But there was something particularly poetic, I think, more than fictive, in his style of gamemastering, in which language--the language of the rules, the language that accrued between us, with its many layers of reference--took on the form of action rather than representation, and which changed constantly, ramifying rather than linear. A kind of telling that in-formed us and our characters, that converted experience into selfdom; what Whitehead calls "the superject": the subject who is created by his experiences. Josh, who ran the game for two different groups (he called us "the Right Hand"; the Left Hand were his high school friends), got to be something like Whitehead's conception of God, created as Game Master by the collective prehension of the diverse elements of the game world, the only one with a complete view of everything it had become. As a poet becomes a poet by writing, by opening himself to the adventure of the poem.

Dark Culture

I wanted to find an outside to poetry. Not an escape, exactly, though there are times I wish that I could escape from poetry, which exerts its gravity on culture invisibly, like dark matter. Call it dark culture, which can be referenced by the grid but must be experienced off of it. (The grid can refer to poetry, etc., but when you experience poetry on the grid, what you really experience is: the grid.) Reading is a vanishing experience and the weight of all those books, more of them every year, is something perceived ever more lightly, something in-experienced. And yet it is possible to set the grid aside, or to use the grid still as reference or double to life rather than life itself, though we are fast forgetting how.

Poetry is off the grid and as dark culture its existence is untimely, precisely because of the ways in which it marks time. In writing a novel I could hardly expect to transcend these things. Instead I wrote myself more deeply into poetry, into my own line. The line simply expanded and extenuated, trembling on the brink of the sentence stretched to its limit. The sentence would not stay put. Its only satisfaction was the next sentence.

“Limits / are what any of us / are inside of” -- Charles Olson

Poetry is tasked for its irrelevance, its refusal to operate as an amplifier of tendencies already adequately represented by and on the grid. The grid, that endless surface the first world skates on--that this text skates upon--claims to offer us an adequate representation. The grid claims to be Borges’s “Map of the Empire whose size [is] that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it.” In fact the grid is the Empire itself. We feed it our existence and so feed its existence, compulsively and continually. Ungridded experience, itself merely a reference point, is “Useless, and without without some pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters.” IRL.

Culture is a multiphasic field in which we negotiate personhood: our appearances to each other, as individuals and as members of collectives. If you are a laborer in the fields of dark culture your work stands in an uncertain relation to your appearance or invisibility on the grid. The valuelessness of poetry is a commonplace, but so also is the ineradicable minimal value of being a poet. The grid is haunted by the specter of being-a-poet, which is a claim to personhood without authorization. 

“I am unbaptized, uninitated, ungraduated, unanalyzed. I had in mind that my worship belonged to no church, that my mysteries belonged to no cult, that my learning belonged to no institution, that my imagination of my self belonged to no philosophical system. My thought must be without sanction.” -- Robert Duncan, The H.D. Book

We are back in Shelley’s territory of the unacknoweldged legislator. But my desire to find the outside of poetry, the skin of its dark matter, is not entirely Romantic. It’s an intutition that poetry does not represent experience but is an imitation of the action of experiencing. Poetry presents an image of what Alfred North Whitehead calls “prehension” in action.

I wrote a novel because I wanted a large prose field for prehension, which is both positive and negative. Positive in its selection of details or data in pursuit of a vector of cumulative experience--the past that composes me. Negative in its vast unselection, everything I don’t write about, whose pressure poetry can make felt. I don’t know if prose can. There is a horror at the center of my novel that to my horror has become part of the grid. What ought to bend or break the grid and put its thoughtless apparatus of representation has become integral to that representation.

Prose and poetry fall into dark culture when they are too insistently evental. The grid can only reproduce objects; it objectizes events. History vanishes into the twilight of my timeline; in the meantime, I can respond to it only affectively: I like it, I favorite it.  Without analysis, almost without meaning, it passes by.

They say you should write the kind of book you yourself would want to read. But what I wanted to write was: reading.

Reading is in the dark. I see your shadow there.

"In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars...."

The grid tears easily when stressed. It is ill-equipped to represent without rupture or distortion the personhood of the non-normative, "Animals and Beggars," the feminine, the queer, the non-white, the poor.

Dark culture pours through tears in the grid for moments surrounded by incessant and ceaseless repairs. Converting time back into space, history into Empire.

Minions of the grid, bent and badly mirrored, only recognizable as human in the anamorphosis of dark culture.

The outside to poetry is time as it is lived. Poetry, like life--

Is mortal. In the line. I feel, enjambed--

"...in all the Land there is no Relic of the Disciplines of Geography."

The Problem with Writing Articles


In academic halls, one writes for one's peers, and to satisfy their expectations--to win friends, to keep sponsors. Articles come first, small projects, research, translation--delicate nibbles at the hand that feeds. But an article is not an essay. Articles lie about the lay of their land. An article pretends to be clear about its objective and then must pretend to reach it. That objective will be minuscule though recondite. Moreover, the article does not halt at any point along the way to confess that its author is lost, or that its exposition has grown confused, or that there are attractive alternatives here and there, that its conclusions are uncertain or unimportant, that the author has lost interest; rather, the article insists on its proofs; it will hammer home even a bent nail; however, it does not end on a howl of triumph but on a note of humility, as if being right about something was quite a customary state of affairs. Polite applause will be the proper response. And a promotion.

- William H. Gass, "Nietzsche: In Illness and in Health"


On Knausgaard, Stupidity, and Being Seen

In which the link between stupidity and being seen is demonstrated.

It is nearly impossible to explain why the vague feeling of being seen and believed should make me begin to write a novel and take my writing much further than I had ever done before.
— Karl Ove Knausgaard

In a typically rambling yet as typically profound essay, Karl Ove Knasugaard writes of his relationship with his editor, and more broadly of what has emerged as the chief concern of his llfe and writing: the unstable boundary between meaning and the meaningless. The essay tries to account for his relation to those people with whom he has not struggled--his mother, his wife, and his editor--those who have given to him unconditionally, as opposed to the antagonists who have generated the narrative of his life, quite literally giving him something to write about--above all, his father, but also his brother and his own children. What these people give to Karl Ove is something rare but necessary, to any writer, probably to any human being: the experience of being seen: "seen, not from above, not from a distance, but from the inside."

I think Richard Hugo must have been thinking of this ineffable relation between writer and editor, or between student and teacher, when he remarked that "A creative-writing class may be one of the last places you can go where your life still matters." We all have a need to be seen, to be visible, and not only in the fast and thoughtless way made possible by the Internet and social media. There's being seen in a slower way, in a way bound up with what Knausgaard calls "trust." By these lights, the most important job of the editor or teacher is not to "improve" the writer's work, but actually to call it into being, the way a shaman intervenes with the spirits, first and most importantly of all by believing in them.

Knausgaard rejects or reverses the notion of writing as "practicing a craft": "To write means that you must break down what you know and have learnt, an unthinkable approach for a craftsman such as a joiner, who cannot start afresh again and again." It is the editor's "courage" that makes it possible for the writer to sustain this experience not simply of not-knowing (a kind of zen "beginner's mind") but actually destroying what he or she knows--a far more radical act. 

Knausgaard writes revealingly of the clumsy, even "stupid" prose that balloons My Struggle to its impossible length. It is the stupid and infantile and regressive in Knausgaard's work that his editor has been most responsive to, what drives the writing away from "literature" toward "life." Knausgaard's pride is such that he will not go all the way--he is no Dadaist---"I could not bring myself to follow the editor's suggestion of removing my entire, carefully thought-out opening in high modernist style, so I hung on to it for dear life, since it proved that I was truly a literary author, that I actually could write and not just emote." It is the visibly dialectical relation between "literature" and "life" that makes My Struggle so compelling, and Knausgaard is insightful about the relation between the "infantile" and the "places where my field of vision has contracted: "The infantile passages are simple, almost like stages before something meaningful and coherent is created, while unravelling the knots of my constricted vision does the opposite and leads to an increased complexity, which points to a view of aesthetics contained in just these two observations, an attitude to what literature is, that has made me attempt to get away from the limitations that are inherent in language and can be conquered only by language."

To be seen means to be distinguished, and to encounter distinctions, which are also always limitations. Knausgaard writes about the "dismantled boundary" that arises in the conversation between writer and editor: "when a boundary is crossed, the act of crossing it makes the boundary more visible." In this intimate conversation the solitariness of writing comes up against the social which is at once the enemy of art (because it habituates and dulls perceptions) and the only meaningful arena in which art can appear. Knausgaard sees the dismantling of boundaries as paradigmatic of the past forty years, that is, his (and my) lifetime; he writes of the experience of reading Deleuze as a young man and getting the news from him, in the sense of the "news" William Carlos Williams says we must get from poems. From Deleuze, Knausgaard writes, "We absorbed concepts like openness, reactivity, mobility, unboundedness, interconnectivity, networks, horizontality. Nowadays, these are part of our reality, new ideals that society struggles to reach while it tries to leave behind all that is closed-in, limited, fenced off, constrained."

Knausgaard, as readers of My Struggle know, is temperamentally appalled by this leveling, even as he acknowledges that the arc of indistinction bends toward greater equality. Here is his essay's most characteristic paragraph:

A longing for boundaries is contained within almost all I have written, as well as a longing for the absolute, for something that is not relative and will last. With this goes a strong distaste for the unbounded, the levelled-down, the relativistic. These two strands, if followed, lead away from culture and out into what my longing is reaching for, into nature and religion. My mind is drawn to settlements, limiting and immobile, because the boundaries drawn around them define distinctions and distinctions create meaning. To write entails precisely that, to create distinctions – and specifically, within what is alike: only through being written about can what is alike become unlike, because it is given form and becomes something that is distinct from something else.

It is here perhaps that Knausgaard comes closest to indulging the darkly atavistic tendencies hinted by the title of his masterpiece, Min Kamp. But as the essay continues, we see him being dialectical about these tendencies. He brings out the dark side of indistinction when he recognizes its leveling effects as a core function of capitalism. And the dialectic also stands between Knausgaard and his editor, whose idelogical instincts are fundamentally opposed to his: "There is a tendency toward relativism in much of my editor's writings, a desire for the non-monolithic, anti-absolutist and egalitarian, in other words, something that goes against the desires I express in my writing." This ought to have made their collaboration impossible, as Knausgaard remarks, but then, sounding almost exactly like Adorno, he concludes that "even 'the alike' is not alike and the likeness ideal will be affected by whatever area it develops in and become unlike." That is, it is a function of writing itself to render unstable the boundary between plot and event, ideas and objects--or to find the objects in ideas, to challenge and divide ideas into objects of experience, limiting the unlimited.

Knausgaard is very fortunate to have found a doppelganger or ideal opponent in the form of an editor who calls Knausgaard's writing out into the open, into the visibility of the boundary between, say, Knausgaard's normative Scandinavian socialism and the impulse toward "settlements, limiting and immobile"--something that I suspect he will deal with most directly in the final volume of My Struggle, which is said to include a 400-page essay on Hitler and the mass murderer Anders Breivik, far darker doubles for Knausgaard than any editor could possibly be.

"To write and read means, at its most profound, to search for freedom, for routes into the open and it is the search for freedom that is fundamental and not whatever one tries to be free of, be it an identity, an ideology about equivalences or an idea about reality." To be truly seen--by an editor or a teacher or a reader or a friend or a lover--is to be given both an identity and the possibility of freedom from that identity, which might include the freedom to create a richer and more profound version of oneself.  Writers and readers are in flight from the pain of being seen in unfreedom, from being marked and "recognized" rather than "seen" (I am using these words in Viktor Shklovsky's sense). This is why the precept "Write what you know" so dangerous: too many writers (and too many readers) seek confirmation of their given identities rather than freedom with-in them.

Only "enstrangement"--in Knausgaard's case, the enstrangement of "stupidity" that the dialogue with his editor makes possible--makes seeing possible. The writer needs an editor or teacher or simply a friend, even an imaginary or dead friend (Shklovsky himself might do in a pinch) to see what she has done and what she might do. The reader needs the kind of writing that Knausgaard shows us the way toward: writing of the dismantled boundary, alive to the struggle between art and life, the meaningful and the meaningless, the process of life that a processual and open literature--that risks stupidity and the unliterary--can make us see.

Nekuia: The Novel

That first-page feeling. Imbricated in an uncreated network. A context for loving life. The "I" appears like an effect of a record's rotation, silver spindle surrounded by gently bruised silence. Static. It's analog, this notion of a surface compatible with infinite depth. Pearls, nutshells, the needle. You bury the changes or hide them in a landscape. Pretending not to breathe. I was looking for an appropriate unit of syntax: the root of appropriate is property, also to propitiate gods. What's the smallest pinhead and the maximum number of angels? If it keeps turning a character might happen. Not only a voice. Stimmung between the lines. Prose makes for between like vinyl: another obsolete technology of the word. Tiny notebooks. "You must restart your system to complete installation of updates." Which come from nowhere, like all data that's appropriated, from the cloud. Human hand, mine or anybody's, holding out a key, a tiny glass heart, or simply pointing to X. This is not productive but it stokes the means of production. Do women also call it jerking off? Reminds me of the context, which means something like to weave with. Warp and woof. The seamy side that shows you how it's done. The man who'd accept a coin in his cup and crinkle his eyes to assure me that whatever has happened to him is not my fault. He has a white beard and a yellow mustache. To. The needle rides the grooves like a little transcendence, I mean a really little one, it doesn't bother anybody. We can go on acting like wised-up materialists. Grain of the voice. The undescribed and now belated feeling of paper sliding underneath the skin of the bent fourth and fifth fingers of my writing hand. Whereas lefties, like elephants, never forget. I'm not trying to escape determination, not really. When this ends it will simply stop and you can assume a complete stop. Not a paratactic gesture toward the numinous, or a thumb jerked at capital's curtain, exerting its weak force on molecules like a supermoon touching the sea. We're done challenging texts to pistol-duels at dawn. We go to bed early and get up the same. I'm driving this car as far as it will go. After that I'll bicycle, after that I'll walk. There is no public transportation. It's good to be home. I am just a sentence in this badly translated prophecy. I am just a needle dragged raggedly off the turntable. I need to believe in a world that believes in me. I like it, like liking. There is a glacier somewhere acting exactly like the sky. Wind. High blue pressure of the thinkable. Best felt by spread fingers, by long hair, closed eyes.

I seek from reading and writing two complementary yet contrary things: the sense of a world in which my personhood (as hero, citizen, even as victim) becomes possible. And to surrender the self in intellectual or spiritual communion with another, him or herself a world in and through which connections come to light, myself only a node or synaptic gap across which these connections must leap.

This is a ghost story. Story of a ghost, of course, but also the story itself is ghostlike, doubtful yet insistent, recurring without coherence, insisting on a moment of recognition that can never arrive while you yourself are living. He held back his mother with the naked blade until the prophet could drink his fill. A story told and retold becomes myth and myth is nothing but a texture, a backdrop to life as it is lived, every day, with a sense of something behind the ordinary. Working walking talking sleeping. Of course, backgrounds are fatal to their foregrounds. When myth becomes the story, when it overtakes the everyday, both stories vanish. We are in the gray light that succeeds narrative and the word afterbirth is horribly appropriate. Bury the thing that feasted this life, for myth is deoxygenated blood. Dark and darker on the snow, in it. She is stargazing blind, hands outstretched, masked in bandages: her hands, I mean. Mummy in the snow, white on white.

The record, that lustrous boundary of a room's tone. Songs are not data. Inscribe that space with listening's effort. A man asleep on the sofa with an open book on his chest. Sun on the window, rain. Snow muffles the unheard. Only lifting the needle can wake him. The book slides to the floor: an event, almost. Begin playing it again--the outermost track of anticipation. Lossless. The audiophiles call it warmth, dimensionality. A lunar feeling. Placed in orbit, we infer a center. But we don't need a center. We have the song.

I disappear into the telling. Or I strike a stone and new voices appear, voices with one haunted face, telling stories that culminate in the only invisibility that matters. Catch it by the tail, that old story, before it freezes. Unwrap her gently, with reverence. Of course there's nothing there, there never was, except before the time of telling, of narrative, just the glide of an empty hand over paper. I am a baby in my bath, and she is near me. I am a grown man and she is gone. That is not a story, but this is: One morning, I awoke and felt a presence. A made thing. I spoke to, wrote toward, that presence, until it disappeared forever.

Stay Puft

I should have said, "It is also the nature of poetry TO DETERMINE OR AFFIRM one's relation to the incomprehensible condition of existence." I say "existence" because it is different than identity. I say "determine OR affirm" because there is an option here: the great sculptor Giacometti once said, "I do not know whether I work in order to make something or in order to know why I cannot make what I would like to make." Perhaps when one makes something one affirms, and when one tries to make and knows they cannot (another kind of making) one determines. One determines that they cannot, one determines this by endlessly attempting.

-- Mary Ruefle, "Madness, Rack, and Honey"

A number of truths on display here. One truth is akin to Walter Benjamin's thesis that "The work is the death mask of its conception." That is, the actual work is a thin and dead reflection of what was quick and living in the author's mind. One tries to grasp the conception, to capture it alive and in motion, but like the philosopher in Kafka's parable of the top, it is oneself that ends up spinning: the top is dead or undead, like Odradek.

But there are two opposed stances toward making here. To make a work "affirms one's relation to the incomprehensible condition of existence." And for a long time, I thought of my poetry as such a work, going back to the claim that Ruefle amends, that it is "the nature of poetry to assert individual identity." My ego demanded so many Mini-Me's, so many poems that, like Duncan's meadow in one quicksilver mood, were "a made place, / that is mine." The poems were objects, more-or-less exquisite, ends in themselves as people should be, themselves, ends.

But there are times when one cannot make a work. When working or trying to work ends in frustration and fragments; or (it is almost the same thing) when what one writes refuses to be a work like other works, like what one had faintly in mind. In short, one fails, and falls, into text. There is no work, like there is no Dana in Ghostbusters; there is only Zuul, minion of Gozer the Destroyer, who comes to the work of destruction indifferent to his form. 

In the destruction of the work there is nothing to affirm. There is only the adventure of "crossing the streams," doing the unreasonable thing (as Charles Bernstein remarks in "A Defence of Poetry," "ratio... DOES NOT EQUAL / sense!"). To destroy the Destructor is not to affirm one's identity, or even "one's relation to the incomprehensible condition of existence." It means to roll the dice (which never will abolish chance) which will determine--for the moment--that relation. And we must roll the dice again and again. (Even if Ghostbusters III never comes to fruition; especially then).

Another more commonsensical interpretation of Giacometti's remark makes making a process of education: in trying and failing to make "what I would like to make," you learn a little more about it, and perhaps get closer to making, to affirmation. Or you can look at it in the mirror and affirm negatively with Beckett: "Fail. Fail again. Fail better." But I am a little suspicious of these aphorisms, which get passed hand to hand around the Internet until all the context--all the difficulty--has been rubbed away.

I am a little tongue-in-cheek with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, but my intention is a serious one. Ghostbusters plays with occult knowledge in order to make us laugh, but there is something more than a little sublime and terrifying about the form Dan Ackroyd's Ray chooses for Gozer, particularly after the crossed streams of their "unlicensed nuclear accelerators" have set him aflame. Ray tries to make knowledge harmless, to package it in the form of the friendliest possible commodity, and fails. "Poetry is the scholar's art" says Stevens, deriving from a vision of the imagination as "the sum of our faculties." It animates knowledge, and demonstrates the occultness of knowledge by giving it a sweet, tumultuous, and flammable body.


Knowing conjures; knowing is a summoning. Knowledge is made present by metaphor, and metaphor, as Ruefle reminds us, "is not, and never has been, a mere literary term. It is an event. A poem must rival a physical experience and metaphor is, simply, an exchange of energy between two things." Which echoes Olson: "A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it (he shall have some several causations) by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader." Energeia: within work. Eventus, evenire: to come out of something. The event comes out of the energy that is within the work, that must be conducted with as little resistance as possible from the poet's knowledge (always occult and hidden: knowledge of the body, of history, of myth). It "rivals" a physical experience; it is a physical experience. It burns on the way out, and on the way in.

I am trying to understand the importance of the occult and the hidden; of the text as paradoxical fragment of the work (the energy) it contains; of the ghost in the small or large machine made of words. I am trying to understand the role of the occult and made-up, of the metaphors. Ruefle: "To conceive of things that don't exist is a natural act for a human being." What is the nature of making and of making-up? What happens when we answer the destruction of a known reality with the destruction of the unknown?

I ain't afraid of no ghost. Oh, but I am. And I am.

Charles Baudelaire's "Correspondences"

"Nature" is a temple of living crutches
Sometimes oozing muddled words;
Man passes through this symbolic forest
That follows him with its vulgar eyes.

Like distant echoes confused by distance
Into a tenebrous singularity
Vast as the night, as clarity
Answered by sight, by sound and perfumes.

There are scents cool as the skins of infants,
Silken as oboes, fresh as meadows
And others opulent, triumphant and depraved

Generous as infinity
As amber, as musk, as balsam, as incense
Singing ecstasies of the spirit and the soul.




La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.

Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent
Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.

II est des parfums frais comme des chairs d'enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
— Et d'autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,

Ayant l'expansion des choses infinies,
Comme l'ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l'encens,
Qui chantent les transports de l'esprit et des sens.

Six Dimensions of Poetry


The turn, the break, "This Be the Verse." The clinamen, the swerve:

The atoms, as their own weight bears them down 
Plumb through the void, at scarce determined times, 
In scarce determined places, from their course 
Decline a little-- call it, so to speak, 
Mere changed trend. For were it not their wont 
Thuswise to swerve, down would they fall, each one, 
Like drops of rain, through the unbottomed void; 
And then collisions ne'er could be nor blows 
Among the primal elements; and thus 
Nature would never have created aught. 

Lucretius, The Nature of Things, trans. William Ellery Leonard

Heidegger says that only a god can save us. But Lucretius says we have no gods. Only the volta.


"is another," says Rimbaud, castigating "the false significance of Self." The pronoun in the poem is the mask. The poem is the impossible touch of the other in the mirror. And the poem works by doubling: call it rhyme, call it repetition. How many flowers? "A rose is a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose."

A dimension is a question of structure.


The quality of time in the body (of the speaker, of the listener, of the line, of the poem).


Language is not identical with itself. Attentiveness to this.

Each dimension midwifes the emergence of the others.


Language is not identical with itself. Forgetfulness of this.

The rhythmic emergence and submergence of the referent. Immanent mimesis of the poem, which does not describe things, which is a thing in relation to the other things it does not describe.


What the volta admits, what the language doubles, what the cadence remarks, what silence acknowledges, what cherishes the things.

The spirituality of the Möbius strip, which is a thing any child can make with a strip of paper and some tape. 

The activeness of creatures without a creator.

What Hopkins calls "Christ." What Jews call

The Law. "There are no / final orders."

No home.

"I return to sentences as a refreshment": Ambience, Consecution, the Open

I began writing what became Beautiful Soul simply as a series of sentences. Very long sentences, as it happens, with enough comma splices to risk revocation of my license as an English professor. A poet works in phrases and above all in lines; sentences are exotic. Nearly as seductive to me are paragraphs, very long paragraphs, the sort of long paragraphs one encounters reading Proust and Adorno and Saramago. Stanzas and strophes have nothing on paragraphs for their elasticity, their infinite yet tensile capacity. "Sentences are not emotional but paragraphs are," says Gertrude Stein. But the problem with sentences and paragraphs is not that they are emotional or unemotional. It's that they say things. And saying things, as I like to remind my writing students, is not what poetry is for.

Mallarmé: "I say: a flower! and, out of the oblivion into which my voice consigns any real shape, as something other than petals known to man, there rises, harmoniously and gently, the ideal flower itself, the one that is absent from all earthly bouquets." Poetic voicing is inseparable from oblivion, from the invisible. But fictive voicing is all too mimetic, all too obliterative of oblivion. It is difficult for fiction to recapture its fundamental rhetoricity; it is difficult not to lapse completely into what John Gardner called "the fictive dream": "the writer forgets the words he has written on the page and sees, instead, his characters moving around their rooms, hunting through cupboards, glancing irritably through their mail, setting mousetraps, loading pistols." The reader forgets too. It's like Eliot's objective correlative, only without the objective part. It's language idealized, all spirit and no letter.

Fictive sentences don't have to work this way. There's Gordon Lish and his theory of "consecution," as explained in a valuable essay by one of his students, Gary Lutz: "a recursive procedure by which one word pursues itself into its successor by discharging something from deep within itself into what follows." The writer reacts to the material properties of constellated words and letters, and proceeds by association from one sentence to the next. In a manner somewhat akin to Ron Silliman's "new sentence," each sentence exists in its own torqued bubble, generative of and yet separate from the sentence that follows it (Lutz calls his article on consecution, "The Sentence Is a Lonely Place"). In a review of Lish's own novel, Peru, David Winters claims that for Lish, "composition cuts across ontology, not only aesthetics" (italics in original).

Winters goes on to compare the "cut" of consecution to, of all things, the clinamen of Lucretius:
"consecution may be less a methodology than a metaphysic; a miraculating agent; an instance of spirit or pneuma submerged in the world. In Lucretius, the force of composition is described as a clinamen—our world is born from a 'swerving of atoms in their fall from heaven. Such is the purpose served by Peru’s perpetual swerving, rhyming and recursion. Each consecutive swerve steps closer toward a total curvature, an arc that delimits the work as a world apart." Each Lishian sentence is its own world, its own monad, in which the universe of the story is contained without being merely represented. It's a mimesis beyond mimesis; the immanent transcendence of representation. The reader encounters the story as a sufficiency, as a world to be explored rather than as something presented. It's an essentially Modernist rather than postmodernist technique.

The Lishian "cut," the Lucretian "swerve": these are comfortably poetic concepts for me, reminiscent as they are of the volta or turn that is central to the operations of verse. The more-than-semantic, physical cut-in-language of the volta is what charges a poem with energy unsupplied by subject matter. Poems cannot completely evade subject matter; words never can. But they come much closer to such evasions, and can entangle a reader in themselves, with a more intensively minimal mimesis than can fiction. And this perhaps is why Yeats can say that poetry makes nothing happen but rather "survives, / A way of happening, a mouth."

Fiction is also a way of happening. And yet to be fiction, something has to happen. To write it, there has to be story. But there's a problem with the Lishian ontological sentence: it's too definitive and determinate. It says things.

A happening is an event. In a recent essay on "the novel as event," Cooper Levey-Baker seems to mean something less eventlike than the scene of events (way of happening): something like architecture or ambient music. Touchstones for his piece include an artwork by Anish Kapoor (creator of Chicago's beloved Bean, aka Cloud Gate) and the collaborations of filmmaker Béla Tarr and novelist László Krasznahorkai. Levey-Baker seems interested in recapturing a particular dimension of Modernism: the challenge to the reader or viewer to encounter the artwork (a film or a novel) so as to make its silence audible, often to the point of discomfort: the unpleasures of boredom. The very long shots without cuts in Tarr's film version of Krasznahorkai's Satantango are the equivalent of the novel's very long sentences, which endlessly defer answers to the audience's questions about what exactly is going on. As at a poetry reading, or leafing through one of Ashbery's longer works, one's mind wanders without ever losing the sense of being in the presence of something, an environment in which the figure-ground relation is rendered ambiguous, if not threatening.

Boredom, Levey-Baker claims, is the last refuge of the avant-garde, the one affect that cannot be recuperated by the entertainment-industrial complex. Long sentences, in their excessiveness, their accumulation and angular momentum, do not have to be boring; but they do tend to be far more open than short sentences. In their attenuated hypotaxis, the extension and interaction of dependent and independent clauses begin to overwrite each other, to introduce a dubiety, room for interpretation.

The past master of this is of course the Master himself, Henry James. Here's a sentence, chosen more or less at random, from The Golden Bowl: " He remembered to have read, as a boy, a wonderful tale by Allan Poe, his prospective wife's countryman—which was a thing to show, by the way, what imagination Americans COULD have: the story of the shipwrecked Gordon Pym, who, drifting in a small boat further toward the North Pole—or was it the South?—than anyone had ever done, found at a given moment before him a thickness of white air that was like a dazzling curtain of light, concealing as darkness conceals, yet of the colour of milk or of snow." This is not unstraightforward; and yet its dart backward toward an impugnation of the American imagination, its dart sideways into Poe, and its ambiguous image of the white mist of others' motivations (concealing the future of our hero) lend an astonishing multiplicity to the sentence's mimesis of what is supposedly happening in Prince Amerigo's mind. James is famous for his psychology, but thanks to his brother William's work we know how close psychology is to philosophy, which is to say the art of disclosing the real. Reality, as William James teaches us, is perspectival. The activity required of the reader of a Jamesian sentence sends her grasping in and through language for a meaning one cannot help but be conscious of creating.

James is also capable of Lishian sentence pairs, as in the following beautifully asymmetrical chiasmus: "He was taken seriously. Lost there in the white mist was the seriousness in them that made them so take him." The reader leaps from stone to stone. The cut is there. But it's the longer sentences that makes James James, and that suggest, for me, a possible fiction, an immanent mimesis, the paragraph-environment, story in language.

The Recruit

One of my back-burner projects for the past couple of years is a memoir or a series of linked autobiographical essays about my years of quiet desperation trying to be a writer while living in New Orleans in the mid-90s. Green Mountains Review has just published some excerpts in their online edition.

Read them here.


What a pen can make: lines. The sea sees nothing. The computer heats up, rendering. What was given to Henry James: names. Makes a world. 

They were neither of them saints. Him especially, but also especially, her. But what makes a saint? To have stood for something, and to have suffered for it. Isn't that enough? Isn't that, at least, something?

The artist chooses his constraints: that is his freedom. But the philosopher? Is she not obligated, simply, to the truth? And thus is the least free of all? The philosopher does not invent, even when she does invent: a voice, a character, a concept. The philosopher constructs a discourse, an elaborate machine for unearthing what she discovers in the day or night. She lives in the brilliant aftermath of intuition. 


It is more important that a proposition be interesting than that it be true.[1]

Begin again. In a new spirit of pragmatism, asking not why I am interested in vital materialism, in modernist poetics, in the dialectic of innocence and experience, in the phenomenological and ecological implications of taking language and the imagination as things that obtain, that exist. Accepting that I am interested in these things, that they are a matter of my temperament, its line or lines of flight. Asking, instead, what this assemblage of interests can do.

The idea has come to me that I want to do now is to saturate every atom. I mean to eliminate all waste, deadness, superfluity: to give the moment whole; whatever it includes.[2]

In my own poetry this assemblage empowers a new practice, a practical poetics to be lived with and explored. Such a poetics undermines the impulse toward the made and returns one’s attention to making. To be always beginning again, with the reader, asking what it is in the moment that poems do.

Say that the moment is a combination of thought; sensation; the voice of the sea.[3]

Poetry is a practice of magic, of incantation, “a matter of disturbance, entrance and passion, rather than abracadabra.”[4] A speech in which the speaker is fully embedded, fully committed. A voice committed to the moment, to creating and being created by the otherness of what the poem includes.

Waste, deadness, come from the inclusion of things that don’t belong to the moment; this appalling narrative business of the realist: getting on from lunch to dinner: it is false, unreal, merely conventional.[5]

It is false, unreal, merely conventional: this business of the realist: how some poetry and much scholarship encases and thwarts experience. In their insistent proprieties they obscure our vision of the actual, what William James called “pure experience.”[6] The actual may be a poem; it may be the western black rhino, declared extinct last week; it may be my daughter; it may be a feeling or a lure for feeling. We lose the actual when we lose the adventure of imagination.

The world of wonders is limited at last to the parent’s will (for will prospers where imagination is thwarted); intellectual appetites become no more than ambitions; curious minds become consciences; love, hatred, affection, and cruelty cease to be responses and become convictions. And the adventure of life becomes a self-improvement course.[7]

We can, in other words, know nothing in advance. The poem lies before us. We are implicated if we write it, if we read it. We are willing subjects in the wrong.

There is a stone chair on a dais. Seeing it is the King’s chair or, even, in some dreamings of this dream, finding myself a lonely king in that chair, there is no one rightly there. A wave of fear seizes me. All things have gone wrong and I am in the wrong. Great doors break from their bars and hinges, and, under pressure, a wall of water floods the cavern.[8]

I am interested in noir. In a noir narrative the protagonist, who is usually some sort of detective, plunges confidently into the heart of an expanding darkness, only to discover that the darkness is inside himself—that he may even be its origin. This is the story of Oedipus and the story of Chinatown. Noir reverses the dialectic of innocence and experience. The experienced detective is undone by his adventure, confronted with his own complicity in evil. He detects himself. A terrible innocence is born. This terrible moment, the moment at the very end of the noir narrative, is ours.

I discover myself on the verge of the usual mistake.[9]

But we can bear in, imagining the darkness rather than willing it.

Medicine can cure the body. But soul, poetry, is capable of living in, longing for, choosing illness. Only the most fanatic researcher upon cancer could share with the poet the concept that cancer is a flower, an adventure, an intrigue with life.[10]

“Ecological politics has a noir form,” Timothy Morton writes. “We start by thinking we can ‘save’ something called ‘the world’ ‘over there,’ but end up realizing that we ourselves are implicated. This is the solution to beautiful soul syndrome: reframing our field of activity as one for which we ourselves are formally responsible, even guilty.”[11] We are or ought to be fanatic cancer researchers, and the cancer is in us. Is us. We are caught up in the Anthropocene. We are caught up in an intrigue with life.

Why admit anything to literature that is not poetry—by which I mean saturated? Is that not my grudge against novelists? that they select nothing?[12]

I have written a novel called Beautiful Soul: An American Elegy. It is a sentimental title for a narrative that struggles to emerge on the other side of sentimentality, as the protagonist, in her struggle with the past that composes her, tries to survive her own innocence of that past. The phrase “beautiful soul” is Hegelian (schöne Seele): “The beautiful soul maintains a split between self and world, an irresolvable chasm created by the call of conscience.... [it] cannot see that the evil it condemns is intrinsic to its existence—indeed, its very form as pure subjectivity is this evil.”[13]

The poets succeeding by simplifying: practically everything is left out.[14]

Poems are not mimetic; they do not represent; they show nothing of states of affairs or states of mind. Poetry is the by-product of what Karen Barad calls “intra-action,” “the mutual constitution of entangled agencies the notion of intra-action recognizes that distinct agencies do not precede, but rather emerge through, their intra-action.”[15] The poet is one agent entangled with innumerable other agents: black rhinos, Congressional Republicans, tornadoes, John Keats, hay fever, words. The particular moment of entanglement is the poet’s experience. The record of that experience is the poem; liable, as Ezra Pound said of The Cantos, to carry “the defects inherent in a record of struggle.”[16]

The poet’s role is not to oppose evil, but to imagine it: what if Shakespeare had opposed Iago, or Dostoyevsky opposed Raskolnikov—the vital thing is that they created Iago and Raskolnikov.[17]

The poem itself is not mimetic but the struggle to produce it is microcosmic; as Whitehead says, “Each task of creation is a social effort, employing the whole universe.” The defects of the poem mark its suffering of incompatible facts. “Insistence on birth at the wrong season is the trick of evil.” Whitehead follows this claim with a gimcrack theodicy, assuring us that “in the advance of the world, particular evil facts are finally transcended.”[18] One can accept this only in the spirit of Kafka’s mordant remark that there is plenty of hope for God, but not for us. Yet what Keats calls “the poetical Character” must participate this hope if is not to be overwhelmed, or to retreat to the guilty noncommitment of the beautiful soul.

...it is not itself—it has no self—it is every thing and nothing—It has no character—it enjoys life and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated—It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen.[19]

Poetic practice is a pragmatism of impure subjectivity. The poem’s I is embedded in, produces, and is produced by what it sees. “Environment” does not exist. There is a vibration and an overlapping and a revision. The poem ends, but the adventure does not. If the adventurer encounters evil, he tarries with it and becomes it for a while. “This thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine.”[20] That is his obedience to the struggle.

A Poet is the most unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity—he is continually in for—and filling some other Body—The Sun, the Moon, the Sea and Men and Women who are creatures of impulse are poetical and have about them an unchangeable attribute—the poet has none; no identity—he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God’s Creatures.[21]

Keats is wrong about the unchangeable attributes of things, since all things are themselves entangled and intra-acting agents. He is right that a poet is willing to enter consciously and of his own free will into the contract of intra-action that binds the rest of us all unwilling, since we are blind to it. That blindness is what makes us poetical creatures of impulse. The poet’s vision makes blindness palpable. What Duncan called, “a little endarkenment.”[22]

I want to put practically everything in: yet to saturate. That is what I want to do in “The Moths.” It must include nonsense fact, sordidity: but made transparent.[23]

Moths are nocturnal insects, except when they are not. There is nothing so strange nor seemingly nonsensical as the luna moth, which molts five times in caterpillar form, eating the leaves of black walnut trees, until finally cocooning and emerging with a wingspan of four and a half inches. The luna moth has no mouth; its career as a gourmand is done. It lives for about a week, flying only by night (unlike the diurnal sphinx moth, the infant moth, the Panamanian tiger moth), the females releasing a chemical that attracts the males to mate with them. Then they lay several hundred eggs, and then they die. Moths are very common, except when they are not. Luna moths are endangered in many areas due to pollution from herbicides and insectisides, as well as habitat loss. Is this saturated? Is this transparent? Is the luna moth, selected for the purposes of this essay very nearly at random, something with which I am entangled in 2013, on the November night after a day of unseasonable warmth and torrential rain, during which at least seventy-seven tornadoes caused five reported deaths and untold property damage in the state of Illinois where I live? The lives of moths are fantastically brief. Does this writing bear the defects of a record of my struggle to imagine an order that is not an illusion or bad faith but the order of intra-action, of noir, of innocence?

For she stood upon the threshold of an art where she was to take her place with Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams in the adventure of the higher imagination, in the full risk of the poem in which divine, human, and animal orders must be revealed.[24]

The lives of moths are fantastically brief.

Watching him, it seemed as if a fibre, very thin but pure, of the enormous energy of the world had been thrust into his frail and diminutive body.[25]

Innocence survives experience, through experience. The innocence of the moth in its mouthless struggle for life. Of the poem.

Again, somehow, one saw life, a pure bead.[26]

[1] Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas, pg. 244.
[2] Virginia Woolf, diary entry of 28 September 1928.
[3] Woolf, op. cit.
[4] Robin Blaser quoted in Lisa Jarnot, Robert Duncan: The Ambassador from Venus, pg. 165.
[5] Woolf, op. cit.
[6] William James, “Does ‘Consciousness’ Exist?” in Essays in Radical Empiricism, pg. 4.
[7] Robert Duncan, “Pages from a Notebook,” A Selected Prose, pg. 16.
[8] Duncan, The H.D. Book, pg. 151.
[9] Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1855).
[10] Duncan, “Pages from a Notebook,” A Selected Prose, pg. 15.
[11] Morton, Ecology without Nature, pg. 187.
[12] Woolf, op. cit.
[13] Morton, pg. 118.
[14] Woolf, op. cit.
[15] Barad, Meeting the Universe Halfway, pg. 33.
[16] Pound, Guide to Kulchur, pg. 135.
[17] Duncan, The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov, pg. 669.
[18] Whitehead, Process and Reality, pg. 223.
[19] John Keats, Selected Letters, pgs. 147-148
[20] Shakespeare, The Tempest, 5.1.
[21] Keats, pg. 148.
[22] C.f. Stephen Collis and Graham Lyons, eds., Reading Duncan Reading: Robert Duncan and the Poetics of Derivation, pg. 64.
[23] Woolf, op. cit.
[24] Duncan, The H.D. Book, pg. 210.
[25] Woolf, “The Death of the Moth,” The Death of the Moth and Other Essays, pg. 4.
[26] Ibid, pg. 6.

From an old notebook

The camera preserves looking--the life of the poem.

Can't expel the image without an image
terror face
Streaked the face and the face's frame 
Soot on the lens, incurved eye
Lips parted the teeth rendered
White and black open to be torn
The me of it the late-night regarder
Alone in the house with vintage paranoia
Letter by letter I seek the image
Unconveyed by the phrase "lidless eye"
Unable to flinch
In the face of that
Unable to flinch
Blow to the face

Blunt instrument the eye cannot choose but accept


Great fucking title for a book:



My daughter materializes time for me in a new way: she grows so rapidly that I too must, it seems, be growing as rapidly, or anyway changing, aging: as she discovers language I discover language; as she staggers on suddenly overlong legs so do I stagger. Except I'm used to it, I scarcely notice my own becoming, I think I'm standing still. But time has me in its savage grip for sure. It flourishes us both for now, but a tipping point will come and no doubt sooner than I expect. Or sooner than I'll realize. 


Guy at cafe talking about Cleveland as a place that "if you live there, you have a reason for living there"; mentions DFW's novel about it (Broom of the System?) and says that Joyce would have written about Cleveland both as Midwestern oasis and also as a backward and venal place. 


A.R. Ammons: "you sit there discussing the theory / of poetry as if you were saved: / meanwhile, a big-mouthed cock / is creeping up on your ass" like "Lawrence's snake"


carefully fail
at every
task except
the highest

only the essential is material
only the material is essential 


Adjustment to the film based on the anticipated desires of the "world audience."

From the distant square oompah music, fat froggy tones of horns, kettle drums, accordions taking the air. 

We haven't lost, I said. We've won. Roche is finished. DeGaulle is finished. The unions are getting everything they've asked for.
The why does it feel like losing?
The victory rally. The thousands of shining faces, floating in a sea of banners, slogans, lights. The man of the hour, the bearer of our hopes, raising his hands to receive our silence. The silence before he speaks goes on and on. Stretched out on the ecstatic rack of time, we, breathless, hearing only each other's stillness, are listening, leaning, hand in spontaneous hand. His lips are parted. A shout that will not be. 
Let me live here ever. 


shiver   overcharged
by narrative
bootblacks.   mistress quicklys
overwrought    by night
streaming video from subcontinents
overreaching.   overt hands
fingertips flying up to brush
metal seams of a hull
dark down there
& breathless.    mutineers
parts of the whole
satelite whirligigs   sedan chairs carried
into the muck of speech


The goat's colored footsteps


Outbound 1/26/10

Flatiron sky flies in wedges
"my iron lung"
Front to back two ladies
Speaking Spanish por que
A flag hovers to my left
Over Evanston's hotel de ville
And where does the gravel on top of shelter roofs come from

Fighting about nothing you
Sleep well all night
Gym bag between my feet
Like an offering

Health care's dead
It's alive!

Little dogs walk
Their feet can't keep up with 'em
Benadette Mayer writes her couplets
At midnight

As I staple together
Ends of the working


Rust-red pigeon
What's in it for you

Hey everybody!
Let's go ahead and pathologize
The last several months
Count weeks
And have a few beers


The black relic hung
Something to savor
The black relic hung
Crossroads of the years
The black relic hung
Forgotten LP
The black relic hung
The black relic hung


shoes make broken glass OK