The seat of the soul is where the inner world and the outer world meet. Where they overlap, it is in every point of the overlap. - Novalis

Monday, August 30, 2010

On Velimir Khlebnikov

I am haunted by Henry Corbin's implicit desire to outline a contemporary theology of the icon. He thought that Russian Orthodox Christianity exhibited a barely repressed docetism, and referred to Russian theologians fairly often. So I was especially struck by this reference on Jerome Rothenberg's blog. -

Osip Mandelstam said of Velemir Khlebnikov's work that he had written “one enormous all-Russian book of prayers and icons from which, for centuries and centuries to come, everyone who may will find something to draw on.” (Osip Mandelstam, "Storm and Stress," in Mandelstam, Osip, Jane Gary Harris, and Constance Link. 1979. Mandelstam: the complete critical prose and letters. Ann Arbor: Ardis, p. 178).

There is not too much of Khlebnikov translated into English, but there is this, now out of print: The King of Time - Selected Writings of the Russian Futurian, (Harvard, 1990).

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Does Your Language Shape How You Think?

NYTimes: August 26, 2010

"Seventy years ago, in 1940, a popular science magazine published a short article that set in motion one of the trendiest intellectual fads of the 20th century..." Read more...

Seems that we can conclude that Whorf wasn't quite the fool the opening paragraphs make him out to be. This looks to be an interesting book. I won't have time to read it but I hope Ron Silliman will keep an eye out for reviews. [He did: HERE is one.]

Guy Deutscher is an honorary research fellow at the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures at the University of Manchester. His new book, from which this article is adapted, is “Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages,” to be published this month.

From the publisher:

Linguistics has long shied away from claiming any link between a language and the culture of its speakers: too much simplistic (even bigoted) chatter about the romance of Italian and the goose-stepping orderliness of German has made serious thinkers wary of the entire subject. But now, acclaimed linguist Guy Deutscher has dared to reopen the issue. Can culture influence language—and vice versa? Can different languages lead their speakers to different thoughts? Could our experience of the world depend on whether our language has a word for "blue"?

Challenging the consensus that the fundaments of language are hard-wired in our genes and thus universal, Deutscher argues that the answer to all these questions is—yes. In thrilling fashion, he takes us from Homer to Darwin, from Yale to the Amazon, from how to name the rainbow to why Russian water—a "she"—becomes a "he" once you dip a tea bag into her, demonstrating that language does in fact reflect culture in ways that are anything but trivial. Audacious, delightful, and field-changing, Through the Language Glass is a classic of intellectual discovery.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Wood's Edge Farm - Part 1

Much of what is most important to me now seems related in one way or another to the ambiguous relationship between two realms that are often called the inner and the outer worlds. Everything about this binary pair can usefully be called into question. It seems natural to me to apply metaphors derived from biology & ecology to the task - especially since I believe that it is in part because Western culture has gotten that inner/outer distinction all wrong that our lives on this planet have become so destructive of the ecological systems on which our lives depend. At least that's one way of going about dismantling the framework of modern culture. Probably any other "fundamental" binary pair would do as well - male/female - sacred/secular - art/science - East/West - primitive/advanced - mind/body. It's a long list. But you can take your pick based on where the energies seem to be.

As a start, it's not a binary opposition. There are inners and outers. And vast arrays of barzakhs - boundary regions with characteristics of both. (Everything is a barzakh - a being between others). Each realm is defined by the kinds of beings that live there. We collapse the wild diversity of experience into a few small boxes. We have to release the creatures back into the wild. And then the first phenomenological task is taxonomic. Taxonomy is the art of making subtle and appropriate distinctions. We might think of Gaston Bachelard as a  taxonomist of these regions, along with the poets he speaks of - who are perhaps the naturalists who desribe the specimens - they are of course field taxonomists as well. Long habit has established some extremely flawed taxonomies. We don't see the world. If we don't see the world we can't live in it well. I don't think there is one way of seeing the surround - but there are evidently many ways of mis-perceiving, and they can be destructive of people and their environments. If I continue to post to this blog it will be with the main intent of drawing attention to art & ideas that seem to me to be of use in an attempt to perceive the world, which must be done if we are to live well - which I take to mean living as fully alive, creative, and aware.

In thinking about the relations between the inner & the outer CG Jung's conception of projection has been important and useful to me. In Jung's practical psychology it is linked to the active struggles of inner alchemy and the battle to become conscious of "complexes." It is impossible to relate to other people as individuals as long as we are unconscious of our projections. This notion can be extended much further - and Jung does this - but here I want to point out Henry Corbin's "cosmological" use of the idea. He wrote,

"Each of us carries within himself an image of his own world, his Imago mundi, and projects it into a more or less coherent universe, which becomes the stage on which his destiny is played out. He may not be conscious of it, and to that extent he will experience as imposed upon himself and others this world that in fact he himself or others impose upon themselves."

This kind of projection establishes the setting, the mood and the orientation for an individual worldview. It was long ago that I first came across something like this idea. In the introduction to The Dyer's Hand, a collection of essays in literary criticism, W H Auden wrote something that has stayed in my mind for 30 years:

"All the judgments, aesthetic or moral, that we pass, however objective we try to make them, are in part a rationalization and in part a corrective discipline of our subjective wishes. So long as a man writes poetry or fiction, his dream of Eden is his own business, but the moment he starts writing literary criticism, honesty demands that he describe it to his readers, so that they may be in the position to judge his judgments."

He then presents his own version of Eden at some length (which is a delight & can be read here) and I have thought since I read it that some such disclaimer, such a self-description, might be usefully required of everyone we intend to spend any time with. (And is a useful personal exercise too.)

Depth psychology traditionally works only on the "inner" aspect of this phenomenon. And that can be extremely useful - up to a point. James Hillman has marvelously critiqued the limitations of this approach over the years, and has written about the depth psychology of the "outer" world with wisdom and grace. And this  seems essential to me - because we do inhabit a place, or more usually these days, many places, and the nature of those places matters immensely. We are not the sole directors of the stage on which our lives play out, and who we are is inseparable from where and how we live. The world we inhabit, the place that we experience, is made from the interaction, the sometimes muscular struggle, between the unconscious projected images and the surround in which we are embedded.

In the present context it seems to me that not only should we want a description of a projected Eden, but also of the actual locale, and the mode of life, of anyone whose judgments we intend to take at all seriously. In that spirit I may take some time now and then to describe where I live, some of what I know about the place, and how I occupy it.

I might start this way - We live on bedrock of the Central Maine synclinorium. - on a portion of the Cape Elizabeth Formation to be precise, which is PreCambrian to Ordovician metamorphic rock that outcrops in long northeast to southwest trending ridges throughout our area. The 1/4 mile ridge behind our house is one of these. The bedrock is overlaid by glacial-marine deposits from the last ice sheet to withdraw some 13,000 years ago. Much of Maine is covered with glacial till, eskers and moraines. The soil that our garden grows in is rather good by New England standards - six to ten inches of Bangor silt loam - and lies formed on top of glacial till.

Well that's all true - as far as I know. And I am glad I know it because it adds to my perceptions of the place. But it's pretty abstract & relies on a few hundred years of the collective efforts of innumerable scientists. The kind of knowledge you need to actually farm or garden is rather more detailed, more precise and more complex in many ways. The way you might desribe this or any other place depends on what you do there.

And then there is this:


The stone wall is unshaded now.
The ferns might die in the strong light,
but the wall was there long before this forest
grew up. It marked the boundary then
too. So much weight. So much work.
They used oxen I guess, but still
that's a lot of hard work and long
long days. No grocery stores
then. But what I want to get at
is this tightness in my back and in my
gut. That's what made me think of the
wall. And all those stones. I have lifted some of them
so I know. What a job a wall like this is - how it huddles
low into the earth, all lichened over -
maybe the snakes will come out now and sun themselves.
They would remember this wall from long ago. They
would. Part of the landscape now - a natural object in a way.
It's not like anyone would make one
of these now - nobody would. And anyway
nobody could, here. Hell, most of the stones are
already in these walls - following the curves of the
hills - you can see - now that all the trees are out of
the way. It's kind of sad, really, in a way - thinking of those
old guys and their oxen and their walls
and their strong, cramped and bitter backs.

Whether this is "good" as a poem is entirely beside the point, but I wrote it as a response to and description of this place.  What interests me - what obsesses me - is how to navigate among these - and many other - ways of engaging the worlds we inhabit.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Juliet Schor on Plenitude

 In 1972 Gregory Bateson wrote this in Steps to an Ecology of Mind:

"If you put God outside and set him vis-a-vis his creation and if you have the idea that you are created in his image, you will logically and naturally see yourself as outside and against the things around you. And as you arrogate all mind to yourself, you will see the world around you as mindless and therefore not entitled to moral or ethical consideration. The environment will seem to be yours to exploit. Your survival unit will be you and your folks or conspecifics against the environment of other social units, other races and the brutes and vegetables.

If this is your estimate of your relation to nature, and you have an advanced technology, your likelihood of survival will be that of a snowball in hell. You will die either of the toxic by-products of your own hate, or, simply, of overpopulation and overgrazing. The raw materials of the world are finite."

I might quibble a bit with his theological analysis since there are theists who do not think this way (and I would point out that Henry Corbin objected very much to the idea that Creation is radically outside the Creator for something like these reasons.). But taken as a general statement of much of mainstream Western consciousness, he does get it about right. If we imagine an extraterrestrial intelligence (or a bemused God, perhaps) looking down on earth to see how we conduct ourselves, it's hard to see how anyone could conclude otherwise than that we see ourselves as masters of nature - and not very bright ones at that.

The fact that economic activity takes place on a finite planet is almost never mentioned in any discussions of economics in any of the mainstream media. You almost never hear about ecological economics in the tradition of Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen and Herman Daly. I am happy to point out Juliet Schor's book Plenitude: the new economics of true wealth and her blog on economics and society. Schor is currently professor of  sociology at Boston College. She argues, as have many before her (Wendell Berry may come to mind for readers of this blog) that the current economic model is a catastrophe and that we will have to change the way we think about economic development. The lifestyles of most people in the industrialized world cannot be sustained. This seems a harsh fact to many in America in particular. I remember Dick Cheney's scorn and derision for those who suggested conservation as a viable strategy for energy independence. But as Schor points out, the real values of human life are not those of unconstrained consumerism, and the "good life" can, and in fact must, be attained by other means than the current economic system. We are not really talking about sacrifice, but a recognition of the true nature of human happiness.

Here is the publisher's description:

"In Plenitude economist and bestselling author Juliet Schor offers a groundbreaking intellectual statement about the economics and sociology of ecological decline, suggesting a radical change in how we think about consumer goods, value, and ways to live.

Humans are degrading the planet far faster than they are regenerating it. As we travel along this shutdown path, food, energy, transport and consumer goods are becoming increasingly expensive. The economic downturn that has accompanied the ecological crisis has led to another type of scarcity: incomes, jobs, and credit are also in short supply. Our usual way back to growth — a debt-financed consumer boom — is no longer an option our households, or planet, can afford.

Responding to our current moment, Plenitude puts sustainability at its core, but it is not a paradigm of sacrifice. Instead it's an argument that through a major shift to new sources of wealth, green technologies, and different ways of living, individuals and the country as a whole can actually be better off and more economically secure.

And as Schor observes, Plenitude is already emerging. In pockets around the country and the world, people are busy creating lifestyles that offer a way out of the work and spend cycle. These pioneers' lives are scarce in conventional consumer goods and rich in the newly abundant resources of time, information, creativity and community. Urban farmers, D.I.Y renovators, Craig's List users, cob builders — all are spreading their risk and establishing novel sources of income and outlets for procuring consumer goods. Taken together, these trends represent a movement away from the conventional market and offer a way toward an efficient, rewarding life in an era of high prices and traditional resource scarcity.

Based on recent developments in economic theory, social analysis, and ecological design, as well as evidence from the cutting edge people and places putting these ideas into practice, Plenitude is a road map for the next two decades. In encouraging us to value our gifts — nature, community, intelligence, and time — Schor offers the opportunity to participate in creating a world of wealth and well-being."

And this from Schor's webpage:


Humans are degrading the planet far faster than they are regenerating it. Food, energy, transport, and consumer goods are becoming increasingly scarce and over the long term will be more expensive. The economic downturn that has accompanied the ecological decline has led to another type of scarcity: incomes, jobs, and credit. We can start addressing both economic and ecological deficits by tapping into neglected assets.

TIME: For decades Americans have been devoting more and more time to the labor market. Plenitude practitioners reverse that trend, using their newfound time affluence to invest in other sources of wealth. They make, rather than buy, share, rather than spend, and build social relationships. These individual solutions also create balance in the labor market: hours of work in jobs fall which allows companies to hire more employees. Right now, productivity is growing too rapidly and hours per job are too high to absorb all the people who need work.

HIGH-TECH SELF-PROVISIONING: We can reduce reliance on the market by meeting basic needs (income, food, housing, consumer goods, energy) through a series of creative, smart, high productivity technologies: growing food (using permaculture and vertical gardens), creating energy on a small scale (convert a Prius to a plug-in and double gas mileage), building homes with free labor and local, natural materials and using new Fab-Lab technologies (small, smart machines that make almost anything). Schor looks at examples of people already practicing self-provisioning and converting their skills into money-making ventures.

CONSUMING DIFFERENTLY: Plenitude is a strategy for living that gives people more time, more creativity, and more social connection, while also lowering ecological footprints and avoiding consumer debt. It yields a high satisfaction style of life, although not necessarily a high spending lifestyle. So how does it meet our desires to shop, buy, and enjoy the fruits of a consumer society? It’s a combination of accessing “new to you” products, sharing expensive items such as cars and appliances, and making careful purchases of long-lasting goods.

CONNECTION: As more and more labor time went into the market, time for community disappeared. Social ties frayed and neighborhoods hollowed out. But social relationships are a potent form of economic wealth, which people can turn to during financial instability or adverse climate events. People who have strong social connections, or what’s called social capital, fare much better when times get rough. Plenitude involves re-building local economic interdependence by trading services, sharing assets, and relying on each other in good, as well as hard times.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Thinking Globally

I lived in the coccoon of academia for quite a long time. One of the surprises I had upon my emergence was the slowly dawning realization of the unconscious ignorance in which so many people seem to swim. I am still convinced that most people are far more intelligent (loosely defined as "able to learn") than they believe themselves to be (and teaching for nearly 20 years actually confirmed this belief). But everyone is ignorant. Maybe the most important thing a good education does is to show you just how profoundly ignorant you are. It makes you humble and careful - or it should.

It is a continuing source of amazement to me that so many people think they can have informed opinions about "global warming." I know a bit of science - quite a bit of biology, a little physics, a little computer programming, a very little mathematics, and a smattering of other things in the natural sciences.  All that education makes it quite clear to me that I know absolutely nothing about climate modeling. Several years thinking about "complex systems" from the outside - and watching people who do know about complex systems - gave me a sense of how to think about some of these issues. I used to teach about climate change - and we used to talk about how hard it is for politicians and political systems in general to deal with issues of uncertainty. But I see now how naive and foolish I was. I really did not understand how unconscious of their own ignorance many people are. It reminds me of Donald Rumsfeld's infamous quip about "unknown unknowns" - he was exactly right, those are the ones that will get you. It is so jaw-droppingly astounding to hear people talk about climate change issues as if they have opinions that mean anything. It makes one quite mad with frustration. Ignorance is no sin - it is curable. But unconscious ignorance masquerading as knowledge is dangerous. Of course one unfortunate corollary of this is that in instances such as climate modeling we simply have no choice but to rely on the opinions of experts. And this is dangerous and regrettable. It is why we should put our cautious confidence in the consensus of many experts. Who might indeed be wrong even then - but it is the best we can do. And to make matters worse, as Thomas Homer-Dixon notes in his recent editorial,

"Climate change has become an ideologically polarizing issue. It taps into deep personal identities and causes what Dan Kahan of Yale calls “protective cognition” — we judge things in part on whether we see ourselves as rugged individualists mastering nature or as members of interconnected societies who live in harmony with the environment."

I am really not sanguine about the future. We are almost certainly rocketing into a world we are not prepared to accept or understand. Homer-Dixon's essay seems to me very much worth reading:

Disaster at the Top of the World
NYTimes: August 22, 2010

"... experts are especially concerned that new patterns of air movement in the Arctic could disrupt the Northern Hemisphere’s jet streams — which are apparently weakening and moving northward. This could alter storm tracks, rainfall patterns and food production far to the south. The limited slack in the world’s food system, particularly its grain production, can amplify the effects of disruptions. Remember that two years ago, when higher oil prices encouraged farmers to shift enormous tracts of cropland from grain to biofuel production, grain prices quickly doubled or tripled. Violence erupted in dozens of countries. Should climate change cause crop failures in major food-producing regions of Europe, North America and East Asia, the consequences would likely be far more severe." READ THE ENTIRE EDITORIAL

Image here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

“Poetry in this time and nation is doing the work of philosophy—it is writing that is conjecture” - Leslie Scalapino, "The Cannon " in The Public World / Syntactically Impermanence, 1999, pg. 19.

Untitled, Petah Coyne, 1993.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Slow Death by Rubber Duck

Slow Death by Rubber Duck by Rick Smith & Bruce Lourie

Audio file on NPR: Authors Attempt Death by Rubber Duck
At Googlebooks

From the publisher: Funny, thought-provoking, and incredibly disturbing,Slow Death by Rubber Duck reveals that just the living of daily life creates a chemical soup inside each of us. Pollution is no longer just about belching smokestacks and ugly sewer pipes now, it's personal. The most dangerous pollution has always come from commonplace items in our homes and workplaces. Smith and Lourie ingested and inhaled a host of things that surround all of us all the time. This book exposes the extent to which we are poisoned every day of our lives. For this book, over the period of a week the kind of week that would be familiar to most people the authors use their own bodies as the reference point and tell the story of pollution in our modern world, the miscreant corporate giants who manufacture the toxins, the weak-kneed government officials who let it happen, and the effects on people and families across the globe. Parents and concerned citizens will have to read this book. Key concerns raised in Slow Death by Rubber Duck: Flame-retardant chemicals from electronics and household dust polluting our blood. Toxins in our urine caused by leaching from plastics and run-of-the-mill shampoos, toothpastes and deodorant. Mercury in our blood from eating tuna. The chemicals that build up in our body when carpets and upholstery off-gas. Ultimately hopeful, the book empowers readers with some simple ideas for protecting themselves and their families, and changing things for the better.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

In 1990 while I was a student at the first Santa Fe Institute Summer School I experienced a kind of epiphany - a sudden shock at any rate, and one that changed my life substantially. I was programming some relatively simple computer simulations of the evolution of model ecosystems under the direction of Stuart Kauffman. He was always kind, supportive and generous to me, even though I had approached him as a total stranger in search of guidance. I was in way over my head really, and it was an eye-opener to be among people who were at the top of their fields in mathematics, computer science, physics and theoretical biology. I remember thinking "Ah! So that's what 'smart' means!" I'd never been in such company before. It was terrific fun and very exhilarating. Most of them were some of the friendliest, most interesting people I have known. But among the "Artificial Life" people were a few who were so totally absorbed in the abstract world of computational models and theoretical science as to have lost touch with the realities that had drawn me to biology and natural science in the first place. Some of them seemed to me, and to others there, to have little or no interest in the potential social, political and even ecological implications of their work. It is easy to be swept up in the excitement of pure science. Pure research is about curiosity and is often accompanied by a blind drive, a tunnel vision that keeps one focused on the task at hand and oblivious to anything else. The will to power takes many forms. However "pure" the science might be, there are usually, perhaps always, potential commercial and even military applications lurking somewhere in the background. And some of the AL folks were seriously proposing that if artificial life were ever to be created, in hardware, or software or even in "wet-ware" (actual organic creatures), then it would be somehow the human duty to let such creatures evolve "beyond" us in whatever ways the "coming evolution" might devise. It was indeed science fiction come true.

It was in this context that my moment of clarity occurred. I was walking in the hills above Santa Fe one afternoon and gazing out across the Rio Grande Valley at the hills where Los Alamos National Laboratory lies. It came to me in just these words: "Oh my God! They've got biology too!" But "they," I am afraid, is us - all of us who benefit from and encourage modern technologies.

In retrospect I think that one reason I had immersed myself in natural history and evolutionary biology was that it seemed safe from the kind of  moral dilemmas that have so obviously burdened physics since 1945. I had wanted to play like a child in the beauties and delights of the extraordinary diversity and genuine wonders of biology. Vladimir Nabokov said "My pleasures are the most intense known to man: Butterfly hunting and writing." It was in this spirit that I had originally devoted myself to entomology. But I had eventually succumbed yet again to the allures that draw some of us towards abstraction and disembodiment.

I think Wendell Berry says somewhere that while one possible human potential may perhaps be to download our brains into computers and exit the planet in search of adventure and digital immortality, it should be incumbent on those who choose to try not to destroy the planet on their way out - the rest of us want to live here. At any rate my unease eventually led me away from that kind of science and gave rise to the "Dogmas Idols and the Edge of Chaos" paper. It's useful to remember that all of civilization depends on a few inches of topsoil, which we are rapidly destroying. As much as I feel the exhilarating upward rush and thrust of that masculine drive for power and freedom, I remain wary of any human activities that operate too far from our biological and ecological roots. Stanley Diamond has said that the sickness of civilization consists in its failure to incorporate and only then move beyond the limits of the primitive. Actually, I am suspicious of everything - there is nothing "safe."  As has been pointed out often enough mythologies of roots and homeland have been misused for purposes just as inhuman as the nuclear bomb.

So it has been a long time since I  paid attention to developments in those fields that concern themselves with the new technologies. But it's increasingly hard to avoid their effects, and many people are very much immersed in them much of the time. If I had the time I would return to the work of N. Katherine Hayles which I found remarkable and useful some years ago. I had noticed as I started my work in theoretical biology that many of the fundamental metaphors of the sciences of complexity looked very much like those I had encountered in the "postmodern" humanities, especially philosophy and literary studies. Hayles first two books cover exactly this ground and are indispensable for anyone trying to understand modern culture:

The Cosmic Web: Scientific Field Models and Literary Strategies in the Twentieth Century, 1984
Chaos Bound: Orderly Disorder in Contemporary Literature and Science, 1990

Her next book would be high on my list if I were to re-enter this arena. I read quite a bit of it when it first appeared and know I can recommend it: How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics, 1999. And given my current interests I will certainly have to read the newest text: Writing Machines  which received the Suzanne Langer Award for Outstanding Scholarship from the  Media Ecology Association  (Suzanne Langer was a great scholar and philosopher whose work on the role of symbols in human culture deserves wider recognition).  A recent lecture by Hayles at the Tate Modern in London can be found here: Nature, Space, Society.

I hope these notes provide an entry into some very remarkable territory for the interested reader.

The Transfiguration by Alex Grey

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Urban Food Deserts

NPR Audio: In Chicago a Plan to Quench Food Deserts (Aug 12, 2010): Walgreens is piloting several food centers in Chicago after Mayor Daley approached the chain about helping end "food deserts" -- areas bereft of grocery stores and food options. Walgreens is now selling fresh produce and light perishable groceries in low-income and/or black communities in Chicago. Listen here

Can America's Urban Food Deserts Bloom? (TIME)

Map from the Maryland Institute College of Art here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

High in the Andes, Keeping an Incan Mystery Alive - by Simon Romero in the NYTimes.

SAN CRISTÓBAL DE RAPAZ, Peru — The route to this village 13,000 feet above sea level runs from the desert coast up hairpin bends, delivering the mix of exhilaration and terror that Andean roads often provide. Condors soar above mist-shrouded crags. Quechua-speaking herders squint at strangers who arrive gasping in the thin air.

Rapaz’s isolation has allowed it to guard an enduring archaeological mystery: a collection of khipus, the cryptic woven knots that may explain how the Incas — in contrast to contemporaries in the Ottoman Empire and China’s Ming dynasty — ruled a vast, administratively complex empire without a written language.

Archaeologists say the Incas, brought down by the Spanish conquest, used khipus — strands of woolen cords made from the hair of animals like llamas or alpacas — as an alternative to writing. The practice may have allowed them to share information from what is now southern Colombia to northern Chile.

Few of the world’s so-called lost writings have proved as daunting to decipher as khipus, scholars say, with chroniclers from the outset of colonial rule bewildered by their inability to crack the code. Researchers at Harvard have been using databases and mathematical models in recent efforts to understand the khipu (pronounced KEE-poo), which means knot in Quechua, the Inca language still spoken by millions in the Andes. ... Read the whole article.
What You Should Know to be a Poet

all you can about animals as persons.
the names of trees and flowers and weeds.
the names of stars and the movements of planets
                              and the moon.
your own six senses, with a watchful elegant mind.
at least one kind of traditional magic:
divination, astrology, the book of changes, the tarot;

the illusory demons and the illusory shining gods.
kiss the ass of the devil and eat shit;
fuck his horny barbed cock,
fuck the hag,
and all the celestial angels
                               and maidens perfum’d and golden-

& then love the human: wives     husbands    and friends
children’s games, comic books, bubble-gum,
the weirdness of television and advertising.

work long, dry hours of dull work swallowed and accepted
and lived with and finally lovd.        exhaustion,
                           hunger, rest.

the wild freedom of the dance, extasy
silent solitary illumination, entasy

real danger. gambles and the edge of death.

- Gary Snyder
from Regarding Wave, collected in
No Nature: New & Selected Poems, Pantheon, 1991, 184.

Monday, August 16, 2010

They Write Their Dreams on the Rock Forever: Rock Writings in the Stein River Valley of British Columbia
By Annie York & Chris Arnett & Richard Daly
Talonbooks, 1993.

From the Publisher: In They Write Their Dreams on the Rock Forever, ‘Nlaka’pamux elder Annie York explains the red ochre inscriptions written on the rocks and cliffs of the lower Stein Valley in British Columbia. This is perhaps the first time that a Native elder has presented a detailed and comprehensive explanation of rock art images from her people’s culture. As Annie York’s narratives unfold, we are taken back to the fresh wonder of childhood, as well as to a time in human society when people and animals lived together in one psychic dimension.

This book describes, among many other things, the solitary spiritual meditations of young people in the mountains, a form of education once essential to all those who wished to succeed in life with their particular talents. Astrological predictions, herbal medicine, winter spirit dancing, hunting, shamanism, respect for nature, midwifery, birth and death, are some of the topics that emerge from Annie’s reading of the trail signs and other cultural symbols painted on the rocks. She firmly believed that this knowledge should be published so that the general public could understand why, as she put it, “The Old People reverenced those sacred places like that Stein.”  Read More.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Considering how exaggerated music is by Leslie Scalapino, North Point Press, 1982.

"That light I like so much in Leslie Scalapino's poems, which seems to derive from her very quiet, zany, spooky, joyous word - love ... it's that light that gives me the feeling of being in the right place when I'm reading her poems. It's like suddenly remembering, oh, that's right, this is where I wanted to be." - Ted Berrigen

It's really far too soon to tell, but this could be another title for my "Ten Books" list because it introduced me to Scalapino. In a late piece in Jacket 40, "Disbelief", she discusses some of her early work included in this volume. Much of this book is collected in Its go in horizontal (Selected Poems, 1974-2006. University of California Press, 2008) which I now have in my hands. It seems better to have the entire sequences as they appear in the original volume. Still this selection is indispensable. Fanny Howe says of it:

“Leslie Scalapino is one who is one. A solitary, an original. Hers is a religious poetry in the tradition of Edward Thomas and Emily Dickinson, of the Hindu Vedas and Do-Gen. What other way could there be for someone with a mind so electric, independent and restless except out into the space-time conundrum? Her instrument (for she is also a soul-scientist) is a light beam held by hand in the form of a pen. Because she is thoroughly modern, every moment of experience is interrupted and unstable, accompanied by introspection and sidelong glimpses at the social. The poet here is a horrified witness, a perpetual child, a sexually alert female who keeps looking back to believe what she has seen. I read these poems as they are given: line-by-line, in flashes, and then I return to read each one again. This is a superb and important contribution to philosophy, theology, psychology, and the science of knowing. To have the selection here now, to be able to see the whole trajectory in one volume, is to experience a revolutionary moment.”—Fanny Howe

I rather expect that this is not the last time I will speak about Scalapino's work. I am stunned.

Twin Suns - George Crumb

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Shifting Ground

Here is one final paper from long ago, when I was looking for some way to think about the relation between imagination and science, particularly biological science. This paper was presented in 1992 at the Basic Issues Forum Colloquium: Dominion Over the Earth, sponsored by Washington & Jefferson College, in Washington PA. It won 2nd prize and that gave me some pocket money - but I don't think now that it is particularly good, and certainly not well written. Perhaps it suggests some ways one might think about these things, but now I would rather be more emphatic about my rejection of the complex systems paradigms and the tendency to take them literally. But still it's nice to see that I was in part groping towards something like what Tim Morton calls "dark ecology."  - The picture here by the way was done for the Colloquium poster, but I can't find an attribution beyond the "Holland" at the lower left.

"Shifting Ground: Imagination and the Diversity of Worlds," by Tom Cheetham, in The Relationship of Man and Nature in the Modern Age, ed. Denis Lehotay, Edwin Mellen Press, 1993, 227-46.Shifting Ground - Tom Cheetham 1993

Friday, August 13, 2010

News of the Universe

News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness, Edited by Robert Bly.

This collection was first published in 1980 by Sierra Club Books, and it remains an important volume. I've used it as a text in environmental studies courses a few times and would do so again. Bly's essays are useful and provocative and the (mostly) historically organized texts provide a wide range of accessible and important "pieces of thinking" - to borrow a phrase from Bringhurst. It is full of poems that have stayed with me and that I come back to again and again. Below is one favorite.


A pale morning in June 4AM
the country roads still greyish and moist
tunnelling endlessly through the pines
a car had passed by on the dusty road
where an ant was out with his pine needle working
he was wandering around in the huge F of Firestone
that had been pressed into the sandy earth
for a hundred and twenty kilometers.
Fir needles are heavy.
Time after time he slipped back with his badly balanced
and worked it up again
and skidded back again
travelling over the great and luminous Sahara lit by clouds.

Translated by Robert Bly 
More Jacobsen in English in 
Copper Canyon Press. 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Empires of Food

Empires of Food: Feast, Famine, and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations
By Evan Fraser and Andrew Rimas

I haven't seen this book, and I don't know how good it is, but at least the issues are getting some attention in the popular press. (I'll have some notes on Michael Pollan soon).

Audio On NPR: How We Eat, Produce Food Could Bring Down Society

This from the publisher: 
Using the colorful diaries of a sixteenth-century merchant as a narrative guide, Empires of Food vividly chronicles the fate of people and societies for the past twelve thousand years through the foods they grew, hunted, traded, and ate—and gives us fascinating, and devastating, insights into what to expect in years to come. In energetic prose, agricultural expert Evan D. G. Fraser and journalist Andrew Rimas tell gripping stories that capture the flavor of places as disparate as ancient Mesopotamia and imperial Britain, taking us from the first city in the once-thriving Fertile Crescent to today's overworked breadbaskets and rice bowls in the United States and China, showing just what food has meant to humanity.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Outrunning the Destruction of the World

Leslie Scalapino 1944-2010 - See the Electronic Poetry Center
with a multitude of links to her work, interviews, audio files of readings and many tributes & remembrances.

From Lyn Hejinian, "Leslie Scalapino Remembered": Leslie's work was a manifestation of what she termed "continual conceptual rebellion." "Continual conceptual rebellion" is a means of outrunning the forces that would re-form (conventionalize) one. If you stay in one place too long you'll be taken over—either by your own fixating ideas or by those of others. To survive one must always be outrunning what she called "the destruction of the world." Read the essay.

In another essay Hejinian writes,

"What I’ve called outracing or voyaging without end might aptly also be termed learning without end or, better, outlearning. As Scalapino sees it, one must (constantly and relentlessly) outlearn what one has been (and is being) taught. One inhabits a culture and is taught that it is the universe and one’s own. To go to and then return from a different culture drives a wedge into that universe. The sensation that Scalapino’s writing is wedged into the contemporary American version of the universe is accurate; she wants us to outlearn it, to outrace it." Read the essay, "Figuring Out".

I suggest it useful to consider the differences & similarities between Scalapino's work and the task Henry Corbin left us: to struggle to see through the opacity of every idol & learn to perceive the iconic light flowing through them. Corbin said, “Others have spoken of the necessity of a 'permanent revolution,' I preach the necessity of a 'permanent hermeneutics.’ ” - Now, how to think about the Angel and ta'wil.

Photo by Charles Bernstein

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Divided Mind

Four Walls: A Psychiatrist's View of Poetry & Poets. by Iain McGilchrist -

"When I left the world of academic English literature it was not because I was any less passionate about poetry, but because I did not want to spend my life operating on my friends. I thought I might kill them. Later I learned of Ted Hughes’s dream about the fox that came to him, singed and smelling of burnt hair, put its paw on the essay he was writing, leaving a bloody mark, and said, “You are destroying us.”

Poetry engraves itself in the brain: it doesn’t just slip smoothly over the cortex as language normally does. It has all the graininess of life, as it rips into being from deep within the limbic system, the ancient seat of awareness and affective meaning..."  Read the essay.

Iain McGilchrist is a former fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, where he taught English literature, and is now a consultant psychiatrist. His most recent book, The Master and his Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, was published by Yale University Press in November 2009.

Read Mary Midgley's Review: "This is a very remarkable book. It is not (as some reviewers seem to think) just one more glorification of feeling at the expense of thought. Rather, it points out the complexity, the divided nature of thought itself and asks about its connection with the structure of the brain..."

Monday, August 9, 2010

Wendell Berry: Life and Work

Wendell Berry: Life and Work
Edited by Jason Peters
The University Press of Kentucky, 2007.
368 pp; Paper, $21.95

From the Review in the Louisville Courier-Journal:

"He was taller than I had expected, almost gangly, with inimitable strides; the gestures few, the body vigorous, the old clothes no different from those worn by our farming neighbors at home…”

John Lane, one of the essayists in Wendell Berry: Life and Work, edited by Jason Peters, describes the man whose writings he had come to call genius, after reading his essay, “The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture” (1977). Lane, from the United Kingdom, considers the work a masterpiece, and its author “with a natural genius as pure and whole as Thoreau.” Like most of the writers in this collection, Lane finds that Berry's foremost theme is about place and community.

Thirty men and women, professional writers themselves, including Donald Hall, Barbara Kingsolver and James Baker Hall, agree by their reverence that Berry is “one of the great figures of our time.” They discuss his placing community and interaction for the common good over the centralization of the work and life of the world; hand-to-plow farming to take from our natural resources only what one needs and can use; being still and listening to the wise interactions of nature without disruptions of power boats and beeping machines and thundering traffic; recognizing God in our Sabbath walks, not in a corporation's idea of the Almighty... Read the entire Review.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

A World Made of Stories

Henry Corbin's account of the prophetic tradition convinces me that he would have enthusiastically defended Muriel Rukeyser's claim "The world is made of stories, not of atoms." From a radically different perspective, we find a similar view of the cosmic (and broadly speaking, the "ecological") function of language articulated by Robert Bringhurst and David Abram (about which more later). This makes a consideration of the "function of narrative" of rather more than "literary" interest. (And anyone who takes Corbin's view of the cosmic role of creative imagination at all seriously must conceive of literature and the arts as on an equal footing with the natural and social sciences and philosophy, much as Rorty and Serres and others have suggested.)

In this connection it's worth reading David Antin's discussion of narrative, recently posted in three parts on Jerome Rothenberg's Poems & Poetics blog.  [Originally in Pacific Coast Philology, Vol. 30, No.2, 1995, pp.143-154, and to appear in Antin’s Radical Coherency, to be published later this year by University of Chicago Press.]

From Part 1 "So let's define narrative as the representation of the confrontation of a desiring subject with the threat or promise -- or threat and promise -- of transformation.

From this definition it's easy to see why I'm claiming that narrative is a fundamental cognitive modality. Subjects are continually confronted by the promise and threat of change. But no promise comes without the threat of fulfillment. If a beggar wishes to become a king and there is a chance of his becoming one, there is also the possibility that the change will annihilate him together with his desire, leaving behind only a troubled king suspecting his wife, his sons, his brother-in-law, or a revolution in the street.

Any transformation, no matter how promising, contains the threat of destroying its desiring subject in the magnitude of fulfillment. But what the beggar wants is to remain the beggar inside the life of the king, or to hold on to that subject position from which the life of a king would be a sufficient satisfaction to at least offset the gravest problems of statecraft, which the beggar has most likely never counted on. And it would be in the interest of the king, who is suffering from all the anxieties of kingship and in whose state of mind the beggar remains only in threads of nostalgia and anxiety, to build a bridge from his present life to his past. As it would be in the interest of the beggar to build a bridge from his present to his possible future, to imagine the speculative consequences of his transformation.

This bridge building across change is what I would suggest is the central human function of narrative. The act of reconnecting subject positions across the gulf of change is what constitutes the formation of self. All self is built over the threat of change. There can be no self until there is an awareness of one's subject position, which can only be created by the threat of change or the memory of change. Every change creates a fracture between successive subject states, that narrative attempts and fails to heal. The self is formed over these cracks. Every self is multiply fractured, and narrative traversal of these fracture planes defines the self. Narrative is the traditional and indispensable instrument of self creation."  Read all of Part One.

... I would like to suggest that we do not derive our narrative competence from story telling, but from dreams. Because the goal of narrative is to make present, not to make intelligible, and a dream is nothing if it is not a making present of an anticipated future and a remembered past in which we always have a definite stake, because they are always anticipated and remembered in the light of desire.

I am supposing here that dreams are the narratives we construct for ourselves at night. There are, of course, many people who do not believe dreams are narrative -- some because dreams are often "absurd" or "illogical," others because they are apparently fragmentary. But there are also many dreams that are not especially illogical if somewhat fantastical or absurd; and there are many powerful, absurd and apparently illogical waking narratives, and the fragmentariness of some dreams may be the consequence of either an extreme ellipticality of the dream -- we are "telling" these narratives to ourselves and do not require as much context as narratives constructed for others -- or the result of imperfect recall. Dreams are accessible only through recall, our own or reported by others; and the neurological evidence of the fairly regular temporal patterns of rapid eye movement that seem to correlate with dreaming suggest a kind of fullness of the dream cycle that rarely corresponds to the dream reports. So it is probably reasonable to assume that dream recall is often only a partial representation of the dream experience. Read all of Part 2.

If a narrative is about making present and a story is about making sense, the two effects may come together or separately, but they invoke different cognitive capabilities and are produced by different means or by the different deployment of the same means. Read all of Part 3.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Ecopoetics Texts

I was excited to see Pierre Joris' blog post the other day in which he mentions that he'll be teaching a course called Ecopoetics: Poetry of Ecology & Ecology of Poetry this fall. I've tried something like such a course in various forms a few times over the years, but I am not really qualified to do it. Pierre is. He's agreed to share the list of core texts for the course, which I am delighted to have and to present. I know the Rothenberg, Morton and Snyder - the others I will go into the pile on my desk to be read as soon as I can get to them.

Iijima, Brenda (ed.) The Eco Language Reader, Nightboat Books 2010.
McClure, Michael. Scratching the Beat Surface. Penguin, 1994.
Morton, Timothy. Ecology Without Nature. Harvard University Press, 2009.
Rothenberg, Jerome. Technicians of the Sacred. University of California Press, 1985.
Skinner, Jonathan (ed.) Ecopoetics 6/7(distributed by SPD — Small Press Distribution)
Snyder, GaryThe Practice of the Wild. North Point, 1990.

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Ten Books

I recently noticed some blog posts listing The Ten Books That Have Influenced Me the Most. This strikes me as a pretty interesting exercise in autobiography. Perhaps it's only fair to my readers to open up a bit of my own inner ecology to help explain my orientation. In any case I couldn't resist taking a stab at it. Of course I had to loosen the rules. So, let's say "texts," since a couple aren't books; and I want to include one book that started as a TV series; and 10 is impossibly restrictive so I have tried for 20 and failed; and one of the "books" is actually an uncountable number of books as you will see. But I did try to stick with the original idea - I am trying to recall the "biggest influences, " in some vague sense, with no other criteria getting in the way, no defenses, no apologies. This was hard to do since so many books cried out to be included. I think the ones that I have listed either changed something in me, or resonated strongly with something already there - my memories of them all are quite vivid. In roughly chronological order of my encounter I have come up with these:

Millions of Cats, Wanda Gag
On Beyond Zebra, Dr. Seuss
The World of Pooh, A.A. Milne
The Voyage of the Beagle, Charles Darwin
On the Beach, Neville Shute
The Grey Seas Under, Farley Mowat
The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
Tristes Tropiques, Claude Lévi-Strauss
An uncountable number of paperback SciFi books printed between about 1960 and 1970.
The Ascent of Man, Jacob Bronowski
The Magus, John Fowles
The Phenomenology of Mind, G.W.F. Hegel
The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Ernst Cassirer
Being & Time, Martin Heidegger
"1100AD: A Crisis for Us?", F.E. Cranz
The Curve of  Binding Energy, John McPhee
The Unsettling of America, Wendell Berry
"Simple mathematical models with very complicated dynamics,” R. M. May, Nature, vol. 261, 1976.
Chaos, James Gleick
Life On A Little Known Planet, Howard Ensign Evans
Re-Visioning Psychology, James Hillman
Psychology & Alchemy, C.G. Jung
Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn Arabi, Henry Corbin
The Roots of Christian Mysticism, Olivier Clément
What is Sufism?, Martin Lings
Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Shunryu Suzuki
Ivan Illich in Conversation / Rivers North of the Future, Ivan Illich & David Cayley
Training in Compassion: Zen Teachings on the Practice of Lojong, Norman Fischer

(updated, Jan. 2017)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Forms of Life

I make an old paper of mine available here. It dates from before I had started on my reading of Henry Corbin. It has some value I think, and is very interesting for me to read now; also perhaps useful as I try again to articulate an "ecology of the imagination" with different and better tools than I had then.  It was my first foray back into writing philosophy after many years as a biologist. (I am hopeful that I don't write like that any more however. It's rather painful to read.) It begins with two epigraphs that I still like very much.

When we think about the future of the world, we always have in mind its being in the place where it would be if it continued to move as we see it moving now. We do not realize that it moves not in a straight line but in a curve, and that its direction constantly changes.  
- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations.

No man is equipped for modern thinking until he has understood the anecdote of Agassiz and the fish:
A post-graduate student equipped with honors and diplomas went to Agassiz to receive the final and finishing touches. The great man offered him a small fish and told him to describe it.
Post-Graduate Student: 'That's only a sunfish.'
Agassiz: 'I know that. Write a description of it.'
After a few minutes the student returned with the description of the Ichthus Heliodiplodokus, or whatever term is used to conceal the common sunfish from vulgar knowledge, family of Heliichtherinkus, etc., as found in textbooks of the subject.
Agassiz again told the student to describe the fish.
The student produced a four-page essay. Agassiz then told him to look at the fish. At the end of three weeks the fish was in an advanced state of decomposition, but the student knew something about it.

- Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading

[Orange spotted sunfish - Lepomis humilis.]

"The Forms of Life: Complexity, History, and Actuality," Environmental Ethics, Winter, 1993, 293-311.

Forms of Life - Tom Cheetham , Environmental Ethics, 1993

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

More on Ants

Just was alerted by my daughter to this really nice essay loaded with Moffet's photos in WIRED online:

Looting, Cannibalism and Death Blows: The ‘Shock and Awe’ of Ant Warfare

"In war, they’ve done the horrific. They’ve looted food from enemy homes — maybe even killing the women and children. They’ve employed suicide bombings. They’ve launched toxic attacks. They’ve even engaged in cannibalism. Ants, that is... Read More

The triumph of language over writing

"Reading comes first. The reading of tracks and weather signs is a fundamental mammalian occupation, practiced before primates started walking on their hind legs, much less using hands to write. And writing, in a sense, is always on the verge of being born. All of us who speak by means of gesture, or who gesture as we talk, are gesturing towards writing. But it is a rare event for instincts such as these to crystallize into a system that can capture and preserve the subtleties of speech in graphic form. Such a system can only mature within a culture which is prepared to sustain it. Starting from scratch, with no imported models, people have made the shift from oral to literate culture at least three times but perhaps not many more than that. In Mesopotamia about 5,000 years ago, in northern China about 4,500 years ago, and in Guatemala and southern Mexico about 2,000 years ago, humans created a script and a scribal culture, apparently without imported models of any kind.

In each case, the writing began with pictures - which, as they came to stand for words and then for syllables, grew increasingly abstract. In each case, the originating society was already highly organized, with a heavy investment in agriculture, architecture, social institutions and political centralization. And in each case, so far as we can tell, writing was first used in the work of political, economic or religious administration. Its use for literary purposes came later.

Writing in the literary sense is one of the world's most solitary crafts, but it is only pursued on the margins of highly organized and centralized societies.

Literature - meaning story telling and poetry - involves the use of language more for purposes of discovery than for purposes of control. It is a part of language itself: present, like language, in every human community. There are no natural languages without stories, just as there are none without sentences.  Yet literature is not the cause of writing. Literature in the written sense represents the triumph of language over writing: the subversion of writing for purposes that have little or nothing to do with social and economic control."

 - Robert Bringhurst in The Solid Form of Language, 14-15.
Frontispiece: Part of a letter written in kuáncǎo or Wild Grass cursive
by the monk Huáisǔ, c. 725-785. [After Chiang Yee 1973.]

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Food, Inc.

Consider these words from Wendell Berry:

Eating with the fullest pleasure - pleasure, that is, that does not depend on ignorance - is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend. When I think of the meaning of food, I always remember these lines by the poet William Carlos Williams, which seem to me to be merely honest:

There is nothing to eat,
     seek it where you will,
           but the body of the Lord.
The blessed plants
     and the sea, yield it
           to the imagination

(from "The Pleasures of Eating,"
pp.145-152 . San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990.)

This can serve as a prologue to the first of what I expect to be a long series of occasional posts on food.

I taught environmental studies for a number of years, I first read and took to heart (for the most part) the ideas of Wendell Berry in the 1970's, studied for years at two land-grant agricultural universities, am married to an organic gardener with a degree in agronomy, and we have grown a good deal of our own food for many years - so I can claim to know something about the industrialization of food and its consequences. I wasn't too enthusiastic about seeing the documentary FOOD, Inc, expecting to find it a boring repetition of things I used to teach my students about. I was completely wrong. This film is beautifully produced, engrossing, informative and, for those who have little or no knowledge of the state of the food industry in America, utterly horrifying. If I were still teaching, it would be required for all my students - in any subject. Many people are now aware of the multiple crises linked in one way or another to the way we produce our food, but this film has a powerful impact and I can't recommend it too highly even to those who think they know the issues. If you eat any food that you have not grown or raised yourself, or that was not produced by someone you know (and that includes, I think, almost everyone) then you must see this film. Even if you do produce everything you eat, you should see it because it will explain to you many of the reasons the society around you is collapsing. It can be seen online, right now, on PBS here. Please, watch it, so that you can have a chance to eat "with full pleasure - pleasure that does not depend on ignorance."

Coincidentally, I heard on Deutsche Welle Radio today a nice story about Growing Power, a US organization devoted to local agriculture (Living Planet podcast here). Also a piece on the seed bank in Svalbard here.

Monday, August 2, 2010

"There are also poets of silence who start by shutting off the clamour of the universe and the roar of its thunder. They hear what they write as they write, in the slow measure of a written language. They do not transcribe their poetry, they write it. Let others perform what they have created out of the blank page itself! Let others recite into the megaphone of public readings. As for them, they savour the harmony of the written page where thoughts are words, where word equals thought. They know before scanning, before hearing, that the written rhythm is sure, that their pen would stop of its own accord before a hiatus, that it would reject useless alliteration, being no more willing to repeat sounds than thoughts. What a pleasure it is to write this way, stirring all the depths of reflective thought. How freed one feels from time in its awkward, jerky, cluttered manifestations. Through the slow rhythm of written poetry, verbs recover their original movements. Each verb is re-endowed, no longer with the time of its utterance, but with the true time of its action. Verbs that spin and those that shoot can no longer be confused with each other in their movements. And when an adjective gives flower to its substance, written poetry and literary image let us slowly experience the time of its blossoming. Poetry then is truly the first manifestation of silence." - Gaston Bachelard.

From "Poetry and the continuity of silent language" selected from Bachelard's L'Air et les songes (p. 282; 247-248 in Air & Dreams) in On Poetic Imagination and Reverie, p. 24. Translated by Colette Gaudin.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Diamond Dog

from Diane Wakoski, The Diamond Dog (Poems), Anhinga Press, Tallahassee, 2010

The Diamond Dog

He hasn’t jumped yet; his square-cut
body like a calving glacier
hasn’t glitter-struck you, hasn’t
revealed its malachite striations,
its contradictions of
Once I walked
on the Mendenhall Glacier or maybe
I dreamt it? Fear clothed me –
rubber boots, yellow slicker, over
wool hooded sweatshirt, all
made of fear’s cloth, as I looked
down into the water, fathomless as
my anger about the past, water I had to
step over, from the boat
to glacier shelf.

Little Dog, you were not there, or I could have
stepped on your back naked,
shedding the clothes of trepidation
I could have ridden you, Diamond Dog –
over, past, and away –
leaving behind all the blame
and regret of betrayals, the house in the orange grove, the ash heap
from which we both came.

[Thanks to Jerome Rothenberg for posting this.]