Ptarmigan

a grouse with completely feathered feet

9/30/2004

In other words, a version of NationStates, only with poetics instead of geopolitics.

More later.

In other words, a version of NationStates, only with poetics instead of geopolitics.

More later.

9/28/2004

What I want to do next with Taverner's Koans, in my alleged overhaul of the entire site:

I want to provide the poetics essays and exercises in the context of fucking poetry character classes. Yes, a la role playing games. Somewhat lilting, sardonic classes -- but still evocative ones that a young writer can respond to. Have it be somewhat absurd, much like the classes at Kingdom of Loathing (seal-clubber, disco bandit, sauceror, etc.). So a teaching track would involve various sets of lessons, poets to read, and exercises geared towards, but not exclusionary to, a particular beginning poets' inclinations, with the understanding that if one comes from x end of the spectrum, it is often very very useful to read broadly in works from the y end of the spectrum.

The fact is that there are so many subcommunities that are talking past each other that have little concourse with each other. Unfortunately, the only way in most of the academy involves what has somehow been inculcated (individual teachers' idiosyncracies notwithstanding) as the "right" way, usually based on concretion of representational language, in the intro to poetry workshop. Not horrible in of itself per se, but it can lend itself to massive gaps in one's awareness of the very existence of wide swaths of poetic exploration and yes experimentation.

(Should one "convert" students to writing epistemologically tenuous and fraught poems hyperaware of the uber-stamp of capital on any linguistic system? As much as a teacher should "convert" students to writing stable-first person, "sentences with line breaks" rememberances of their grandmothers.)

However (as I'm probably going forward pissing everyone off) the problem with the talk about disassembling the workshop is that there's been precious little proposed in the way of an alternate community. The only way to engage with wide swath of ephebe poets is to, well, engage with them. You don't have to start with "simple" poetry and then hope. Working towards true democratic models of the learning of poetry is certainly hard work. But 80% of which involves reading. So it should be relatively straightforward to point out a series of matrices for a poet to follow, along with the encouragement to go matrix jumping as one pleases.

In other words, yes, to go back to the rpg parlance, multiclassing.

Of course all of this is easier if one has a "scene" to fall into. But the website is pretty much designed for those who are too far away from scenes.

A side goal of this project would be to recussitate, and fetter out, interesting and honorable practitioners of the narrative lyric. They're out there, I'm pretty sure.

The second stage would actually involve creating online "guild homes" for community and fellowship.

A few with a Language-poetry proclivity might contend that this is all a trifle, a distraction from the real work of poetry, a fake kind of happy relativism that does too much to gratiate to students' unfounded ideas about poetry. But it goes back to the Buddhist idea that I've been yammering on about, about the relativity between relativity and phenomenon. None of these paths inherently has a lack of rigor or attentiveness tied into them. It's way too draining to go through life thinking that 90% of the poets out there are abhorrently mistaken. The vast majority of us are going to write unloved poems. In other words, to quote from an interview that Language poet and Zen priest Norman Fischer gave:
JW: It's dicey to make comparisons, but perhaps Gary Snyder was right when he said to me, "Well, I think these critical theorists could have a lot to learn from madhyamika emptiness philosophy."

NF: Yes. They could learn to be sweeter, and simpler, and more relaxed.

As to why...? omg d00d, why the fuck not? Can it be any worse than the collegiate workshop model? (not that it doesn't have moments). Can it be any more asinine-sounding than "New Brutalism"? (not that good work isn't published under that aegis). Let young poets see their role in the poet world as a role, rather than an involiate landlocked part of their identities. Lending itself towards a sense of play, a play with allegiences. This can give a banister, not a straightjacket, so that there can be a multitude of pedagogical approaches that can coexist happily. Er, or at least without killing each other...

So Josh, Aaron, and all those other ex-gaming poets out there--and I know you're out there!--hook me up with some frameworks!

Besides, when you're trashed at a boring writing party, how much better would it be to say, "I'm a 5th level Black Mountaineer/2nd level Beat." Groovy!

9/23/2004

"In being vertically lofty and horizontally broad, the vertical is the door to the source whereas the horizontal is the door to the manifestation. The spiritual roots are like those of grass and trees. The grass and trees are the idea of the door to the manifestation. The source itself is water. Pouring the water on the grass and trees is like the idea of the door to the source." --Nichiren

"All power is saved, having no end." --Muriel Rukeyser

Good news...the biopsy came back as "chronic inflammation" and not cancer. My dermatologist isn't 100% convinced, she still thinks there's something weird going on, so I'll be seeing a subsubspecialist in about 6 weeks. So very relieving news, albeit with an asterisk.

And, yes, it's snowing outside. I shit you not.

9/22/2004

It looks like it's raining outside but it's not. I'm not sure if it's haze or minute insects. It's supposed to rain tonight. I'm on pg. 71 of the poem. I'm exhausted by it. But I'm not stopping as of yet. I'm not entirely sure how the different sections are cobbled together coherently, as there's a panoply of, er, "expedient means" throughout the poem, with some recurring characters, or should I say "characters". One of which is my father in a recent section, who was a courier in post-world war II germany for army security. There are mermen on the base but not the trains. In progress, in progress. I'm afraid of having it just konk out and end--like my novels tend to! Funny that.

More Lotus Sutra poetics. Although it might seem counterintuitive and even paradoxical, I've been mulling over and over how much Buddhism is about the body, and as a correlation, about the mind as an extension of the body. A body of work. A desire for (a) work. A desire for body. I posted an audioblog of a section of my poem. Thought I sounded tinny. Erased it. That's not a successful repudiation of the body. Which I'm thinking doesn't get at the center of Buddhism at all. Or one of its many centers. There is no way to destroy the body to find the text without reprocussions or missing the mark entirely. This destruction (posited, often, as an overarching narrative of anti-narrative) is concussive; it might even make for good copy and career. But..."I will suggest that this disparity between theory and practice--between imagined and actual forms of collectivity--arises from a pair of contradictory commitments: to a radical concept of freedom on the one hand and to a repressive hypothesis of cultural determinism on the other." (Oren Izenberg)

How does one explore this, then, without hypocrisy? Is that even possible? One of my favorite parables in the Lotus Sutra is that of the phantom city, which I'll quote at length here from the Burton Watson translation:
"Let us suppose there is a stretch of bad road five hundred yojanas [a rough unit of measurement adding up to the distance an army could march in a day] of long, steep and difficult, wild and deserted, with no inhabitants around, a truly fearful place. And suppose there are a number of people who want to pass over this road so they can reach a place where there are rare treasures. They have a leader, of comprehensive wisdom and keen understanding, who is thoroughly acquainted with this steep road, knows the layout of its passes and defiles, and is prepared to guide the group of people and go with them over this difficult terrain.

"The group he is leading, after going part way on the road, become disheartened and say to the leader, "We are utterly exhausted and fearful as well. We cannot go any farther. Since there is still such a long distance ahead, we would like now to turn around and go back.'

"The leader, a man of many expedients, thinks to himself, What a pity that they should abandon the many rare treasures they are seeking and want to turn and go back! Having had this thought, he resorts to the power of expedient means and, when they have gone three hundred yojanas along the steep road, conjures up a city. He says to the group, 'Don't be afraid! You must not turn back, for now here is a great city where you can stop, rest, and do just as you please. If you enter this city you will be completely at ease and tranquil. Then later, if you feel you can go on to the place where the treasure is, you can leave the city.'

"At that time the members of the group, being utterly exhausted, are overjoyed in mind, exclaiming over such an unprecedented event, 'Now we can escape from this dreadful road and find ease and tranquility!' The people in the group thereupon press forward and enter the city where, feeling that they have been saved from their difficulties, they have a sense of complete ease and tranquility.

"At that time the leader, knowing that the people have become rested and are no longer fearful or weary, wipes out the phantom city and says to the group, 'You must go now. The place where the treasure is is close by. That great city of a while ago was a mere phantom that I conjured up so that you could rest.'

Sike! There is actually an interesting article on the ethics of the Lotus Sutra, on what the sutra itself calls "expedient means." The Lotus Sutra, then, turns itself so that it's predicated on a secret history. Strip away the veil and you see the previous history of Buddhism as a series of ebullient phantom cities. It's a striking claim in that it provides a framework (physical, metaphysical and otherwise) for continued permutations. The gnostic gospels do this in the Christian traditions, but in esoteric, not exoteric fashion. The Lotus Sutra is straight up about its access. It does not require secret handshakes.

Language itself is one of our phantom cities. Because it is illusory doesn't make it any less emancipatory. Or escapist. The phantom city is not in the skies. Knowing the topography helps. And our frail bodies do tire. So much of what we write is tied to the daily schedules--whether we are in a degree-granting program, a prison, a cubicle, a factory, wherever. The squirreling away of time, moments of spontaneity that can become cavernous. Anxieties blossom when you don't expect them. I had a biopsy done last week and I'm desperate for news as to whether I have skin cancer or not. For so long I was so fucking cerebral about everyday actions that I would almost will myself into clumsiness about them. Still am, way too much. But I'm trying to notice my own body more. As I type this, this sounds like the most new-agey sentence imaginable, but I'm trying to convey how important this is for me. And if my writing sharpens this awareness in the midst of ephemera (even when its saying sounds blunt to me), then I'm tenatively pleased. Trying not to double back on doubling back all the time.

The act of conjuring the phantom city is an act of compassion.

The body is also conjured, initially, out of compassion, and then we get busy unpacking our doubts and hopes and inclinations into the world. But it's like college (or our house)--just when you get all your shit unpacked, it's time to move again. The trouble is the next neighborhood has the continual absence of the sun shining on it.

According to some Buddhist traditions, we live in mappo:
According to The Lotus Sutra & The Nirvana Sutra, the Dharma (Teaching) of the Buddha will degrade over 500 or 1000-year periods after the Buddha's entry into Nirvana.

However, slyly, it later says:
There is no Nirvana that is detached from Life & Death...They are inseparable parts of each other.

There's a fine line between destruction and decomposition, but this is it. Willfull destruction is ultimately a form of detachment. Decomposition will continue apace anyway. But this too is a part of an authentic life. This tension was probably felt in every age, that the age would collapse at any given moment.

When the phantom city disappears, is that a collapse?

This has turned into something much longer than I expected. And now I'm finishing this up two days later, and it's rather sunny. But it's supposed to rain later.

9/21/2004

Overheard in line at the coffee shop, two guys with badges from some marine manufacturing company:

So did you hear that mussels are now in the arctic?

What?

I said, mussels are now in the arctic. Global warming. First time that's happened in 3,000 years.

Really.

Yeah. We need to put this into the trend analysis.

There's going to be a lot more water. Because of the melting.

Yeah. And there's nothing we can do to stop it. I'm thinking this will be good for business in the long-term.

___

These are the type of people running the show.

9/20/2004

Forgot to mention that my Introduction to Experimental Poetry class at the Loft is going swimmingly, as it always tends to do. Great, engaged students as always. The 6 weeks is amazingly short, and there's only so much you can do to cover what I'd like to in the last, oh, 90 years of poetry. But you launch a general framework out there, and you hopefully give some names for them to pursue later on, and it ends up that the students end up teaching you more than the other way around.

Went to the Swedish American institute yesterday for the first time, this faux baronial castle just south of downtown. I guess a proper term, kind of, would be gothick. I went to see this tile artists show but I missed it by a day. However, they had many porcelain tile stoves called kakelugnar which were worth the trip.

They looked very gnomic.

9/18/2004

Translations of Nichiren are always going to be tendentious, and necessary to read with a grain of salt, with all of the weirdnessess of the various sects that want to "push poll" (to use a political term) their own idiosyncracies to the forefront of the translations. (For an example of the most embarrassing, slovenly, non-Buddhist, and altogether greedy rendition of Nichiren Buddhism possible--and sadly, the most popular--one need look no further than the most recent issue of the Utne Reader. The cover story, no less. Our parents' chanting entitles us to a certain amount of karmic nepotism [boldface mine]) All of which is complicated by the fact that Nichiren was certainly a product of an isolated feudal society, one that was on the verge of a virtual apocalypse (i.e., the threatened Mongolia invasion of Japan). But despite his sometimes priggishness and narrow mindedness, Nichiren has this habit of taking in and then giving back the most generous readings of the Lotus Sutra possible, that belie the landmines that the more...ardent contemporary adherents like to strew in the path of modern ideas of tolerance and critical thinking:
This means that if the dead have their Buddha nature made manifest then it must be the same for plants, trees and the environment. In the first fascicle [fascimile?] of the Universal Desistance from Troublesome Worries in Order to See Clearly, it says, "Any materiality that is endowed with some kind of colour so as to give it form or even any odour which can be perceived but is not seen belong to the middle way which spans both relativity and phenomenon." Myôraku said, "Even though people can admit that materiality, colours and odours are the reality of the middle way, the idea that plants and things that are inanimate are also endowed with the Buddha nature, perplexes their ears and puzzles their minds." Out of which of the five colours is this single colour? The five colours of blue, yellow, red, white and black are each recognised as colours on their own. But the singleness is the Dharma nature that is explained here by Myôraku is the middle way between relativity and phenomenon [or the bridgelike instant between the appearance of something and the recognition of what it is]. The Universal Teacher Tendai also said that there is nothing that is not the middle way.
from Plants And Trees Becoming Buddhas

Perhaps extremely creative hermeneutics can propel Nichiren into the no-realm of Zen. Again, another excellent essay on Zen and the Lotus Sutra. In much the same way that 1st-5th c. CE Neo-Taoism placed Confucius in the center of the Taoist hierarchy.

All of this is floating through my head at the speed of rapids. Moments of serenity punctured by extreme tumult. Or, more likely, the other way around. Had a nightmare about "the sandwich man." What the fuck? It's like a bad dream about, I don't know, the cheddar girl, Mr. Cheerios, or whatever. All I remember was that he was terrifying. I really don't remember much from my dreams except for the dread. It's hard to tell whether remembering the dread in of itself is a sign of unpacking nocturnal panic. A "good" sign. Maybe.

My dad has been in the hospital--breaking his hip, and then catching pneumonia in the hospital. He's recovering slowly from all of these tidal waves. Of course I feel faraway. I get little dispatches about his health but it's hard to reconstruct the day-to-day battles and triumphs.

Writing, I had always thought, was a way to get at things you didn't understand. Like a dowser finding water (which my grandparents were into when they were digging the well at their house. Was that done in Poland? Did they pick it up as a folk Americanism?). Within this was the idea of "letting the water come to you," to be attuned and curious.

However, you're still walking to the water.

But now I'm beginning to wonder if writing's more like (to continue the analogy piled upon a geomancy) taking a nap after a long day of dowsing. As you fall asleep, it starts raining pretty hard, noisy. The dream of water is consciousness (that sounds horrible, devoid of context, doesn't it?). The water falling into the ground (the subconscious) will soak, sink, evaporate, whether you dream about water or not. But you do. You hear the water hitting the roof and it transmutes and you dream about a flood. You dream that you're swimming/drowning, having a conversation with a neptune (sure, how about Pharrell, why not). When the rain stops, you go on to dreaming about other things, such as "sandwich artists".

And it's only when you wake up, and remember the water dreams, that you decide to give your dowsing rod to the dog, to chew on.

After all, dowsing is pretty much a chance process. By nature water dwells in the ground, at least in many places where I have lived. YMMV in deserts. Your arms shake because they're always shaking. And it's nothing against dowsing. It's good to walk around, to be attentive.

By "you" I mean "I", of course.

The middle way between relativity and phenomenon?

9/15/2004

A sheet of paper just floated up near my 26th-floor window outside. Did not see what was written on it.

9/14/2004

And speaking of Tusk, The Twilight Singers have a great version of the Buckingham-penned "What Makes You Think You're the One" out.

9/12/2004

Er, and all of the sudden, on page 62 of the poem, I'm writing about Corey Feldman as a bodhisattva.

Er, "poem turning the poem"? What the hell, Alan?

I just thought I'd mention that.

I think it has to do with the tragic figure he cut on Surreal Life.

9/10/2004

Already fall is beginning to creep in. Leaves are turning. NBA training camp isn't that far away. But I digress. I'm still working on my long poem. It's up to 53 some pages now. Bit by bit. And the funny thing is, as I guess was to be expected if you really think about it, that my "poetics" or whatever you want to call it have already mutated from the beginning to the now. And will likely before I reach the end. (Whenever that is.) Moving towards the esoteric to the exoteric.

Now on account of my Having Grown Up Catholic, the esotericism was always the base root of my experiences. The rosary triads aren't called "Mysteries" for nothing. It was Rilke's letters that talked of the "vocation" of the writer and which, needless to say, hit my 19 year self with the the idea of a kind of proxy hierophantic relationship to the writing and the material. With, you know, literary fame and all the attendant glories. That was the plan at the time. It seemed win-win. But...one thing I've always noticed about myself--worried would be too strong of a word--or a question I would ask myself would be whether the styles or techniques I've used have been "authentic" or not. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. Maybe it's not even the right question. How much of authenticity is socially constructed? "Certificate of authenticity." I wondered if having modest early "success" in poetry and fiction involved a figuring out tricks, little cantrips. This is complicated by the fact that I often don't know what's a trick or not. And some great writers have built their entire lives around amazing, unreal tricks (Frank O'Hara tricking realism; Borges tricking out the essay).

And therefore, none of this process is unnatural and I don't regret it. And it was entirely welcome and necessary to emulate and therefore metamorphasize my influences. Or to find obscure sources with which to emulate and recontextualize. This was how I got at what was important to me; it tied together with how I wanted others to see me. All of which is separate as to whether individual stories or poems work or not--which really isn't up to me to decide. This is still my interior monologue that has the mic, in case you haven't noticed.

On that note, for a little while I flirted with the materialist assumptions inherent in Language poetry--seeing all writing only through the spectrum of political emancipation, thought of ways to apply this to speculative fiction. I thought that was an escape hatch. I quickly unflirted myself. Although there are many writers from that schema who I admire and who write amazing poems, theirs has been a shitty track record on the political emancipation front. (Much more complex of course than this 3 sentence little ditty is acknowledging). And it didn't necessarily achieve the goal of the erasure of personality. The best Language poems are the ones with instantly recognizable "personalities" of nil-personality to them (e.g., Bernstein, Armantrout).

So much of what goes into what we write remains unnoticed--and in many cases for a good reason. I don't want to meddle in processes I don't understand. I want to let impulses dictate to a large degree what I pursue. But at the same time, it is neither sterility nor blitheness, if one does notice, and then let go what has been noticed. It's not a matter of craziness, a feverish pitch, but of sanity and observation. Getting further away from the Fantasia fantasies of the lone artist on Witch Mountain, or wherever.

Anyway, when the aforementioned paradigm started to collapse for me, it really felt like a personal collapse. I talk about writerly techniques as tools to students--but there comes a time when even the tools you've come to trust just don't fit your hand anymore. Or you wonder to yourself--why the hell am I carrying around this heavy toolbelt? That's the moment it unbuckles, and then when you try to leave the tools behind, there's at first this moment of euphoria. And then: "Shit. What did I get myself into?"

So how does one give up attention, the need for it, without becoming a recluse? While still being attentive? There is that constant back and forth, but from that can be discerned a middle way, neither plainspoken nor cryptic.

All this is tied together in a way that I'm probably not explaining very well but which feels very important to me in this moment. There's this idea that I'm riffing off that Dogen, a Zen patriarch, presented on the Lotus Sutra. To get to a point where I'm not turning the poem, nor the poem's turning me. Rather, the poem turns the poem. It sounds so easy and yet it's the hardest thing in the world, because you have to take your hands off, and no cheating. Is it even possible to do that? But this isn't a sterile process; the enjoyment of writing is still there as a baseline (and indeed, the Lotus Sutra itself is a kind of ecstatic freak-out jam session with cosmic beings. So maybe that's a good place for a poetics as any. But maybe this deserves a long post about the Lotus Sutra then). I have no idea what's next.

9/09/2004

This absoultely rules:

"How many times have you been arrested, Mr. President?" *

*$753.29 Bounty to the first person to ask George W. Bush this question in a public forum.


And growing...



9/07/2004

REREADING GOGOL'S MISWRITTEN BOOK: "Gogol could ill stand the presence of unfamiliar people, wrote out his lectures (or else feigned sickness), and tried to monitor from Europe all the movements and exchanges of information related to him, for instance, the itineraries of acquaintances who could bring him messages or money, as well as the circulation of his letters and the exchange of opinions about him, instructing his friends how to refute misrepresentations. He was notoriously secretive, traveling under altered names and avoiding contacts with fellow-travellers (he would go to such lengths as feigning sleep or not recognizing them), and (like Petrushka) often slept fully dressed - armed, as it were. In correspondence, he "falsified" his motives and personality. He concealed his addresses, changed printers, misleading his associates...He also had a penchant for destroying his writings: he burned a juvenile novella,a romantic poem, a historical drama (after it put Zhukovsky to sleep), and twice the second part of his "epic." Sure enough, after the failure of SP Gogol regretted not having burned it.35 Gogol's annihilatory pyrotechnics can be viewed as a will to monopolize his literary rights, and his near-suicidal death, as a desperate gesture of control over his very life.


"Indeed, most of Gogol's bids for power were always on the brink of collapsing. They achieved control either by destroying their object or by the less dramatic strategy of withdrawal (evidenced by his celibacy, aloofness from mundane matters, avoidance of contacts, and self-imposed exile). In an ambivalent reversal of his manipulativeness - but not of his blissful unconcern for the boundaries of his self, Gogol deliberately surrendered many functions to others. Thus, he instructed his friends to pool their efforts, each in his own way, for his sake and, in particular, for taking care of his mother Gogol delegated to Shevyrev all matters of money-management, publication, and even the editing of his faulty style and grammar; to his correspondents, the drafting of his future texts;. and to censorship, the enforcement of artistic discipline. Before burning Dead Souls, Gogol tried to leave the manuscript with A. P. Tolstoy and the decision what to do with it, to the discretion of Filaret and others. Delegation of power naturally led to situations where others failed Gogol (as, for instance, when A. P. Tolstoi refused to keep the manuscript, effectively enabling Gogol to burn it...Thus, the circumstances of this fatal burning are emblematic of both 'total control' and 'relinquished responsibility."

9/05/2004

Listening to Tusk--not only a good album but a brilliant album. Lindsey's parts are easy to like, of course, but it's Christie's songs that lull you into a false sense of calm. And then you realize her songs are really unnerving when paired against Lindsey's cokeapaloozas. Oddly, it's Stevie (if anyone) who doesn't hold up her end of the bargain as much. I'm probably showing how square I am by talking about FLEETWOOD MAC. Elad, I put 2 songs from Tusk on my mix CD for you--surprise! (I didn't label any of the songs, alas). Anyway, Tusk is like a sprawling prefab mansion. It keeps going and going, and it starts getting creepy as to how clean the rooms are. But that's part of the charm.

One of the most fascinating chapters of syncretic history: the Greco-Buddhist kingdoms:

Evidence of direct religious interaction between Greek and Buddhist thought during the period include the Milinda Panha, a Buddhist discourse in the platonic style, held between the Greek king Menander (160 to 135 BC) and the Buddhist monk Nagasena.



Rock On, you two.