Saturday, November 26, 2016

Poems like Silence; Form, too.

I have written a few things lately, about five poems, that show a kind of light promise of developing toward a book, and that is a little unexpected and nice. Only one of the poems is in the block form, and I really don't think many of the poems in this book will be in the block form, which has served as the foundational form I work in and justifies, if that's the word I want, the term Concrete Formalism.

Now, I could easily shift mentally into a particular gear and say to myself that these poems are a development of concrete formalism, even as they do not conform to certain formal principles. Other principles are in place and no doubt exhibit formalist features rendered visually, either directly or allusively. I could say this, but I am tired of my voice saying things. Many of us who have been around for 50+ years have tired of hearing ourselves speak, I am sure of that. For my part, I prefer hearing nothing from me that concerns myself directly; better yet, I like to hear myself contributing to universal silence, in my small way. Silence is a lovely foretaste of death after all. I am quite sure that one who can enjoy silence will have a better time of it when death comes knocking. We'll be trained for it, you see.

The writer who like the sound of not hearing his own voice, whether audible or not, is a harbinger of the peace that comes to all. In the end, what other poems should we write? We cannot write from the perspective of death unless we somehow share in death in our lifetime. The silence of a writer speaks volumes of how death takes one by the hand and stills the beating heart.

So I will write these poems, but I will not spend too much time explaining them to myself. Like a day's journey with no particular destination in mind, whether along highways or over country roads, through meadows and forest, I will wait for and view with interest these poems as they occur, when they occur, however they occur, and for whatever end.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Next Stop: Go!

I believe it is possible to compose as many different books as one has poems, rearranged in as many different ways. In other words, I could take 45 poems (to pick a number) and create 45 different books. Each different in that he reading experience is different because of the different ordering.

There's a project, to write the poems that would amplify or project this structural thesis. I don't think there is a logical way such poems would read, necessarily, but one could set to work under the influence of this idea and see what happens.

This idea perhaps would not have occurred to me except that I have the platform to do it. Via publish-on-demand ( I can create as many titles as I have time for. Note though, I would NOT publish 45 books of the same poems rearranged simply to prove my point. I present the idea as concept which has better practical value in pointing out the effect of ordering, of sequence, accumulation, etc.

On the publishing front I am coming out of an eight-month hiatus. I had numinous odds all set to publish in late December 2015 then pulled it back and cancelled it. I also stopped writing poems until just recently. There were reasons for this, principally, that I wanted to focus on more significant personal and religious matters because, well, they merited that attention, and also because it was the only way to loosen myself from the rut I had gotten into with writing. I mean my approach and expectations, or lack thereof. I came out of this hiatus by attending a reading where I read a couple poems at open mike, feeling refreshed and open as well. I started writing poems and blogging again a bit a couple weeks ago

I opened up and looked over things and thought, Okay. All this still makes sense. It would not have bothered me if for some reason none of it made any sense because I had reconciled myself to writing and what it has given me, which is to say, my life. I met my wife through the Writer's Workshop in Iowa. My career as a trademark paralegal and success in that has been made possible through my writing. Writing well and reading well has guided my difficult yet sure path in my faith. With all that - I repeated to myself every now and again over my eight-month break - not to mention the 30-odd books I have written (and self-published, true), why should I bother to write anymore?

The answer of course is because I feel like it and at some point a better reason will be made apparent. Or in short, Onward!

To the original point of this blog, numinous odds includes poems I published in miasma along with some newer ones. I have altered the dedication, to "those who stop and stare and stop." And the book is a kind of incarnation of stopping, of ceasing of effect. It plays from the moment and I think looks out on the current political landscape a bit and comments. I need to redo the cover art, then out it goes.

I just remembered that I wanted to write something about visual poetry today. I guess it will have to wait!

Friday, August 19, 2016

Freedom Will Not Set You Free, and Related Observations

You may not find truth if you are looking for mere facts.

You may not know the truth if you know only facts.

You may not reflect the truth if you are turned only toward facts.

Our world is awash, it reels in a deluge of information and facts. Those facts may be statistical or be facts of imagery and sensation. That which can be received and immediately comprehended is a fact. Ours is an informational Age. We decry limitations in the name of the idol of access.

When everyone can be anything and all knowledge can be everywhere...that is freedom. Freedom as an end, not as a means. Since when did freedom become an end in itself? Perhaps when people tired of explaining why it mattered, or when they forgot why. Or when the ends of this world had disappointed too many too soon for the call to freedom to mean anything but as an end in itself, to serve the best possible outcome in any given situation.

Freedom without an end, love without an end. What do they mean? Can love exist without an object, a beloved? Can freedom exist without a goal: the right to vote, free speech, equality of the races, equality of the sexes? Does it make any sense to speak of freedom without an end in mind? Is information valuable merely by being information?

I believe that freedom has lost its object, and that our love of information in lieu of truth is to blame.

To my way of thinking, the artist stands in two worlds. In one, his work satisfies a particular end composed in his time, created from out of a self that positions itself, consciously and unconsciously. with respect to a culture or cultures. That is one aspect of the artist.

The artist also stands in a world outside particular reference in that his work and life participates in the lives and the work of those around him, and in his predecessors and his successors. The language of one's medium is, in this sense, the information one needs to work. The goal is the work of art itself. Even as artists are pressured to deconstruct the object they continue to compose meaningful work.

Much of what is written these days seems mannered or insipid. Sentimental, mostly. But the painterly, visual arts are strong. In this Golden Age of Information - rather like the Renaissance in its outward show of worldly profundity - the visual arts are where the action is. As a culture we rush to the video tape as if the truth finally will be revealed. The crime scene, the family photo, even pictures of cats. Anything to cut through the haze of all-access all the time.

What is truth in the present Age? It is what truth has been in all Ages, of course, we can be sure. The question is how do we as individuals serve that truth, how do we orient ourselves? What do we address, and to what end? Will we be satisfied with information as an end in itself? What's the plan for getting from here to there, where truth resides?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Narrative Arc, a Word of Surprise

Like a thief in the night, I appear happy in poems.

Most artists will relate to this I believe or see something familiar. I throw myself into things immensely and intensely. It is my personality, my calling to be this way. In part it is because I fear regret, the idea of reaching the end of my rope with something undone. I have never minded the thought of lack of material success, but to hold back on commitment: that is failure.

And certainly the poetry, with 30 or so self-published books, designed exactly as I wanted them to be, bear out this tendency. I began publishing in earnest in 2008 on I was publishing occasionally in magazines, but I was not connecting really, and did not feel I had any kind of place in poetry. I had written 8 manuscripts or so, and the weight of that unpublished work was such that I found myself thinking I could not write another word until they were published. But how can I publish them?

Behold: the Internet.

I stopped sending out to presses and magazines because I did not care about what they offered. I did not care what the poetry world was, and how it viewed my work. I decided to publish my own work in a way that was faithful to that work. In a design that was consistent and supportive of the poems. In books that were whole, complete, and sense-making. I wold be able to write to a book, to a purpose, and move on. I would develop as an artist and as a person without the fear that publishers or critics would hold me back.

I decided that the poems would find their way into the world to the extent that the world wanted or needed them. In truth, I cared less about my work for being mine than for great poetry per se. If my poems were significant they would find their audience. In truth, they would find their audience in any event.

I would produce these books and they would be for sale through I broadcast the books on Facebook, to friends, and on the Concrete Formalist Poetry group page, and in this blog. Oh, I formed the term concrete formalism to describe what I did and wrote about that.

I invited others to my group page and they saw my work. I occasionally - well, 2 or 3 times - read my work in public here in Portland, Oregon. I gave my wife, Endi Bogue Hartigan, a copy of every book as it published. I shared the books with friends, as gifts. I shared them with my son.

I stopped reading poetry but I wrote volumes. I wrote as I lived, dedicatedly and passionately. The covers always featured a drawing I had made, and some of the books included drawings inside them. I did all this up to a point a year or so ago and then I stopped.

I stopped because I was conscious only of silence. I felt that any book I produced from that point would simply fall to silence as one further instance of a project that had, in realistic terms, made its point. I am not a fan of bullying behavior, and putting out book after book in the manner I had been doing so seemed suddenly a stubborn preoccupation. Over-insistent and boorish.

So I stopped. I stopped writing. I stopped thinking about writing. In a sense I exposed myself, my process, to the light of day or better yet to the light of my conscience. I upended the turtle of self, and I left it there to die. I put a stop to expectations, to the internal narrative arc where I could have come back after this Lenten retreat and picked up again where I left off. I cut off my poetry at the knees, and I had no regrets doing so.

Since then, I have to say, my life has improved on every front. Family, at work, at church, exercise-wise, and intellectually. he poetry life was a siloing one. I felt I had this pursuit, a vocation, which was quite simply at odds with everything else, which I had to defend against incursions of time and energy. In the end I was asking myself, why am I doing this? What's the point? I have published 30 books and nothing has come of it. Do I really need to do another? If I were to die, I thought, I would do so knowing that I had done all I could, written the best poetry I was capable of writing, and was true to my decision to produce and publish in a way that I had to.

So, I waited. And, after several months, occasionally I would wonder what coming back to poetry-writing would look like if I ever did it. I really had no idea, other than not wanting it to be as it was, but that's not to say I had rejected any one specific tenet. I simply had no interest in revisiting the scene where I very good decision had been made.

My ego, in short, was out of the picture, and that was the last thread, the pure point of release, when I not only did not care about what I did in poetry, but about what I had done. I viewed all those years, hours and hours or writing, of consternation and wrenching existence, as an absolute boon. Writing has provided me with my education (grants at PENN); it had brought me together with my wife, Endi (at Iowa) and therefore my family, including Jackson. Writing had given me a rewarding career as a trademark paralegal. Therefore, it had given me the house I sit in and the clothes on my back.Thinking about it now, I can see that writing allowed me to follow through on the intensity-tendency I referred to above as nothing else had, so that I could see what it was about up to the very end and, ultimately, that exercise matured me, it helped me develop a self-knowledge, a conscience, that would lead me to the Church. It made me the kind of husband, father, and friend I would otherwise have been incapable of being.

Add to that the 30 books, almost as an afterthought.

With all that, do I really need to write another poem? With all that, why exactly have I bothered to doubt myself? I have doubted myself as a means of at least exposing myself, my ego. Now I feel inclined to believe that I could write and will write if the need to do so is made apparent to me. If a project or idea or any sort of prompting force makes itself known then, yes, I would write again. But I do not have it in my mind to do anything now, to do anything "differently," or to regret anything of what I have done.

I am glad for art. I am grateful for art. I am open to art, and I am about as free of a personal agenda as anyone I have ever known. That surely means something in itself, which may be, quite simply, that I am somehow content through and through. And what a nice surprise that is.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Trends and Titles, Pictures and Poems

The visual pieces here or asemic writing, for that is what we see a lot of lately, is tending toward color and multi-dimensional effect. Gone are the days where the visual poem sought simply to make a point. Past are the more recent days when asemic poetry yearned for a place at the table of contemporary art. The visual poem and its proponents are situated and now flow in and out of conversation, almost unconscious of not belonging.

What art is once it has arrived may not seem as compelling as how it got there, but only to the mere spectator. I don't know that anyone these days is happy to spectate, merely, or believe that such a thing is possible. Get closer to the thing on the wall, the pile of stones in the field, the screen before your nose, and you will know that art is as it comes into being, whatever trajectory is perceived by the so-called public eye.

My impression of the present generation of visual artists is that they are a hell of a lot more interesting than any previous generation. Certainly, they appear kinder and gentler. They are a landscape crowd. They take their time in offering, as opportunity allows, the kind of thing one might happen upon in a walk, or on a vacation, circumstances depending, but here it is in your living room, artfully so.

Art is better, because artists are better as people. They communicate more. They have to, and because of that, they do; and then they make things out of that communication, or use it. That is what an artist does. And once they do this, they go back for more because it works. People who communicate are generally better than people who do not. We have tired of the raging individualist. Oh, the archetype will not and should not disappear, but it seems to me to have been more properly positioned in the artistic consciousness of late.

As I look through the images, asemic and pure-visual, that have been posted on this page, I sense that intelligent, thoughtful people are at work. They are determined to create, refine, and publish the art that they want to see in the world, and that is good enough. I see permutation, growth, sensitivity. I do not see dogma, didacticism, or grave-digging.

I speak to visual arts, not poetry per se. The poetry world continues enmeshed in narrowness and weak tragedies, in silo-building. With some notably exceptional individuals who keep their borders open, the reader of current poetry is bound to feel like they have made a political choice as they read. The reader of today is a paper soldier, and the poet a cultural troll, hacking away at one thing, promoting another, and in their spare moments decrying what they perceive as contrary formations.

It is no coincidence that many asemic art composers once wrote verse, then, appalled by the atmosphere, abandoned ship. Wise, wise, wise. I generally write poems, and when this group began filling up with images rather than words, I wondered what was happening. I had already grown out of trying to think like a poet though. I was engaged with what was before my eyes in terms shared with the artist, not exclusive to myself. But it is a challenge to grow in writing in these times. to write and share responsibly.

We should not be to surprised if one day asemic writing were to show poetry and poets the way forward, on its own terms. Or do I dream?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Bad Books, or Words Anew

Let's start out by allowing that we wrote a very, very, very bad book. I collected what I had done for months and put it out on Lulu, and even before the proof showed up I knew I would kill it, deleting the book, burying it.

I am thinking about my creative work with absolute dread. I appear to have hit some kind of weird vortex of stupid - no imagination or spark or desire, at all. I blame Church. Ha! Well, Church is a factor in my life of which, purportedly, poetry is a part.

But how to write a poem when every week or two you stand in front of the Tabernacle and read to the congregation prophecies of the Old Testament, and Letters of the New? What am I supposed to write? It's not like I spend my time with the New Yorker or even Charles Olsen. The Apostle Paul! What can I add, or do, when I live day to day, hour by hour, in love with the word of God?

Well, the answer is that you write terrible poems for a while, and you publish them and regret it. Then, you somehow feel fine anyway and think, Let's just write and see what happens, and so you are free in a way that maybe would not have occurred otherwise, if you had not written such dreck.

Dreck. I love that word. I love failing then waking up to a narrative. Well, we'll see. Or I'll see. Cats. Tangerines. Bandoleers. Also, I am getting older. Is it obvious?

Thanks for reading.