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Coming Soon — DEATH — This Spring

10606170_10152544243081519_6213069424677841467_nOver the holidays I made cookies similar to the ones certain adults no longer with us made for me. I had never done that before. I also became strangely interested in music not my own. I played songs obsessively that were not necessarily songs I like, but the favorites of those — once again — no longer with us.

What an oxymoron.

Nothing was more present for me.  There was indeed a peculiar sensation of a presence listening to these songs through me, songs like the very first hit by young Bob Marley (“I’m Still Waiting”).

The track and the photo of the boys (Bob was 16!) who would later sprout into iconic godfathers of neo Pan Africanism put me in a mood I can’t quite articulate. And so I won’t. Because it is not my mood. It is a current, an influence that possesses me  — and I mean that term ‘possession’ in its most classical etymological sense.

Antique tongues know the power of redundancy. If a concept matters, the word associated with that concept might bloom into an objective correlative, an ideal materialization of the idea. The chair you name wouldn’t simply refer to that particular chair you sit on; it would embody the ideal of all chairs now and forever of every chair that has ever been, including the weird ones that hardly seem sufficient for ghosts to squeeze into.

4dd90e9432eaad4844d8ca2427a488dfThis is the dream of an ADAMIC language that Ralph Waldo Emerson and so many others (probably you too) hoped for. Language that is pure and original. Words that call forth the things they name even as they deposit the ideas of those things into the abyss of linguistic abstraction.

For example, to ghost something up, if you’ll pardon the Germanic for a moment (which is really another way of picturing English without its make up on), is a phrase that derives from a simplistic translation of  ‘inspiration’.

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Spiritus is the ghost. Respiration. To breath is to take in some ghost, over and over again. Inspiration. To influence is to pour some ghost in me. Transpiration. To happen is to have a ghost move across me. Expiration. To die is literally to give up the ghost.

In a world where ghosts keep hanging around, if only on the tips of our tongues, dying is not so gruesome. The ubiquity of the spirit as a root word of everyday language proposes a world in which all the ghosts get to be as free as prepositions, coming and going as they please, near and far, beside us, inside us and out, above and below.

From this linguistic point of view, ghosts become another way for us to understand our own invisible centeredness. We are in invisible relation all the time. Whether we see it that way or not is incidental–ipso ghost facto.

Invisible-CinemaA lot of music is inspirational, to be sure, but over the holidays I began to notice that some of it does its ghosting in the dark.  Indeed, some music is adspiration. It ghosts AT you. It comes neither from nor through but towards you.

The music that ghosts at you meets you at a threshold in the material world. You and the ghost meet face to face, suing for peace after a beleaguering siege. And during this meeting, weirdly, it is suddenly not the ubiquity of these ghosts that you sense, but the terrifying ghostlessness of the material world.

Earth-Fire-Pit-1The musical ghosts that refuse me their ghosthood like to teach me about death’s tasteless jokes (in other words, ghostless jokes). One of the oldest jests goes like this. (If you’re an old ghost you’ve not only heard this one before, you’ve probably told it, no doubt clanking your chains and rapping the tables all the while.)

When you give up your one single, measly ghost, the world will be giving out ghosts like candy, raining ghosts from the skies manna-style. Ah, but you only have one ghost, and oh no! there it goes. The world, on the other hand, is tripping on ghosts, drunk on them, flicking ghosts from a fat wad in its hands. The world will have ghosts galore, ghosts on stand-by, ghosts to burn at the precise moment yours shrivels up and checks out.

When you come to the Winter’s end of your ghost, frozen there like Jack Torrence the next morning, the world goes to ghost Aruba on a cruise ship with free cocktails and hairbraiding so that ectoplasmic scalps may gently warm to a ghost-rich sun.

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To imagine one’s death coming in the midst of a Springtime, luscious and wanton, is to put your ghost beside some of the oldest haunts ever heard.

What is the difference, after all, between Jacques Brel’s famous lyric (made famous by Terry Jacks and later by a Kurt Cobain cover):terry-jacks-seasons-in-the-sun

Goodbye, my friend, it’s hard to die
When all the birds are singing in the sky
Now that the spring is in the air
Pretty girls are everywhere
Think of me and I’ll be there

and the ghostliest lines of all–from Alan Seeger’s World War I poem “I Have A Rendezvous with Death” (1917):
I have a rendezvous with DeathScreen Shot 2015-01-12 at 9.38.18 AM
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air–
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.
I think I know the answer, but I’ll let my ghosts imply their intention to yours. When they meet you at your threshold, it’ll be your decision to let them in (and through) or not.

Flash Fiction–Short Short Story or Prose Poem?

Originally posted on michaelalexanderchaney:

1 Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 10.38.27 AM  I am still getting used to flash. Not merely as a genre, but as a concept. It takes some getting used to. Just listen to the name. Flash. Whoosh. Pow. Any artform that sounds like an audiographic ejaculate from a superheroic comic — well, that would make anyone nervous.

When mining the interior of a concept, one can work hands-on from the perspective of a practitioner or with idea from the perspective of a philosopher who keeps his intellectual distance. I have approached flash’s friction warmly, doggedly, and from both vantages.

There are clearly two schools. One derives from Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour.” It wants flash to be just like other great short fiction, only shorter. It wants character, story, tension, plot, development–the whole enchilada–but it wants it in an economical, Totino’s (gross!) bite-sized delivery system of one thousand words or less.

The second school has a…

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Hey Writers, Ambiance Affects Your Mood & Thus Your Writing

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I’m sitting at a window in my kitchen. It is morning. A New Year is on the brink of setting proudly off like a firecracker, but I am up to nothing explosive. I am bending my morning body to perform familiar tasks through the haze: make coffee, let the dog out, get the laptop, start writing.

I and you have probably done this a thousand times. If you are the ritual type, you’ve got all sorts of necessary add-ons at this point. There may be music or no music at all. Perhaps you must have your feet snug in specific slippers or your grip on that pen you got from Grandma circa 1989?

Whatever the particulars, if you have particulars at all, you are probably not going to find anything that I am going to say revelatory. You might as well eavesdrop from here on out, imagining those unlike you,  unaware of the influence of ambiance.

It’s true. True and stupid and not at all above ridicule. I never call ‘ambiance’ AHM-BEE-AH-NS, by the way, preferring instead a more vulgar pronunciation of –“and beans!” said very crudely, as though following a jolly exclamation (however out of place anywhere on earth it would be) of

Franks and Beans!

Ambiance is the “and beans” of things, the stuff you have to consider after taking care of the stuff that really matters.

Alright, so I’m ambivalent about it. Then good. Let’s not take our beans too seriously.

If you are Stephen King, putting the final gory touches on a scene of decapitation in the dark, you’d probably do it justice while writing from a colorful pit of foam balls. But if you are a less determined writer than King (and no doubt far less overdetermined as well, thank goodness!), then you might benefit from some spiritual feng shui. Stage your writing space thoughtfully. Plant the “and beans” with care and just watch the bounties you’ll reap come harvest time.

Here’s my view this morning.

Photo on 1-3-15 at 8.00 AM #3This is the view through my writing window. A world of half weather, iced-over snow and leaf-strewn bare ground. No sun. No shadows deepen the shoulders of the tree trunks in the distance. Everything is flat, coldly out of sync with itself. My favorite part of the scene are the sled tracks that trek boldly over the ledge in the back there. I wonder if viewers will piece together a rowdy backstory to explain those precarious tracks.

No music is right as the accompaniment to this view that swallows my eyes every time I look up from a sentence, whether satisfying or not. This view is all that I get for my efforts: inchoate tundra.

And because much of writing (and all that we are ultimately to reap from the writing life) is mental rather than material, the careful writer will here change the vantage to improve the view. The view matters, so alter your point in relation to it.

Here’s what I settle for:

Photo on 1-3-15 at 8.00 AM #3Ah, that’s more like it. Touches of every kind of bold weather and clime. Here is snow as well as autumn waste. And those tree trunks along the horizon! Notice the perfect way they skirt the light, hiding the sun? This is the perfect scene for the imaginative. It is nature’s coloring book, lightless and undefined, an open landscape perfect for the writing I am now perfectly prepared to undertake.

Perfect.

So forget about the FRANKS next time you’re running into writing obstacles. Pay attention to the AND BEANS and watch as nearly everything changes (or not) as a result, guaranteed.

Drive-By in Magician Territory: Incident Report Submitted by Royal Weeze Sub-We Group j-709B

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Wind projected the warrior faces printed on our dresses into films coming alive on our legs, slouched to one side like tired horses. We were waiting for the train on a “Bad-Idea” platform, miles away from our designated area, where only the plural consciousnesses live—We, the Royal Weeze. We were late and nervous, a sitting brace of ducks in Houdini territory where only the magicians were allowed to be.

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We exchanged worried looks on the tea-kettling winds of the platform, souring our eyes on vivid tiles of Kar-Mi the Mysterious taming a crocodile and Vel Mar the Great swallowing swords—nothing like our drab pictotiles, the great AllOfUs holding hands with Infinity. And then over the whirring hum of our dread came footsteps. A pert click clack that could only mean a magician was coming to join us on the platform.

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We cinched up our faces and puckered our eyes to see him. His cape whispered fire in the wake of his tuxedo. His mustachios were set at a permanent slant under his nose at 9:16. We tried to give his sleeveless eyes the slip, but they were still there when We looked up again, his black hair a pool of ink for the plaster mask of his contempt to float upon, contempt for the We who were standing there afraid and far from home turf. According to the Chichester’s Rules, he had the right to dispatch us on sight should there be nothing between us “but air and opportunity.” Even as three, our We would have little chance against him and who knows what else lurking in his articulate crevices. But he merely puffed a courtly good evening, bowed steeply to our flinch, and took up a position at the other end of the platform where the wind bullied his cape.

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We longed for the train to take us back to our monochrome world of benches without chairs and wider halls where five could walk abreast always in the armclinched We. We wanted gone from this place of velvet brocade and white tipped canes, the doves bunching the sidewalks like snow. Then We heard it. Something other than whistling. It was not our salvation train coming to take us back to our territory and this Houdini—who knows where—perhaps the Manimals’ turf considering the last treaty. We didn’t want any trouble and We certainly didn’t want to know before he did, as he tapped his patent leather shoes on the edge of the platform and craned his tophat into the tunnel, that that sound was not the train and that no engine backfire ever had much to do with any coming train.

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We did not stay long enough afterwards to know exactly why it happened. What We did know then was that that sound was too shrill for pistons and more hydraulic than steam. So We looked beyond the rails, between the placards for Presto the Wizard and Carter the Telephile, where We saw the carnival bus with its barker and gold leaf, its tassels and organs and the usual Mysterio. We thought his Houdini friends had come to save him from this train ride alongside a lost gaggle of Royal Weeze. But then We saw the blunderbusses snake through the silk curtains of the carriage windows like great oars emerging from a Galley ship.

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We took cover behind the stacked saw boxes as the shot roared (and although there are no words for what is about to be said right now… not all in our We saw the fire the shot caused instantly in the window curtains and those frantic white gloved hands patting the flames). We all witnessed the effect, the strange assassination of the magician. The bullet sailed through his heart. His tap shoes shuffled a dirge. The gold coins secreted in soles spilled onto platform cement like charity. His arms paddled the futile waters of his coming death.

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Three yellow buntings escaped from his sleeves. They beat their gilded wings in windy figure eights above his head, their pattern ominously like our sign of the Infinite We. And the miles of endless ribbon of every color and silky hue pouring from the orifices of his suit, shooting out of him like a parade of playing card confetti, flipping everywhere with glinting hoops and coins from every territory—Presto head pennies and Armclinched nickles and Manimal Cracker Quarters—all spinning and singing along with the whistling air.

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And We never saw a rabbit so close before. Its eyes the same color as its nose. The color of infected gums. It crawled out from the cummerbund to twitch its nose at us and to present the blood on its white fur. It moved so slowly, accusing us with those scarlet prints along the cement, which remained long after the carnival bus and its organ that played that circus song—did We know it is called “Entry of the Gladiators”?—had gone. All of this, We believe, is why We did not come sooner to tell. Not because We were afraid of the punishment or ashamed of being in their territory, but because of what happened and what it means, not just for Us, but for us. For all of us. For me… when magicians start killing each other.


< originally published in Heavy Feather Review 3.1 2013 >

Poetry Comix Folio in Drunken Boat 20

db 20

It was a great pleasure co-curating a selection of poetry composed with visual media and comics in the latest issue of international online journal Drunken Boat. Check out the issue here. And for readers of this blog exclusively, here are my  prefatory remarks–unabridged.

Many comics scholars, artists, and readers have lamented the absence of a uniform definition for the term “comics.” Are comics a mode or a medium? A genre or a combinatory symbol system all its own?

In light of the combinatory spirit of the present collection—of comics and poetry—perhaps I should have restated that opening. A more accurate introduction would risk confusion. Perhaps I should have said:

Many of us lament the absence of stable definitions, leaving the direct object to dangle because there is no settled definition of poetry or comics.

Like poetry, comics represent the Open. They provoke through ambiguity. Indeed, we could all agree that there is an unsteady relationship between the image and the word in comics, but even that is a groaningly overrated description of the system by which comics encode reality. Whenever I hear it I wonder about the unsteady relationship that words have with other words or that images have with other images, or the precarious détente I have with the word “image” or with the word “word” for that matter.
Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 7.29.18 AMNever one to be stymied by polysemy, Emily Dickinson once quipped that she knew something was poetry if it warmed and froze her at the same time.

Slide2

While it seems to be an occupational hazard for poets to define poetry in the most abstruse ways possible, comics have had a much less esoteric trajectory in American culture. We know what comics look like. Problematically so. Depending on your age, you might be hard pressed not to see the Sunday funnies whenever “comics” are mentioned. Popeye, Mary Worth, Beetle Bailey, and the Peanuts all helped to impose predictable grids of character, caricature, and closure onto American readers for over a century.
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Nevertheless, even as I quote Emily Dickinson, a poet I am nearly as fond of as Dave the Potter, a 19th-century enslaved artisan who incised contraband couplets onto the walls of the large storage vessels he made, I am reluctant to observe that Emily Dickinson’s contradictory definition has become a kind of law among poets and readers of poetry. Implicitly, Dickinson insists that poetry be emotionally recondite. Hence, my present difficulties.
Slide3
Why can’t there be a poetry that simply freezes or burns?

Is ambiguity poetry’s primary value?

I raise these concerns because I found myself returning to very old questions of genre while editing this folio for Drunken Boat with my esteemed co-editor Marco Maisto.

Throughout the process, I strove to be open. I hoped to be surprised by other working poets and comics artists. I wanted to learn from them what comics poetry can be. I didn’t go into this collection with any blueprint of the ideal already tattooed on the inside of my editorial eyelids. I trawled the pool for the same intensities that Emily Dickinson sought to catch in her verbal and visual nets. I craved work that was not solely verbal nor visual, neither image-driven nor text-heavy, but in-between, elusive, less nameable. I wanted work that would through its very being define comics poetry in all of its promiscuous glory.

I wanted exemplary comics poetry without placing any preconceived limits on what that would mean.

In a moving genre, exemplarity is never a desiccated butterfly pinned to a tray near a caption. Things don’t hold still in a moving genre. Not even bell-jarred butterflies. Restless and idiosyncratic to the core, comics poetry frays anew the worn edges of what is told and shown, felt and known. I have read my Krazy Kat, however, and remain skeptical of claims regarding the novelty of comics poetry.  Still, there are some predictable claims to which I am susceptible. One has to do with the relay between knowledge and poetry.
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This is the low-hanging fruit of poetry definition, seeing poetry as the other of prose. It goes like this: If prose represents a rational and ordered approach to the universe, then poetry is the opposite. Poetry embraces the irrational, the strange, and the fragmentary.  Likewise, in the orderly visual universe created by centuries of Western European art, the comics routinely play the unruly red-headed stepchild, swollen with truths festooned as vulgarities.

These are my” Open” definitions of comics and poetry. Less open is my sense that the term “comics” suggests the visual presence of the artist. Left to their own semiotic devices, the comics offer nostalgic reassurance in an artisanal hand that manages the visual universe in an otherwise unpredictable age of techno-digital reproducibility.

Who could bewail the obsolescence of the book (even here on this screen) when so much proof of the artist’s boldly human and boldly bodily messiness percolates up from the marks? ThreeLisaYees

Who could lament the loss of feeling or art in view of all these marks that morph and merge through sequence or repetition, juxtaposition or amplification, throughout the comics?

Not I. And probably not you either, dear reader, although I’m open to your disintegration. And why not? We do not have to hold together on this. In fact, let us frazzle an unreel from the pressurized spool of collective consent—for what is the whole idea of genre about anyways if not consensus?

In what follows, therefore, let us become un-real again, ourselves undergoing redefinition in the presence of things vivid and wondrous, confusing and fusing. Let us start here a trek of seeing and not always knowing. You have my permission to kick all your definitional stones along as we march. I wouldn’t want any left unturned.

http://issues.drunkenboat.com/db20

I Broke It Rollerskating

My flash

I Broke It Rollerskating

originally appeared in Harpur Palate (Issue 13.2)

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Great Teaching Ideas For a 20th Century Poetry Survey Course (Actual conversation translated by voice-to-speech software re-lineated)

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Poetry selected by students will be villainously printed at the letter ass shop

to be compiled into a pamphlet or series of broadsides
letterpress edition
phones yes bye

Yes no you know I’m a little jealous over to the list on over to the list because I want the list to be available to anybody teach that course for any course like two to select from a list of really powerful and reliable and reliably good events that a faculty member can change to his or her like it

when I was English major I had courses that will talk buy some Laurie old man who across the board included some of the same”” Fun assignments

a creative paper we wrote in every single and every single classified that we like you too you don’t write back to the medieval
you know
Bart

the script of the dinner party in which different poets alive or dead or together but you can only lick like four or three website and they have a conservation notice that you have a finite amount of lines in which they have a conversation

but what if it’s what version is and you had that

you had to make a mashup with lines of the phones right yet
because of me that would actually encourage students to have such a different relationship
with the lines of the palm
that they would be babysitting things in that palm
that they might not because they’re looking for weird relationships
here that would be really conical

I was thinking a version of the assignment is to listen to you
I was thinking of the version of the assignment about the letter

the complaint letter in which
may be a poet writes a letter to another poet
upon reading that poets home
and
yeah it could be
a complaint letter
bye

I think we’re to be a letter about A
special understanding
that one poet has another pole
in seeing the influence in the reverse
not from the new poet to the lake
but from the earlier
to the pew
go

was great seeing scraps

that we’ve
that you

and Robert Frost
so it’s Robert Frost
and we definitely have access to Robert Frost
of notes in the wrong
you only look at
you guys
next steps
so that she still stamps.
His something more
we can do with just the excitement community
St. Louis Missouri
something grander that can be attached to receive Pasters

and I want to make it because they can be part of
some bigger justice
cool mist
who want to tell her how much it cost like fish fish fish Fish

website…

and if she is doing yet
and if you like language
I’ll read the article
looks poetic safe
essays to find A
lot about the tickets

I’ll let you use archival material

say
let’s look at the graphs themselves
I read something like this and I think this is the first thing you can go
back and forth

Oh it just speaks to the same idea that you should not
I don’t think
you should just
be
poetry

I think you should also be a kick ass collected … simple
because when the most powerful experiences had classes like that
was not just an apology
reading the other writings
to something like
the
collected
letters between two popes

and listen to that Publix 0 By The Way in 20 ecology class they need to read we are arises that last post biggest face I’m not talking about possible and yourself because I feel like you can do examples visualization illustrations

What up people who think that the study literature is empty full of humming irrelevant with no corn action today
shouldn’t there be cement

I don’t
why do people like poetry

because I’ve been noticing that a lot lately since I got texting works I realize like the people care about phrase in ways the closest analogy maybe started off course

every student has to come in with a fist
a fish
and by the end baby there could be like a project
like a creative project

in English
To think about how awesome it wrinkles should get kids I Bricklane same way is reasonable. There’s a whole spiritual connection spending four years reading books is a monastic fling with yourself on the right
we should teach them about not knocking himself in a survey course on poetry

and ask students to visualize impolite approaches
which goes back to saying about capitalizing the breath
and trying to make that
inconsistent sex with horses

your yeah

but like is got me when you make that concept awesome.
No you know what looks to know if you just want to figure what’s why

do you think it is a class or what now
I’m thinking about that pewter give classes did that paralysis of the sign and date for the iambic content what is that was assigned with line tickets

Visualization was some specific thing
like the links of line
and then it was a visualization
changes over time
like patents of the line itself
like the line break
20 at the light

go through

do that kind of chicken was data collection
type into the computer and let me like a great congrats
like some crazy visualization
I think I’m being weird

of the swap that would be awesome you you know that things also awesome for me isn’t this agent was actually little pigs simply because then you get to go right you don’t have to worry aloud

baking focus
argument
and they went asking crazy
questions like talking about love in 17th century poetry and I bleed to order a blue books just going on the representation of the feet over human. I think this working kind of activity

no

that’s not the same thing
is making focused shopping argument
but I think most recent changes

and the only thing you can do with literature
is
not
shake focus

intellectual argument

that a lot
of other things
that you can do with it

Thanks

No I think that’s what you want to talk about
serious emergency
question becomes how do you create an experience in emergency

Do that’s bat wings in Buffalo Grove
class and students
throw quotes outside the retina
like that that idea of Ã

let’s make it let us see
for that life lesson
because physical material experience

what’s the English
like a thing that you do
do English through
light material
concrete acts

so what.
Hello how are no holes brightest English and English chapter cheaply like a chapter

write a novel
month and rightful
Monday month
why don’t you sponsor the right month
contract that you don’t account for
you now right well
drive because you know

I had multiple people
send all the info

Five cents English
is trying to write us up
and come together hours
A night today
I sent them a call.
There’s an informational meeting this club
right five
I’m at least lost
somebody that you promised I went with
regular people put there
was down there

I like blogs and stuff
for people
some form committees
little background communities
mail right now yeah
but a lot of people just do it
like an individual
prompts
like a lot of people right now
publishing anything
online

well it’s an experience
anything

because it transforms your Young

link is canceled for me already I know I am totally be on the natural force and yet I know that there is something wrong or something

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