To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Toward a Poetry of the Americas (8): Pablo Neruda, “Ode to Walt Whitman”

Translation from Spanish by Martín Espada

I don’t know
at what age,
or where,
in the great wet South
or on the fearsome coast
beneath the brief
scream of the seagulls,
I touched a hand and it was
the hand of Walt Whitman:
I stepped on the earth
with bare feet
and walked across the grasslands,
across the firm dew
of Walt Whitman.

all my early
that hand came with me,
that dew,
his solid fatherly pine,
his expanse of prairie,
his mission of circulating peace.

for the gifts
of the earth,
the capital’s
abundant curves,
or the purple
of wisdom,
taught me
to be an American,
you lifted my eyes
to books,
the treasure
of the grain:
broad poet,
across the
of the plains,
you made me see
the high mountain
as my guardian.
Out of the subterranean
you collected
for me,
everything that grew,
you gathered the harvest
galloping through the alfalfa,
cut the poppies for me,
followed the rivers
to arrive in the kitchen
by afternoon.

But your shovel
brought more
than earth
to light;
you unearthed
and the humiliated
with you, balancing
the black dignity of his stature,

You sent
a basket
of strawberries
to the stoker
in the boiler,
your verse
paid a visit
to every corner of your city
and that verse
was like a fragment
of your clean body,
like your own fisherman’s beard
or your legs of acacia in solemn stride.

Your shadow
of bard and nurse
moved among the soldiers,
the nocturnal caretaker
who knew
the sound
of dying breath
and waited with the dawn
for the absolutely silent
of life.

Good baker!
Elder first cousin
of my roots,
of Chilean pine,
the wind has passed
over your growing grasslands
eroding your eyes.

These are new
and cruel years in your land:
venomous weapons
and wrathful wars
have not crushed
the grass of your book,
the pulsing spring
of your fresh waters.
And oh!
who murdered
lie in his bed,
his chair
of fragrant wood                                                                                                                                        to raise a throne                                                                                                                           spattered with blood and misfortune.

your voice
in the train stations
on the edge of town,
your words
dark water
loading docks
at night,
and your people,
and black,
as all people
are simple,
do not forget
your bell:
they congregate singing
the magnitude
of your spacious life:
they walk among people
with your love
nurturing the pure evolution
of fraternidad across the earth.

[NOTE. As part of the transnational anthology that Heriberto Yépez and I are now composing, I’m posting on today’s Poems and Poetics Neruda’s “Ode to Whitman,” a masterful bringing together of the two (and more) Americas by one of the Americas’ greatest poets.  In this translation, Martín Espada, himself a poet of considerable force & means, gets all of the stops right, and his version, built with sharp, short words, takes up the work, lest we forget, of linking arms & minds across the barriers of languages & borders.  So, when Neruda writes to Whitman from his different place in the Americas: “you / taught me / to be an American,” it redeems the idea of America as such from its long-held northern dominance & stands as a directive for our project as a whole & for the troubled days through which we’re living now. More to be said of course but this as a beginning. (J.R.)]  

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Reuben Woolley: Six Poems from “Broken Stories” with a note by the author


she brings black flowers
black flowers
to black weddings

from black suns
she dances

black swans
on black rivers

i want / black
sails on black seas

the outlying

looking out from layers
is not time
for counting the broken

 it's here all the tawdry

another pointed explosion
for all the relevant 
dead.we have no room
for breathing & talk
is no comfort at all

time shining

is a time away
unseen                       there is eyes
& all the twisted mix

i have my own name now
& i can speak you
                                    we go slow
not here
making shadows
the echo of sounds

through all the day i hide
my mad indifference

& bridge
a while away

are holes
in all systems

life is overrated she said

            i write

            i missed
your portrait
& all the years

every detail

hung a face
            & dried
where everything is

insufficient.a candle
will not warm us now

the broth is cold
& the bone is hollow

they did & loud
her sleep continues


this last
            there are no heroes
behind cross
focused on distance
            are empty plates
for broken tables

she walks in black
& dust

with all the silence
of tomorrow  
every move & when

is a tale for hurtling days
i've lived with me
all my is 
not easy

            i go riding
on rivers.they’ll take me
in the slow beat
of a universe

an ocean a long breath
are answers sufficient

i don't want
your infinities         self-
reflected        & old smears
                         the doubling
of alibis
glazed for auction
                         the bark
in my hands

i'm fingering for nothing
& finding it

let's go            small
in the distance

bye bye

[NOTE.  Published earlier this year by 20/20 Vision Publishing in the U.K., of which he writes, relating to both the title & the concept: “For a story to be broken means that once upon a time it was whole. A story is never finished; one leads into another. However, in these dystopian times, this process has become more complex; the story teller meets interference. These narratives that used to exist, that helped to hold a culture together are being broken by certain people for their own ends (political and corporatist) or are being weakened in our hi-tech world (with or without our collaboration). We haven’t yet produced a strong enough narratology to take their place.

“We are the stories.
“Music is a strong influence on the work. The white spaces are an essential element and should be read. The void is not empty! However, the beats are not necessarily the regular beats of drum and bass but rather the breath beats of a free form jazz saxophonist, for example, which may vary in tempo. I like to think of the interplay between different beats: the earth beat, breath beat and the blood beat.

“Among the influences on the work are a wide range of British, American and European poets, writers such as James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, whose plays I consider to be among the greatest poetry of the 20th Century and musicians such as Captain Beefheart, Bob Dylan, Roy Harper, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Terry Riley.”]

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Jennifer Liston: The Poetry & Poetics of the “Rescued Poem”

[Jennifer Liston grew up in Co Galway, Ireland & now lives in Adelaide, South Australia.  Her procedural poetry, as presented here, adds significantly to the line of such poetry in modern & postmodern writing – in both her poems & poetics.  The idea of the “rescued poem” is indubitably her own, and a further collection of  poems as examples will shortly be gathered as a book. (J.R.)]

What Is a ‘Rescued Poem’?
In The Writing Experiment, Strategies for Innovative Creative Writing, Hazel Smith discusses recycling text in chapter four, ‘Writing as Recycling’. ‘Collage encourages you to approach creative writing through other means than personal experience,’ she says. ‘Your creativity is expressed through your choice of texts, the way you structure their relationship and the degree to which you transform them.’
Reminiscent of ‘Language’ poetry, the concept of recreating texts from existing texts intrigued me and captured my imagination. I love the ‘lego-ness’ of language and its functions. Also, I like replicable processes, probably thanks to my engineering background.
One does not usually associate processes with creative writing endeavours. I believe, however, that occupying the mind with a process that does not demand too much conscious attention switches the mind into a creative state; at least this is what I experienced when I immersed myself in the process of rescuing poems. I had a limited number of words from which to choose and my creative self was happy to dip into this limited vocabulary and construct images. One could argue that the creative process is impeded somewhat in this way, but sometimes choices can overwhelm and paralyse the mind causing it to be unable (or unwilling) to create at all. Limiting options may create a doorway through which the mind is more ready to leap.
I formalised the rescue process and I call the resulting poems ‘rescued’ rather than ‘collage’ because it seems to me that ideas are latent within texts. Using this process I could find them and sculpt them into poetic relief using this special recovery mechanism. Sometimes the ideas are closely associated with the subject of the source texts themselves; other times the ideas had very little or nothing to do with the source texts.
Here is a summary of the process I created.
§         I select two books. I may pick two with similar themes; two that are very different; two by  the  same writer; sometimes I just choose at random.

§         I select the number of one page in each book using the RANDBETWEEN function in Excel.

§         I transcribe the text of each page into a Word document and columnise the text so that one word is on each line.

§         I copy this column of text into the online word scrambler at and use the online scrambler’s ‘Random’ function to jumble the words.

§         I copy the scrambled column of words back into the original Word document and change the column back into a block of text.

§         I print out the pages of randomised words and underline words that catch my eye.

§         I write those words out in a jumble on another blank page.

§         From these words I write the rescued poem.

An important point to note is that I sort words (rather than phrases) individually so there is no danger of reproducing slabs of original text in a rescued poem. This means they are not like ‘found’ poems and also there are no copyright issues to consider
[Two rescued poems follow.]

…a poem is a river…

 how it hears us, feet on stone
how it gives skin colour
how it curls the lonely moon
through night-time by-ways
and the faithful sun
through morning blue.
How it has us waiting and following
delaying and crossing
and leaves us clutching our hands
exposed and desolate.
How it says
see, there is beauty in the old and wrinkled face
in the cold and the bare face.
How it says
that silver wolves wake ancient lives in us.
A poem is a river
drowned in time,
first, leaving us
f l y i n g, 
f  l  y  i  n  g!

Rescued from The Celtic Twilight (p. 22) by W B Yeats and Ireland Under Elizabeth (p. 67) by Philip O'Sullivan Bear

…queer as a copper shilling…

The spirit standing in the doorway
had an infinite, heavy sadness to it;
a weight of troubles from another world.
Is you dead, I says.
What thinks you, he replied.
When I was living my enemies took power,
destroyed my castle, my kingdom.
What I feared more than anything else came to pass:
terrible misfortune on the land,
winds of damage turned families and visionaries to peasants,
pleasure of music and poems a memory,
a place whose masters have no heart
an earth whose heavens are foregoing…
He seemed kind, strong.
They are so distant from me, said he, neither day nor night,
time nor words, make me feel that...
If you would talk to... if you would...
His voice began to fail.
They see me as half-mad, I says, queer as a copper shilling.
Talking to you, about you, is no wise things for me.

So I has written this down
I is no mystical person, I is already damaged,
lodging in this place
longing to trim my own winged mind.

Rescued from The Celtic Twilight (p. 9) by W B Yeats and The History of the Town and the County of the Town of Galway (p. 65) by James Hardiman

Thursday, December 14, 2017

David Baptiste Chirot: “Hidden in Plain Sight”: Found visual/sound poetries of feeling eyes & seeing hands

[Himself on the cusp between “outside” & “inside” poetry & art, Chirot, whose work, both verbal & visual, is a great too often hidden resource, writes from an authoritative if barely visible position in contemporary letters.  The depth & breadth of his more recent work – the rubbings & collages foremost – is outstanding. (J.R.)]
                                                        for Petra & for my children 
“If you would create, relax before moldy, wet walls and feel form shaping out of the chaotic patterns.”— Michelangelo

“The most beautiful world is a heap of rubbish tossed down in confusion.”—Heraclitus

“A final glossary, therefore, cannot be made of words whose intentions are fugitive.”—William S. Burroughs

“All of this happened when I was walking about starving in Christiana, that strange city which no one leaves before it has set its mark on him . . . “ — Knut Hamsun, Hunger

“. . . the same subject seen from a different angle gives a subject for study of the very highest interest, and so varied that I think I could be occupied for months without changing my place, simply bending a little more to the right or left.”— Paul Cezanne

“Sembrar la memoria/To sow memory” —  Bob Cobbing and Waldemar Niedzwiecki


“The real war will never get written in the books . . .” writes Walt Whitman at the end of the Civil War sections in his Specimen Days. “The real life” of my life isn’t written here any more than “the real war” is written in books. What I give are some stories of how I learned some methods in the “art of looking” and its companion the art of survival. These methods go into the making of the works.

The real story is in the works themselves, though I hope these stories are of interest and use on their own. After all, if wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be writing this right now. I might be a racing car driver or an astronomer, as I wanted to be at age ten. In an old-fashioned manner then, we begin with childhood and its relation to the present.

In The Painter of Modern Life, Baudelaire writes: "But genius is nothing more nor less than childhood recovered at will . . . consider … (the artist) . . . as a man-child, as a man who is never for a moment without the genius of childhood — a genius for which no aspect of life has become stale."

I’m leaving genius out of this, it’s childhood recovered that keeps fresh the story of one’s artist life in working with what childhood discovered.

Through time and work one finds how consistent and insistent the basic elements have been, how intricate their rearrangements. Every day the childhood eyes and hands meet those of the present, a shock of recognition occurs and one is finding all over again things hidden in plain sight, seen as for the first time.

Childhood is my source for the basic elements of the found and the physical. The found materials exist in the physical world and incite ideas and imaginations in their use and arrangements.

I lived a lot with my grandparents when a small child. My grandfather and godfather, Jean (John, “JT”) Trepanier, would come home from his steamfitter’s construction site work with various sized pipes and pieces of steel, copper and aluminum. This detritus of the day he’d use to make everything from crucifixes and chokers with JFK half dollars to merry-go-rounds, go-carts, rickshaws, birdhouses.

Some nights after dinner he’d drive me back to his work sites with him. His shiny always well polished Chevrolet’s dashboard had shrines and his welded medallions of the Madonna, St Christopher, St Jean Baptiste, and Christ Jesus. An immense revolving compass blinking in sun’s rays kept watch among them. The idea that shrines could be anywhere — and go anywhere—made a great impression on me. To this day I make “shrines” of found materials, with their own imageries and invocations.

Grandpa would proudly show the day’s work and demonstrate how to find yet more useful pieces of metal. The construction site became alive with possibilities, as alive as a forest or fields, and as filled with a consciousness of presences at eyes’ perimeters. To this day I am obsessively drawn to construction sites and finding materials to work with in various media. It’s a way to say hello and thank my grandfather. The sites are shrines — and mines — to me of his living on in me in my life and work.

When I was 9, my parents purchased a house built originally as two plus a shed that had been pushed all together. It was an 18th century Vermont structure in rough condition. Tearing out the cheap plaster, lathe and rat wood to get to old beams and walls, we’d found we’d need lot of good wood and bricks to rebuild from the inside. There were some old long abandoned houses nearby and my mother, brother and I began hauling away doors, windows, widow’s walks, thick boards and ancient bricks and stones for paths and chimneys. My mother showed us what to keep an eye out for, how to find the best kinds of wood and brick, old glass, tools and nameless objects with lost purposes of powerful raw beauty. The greatest thrill was to drag home by our hands and in wheelbarrow loads of wood and stone, then to see them used in creating a new home inside the old shell. The rearrangements of these materials as old as our house made things and house “new”; hence my love for a Pascal quote I use often: “It is not the elements which are new, but the order of their rearrangement.”

Another immense glory was to go to the vehicle junkyard one of the Cook family clan had in his cow pasture. The cows grazed on tall grass rising through rusted truck chassis and chickens roosted in car interiors. For $2.00 or so we’d haul home dashboards, steering wheels, engine parts, a battered seat and create spaceships, “cars of the future”, time machines.

One of the greatest events of all was finding a large crow’s nest lying in the road running along the edges of a forest, blown down by winds signaling a coming storm. The roomy interior was lined with strips of foil, bright cigarette packets, shiny coins, bits of glass, fragments of cloth, buttons, ticket stubs, wiring, chips of plastic and china, shreds of garish newspaper ads, and most startling of all, the crowning jewel, a Dinky Toy luxury car intact nestled among woven dried grasses and glittering junk. A vivid example of collage and bricolage that revealed a vision of combining natural and industrial elements in creating a home, a space in the world, made of found elements.

The crow’s use of texts it could not read but valued for their letters’ bright forms and colors revealed written language as an element among others, simultaneously “readable” and “unreadable”. Just learning to read myself, this fired my imagination in the same way hieroglyphs and calli-pictographic scripts did — recognizably writing, yet beyond fixed meanings known to me. It kept alive the childhood apprehension of all forms as writings, signs, and alphabets. The sense of disappointed confinement one felt in discovering there were only 26 letters was done away with again.

These experiences are the childhood recovered I use daily in finding and working with materials. The huge part the physical and found play for me begins in “the genius of childhood . . . for which no aspect has become stale. The importance of this aspect is its questioning of imprisonments of the “art of looking”. To see things fresh is a key to freedom’s desiring.

In “A Sedimentation of the Mind: Earth Projects”, Robert Smithson writes:
A great artist can make art by simply casting a glance. A set of glances could be as solid as any thing or place, but the society continue to cheat the artist out of his “art of looking” by valuing only “art objects”. Any critic who devalues the time of the artist is the enemy of art and the artist.

Paradoxically, developing through time this “art of looking”, of seeing fresh the possibilities of openings of freedom, brings a more acute awareness of their imprisonments. The powers, processes, and possessiveness which seek to make of the artist and the “art of looking” an object, a label, a category, ultimately a corpse are ever more visible.

Developing the “art of looking” and “childhood recovered” is a way of learning survival, “thinking on one’s feet” and learning to camouflage oneself in the manner of the things one finds hidden in plain sight.

My first experience of living in cities was in Paris, as a teenager, living in the streets, abandoned buildings, parks, all night cafes and cinemas. The ways of seeing and walking learned in the country, one puts to use in learning the languages of the street. The acceleration, concentration and profusions of sensory experiences in the city, can be worked with by using the varying speeds of languages and looking of the city and country working together. One illuminates the other.

To apprehend events and signs occurring at great speeds, one learns methods of slowing perception within time. To learn to see within time, in varying speeds, is to begin to alter the senses of space. Each method one finds and develops through practice is another way of opening what at first appears to be confining. The continual drive and direction of working on and with methods of seeing in time to open space — and vice versa — is the desire for freedom.

Walking in the country and cities I have lived in is the basis of speed I use. I have never had a driver’s license, so walking, except for public transportation and the occasional ride, is the first factor in an “art of looking” for me. Due to a bone disease I couldn’t walk for almost three years at one point. For seven years due to a broken back, walking more than a few blocks at a time was almost impossible. These periods of deprivation make each day of walking fresh, an experience of freedom. Not taking it for granted opened my eyes to not taking for granted the things seen and heard in the world. Everything takes on an interest and use because it isn’t “ordinary”.

The effect of this has been to continually widen awareness of the “hidden in plain sight” of the physical and found.

Another effect of physical limits I use in developing an “art of looking” is due to my back being broken three times. Since I can’t turn very much at the back and shoulders, at first unconsciously and then consciously I’ve developed an awareness and use of shadows and any mirroring surface—they are far more plentiful than you’d think — to see what is behind me or to an extreme side angle. That’s opened up more “avenues” to find and work with.

Walking in the streets generates an energy and speed of the “art of looking” that refuses the conventional limits of “art production” and “art objects”. Smithson’s “time of the artist” can alter itself and its speeds in many ways, including disruptions in the “system of production”. Paul Virilio, in Speed and Politicswrites:
The revolutionary contingent attains its ideal form not in the place of production, but in the street, where for a moment it stops being a cog in the technical machine and itself becomes a motor (machine of attack), in other words, a producer of speed.

Living in the streets of Paris in 1969 and 1970, where the after-effects of May 68 were still powerfully felt, (I lived in Arles in 1967-8), deeply affected my ways of seeing and thinking. The interrelationships among street life and action — “propaganda of the deed”, graffiti, making posters, squatting, “guerilla theater/art” etc — with varying speeds of the “art of looking” were everyday life.

The “everyday life” of the streets learned then became my choice of studio. Almost all my rubBEings and clay impressions pieces are made directly from things found in the streets which bear the marks of their everyday existence there. The evidences of time in the existence of the objects and their being encountered in the time of the artist create the pieces’ mixing of fragments, distortions, cracks, textures, sonic and visual effects.

For a six year period in the 1980’s my interest in speeds of movement and seeing in the city was part of what led to my addiction to speed — amphetamines of all sorts. When I first was addicted, I was writing regular and free lance film and music reviews, interviews and essays for various papers in Boston. I also worked a couple jobs and had a busy private life. Speed has a very peculiar effect on creating. At first it’s a stimulus to work, but then it takes a strange turn. The speed at which one is perceiving and thinking makes for a widening gap in the transfer of these to expression.

Everything one sees becomes so filled with possibilities moving at such high speeds that one losses the ability to hold on to them long enough to “record” them. Creative arrangement of elements turns into the obsessive collecting of elements which less and less often are used to make anything. When the gap with expression becomes too great, creative expression stops and is replaced by a sense of one’s own mechanization.

This results in the paring down of existence to the automatic physical movements such as work and dromomania with its endless finding of more talismanic and unused materials. The “art of looking” begins to experience gaps and distortions within it. Hallucinations, paranoias, senses of conspiracies and a greater and greater interest in the synchronicities of events and signs take over. A “magical thinking” predominates and the energy to create becomes devoted to an obsession with interpretation.

The speed created ever increasing deprivations physically and creatively. I stopped reading and writing and became immersed in the signs in the street. They had no meanings in language at all—but sent signals at the edges of understanding. These strange signals all but erased writing and replaced it with wordless signs. The distance between oneself and others grows eerily.

In one of the only good articles I have ever read about speed and its effects, the interviewer asks a long-time addict how he would show an addict if he painted a picture of one. “I would show him as looking,” the addict says, ‘but at what it is hard to say.”

The positive effect of all this was it kept the “art of looking” alive, even if very strangely, and the dromomania led to encountering many new people. Since most of them were “street punks” and runaways, it presented a new world of signs to become involved with that was creating things —art work, zines, music, events. The DIY aspect of Punk and now Hardcore made complete sense. The only thing in the way was the addiction to speed.

Williams S. Burroughs points out over and over that no creative activity took place during his addiction to heroin. It is only the turning away from this that gives release to an immense reserve of collected experiences, lookings, soundings, signs, and their interrelationships with the streets and action. When I got off speed is when I first began daily work on collages, little handmade books and zines. This was the first time in my life that creative work became the everyday core of being for me. I found I could make use of all I had seen and found and lived in those last six years. And now the “art of looking” developed methods of expression of my own. Due to life circumstances changing, this went underground again for about ten years.

Since 1996/7 I have been involved in Mail Art and Visual Poetry, sound scores, event scores, essays, poetry and prose poetry. As Geof mentions, for me the biggest event in this period of my life was meeting Bob Cobbing. This changed the direction of my life in too many ways to discuss here. Seeing his work and meeting him was a shock of recognition. It was the first encounter I ever had with someone whose ways of seeing and hearing were so like what I lived with, and had come to think of as being as an aberration limited to myself alone. After meeting him I never felt alone again in these, and he made me aware that if I worked the rest of my life there was a possibility of expressing these things in a way others may understand. That way, one hopes to be able share the methods and findings of an “art of looking” that may be of interest and use to them in working on theirs.

So many major events in life and work have happened in the last years — some of the very best and some of the very worst and most brutal. The most important is that no matter the circumstances and conditions, one keeps finding ways to be working and developing an “art of looking” and expressing this.

“Childhood recovered” with the lessons of finding discarded things in the world to create with taught one early the links between the art of survival and the art of looking.

“Necessity is the motherfucker of invention” means there is always something hidden in plain sight with which to work and survive and work some more. There’s no need to “run away” to “live and fight another day.” All you need is right there in front of you. And from there a myriad new worlds begin to open all around one . . . hidden in sight, no end in sight … there for you to find.

[addendum, from a letter 30.xi.17. This is an essay I Thought might be of interest re "Outsider Poetry/Art” and its interrelationship   with an "Outsider Life"
            a number of times, presenting my visual works and performance. event scores to some galleries--I was told they did not present "Outsider Art".  
           Like many persons considered by society as an "Outsider" due to the facts of one's life, or the sense on some persons' part that one does not "fit in"--like many such persons (addicts, prisoners, those living well below the poverty line etc)or, as we say in Narcotics Anonymous and AAthose whose lives are leading to "jails, institutions and death"--a great many such persons find themselves being "saved" by finding their creativity in making art, writing and performing poetry, and by these means finding a way to "connect" to society in a recognizable way. I know in my case this is very true.
          My great friend the Visual Poet and essayist Petra Backonja wrote me that she became immediately interested in my work on first seeing it, saying it stood out above anything seen in various Visual Poetry exhibits, anthologies, journals, web sites etc because "it looked like the artist's work was a matter of life and death."
              I think that these are all some elements of "Outsider" works far Outside as the Outsider feels, thinks, exists there is not only the struggle of literal "life and death" but also that of a struggle of the "life and death" of the imagination.]

[For further examples of David Baptiste Chirot’s visual art & poetry, see here on]