Coup de theatre

Towards the beginning of the book, there are two good poems. One turns on the trope of the voyeur observed. "The Book Women" which opens the book begins with a portrait of older women that coming to a reading expose themselves to the not too gentle scrutiny of the poem's narrator. By the end of the poem the poetic voice reflects on the inner old women in all of us. What begins as satire turns to a disguised and distinguished call to carpe diem.

In a poem not quite in succession but akin to the opener by its twist, a view from a window leads to contemplation of a sprouting jungle scene. Revisited later in the poem after what is implied as a successful coming out, the scene is characterized by a single line, a line that amazes the reader and concludes the poem with a figure that opens up to meditation:

I found a solitary tree.

Sky Gilbert. Temptations for a Juvenile Delinquent I am sure there is more to say about the other poems and their solitary pleasures, meanwhile I'll hang out alone and cruise by the image of the tree once seen as a jungle.

And so for day 657

Queer Sighting

The back cover of the programme of events for Queer Sites held May 13-15, 1993 at New College, University of Toronto, has a lovely "poem" on the back that fascinates me because of its enjambement.


On the flyleaf, my copy has two interesting questions inscribed in green: "If queer is a techne, a set of tools, what are the parameters, shifting or stable, for its use? How does one draw and how are limits drawn for one and what does that or this man about oneself."

After all these years, the lines of investigation are less of space and more of time. How fast, how slow, how long? The place of a comma. The time of a period.

And so for day 656

Another Take on "cures"

After glossing the lines from Zbigniew Herbert "Chord" as translated by Alissa Valles and found in The Collected Poems 1956-1998 (a good memory cures/ the scar of a loss leaves), I revisit some old lines.

Maxims Against Idolatry

The weaver is not the woven
Adultery cures idolatry

April 1, 2000

And I thought idolatry was being smashed. In some ways it is being erected.

And so for day 655

It Bears Repeating

From Zbigniew Herbert "Chord" as translated by Alissa Valles and found in The Collected Poems 1956-1998.

a good memory cures
the scar a loss leaves

I've no idea about the original Polish. I do like the polysemy offered by the verb "cures". It is both a healing and a hardening.

And so for day 654

Character and Appearance

Edmund White States of Desire sums up the character of the gay men in Portland and Seatle thus

Few people in the Northwest appear to be individuals, but many do think for themselves. Elsewhere the reverse is true: the originality is all on the level of manners, not morals, of costume, not content.

I like how crafted the contrasts are in the concluding sentence. A nice surface effect.

And so for day 653

Space and Transformations

Leonard Mlodinow in Euclid's Window provides this insightful take on location and access to it via both geometry and algebra.

There is more to location than naming a spot [...] The real power of a theory of location resides in the ability to relate different locations, paths, and shapes to each other, and to manipulate them employing equations — in the unification of geometry and algebra.

The key here is "the ability to relate". All in the name of manipulation.

And so for day 652

Solidarity and Dreamtime

The intersubjective recounting of experience, especially experiences from the realm of the sub-conscious, forms strong bonds.

Because we had had the same dream, Pussycat and I agreed that we were now each other's friend.

from Kathy Acker Pussycat Fever. What is clever is that the same dream didn't have to have been had at the same time. The dream can be passed around like a solemn token of friendship. Indeed if the dream was dreamed at the same time it would not be the same dream.

And so for day 651

Handkerchiefs Waving

"Brise Marine" in Stéphane Mallarmé: Selected Poetry and Prose is beautifully translated by Peter and Mary Ann Caws.

Croit encore à l'adieu suprême des mouchoirs!

is rendered most delicately as

Has faith still in great fluttering farewells!

So very felicitous.

And so for day 650

On Rockwell on Dialogue

Some notes triggered by Geoffrey Rockwell's A Unity of Voices: A Definition of Philosophical Dialogue

The successful dialogue, the one that teaches, is judged to be the one that brings the reader close to identifying with the humiliated (the respondent) or the humiliating (the interrogator) and allows the reader to break the identification and in so doing also leave opinions and faulty reasoning behind. In this sense, the dialogue works along catalytic principles. This reminds me of Ricoeur's notion of appropriation. Of course, the catalytic model of dialogue relies on solitary reading. And certainly does not account for rereading. [The "of course" is not so self-evident. What is aimed at is a reader able to occupy multiple subject positions hence to interrogate.]

But there is something to be found in an hermeneutic of suspension of suspicion — where the readers know about the rhetorical mechanism & choose to feign (or not) seduction. This is a highly complicated response but one I believe that is near the dialogue with the ineffable that Rockwell hinted at in his opening chapter on Heidegger.

And I wonder how much Rockwell's remark about a dialogue by Heidegger ("Dialogue is recursive." p. 33 "Chapter 2: The Danger of Dialogue") can be generalized to all dialogue. At least the turn upon itself can be activated in the reading.

And so for day 649

Rousseau and Octavia Butler

A passage from Rousseau about the innate human ability to feel pity found in Discours sur l'origine et les fondements de l'inégalité parmi les hommes

Il y a d'ailleurs un autre principe que Hobbes n'a point aperçu, et qui, ayant été donné à l'homme pour adoucir, en certaines circonstances la férocité de son amour-propre, ou le désir de conserver avant la naissance de cet amour, tempère l'ardeur qu'il a pour son bien-être par une répugnance innée à voir souffrir son semblable.

Bring this in conjunction with Octavia Butler's "sharers" or "hyperempaths" in Parable of the Talents.

And so for day 648

Integrity and Memory and Praise

For a co-worker moving on to other work... if I were to laud her, I would point to her integrity and her love of poetry and I would quote from Robin Blaser's essay "Particles" collected in The Fire: Collected Essays of Robin Blaser

And it is in the specific and the particular that integrity resides. What happens to emotion when it is not tied to the particular is that it becomes as large as Society and as dangerous as "the will of the people," which according to modern history is not recognizable except by one man at the top. And it is in this realm of integrity that poetry has its political base. It is in the concrete nature of poetic speech that integrity remains and endures as a permanence in human affairs.

And then I would quote a few lines from one of her favourite poets.

a good memory cures
the scar a loss leaves

from Zbigniew Herbert "Chord" as translated by Alissa Valles and found in The Collected Poems 1956-1998.

And so for day 647

Theory, Practice and the Time of Practice

Barbara Johnson in the interview published with her Bucknell Lectures in Literary Theory as The Wake of Deconstruction says

Analysis and action are not necessarily separable, but they may obey different temporalities.

Thinking and doing carve out the possibilities of our being. The trick is to be aware that sometimes one is faster than the other. There is no knowing in advance which is the laggard.

And so for day 646

Discards from A Preface

from sometime in the mid 90s

A gay man asking "why make babies" risks being unheard. Gay people pretend he is addressing straights. His question is aimed at closet cases so claim straight folk. The sophisticated lesbians have him talking to himself. So do the unsophisticated.

A gay man is always overheard. His questions sound like baby talk. His gestures resemble so many abstractions swirling round the asking, how he has been made, how he made it, so narcissistic. Knowing he is overheard he turns the made into a making like turning a trick, forever a boy.

None can ever quite reproduce his productions, unless they listen for the unhurriedness of the unheard at play and then they know the risking at work.

I was thinking a lot about reproduction in its social and biological aspects at the time. I like the lapidary sassiness of this prose.

And so for day 645


bp Nichol, "Y for Victor" collected in As Elected: Selected Writing.

The form is of an ABC acrostic. Note the initial words to each line:

alphabet [...]

beginning [...]

creates [...]

dreams [...]

escape [...]

These form the first line group. They also form interesting strings if one reworks the machinery of the text from the vertical to the horizontal. "alphabet beginning creates" and "dreams escape". Now one wonders if the newly read lines along this vertical axis are two sentences separated by a virtual period or whether one reads an apostrophe into the continuous sentence formed by these initial words. That is does one read "alphabet beginning creates. dreams escape." (two activities on the go simultaneously) or does one read "alphabet beginning creates dream's escape"?

And so for day 644

Morals, Legacies and Books

Patti Smith about the recording of Horses at Electric Lady. From her memoir, Just Kids.

Jimi Hendrix never came back to create his new musical language, but he left behind a studio that resonated all his hopes for the future of our cultural voice. These things were in my mind from the first moment I entered the vocal booth. The gratitude I had for rock and roll as it pulled me through a difficult adolescence. The joy I experienced when I danced. The moral power I gleaned in taking responsibility for one's actions.

I admire the tricolon: gratitude, joy and moral power.

I also like it that she won a National Book Award for the memoir. The New York Times reported, she urged the audience at the awards ceremony, "Please, no matter how we advance technologically, please don't abandon the book — there is nothing in our material world more beautiful than the book."

Now a beautiful book could be an electronic product, heir to the beautiful books on paper.

And so for day 643


Rilke in the sixth letter in the collection Letters to a Young Poet writes about the importance of solitude and the normal state of the child to be in touch with necessary solitude.

The necessary thing is after all but this: solitude, great inner solitude. Going-into-oneself and for hours meeting no one — this one must be able to attain. To be solitary, the way one was solitary as a child, when the grown ups went around involved with things that seemed important and big because they themselves looked so busy and because one comprehended nothing of their doings. [...] why not then continue to look like a child upon it all as upon something unfamiliar, from out of the depth of one's own world, out of the expanse of one's own solitude, which is itself work and status and vocation?

Rilke calls the child's state one of "wise incomprehension". Could this be analogous to "beginner's mind"?

And so for day 642

Mock Interview About the Narrative Impulse

[Anthony?] Storr drawing on Winnicott writes:

Transitional objects gradually loose their emotional charge as the child grows older. Often such objects become linked with a variety of other objects and are used in play. Children easily transmute a broomstick into a horse, an armchair into a house. At a later stage overt play is replaced by phantasy, in which no external objects are needed to speed the flow of imagination.

This reminds me of Octavia Butler's telepaths who are able to pick up readings from objects and later embed memories into objects for learning.

Q. How is the charge lost?

Possible hypothesis: as a child grows its storytelling time shrinks (in certain cultures); the object falls out of the play of narrativization.

Q. How does the object become linked with a variety of other objects?

Possible hypothesis: through story. Which leads to an other question — how description becomes an emplotment of perception.

Q. Is the act of transmutation connected to the act of linking objects?

Possible hypothesis: narrative plays with sets — their creation and rearrangements.

Q. Does practised displacement of objects abet the imagination?

And so for day 641

Mind and Migration

There is a superb set of lines in Robin Blaser's great companion poem on Robert Duncan in Pell Mell also collected in The Holy Forest. Blaser references "the travois of the poetic mind/ the drag-load harnessed to the body"

The frame of a travois with its "A" shape reminds me of the Aleph sequence of poem/pictures by bp Nicol.

I like how the simile pulls upon the bodily reaction: hand and eye and ear connected to the travels and travails of mind. Very instructive.

And so for day 640

Material for Dreams and Forms of Transformation

Karla Jay in her study of the works of Natalie Clifford Barney and Renée Vivien (The Amazon and the Page) reflects upon the imaginative space opened up by hybrid forms.

By locating her lovers in the magic world of the fairy tale, Vivien can avoid the conventional sacrifices found at the end of Lesbian fiction in the early decades of this [20th] century [...] Nevertheless, "Prince Charming" takes place in a real country (Hungary) and is told as a first-person narrative by a mother to her daughter. Although Hungary is exotically remote, it is not the Forest of Arden, and thus the reader is invited to imagine that Terka and Sarolta were real and, by implication, that their success could, with luck, be duplicated anywhere in Europe. Thus, the heterosexual reader may, if she chooses, view the tale as a slightly outré divertissement, but for the Lesbian, it could become material for dreams.

I like how the take on the function hybridity of the form is coupled with a splitting of the potential audience. What is hinted at is a further transformation: if a different view is adopted (beyond outré divertissement), the heterosexual reader is presto turned into a Lesbian. Or at the very least dreams of becoming one.

And so for day 639

Labour and Consciousness

Eli Zaretsky Capitalism, The Family and Personal Life

But what distinguishes human from animal life is not labor — it is conscious labor. According to Marx: "A bee puts to shame many an architect in the construction of her cells. ... But ... the architect raises his structure in imagination before he erects it in reality. ... He not only effects a change of form in the material on which he works, but also realizes a purpose of his own." Similarly, what distinguishes human sexuality from animal, and human reproduction from animal, is consciousness too — fantasy, imagination, love, purpose. By this definition the labor performed by the proletariat is no more "human" than the labor performed by women within the home. We need a movement that will transform both forms of labour consciously, deliberately and in accord with human ends.

Note how liberation is not about the abolition of work. It is about meaningful work.

And so for day 638

Discovery in Repetition and Repeating

This is a longish piece from Januaray 10, 2003, here transcribed from two pages of longhand.

Gertrude Stein's Portrait of Mabel Dodge at the Villa Curonia

A close reading of a passage and a bit of translation à la Erasmian De Copia has led me to understand that Stein's use of such terms as "there" plays with their states as both diectics and as delimiters. "There" as diectic points to a place. "There" as delimiter points towards an area — it circumscribes a space. And when you add a delimited space to a copula something astonishing happens: a moment of space, a movement of time.

There is all there is when there has all there has where there is what there is.

But who wants to work at parsing? Not I. My eye catches on the "when" and the "where" and my mind thinks of a reversal of the categories of time and space (at least in this piece of discourse) and so using Stein's proclivity for gerunds, I generate:

what there is is there where having all there when having there all there being there

And her famous quip about Oakland — there being no there there gains new or renewed resonance. And if the reversal is dropped and if the gerund is gone and one respects the syntax of Stein and simply substitutes a nice word anticipating a garden in spring:

green is all green is when green has all green where green is what green is

What is remarkable about the sentence is that the ends possess a semantic immediacy. Lacking that tautological expression, the middle is hared to hold onto. Dizzying.

And yet. A pace. And the vertigo subsides.

Stein writes earlier in the piece:

There is not that precision when there has not been an imagination. There has not been that kind of abandonment. Nobody is alone.

There, in that spot, in that place, is all there. A sort of abandonment of the imagination, letting it go, leaving it behind, becomes that uncanny ability to remember Blake and to concentrate a universe in a tiny space. The imagination has not been. It begins again. And the way it begins again is simply by remembering nobody is alone.

Not I in my writing. Not you in your reading. Each with each other and with others. All tugging at any moment to be in a there with all there there.

And so for day 637

Repetition and Discovery

I have quoted elsewhere on the blog from Simon McBurney's piece that appeared in Brick (Winter 2004) and my selection focused on the importance of following directions and how the order of gestures serves a mnemonic. See Order disorder.

Following on that selection from McBurney is a meditation on repetition which deserves a place of its own.

It is not just that you get better at it through repetition; rather, that through the act of repeating, you dig down into the material and find the new under your hand where you did not know it.

Deserves repeating with a bit of variation. Just above this archaeological take on repetition is the simple assertion:

The sequence is the thing. The order is all.

The doing over and over is not the same.

And so for day 636

You Can Get There There

Roo Borson in Short Journey Upriver Toward Ōishida muses on the phenomenology of place.

Ōishida still exists on the map. I would someday like to go there. whether it would be the same Ōishida Bashō knew is another question. Nonetheless I would like to walk the streets and see for myself. There are places one cannot go except in literature, and all ordinary human commerce, keeps us from.

Deserves repeating

There are places one cannot go except in literature, and all ordinary human commerce, keeps us from.

There is a there there — if you start from hearing the here and now, start by reading.

And so for day 635

Two or Three Takes on Madness

Douglas Coupland in the Massey Lectures (delivered as a novel in five hours) has a character who has been a receptionist in the office of a psychiatrist. The character has an interesting take on being a little crazy and on medications.

First comes the bit about inheritance and madness:

"Me? I don't know. Maybe I didn't learn much. I work as a receptionist for three psychiatrists. I see a lot of crazy. But I think crazy people — okay, not crazy, but people at the extremes of normal behaviour — are more interesting than so-called normal people. I've learned that one of the biggest indicators for success in life is having a few crazy relatives. So long as you get only some of the crazy genes, you don't end up crazy; you merely end up different. And it's that difference that gives you an edge, that makes you successful."

Next comes the piece about meds:

I've also learned that if you're on meds, it's much better to stick to them. I mean, would you rather jump off a bridge because you couldn't be bothered to take one lousy pill? Also, when agitated patients come in, I tell them some kind of story about my cat, Rusty. Listening to people tell stories is very soothing. When someone is telling you a story, they hijack the personal narrator that lives inside your head. It's the closest we come to seeing through someone else's eyes.

I like the quasi-metafictional move to commenting on the nature of narrative. Plus there is the neat segue from a homeopathic explanation of genetic inheritance (a little bit goes a long way) to the little pill of daily medication. It's all in the dosage of what we allow into our heads — and a little reading goes a long way. Keeps you on the edge.

And so for day 634

Value of diversion

Kate Taylor in a Globe and Mail (12.03.11) review of Finding the Words: Writers on Inspiration, Desire, War, Celebrity, Exile and Breaking the Rules edited by Jared Bland concludes the review with a little summary of her favourite piece.

And, in my favourite piece, Steven Heighton waxes poetic about empty stretches of unproductive time that we might call boredom, but which he judges to be a crucial as dreams for literary inspiration. Without a lot of nothingness, how can any writer ever find the words?

Gives new meaning to the expression "there's nothing to it."

And so for day 633

Farms, factories and camps

Extending a comparison

The industrial farm is said to have been patterned on the factory production line. In practice, it invariably looks more like a concentration camp.

So concludes Wendell Berry in "The Pleasure of Eating" in Antaeus 68.

And so for day 632

White Egrets: scattered fragments

Derek Walcott ends one of the poems collected in White Egrets with the following evocative lines:

be grateful that you wrote well in this place,

let the torn poems sail from you like a flock

of white egrets in a long last sigh of release.

Very memorable for anyone who has torn paper and thrown the pieces in the air. And how strange to read such words in a hard cover volume. And now on screen.

And so for day 631

Howard translating Deleuze describing

Richard Howard translator of Proust & Signs by Gilles Deleuze renders a description of a party attended by characters who have aged. It is exquisite.

Mme de Guermantes's salon with the aging of its guests, makes us see the distortion of features, the fragmentation of gestures, the loss of co-ordination of muscles, the formation of moss, lichen, patches of mold on bodies, sublime disguises, sublime senilities.

I am truly captivated by that phrase "sublime senilities" — something desperate yet noble about it.

And so for day 630

Shinkichi Takahashi

Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto chose to conclude The Penguin Book of Zen Poetry with selections from the poetry of Shinkichi Takahashi. The concluding poem is jaunty in tone.


Just say, 'He's out' —

back in

five billion years!

This ending poem reminds me of the beginning of an other, "SEA OF OBLIVION".

Future, past, the sea

of oblivion,

with present capsized

The representation of time present as a shipwreck resonates nicely with eons long cycles.

And so for day 629

Garamond for the Millennium

My copy of this short but illuminating article is a photocopy, clipped. From internal evidence I know of its having appeared at sometime in EyeWire - no indication of time or place. One sentence is highlighted in pink marker:

Ms. Warde had to publish her research under a man's name for it to be accepted, and not until her work achieved recognition could she tell the world who really wrote it.

Robin Williams in "The Official Typeface of the New Millennium" chose Garamond for a variety of reasons related to its gracefulness and also for a side note about its history. To whit, "in 1926 Beatrice Warde successfully proved that it was designed by Jean Jannon, not Claude Garamond, 80 years after Claude died in 1561 (it was based on Garamond's type designs)." Hence the conclusion drawn by Ms. Williams: "So this typeface that will take us into the new millennium has important contributions from both men and women in the field of typography."

And so for day 628