CONVERSATION #1: IS THE POEM FINISHED?

“Four Skin Confessions” was written with the poets alternating their contributions, in the manner of a round-robin, by email. At some point, Eileen Tabios contributed a section which made her think the poem’s first draft was done.

EILEEN (St. Helena, CA): I numbered new sections again and, as you will see, ended up with seven sections [N.B. during the editing phase, the poem later would become a six-section poem]. Assuming everyone agrees, this would be a seven-part poem…which still relates, IMHO, to the concept of a 6-section hay(na)ku Ernesto mentioned earlier insofar as the 7th section can manifest an ongoing momentum, as in poetry not ending on the page.

The last section ended up longer than usual contributions. Having said that, I think that if we end the poem here, it synchronistically means that we all would have had the same number of inputs to the poem…Which is to say, for me, I feel this poem is “done” (and ready for copyediting now). But others may disagree, which is fine, and we can discuss….Nothing I’m saying here is definitive until all input is gathered…

JOHN (Claremont, CA): I could be done, if everyone wants to be done, but, really, I’m not quite done. And here’s why: As we progressed, I began to feel one frustration with the process we set up: I always linked my words to Eileen’s. Nothing wrong with that; it’s been very exciting and a great challenge; it’s just that I began to want to have a chance to face the challenge of building on Ivy’s words, and the challenge of building on Ernesto’s … Each of you is so much your own poet, it’s amazing, and … Well, I’d like to go on, if we change the order in which we rotate. Of course, were I to get my way, we’d have to change it more than once.

ERNESTO (London, England): Ok, it’s three fifteen in the morning in London. Please take that into consideration.

I have both fallen in love with the process and the outcome. I am both in love with the idea of enjoying the process itself and also acknowledging that the poem has taken a life of its own.

I also think that the authorship of the poem is and has always been collective, the outcome of friendship and of a mutual love and care for poetry in general and the hay(na)ku form in specific.

I have been utterly elated by the way this has progressed and I personally think that this could go on for a long time but it is also true that the poem itself also demands its own timing and its own process.

ERNESTO: Sorry, I just came back home… it took me some time to catch up.

I think Eileen is right and the poem “is done”.

On the other hand, I think the rest should tell us what they think. And that maybe a “post scriptum” or “addenda” section could be added as well.

What do you guys think?

I have been thinking about this poem all the time. The city seemed so different…

EILEEN: I’m going to share some thoughts and then wait for Ernesto and Ivy to kick in before commenting further…

I think I would have been surprised if John had been willing to let go easily of the poem (grin). He has been fulsome in showing his enjoyment of the process (and I’ve enjoyed his fulsomeness). But his particular points raise something that I’ve been thinking about as the poem lengthened — who is the author. Is it four individual poets or something greater (or different) than the sum of 1+1+1+1? So does it matter if John feels he’s not engaged as much with the other poets … and does it matter if the poem is “done”?

If the poem is done (however that is defined or indicated individually to each of us), should we be forcing the poem to go on because, say, the process is so enjoyable (or any other reason not related to the poem’s, uh, integrity)? Even John’s suggestion of changing the order, while a nifty idea, is first to not accept a poem’s indication that it’s done (this is all assuming others agree the poem is done, which, for the moment, is an assumption on my part). John’s particular concern, as he raised it here, also can be addressed in other ways — write a new poem, say.

I guess what I’m thinking is that if someone says the poem is not done based on the poem itself, that’s one thing. If it’s for the reason John raises, I’m intrigued by its implications as to collaboration and authorship.

BUT, I also will admit that John has concerns based on how he’s approached the collaboration, i.e. as responding mostly to my words since he follows me, which is not an issue for me because of how I’d approached the writing. I read the poem from the beginning each time before I make my offering (e.g. the insertion of “purple” in my last offering, which refers to Ernesto raising it in his first contribution, which sort of closed the circle for me again). Maybe it’s that re-reading each time that also made me “write” by indicating sections….Anyway, because of my way of approaching the writing, I obviously don’t feel the “short shrift” (so to speak) that John indicates. And I acknowledge that.

Having said all that, I am not sticky with suggesting the poem is done. If others want to go on, we can go on. But I did have the thought, right or wrong, that the poem can be done for me…and so thought it appropriate to share that. And this pause, if it becomes just a pause in the writing of the poem, may be worth noting by itself.

JOHN: First, I want to address “a poem’s indication that it’s done”. I know just what you mean by that; many’s the time I’ve had to cut perfectly wonderful lines, no, pages, because the poem itself was “done” a long time ago. But I’ve also experienced pushing on past “doneness” and finding that the poem wasn’t done after all. It had come to a “pause”, to use your word, that felt like “doneness”, but pushing on past that pause proved the poem wasn’t done at all, and took the thing into territories undreamt of in all Horatio’s philosophies, to go all Hamlet on you. I usually don’t know a poem is done til I’ve pushed past its apparent doneness. After a while I can tell. That’s when I go back and cut – or know that keeping on was the right thing to do. So forcing a poem to go on is natural to me. So is saying shit, this thing was over 2 pages ago, and trashing (or saving for other use) everything that came after the end. This way of working may have come from growing up on acid and Coltrane and Fela and the Dead, I dunno … But I always was a fool for the hour-and-45-minute jam … One of the best shows I ever saw was the Art Ensemble of Chicago (back when Lester Bowie and Malachi Favors were still with us). They started playing when they came on stage, walked off 2 hours later, never having stopped. I’ve never been able to figure out what was going on during the section where one of the guys – I was sure of it – was strangling a duck … The second thing you mention, about me always following you, doesn’t mean that I didn’t try to connect my bits with the poem’s entirety, or at least with rest of the section we were working on, but I was particularly conscious of your words because I tried to mesh my first words with your last, in the interest of blurring the boundaries between us (that who is the author thing). To “help” the poem seem at least a little bit continuous. And once my first words were down, well, I was rolling in a particular direction …

Also, as for following you, instead of Ivy or Ernesto, another musical metaphor: I thought of it kinda like we were all trading 4’s in jazz: musician D phrases her/his 4 bar bit to bounce off what musician C has just filled the 4 previous bars with, just as musician C played off B’s 4 bars. That doesn’t mean that D didn’t “get” the whole context, but simply that she/he references C more directly than B, or A. In this case I’m D, you’re C, Ernesto’s B, Ivy’s A … I hope that makes sense. I’d have played different things, or at least phrased differently, following Ben Webster or Coleman Hawkins or Lester Young …

Third, as for short shrift, it’s not that; how could anyone feel deprived after following YOU (given the list of tenor players above, if you don’t mind being identified w/a man for a second, I got to follow Prez, and how great is that?)? I don’t feel cheated of anything. Except I would have loved to see how my 4 bars would have sounded had I played them after The Hawk or Ben … But everything doesn’t have to happen for everything necessary to have happened.

The one thing I think we can ABSOLUTELY agree on is your “He has been fulsome in showing his enjoyment of the process”. I’ve never thought of that word in the context of me. But I know just what you mean. And I do tend to gush and mush. I’ve been playing with some very hot poets. It’s all been (and may continue to be, we’ll see) good. Very good.

IVY (Cardiff, Wales): Good morning everybody! I’ll chip in with my thoughts now.

Reading the poem, as it stands, the strong finish indicates to me that it has run its course. So I’m all for stopping it there. I also don’t think it requires an epilogue, but mainly because I’m uncertain of an epilogue’s purpose. If there’s a convincing case for an epilogue, I’m open to it! For me, the poem starts working in earnest in the second section — quite likely because we’ve gotten more in sync with each other. It’s where it starts to get a really great flow.

Like Eileen, I’ve also been reading the poem from the start and gathering images and words along the way for when I write my bit, so I have been engaging with all of you all along.

I guess for me this has been quite an intense workout and I’d like some time — if we think we have finished now — to process it all, help tidy up this draft, hear everyone’s thoughts, reminisce fondly…

This collaboration has been the most successful collaborative experience for me so far, I feel. Usually with just two people, it’s a push-pull of egos struggling, or there’s the expectation of one artist needing to be the focus of the collaboration (when I believe both artists are equal in the relationship) and there’s no interchange or exchange of ideas and artistry.

But with the four poets working together, I think it was on the way to becoming quite egoless, or maybe a fifth ego was created from us all.

ERNESTO: Good morning to all!

I think I shouldn’t email so late especially after a night out! Please accept my apologies for my mumblings last night. I just got very excited to receive Eileen’s email and something that I have enjoyed very much of this whole process has also been the “simultaneity” or almost simultaneity of it all, time-zones notwithstanding…

I have re-read the poem several times in the fragility of a subtle hangover. There is a clarity that comes with physical weariness after a night of excess: sometimes, for me, it’s the best moment to read poetry. I agree that the poem has reached its end. It can almost be graphed like the stats from our blogs, or like an Aristotelian narrative structure. I think John’s decision to start “quoting” set the poem in the right direction (I hope it is obvious that I don’t say this because he was quoting “me”, because that would be the complete opposite to what I am trying to express here; it is the gesture what set in movement a whole attitude and tone). As Ivy has mentioned, this “direction” was that of an almost ego-less one, something rarely seen in contemporary poetic endeavors. Just recently I exchanged some emails with Nick Piombino about the notion of “risk” and about the need to take poetry beyond the realm of the cult of personality or the blurry notion of “success”.

So I think that there was something in the air for all of us even though we are all in different countries and circumstances of all sorts. The process was absolutely enjoyable, exciting, challenging and just plainly pleasurable, also because there was this feeling that we were all working on the same grounds, so to speak, as if we all knew, without knowing, where each of us came from and would want to go. The poem takes flight, then, and grows, reaches a peak and then there is a sense of solution in the last two sections. At the beginning, I must say, I was afraid that the poem would feel disconnected or lacking articulation, as if it were only the result of random brainstorming. But then, also thanks to the conversations we had, the poem took a life of its own, also so to speak, and the most beautiful and uncanny thing, when I was reading it all out loud even before we had finished it, was realizing that I no longer remembered which parts I had written and what parts had been written by whom. This just “proves” or exemplifies, for me, hay(na)ku’s truly diasporic form, that it also means a way of thinking, it proposes a particular position in the world, an organization of material, but also a flow, literally a process, where it is almost unavoidable to feel that all things are interconnected.

I don’t want to get too mystical here, but my poetic upbringing was always contaminated by the likes of Novalis, Hölderlin, Celan or Rilke, and even though I, like John, would never even dream of comparing what I do with the poetic heights of those names, I could sense this kind of poetic illumination, a brilliance, almost an epiphany that in my case had to do with realizing that a poetic persona was indeed being created from all our different voices, and that this detachment was, paradoxically, a result of our individual (emotional, intellectual) attachment to what we do.

Ivy used the adjective “engaging” and I think it also describes very appropriately my own experience participating in this process, and I also think that it is a most interesting adjective to use in this context. To engage also means to be part of a chain, of a process, and it also implies a form of commitment. At the same time, this engaging process, in my view, also naturally (that is, not artificially or in a forced or false manner) made us to disengage from ourselves, to detach from our own egos (fears, pains, aspirations, expectations, reputations, proper names, etc) in order to let ourselves become something else with the rest, with the others.

I am almost sad that the process is over, and I have always been terrible at deciding when to stop (drinking for example!). So you know I am the type who will always have “one for the road” or at least always be tempted by it even when all contextual information demands an ending. So maybe that’s why, out of nostalgia for what was a beautiful happening, I suggested an epilogue. (Again, my Derrida-through-Spivak background makes me prone to discussing the notion of the preface and the epilogue, the before-the-text, et cetera). But I guess that the notes to the poem, would fulfill that mission very well. It is also, as I have said, very clear to me that the poem, poetically if I may say it like that, has reached its culmination.

I will also need some time to process all this before being able to decide if I could face attempting another go at another chained poem. I am afraid of my tendency towards derivation and unconscious self-plagiarism. I just repeat myself. Repeat Myself. Repeat mySelf.

To be honest I would like this to see the light of day as soon as possible, because I think that immediacy and simultaneity was a major factor in the composition of the poem. The notion of poetic experience and inspiration was also interrogated during the process. Since we all used computer technologies to produce this poem and since we worked on it from different time-zones, in my personal view I would love to see the poem out without a lot of temporal distance between its conception and its publication.

Love to you all. Now I’m off to have some breakfast…

ERNESTO: Hello again, just another quick note before I actually have breakfast at 2pm!

I always read the poem from the beginning when writing my contributions. This I thought was important for me, especially because as I told you in my previous email I was afraid the poem would feel lacking an organic structure; sometimes it’s just the momentum, what has been going on and growing up before what led me to write what I wrote… sometimes there are specific words that I consciously picked up from previous parts of the poem, or references that I thought I could expand on (the Dylan Thomas part had an echo in the mentioning of Wales; the William Carlos Williams and the reference to a story brought back memories of the days I could recite by heart “Of Asphodel, that greeny flower”). Sometimes truly uncanny things happened to me while reading the poem. The mention of the scars, for instance. After a traffic accident when I was young I ended up with a very long scar across my left leg (my femur was shattered to pieces). This scar, as well as some scarred tattoos I have because they were done at a time when tattooing was not even legalized in Mexico and machinery and skills were still very primitive, echoed in my experience the whole motif of the body and books and love and the whole sensual movement (sometimes like waves) that I perceive in the poem.

I also realized that what Eileen said about deciding when to stop is truly essential. The whole concept of the enjoyment/jouissance that the process brought, and the idea of the poem being an independent entity that as such has its own laws. Like desire, that is. Or sex. Sometime one or the other wants to keep on going, but then there are also the laws of the universe (light, gravity, blood flow, et cetera) and the necessary commitment/compromise that has to be done when something, though pleasurable, is bigger than ourselves.

I think of Simone Weil here: “to detach our desire and to wait”. Maybe this is also part of the collective poetic experience.

And I’ll shut up now.

IVY: Ernesto, you write very well post-hangover! 🙂 You all have to forgive my ellipses in my previous email — I thought I knew what I was saying.

Strange thing was, I was also going to say that the experience has been quite mystical. John? Eileen? I can’t wait to hear your thoughts. And the fun part comes next, too. We need a title! Maybe we can put forward one each and … vote?

EILEEN: Well, it looks like the direction is going for stopping the poem here. That, obviously, is fine with me. John should have another chance to indicate his thoughts (we had a couple of backchannels last night because we didn’t want to dominate the conversation until Ivy woke up — smile — and maybe John wants at a minimum to out what he said, too, about the process of ending a poem.

JOHN: OK. My turn. Eileen noted that I have been particularly fulsome vis-à-vis this whole effort. I only wish fulsome didn’t have as part of its definition “to an excessive degree” because I don’t think my enthusiasm has been excessive – and I think Ivy’s and Ernesto’s comments that have followed Eileen’s note on my fulsomeness indicate to me that I haven’t been the only one that’s found this process/project/poem particularly exciting. One quick “source note” for Ernesto, then I’ll go on to my real thoughts on all this: the red wheelbarrow is not a Williams quote, ‘tho it is a Williams reference. It’s a quote from Jack Spicer; it was JS referencing Williams. I’m going to go on jabbering for a while, but here’s the executive summary, so you can stop reading any time: I’ll willing to stop since you all are. And I’ll even be happy. But. If you want to understand my “but”, keep reading; if you find it unnecessary, then stop here. Anyhow, the real issue for me is: are we done? You all say yes, tho there’s still room for discussion re: notes, codas, etc. I don’t think Spivak/Derrida apply here. I think that the notes, etc. can be considered more along the lines of the parallel (?!?!?) texts in Glas, or in Spicer’s Heads of the Town, or even as Lew Welch’s Red Monk’s commentaries. Or even as some of Th. Mann’s short stories, that were supplements, as it were, or excesses, to some of his major novels. I include all the emails – and some blog entries by Eileen, me and Ernesto – and even some of the notes I’ve left on your blog, Ernesto, and the note you left on mine, Ivy, as part and parcel of this enterprise.

But whether we include “running commentary” or “peripheral texts” or whatever you want to call all the related texts that came into being because of this work together or not, the question still remains: are we done?

You all say yes. I can live with that. But I say no. Not for me at least. Why do I say no?

This is not trivial; for me, the energy this project has set into flow does not seem fully dissipated yet. I want to use it all up. You can call that more in-love-with-the-process than in-love-with-the-poem. But sometimes process is equally if not more important than product. Sometimes they’re indistinguishable. Maybe that’s the John Cage and Jackson Mac Low and Marina Abramovic in me … I dunno.

Which leads me to a second point – which may be another way of approaching the first: I don’t think we’re done because I don’t think this thing has approached a zone of real danger yet. By that I mean the poem, in my reading, does not take us somewhere we’ve NEVER been. This doesn’t mean that at some point egos will disintegrate and I’ll sound more like Ivy than Ivy (as if I could ever match that ear!) or anything like that, or that my contributions will be unrecognizable as mine (pace what Ernesto says about not being able to tell who wrote what…).

What it does mean, to me at least: I told Eileen, I’m partial to the music that gets played an hour or so into a jam, when no one knows what they’re doing, where the piece is going, or even if there’s a possible outcome … That’s when “the real” (“the real” = “the magical”) has a chance to happen. That’s when all that’s worth finding gets found. Maybe. In any case, I don’t think we’re there yet – tho that’s not to argue whether this particular piece has a fine shape as is. It does. And it’s not to argue that that “discovery” zone is where the 3 of you *should* want to go.

But it’s where I want to go.

I can only explain what I mean by personal examples. My first large project was something I think that of the three of you only Eileen has seen, and whether she’s actually read it, I don’t know. It’s called Travels to Capitals. It’s 200 pp and it took a year to write. I used a “grid” to create it. I quote from the accompanying note:

“The capitals are Donald Evans’, who created postage stamps of imaginary countries. … If Evans’ world is the x-axis, then Michael Palmer’s Sun is the y-axis. I’m working my way through Sun poem by poem, using MP’s nouns in order as I come to them. … There is a narrator; he’s like me, but he isn’t me. There are a number of other characters. Some exist in the world you and I share; some do not. All are equally real.”

Now, I knew there would be a narrator, but I didn’t know who he was. It took me the whole poem to find out. What I didn’t know was that there would be characters. The narrator made friends, fell in love, lived through the buildup to and beginning of the US invasion of Iraq, suffered the deaths and disasters of loved ones … More amazingly, several other characters in T to C began to contribute their own poems. Those by one Grenadine Szorora, political prisoner, are, by the way, collected in one of my chaps, along w/some poems by one JBR. The Library of Congress would not let my simply copyright the chap – since it had more than one author, and since some of the work was not original, but consisted of translations! True story. In short, T to C became a poem/novel. The grid led me. I had NO IDEA this was going to happen. I can only say that it was an amazing experience, each day taking me somewhere new and exciting and often harrowing. Let me discuss one particularly upsetting section. The narrator is having dinner at a friend’s house. As I wrote, it became obvious something was wrong. It wasn’t til the section approached its end that *I* (the supposed author of the thing) learned that the hostess had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. I walked around in circles for days – in the “real” world – after this discovery.

You know about another large project, No Sounds of My Own Making. That was even more aleatory. Let me quote the note to that. This quote is a little longer: “No Sounds of My Own Making is in 3 parts. Each was written in 30 sections or separate poems because there are 29 poems and an interview in Phan Nhieh Hao’s Night Fish and Charlie Parker, which I pillaged in part 1. At some point, around the time I was writing the 6th section of part 1, it became obvious this thing was one long poem. But I continued to work in sections. I hope their borders are invisible.

The title is from something John Cage said in an interview. My brother Omo Bob’s use of it first brought it to my attention. My appropriation is without Cage’s, but with Omo Bob’s, permission.

Virtually all the other sounds that are not of my own making in each part come from 3 sources and are found in the same order, round and round and round. In part 1 used Phan Nhien Hao, Night, Fish and Charlie Parker (tr. Linh Dinh); liner notes for music I was listening to; Jean-François Lyotard, Sam Francis Lesson of Darkness … like the paintings of a blind man … (tr. Geoffrey Bennington). Part 2 makes use of L. S. Senghor’s Nocturnes (tr. John Reed and Clive Wake and/or Melvin Dixon), which also includes 29 poems and an intro, of which I’ll have to make use; liner notes for music I was listening to; Cecilia Vicuña’s quipoem (tr. Esther Allen) and The Precarious: The Art and Poetry of Cecilia Vicuña (ed. M. Catherine de Zegher), which are bound together. In part 3 I use The Wisdom Anthology of North American Buddhist Poetry (ed. Andrew Schelling); liner notes; Mona Hatoum (eds. Michael Archer, Guy Brett, Catherine de Zegher) for parts 1-15 and Antoni Tapiès Works Writing Interviews (ed. Youssef Ishagpour) for parts 16-30.”

Now it’s not important to this argument what the sources were. But you can see that with such a routine No Sounds was a kind of collaboration between an I and a number of not-I’s. All I can say is that once again I was often writing/making/piecing together in the dark: but the dark brought light. And I found things being said, so to speak, that needed saying …

Even my short poems are full of adventure, since I use so many sources to construct them, collage, or better, “bricolage” them … To quote once more, from the end of my note to No Sounds:

“cf. the shibbuts and iktibas found in the poetry of Al-Andalus: “poets employed [them] to such an extent that the verse frequently seems to become a web of quotation, with all the indirection, multiple meaning, and mirrored or magical effect that entails” (Peter Cole, introduction to his Selected Poems of Shmuel HaNagid, pp. xviii-xix).”

That’s why I work how I work, by the way. To give up some control, to let in “all the indirection, multiple meaning, and mirrored or magical effect” I can, extending thereby the limits of my imagination as far as possible …

Anyhow, it seems to me that *this* foursome has the power to take us into some strange and unknown territory. And while the poem as it stands is fine — I agree with Ernesto, when he says that it should see the light of day as soon as possible — I just feel that so much more “adventure” is possible.

No that there hasn’t been adventure, or, to use the old surrealist term, phrase, encounter with the marvelous: see Ernesto’s wonderful commentary re: the scars in this poem and his actual scars.

Anyhow, sorry for presenting an essay.

Love to all, and I’m not just saying it,

JOHN: In spite of the long email I just sent, which I’d still love to hear comments on if there are any, I agree with everything here. I think that ALL the text generated along with the poem is somehow part of it. Not to say that continuing conversation/detox/debriefing wouldn’t be something I’d gladly participate in. But I don’t want to exclude anything that came about as a result of this collaboration. So I’m in. I’m down wich y’all. Now, a little love, Ell Lay style:

(Whatay’all Want)

Unconditional love,
(No Doubt)
I’m talking bout the stuff that don’t wear off
It don’t fade
Love is gonna last for all these crazy days
These crazy nights
Whether you wrong or right
I’ma still love you
Still feel you
(can you feel me?)
Unconditional
No matter what
Hehe… Where would I be without my dogs
No one to ride with
When the times get hard …

-2Pac

Yeah, dogs. Feelin’ you,

EILEEN: Just briefly because the dogs are waiting to be walked. Having slept on the matter, it’s more clear to me now that I don’t want to keep writing on this poem because the energy has stopped for me. But I am willing to have John or others continue to keep writing on without my participation.

As for the merits of the poem — it doesn’t trouble me that it’s not risky enough by someone’s standards. It’s quite possible, you know, that we all collaborated, enjoyed the process, and wrote a “bad” (e.g., not risky enough) poem. That’s okay with me. But for me, letting go is different than trying to make a “bad” poem work. For me, typically, after I’ve worked on a poem and it’s not “good”, I stop rather than trying to continue and rewriting and all that. (Later, I may begin anew on a poem that may try to rework the prior poem but it is a new start and those elements from the prior poem that are so urgent will, I have faith, return to the re-started writing…)

Not that I’m saying our poem is “bad”. But it’s fair to say, continuing to write it doesn’t interest me anymore. But, again, I’m happy to accommodate John and others continuing to write it out to see what happens.

Besides, if the author really isn’t any one of us, my dropping out shouldn’t make a difference (?).

JOHN: I don’t suggest going on w/out Eileen. What was The Who after Moonie died? Nor do I suggest the poem isn’t good, nor risky enough. Just that more risks could have continued to be taken (please note the sense of “past is past’ in that sentence fragment). (Past is past / I salute that various field – J Schuyler) Guess I just wasn’t ready to let go of the thrill. But that’s all ancient history now.

ERNESTO: Whoa. It’s really interesting to read all this. I had also printed out the poem, when it was only three sections, and I was stunned by its length. I didn’t want to say anything at the time because I didn’t want to prejudice anyone.

I appreciate John’s “essay” about his views and the way he works. The way I see it, though, as I think I tried to express it in my other two emails in this discussion, is that at least for me, as it seems to be in Eileen’s case, I feel like the truly “dangerous” thing that I could contribute now would be bad verses. I am not confident enough of my poetic abilities and or energy or continue at this point.

I have read the poem in the RTF document Ivy was kind enough to sent me. I like it the way it is. That does not mean I think it is the best poem ever, of course, not it means that I cannot be critical about it and willing to interrogate it. I just happen to agree with the notion that the poem, that poems, also demands endings.

This reminds me of the time when I was doing experimental sound art projects. I worked with my friend and collaborator Manrico Montero (you can read and listen to what he does at his label’s site, here: Mandorla) in a project we named Porno Stereo in reference to Baudrillard’s ideas on hi-fi. It was a combination of live and pre-recorded sampling, deejaying and audio manipulation. We tended to improvise a lot, as in a jam session, each of us had his own set of turntables and two mixers that went to one main mixer.

The experience of writing this poem and of this discussion has brought those memories to the surface. The thing is, we didn’t want, with Porno Stereo, to merely do random noise, but to create sonic sculptures that evolved from a collaborative effort in which what one did had to be complemented/mixed/augmented/filtered/distorted/transformed/oscillated by the other. This often implied fading out a sound source that Manrico or I had introduced. Manrico, who was a Buddhist scholar as well as dj and sound artist, was obsessed with the idea of the loop and thought that one loop could go on forever. My tolerance for that was way smaller, and at the beginning it was a bit difficult to learn to tolerate the fact that a sound or a pattern that one of us had truly worked hard on and wanted to preserve in the performance/piece were faded off by the other.

One of our most memorable performances, titled “Khora”, in the Museo Universitario del Chopo in Mexico City, went on for a really long time, and the crowd endured it all. But the major thing was dealing with the fact that our individual enjoyment of the process had to be transformed/adapted not only to the other’s jouissance of the process itself but with the process/piece itself. There was a moment in which we had to learn to let go.

This was brought to mind also because of John’s mention of John Cage. I must say that I don’t see myself as a very experimental poet, and maybe that’s why, in music as well, I now prefer to mix more traditional structures -songs- than to experiment with pure sound. Manrico is, of course, still at it.

The poem is itself polyphonic and dialogical (oh, Bakhtin), and the paratexts then, the notes or whatever you want to call them could be quite interesting to have, I think. I am humbled that Eileen thinks that my recent poem on my blog, dedicated to John, is good, and I would love if it could be part of this project. It was, of course, written because of this whole process. Without it it wouldn’t have ever existed.

Finally, I think that this project should be by all four of us or just self-destruct. I have the most profound respect for all of you and I wouldn’t in any way want to frustrate expectations or impose my own personal views on anyone. I am just saying: I think the poem, this particular poem, has reached an end, for me. But I also think that if some of us continue writing it without the rest then it would be a betrayal of the original conception.

I will leave my house soon since I have tickets to see the new Julian Temple film about Joe Strummer.

Love and meaning it as well,

IVY: Hi everybody, it’s afternoon and it’s only now that I feel like I’ve just woken up — I love Sundays.

I think we have achieved something significant with this poem, if only for the fact that it has been such a surprisingly fruitful collaboration. The poem, for me, has some very touching moments, evoking emotions and moods — it moves!

It’s been an interesting dynamic having the four of us work together. I would even venture saying that it has been enchanting! So I would be wary about moving on without any one of us poets.

With regards to John’s ‘but’ [heheh, sorry about that], I think the codas / afterwords / conversations / whatev are our concluding remarks, the grieving for the end of something good. I would be okay about us all working together again to approach that danger zone of which you speak — I think it takes time for a collaborative team to work together seamlessly and this is a good start.

I must admit to having been apprehensive about working with you all but those fears have been allayed, once I saw that it could work. I hope all of us would be okay working together again on something like this. It would be exciting to do something that explores a more dangerous, unknown territory [and I don’t mean that ‘but’, either, heehee].

I think we’ve served the poem — the poem really does not serve us.

Yes, include all meta-narratives to the conversation, if that serves. I wouldn’t want the afterwords to be there just for the sake of completism, though. I guess I’d like it to be interesting to an outside reader, too. I understand Ernesto’s apprehension about the danger being a descent into personally writing sub par poetry — I share that, too.

So I guess, this is the end?

Should Auld Acquaintance Be Forgot

And Never Brought to Mind?

EILEEN: How to continue –! First, I suppose I should note that I had a thought that my absence (if one, or two, or three continued writing the poem) didn’t necessarily mean I was absent from the process moving forward. I thought maybe I’d be there still in the way absence is presence…I did leave more words behind bespeaking me, and with which you could still engage (e.g. the entire Part 7).

I note John’s comparing me to The Who’s Moonie…I know John intends that as a compliment and I thank him. But I’m uneasy with the remark for seemingly privileging me. In fact, let me conflate that with my unease to prior comments by John and Ernesto about thinking themselves not as good (so to speak) as other master poets, ranging from Williams to Rilke. I believe all human beings are capable of writing one great poem, which makes me believe that all poets should have the fortitude to bear the attitude that when it comes to comparing one’s self to another poet, no one is greater: we’re all peers.

I know that my interpretation partly decontextualizes how John and Ernesto shared their comments. In part, I certainly understand how where one is in one’s poetic development might make a younger poet be nervous about claiming to be Pound’s or anyone else’s peer. But as a practitioner to other practitioners, my feeling is more the way Anton Ohno and Muhammad Ali feel. The former said he prefers to set for himself the most seemingly-impossible goal in competition. Ali, as quoted by his daughter, another world-champion boxer, Laila Ali, said, “You gotta have the will before the skill.”

So can you all figure out I’m referencing the just-finished TV season of Dancing With the Stars? (That’s right. Y’all go ahead and quote the philosophers; I’ll just quote whichever reality show my brain is junk-dieting on at the moment…) But of course it was Ohno’s attitude that made this Olympic speed-skating medalist (who’d never ballroom-danced before!) eventually win the Dancing With the Stars‘ very ugly trophy. In other words, at the moment you create art, you’re already playing god (as one saying goes). So why assume yourself to be a lesser god than another?

I also should note that I think, John, it’s tough for any of us to assess how any of the others took risks, or not.

We are doing this for the first time. And I don’t know about the rest of you but although I’ve done numerous collaborations in the past, this is the first time I’m collaborating with three other artists. So the poem did take me somewhere I hadn’t gone to before. How that translates to the poem’s effectiveness is something else. A test will be how we choose to edit the poem, I think. That is, if some of you are thinking the poem itself is only so-so, so to speak. Right now, I don’t have an assessment on the poem. I’m waiting to go through my own editing round on it. I do feel it got slack in places…but we’ll see.

Anyway, for now, I go back to my ideas of authorship and collaboration (and I don’t mean the by-line, btw). While walking the dogs, I was thinking that I didn’t like the way the emails stopped before I went online to walk the dogs — where it was John explaining why he thought we might continue the poem and my response to it. Both John’s and my emails, I thought, implied that we hadn’t gone much beyond the creation of the “fifth voice” who would be the author of this collaboration. That is, so what if John’s historical way of writing made him want to continue the poem. And so what if I usually rely on my perceived energy flow for stopping the poem? This means that John and I were writing as ourselves, still, rather than having been transformed perhaps into another “voice” — the “fifth ego” that’s greater than “1+1+1+1” doing this collaboration.

Now, the above, if that’s an accurate assessment, is not necessarily bad. Perhaps it goes, too, to the erasure — or its impossibility — of the personal “I” from writing. Anyway,…

Anyway, so much to say. Just to note briefly that, YES! regarding the mysticism. True mysticism versus the one that’s produced much hoaxes in history also always has evidence, yah?

Last but not least for this part of my chatty conversation, I do just want to mention how grateful I am to Ernesto. As we were writing the poem, I was also working on my Fall 2007 book — let me explain by just citing from my blog here:

From “The Blind Chatelaine’s Poker Poetics” Blog

Wednesday, May 16, 2007
PARADOX

THE LIGHT SANG AS IT LEFT YOUR EYES is my Fall book to be released by Marsh Hawk Press — this is the book I wrote “After” my father’s death. Well, the book designer emailed today to say that the sections about my father had her crying. This is a designer who reads the text closely to shape her designs…

One could say that her tears attest to the book’s effectiveness.

Or, I could say that my eyes suddenly dampened at reading her email…to wish that I never had to write that book.

The book, as *some of my collaborators* know, sometimes becomes the poet’s body.

Once, I was a toddler swinging bare legs over my father’s knee. Now, I am this book.

To become a book is to die. I miss Daddy, and I am dying

The reference to collaborators, of course, related to you all. And, after that, Ernesto blogged:

From “Never Neutral” Blog

Wednesday, May 16, 2007
Unmixed Purity (Another Paradox)

There is a degree of pain on reaching which we lose the world. But afterwards peace comes. And if the paroxysm returns, so does the peace which follow it. If we realize this, that very degree of pain turns into an expectation of peace, and as a result does not break our contact with the world.
[from Meaning of the Universe]

Poetry: impossible pain and joy. A poignant touch, nostalgia. Such is Provençal and English poetry. A joy which by reason of its unmixed purity hurts, a pain which by reason of its unmixed purity brings peace.
[from Beauty]-Simone Weil

The poet’s paradox: “To become a book is to die. I miss Daddy, and I am dying…” [phrase is linked to Eileen]

To become a book is to live. There is only equilibrium in action by which woman recreates her own life through work, her life & that of those she loves. The experience of loss forces us to change the relationship between our bodies and the world: “let the whole universe be for me, in relation to my body, what the stick of a blind man is in relation to his hand.” An apprenticeship is, indeed, necessary. “Getting hurt: this is the trade entering into the body”. The trade of the poet enters the body through pain: the poet’s trade is to turn her life, her body and soul and soul and body, into book. The poet cannot become book without affliction. But this becoming book of the poet is nothing but the human condition par excellance, achieved through skill and apprenticeship, through effort and work. “A transference of the consciousness into an object other than the body itself”: the book. The poet becomes book to detach herself from a loved one only to find that she has attached herself to the whole universe. The individual I of personal affliction becomes an universal I: that’s why someone else can cry by reading your book, touching your body, feeling the whole universe enter into the body: “the seasons, the sun, the stars.” The poet becomes book in an attempt to find an equilibrium between herself and the surrounding forces of nature. “Truth is on the side of death”: the poet endures the void, experiences it, struggles and works with it. Truth is beauty and beauty is truth: the poet becomes the book that becomes beauty by accepting death. Thus, to become a book is, indeed, to die, in present continuous, we are all dying, right now, as I write this and as you read this, yes, but the poet’s paradox (the human being’s paradox) is precisely this: to become a book is to live. To stop being the singular body to become a part of the whole. To communicate experience, to do the cosmic dance with the fleeting stars. To become a book is to live. We miss the absent ones, yes, but we are living: that is the beginning of writing.

Muchas gracias, Ernesto.

JOHN: Eileen writes, “I also should note that I think, John, it’s tough for any of us to assess how any of the others took risks, or not.” I am ashamed to think my enthusiasm apparently led me to insinuate such an assessment, though to be honest that thought never crossed my mind – I was thinking about my own risks only – which makes me even more obtuse. Eileen is perfectly right. I owe you all yet another tremendous apology. Thank you for calling me on my jerkiness, Eileen.

JOHN: Mes amis–I’m willing and happy to go with Ivy’s “Right. Can we all think up some titles, now, huh? huh? Can we, can we?” as the title. But that’s just me …

[CONVERSATION continues onto the second topic, “WHAT TO TITLE THE POEM.”]

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