Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Last March, the first thing Michael McClure said at a lecture he gave at the Rainer Valley Cultural Center, was how good the water in Seattle tasted.

It does. This has been one of the enduring rewards of living in this city. Turning on a tap and getting some of the freshest, sweetest water I have ever tasted. This is water you would not want turned into wine. It is that good.

Though turning it into coffee on occasion can be highly rewarding. There is a reason Starbucks got its start in Seattle, and that reason is water. Coffee made with Seattle water is pure elixir. Strong, dark, electric.

Where does our water come from? It does rain a lot in Seattle. Its ultimate provenance is the sky: fronts that blow over the north Pacific, dropping a lot of precipitation on the Olympics and adding to the density of the rainforests, then continuing east to Seattle where it arrives in what is usually a steady drizzle, though sometimes a torrential downpour. The clouds drift onward to the Cascades, where precipitation flutters down as snow in the winter, creating lush packs that in late spring begin dripping and trickling and feeding the thousands of streams silvering the sides of cliffs and gliding over granite and schist in emerald mirrors that converge into rivers.

Seattle’s specific source is the Cedar River Watershed. The Cedar River is about 45 miles long and empties into Lake Washington. But before it gets there pipelines maintained by Seattle Public Utilities at Landsburg reroute approximately 100 million gallons per day for 1.4 million people in King County. And it is the snowpack in the central Cascades whose melting in the spring and summer months keeps the Cedar River boisterous with water. You would think a snowpack, like space and gravity and other natural phenomena, would be a pretty stable occurrence. It’s not. Due, ostensibly, to climate change, the snowpacks have been dwindling. This year the snowpack is just 56% of normal.

Worrisome? Hell yes.

Annual water withdrawal is capped at 22%. Salmon require a minimum of 78% to swim upstream without getting caught in dry gravel beds. 78% is required for the Ballard locks to move up and down from sea level to lake level, and 78% is required to keep the floating bridges in Lake Washington afloat. If the lake level drops past a critical point, the bridges will crack, break, and sink. Current consumption is close to 20%. Meanwhile, population in King County increases by approximately 18,000 per year.

And so I get pretty pissed when I see people power-washing a sidewalk or driveway, or sprinklers keeping a golf link green in the middle of summer. This is stupid, scandalous waste.

And God forbid if the water becomes privatized.

Tap water costs about a half penny per gallon. A pint of bottled water is about $1.40.

Bolivia gives me hope. In September, 1999, Bolivia’s dictator Hugo Banzer signed a contract with Bechtel to privatize the water in Cochabamba, Bolivia’s third largest city. A contract was awarded to Aguas del Tunari, a consortium in which Bechetel held a 27.5 interest. Water rates skyrocketed. People had to withdraw their children from school and stop using doctors. Protests ensued. Martial law was declared. Bolivian police killed at least six people and injured over 170. But the protests continued. The Bolivian government withdraw the water contract.

More recently, Michigan has been battling Nestle. In 2001, Perrier, which has since been bought by Nestle Waters North America, was welcomed by Michigan governor John Engler, who let Nestle open a plant for a licensing fee of less than $100 per year, and threw in some tax breaks worth millions. Nestle purchased the groundwater rights to an area known as Sanctuary Springs in Mecosta County and began pumping 100 to 300 gallons per minute out of the local aquifer and bottling it for sale as Nestle’s Ice Mountain brand. A grassroots movement of local residents and activists coalesced to protest. They formed the Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation group and filed a lawsuit in Mecosta County Circuit Court against Nestle, seeking to prevent the pumping, arguing that it was not a legally defined "reasonable use" of water and violated state and federal regulations regarding water rights. Judge Lawrence Root presided, and ordered Nestle to stop pumping, on the basis that it impaired the local resources, lowering water levels at lakes and streams, causing the water temperature to change, and irreparable havoc in the entire ecosystem.

The commons has been under continuous assault since unbridled predatory capitalism gained serious momentum during the Reagan administration. This phenomenon is not unique to the United States, as the recent riots in Greece and France have shown. The conflict, as Seattle’s WTO protests gave earlier evidence, is now global. When speculators play the market, people starve. When the commons is privatized, people starve. As it currently stands, 1.1 billion people do not have access to potable water.

Roberta and I sometimes talk about moving to the Midwest. Life is cheaper than in glitzy, software-addled Seattle where Microsoft’s affluence continues to offset a more modest approach to living. We could afford a house in the Midwest. But having grown up, partly, on a farm in North Dakota, where I continued to have strong family connections for many years and reasons to visit, I can attest that the water there is hard and acidic. My father spent his retirement years in the Turtle Mountains, living in a cottage on a small lake near the Manitoba border, and made his coffee with bottled water, so that it wouldn’t taste so bitter.

It isn’t entirely the water that keeps us chained to Seattle. It has quite a few other amenities as well. Microsoft isn’t entirely to blame for its inflated real estate. But while our dreams are often abutted by the hard realities that go with living in an expensive city, it is the water that keeps them afloat.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Infinity's Orchid

Infinity’s orchid is abandoned in the cartilage of denotation. The testimony of string yields a different metaphor. It evergreens the animal chair. Injures the irony of indentation. Denim too racked to mood.

Dig for fangs in combination. Clapboard the tea with apparitions. Blood is lobster red and strikes this vein with sheen. Jaw joy is ocher. The lyric strength of stone explains the storage of age in a wrinkle of falling skin.

There is a tuna ship between two radical realities. The cemetery evokes a thumb. A mode of hat on the rue d’Orsel. Meanings with a crabby density manufacture consciousness in a roughneck. Elvis Presley singing Hound Dog on Ed Sullivan.

Perspective is but a spoon we’ll call secular. The noise of its imagery steadies the consciousness of a centipede in a ceremony of cellophane. Personality chews a palette of springs. Drag these smears to the smell of its opening. Tilt the granite toward the outside.

Buckle your gargle not because the ocean is spinning but because nature’s symmetry jokes at algebra. Mass has wax. Awed is washed for loops. Such bone as might propose a paradigm, a wide-eyed glitter provided with red. Oil and iron spooned in a garage.

All likes a fork in lightning. The desk is treading these words in suppositions of cotton. The arrival of an image makes everyone coffee. The birth of a thought argues the biology of a town. Kerosene mingles about a fulfillment.

An explanation fostered on gaudiness figures a fat prickling crinkle in the sound of a bistro. We are within the prophesy and its growling eggnog pediments. There is a feather in the story that has been thumbed by ganglions and moistened by your interest. It may alter the dwelling. It may stink of eyes.

The biography is hostile toward its own premise. Squirt it for diversion. Power whispers on the path. Awakens the willingness to branch into pronouns. The literal drift of piccolos through a dream of calculus.

There is more palette on a palate than pallets in a palace. These echoes have been tumbled in gauze and their effects tug at a sagging reality of twigs and artichokes. A drug distilled from the ecstasies of painters. Corot on a mountain, Braque in a field of broccoli.

Despair imposes cognition when it is squeezed. It is grease to a key of gravity. An eyeball dragging a caboose to the end of a sentence. Sympathy is deaf to the cries of platitude. This is an engine that conjugates charm, and this is a liquid thrilling with spoons.

Lucidity’s hospital is nutmeg’s Apollinaire. Willow begins a duty by bending in the wind. Milieu is a convocation of crabs crawling backwards. Glasses, or parables, whose meaning lingers in the pews of a dead excuse. Heave at Hinduism when your vertebrae seems to float.

The ceiling must dry in a proverb. Honors tease the cake of maneuvered daylight. Swords are crossed. Songs are sung. The aurora tumbles through its clouds, perforating the fossil of a tragic adjective.

Sheer attacks of improbable hawthorn have ignited the idea of cabs. Stork on a palomino. Another morning of fiduciary ambush compelling and insoluble. Hammer the snow for another heartwood dollar. Infinity is blue when it is lifted by a Fauve religion.

Black when a laughter exceeds its wheels. The seashore rolls through its description undoing itself on the sand. The chrome brocade of a lyric violence tastes of oarlocks and temptation. A clay nude volunteers her nipples. Baudelaire stews in a blob of subversive velvet.

A red intestine singing of rivers bicycles around an oval portrait. Limestone is implicit. Unification is rain. An elbow and a farm might be catalogued as monuments. Everything else is either an excursion, or experiencing dirt.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Essences And Sentences

Can one create a simulacrum of free will?


Free will is free will. It is either free, or it is not even will.

Free will, by itself, is sturdy. It is nascent. It is art. It is warrant. It is a block of thought and water baked into a brick of prose.

Think of this as a grape. Bursting, as Keats described, on your palate.

In, of all places, an ode to melancholy.

Then ask yourself: what sort of life have I led?

Writing is strangest when it moves through the eyes seeing the world for the first time. This is why I employ black to promote the power of red. Why sorcery overrides the dictates of logic. Why perceptions shine on the page. Why gauze is sometimes in fashion, and sometimes it is not.

We feel trapped in our own ideas. Dew beaded on the fronds of a fern, the gleam of rails in a train station.

Ink is a medium of the intellect. It is a fluid. It is sometimes black, sometimes blue. Its viscosity allows for expression. But it dries instantly. Allowing for durability. For pipes and canoes and the beckoning of the wilderness.

Pull a shape out of a chair, and you still have a chair. Essence is a sensation. I feel a surge of joy at the very idea of pi.

Europe, on the other hand, is accomplished by thinking. Lips flap, words fly. Spain is described as a luminous feeling. France is described as a story of bulbs and burgundy. England is described as Jimi Hendrix playing Voodoo Child on the Lulu Show.

I wear a mask of turbulent steam not to dissimulate, but to simulate the simmering of galaxies scribbled into space.

Like rattan. Talking fills the vineyards of autumn.

My friend, who are you?

This is my new metaphor: bone. Each personal history has a certain weight. Water reflects the vagaries of thought, and reverie, which is a soft light, a loaf of bread, and a squirrel. Everything of value stems from diversion.

For instance, I love the sound of rain. You can find everything in it. Everything and nothing. Definitions always fall short.

Avoid politics. Consciousness is fueled by amazement. A flight of steps embowered by sycamore.

Forgive me if my fingers infringe on the beatitude of your knees. The clarinet is a parable of valves. Listen to the robins. The world is accelerated by foment. Ronnie Wood in a beet field painting the sky. Braque, accompanied by Apollinaire, meeting Picasso for the first time. The physics of walking. The hardware of talking.

Distill a participle into a jar of pickles. Consider this an elegy of glass. Surly women. The smell of sex.

Les Demoiselles D’Avignon.

Is there a force strong enough to stop war? Such is my vision. My movements are telegraphic. A coherent incoherence. And so we danced all night. And the war came to an end. In our minds.

This is my knife. Watch as I hurl it. Watch as it bounces down the street. Clink, clink, clink.

No allegory is complete without a winner. Which is why a fight broke out at last night’s bingo game.

Fog argues with oak. Coalescence is a meridian in the rhapsody of a stump.

Each road is a mental adventure. A memory of silver. A thermometer registering the absurdity of winter’s temperatures.

It is astonishing how crude, vulgar, violent, and materialistic life in the U.S. has become.

The metamorphosis of thought is dramatized by tin.

Or a sweet and bubbly strain of music.

A squirrel sitting on a rock eating a peanut.

Our emotions are faster than pianos. Each river has two shores. The Beatle’s Revolver plays in a '94 Subaru.

In 2010. And nothing has changed. Except everything. Which was books. And ghosts. And words employed in melody.

Certain things cannot be denied. Especially cemeteries.

I find it strange that no one comments on these things.

I cannot give you a good reason as to why I write. But here is a sentence swarming with shrimp, and here is a polymer in the creation of a protein.

Here is a freshly squeezed Philippine sponge, dripping.

Here is a private thought. It’s invisible.

Except on paper, where it ceases to be private, and becomes a passion. An explanation. For the need of decoration. Ornaments and lies. And the little irritations that fill a day. Make it what it is. Or was meant to be.

A circumference. A farm. A declaration of freedom.

I am but a humble piece of meat, studying the curls of your hair.

What can a goldfish tell us of reality? Are we truly the inheritors of something sublime? Or merely deluded?

I cannot help but notice that our planet is dying. Even the dinosaurs weren’t this savage. They merely left a legacy of bones. Imprints and shells.

What will we leave behind?

Ideas of free will? How will they take shape? What form? What essence? What value?

Spars, whispers, paths. All of it gone. Gas stations included.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Some Remarks On David Markson

Tillalala Chronicles (henceforth TC) was not familiar with David Markson until June, 2010, when Steve Fama (The Glade Of Theoric Ornithic Hermetica) mentioned his passing in an email, after reading news of Markson’s passing at Silliman’s blog.

TC grew immediately intrigued when it was mentioned that Markson’s novels were based on collage, a non-linear assembly of anecdotes and facts.

TC has a preference for writing that is peripatetic, untied, nomadic, wandering, meandering, all-inclusive.

Drifting, journeying, itinerant, rambling.

Oscillating, pulsing, reaching, eccentric.

TC enjoys facts. Factoids.

For example, the clarinet has five sections: the mouthpiece, the tuning barrel, the upper middle joint, the lower middle joint, and the bell. It is the youngest member of the woodwind instruments and is the most elusive in its origins. It is a notoriously difficult instrument to play, its large number of perforations necessitated by its tendency to overblow, i.e. to pass into its second mode of vibration at the interval of a twelfth above the fundamental sounds, rather than at the octave. Semitones are needed in the primary scale without recourse to fork-fingering, and to link, chromatically, the top of the primary scale with the twelfth.

If David Markson were a musical instrument, he would be a clarinet.

The clarinet was Mozart’s favorite instrument. TC imagines he loved it for its dreaminess, and the infinite range of its compass.

TC wonders if the quality of dreaminess might conflict with the use of collage, since by nature collage is fragmentary, and dreams are sequential, however crazy and eccentric the sequence happens to be.

TC just answered his own question.

Digressive, errant, disconnected, random.

In 1844, a patent was granted for a clarinette à anneaux mobiles. Thus was born the Boehm System clarinet, the preferred instrument of most clarinet players.

The clarinet has many accidentals, notes whose pitch is outside the mode indicated by the key signature.

Deviant, anomalistic, unusual, offbeat.

Everything a mainstream book editor would hate.

To date, TC has read two Markson novels: This Is Not A Novel and The Last Novel.

In This Is Not A Novel, TC noted that a preponderate number of facts had to do with a writer’s or artist’s death, the date they died, and the cause of their death. This left an overwhelming impression of mortality and gave rise to thoughts of a somewhat morbid nature, mainly that the knowledge that we will one day die is the central sad fact of the human condition, and that many writers die as a result of poverty, neglect, and suicide.

In The Last Novel, TC noted that the issue of poverty was emphasized in its litany of facts pertaining to writers living in extremities of financial need, the author’s own in some instances, presented with a certain baldness, no trace of self-pity at all, simply a recognition that this is what is to be expected if one so chooses to be a writer, and write as one’s genius encourages one to write, not as the market dictates.

TC read both books while lying on the couch. This is TC’s chief mode of literary delectation. With the weight off one’s body, and the sense of repose augmented by a supine position, one’s mind is best able to absorb vagaries of thought and nuances of insight.

Reading anything for a duration on an electronic screen is impossible, which makes TC wonder about the merit of keeping a blog.

TC found it difficult to stop reading both Markson novels, for reasons that cannot be explained, since there is no plot, no character development, nothing to induce one to keep turning pages, except for the grace of many of the sentences, the quirkiness of many others, and the fascinating facts pertaining to the creative life.

TC loves to see blocks of prose. Beckett’s How It Is, nearly all of Paul Metcalf’s writing, Cioran’s De l’inconvénient d’être né, and Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons are further examples. Blocks of prose elevate a sense of materiality, make language look like something you can pick up, like a glass or vase, and turn it around, and examine it while feeling it with one’s hands. It is an illusion, but a very compelling one.

TC found it droll the way Markson chose to begin certain paragraphs or sentences with the name of a city, country, date, or circumstance, and end it with a preposition. It sounded clunky, deliberately so, as if there were something to be said for clunkiness in writing, in the same way dissonant notes sound so alluring in jazz and rock n’roll.

One of Markson’s earlier novels is called The Ballad Of Dingus Magee, and was made into a movie, Dirty Dingus Magee, starring Frank Sinatra. TC will keep an eye out for a DVD and watch it one day. TC doubts that he will enjoy a more conventional approach to writing by the same author, but is hopeful of being surprised, and proved wrong.

Frank Sinatra!

TC notes that the sentence Old. Tired. Sick. Alone. Broke. appears several times in The Last Novel. But isn’t each word considered a sentence? What makes a sentence, a sentence?

Old. Tired. Sick. Alone. Broke.

That sums it up.

The measure of a man’s greatness would be in terms of what his work cost him.
Wittgenstein once told someone.

The above is a quote from page 147 of The Last Novel. It is pertinent to mention that Wittgenstein was born into wealth, and gave away nearly his whole fortune to his brothers and sisters. TC surmises that it is doubtful that Wittgenstein’s use of the word ‘cost’ has anything at all to do with money, though money would be part of the picture.

TC wonders how Markson knew The Last Novel would be his last novel. Was it the severity of his illness? Did Markson set out to write this work until he died, knowing that his death was inevitable, and imminent? Is that what happened? It is said his two children found his body lying in bed in his Greenwich Village apartment. That must have been sad, and grim, and upsetting, for all involved.

Though perhaps not for Markson. Unless ghosts exist. And Markson's ghost was hanging around his apartment when his children stopped by. Rather than heading straight to heaven, or whatever might constitute an afterlife, assuming one's personality remains intact, and is able to hear and see and maintain a conversation, or make sounds, like the howling in castles late at night, and the jangle of chains.

Why chains?

TC would not rule out feelings of relief, either, for all involved, in matters of death, and the death in particular, of a loved one, someone with whom you have spent a good portion of your life, or shared deep and intimate feelings.

TC speculates whether it might be a little gauche, or insensitive, to speculate on the feelings of other people, complete strangers. TC is drawing from his own experience and extrapolating on the feelings of others, adding to his supposition memories of people he has seen in grief and mourning, or eating and laughing at funerals. He has seen people laugh and be grief-stricken at the same time.

TC has known people who loved their parents deeply, people who grew irreparably distant from their parents, and people who despised their parents.

There is no regularity in human life.

There is no consistency in human life.

No absolutes. No universal truths. Nothing static. Nothing pre-determined.

Everything in TC’s life has been surprising, unpredictable, shocking, appalling, nerve-wracking, exciting, disturbing, thrilling, painful, joyful, and often just plain weird.

TC hates doing book reviews, but becomes instantly conflicted, convoluted, contradictory and confusing when trying to explain why he occasionally assents to do them, or does so, as now, completely on his own, with no one tugging at his sleeve, except his own inclinations, many of which make no sense, or provide any rational motivation, at least none that can be explained without, at some level, bringing in a paradoxical elasticity, like the elliptical orbit of planets, which also makes no sense.

This review is fun to write because it is not a review.

The numerous references to alcohol in The Last Novel are frequently funny, reminding TC of what fun it used to be to drink, until TC lost the ability to stop drinking, and so had to stop drinking permanently.

Does this make sense?

TC often notes, with a sense of oppressive futility and profound discouragement, at how few people read anymore.

TC often notes, with a sense of oppressive futility and profound discouragement, the utter lack of curiosity he frequently encounters among people.

TC often notes, with a sense of oppressive futility and profound discouragement, how obedient people have become lately. Taking their shoes off at the airport, submitting their bodies to X-ray scans, taking jobs for absurdly low amounts of pay, sheepishly avoiding talks of unionizing, earnestly avoiding talk about the obvious controlled demolition of the world trade towers and building number seven on September 11th, 2001, after passenger jets, ostensibly flown by Islamic terrorists, slammed into them.

But not building number seven. Which came down hours afterward. At around five in the afternoon. And had simply caught fire.

TC wishes he could have met David Markson, and perhaps corresponded.

TC is enormously happy to have discovered the work of David Markson.

The writing is remarksonable.

TC likes the jingle of nails in a paper sack freshly purchased from a hardware store, and finds an immediate analogue in writers such as David Markson, or Clark Coolidge, or Gertrude Stein.

That is to say: sentences built with words.

Like nails.

Pounded into wood.

Pine. Oak. Mahogany. Maple.

Birch. Cedar. Buttonwood. Fir.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dream Of Distant Suns

First think of a knife and next to it a joke doing edges. This will only take a minute. Then tangential to a nimble France believe in a workshop for making snowshoes. And now I ask: how much does a mind weigh? Ten pounds of blue squeezed into cotton. Only later will it become a bruise.

The personality is catalogued more appropriately as a pumpkin, or species of conversation. The liberation of old apparitions dances a novel into cuticles and bulbs. Depth is alive in its heft. Opinions balloon in Montmartre. Duty is not the same as an elevator.

Here is the hem the elation erects. A canoe of monumental eloquence out to enthrall a scruple of feathers draws itself through the sentence creating vowels and waves. Dimension truffles are not the same as astronomy or eggs. There is a light which spoons the heart and causes gloves to mount impairment. Timelessness is always needed at the smell of abalone.

This is written while coffee, as pumpernickel, pleases feeling. It is dusty to gasoline the violin. Clumsy from almonds, I can tumble toward the synchronization of cardboard. Only heft is charming, and those are railroads. You will have to look here to see an elephant dipped in symptoms of jurisprudence. Grammar treads itself to shift a nerve or two into buckles.

Circumference is fast to honor its surface. The moon paraphrases a tide pool wherein the vowels are thrilling and slow. The mud sparkles into structure and ears. The bank denies its inertia. Grain from a surge of intent brings ocher to the heart as a shape inspirits the clouds.

The occurrence of mahogany means the table is a cat. Figure itself is square and exhumed and arms that fill the embroidery with an army of shades. A mink arrives in infinite ganglions. The sleep in delectation blazes a wilderness of stethoscopes and tigers. There is a winch which gives nature a lap and a ritual that swells into paradox, harmonies carved from chaos and a circle disturbed by parallels.

Bracken chafes the pilings. Flotsam bobs on a greenish water. There is a monster within that distorts the world to vapor and parenthetical odors leaning into it with pulse and neon. A hoe marks the ground. A kill becomes sand.

Semen is the same as legs. The sensation works its way up another punished universe where pleading is fast and sighing is mohair. Space stirs within a block of dimes. A pineapple umbrella entertains the asphalt. Decipherment exceeds its clothing.

Charcoal is a resource in feeling. A daub of paint becomes conspicuous when space holds the lake but not its propellers. The revelation is enhanced by fencing, or radiation. Etruscan spars give the air the subtleties of an indispensable racket that plays its way into ink and harmonicas. The paragraph turns green over its peculiarities, declaring a door that burns with elucidation.

The saga, tailored in its beginnings, turns naked in elation. Paint this road into your mind with a scrupulous predicament. Assemble a gaudy caboose. Swans break the hospital. Description sways with a spirit of process.

Interiors are personified by a stinging clutter, a certain clarity in fabric that fondles the eyes, dragging their scrutiny to a creaminess invented by Braque. They scribble themselves toward the upheaval of clouds. Name at least one sensation that doesn’t ignite a guitar. The house houses itself by blueprint and snow, not a mawkish suppository of perfunctory stucco.

Being examines its blisters, exceeding itself by imitating an algebra of roots and boiling modulations of punctual blue. It is natural to push a wrinkle into grammar. But do not expect the bones to get up and dance. The air is indulged on a string of words. Echoes perturb the adjectives imposed on the structure of a fast consciousness heaving with autumn and infrared hats.

What is required is an aesthetic that reclaims trigonometry, performs like Buffalo Bill, adheres to unpredictable planets, and washes infinity in ghostly thermometers. Flirt it stern, then tickle it around. Hobnob in the ceiling. Gold and jellyfish smell of pulse. Be parliamentary by denying the next plague.

But be wise by accepting willow. The sawdust is much admired by our staff in the lumberyard. Consonants clean the explosion of thought in a cap of increase. Not since circles were circles did a rectangle seem so modular. An odd emotion modeled on cedar illumines the incense, and a brain bent by oak maps itself as a bent idea.

Ideas bent into moonlight smell of evocation. A song of red, a poem by Stephane Mallarmé, a sorcerer soothing a wild ocean. The glaze of a kneecap can shine like a fugue unbinding a terrible moose. Carry a jug in syntax peremptorily cornered by sound. Flap that sky into Picasso, headlights innovating the highway in their dream of distant suns.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

L'hirondelle blanche

Joë Bousquet was gravely wounded on May 27th, 1918, at Vailly near the Aisne battle lines at the end of the First World War. A bullet entered his back and shattered his vertebrae. He would be paralyzed for life. He was twenty one years old. He spent the rest of his life in a shuttered bedroom, in Carcassonne, at 19, then 41, then finally 53 rue de Verdun, lying in bed, smoking opium, and writing poetry. A bullet, he wrote, a bullet

in the vertebral column, my spinal marrow smashed, my legs paralyzed, a single bullet will take thirty-two years to kill me. Alone, lying in my bed, I attained such heights that I dug into the sky. Enclosed in my bedroom, enclosed in my body, I shined in this immobile light. The bad as well as the good has its sky in me; and I know the voluptuous satisfaction of not being mediocre in anything. Each day I rediscover that I have been wounded, that I am wounded and I owe to this wound the knowledge that everyone has been wounded as me. I was born March 19th, 1897, at Narbonne, I was hit by a bullet in the vertebral column May 27th, 1918 at Vailly on the front, I was twenty one. Who am I such that one sees me, floating between two identities, the one of my heart and the one of my death?

I first heard “L’hirondelle blanche” (The White Swallow) a few days ago, on September 6th, 2010. Each day, Monday through Friday, La Comedie Française presents a poem on the French radio station France Culture, which broadcasts in France but is also available online, which is how I came to hear Bousquet’s poem.

The poem engulfed me. I was entranced. Fascinated. There was an enigma at the heart of the poem that had something to do with this world and the next; not the afterlife, but the world we do not see unless, by some extraordinary means, a drug or a poem, a painting or piece of music, our senses are so elevated that we can see, as William Blake put it, infinity in a grain of sand.

I had a difficult time translating the poem. Bousquet’s syntax is very dense and convoluted. This impaction contributes to the sense of enclosure the poem delineates, a verbal density contrasted by images of the sky, and what the French term clair-obscur, or chiaroscuro, the mingling of light and shade to dramatize an image or idea.

Here is the poem. I have included the original below.

          The White Swallow

It is not night upon the earth; obscurity lurks, wanders around
And I know shadows so absolute that all form perambulates a
and becomes a presentiment, perhaps the dawn of a regard.

These shadows are in us. A devouring obscurity inhabits us.
The shivers of the pole are nearer to me than this stinking hell
where I cannot breathe myself.
No sounding can measure these densities: because my appearance
      is in one space
and my entrails in another; I ignore it because neither my eyes
      nor voice can see it or hear it
nor is one in the other.

It is day your regard exiled from your face
Cannot find your eyes turning around you
But in a double enclosed mirror on another space
Where the highest star extinguishes itself in your voice.

Upon a body that silvers with the rising tides
The day ripens the oblivion of an immaculate pole
And moistens upon your eyelashes a star expired
Upon the rainbow that it draws from the roots of the wheat.

The days that put their odor to sleep under your rosy flanks
Gather themselves in your eyes that open without seeing yourself
And their wings of silk enroll in your enclosed night
The earth where the entire night is but the overture of an evening.

The shadow hides a smuggler of fragrant absences
It loses upon your hands the day which was your eyes
And like the consumed whiteness in the hollow of a lily
Smashes on the wire of these nights a sky too large for them.

It blackens in me, but I am not this shadow although rather heavy
for darkening a day.
This night is: one could say that it has made my eyes today and
      closed me off from what they see.
Colors tinted blue since I see them only through my depths,
reds that illumine my blood, black that sees my heart.

Night of the sky, poor enclosed shade, you are the only night for
      my lashes.

Very little ash has made this bouquet of eyelids
And which is neither this ash or this effaced world
When its fists of sleep carry all the earth
Where neither love nor night have ever begun.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

          L’hirondelle blanche

Il ne fait pas nuit sur la terre; l’obscurité rôde, elle erre autour du
Et je sais des ténèbres si absolue que toute forme y promène une
et y devient le pressentiment, peut-être l’aurore d’un regard.

Ces ténèbres sont en nous. Une dévorante obscurité nous habite.
Les froids du pôle sont plus près de moi que ce puant enfer
où je ne pourrais pas me respirer moi-même.
Aucune sonde ne mesurera ces épaisseurs: parce que mon
      apparence est dans un espace
et mes entrailles dans un autre; je l’ignore parce que mes yeux, ni
      ma voix, ni le voir, ni l’entendre
ne sont dans l’un ni l’autre.

Il fait jour ton regard exilé de at face
Ne trouve pas tes yeux en s’entourant de toi
Mais un double miroir clos sur un autre espace
Don’t l’astre le plus haut s’est éteint dans ta voix.

Sur un corps qui s’argente au croissant des marées
Le jour mûrit l’oubli d’un pôle immaculé
Et mouille à tes longs cils une étoile expirée
De l’arc-en-ciel qu’il draine aux racines des blés.

Les jours que leur odeur endort sous tes flancs roses
Se cueillent dans tes yeux qui s’ouvrent sans te voir
Et leur aile de soie enroule à ta nuit close
La terre où toute nuit n’est que l’ouvre d’un soir.

L’ombre cache un passeur d’absences embaumées
Elle perd sur tes mains le jour qui fut tes yeux
Et comme au creux d’un lis sa blancheur consumée
Abîme au fil des soirs un ciel trop grand pour eux.

Il fait noir en moi, mais je ne suis pas cette ténèbre bien qu’assez
pour y sombrer un jour.
Cette nuit est: on dirait qu’elle a fait mes yeux d’aujourd’hui et me
      ferme à ce qu’ils voient.
Couleurs bleutées de ce que je ne vois quaver ma profounder,
rouges que m’éclaire mon sang, noir que voit mon coeur…

Nuit de ciel, pauvre ombre éclose, tu n’es la nuit que pour mes

Bien peu de cendre a fait ce bouquet de paupières
Et qui n’est cette cendre et ce monde effacé
Quand ses poings de dormeur portent toute la terre
Où l’amour ni la nuit n’ont jamais commencé.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Promulgating Pollock

Writing is a mysterious pursuit. So cerebral. So sedentary. So openly prescriptive.

What if I approach it the same way as Pollock a dance of energy a furious energy driving the words into cinnamon or simple fidgeting a dripping dropping drooling smearing smudging daubing lobbing energy of smells and textures evolving into a paragraph a mob of Möbius strippers a field of force a grammar of movement all the while stirring a pot of soup a transformation of words in movement in space turpentine and paint in a corner?

What would that yield? Beget? Engender? Erect?

What if I hurled myself into language? Dove into a pool of words? Rode a goat through a hurricane? Spurt syllables? Ejaculated nouns? Conjured slop? Diffused a lurid turbulency of concussive color and gusts of Hellenic muck? Fluttered around a paragraph dropping toboggans of kinetic cognition? Flicked my brush? Flickered my mind? Pickled my brine?

What if I bring something fresh and original into existence and a fugue drops out of my mouth assumes a life of its own paroles my cat loses my socks and marries my wife?

The signs are sounds cartilage and bone. If I had a hammer I would build a grain of salt a Freudian slip a plover a graupel a girl scout dancing in a graveyard of Greek fire nux vomica rosettes of tubulous cowlick a perception an existence a skin a color a shape a compilation of scales and fins a greed for expression trapeze and lions and women with sparkly feet.

I need to pry the air open and see what is there. Wrought iron balcony in Paris a wrist of water on an arm of mud.

The poem may be defined as an animal. It pops and crackles doing cartwheels on a nipple. It is a daub of black glistening and gloppy. It eats language. It wallows in languor. It lives for resonance. It bleeds Xmas.

Structure is irritating fluidity is lustrous please invite me into your mind for a minute or two I will pull a nebula of tongues out of my head charm you by balancing a tense in a blob of red. I will show you a stethoscope in a pool of mustard in a California garage. I will fold a napkin into a pound of summer or an ounce of fall. I will strum a guitar pregnant with ghosts.

This is a thesis in conflict with itself a testimony of muscle and blood a chiaroscuro philosopher in a Rembrandt quiet. A story unfolding in sand and wind. An ear with metal a bright and shining star dangling from a lobe. You may infuse time with description a fire glowing in the corner of a boxcar a grove of trees circling a pond a face on fire with rapture.

Does anything matter everything matters particularly matter. An array of objects in a soft blue room the ruminations of a cow a bug full of phosphor glowing on a Minnesota night black coffee in a yellow mug a pitcher with a crackly glaze of red and green. There is an ocean in my head sobbing with headlines. The surf is an angel the sand is wet the words are bearing the weight of a table in a New Mexico diner. Pepper and salt. Emily and Walt. Reuben sandwich and a raspberry malt. The rest is silence.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How Fast Writing Became Far Writing

Lately I’ve been reading Le comte de Monte-Cristo and came to a reference to the telegraph at a time, 1815, when the telegraph did not exist. How could such a glaring mistake blemish a work of such outstanding historical accuracy? I was quite certain the telegraph did not come into use until the late 19th century, putting the Pony Express out of business, and ditting and dotting the excitement of presidential elections and the arrival and bluster of dignitaries amid the excesses and pandemonium of the Gilded Age.

The telegraph was frequently an important prop in westerns, serving to stress the distances of the American west and symbolize its fragile connections to the more civilized east.

In Edwin S. Porter’s 1903 The Great Train Robbery, bandits beat up the telegraph operator, and in High Noon Gary Cooper’s wedding is interrupted when the telegraph operator runs to tell him that outlaw Frank Miller has been pardoned.

So what’s a telegraph doing in France in 1815, warning Louis XVIII that Napoleon, “the usurper,” has left the island of Elba and landed at a small port, near Antibes, in the Gulf of Juan?

Because it is a different type of telegraph altogether than the device usually envisioned, the staccato tapping of a key that transmits electrical signals through wires strung from pole to pole for hundreds of miles. The telegraph to which Dumas refers does not use electricity. It is more of a semaphore, or series of semaphores. In essence, an optical system composed of black movable wooden arms, the position of which indicated alphabetic letters. The arms were equipped with counterweights, called “forks,” and were controlled by two handles, with a capacity of producing different angles for a total of 196 symbols. Each device was called a station, and the stations were arranged in a series to convey messages via relay. Napoleon carried a portable semaphore with his headquarters.

Claude Chappe, the inventor, called his system a tachygraph, meaning “fast writer.” A friend suggested a better term: telegraph, which means “far writer.”

Far writer is better because it combines signage with strategy, icon with flight. It involves code and collusion and vastness and dance. These contraptions must have appeared to be dancing as their bars were jerked and bounced into different patterns. Each repeating the next. It must have seemed a little eerie to see these things in action, conveying news of historical events, eruptions, convulsions, treacheries, celebrations. The world had begun to shrink. It marked the fecundity of figuration, the triumph of pattern. The semaphore had become a metaphor. Language had become a dragon, a creature of flight and fire.

The word ‘semaphore’ comes from the Greek, sema meaning sign and phore meaning agent, bearer, or producer of a specified thing.

Likewise metaphor. The Greek word meta is slippery, hard to pin down. It means, variously, "after", "beyond", "with", "adjacent", "self". In the case of metaphor, it would be natural to assume that meta means “beyond.” But in the case of metalanguage, language about language, or metaemotion, an emotion about an emotion, it would clearly mean “self.”

A personal favorite is metaphysics, which comes from the title of a work by Aristotle, Ta meta ta phusika, meaning “the things beyond physical things.”

In Aristotle’s time, metaphysics referred to any phenomenon outside matter. This would include ideas about existence, being, essence, objecthood, property, space, time, causality and possibility.

Ghosts, eidolons, shadows, Doppelgängers, banshees, werewolves, demons, fiends, seraphim, cherubim, angels, dreams, prophecies, premonitions, omens, good, evil, immaculate conceptions, dirty conceptions, archetypes, compassion, intuition, Furies, afterlife, bliss, nirvana, Beulah Land, ascension, apotheosis, Asgard, Elysium, thisness, thatness, whatness, Zarathustra, Marilyn Manson and Iggy Pop.

Everything for which one would require the function of far writing, or far out writing, rather than fast writing, which is for stenographers, court reporters, bop spontaneity, and fevered surrealists.

In which case fast writing metamorphoses into far writing.

Lines cast far and distant into streams of glittering chatter.