Mumbo Jumbo

I unfolded what looked like a topographic map of Pikwakwud Creek in the Kenora District (Patricia Portion) of Ontario to find on the obverse a poster for Mumbo Jumbo Voodoo Combo appearing at the Silver Dollar at 1 A.M. "Tonight". The poster advertises "Cajun-inflected psycho Blues that can make the dead get up and dance!" and on internal evidence (the quotations from newspapers all date from '92 to '94) I would venture to peg the event of the group's appearance at the Silver Dollar (a venue located in Toronto) to the mid 90s. And a bit of searching tells the story of their longevity. See where they proudly boast of "Celebrating 20 years of HooDoo".

I'm sure the poster got folded up among my files because I was at the time interested in magic and Black American writing. Of course, my shelves contained Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo. They also housed Mama Day by Gloria Naylor and the rich tapestry of Sassafrass, Cypress & Indigo by notozake shange. And the criticism of Houston A. Baker Jr. Workings of the Spirit: The Poetics of Afro-American Women's Writing. The books still reside in my library and I can thank some wise recycler of maps for finding my way back to a universe of historical and theoretical lore arising out of lived experience, resilience and a quest for the future.

Time to check out the video store to see if they have a copy of Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust which I want to see again and which is now I learn also a novel.

And so for day 780

Imagining Intercultural Learning

Donald G. Lenihan with Jay Kaufman. Centre for Collaborative Government. Leveraging our Diversity: Canada as a Learning Society. Changing Government Volume 4. November 2001.

Planning and building a learning society thus goes well beyond preparing Canadians for participation in the knowledge-based economy. It requires cultural change that involves three basic values, on three levels. At the individual level it requires openness; at the organizational/institutional level, it requires inclusiveness; and at at the societal level, it requires recognition. In this paper these are referred to as the three pillars of intercultural learning.
For some reason I am reminded of the triplets of constructivist pedagogy: create, communicate, collaborate.

And so for day 779

Understanding Stein

It was published in 1951. Gertrude Stein: A Biography of Her Work by Donald Sutherland ends with a chapter on the "meditations" mode of Stein and it is a section delivered in a Q + A dialogue. Both in style and substance, it presents a take on the author and on criticism that is worth quoting at length for two main reasons: the emphasis on forces, tensions, etc. and for the connectedness of something belonging to anything (which is different from everything). Here goes.

Sooner or later criticism will have to get used to thinking in terms of forces, tensions, movements, speeds, attractions, etc., as well as in terms of constructs and animals — not because science says so or philosophy says so at all but because life is conducted more and more in those terms and it is the way life is conducted in a time that is the prime source of steady energy and solid reality in a work that outlasts its time. This kind of composition is getting to be more and more the composition of reality as everyone sees it. It amused Gertrude Stein to find that her early arrangements and abstractions, which had seemed to be highly acrobatic and gratuitous if refined formal exercises, were turning out to be literal transcriptions of the most evident realities, that is the same abstractions and arrangements on which life is more and more consciously conducted by people at large. It is true that we are more comfortable in the composition of 19th century life and literature, in which an actual or a mentioned cup of tea was part of an hour which was part of a day which was part of a week, month, season, or year, which was part of say the annals of Britain, which were part of the the general onward evolution of something that was part of a cosmic order. A sentence was part of a paragraph which was part of a chapter which was part of a book which was part of a shelf of books which was part of England or America or France and so on. Something belonged to everything automatically. But nothing now is really convincingly a part of anything else; anything stands by itself if at all and its connections are chance encounters.
And so a chance encounter with Susan Stewart's Poetry and the Fate of the Senses and this remarkable sentence from the opening meditation on night, its privations and the drive to create:
The task of aesthetic production and reception in general is to make visible, tangible, and audible the figures of persons, whether such persons are expressing the particulars of sense impressions or the abstractions of reason or the many ways such particulars and abstractions enter into relations with one another.
And that was published in 2002.

And so for day 778

Moral Mnemonic

Anne McCaffrey in the first volume of the Harper Hall trilogy, Dragonsong, has a lovely set of verses set as an epigraph to chapter 7.

Who wills,
Who tries,
Who loves,
I like how the lines are really a set of descriptions but have an imperative import.

And so for day 777

Neutron Picasso

The copy on the back cover nicely encapsulates the premise of this romance-essay (somewhat like William Morris's News From Nowhere).

Descendants of the original forty-four emerge to an hospitable Earth nearly four centuries after the Bomb. They are met with the ruined artifacts of a once mighty civilization and find no clue as to why the pre-Bomb people committed global suicide. Only after the works of four pre-Bomb artists (Picasso, Pollock, Moore and Beckett) are unearthed can the descendants begin to grasp what went wrong. [...] But when a fringe element of the post-Bomb society gets possession of the works [...]
I have one quibble. In this fiction, the Moore sculpture is described as a bronze in an intro to an interview where the discussion is all about stone and carving rather than modelling and casting. Nonetheless, it is a satisfying little book given the range of voices it contains. It invites the reader to stretch imagination and it helps with such descriptions of the annihilation of all traces of culture:
Suffice here to reiterate that the charnelization of the world consumed every device and medium of human expression and memory. Every data bank, archive, gallery, library. No music survives, no painted or sculpted artifact, no written word. Only a melted, congealed detritus that yields, ever more intriguingly, mute witness to all-engulfing catastrophe.
Michael Carin. The Neutron Picasso. 1989.

And so for day 776

English Words on Stein in Japanese

Kyong-Mi Park has translated Gertrude Stein into Japanese. In an essay "My Asian Bones Are Ringing" she muses on how the acquisition of any language is an encounter through the bones of the ears with the other. She reminds us, "Words that we call words all belong to others." She continues:

What I discovered through my own personal experience of translating Stein, the mother of modernism, was the spell-like quality of words, that language was in fact a medium — a spiritual medium as well as an intermediary — and that the act of using words is that of being possessed by the words of someone else.
One other someone else that appears in this essay is Theresa Hak Kyung (represented by an excerpt from Dictée).

"My Asian Bones Are Ringing" is found in Four From Japan: Contemporary Poetry and Essays by Women introduced and translated by Sawako Nakayasu.

And so for day 775

Long Time With Small

I was first alerted to the stamp artwork of Donald Evans by a note on miniature reproductions of work by Gertrude Stein (note found in Susan Stewart's On Longing p. 180 n. 45). So, of course, I had to see for myself and consulted the catalogue The World of Donald Evans with text by Will Eisenhart. I found the Stein stamps: one set depicting some of the shorter sections from Tender Buttons; the other, a selection from "A Valentine to Sherwood Anderson" upon its fiftieth anniversary in 1972. And I found in "The Life of Donald Evans" (in the catalogue) a little description of the delights of Holland. Willy Eisenhart writes:

Holland seemed to Donald Evans a perfect place to be: he liked the small scale of the country; Dutch openness to new ideas coupled with hard headed practicality; an ongoing tradition of painting small-scale realism; the high Dutch skies and special light; a national hobby of stamp collecting; and the soft gutteral language with all its fond diminutives.
I love the pile up of small tiny elements perhaps because it connects in some way to a childhood memory of visiting a miniature village in Holland (or Belgium?) and being treated to the magic lantern slide show of the experience thanks to my father's camera. Fun to see oneself with a giant perspective yet still a small wee person.

And I like in these contexts the big-small and am reminded of Cid Corman's rendering of a haiku by Bashō
touring the world
tilling a small field
to its limits
Voltaire's garden.

And so for day 774

Love, Self and Other

Michael Warner "Thoreau's Bottom" in Raritan XI:3 (Winter 1992).

On Hegel on love:

In Philosophy of Right, for example, Hegel declared that "love" could be defined as the experience of a problem: "The first moment in love is that I do not wish to be a self-subsistent and independent person and that, if I were, then I would feel defective and incomplete. The second moment is that I find myself in another person, that I count for something in the other, while the other in turn comes to count for something in me. Love, therefore, is the most tremendous contradiction."
On Thoreau on the other, object of love:
"Thou hast loved me," he exclaims in the privacy of his journal, "for what I wast not — but for what I aspired to be." In these moments of desire, a self/other opposition becomes an unstable antinomy. By dint of his very insistence on the integration and autonomy of "self," Thoreau divides himself from an ideal self. Self is an object to itself, even another self, rather than an experiential unity. "May I be to myself as one is to me whom I love," he says, "a dear and cherished object."
"Je est un autre."

And so for day 773

Portrait and Landscape

It is perhaps evident that orientation influences the flow. The plane affects the pace of reading. I am reminded of Wasssily Kandinsky's remarks on the basic plane (BP) in Point and Line to Plane.

At all events, certain forces of resistance can be felt upon approaching each of the four borders of the BP, and these definitely separate the unit BP from the world surrounding it. The approach of a form to the border is, therefore, subject to a special influence, which is of critical importance in the composition. [trans. Howard Dearstyne and Hilla Rebay]
Take for example the layout of the following poem in three horizontal blocks:

It is difficult to achieve similar results with a vertical arrangement:
daylight tightens
squint grabbed
back-of-the-throat skid

what's up the creek is down
the road and over the

semaphore along finger of spine
dream-fed dusk-hungry
And of course the addition of a yellow background is also an element at play...

And so for day 772

Cricket Ways

Cid Corman conveys the sound of the insect with economy and elegance

a cricket crickets
It is the concluding line of a version of a haiku by Bashō. It is collected in One Man's Moon.

My own take on crickets is weak...
Cricket sounds penetrate
the latices' work of frogs' voice
from Juvenalia (the third in a series of twelve "transcriptions"). It must be a special place from which to hear the liquid sounds of frogs punctured by that of crickets. And an even more special place to keep in mind the play with the one "t" spelling of "latices" which the eye may glance over and read "lattices". Far, far too elaborate ---

And so for day 771

Processing Tools

Lori Emerson in "A Brief History of Dirty Concrete by Way of Steve McCaffery's Carnival and Digital D.I.Y." in Open Letter 14:7 draws a parallel between the ethos of dirty concrete poetry making and the D.I.Y. movement as represented by the Homebrew Computing Club and the Whole Earth Catalog. In note #6 she quotes from from Fred Turner (From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the rise of digital utopianism) who in turn quotes a reader of the catalog:

[...] I suddenly understood the Whole Earth Catalogue meaning of 'tool.' I always thought tools were objects, things: screw drivers, wrenches, axes, hoes. Now I realize that tools are a process: using the right-sized and shaped object in the most effective way to get a job done.
The emphasis is Lori Emerson's. The body text goes on after note #6 to characterize Carnival.
Carnival is open source concrete poetry. Put another way, the work is not so much about what is written than it is about a record of the labor of writing that's a kind of how-to guide to the labour of writing.
I can't quite figure out the function of the two spellings of labour/labor at play here. Except perhaps to project a temporal mapping on the pair: one encompasses past efforts; the other, what is to come.

And so for day 770


Michael Pollan in the introduction to his Food Rules: An Eater's Manual has a take on policy that can be generalized from the case of rules applied to eating. He writes:

Policies are useful tools. Instead of prescribing highly specific behaviors, they supply us with broad guidelines that should make everyday decision making easier and swifter.
And so one weighs the seven word formulation of "Eat Food. Mostly Plants. Not too much." against the simpler "Eat less." The one (seven words) is a condition to aspire to; the other, depending upon weight, is the route to equilibrium.

And so for day 769

Project Rebuild

Sachiko Murakami

What is a poem but a rental unit of language?
This is a question that introduces a project by Sachiko Murakami. People "are invited to move into any of the poems on the site, and renovate".

The project is inspired by a particular housing style: the Vancouver Special.

And so for day 768

Movement Moments

P. xxxi Richard Kostelanetz intro to the Gertrude Stein Reader he edited (Cooper Square Press, 2002) draws upon the 1951 work by Donald Sutherland (Gertrude Stein: a biography of her work) to present an old rift on the art of time as opposed to the art of space.

To the critic Donald Sutherland these evocations of sound and image are plays, rather than fictions, because they are designed to be performed and because they present "movement in space, or in a landscape." They are organized not as narratives but as a series of joyous moments, each of which is as important as every other. Rather than telling "what happened," they are happening. Sutherland continues, "These plays of hers do not tell you anything. They merely present themselves, like a drama or a circus or any play that is really a stage play."
I find it quite telling that there is a slippage here from "fictions" to "narratives". Synonyms perhaps. Also a relation between general category and a species.

No matter. I'm not going to elaborate. Suffice it to say that the shape of textual objects has much in common with the traits with other semiotic objects. I do want to focus on the word "circus" in the quotation Kostelanetz pulls from Sutherland to serve the distinction he pushes between narrative/fiction and plays.

Sutherland, in the previous chapter, in a passage relating to Stein's Tender Buttons [a text not often if ever classified as a "play"], invokes the "circus":
If the words as ideas in a work are not arranged according to the conventions of logic or the habitual groupings of ideas in life, one can most easily approach them like a circus or a miracle or the tricks of a magician. One should be as intellectually direct and ready as a child or a saint, with a flair for the impossible, for coincidences and collisions, for puns, paradoxes, slapstick, and the outrageous. Tender Buttons and a great deal of work of Gertrude Stein can quite fairly be taken as a sort of Wonderland or Luna Park for anybody who is not too busy.
One of the marvels of course is bending time to space (and evoking the temporality of traversing any space).

And so for day 767


About the character Milgrim in Zero History

Reading, his therapist had suggested, had likely been his first drug.
William Gibson is very crafty here. The reader is of course reading while absorbing this information about addiction. Of course, if one were being read to one would have some resistance ... but bedtime stories have their own form of habituation...

And so for day 766

Food and Sex

The blog Baguettes and Butterscotch in one entry gives the eel-evoking "congers" for "conjures" and this is worth juxtaposing with Joanne Kates, the Globe and Mail food critic who reviews a pizza line up thus

[...] the scent of truffle overlaying it all like a silk shirt on a buff body. The thin coating of tomato sauce, not liquid enough to cause sogginess, adds just enough fruity complexity.
One swoons. So difficult to focus on the food — given the images afloat in one's mind.

And so for day 765


Edmund White provides a bilingual pun. If you know French you get an extra jolt. If you don't, you still get a bit of fun.

[...] Didi dismisses them as vapid exhibitionists. "Look at their tight pants. Some are fascists, some communists, but to me there is no difference. All cock and ass, cock-ass."
From Nocturnes for the King of Naples

And so for day 764


A key sentence restating the main motifs of a novel...

Children know that to bring people together one has to seduce them, just like one seduces a lover, slowly, patiently, with stories and secrets.
From The Winter Palace (a novel of Catherine the Great) by Eva Stachniak.

And so for day 763

Crying Babies

In case you were wondering...

Science Daily (Oct. 27, 2006) — Parents should listen to their instincts and pick up their newborn babies when they cry, Queensland University of Technology researcher Professor Karen Thorpe said. [...] Professor Thorpe said in the first three month's of a baby's life, having responsive parents was very important to the child's emotional and neurological development.
The expert literature attests that this is but one aspect of responsive parenting which is a key to child establishing secure attachments and future mental health and well-being. Of course, one wonders how all this might map onto adult-adult relations.

And so for day 762


Part of Carla Hartsfield's poem "In the Garden" is quoted as an epigraph to David Livingstone Clink's "Knots and Hollows" collected in his Shapeshifter (2004).

Spent the afternoon crouched in the belly
of an ancient tree. Climbed up there on a ladder
and bent myself into the shape of an acorn to meditate.
It may be the relation between the small acorn and the mighty oak that has led me to meditate on the relative size of epigraph to poem. In this edition of Shapeshifter the epigraphs appear in a smaller point size than the body of the poems.

There are other possibilities. The epigraph and poem can appear in the same size (I have seen this often) or the epigraph can be larger (I must admit to imagining this possibility and having yet to encounter an example in the wild). I am intrigued by the meaning effects that can be engendered by relative size. Is the one a footnote to the other; is the one a gloss?

And so for day 761

Bearing With Loss

There is an entry for Gilgamesh in The Gay and Lesbian Literary Heritage edited by Claude J. Summers. It is an inclusion that comes back to me when I read the version by Herbert Mason which opens

It is an old story
But one that can still be told
About a man who loved
And lost a friend to death
And learned he lacked the power
To bring him back to life.
It is the story of Gilgamesh
And his friend Enkidu.
In the afterward, John H. Marks offers the following comment on Mason's "verse narrative":
The present rendering by Herbert Mason is properly called a verse narrative. It is a sensitive, authentic retelling of the old story, an attempt to convey the profound anguish Gilgamesh suffered after his constant companion and friend, Enkidu, died. The author makes no claim to present an accurate rendering of the cuneiform text. He knows the ancient story well and tells it in the way it has become memorable to him. His narrative has its own spellbinding power, evoking feelings and thoughts familiar to all who suffer the loss of loved companions.
There are other versions of the Gilgamesh material but none quite so poignant.

And so for day 760

Autobiographical Artefacts

To participate in MOOs and Talkers I have created "yred". The name comes from a feature from the now defunct web-based chat room Bianca's Smut Shack where the name "red" was made to appear in yellow type. Hence "yellow-red" shortened to the Anglo-Saxon hero-of-a-saga-sounding "yred".

On the talker Philly, yred recorded profile information which announced an interest in text encoding. It's an interesting bit of information that reads almost like a didactic poem:

structure - content - format
three important concepts
for developing an appreciation
for markup
Yred on Philly used the tag line "on a questless journey" to appear on screen upon entrance into a room. I still like the paradox of the wanderer without aim. Eternal browser.

And so for day 759


Poet and novelist, Mark Sinnett constructs a quiet, contemplative atmosphere all the while conveying the sharp feeling of an ardent love poem ("the inhibiting physical properties of air / are nonexistent."). Take for instance these lines from "State" collected in Some Late Adventure of the Feelings:

I recognized that she is wholly responsible
for all the unheard joys tunnelling away,
and is probable cause of this focused interlude,
And in very many ways the poems gathered in this collection are like "focused interludes". There is something arresting in Sinnett's description. Moments are poised for reflection and the next stage, if there is a next stage. Salvaging from the ephemeral something that binds one to the other, in love.

And so for day 758

Grids, Lists, Clusters

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 18, No. 347.

To extrapolate: the electronic medium facilitates reading in terms of clusters, lists, and tables (a type of reading that was always available to the clever manipulator of index cards).
I like to think of these as the primary ways of organizing information:
A word on converting groupings. Consider whether this image references a "list" or a "cluster".

And so for day 757

Asking Why

Vita Sackville-West in the very entertaining Nursery Rhymes (1947 Dropmore Press) prefaces a section with the marginal rubric "Further Awkward Dialgoue" with this delightful bit:

Pity the pedagogue. It is indeed difficult to instruct the young. Arbitrary and ill-informed, they strike no happy mean between a bland acceptance and the inconvenient, unexpected challenge.
There follows a number of snippets of dialogue, most involving the charged question, "why." Very funny.

I used to have a motto: No 4 Y. Every now and then a "wherefore" slipped into my thinking — couldn't resist that metaphysical itch for an inkling into the purpose of what is the case. Ever a child.

And so for day 756

Perspectives and Perversions

Dave Morris begins his "Opening Doors" article about Rick Bébout's web site (Eye May 12/05) by quoting Bébout on gay people and what they offer:

"We should be gift-givers," says Rick Bébout. "We should be people who understand we have huge, invaluable perceptions to offer the rest of the world."
If that sounds grandiose, set it alongside the ranting that would deem us worthless or worse. For me, Bébout's gay gift-giver is epitomized by the idler or the flaneur. I am reminded, in particular, of the set of qualities listed in the characterization offered by Robert Louis Stevenson in his "Apology for Idlers":
[T]he idler has another and more important quality than these. I mean his wisdom. He who has much looked on the childish satisfaction of other people in their hobbies, will regard his own with only a very ironical indulgence. He will not be heard among the dogmatists. He will have a great and cool allowance for all sorts of people and opinions.
Of course, a flair for tolerance from time to time manifests in flights of indignation. The observer is at times an arbitrator. This is a gift. A set of tinted-glasses for watching the show go by...

And so for day 755

Stretching for Allusion

I wonder how some lines in a poem by Tim Dlugos play out if you don't connect with an allusion to Raymond Burr's character, Perry Mason, in Ironside. The gestural quality transcends the allusion:

Like wheelchair detectives
we reach for the sky
The reader gets to participate in that "we" that denotes the speaking voice and the intended recipient of "Note to J.A." and to experience a sympathetic response to the poem's ending:
Like wheelchair detectives
we reach for the sky

and come back with hands
full of energy. It
dissipates faster than
our eyes can record.
One small detail that makes the allusion recede and allows those challenged by popular culture references to enjoy the poem is that "detectives" appears in the plural. It's a species not a specimen.

And so for day 754

Training and Birthing

In Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag offers this one striking line: "Anthropology is necrology." Short and pithy, it occurs in an essay full of luxurious sentences where the elegant comma reigns; it is entitled "The anthropologist as hero" and I begin to understand why the pithy sentence resonates when several paragraphs later I read:

Because anthropology, for Lévi-Strauss, is an intensely personal kind of intellectual discipline, like psychoanalysis. A spell in the field is the exact equivalent of the training analysis undergone by candidate psychoanalysts. The purpose of field work, Lévi-Strauss writes, is to "create that psychological revolution which marks the decisive turning point in the training of the anthropologist." And no written tests, but only the judgment of "experienced members of the profession" who have undergone the same psychological ordeal, can determine "if and when" a candidate anthropologist "has, as a result of field work, accomplished that inner revolution that will really make him into a new man."
Back to necrology. After the statement Sontag quotes Lévi-Strauss. "Let's go and study the primitives," say Lévi-Strauss and his pupils, "before they disappear." Reread in light of the comparison with psychoanalysis — there is some fear of contagion at work. Those death notices point back to the anthropologist. Nothing like facing one's own mortality and the perishability of one's own society but living for a time with the imperilled. Creating hope in rebirth by reading the obits.

And so for day 753

Active Mind

Nella Cotrupi in Northrup Frye and the Poetics of Process draws attention to Frye's discussion of Blake.

In Fearful Symmetry, Frye used Blake's distinction between the visonary 'Hallelujah-Chorus' perception of the sun and its more prosaic, rationalistic reception as a round shining disc or 'guinea-sun' in order to explore the ethical reasons for privileging the former mental mode of operation over the latter.
On the next page, she cites Frye himself.
We see the guinea-sun automatically: seeing the Hallelujah-Chorus sun demands a voluntary and conscious imaginative effort; or rather, it demands an exuberantly active mind which will not be a quiescent blank slate. The imaginative mind, therefore, is the one which has realized its own freedom and understood that perception is self-development.
Cotrupi draws parallels between Frye's approach to Blake and beyond to Vico's principle of verum factum.

For some reason when I re-read in isolation the quotation from Frye concerning the distinction between the two types of sun, I kept envisioning a fowl and not a round coin. My guinea was a species of phoenix.

Meaning is indeed made. And memory influences perception. And imagination plays with memory and meaning in an exuberant and active fashion — sometimes by being caught up in the details and the prosaic.

And so for day 752


That Sandra Kasturi got me to thinking. There is in her collection The Animal Bridgroom a final poem called "Falling" where some lines just drag upon the brain of the dendrologist.

or frenzied whirl of helicopter seed pods
from oaks so distant they blot out even the warm
of shooting stars. Let us praise the falling
Oaks of course have acrons; maple keys (and others) have the shape of helicopter blades. These oaks are very peculiar. They are very, very distant. Alien oaks.

However let us recall that the poem opens:
Let us now praise the falling things that fall
from trees and skies and gaseous nebulas,
These oaks need not belong to our world but we do have access to the strange beautiful world of the poem where they take root.

And so for day 751

Further Reading

Exercise imagination or beware. So says Vita Sackville-West in the introductory paragraph to Nursery Rhymes (Dropmore Press, 1947).

Samuel Taylor Coleridge once remarked that he could not "recollect a more astonishing image than that of a whole rookery that flew out of the giant's beard." Coleridge had a nice taste in magic, and the fact that he may have invented the "astonishing image," which apparently does not occur in any known version of The History of Thomas Hickathrift, is quite beside the point. The point is that Coleridge had a proper appreciation of the preposterous, the astounding, yet entirely acceptable propositions which go to make up the thaumaturgy of the nursery, and no one lacking that appreciation is advised to read any further.
She goes on to ask:
For what is the normal life of the nursery? It is not really the place where one is washed, dressed, undressed, washed again, given a glass of milk and a biscuit, put to bed, and dosed after indiscreet enquiries into the state of one's inside. It is, on the contrary, the place where, [...]
I leave the rest for your further reading or your imaginations.

And so for day 750