Monday, July 31, 2006


A lot of it is making constellations. Thus:

William Blake - : - (Ezra Pound) + (Gertrude Stein) + (Sigmund Freud) + (H.D.) - : - Alfred North Whitehead - : - Charles Olson - : - Walt Whitman - : - Jack Spicer - : - Robert Duncan

Whitehead is central. As Devin Johnston notes in the chapter "Sublime Undoing" in 'Precipitations' "Duncan returned to Whitehead throughout his life".

& how about this from Emily Dickinson:


To hear an Oriole sing
May be a common thing -
Or only a divine.

It is not of the Bird
Who sings the same, unheard,
As unto Crowd -

The Fashion of the Ear
Attireth that it hear
In Dun, or fair -

So whether it be Rune,
Or whether it be none
Is of within.

The “Tune is in the Tree,”
The Skeptic - showeth me -
“No Sir! In Thee!”


Line 3 is the detonator - "only" !

Friday, July 28, 2006

Great Book

Martin Corless-Smith's books are coming into a new focus as I look back through 'Complete Travels' and 'Of Piscator' from the vantage point of his more recent 'Nota' and his latest 'Swallows'. I'm less wowed by the verbal oddity - six years ago that was what struck me most - now it's the serious historical dimension to the work. A textual politics of language, history, poetry and his own position as a writer 'here' and 'there' (the Englishman abroad). Furthermore, I see his debt to Susan Howe much more clearly - although, as he says in an online interview, their purposes are different.

I also sense his background in painting pervading the work in subtler ways. Not because of the 'arty' covers or drawings (eg 'Complete Travels') but in terms of his sense of composition, how he makes and conceives of his books.

Let's take the cover to 'Swallows' - 'A Wall in Naples' by Thomas Jones, a late 18th/early 19thC Welsh painter who really did exist (with M. C-S you're never quite sure). It's a revealing choice and directly relevant to M. C-S's poetics. You can see the cover via the Fence site:

i) a stretch of wall in what could be an exercise in realism, the picturesque or even a 19thC attempt at a snapshot. Yet it's noticeable how the door, window and empty squares left by fallen bricks move toward abstraction. Similarly, the technique effaces itself in some areas to achieve a pictorial realism while in others remains defiantly painterly in its daubs and brushmarks.

Transfer to M.C-S's poetry and there is a similar tension between depiction and surface formalism. It could be 'safe' and reactionary - a kind of National Trust revival of older Englishes for posterity. Yet, M. C-S is constantly jamming such reassuring nostalgia, problematizing it time and again (a good phrase for this writing) in terms of history, context, register and material distribution.

ii) Formal language - the painter's & the poet's. In the painting each cloth 'is' a colour. Thomas Jones subtly working with the vocabulary of the painter (the primaries etc) just as M. C-S will work his poems via vowel and consonant variations right at the same time a poem seems to be pushing out to a 'tangible' rural landscape or event.

iii) The canvas unframed, photographed (presumably for Gallery archiving?), evidence of curatorial protective brown papers & labels, and - along the bottom edge of the cover - a thin strip of a printer/artist's colour chart.
We're not given a detail - that would be the Penguin Modern Classics approach implying art as 'life-styled' paperback material. Here the image and the status of the image (a painting, on/not on display, part of musuem curatorial decisions and policy, copyrightable, available for reproduction as here, etc) are being deliberately insisted upon.

And so it is with M. C-S's poetry. Take the citations. To accuse him of bulking out a volume by using his reading notes is to miss the point (although on this, see later). Instead, these are citations which call in question themselves, their sourcing, the very act of citation (in good/bad 'faith'?), their relation to the 'original' writing, textual property. And, inevitably, just as a series of works or relics exist in a gallery deprived of their 'original' site - there is an inevitable sense of loss (argh! now I must re-read Thomas Browne, Donne, ... to 'know' the real resonance of the lines) as of gain (how these words sparkle lifted from their textual homes). No wonder one section is called 'Kunstkammer'.

Time prevents me from exhaustively listing the different sections within the volume, the initially disconcerting sequencing of citations, jottings, texts which are/are not poems, an interlude, blank pages. Nevertheless, what's clear is how carefully the volume has been thought out in terms of the significance of sequence, inter-relation of text, separation of material into a discrete entity as against allowing writing to 'disseminate' (or would 'migrate' be a better term?). How William Williamson (the doppleganger of M. C-S?) has left his texts inscribed on the walls of his house (rather like W. S. Graham pinning his poems around his caravan) and there's the (deliberately) poor photo of a putative mss. with its illegible autograph. How, later on, in 'Journal (Home)' we get a page ripped from M. C-S's notebook (reminiscent of Ric Caddell's last book 'Writing in the Dark'). Which is the more 'authentic'? And what is the status of notebook writing to final version?

...... a thunderstorm brewing ... I'll hurry the rest ...

Yes, this book is so carefully thought out. Yet, simultaneously it's pulling itself apart by questioning at every turn (of the page) what goes with what, who wrote what, what value has this (any?) writing. What really differentiates between scribble and inspired insight, holograph and apocrypha? Might the whole volume be a last effort in desperation as M. C-S chucks his work books & failed drafts at the publisher and runs off into the mountains? An appropriately Romantic gesture - nothing but fragments! The Vision has been lost!


"There is no home - there is only searching"

A lovely quote - and attributed (of course) to William Williamson (who doesn't 'exist' - but then again, who does?).

Maybe - and remember, I haven't actually read the text yet - this is M. C-S's first novel - a Gothic one, at that. I'm reminded of the interlayerings of 'Wuthering Heights' or 'Dr Jekyll' - as textual, temporal and architectural space shift and merge.

Who else is thinking this carefully about the book and the poems of which it consists? Yes, Susan Howe. Lisa Robertson - eg 'Debbie'; Lisa Jarnot - eg 'Some Other Kind of Mission'; Christian Bok? And Alan Halsey (an obvious mentor for M. C-S). Who else?

I need to.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Today I resume reading Moby Dick

"Bungle away at it then, and bring it to me (turns to go). Oh, Life! Here I am, proud as Greek god, and yet standing debtor to this blockhead for a bone to stand on! Cursed be that mortal inter-indebtedness which will not do away with ledgers. I would be free as air; and I'm down in the whole world's books. I am so rich, I could have given bid for bid with the wealthiest Praetorians at the auction of the Roman empire (which was the world's); and yet I owe for the flesh in the tongue I brag with. By heavens! I'll get a crucible, and into it, and dissolve myself down to one small, compendious vertebra. So." (Chapter CVIII, 'Ahab and the Carpenter', Moby Dick)

Thus Ahab.

Good, isn't it?

Better - breathtaking.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

"Hedge crickets sing"

Spent a couple of hours reading & thinking about a few paragraphs by Robert Grenier in the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E book. He takes Keats' phrase - "hedge crickets sing" - an argues for an absolute attention to sound. Although Keats respects the 'norms' of grammar and vocabulary - Coolidge will later break the word & syntax down - he nevertheless exploits the 'atomic' potential of each word.

Grenier highlights the number of monosyllabic movements in Keats' verse which allow each sound its duration, resonance, impact.

As I read it, Grenier seems to be arguing for a return to a more 'natural' language - rather strange for this volume. I'm reminded of Brakhage's experiments in cinema as a way to retrive a child's way of seeing by bypassing habits of perception. Grenier seems to want the word before common sense habits/rationality/literacy and the 'scan reading' impulse take over.

His argument seems to be that this is how nature sounds. As I'm reading in the garden so a pigeon calls - "coo hoo" I approximate - other birds go "cheep" - a bee whizzes past. Each is a sound which is heard as a sound without interpretation. 'Meaning' is identical to the physical fact of the sound (I'm paraphrasing pretty closely).

Two things. One. Is Grenier implying a kind of eco-politico-poetics - rather like Pauline Oliveros & Deep Listening? Our duty is to become 'tuned' to the sounds around us rather than subdue them into background noise. And that a more tuned listening would necessarily create more attuned living? (If I hear your sounds of pain I cannot bomb you? If I hear the birds sing I don't lay waste the forest?)

Two. A dubiously conventional argument - although dressed up in more radical guise - for onomatopoeia? Keats 'captures' the sound of crickets in the sibillant buzz of terminal and initial 's' sounds? The rub of 'ck' sounds in "cricket"? I think not - but it's not made very clear. Rather, Grenier seems to accept an unbridgeable gap between 'world' and 'word'. However, the language has its own effects. How 's' works against 's'. A micro-instance of massive potential within the language which offers a 'rhyme' with universal (in Grenier's term 'the beyond') energies. Rather than apply a competence reading (how well does Keats capture the sound of this insect in words?) work in terms of events in the language without recourse to representation. A happening said. In other words.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Reader's Digest

"I say so strange a dreaminess did there then reign all over the ship and all over the sea, only broken by the intermitting dull sound of the sword, that it seemed as if this were the Loom of Time, and I myself were a shuttle mechanically weaving and weaving away at the Fates. There lay the fixed threads of the warp subject to but one single, ever returning, unchanging vibration, and that vibration merely enough to admit of the crosswise interblending of other threads with its own. This warp seemed necessity; and here, thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own destiny into these unalterable threads." (Moby Dick, 'The Mat-Maker')

Do you choose a book? The problem with book clubs, reading groups, course syllabuses, publisher's Book Of The Month. No, the book chooses you.

Take a book & sound it. Plumbing the depths while also being alert for surfaces. Making yourself available to its compulsions. If necessary to leave it alone to develop within you (its negatives) - or to develop you.

Reading to write. Reading to open. Opening yourself to what the text might transmit (Spicer). Being prepared to allow certain images, lines, words to open up beyond the confines of the text.

A paranoiac reading? An intoxicated reading? A cultivated de-regulation of the senses - common sense above all?

Narrative exposed as a lure, a distraction, cheap thrills. The reading that matters is vertical - vertiginal? - plunging without guarantee of limit, floor or reason.

The text traps energies. Reading as occult art, a conjuring, a summons.

Think Iain Sinclair. Think Clark Coolidge on H.P. Lovecraft. Think Coleridge. Think Philip K. Dick (aka Horselover Fat).

The equation: 'Out There' = 'In Here'. Universe is Mind.

Reading, opening, revealing, a re-membering of the dis(re)membered textual Body. Fragments of the text containing shivers of the Truth. The Word behind the word. The "cable" (cabal) of Scripture.

Moby Dick (the novel) as force field. Olson & Duncan Openers of the Field. Whale as prey? The hunter becomes the hunted. The reader becomes read. The whale is a prism (prison) of energies. The Impossible. The Unknowable. The whale is the Whole within which we hear the Hole. "For all these reasons, then, any way you may look at it, you must needs conclude that the great Leviathan is that one creature in the world which must remain unpainted to the last. True, one portrait may hit the mark much nearer than another, but none can hit it with any very considerable degree of exactness." ('Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales') No over-view, no encapsulating Idea, no all-encompassing theory.

Hunt the whale & you're sent off elsewhere. Shoals of red herrings. Re-read Homer. Re-read Coleridge. Who else? Each reading is a re-reading since when did you really begin - and how can you end? How can you quantify a book which itself opens into a dictionary & anthology of quotations?

Inside. Outside. You get in to get out. A Moby-us Trip indeed.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

We're still here ...

... but suffering from the effects of the Belgian summer (ie it is just too hot & tempting to sit outside or go swimming or take the girls to the park.)

Monday some sort of routine re-establishes itself. I hope.

Reading bits of Lisa Robertson's volumes - 'Debbie', 'The Weather', and 'Soft Architecture' - parallel to the feature in The Chicago Review. Discovering all sorts of possibilities.

Martin Corless-Smith's 'Nota' is also fabulous for what it suggests as much as for what it does. (I wonder whether the author photo is intentionally reminiscent of the young Auden?).

Sweaty nights. Cats squealing in the streets. Thunder.

Take out three CDs by Alanis Morissette in an attempt to track down one song which continues to tantalize me (meaning it is playing in various shops when I enter but I never get to know the title). Finally discover it is off the fourth CD 'Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie' I didn't borrow. I suppose I'm trying to make connections across Canadian L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E women poets (eg L. Robertson & Christine Stewart) to 'mainstream' popettes such as Alanis. Not the most obvious route, I know ...

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

We're back & it's ...

... 36 degrees C.

We didn't read as much as we intended. We didn't write as much as we thought we might. Then again, we never do.

Anyway, lots of ideas.

Thank you to everyone in Norway for putting us up/putting up with us. And we're very pleased that Uncle Charlie is heading to Madrid for a year.

Thank you to the Chicago Review who finally got the 'recent' issue to Belgium.

And thank you to Amazon who never cease to amaze us with prompt delivery of books & CDs which await us on arrival.

And, finally, congratulations to all our IB students who did so well - the results were even better than I'd expected. Yep, it was worth it!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Homeward bound ...

As of 7am tomorrow Belgianwaffle heads home for Brussels via a one-night stop in northern Denmark and a further overnighter in Bremen. All things being equal we should be back in Belgianwaffle HQ mid-afternoon Wednesday.

The Anne Waldman book is very good indeed - her ideas about poetry & architecture very stimulating. And there's plenty more besides. I'm going to have another look at 'Fast Talking Woman' when I get back.

Weather: hot & sunny. Lake temperature: bearable.

Friday, July 14, 2006

"we breathe off language"

"Maybe the most revolutionary act these days is not to watch television and to read a book a day at least. And to study another threatened species or culture or language not your own and to keep involved with a local issue. Stay on the case. And vote. Be a guardian." (Anne Waldman, 'Vow to Poetry')

Spent yesterday reading this volume - a lucky find in the Bø college library.

Mountain, lake, sunshine, book. Just gets better & better.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

...and what exactly is a dream & what exactly is a joke?

Syd Barrett has died.

As an impressionable fourteen year-old in late 1970s London I left yellow cards printed 'The Madcap Laughs But Shall Return' in odd places - and, ironically, it's just possible Barrett would have been in and around Earls Court at this time before his long walk back to Cambridge. Who knows?

I adored (and still do) both of the 'original' albums - 'The Madcap Laughs' and 'Barrett' - for their music and lyrics. I sense affinities with the early poetry of people such as Tom Raworth, Lee Harwood and John James. Maybe it's a very English take on surrealism, late afternoon sunshine, boredom, an 'insoucience' that (as Viv Stanshall lamented) seems to have vanished.

What might Pink Floyd have been had Barrett remained creatively active? A lot more interesting, surely.

If I had the CD to hand I'd be playing it now. Here's a few lines from 'It Is Obvious' which will have to do:

"So equally over a valley a hill
wood on quarry stood, each of us crying
a velvet curtain of gray
mark the blanket where the sparrows play
and the trees by the waving corn stranded
my legs move the last empty inches to you
the softness, the warmth from the weather in suspense
mote to a grog - the star a white chalk
minds shot together, our minds shot together... "

Oh well.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Isn´t it cool/Norwegian wool ...

This is Belgianwaffle broadcasting from Seljord, Norway, via David´s snazzy iBook G4.

The past few days have been spent travelling, settling in and sitting in the sun. However, right now, it is raining.

We have made Lego models, swum in the Legoland pool, and gone down rather terrifying chutes. We have driven along German autobahns, eaten pretzels on the waterfront in Bremen and been amazed by fabulous Danish breakfasts. We have sat up on the deck of the Peter Wessel and told terrible jokes for five hours ("Doctor, doctor, my dog has no nose" "How does he smell?" "Terrible") which make Lara laugh. We have kept our foot off the accelerator sufficiently to stay this side of the law on the Norwegian roads and remembered to switch our lights on when we get in the car. We have been informed that two of our students have got 7s in their exams which chuffs us enormously. We have braved the icy waters of Seljord three times and sat up until past midnight talking about fortysomething mum & dad things. We have knitted scarves in the passenger seat and bought yet more supplies and will buy still more on Tuesday (probably) from a woman who breeds goats. We have chewed the fat and sorted out the world and wondered why everyone can´t see what´s staring them in the face (unlike us). In other words: we are on holiday & it feels good.

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Idea of North

Yes, back from the UK & a superb exhibition at Tate Britain of Howard Hodgkin's paintings.

Tomorrow (very early) we head for Bremen - then it's Denmark (Billund & Legoland!) before crossing over to Norway & Seljord.

We'll try to post from The Land of the Fjords but it'll depend upon computer access.

As everyone else in Europe heads South, belgianwaffle heads North! (Glenn Gould would be proud).

. Driving into work the other morning with 'Village of the Sun' playing & humming & drumming along  & think...