Friday, July 31, 2009

"Allen Grossman says that art is about its subject in the same way that a cat indoors is about the house. If the poems are “about” me, I hope there’s room enough in me for language to make its necessary rounds; I also hope it finds its way outside once in a while."

(Graham Foust in an interview at

Without any intention of being 'cute' (perish the thought!) I am thinking seriously about the effect two kittens have on what & how I'm currently writing.

Cat rhythms are intriguing. The shifting phases during the day of curiosity, activity and dozing. The way they move around a house & establish 'places' (my chair ... L's bed ... a window ledge ...) - creating zones of comfort & warmth (if I remember rightly there's those passages in William Wharton's The Scumbler where he seeks ideal places to write). The way a cat transforms a room it's in - finds fascination in and new uses for things dulled by routine (a bath plug chain! crumpled paper! his sock!). How it imposes itself on you, nibbles your pen - you're distracted from your thinking - only to then be absorbed again with this purring going on as an accompaniment.

I gag at volumes of Cat Poetry - you know the kind of exploitative dross these volumes represent. However ... Christopher Smart & his cat Jeffrey ... Robert Duncan had cats ... I remember O'Hara being filmed with a cat or two near his typewriter ... James Shuyler adopted one ... .

Is there some connection? (Whereas ... poets & their dogs? Aren't dogs for novelists - those long walks in which to plan out plots and chapters?).

Or is this just total nonsense? Probably.


If you would like to receive a copy of the first chapter of Hampton Armpit by Myrna Barp (B.A.) send me your name and address and I'll bung an edition in the post. (Europe, U.K., U.S.A. - wherever you are). ABSOLUTELY FREE & No Strings Attached. Call it summer madness.

Lacking the Amazon 'Look Inside' option, here's the opening sequence to whet your appetite:

It was North October in the quaint village of Hampton Armpit. The sun advanced. Years continued.

Inside the house, last century Gothic stained the staircase, an ecclesiastical effect of lace curtains. Mustiness struggled heavily about the rooms.

An implication had been found among the laundry.

Upstairs Miss Doggit was struggling with the tin hooks of her Balmoral dress.


While, with the other hand, Texts VII & VIII are now in place. I'm not sure whether the sequence will go to X or have the energy to for XII. 

In any case, I'm not really the one who decides.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Wednesday's experiment ... we're still on speaking terms.

Texts I-VI are now in place.


The composure of the poem. Entering by a different door. Collaboration with not knowing.

A Negative Capability Brown.

(Brown's "grammatical" landscapes. At Hampton Court, Brown encountered Hannah More in 1782 and described his manner in her terms: "'Now there' said he, pointing his finger, 'I make a comma, and there' pointing to another spot, 'where a more decided turn is proper, I make a colon; at another part, where an interruption is desirable to break the view, a parenthesis; now a full stop, and then I begin another subject'".)
A Thomas Pynchon gallery...

It was Paul Cavacuiti who first turned me on to Pynchon. (Oddly enough he also lent me the ropey C90 with a tantalizing fragment of Zappa's 'Watermelon in Easter Hay' and so ever since Pynchon and Zappa have been linked in my mind).

How to convey the frisson of reading these first stories? The cover art, dodgy printing, small limited issue format - this was the late 70s before Amazon, Abebooks, eBay where nowadays you can find just about anything if you've the time, patience and Visa card. Where did I find these volumes? Maybe amid the ramshackle shelving of Foyles Fiction department, Collets down the road, or was it Compendium? I never tracked down 'Entropy' to make the collection complete. For that I had to call it up from the bowels of the Bodleian. It arrived in a brown wallet, tied around with string - I was still adolescent enough to feel that this was like dipping into some arcane pornography.* Would MI5 get my number? Conspiracies shadowed me as I left the Reading Room ...

Then Picador spoiled it all by bringing out The Slow Learner including Pynchon's introduction where he was even brazen enough to mention Zappa. What! But that was our secret! Only I had made this connection!

Maybe this was the thrill of Pynchon - a sense of active paranoia in the very acquisition and furtive reading of the texts. We were all Oedipas on the quest of our personal Pierce Inverarities. Pynchon made library burrowing and footnote trawling sexy, hush-hush, a nod and a wink. We were all onto something (no idea what - but who cared?). Why, probably, I can't get remotely excited about Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code. I didn't even find Eco's Name of the Rose that compelling (too much like research being rehashed into fiction).

The last book I read by Pynchon was Vineland and that badly. It came out at the wrong time for me and since then I've not found the time or inclination to get back in The Zone. Mason Dixon stands like a massive slab on the bookcase - when will I find the time, though? I don't even dare buy the more recent stuff.

I'd love to recover that excitement - the crazy sense of urgency that sent me round London bookstores at the rumour that a new Pynchon novel had been published (only to discover it was an April Fool in Time Out); the wide-eyed wow factor of seeing an actual photo of The Man. (And was that Him - my Dark Angelo - hiding his face on the cover of 'Mortality and Mercy in Vienna'?).

Those were the days ...


* Reading early Iain Sinclair volumes of poetry in the Poetry Library - the original editions - had something of a similar effect some years later. The Paladin reprints have none of the nastiness, insinuations, occult menace. Mass paperbacks really can kill the visceral charge of some writing.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Monday, July 27, 2009

Monday's experiment ... is moving ahead.

Four texts so far. The routine is : work with the fragments. Then type up. Then work back into the new text i) for sound - what sound logic is threading the poem? ii) for thematic logics. Then individual fragments are worked into - often digging back into etymologies. Then to stand back and see what is pulling on the previous pieces and what is now suggested for the next text.

I'm deliberately pacing this - the rhythm of one a day seems right. Time for all sorts of unconscious work to do its business. I'm astonished at what declares itself. Things I really hadn't foreseen. Begging the question: Who's writing this? 

I notice one of Robert Duncan's questions to students for the Poetry as Magic workshop was how they saw their writing oriented to the sun (i.e. looking into it, or with your back to it). Currently I feel I'm in the pitch dark with a small box of matches not knowing when my supply will run out. Exciting - but scary. 

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Saturday's experiment ... has far to go

Text I now speaks the way for Text II. 

Things are taking shape. 

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday's experiment ... is full of indecision.

Having assembled 100 or so phrases/fragments I've printed them off and cut them up into small slips. I've laid them out on the table and started to see which fragments pull each other. It's deliberately 'hands on'. A bit like piecing together an old broken pot. Or a jigsaw without a picture - and any guarantee you've all the pieces or the ones that were in this box. As little sequences suggest themselves I'm noting them down - aware that these might be separated later. It's really strange - and disconcerting - to be working like this. It's the words that are dictating the direction. 

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Thursday's experiment ... is full of joy.

Having been absorbed in Keith Waldrop's Selected poems - The Opposite of Letting the Mind Wander - I thought I'd try to see how he's working poems such as 'A Hatful of Flood' or 'Watermarks'. Extended numbered sequences each made up of short phrases or fragments.

So, this morning I'm taking a bundle of failed pieces and scrutinizing sentences and lines for what they suggest - cutting in, splicing together, resequencing syntax. Anything to shake the 'dead' words into life. Sometimes keeping within the original texts word world, sometimes working across texts. I don't think it matters - the rules are made up as you go along.

What's for sure, it's a great way of getting closer to KW's writing - although I make no claims that he writes in this way (if that makes sense). I notice the kinds of line length he employs, where he tends to turn. Also the framing devices - working two question phrases, for instance - to top and tail a section. But most of all it's his skill 'in between' phrases. I'm so bad at this - always overstating, making explicit, ironing things out. Working this way I see how the gap resonates and the two phrases come into a new accord. Sound-wise, it allows you greater freedom as the individual phrase can possess its own logic but you can leave openings for what could come before or after to resolve a vowel or consonant pattern.

Sequential (rational) logic is muted. As KW says in an interview "what I am after is closer to music than to philosophy or information or sense". Or as Rosmarie says a bit later citing Jabes: "the writer is nothing but a catalyst, he brings words together on a page. It's like luring people into a park where the lovers find each other".

As Ray DiPalma said: it's the FOCUS THAT GENERATES.

Great way to use up old scraps, too.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


lift lid


if the sock fits its pocket


more is more or


why hair




o thoth though thou thumb through oath


bad back


                                                            Fay says:

Teresa’s eraser effaced [her]


sofa knee


nose simper fee


annexe the excess of Francesca's vest


Emilie’s Miles smiles similes similarly 



A way of getting back into the groove. Took an old piece & thought of ways to revise it. Suddenly things veered off into these micro poems. Not at all what I had intended. 

Bit like practicing scales.

Kitten Update: in fine fettle.

2.25 kg & 2.05 kg. Teeth coming at the appointed time.

Everything's sleek & purry.

It's just like going through having babies all over again.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Belgium Day here - which means most things are closed but not (thankfully) the pool.


La Meteo: clammy & wet. Armpit weather.


Insanely, a day spent tidying.

I go through a cupboard and dust off so many blank notebooks it leaves me feeling a) embarrassed, b) utterly worthless, c) ridiculously profligate.

Question: who - in their right mind - would buy so many?
Answer: an Eternal Optimist.

The Tantalizing Promise of Writing.


This said, the sheer process of sorting through old files - that's actual card & plastic ones - unearthing aborted projects, scraps of paper with forgotten scribbles, notebooks with the first few pages filled, lists of To Dos ... is oddly therapeutic. Stirring things up from the silt of years gone by. The same principle as composting, I suppose.


My black cat/is in the living room
with a motorbike

I seed it
I sawed it

apple bleeding

(When, where... why ... did I write this?)


Tomorrow we're back to what passes for 'normal' in this house.

So, no more excuses.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

We went for lunch in a little village called Thizy. Menu (11 euros a head) lentils & lardons as a first course, rabbit as the main, a plate of cheese to finish off. Coffee. Views out over the Burgundian countryside. Simple & stunning. And to round it off, just before leaving ...

Fans of Keith Waldrop will know why this delivers such a buzz.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

This post is going out to braindownpour ...

Thanks for your link. I'd like to respond but would prefer e-mail (you'll find details on my Profile). 

(The video is astonishing). 
Congratulations to all of you who spotted the * secret message * embedded in the last post.

Back today from not-so-sunny-but-still-jolly-nice France where the morning baguette is just that bit more crusty and the cheese toothsome & cholesterol unfriendly.

Major highlights to come.

Congratulations, too, to any of my A2 students who drop by this Blog. On balance I'd say these were a good set of results - with some pleasant surprises!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Belated follow-up to my Carol Watts post - Niedecker's over-writing and transformation of the platitudes of a fortnight-to-a-page calendar:

"The calendar itself is under siege. She teases the mnemonic device by linking her non-sequitur and baffling lines to the predictable chronology of a calendar. Earlier in 1934 she had written to Harriet Monroe about her desire to "discredit all journal method everywhere...." "

(cf. Penberthy,


More strawberries.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Writ 1-4

I'd been toying with the idea of doing something with old tram & rail tickets. A few hours this afternoon gave me a chance to start playing around. Here are the results. Terribly slow on the uptake, it really hadn't occurred to me before the homophonic possibilities of the Flemish "Rit" and "Ritten". Thus travel and writing really do coincide ...

Favourite Lines from Niedecker


there is a dee round silence

in the sound


‘Mourning Dove’


this going without tea holds a hope of tasting it


‘Promise of Brilliant Funerals’


But that was before the library burned


‘Progression (I)’


As one Somnambulist to another

our sleep could be more perfect




opera is an oversight

on the part of the Milky Way




Last lines being sentimental


I must possess myself, get back to pure duration


Stop quietly in print the one available weather




A touch of moon?


Gaspaciousness enmillions

dread-centric introspectres



and nothing

less to lift plants from the habits of their whorls


Someone has said: rapid lighted pimperly advanced


Memory is blue in the head?


Move on from brown laterals of the same day, ascertain oneself

center of climatic being


dusking the nounal




I must have been washed in listenably across the landscape


For the emotion of fall has its seat in the acoustic gland


It’s what comes of looking way back on the upper right

shelf of the lower left cupboard




To jesticulate in the rainacular or novembrood

in the sunconscious


They pop practical in a greyfold, bibbler and dub –

one atmosnoric pressure for the thick of us



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