Friday, November 6, 2009

Poetry Stew - from Occultations

As part of putting together the final section of my forthcoming book, Occultations, I'm collaborating with various other poets on a set of procedures, or rituals, many of them corporeal, that speak to, hopefully in good faith, the increasingly privatized surveillance industrial complex. Good faith, or perhaps a desperate attempt at (at least) symbolically clawing my way just a bit closer to what seems so far away sometimes: abuses of power that are right in front of us, affecting our daily movements, sensations, systems of belief.  My notes for this section are at end of this post.

Nearly done with the 10-15 rituals, though still in collaboration on 4 or so more thru this month.  Last night 4 of us performed Ritual No. 6, "Poetry Stew."  Since I think some of you may be interested in trying out this ritual (procedure) yourself, I figured I'd put this one up on the blog. Interestingly,  as someone with an illness that makes eating difficult (painful) and tiring, this particular ritual was by far the worst experience I've had writing so far.  Others who came to my house and participated, tho, had a grand time.  What is poetry stew?  Here is the email I sent out describing its ingredients:

What is POETRY STEW?  Poetry Stew is an occulting ritual (see notes on the section of the book I am writing that involves similar practices at 
end of this email) that involves eating one another's toxic secrets, our treasured lines of poetry.
Poetry Stew will also be VEGETARIAN.  
Besides yourself, you will have to bring 3 ingredients that will go into the Poetry Stew. Here is the ritual:
On WEDNESDAY NIGHT, go to a quiet place for at least 20 minutes, and write down as list, as prose, as notes--in whatever way you
 want--the things that you can think of that you hold as SECRET.  These SECRETS can be personal, e.g., things you might catch yourself admitting to yourself but never saying out loud, but they can also be EXTERIOR - thoughts ABOUT something, or someone, etc., that you would say to yourself but not to others, e.g., some political position that is contrary to what you claim publicly.  Often these SECRETS are things that occur to you for the first time in the writing, e.g., things you don't even readily admit to yourself.  WRITE THEM DOWN, BY HAND, ON LINED PAPER (notebook paper).
On WEDNESDAY NIGHT, spend some time after writing down these secrets thinking about what literary--poetic, etc--works speak to this event--either the experience of the writing you just did, or some particular thought(s) in the writing.  Think of the books you own, think about WHICH 2 BOOKS seem to RELATE to what you just did, to this event. CHOOSE 1 LINE FROM EACH OF 2 BOOKS ON YOUR SHELF and read them aloud to yourself. Read more than once if possible.  NOW TARE THE 2 LINES FROM YOUR BOOKS, tare each of them out of the books, and fold them together with 1 PAGE of YOUR WRITING, letter-folded, and put them in an envelope of some kind.  That is, wrap your writings and these torn pages together and put them aside.  TAKE NOTES ON WHAT THIS IS LIKE, WHAT IT FEELS LIKE TO TARE THESE PAGES, THESE LINES, TO FOLD THEM IN WITH 1 SELECTED PAGE OF YOUR SECRET WRITING.
PRIOR TO DINNER (Weds night or Thurs by afternoon), take out your torn book lines, and CHOOSE 1 WORD FROM EACH TORN OUT LINE that you feel BEST ENCAPSULATES THE IDEA OF THE LINE, is the "GRAVITATIONAL CENTER" of each line.  Now, RE-WRITE EACH WORD on the bottom margin of the the page, or if the lines are torn from individual pages and there is no room to write (no margin), write the two words on a separate sheet of paper. 
Now you have two or three separate things: your secrets, and your torn out pages with 1 word re-written on each e bottom margins; or your secrets, your torn out lines, and the two words written on a separate sheet of paper (the no room in margin for re-writing option).
On THURSDAY NIGHT, at 8pm, bring yourself and your envelope--the secrets and the torn out pages with re-written words--to dinner.  Here, we will add the finishing touches on our Poetry Stew.  We will tare into pieces our secrets, put those bits of paper in the pot (6 pages max).  We will then carefully tare our re-written words (or cut them) from the rest of the page with your chosen lines; or, if you will, we will extract your marginal notes from their poetry, and tare the poetry in little pieces and add that to pot, such that all that remains in your hands are the 2 words, "the margins" of your experience, this ritual.
Once all the paper is torn up and added to the pot, we'll let your secrets and their poetry companions simmer.  After some time we'll sit down.  Each of us will hand our words, our "margins," to the person to our left.  Then we will pass around the stew, and pour some of the stew into the person to our left's bowl.  We will then eat in silence, and write a poem while eating. As you write your poem, you will use your partner's 2 words as "centers of gravity" or as "filters"--repeating words around which your poem pivots.  As you write, feel what it is like to be eating someone's secrets, and to have extracted information from their "personal libraries", try to feel what it is like for desecration and erasure of a person to be your sustenance.  As you write try to feel what it is like to also be the subject of such interrogation, what it was like to have this information, PART OF YOU, be digested, recycled, appropriated, EATEN.  
Only stop writing your poem when you are finished eating.  When we are finished eating, we will have the opportunity to defuse via reading work, relaxing, discussing, drinking, etc.  
See you Thursday night at 8.  And please, when performing this ritual, PICK a text, a book of poetry say, that is meaningful to you AND is as contemporary as possible.  The more contemporary and cherished, the better.

Here are my notes pre-dinner/writing, then the poem written in real time (ie, no edits, just type it up as-is). 

Tearing out Pages:

The spines are more or less pliable.  The Hunger Artist, for instance, detached like a lizard’s tail.  Its fragility is a marker of flimsy construction—mass consumability—the perfect bound industrialized imperfection.  It lifted, it felt like a clean break.

Barthes crusted away, tore just at the spot I wanted to preserve it—the fixity of “Like a shop window which shows only one illuminated piece of jewelry, it is completely constituted by the presentation of only one thing: sex.: no secondary, untimely object ever manages to half conceal.”

Desire—a hoarding desire—to keep these pages.  A matter of ownership: these are mine.  And a matter of unresolved blurriness between need and desire: “I may NEED this later…” 

How many things do we neglect until they are on the brink of non-existence—“half concealed”?  A life subsumed by things that eclipse and are eclipsed, but in the meantime are completely obscured by this eternal present.

And to think that these things are MASS PRODUCED.  The sense: “my desire may not be as strong later as now, and so I will fail to purchase this book again.”  Or: “I’m too poor to need this, so I must WANT it.”  Strange conflation magnified now.

The dictation gives me nothing –save for the knowledge my hand already possessed, its increasing weakness, that its nerves are up to something that won’t end well.

Simmering Paper:

--eating parts of wrapper part of fast food experience

--wet promotion flyposted to the wall of a Big Mac

--nights at Denny’s sharing one burger the night a week out, this after welfare cheese accumulates in the fridge threatens to take it over what was my father doing all those nights?—

--Northwest paper inc, subsidiary of cant remember now, where 75 percent of our 8 by 11 paper comes from, countless unfair labor practices—hired, & still do, thugs to beat union organizers middle of the night, smash in car windows, a reported rape-as-intimidation tactic, at least one—the very paper used to report abuses, fill out ULPs, thousands of pages of discovery—was paper made by Northwest paper Inc.--  ULP filing literally PAYING FOR ULP costs—im complicit, neck up in it & for poetry’s sake,,?


The flesh of your precious

Carnage drapes over my molar

“3 days central booking

Bread brake back to bulk

Forming lax max interior

Null by Sat morning”

A piece of the hunger artist caught

In the air area  my empowerment

--meant zone

“The work of fart in the age of mechanistic


The life of a bean’s skin

The life of unwitting linoleum

“The alienated American kitchen”

My throat is a shelf for your so-called

Secret life, & that’s the bulk of it

One’s done in the mess hall

One’s hungry for more

The two of us who fast


I saw me eat “you”

To make out words beyond

Rounded vowels in a necessarily

Blurred anti-romance

Balls up moist we are just this much

Reptile, yr margins go into me

--Roughly here--

These short lived interrogations: chew,

Sense the wreck, the oncoming

Rot the now-sickened & say anything, take

Note of bowels & how these bracketed one-

Way conversations are rests in some-

Body’s song, or: redacted life, image of the

Archive cant help but wonder

How could you not

Wonder if whats brackets is the center of the

Word “Importance” or “Universe” & yr aha sense--

Making header the grinding the coming

Up of it—

My colon’s a holocaust memorial, ill

Tempered bi-

Product for this re-

Cycling could you how could you

Not know all this jammed-in

Me as conveyor of, it’s broke--

A secret for you to chew on

The 2 phrases (filters) I got from my friend to my left were "how could you not" and "bulk." Both from her prized Star Trek books (???).  Here is the document that we used for this particular ritual - many of these are allegorizing moves in relation to leaked documents & their phenomena.  A now well-known leaked 2002 memo by a CIA op. outlining how he has, and plans to continue, to torture a detainee.  The letter is written by then-associate AG Bybee.  

And, finally, here are then notes for this section (occurring at end of the book with the rest of the notes, citations, etc.):

Your Nerve Center Taxonomy is a series of staged occultations, where, owing to somatic practices a la CA Conrad and others, work here uses both filtersrepeating phrases or, in this case, conceptual framesand ritualspredetermined activities/proceduresin order to be(come).  In contrast to some of Conrads (soma)tics, which belongs to a hugely important lineage of embodiment writing practices most profoundly felt, I think, in Hannah Weiners work, these poems desire to be occulted (punished?) along with/as extensions of their bodily environments, to be partially drowned out by their rituals (or vise versa?), rather than to emerge from their rituals.  They seek to remain partially occulted, and the poetic writing is part of the ritual itselfwhere the ritual, or activity, divides the poem-spaces attention, such that one does not write from notes afterwards, but ones notes are the poem, and the poems are the notes of the body signing in space and time.  Unlike the transcription practices of Williamson or Goldsmith, these notes are not jottings, descriptions, or pure dictation, but are rather staged writing acts in which the body seeks articulation thru a poetic mode from the outset, the transcriber attempting to write the poem on the spot, to, in a sense, claim itself, as mediated by and contiguous with its environment, thru a sort of lyric.  This is to say that though the poems in this section are transcriptions, the object was to create an environment, a distraction zone in miniature, part of which would be the subject-body attempting to voice thru signing, thru lyric, thru direct address, its struggle to enunciate or speak or articulate its fractures, multiples, and constrictions, not to compile or to shape what has been compiled.

These poems struggle to map and articulate the bodys position within a zone of pre-established discomfort, distraction, noise, indicative of the surveillance-industrial complex, allegorizing and modeling larger or more systemic zones of distraction which always (and in often hidden ways) mediate experience and construct the subject, in which necessarily, more thorough apprehension, re-narration, or articulation of that zone and its effects is precluded by the establishment of the zone itself (the increasing difficulty of voicing anything as distress presses down).  How might one see, or hear, for instance, the logic of privatized militarism, and in what ways does that logic construct (constrict) how we see or hear?  In what ways can the distraction zone in miniature make visible such occulted phenomena, or at least make visible the traces or imprints of such phenomena on the poem (body)?  Such a staging is akin to building a model of what one is trying to picture, but better, an experiment that allows the poem to serve as trace, or as material imprinted by such phenomena.  Such stages owe much to the work of David Buuck.  Though in contrast to Buucks work, whose temporality and physicality (its detours) are (un)grounded in the poetic tense, this section is more simplistic and domesticit asks not what will have been, but what if, and then carries out the experiment, stages the occulting distraction zone in miniature and archives itself here.  Though it is the first time Ive worked on a project of covering, occluding, etc. (in amplifying already constricted conditions for the aesthetic, such a project is, in a sense, a contradistinction to dissensus), rather than attempting to make a space conducive for poetry amidst countervailing forces, for a poem-life (making room for-), this work owes much to such re-claimation projects/rituals performed by Buuck and Conrad, and to Poets Theater generally.  

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