Saturday, December 31, 2016

31 December 2016

Beauty is something to be eaten: it is food. But if it comes by air, like song? What beauty, this end of year so like one of yours, Simone, a kind of inverse premonition of the cruelty that comes of pain. An old record left in a rain forest testifies to the material production of sound only. Its scratched grooves repeat like scars on a monk seal's underbelly. Re-assemble sound and let us eat it like a choir's meal. One member resigned because she won't sing for a fascist. The dancer's lineage includes a woman reputed to have been a Nazi. What does she do with her dance, except repeat it? Kanani liked only a few brush strokes of her painting, those that represented nothing except background to yellow flowers floating on “landscape without horizon line.” Fog fills the forest like lint. Lint, Michigan? my daughter asks.

--31 December 2016

Friday, December 30, 2016

30 December 2016

Totalitarianism's idolatrous course can only be arrested by coming up against a genuinely spiritual way of life. He assumes power as a mask. To assume is not to know, but to trust that one might. I assume the weather will remain cold but that assumption is mine, not the weather's. He presumes to govern it, too, in the guise of markets and consumer spending, a strange weather that clings like fog to things. The red wheelbarrow at Ace Hardware in Kea'au can be had for $43.66. If I buy it, will I better understand the poem that named it? If I sell my name, will it mean more to me? My student was surprised I asked him to define “happiness.” It's a given, but everything here is sold. We're indebted to happiness; we give it everything we have. “I was shocked at the pain I saw in peoples' faces in Ohio.” Where is the aisle, or isle, that holds it close, like a “laying deer” (at 50% off) or the tuition we'll never pay? The spirit asks only for minimum wage, but in Cleveland you're not even allowed to vote on that.

--30 December 2016

Thursday, December 29, 2016

29 December 2016

Uprooting breeds idolatry. While green, Pepe the Frog's a white supremacist. Many Trump voters are not racists, nor do they condone hatred. Irony may be dying, but I still sense it in my bed springs. The dream life of liberals mingles sex and horror. Fences may get the Oscars, but Caterpillar 3 speaks more directly to us. Someone fucks random body parts, while another somebody eats them. Ants have aphid farms, gently rub aphid bums for their sugar. That's more erotic than any movie trailer in theaters this week. In our search for cows, Radhika and I drove by the fallen-down house, trash strewn up to the street, and the man who lives in a junked car. This is what comes of Thoreau. Another junker sits 20 feet away, and a clothes line's slung between two trees. That's an old gray sweat shirt hanging there. Well hung, someone notes of the Frank O'Hara painting. He's naked, post-lunch, and we've already driven past.

--29 December 2016

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Volcano, Hawai'i Island.

28 December 2016

It isn't the quantity of metal which matters, but the degree of alloy. Aaron “transcends” social media by sitting on the stoop with his dog. I suggest “being” would work better. He replaces “transcend” with “cultivate”; simply “being” being too dull a thing. Most days, Louis DuPre drew a horizontal line on the board to separate us from what transcends us. He wore beautiful brown leather shoes. Why can't a man live on an island and be, he asked. Being works better, but it does not work. Sits in the rain and notes its rhythm. Men at Work was a book about playing. To be busy is either to make work or to make excuses. To excuse is sometimes to forgive; that comes not from thought but impulse. Sins of anger are more forgivable than those of pain, (Marcus Aurelius). Recent outbreaks of violence at malls across the country were not linked in any way, authorities tell us. Effects without cause are chaos. It's what keeps us in line.

--28 December 2016

Saturday, December 24, 2016

24 December 2016

However beautiful the sound of a cry of woe may be, one cannot wish to hear it again; it is more human to wish to cure the woe. At the cemetery I saw a woman pour tea in a paper cup; her mother placed it on a grave. All I saw was the matted gray hair of a woman sleeping beside the Kāne'ohe Post Office, her things arranged neatly beside an open blue umbrella. The President of Need would take that from her. No blue umbrellas! Cloth is so weak! “I'm fine for a while and then a feeling of existential dread comes over me again.” The tall handsome man with AIDS could not sleep, because he might die if he did. So she came and watched television with him. One night he asked her to lie down, and she did. Your best weapon now will be a toothbrush and shampoo, and your own frail body.

--24 December 2016

Friday, December 23, 2016

Simone Weil Series: 12/23/2016

Whoever is uprooted himself uproots others. “We elected a man with mental illness—not that I have anything against mental illness.” A tweet demands discipline at the level of the morpheme. Let there be an arms race!--six short sounds and an exclamation. A fascist poetry takes image as fact, metaphor as act. Trump Tower fucks with us. Question of the day: what kind of animal is the Grinch? Is he dog or is he dragon? Should we walk or slay him? We prefer myth to morning walk when myth makes us agents, our names preceding the strong verbs our instructors demand of us. My Netflix queue includes Human Centipede 3, named the second worst film of 2015. It's all act: castration, cannibalism, kidney rape, clitoris candy. The sound of the letter K lends itself to hate. The debt is all ours.

--23 December 2016

Thursday, December 22, 2016

New Series (I hope)

Second Simone Weil Series:


There has been a lot of freedom of thought over the past few years, but no thought. I thought I heard a bird means I did not, where thought sits in for mis-perception. Thought sits on the bench, alert to her team's mistakes. Someone advises knowing game theory, then abandons his thread. Pull hread and it unravels, the tapestry and its knights, its ladies, a loom's slow etiquette. Fast forward cannot alter the flower's process, but adrenaline rips bud from battered stem. Repetition, like an injured knee, takes time. No matter how many times she watches The Triplets of Belleville, she wonders how the dog climbs stairs on such narrow legs. Trump's adviser avers: “drain the swamp” was performative. So lock her up.

 --22 December 2016

Thursday, November 3, 2016

PEI PEI THE MONKEY KING by Wawa is now available!

Wawa (also published as Lo Mei Wa) is a Hong Kong poet. She received degrees in Philosophy from the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Universiteit Leiden, Netherlands. She has been a singer, a lyricist, an art and design magazine editor, and a cowherd. Her poems have been featured in various art exhibits, and in a Radiophrenia Glasgow broadcast. She has lived in Köln and Pengchau, and now lives in Honolulu.

Henry Wei Leung is the author of Paradise Hunger (Swan Scythe, 2012) and the recipient of Kundiman, Soros, and Fulbright fellowships. His poems, essays, and translations have appeared in such journals as the Berkeley Poetry Review, Drunken Boat, and The Offing. He is currently the Managing Editor of the Hawai‘i Review.

The Tinfish Press website description and purchase information:

An interview with the translator, Henry Wei Leung:

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Being Mortal: Atul Gawande, a moped death, and my mother's Alzheimer's

[Photo taken on 11/1/16]

When I embarked on teaching Atul Gawande's Being Mortal in my Honors Research class for freshmen, I thought perhaps it was a stretch. The thesis of the course is that we are often driven by our experiences to do particular kinds of research. So we're reading a series of memoirs by people who do research. Among them we've read Timothy Denevi's HYPER, the autobiography of his ADHD, along with a history of the condition; Ta-Nahisi Coates's Between the World and Me, which combines journalism about black men killed by the police with a memoir of his growing up in Baltimore; and Hope Jahren's Lab Girl, which is about everything, including being a woman scientist with bipolar disorder who studies the inner lives of trees. These are all beautifully written, accessible books, but they are also difficult. 

When I started lobbying my university's administration two years ago to communicate transparently about deaths of students, faculty and staff, I was told in several meetings that such information would prove "disturbing," "cause prurient interest," "would wear students out," and so forth. Report of a suicide, they claimed, would inevitably cause contagion. As I became an inadvertent expert in the ways that colleges and universities handle deaths, I realized how many universities have comprehensive death protocols (with places to report deaths on-line), and how many of them have adopted a "best practice" of Student Intervention Teams or even, as they do at the University of Arizona, a place for students to go who are worried about a friend:  The University of Northern Iowa (I choose them because they come up first on google) launched their Intervention Team in 2006:  The mission of this team, according to their website, is to "promote students' physical and mental wellness, a safer campus community, and the retention of students who can be successful when treatable issues and behaviors are addressed and managed."

My father died 24 years ago, almost to this day (November 4, 1992). He was a religious man who had kept his faith to himself, because my mother was an aggressive agnostic. As he was dying, he began to talk about God and his own practice of prayer again (if that is the word for what he seemed to do for the first time in my knowing him). He died in the hospital surrounded by neighbors, my mother and me. After he died, I suggested putting an obituary in the newspaper. My mother said no. I asked about a service. She refused. I screamed at her. My father’s sister came from Michigan with a first cousin of mine I hardly knew. My mother would not speak to them. I performed an awkward translation. The neighbors had a lunch for us. My mother did not attend. We went to Arlington National Cemetery to put his ashes in the columbarium (that had been another fight between her and me—I won that one). My mother did not come. She went only years later when my husband, who never met my dad, insisted that we all go. She started to break down and then turned and walked away. She was unable to grieve. I half believe her Alzheimer’s emerged out of this trauma at being unable to release my father or any other of her losses (there were many in her childhood). My fury was that she would not let me grieve either, or his friends, some of whom began calling the hospital when they heard he was dying. She controlled the information and, so long as no one else knew, she was somehow someway still holding things together.

I had no experience with death as a child or a young adult. I had no experience with old age, save what my parents provided me as they grew older. I lived in a world of the young or the less old and, until my father passed, I had never witnessed a death. What a luxury that might seem to reside exclusively with the living. But also what a handicap. My mother’s refusal to grieve came back to me as I talked to this or that administrator who said that reporting on deaths would only cause more trouble. So what a surprise to find, when I began to teach Gawande’s book about end of life issues, that my honors students (18 years olds, almost all of them) were prepared. This is Hawai’i, after all, where extended families retain coherence even in this fractured time. My students have grandparents, either alive or recently deceased. In addition, two of them took a course a Iolani School on hospice; one of them works at an assisted living facility; another volunteers at a hospice; yet another works in a nursing facility that treats the dying. Many of them had already filled out Advance Health Directives as exercises for classes in high school. They were more prepared—by far—for our discussions of death and dying than they were for those on ADHD or on being black in America or on being a woman scientist.

Yesterday, I asked my students to talk about differences between individualism and communitarianism. They are community-oriented, like most local students in Hawai’i. So is Gawande, who presents Josiah Royce’s 1908 argument against individualism in a positive light. Here’s Royce: “The selfish we had always with us. But the divine right to be selfish was never more ingeniously defended.” Here’s Gawande: “Consider the fact that we care deeply about what happens to the world after we die. If self-interest were the primary source of meaning in life, then it wouldn’t matter to people if an hour after their death everyone they know were to be wiped from the face of the earth.” (126-7). So Gawande argues that, “The only way death is not meaningless is to see yourself as part of something greater: a family, a community, a society” (127). He overstates his argument here, as his examples of community builders, namely Karen Wilson and Bill Thomas, are both individualists, capable of seeing past culture’s myriad inertias. “Culture strangles innovation in the crib,” Thomas tells Gawande (120). What is culture if not community? What is the breaking of that culture other than the act of an individualist? So Thomas, thought to have oppositional disorder as a child, is the one to figure out who to make life more meaningful for his nursing home charges. He fills the home with animals and plants.

My mother increasingly lost focus after my father died. She was certainly anxious—she had always been anxious—and depressed. And then, ten years on, she started to confuse herself with me, my husband with hers, and to refuse to tell the stories she had loved to tell. She was probably forgetting them, my husband suggested later. She began to wander. Once in the middle of the night she knocked on the neighbors’ door to inform them that the sun had not come up that day. The extent to which her wandering can be seen as an embodiment of grief is probably not great; after all, she was losing her brain, not simply her mind. But I wonder, as I look back, how much of her distress came out of her inability to deal with the suffering she’d experienced as the child of a broken, alcoholic family who had had to cut herself off from her past (she thought) in order to create a future worth living in. She created that, but then it fell away from her under the stresses of the past. Gawande uses Ronald Dworkin to argue that, even if we lack independence near the end, we can hold onto some measure of autonomy. That autonomy amounts to self-authorship, the authority we retain to write our own narratives: “All we ask,” writes Gawande, “is to be allowed to remain the writers of our own story. That story is ever changing. Over the course of our lives, we may encounter unimaginable difficulties. Our concerns and desires may shift. But whatever happens, we want to retain the freedom to shape our lives in ways consistent with our character and loyalties.” Obsessed with independence from age five until she descended into Alzheimer’s in her 80s, my mother lost her authority to that disease. The marvelous story-teller lost her sentences, then her words, then her voice. There’s something horrible about that, because it suggests that she lost meaning. But there’s also something better about it; she survived so long that she even survived herself.

One week ago, there was a fatal moped accident on Dole Street, which runs through the University’s campus, cutting between the Law and Engineering Schools. It’s the road on which students trudge back and forth to the dorms, if they live in dorms. The cross-walk is very close to the bus stop where I stand at least once a week to catch my first of two buses home. It’s a very public place. Two hours after the accident, members of the community received an email from the Department of Public Safety that Dole was closed due to an accident. Hours after that, we were informed that the road was again open. Never were we told by the administration that the accident had been fatal to the 22-year old moped driver (who turned out not to be a student, but who knew?), or that counseling was available to anyone who witnessed the event. A student newspaper reporter I know told a colleague of mine that he had come upon the accident while the young man still lay on the road. The students in my Honors class are writing in their blog posts about the young man who died. I wrote to the President of UH, who is also currently the interim Chancellor of Manoa, to ask that he communicate with us; I was not the only one to do so. I wrote to two members of the Board of Regents, and then submitted a version of that email to the local newspaper. Here is what they printed:

UH should speak out about campus deaths

If you drive down Dole Street, you will see a memorial to the young man who died on a moped on Tuesday (“1 dead after mopeds crash near UH Manoa,” Star-Advertiser, Oct. 26).
That memorial was made by the young man’s friends.
While the story has been covered by the media, the University of Hawaii at Manoa has not uttered a syllable, except to say that Dole was closed and later re-opened.
Nothing about how students may have witnessed a fatal accident, nothing to express condolences over the loss of life on our campus.
This is not unusual. UH-Manoa never says anything about deaths on campus; it leaves that to the rumor mill. Students should know they can find counseling if they were traumatized by events like this one. They should know someone in administration cares enough to send an email.
The morning after the accident, we got an email telling us that a moped had been stolen at one of the dorms.
Susan M. Schultz
Professor of English
University of Hawai’i-Manoa

Silences. I wrote a book of literary criticism about them. It began as a book about poets who got writer’s block, and ended as a book about poets who wrote through the cultural constraints that threatened to silence them. It also led me into considerations of silence as a spiritual state, one healthier than the silences that squash. These silences are those that we experience when we grieve. A friend says her mother termed the year after her second husband’s death to be the most exciting of her life. Grief is like that; it’s difficult, but it’s also an invitation to think about what we find meaningful in this life. If we can’t grieve, or are not permitted to grieve, we cannot find meaning. A colleague in another department told me that she’d been unable to grieve over someone she knew (not well, but she knew her) who had died on campus because the death was kept quiet. What protects some people cuts others to shreds. The silences I experience while meditating can sometimes be difficult, but they are never meaningless. Perhaps I hold too closely to meaning to be a “good Buddhist,” whatever that means, but that is my soul’s nutrition. As Gawande makes clear, death is the not the real problem; it’s our unwillingness to acknowledge it. In his Epilogue he writes: “We [in medicine] think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive” (259). Yesterday on NPR’s Fresh Air, Kerry Egan, who has just written a memoir of her life as a hospice chaplain, spoke to the happiness she feels among the dying. Paradoxical, perhaps, but as she said, death is part of life, and life can be joyful, as well as difficult.

My mother, before she got Alzheimer’s, was a big talker. She told stories, and she waxed philosophical about life issues. She also brought sometimes savage silences along with her; when angry, she wouldn’t speak to me, sometimes for days. Clearly, there were things she couldn’t say to herself, either. She couldn’t say that she hurt, or that she grieved, or that others could do what she could not, if she could help it. It’s the talking quietly that matters more to me now. To listen while speaking one’s grief, and to send information that is tethered to compassion, can be (write it!) the work of institutions. We need to hear others' words, and we need to speak our own.

Thank you to Ian Lind for writing this blog post about the latest death on the UHM campus:

Books referred to, however obliquely, in the text:

Kerry Egan, On Living, New York: Riverhead Books, 2016.
Atul Gawande, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters at the End, New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014.
Susan M. Schultz, A Poetics of Impasse in Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2005.

---.  Dementia Blog, San Diego: Singing Horse Press, 2008.
---. "She's Welcome to Her Disease": Dementia Blog, Vol. 2, Singing Horse Press, 2013.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Thursday, August 25, 2016

25 August 2016

The eyes are windows.” This changes, among other things, the way we understand houses. The form invites you to fill it in: scrap of conversation, memory, aphorism. An Internal Recollection Service for the soul. It depends where on google earth you stop, whether in space or at street view, where a neighbor walks his Golden Retriever. The book about HM is mostly about the doctor who erased his memories. It has no footnotes. The house without a basement shuts out the colonizing ants, those who eat the family dog when he strays, or a scientist when he asks too many questions. They enter through the mouth, the anus, and the ear; theirs is a fantastic voyage through caves and tunnels and liver. After a 6.2 earthquake, only the clock tower in the Italian village stands. Before the quake it read 10:20, afterwards, 1:40. 

--25 August 2016

[Zwicky, #77]

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Fall, 2016 Courses!

Here is my syllabus for Honors 101: Research, which I teach as a memoir course:

And here is my syllabus for English 461: Documentary Poetry, the latest iteration of my favorite course at UHM.

I'll also be continuing my work with the Compassion Hui, whose Facebook page is here:

The emphasis so far this year is on suicide prevention; there's an event in September, here:

And we'll be working on a Walk Out of Darkness for next Spring.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

18 August 2016

To be transparent is not to vanish. As a child, I was given a clear plastic woman. Inside her were hard liver, colon, heart, and lungs; I pulled her apart from head to foot and took her organs out, then replaced them, snapping her body shut. She was all organs; there was no plastic mind to let her look back at my skin. Omran, age five, sits on a plastic orange chair at the back of an ambulance; he wears the dust of ancient Aleppo on his freshly cut hair, and he fidgets. He's a window in a house of windows. Unable to respond to this world, the Muselmanner packed up their eyes and left. The eye's transparencies cannot sustain so much. They close by staying fixed.

--18 August 2016
[Zwicky, Lyric Philosophy, 260]

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

16 August 2016

The metaphor thus echoes the experience of struggling with illness: we are, and are not, our bodies. If knowledge accrues and wisdom takes away, then Alzheimer’s is a kind of wisdom. That last visit as a family: my mother grabbed lettuce with her hands, carried the trash out to the garage in increments of pencil shavings, asked after the boy’s mother. Wisdom as non-sense. Take away her keys, the doctor advised me on another trip, and I did. Her house wasn’t taken until she was taken from it. Her last friend stopped seeing her when she felt there was no one to see. Is this a poetry of witness, or simply observation tricked up as meaning? Facebook, neither subject nor witness, spits out a memory from 9 years ago, though even then it was a memory, or the record of what would become one. Two small children on the Mall, the taller boy with his arm around the smaller girl, her white shoes, like his, velcroed shut, her not-yet-grown out hair. He’s wearing a blue Masubi Man teeshirt. Last or next to last time we all saw her. They’re smiling at me. Some days I can’t do Objectivism, sitting in my office, eyes pooling. There, I told you.

--16 August 2016

[Zwicky, #76]

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Against Revision

"What is the longest it's taken you to write a poem?" (Tom Gammarino)

"17 years." (Tim Dyke)

--Hawai'i Book and Music Festival Q&A

 a. To look or read carefully over (written or printed matter), with a view to improvement or correction; to improve or alter (text) as a result of examination or re-examination. Also intr.with object implied.

 b. To examine or re-examine (something, esp. a law, code, plan, or the like) for the purpose of improvement or amendment; to alter so as to make more efficient, apposite, or effective.

--Oxford English Dictionary

This exchange between Tom and Tim was the second such that I heard during the Book & Music Festival this Spring. The first, at a Bamboo Ridge panel, featured writers praising revision as the most important part of the writing process. I had begun to get ornery, so I spoke up during the Tinfish event, defending (my own) lack of revision. Tim's remark is truer, perhaps, insofar as it takes a lifetime to write any of our lines of poetry and prose.

Now, this isn't to say I never revise; when I write an essay I approach, avoid, return, and rewrite often. When I write a poem, I intervene, adjust, erase, and then await the ending. If revision is a kind of thought, then it's not to be dismissed utterly. But when I write a poem, I want to inhabit the moment of writing the poem as the poem. To revise is to alter, and what I want is the unalterable moment, insofar as such a thing exists. This is the fruit of my meditation practice, but also of my years of observing my mother in her Alzheimer's. Alzheimer's is a disease that cannot be revised, let alone cured. It is the nearly pure de-construction of a life. To revise one's record of that process of losing--memory, speech, the ability to walk and take care of oneself--is to suggest it can be altered. The person with Alzheimer's is being altered, but not revised. The writer, if anything, is being revised, but her words remain faithful to the process (or unraveling of), however horrible it seems.

And so I wrote what I saw into my blog. When I prepared the blog posts for publication as books, I did a lot of editing. Editing is certainly a part of revision, but less complete. As I noted when I was editing my manuscripts, grieving seems to be a form of editing, and vice versa. I took out what I thought was not of interest to potential readers. I fixed sentences so that they scanned better (yes, prose needs to scan, too). I tried for an absolute economy of thought and feeling. But I did not ever add anything to the blog posts. Nor did I re-arrange their elements. To add or re-arrange would have been to suggest that alteration was possible, that the moment was not complete in and of itself. To add would have been to create a narrative (probably), one that works toward making sense. What I wanted to do was to record non-sense, not to make a false front.

In the memory cards that have preceded and followed the two books on Alzheimer's I've tried to be true to the process of making sense of the world, without fixing it in place. Hence, each day I write an entry is a day in which I arrive at--or stumble onto--meaning. Meaning is not edifice but mandala, or sand castle. To revise is to hold onto meaning, try to make it permanent, accessible to others as container not as hourglass.

John Ashbery says that he learned to revise as he wrote. Write long enough and you know what moves to make (which is why I still encourage my young poets to revise), which will work and which not. You know which serves to spin and which to hit flat. Which balls to hit to right and which to left field. When to dunk and when to lay-up. How to change key at the right moment to keep the improvisation conversational, rather than petroglyphic (though the unreadability of the petroglyph re-introduces interpretation as a kind of improv into the equation).

So yes, on the level of the sentence, you revise, even if the computer allows you to erase the memory of those shifts and tacks across the page. The ability to move back and forth in a document on the computer means a constant forgetting exists at the center of the memory cards I write. That's part of it, perhaps what joins my obsession with memory with my obsession about forgetting. To revise inside the poem/meditation/memory card, however, is not to alter the moment, but usually to replace it with another one, more apt for the occasion (and its quick flickering away). It is not to create a "good poem," though one hopes they're good enough, like many mothers. It is to make sure that the record of the moment works. Not a question of efficiency, but of haphazard stumbling into a meaning that will cohere, even as it's let go. The shifting ground of questions and answers, of difficulties and temporary solutions. Burke's situation strategy without a clear situation or strategy.

But more important to me is the sentence I wrote just up the page from here: "The writer . . . is being revised." That old visionary company of love might have tanked in the 19th century, along with the sublime ambitions of poetry. But a re-visionary company comes after Objectivism (in a poetic sense) and after disappointment, brutality, and age in the "real life" sense. When I write, I do not re-shape the world under the tremendous power of my pixellated thoughts; rather, I am re-shaped by it. As my experiences wear away at my expectations and ambitions and desire to alter the text that is my life, my writing records the process. And this may be why I find myself writing more and more lately. As my ambition to write poems wears down, my delight in recording the process of being lived (if I can put it that way) increases. Robert Frost's adage about form, that without it you're playing tennis without a net, transposes for me into a sense that without writing my life would have no form. No net to catch me. I can mend a net, but I cannot re-vise it. It alters me. Where alteration finds.

14 August 2016

The experience of poignancy involves a simultaneous awareness of some particular's mortality. Poignancy isn't consolation, but perhaps it's muse (with or without apostrophe). A friend says he doesn't so much like my aphorisms, prefers the stories. Like cars on a ship, stripped clean of valuables, though still capable of transport on the other side. Transport to the other side's another matter. Indifferent or no, that side's got glamor when it's not plain terrifying. [He] said universes upon universes opened up--there were no drugs involved--and there was nothing that wasn't possible. That was 20 years ago. [He] came to me with tears in his eyes and said he wanted to talk to someone. Not I. “Eyes well up” suggests plenitude, as if in awareness there's always already too-much. My father's full eyes prove a lineage.

--14 August 2016

[Zwicky #71]

Saturday, August 13, 2016

13 August 2016

We see it in a flash. She means the proof, or at least what shape the proof proves. Memory is also erasure. This image pushes another out of the box, no yellow card to stop time. Our red chair's superimposed in a high school bus. Radhika remembers the poet they discussed in class died in 2014: The wind turns gray in my hands,” she tells me. More is less, and she longs for more. I suggest that less is more and I long for less, but she corrects me. Someone posts a black and white photograph of a plane, in every seat a small box and in every box a baby. A comment refers us to a man with a Vietnamese face and an Irish brogue, forty-two years after he flew in a box inside a plane. Sangha lay in a box attached to the bulkhead. Moses drifted in a box downstream. A white man attacks a friend's son in an act of road rage, yells at him to go back to Africa. If you're going to be a racist, his mother avers, at least call him “chink.”

--13 August 2016

[Zwicky #64]

Friday, August 12, 2016

12 August 2016

Loss-in-connexion, connexion-in-loss, is the emotional tone of wisdom. Whatever it is, don't hold onto it. These days, I'm much less interested in mind, which may be lucky considering statistics on Alzheimer's in the over-my-age set. It's the way emotion precedes intellect that moves me, the way emotion means more when intellect gives way like wooden blocks when you pull the wrong one out. I lost that game twice, but the net was laughter and reconstruction. It's raining on the palm today. Stevens saw real palms in Florida: even a metaphor has literal root. The end of mind is not palm, though that comes closer than some possible conclusions. When I opened facebook this morning, I saw Goro's wife's body on a bed, lit candle on the table beside her, his note to thank her for having married him. It is “finished,” he writes. In the machine translations, “is” comes last. 

--12 August 2016

Zwicky, #56

Thursday, August 11, 2016

More on Albert Saijo, from the archives

I was just visiting Volcano, staying quite close to Albert's old cottage, which looks quite different now--it's painted and has an overhang to protect the wood--and thought a lot about him and his influence on me and others. So, in the interest of keeping an archive, I'm going to paste in the talk I delivered on his notebooks last year in March in Hilo.

If you're interested in Saijo, simply type his name into the blog's search engine. You'll find another essay, or two, as well as considerations of the notebooks that include photographs I took of some of them.

A Few Propositions On Albert Saijo's Notebooks

--Albert Saijo, WOODRAT FLAT

Writing is such a “reportless” place—the word is Dickinson’s, and it comes from a poem—indeed, a manuscript—that I love and that begins: “In many and reportless places – one feels a joy….”
While writing or thought is reportless, the manuscript is the material trace of that process and, I believe, of the joy that attends it.
--Marta Werner, co-editor of Dickinson's envelope poems

Albert Saijo did not write poems, he wrote words, sentences, blocks of hand-written printing. His notebooks, some as small as a memo pad, others as large as a “utility notebook,” were full of pencilled words and sketches. Hardly anywhere was there an indication that what he was writing was “poem.” The poems came after, when Saijo or his wife or editor marked sections of writing that became poems. These were typed in manuscripts of capital letters, followed by the books and journal pages in all caps. His cottage industry of writing was transmuted (and diminished) into the mass production of type.

To write by hand or to speak out loud is to court the muse of dissolution. Saijo wrote in pencil, which can easily be erased. His notebooks reside in two or three plastic tubs, piled up in no particular order. Many of the pages are smudged (the page about having a shit is oddly besmirched by a brown stain: SLIDE). Not one of his pages looks like any other of the pages; each was composed as a separate field. In his essay, “Projective Verse,” Charles Olson writes in all caps: “ONE PERCEPTION MUST IMMEDIATELY AND DIRECTLY LEAD TO A FURTHER PERCEPTION.” Citing his friend, Robert Creeley, Olson insists that “FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT.” If content is meaning, then Saijo's form was page and pencilled capital letters (at least after the 1970s, when he still wrote in cursive). Or do they work the other way around?

Olson and his friends loved the typewriter, because its mechanism could stitch words across the field of composition; the white space was more a canvas on which to draw than a parking lot where words get parked, left to right and then back again. My students tell me that a typewritten page feels more “personal” to them, and I suggest that's because it's an old technology more than that it's in any way “personal.” But if typing the score to a word-composition attaches the poet to the instrument of his or her voice, the typewriter is personal. Olson wanted writing to follow the breath, the poet to be attached to his voice. He was already one step further in technological time than Saijo was in later decades.

Saijo—always after and before his time—used the typewriter to institutionalize his poems. The typed page was a to-be-published poem. But the writing, that was done by hand. It is on his notebook pages, not on the typed page, that he most identifies with Olson's field of composition, often completely covered in black letters. The printed book is an after-image of his text, a translation more than a conveyance of his thoughts. How can anyone think that this poem is the same as this poem? [“Why not take the fun view?” in handwriting, and then in the book: SLIDES]

But what is different about the two versions of this poem? Is it simply that one is grandly messy, while the other is entirely too neat? Not so much. What's lost is process and, even more radically than that, the movement of time. There's a kind of sound in time's movement that is smudge, crossing-out, over-writing. The typed version of “having fun” is relatively no fun at all: its static and all its neatness suggests an antiseptic notion of nature and a perhaps appropriately clean view of what nuclear winter will bring. But the hand-written version, the original and authentic (though I dislike that word) one, that's kinetic. Charles Olson again: “A poem is energy transferred from where the poet got it (he will have some several causations), by way of the poem itself to, all the way over to, the reader. Okay. Then the poem itself must, at all points, be a high-energy construct and, at all points, an energy-discharge. So: how is the poet to accomplish same energy, how is he, what is the process by which a poet gets in, at all points energy at least the equivalent of the energy which propelled him in the first place, yet an energy which is peculiar to verse alone and which will be, obviously, also different from the energy which the reader, because he is the third term, will take away?” Well that's more abstract than a Saijo poem would have it. The kinesis is in Saijo's writing. The typo for “extremity” as “extemity” is not a typo at all, because it's handwritten. It marks the speed of his writing, perhaps, more than that of his fingering on a keyboard.

In her book of passionate criticism, My Emily Dickinson, Susan Howe argues that editors ruined Dickinson's handwritten poetry by regularizing it in type, changing her idiosyncratic symbols and punctuation, putting all the words in lines from left to right. In their original, they looked like blocks, not the neat hymn-like poems we see in printed versions, even those more faithful to the original than the early versions. Howe's argument was and is feminist; male editors, she claimed, had “tamed” Dickinson's wildness and had organized them in a different order from that of the fascicles that Dickinson had sewn together like chapbooks. Dickinson had tried to get her poems published, but then turned away from the public form, holding them close to hand in her room. Because they are in her handwriting, Dickinson's poems are difficult to decipher. Albert Saijo's volumes of Dickinson's facsimile poems, which I recommended to him, contain a dog-ear. At that turned down page is this poem, in Dickinson's handwriting, decipher—or better stated, re-ciphered—in Saijo's handwriting. [Slide]

Howe is interested in the Thomas Johnson edition of Dickinson's poetry from the 1950s—not so long ago, in fact. The male editor has power over the woman writer, she argues. Far be it from me to make a similar claim about Tinfish's treatment of Albert Saijo(!) but much of the wildness of his work is best expressed in the hand-written versions of the poems. A lover of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau, the American Transcendental tradition didn't work for the mid-20th century Japanese-American writer. While Thoreau installed himself in a cabin in the woods, Saijo and his family were shipped to Heart Mountain as internees during the Second World War. There can be no such thing as an interned Transcendentalist, at least not without a lot of grief. After the war, Saijo was harassed by police over his marijuana farming; his writing, while open to nature, is often paranoid about human nature. And for good reason. His hand-writing was one form of resistance to the documentation his family and he had been subjected to. It allowed him to be an individual in the world of type-cast others.

[SLIDE of Chuang Tzu poem] We saw a few minutes ago that Saijo had “typos” in his hand-written work. I found a typo in WOODRAT FLAT after it was published. As an editor, I have a good eye for typos, especially after the book has been published. So I notice that toward the beginning of the poem, Saijo has written, "THESE 2 TREES SURVIVED BECAUSE THEY WERE TOO ODD TO LOG," while at the end, the Tinfish version replaces "ODD" with "OLD": "CHUANG TZE YOU'RE RIGHT BE TOO OLD TO LOG." The editor has taken out some of the writing that wanders above and below the final lines. Did he change "ODD" to "OLD"? Did our scanner do it? Did we do it? The mysteriousness of the mistake is appropriate to any consideration of editing, especially when the manuscript is by someone so prone to over-writing, to self-editing, to making the reader's life at once pleasurable and difficult. The replacement does not ruin the poem: Chuang Tzu is, after all, quite old. Too old to log.

But why the poem about the tree, with a punch line about Chuang Tzu, a punch-line that seems to have turned into a title? Saijo refers to a Buddhist parable here. The tree, like Chuang Tzu's teachings, is "useless." Then, by way of a wildcat, a mouse, and a yak, the writer of the parable gets to his punchline, which is also a warning. "So for your big tree, no use?" The teacher advises his interlocutor to plant the useless tree in a waste land, and to walk around it, meditating. No one will ever cut the tree down. "Useless? You should worry!" concludes the teaching.

The oddness of Saijo's two old Douglas firs saved them. Saijo was himself an able carpenter. Many of his notebooks contain conceptual and more detailed drawings of houses and furniture, including his own house and chair. He knew use value. But he was also someone who knew non-value, the art of sitting around in front of the fire, sketching out his thoughts as they flickered by. Handwriting is nearly useless now. My kids have learned to write on computers; they text, they use Facetime, they write essays directly into the computer. You need a signature for your checks, if then, which monetizes handwriting in ways Saijo would have hated. What is original—the scratch of our writing implement on paper—is what can be cashed in, if our balance is good.

Marta Werner notes: “And we see new things—things we didn’t see before. Signs of speed and of slowness often appear on the manuscript of the draft. In Dickinson’s case, accelerations in thought are marked in the slant of the writing or the blurring of ink or graphite. And sometimes we can also see a slowing down of composition, as if she was making her way more uncertainly, moving like a 'stranger through the house of language.' There’s a beautiful draft of Dickinson’s poem 'As Summer into Autumn slips' in which she compulsively reworks a passage, repeating and substituting the words 'thought' and 'shaft,' and when I look at these marks on the page, I can almost see her trying to redynamize the trace of writing. Gabriel Josipovici said that writing is 'something that is happening … at the cross-roads of the mental and the physical.'”

In the introduction to Black Riders: The Visible Language of Modernism, Jerome McGann discusses the “misrepresentation” of Dickinson's poetry in the Thomas Johnson edition. “It has approached her work,” he writes, “as if it aspired to a typographical existence. On the contrary, Dickinson's scripts cannot be read as if they were 'printer's copy' manuscripts, or as if they were composed with an eye toward some state beyond their handcrafted textual condition.” Even though Dickinson wrote in an age of print, McGann argues, her poetry was not written for print. A similar case could be made for Saijo's writing, which cannot be accurately translated into type, even if we're grateful to have the messages he left us.

11 August 2016

As though the weight of the universe were balanced on a single point, and that point entered us. To teach is to point; to suffer equally so. He puts the photo of his wife's dress on Facebook. It's tropical blue, laid flat so we see only fabric. She'll wear it again before she's cremated. “When I heard she might have more cancer, I envied her the experience of dying.” There is so little to this life. Saijo asked Bryant if he believed the phrase “no being left behind,” and he said he did. We're not bodhissatvas, and yet we stay. We look for the best property and then slip in, as if breathing were a sequence of empty rooms. To lack desire to do is not to forsake the breath. Is it?

Thisness is the experience of a distinct thing in such a way that the resonant structure of the world sounds through it. The middle register of the meditation bell; a flash mob around middle C; truck tires between bird calls. His wedding ring clothes the left fourth finger as he holds his hands up, finger tip pressed to finger tip. Here's the roof and here's the steeple, open it up and see all the people. Do you want to live today, I might ask. And if you don't, please stay. Air brings a better sound: palm rustle, pot or pan and spoon, mynas quarreling, intermittent fart of a drill out back.

--11 August 2016

#54, 55, Zwicky

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

10 August 2016

Everything exceeds its name. If at first it doesn't hurt, then wait. Count to ten, repeat. Take the chisel to your chest and swing. Feel dust enter lungs, sift into abdomen. The girl says she can't eat; it hurts too much. She carries sharp shoulder bones over a bent torso, as I remember her grandmother did. Family news of a car crash (minor) and Alzheimer's (increase of anger). We inherit things, my son says, to distinguish me from his real family. "You're my legal mother." Ten minutes later he brings his computer to share baseball highlights. Giancarlo Stanton shatters his bat; the replay shows him confused, unable to see the ball from home. The box score reads 2B.

--10 August 2016

Zwicky, #52

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

9 August 2016

We go up to the thing we mean. Meaning is fine, so long as you don't fix it. There's nothing like emasculating meaning to make it last. The (male) nurse laughed when I checked “no” in the box that asked if Radhika's testicles were enlarged. And sure enough, I had. Don't put meaning in a box, unless you want to ship it. Please tell me the history of the phrase, “Second Amendment remedies.” What is the medicine, and what the disease? The man behind Donald Trump mouthed “wow” and then laughed. I nearly giggled to see Bryant's duck walk during meditation. Right heel first, foot angled right, set down, and then again set down. Laughter is a broken lock, not a set one. Its repetitions are not crosses, but odder angles than those. Sharon Angle said it first. Under this dispensation, to heal is also to kill. The deaf cat was under foot. We tended to her because she breathes.

--9 August 2016

#51, Zwicky: Wittgenstein

Monday, August 8, 2016

8 August 2016

Would it be better if we didn't get sick? Translated back from Japanese, Atul Gawande writes of the dying: “My own way of my own in the end of the story I want to display.” On Anuhea Circle Drive in Volcano I walked until I saw the mountain ahead of me, a molting longhorn sheep grazing in the field, its neck tied to a long clothes line. Halfway there, a house had fallen in the rain forest, its timbers stuck through the ferns, all akimbo. “Triangle,” the 3-year old girl said with delight, and this was one, lacking hypotenuse or clear angle. Beside the road, heaps of trash: a stroller, fast food packaging, broken chairs, and two old cars. I glanced at the silver Neon, rooted in the mossy sponge that covers lava rock. Someone was looking back: an Asian man with silver hair and thin beard. I waved twice, once on my way to the mountain view, and once on the way back. He was lodged between the steering wheel and old upholstery, eyes open to the road. My former student's wife sits propped up in palliative care: “I'm imprisoned,” she tells him. There's a small window in the white room, a few flowers, and a button to push for a nurse's care. That's a separate photograph, and another that shows her hand only, resting on the bed's rail. 

--8 August 2016
#30, Jan Zwicky

Thursday, August 4, 2016

4 August 2016

The other world is this world too. If metaphor is wisdom, what of ferns wearing their early sunlight like nothing else, or the high and the low pitched birds, or the deaf cat's mewling? This is where world strips down, for which there's metaphor, but none now. To record an image doesn't clothe the poem, but admits to what is here. I hear a tour helicopter, and I know what it looks at. New land erupts in sulfur steam near Kalapana; the caldera stains night sky a blotched red. The sky is blue. The spider web catches light and makes it white. Image stripped to image, point of gravel in the road after last night's rain.

--4 August 2016

[Transtromer, from Zwicky, #27]