Sunday, December 3, 2017

We Review ALPHABET NOIR, by Nico Vassilakis

I am very glad that Nico Vassilakis wrote Alphabet Noir. I don't know how else to put it or what better recommendation I can make, so I will spend some time discussing the book speaking to those who have not read it as well as to those who have.

A distinguishing aspect of persons who know what they are doing and enjoy doing it is that they may be capable of writing a book about what they do that is worth reading. Alphabet Noir is that book for Nico Vassilakas and for those interested in visual poetry, or vispo. Nico takes care in these 17 essays and poems, or events, you might say, to provide helpful and interesting indicators of the basis, form, and future of vispo, all against a ground of clear intent.

"I think of vispo as preparation for a future language event"

Alphabet Noir is not a complaint. It is not a naked cry. It is a consideration and reconnoitering and it is very useful, very interesting, and very helpful. I am glad for the fact that a person named Nico Vassilakis wrote this book called Alphabet Noir because it is a small, thoughtful, well-designed book that suggests to me that everything will be okay. That even as the world complains and cries - even as perhaps Nico himself has difficult days, as indeed he must - we can make a point of discussing what we do that may be of interest to someone other than ourselves and our dependents.

"Reading is an intentional look"

I incline toward the view that any poet or artist - perhaps anyone at all, really - should provide the rest of us with some written evidence of what they understand so that others can understand it too. There is a certain degree of sex and religion in this book as Nico likes to speak to letters and their intent. I like a writer who invests their subject with sex and religion but who holds their subject forth as, first and foremost, functional. There is not a little Moby Dick in Alphabet Noir for this very reason, that the turn from suggestion to application is rapid with purpose. 

"When you turn your head the same time someone looks at you"

Alphabet Noir holds forth the will as hand maiden to the accomplished fact, and that's okay with me. At the same time (or concurrently) the self is made subject to the the letter, the building block and progenitor of the word. Nico asks his reader to read the letter as the letter, the parts of the letter as parts. Nico suggests that the exploration of the parts of letters is akin to atomic theory, and I have no problem with that suggestion. The clear, kind, playful tone and intent of this book allows exactly such a suggestion. Why not. Why not allow the author to suggest, to create?

                                Over that land
                                Is more of it.

The romance of Alphabet Noir is not without starkness. I am of a mind to enjoy one's heart taken to task, knowing that all this, all of it, will be called to account - by the reader, principally, and by the writer's better self. I trust that the words (and even the letters) in this 72 page volume were chosen very carefully. For a poet and/or visual artist, for a student or teacher, here and now or in some future time, why should one not read Alphabet Noir? Oh, well, we make all kinds of excuses and the world is chock full of good books.

You will finish this book inclined toward thoughtfulness, not regret. You will not be angry. You may even get ideas about things that matter not because of the big picture but because small things, like letters, like you and me, are sometimes more true than what we amount to, or how we are commonly understood - without, that is, consideration.

"ssS So So O So o S s au Ss o os Os so Ssss"


All quotes are from Alphabet Noir, c_L Books, 2016
This review is for my son, Jackson Thoreau Hartigan, because we need to write what we understand

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Writing for Writing and Certain Goals Speak

I have blogged very occasionally over the past several months, meaning I have blogged rarely, or only a few times, lacking the principal opportunity to blog, that being motivation. Rather I have been motivated with respect to other things. These things did not keep me from blogging. I kept me from blogging or, to be accurate, I had no cause to blog except blogging itself, which was insufficient reason to blog.

Even blogging at this moment - being engaged in blog formation as we speak, so to speak - I am not sure one needs a reason to blog or a purpose toward which to blog. I mean, here we are, five sentences into this blog and there's hardly anything like a topic per se. But I am in a mood to blog, that much is apparent. Maybe one needs to be in this mood, to frame the desire to see oneself writing a blog in order to blog. I think this is true, and I also think that, when you are working on other things, you may not be in the mood to blog.

So what kinds of things have I been working on? Well, I think about what I am working on all the time, as I'm sure you do, but it's hard putting it into words when it's several things, really, and they all sort of jumble together. So, when I look back from a certain perspective - and I think I have reached a point where I can look back at what I've been doing and say something about it - I often feel like I am embarking on a guess. I feel like I lack proper documentation to represent actions and thoughts as they occurred and influenced each other, and - here's a more critical dilemma - with having reached a point of perspective and looking back, it's as if context has been lost to me. The reference points have been largely erased. I must rely on recall - not my strong suit. Adding to the confusion, I am almost never motivated to explain in precise detail what I am about, being convinced it is of no real consequence as long as certain goals are met.

Now, we have actually, unexpectedly, struck upon a notion that draws very close to the theme, if there is such a thing, that dominated the last several months of my waking thoughts, but I am faced, in this blogging moment, with the choice of going on with the show in relating the jumble of things I've been focused on and getting the theme, or developing the theme in lieu of recollection. I choose the latter tack as it should illustrate for the reader and myself what I am getting at better than if I try and capture it otherways. So here goes.

I am almost never motivated to explain in precise detail what I am about, being convinced it is of no real consequence as long as certain goals are met.

There is a great deal of life and thought wrapped up in this sentence. It strikes me as a predominantly Christian sentiment and that does not surprise me as most of what I think about is Christianity, either as I live it or it is lived by others, though not directly (rule keeping, etc.) , or I mean to say insofar as I am a moral thinker, or I think about morals, not morality. I think about the will and I think about what is good. A lot. And when one thinks a lot about something pone tends to lead the life of a person who thinks about those things. I do not mean that thinking about the good makes me good - no, I mean that I am preoccupied in a certain way and my actions show it. My behavior and tendencies reflect my concerns - no surprise there. The surprise and difficulties of the past several months - and really the last couple years - has been a shift in perspective that can be located in the above sentence I italicized.

Simply put - and I know no better way to try and state a fact - as a writer my goal was to discover goodness in the act of writing. A well-written poem would be a good poem, and good art was the best thing I was capable of, and the only reasonable goal I could be sure of having the opportunity of meeting. I lived this way all my adult life, really, up until I was married - about 20 years I guess. At that point, the writerly goal remained intact but was complicated by the goal of a happy, successful marriage. That was a wonderful learning experience and it altered, over the course of several years, not the writing itself, but the purpose or expectations of the writing. The core or purpose of writing remained the same, but the purpose of the poem once written changed from being a means of personal validation to being an accomplishment in itself. I found the means, therefore, of self-publishing and participating in other ways as I saw fit, while supporting the writing of my wife, Endi. Being a good father to my son, Jackson, simply reinforced this movement toward a self-sustaining practice, where the poem was good in itself both as an independent object and for the good it did the writer (me) in having written the poem. A process that was bound to draw me closer to whatever ultimate good or truth this life might lead me to.

Therefore, the more I wrote, the better I became, was the theory. And I wrote a great deal. Writing however was not enough and living with the writing was not enough. Writing was good, yes, and there was truth in writing, but could I ever know that the good or the truth I had obtained was any better or worse than what I might achieve the next day or a year later? In fact, I had not only plateaued but I began to feel enervated and realized that I had reached a critical juncture. Having exhausted all previous, interior means, including such political and artistic practices as often are made to represent ourselves, I reached outside myself for God. I was catechized, baptized, and confirmed in the Catholic church.

I continued to write at a furious pace for three years or so, then slowed to something like a trickle. I spent the last 13 months on a manuscript of poems written in fits, here and there, entitled Parades for You. And all this time, running through my head, weren't poems as much as questions: Why write when the words of ultimate good and truth are here before me in the scripture? How do I write (and seek the good in the process of writing) when my goals are set before me as a Christian? I would read at Mass and I could not deny the effect. What joy it was to read the word of God, and what a small thing it was to write for oneself. And could I state otherwise? My writing was indeed largely for myself. I would share it with my wife, a couple people might see it online, and I continued to host my Concrete Formalism Facebook group dedicated to concrete/visual poetry, and I continued to write for my OpenCatholic blog and website, but clearly a reckoning was in order. And really this is what my mind has been working on for a good while now. And while it was working on this reckoning and reordering it was not particularly motivated to engage in creative or polemical writing.

Now, however, I have gotten somewhere. What to call it is a challenge though. I should make clear that the preoccupations of the past couple years were not administered solely in the dim light of my consciousness. Oh no. Everything was thrown into the mix so as to be sure that whatever came out of it would be a fair conclusion or at at least a working assemblage. The purpose in fact was to test myself, I suppose, or decide if writing could continue in light of the Christian certain goals alluded to above. So where did I get too, and what makes it somehow definitive, a point of perspective? I suppose that the best and most succinct answer to that questions lies in the manuscript of Parades for You, in the movement between the first poem, written in October 2016, to the last, written in November 2017.

Here is the October 2016 poem:

deserts and streams
deserts and streams
deserts and mountains and streams

mountains and streams
mountains and streams
deserts and mountains and streams

streams and streams
streams and streams
deserts and mountains
deserts and mountains and
deserts and mountains and streams

mountains, streams
mountains, streams
mountains and streams
mountains and streams
mountains and streams
and streams and streams and
deserts and mountains and streams

deserts and streams

deserts and streams
mountains and deserts and streams and mountains and
mountains and deserts and streams

And here is the poem from November 2017:

Most of time and mountains
most of time and true
true into mountains and time is mountains
true into time and true

This with time and mountains
this with rivers and true
this with mountains and rivers and time
is time into mountains and rivers and true

Send me into time and mountains
send me mountains and rivers so true
Let me fall into rivers and mountains
and mountains and rivers and mountains so true

All for time and all for mountains
all for rivers and mountains so true
all for mountains and rivers and mountains
and mountains and rivers and rivers so true

Watch for this, watch for mountains
Watch for time and watch for mountains
Watch for rivers, mountains for rivers
mountains for rivers and rivers so true

I am where eyes were, mountains for rivers
rivers for mountains and mountains so true
I am where rivers, rivers for mountains,
mountains for river and rivers so true

True is the mountain
the mountain the river
true is the mountain the river so true
true is the mountain the river so true

Now is the mountain, now is the river
now the the mountain the river so true
now is the river, the river so true
now is the mountain the river so true

Come with me the mountain the river
come with me the mountain so true
Fall with me for rivers and mountains
fall with me for mountains so true

The second poem is clearly more engaged with its topic than is the first. The first poem recites; the second incites: it makes apparent the poet behind the poem and enlists and beseeches the reader. It is active and in the context of this blog it is clearly reflective of certain goals, whereas the first poem chooses instead to offer a kind of product, not goals. One can choose to take the first poem however one wishes to, for whatever purposes. You might worship the deserts, streams, and mountains or you might merely enjoy them. Or you might build vacations homes on them or store nuclear waste in them. Whatever. The poet offers only the rhythm of the deserts, streams, and mountains while hoping, perhaps, that the reader will empathize and appreciate both the poem and the things poeticized and, by extension, the poet. 

The second poem presents a very different scenario or dialogical space. The poet addresses the reader directly with sum conclusions regarding the deserts, streams, and mountains which are assigned active and particular values. There is no getting away from the fact that the poet is calling to the reader from out of his understanding and experience of the deserts, streams, and mountains. Here, the deserts, streams, and mountains  are strictly valued, esteemed, and fraught with both personal and essential values. Our options of what to do with the deserts, streams, and mountains are vastly reduced to the point where we are incited not merely to witness them with the poet but to fall for them.

Now, someone could read this blog and think, Oh he's assimilated his religion in his writing. And maybe they would have a point, but I can't say that's right, not exactly. I'm quite sure I've assimilated next to nothing. Instead, I've had to leave the comfy confines of myself and go out and meet something I was never expecting to meet, and which all my reading and education had not prepared me to meet. And I can not do this alone, and I can not pretend that it is enough that I do this alone even if I could. If I were in a desert I would feel compelled to preach to the rocks, to see what I see, to become as I have learned to be. Anything less would be hypocritical and impossible in light of certain goals.

So what's next, as I turn back to look toward the future? Good fellowship, hard work, and peace, I hope. Peace, first and foremost. And I hope for nothing less for those I love including anyone who has kindly read through to these final words of this blog.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Is there life beyond being a book?

...or books beyond books, and what would that be called? Let's be oppositive for a time and see where it takes us. Premise, that the welter of life is lived either (A) online, or (B) offline. Digital or analog. Connected or not.

I like books to be books. I tried e-reading and did not like it. I like books to be books. I have written books, self-published books, and that was okay. It was more than okay. But now I think I don't want to publish in any currently recognizable form but to release, broadcast, let go.

One writes a book. But is it a book if you do not release it as a book? It is a project, a work, a collection, an assemblage. The author - or assignor - designs a beginning, middle, and end. This effort is initiated. There is a point, urge, idea, construct. Where we had books, we now might have....what?

I feel inclined toward that what as a motivating factor. I am a poetic counter-puncher.

So, what would this look like, this publishing of a book that is not a book being published? I am in a good position to work this out having little stake in publishing for profit or reputation. But then I am not tied to being ground-breaking either. Efficacy speaks to me, and transmission of the clearest possible source, at least as I am able to make out. That's what guided the self-publishing for the past nine years. My idea, book edits, format, cover. Done. And how able being able to convert my current books, all 30 or so of them, into a new form to broadcast? That sounds like a fun bit of mayhem.

I see two threads (we're oppositive for a day, remember). Online: a website or Maybe a group page of some sort. On the analog side, a form of free distribution. Leaflets of a sort left about randomly. Planted in odd spots.

Stepping out the oppositive mode, the real questions are (A) what does all this mean, and (B) what's the writing going to look like going forward? I'll have to think about that!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Are We a Settled Fact? I think not!

Concrete Formalist poetry. I defined this page and the group I set up and the writing I do nine years ago. In that time the postings have moved toward asemic poetry and visual poems, which is interesting and relevant. So I thought to take a moment to look at the term Concrete Formalist and ask, Is that all there is to a fire?

The current statement runs, in part:

I work in form and am therefore a formalist; I happen to work in only one form; that form has strong visual markers, and is therefore "concrete." This blog also addresses concrete formalism as I perceive it in formal and informal pictorial or visual work and signature events, whether in my work or others' such as I am privileged to know.

I do not think about concrete formalism any more than I think about the term human being. So, the term appears to be a solution and a proposition and fluid in both respects. Concrete Formalism sounds like Orderly Bricks, or Art According to Hoyle. It is, I suppose, exactly those things or it is the title of a book, "book" defined loosely. I have never considered drafting rules or outlines of Concrete Formalism. I am not sure that what I am writing conforms to anything other than the rule that it should feel right, though those feelings are complicated. They have a history. They have training.

The temptation to state then that one who knows the alphabet or has access to a typewriter or iPad is a formalist (in concrete terms) does not enter here. I feel no such temptation.

I could massage the current statement to explain the non-block poems I write. I could do all sorts of boring things. The most boring thing I do - and it's not even close - is to do nothing because I doubt the work, its purpose, its effect, etc. All those nagging, debilitating writerly, artistic doubts. Boring boring boring.

Certainly the contributors to the Facebook page are not boring. You know who you are! We have 300+ members and, who knows, perhaps we help each other to feel, well, alive. I mean, I guess that's what this is all about. How else is being human bearable except to feel alive?

So. Are we a settled fact? I think not! Members come and go, and reappear. Interesting factoid: I think you are all brilliant. I can't be any more concrete, formally speaking, than that.

Merci, Felicitations, and Thank you.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Poets, guidebooks, and parking lots

You are alone in nothing, who write poems.

What a terrible decision never to be alone!

You feel that you are lone. Liar! Who brought you here if not a writer? Who can stand you but another?

The musician records tracks. The painter blankets the canvas. The writer, aternal, begins. But what can the end be to beginning with friends who never die? I am a baritone (bordering tenor, my mind is clear) to Keats. Should I apologize for no choice? While in amongst all this I choose: I am a guide to Jupiter's pocketbook.

The poet is not the guide to the poet.

The poet is the accident to the guidebook.

The poet is the guidebook falling out of one's pocket into the fire or onto a muddied trail, picked up by a fellow traveler who thinks about asking around at the parking lot for who dropped the guidebook, but hesitates, climbs into their car, and drives home.

What lonely work it is! Writing the poem, reading the same poem.

What can we do but write poems? It's the only thing we can do!

It's the only thing we must do.

Saturday, June 10, 2017


Let's not fool ourselves.

Whatever we have to say about poetry we are poets who find that we write poems.

We are poets who find or forget that we write poems that recall or forget poetry.

We who forget are not forgotten to ourselves.

Poetry is not a matter. It is not the idea of poetry.

The fact of writing is the being of a poet who, writing, ratifies the first principle.

Poetry, whether written, oral, or visual, is the smell one gives off, whether in heat, being pursued, or as a matter of recollection.

Let's fool others. Sorry, but there's no other way. Poetry offers various platforms for PRETENSE, such as authority, intent, material positioning, and ideology. One dwells in one or another pretense and then finds one writes poetry quite independent of the foregoing.

Ah, well. Spring after all is spring.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Writing, content

Occasionally I have an idea for a blog entry, an essay, or a poem. I think about the idea, toss it around mentally, but I never sit down to write it out. After a while, a day or two, the idea submerges or slides off stage - pick your metaphor for quiet disappearance - and life goes on. I am aware that I am letting an idea pass. I watch myself letting the idea dies out, "at least for the time being," I say to myself, and I am unconcerned. There may be a tinge of regret as I recall when my life seemed to hinge on the next thing written, but those days are past. I no longer depend on what I write.

I've taken to believing that a thing, if true, written or not, remains true. I have always held that only true things matter for writing and that writing matters for revealing the truth. I still believe this, that the effort of writing is a critical one for for the well-being and salvation of the human race and of ourselves as individuals. I believe this. I also believe that all truth is connected at the source of truth which is God. So, the truth that is writing is connected to the truth that is love, to the truth that is kindness, to the truth of eternal law.

I have worked hard over the last several years to live in truth; for my behavior and dealings with others and toward myself to be truthful. I've had to understand and change some things about myself. This is an ongoing process. And there are times when I recognize thoughts and feelings I have not had for many years, even since I was a child.

I am happier now than I have ever been. Writing is different though. Writing is not, as it was for many years, even decades, the solitary device which saved my life and brought me to the world. All parts of my life have this value now. In light of this, what should my writing be? What can it do to justify itself?

I would like to write in such a way that maintains silence. I would like to write is such a way that the reader is affected but not swayed. I want the reader to think first and foremost about themselves. I would like the reader, while he or she is reading this writing, to be able to think about themselves better, more clearly. I would like the reader, when they have finished reading, to be thinking about themselves rather than me or my name. I would like a kind of writing where I disappear from the reader.

I do not know what this writing would look like or even whether it exists or can exist, but that is what my writing would have to look like for me to want to create it. That is what it would have to be to make an impression on me in the life I currently live, if I'm going to be honest about it.

And why not be honest about it? Until I am capable of writing that makes sense for where I am now, am I not bound to be content with my life as a whole? And even if I were able to produce this writing, would not the same conditions apply?

I no longer depend on what I write but on how I live my life as a whole. I think this frees me up as a writer, whether I write or not. It certainly frees me up as a reader. I read more and with less concern for myself (as a writer) than as a person receiving another's work. I enjoy hearing new work at poetry readings. Anything is fine with me. But I like also reading old favorites, Robert Lowell in particular. Walking familiar roads and seeing things afresh, with a more generous, open heart.

I really have no idea what's next for me in writing, or painting, or anything of that nature. I am strangely content (and a little excited) waiting to see, turning ideas over in my mind only to watch them fade and disappear. It's a pleasant sadness, the notion that does not adhere, this qualified peace.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Political Option, as a Rule

There are no adequate histories and there never can be. A pure biography would be required to replicate the life it wishes to describe. The reader (or audience-individual) would have to be subjected to the physical realities and effects of the subject in real space and time. And we could only trust an audience-individual whom we could divest of personality and experience so that they could fully absorb the lesson that is the life of the subject. And so we make due with substitute actions rendered in words, pictures, sound, and performance. Some of these substitutes, such as written biography, serve the purpose of providing material for discussion. They can prompt or support action, or at least allow a person to a means of explaining themselves. Of course words and explanations, recorded or not, are largely a means of rendering daylight meaningless. We are all wanting sleep. I will return to this point.

Besides art there is politics, which is another form of anxiety. The great virtue of politics is that it makes life into a game, with winners and losers. A person who adopts politics for their artistic model is rewarded with a label. This label is a word that describes the person to others and most importantly to themselves. The person can customize the label to suit temporary or long-term circumstances. It is a handy thing to have a label, as opposed with being unlabeled. The one who is labeled can be confident of friends and small-talk and, as I have mentioned, words and explanations, recorded or not, are largely a means of rendering daylight meaningless. We are all wanting sleep.

This sounds like I am making fun of politics, and I am. But that is not to say that I do not take politics seriously, because I do. I have no choice, which is why I make fun of politics. I must take politics seriously because I care about my life and the lives of others, especially those who are vulnerable to the realities of life, such as proper food, shelter, and understanding. It is because I take people seriously that I take politics seriously, and it is because I take people very, very seriously that I hold politics in perspective.

Held up to the light that is the human race, with all it foibles and splendid accomplishments and potential, politics appears the most useful, or utilitarian, of our pursuits. Politics is, to my way of thinking, a framework of skeletal design on which to hang the skin of our hopes and desires. I am not especially "political" by nature, but I know you won't get anywhere without some sort of structure. Politics cannot explain why we are here or where we are going, but it makes for interesting conversation. And, of course, words and explanations, recorded or not, are largely a means of rendering daylight meaningless. We are all wanting sleep.

Therefore, to the point of what constitutes history, do we mean history in its perfect, meaningful, or practical forms? Let's be clear why we ask the question and what we expect or hope to do with the answer. We can consciously insert ourselves into the conversation how we like, labeled or not. We can operate in groups and/or individuals. We can create work. That work can be perfect, meaningful, or practical. It will be more or less useful to a person or group of persons depending on circumstance. We can comprehend the political, as an option, even as we acknowledge that we function politically, as a rule. The logic is: you can stop or go. I suggest you do both and as often as it is practical to do so.