I threw the book into a dark garden and let it, all that winter, rot; retrieving it before the weather turned, to transcribe what was legible.  Though I considered burning it, I threw the notebook, instead, into the bin.  (Then, feeling guilty, plucked it out and put it in the recycling instead.)  Some notes on retrieval, on the circulatory and evolutionary intensity of "scraps"; of the notebook next to the book: the book that fails:

"Writing is never wasted. I tell my students this, urging them to throw away a draft and start again…difficult to do, to trust. I have variously taken drafts and burned them, tore them into tiny shreds, let them go…the old drafts become the texture and resonances in the new."  -- Lemon Hound/Harriet comment stream. (Sina Queyras.)

"Anyway. I got the books in the post yesterday. I felt nothing looking at the book. Nothing. The books look beautiful. But I felt empty. Like these books were a refuse of my past, and them being printed and packaged and made into commodity objects is totally separate from why I created the work. I am looking forward to having new readers, that dialogue. But I looked at the books and I thought of matchsticks, yes that's what I thought of, matchsticks. Maybe because the books are paper. And I thought of burning them, like Artaud writing about poems, meant to be read once and then burned." -- Frances Farmer Is My Sister. (Kate Zambreno.)

"Bhanu, the red, letting it soak back in (still thinking of Pamela Lu’s de-red-ing), I think of your earlier statement about killing the character in your project, but now with this idea of the rose, your impossibility of destruction, I am reminded of how, in physics, matter cannot be eliminated, just changed." -- Harriet comment stream. (Amy Catanzano.)

"The notebook is non-reproductive. You could say it is a mutation that is never seen and only becomes available, in a more formed condition, in the book. But the book depends upon the notebook.  What's in the notebook.  In fact, the larger the non-reproductive store of a population is, then the more rapidly its outer limit, that dotted line, evolves. So for species, if you have a large number of mutations that don’t become built structures, that never emerge, that's good." - - E-mail.  (Andrea Spain.)

Then I met Jarvis Fosdick at the cafe.  Jarvis is someone I can text with the words PANTHER MARTINI? and he'll text back YES.  Jarvis makes quilts; we became friends when it turned out he had Mei-Mei Bersenbrugge's "Concordance" in his car.  We both had it in our cars.  In Colorado, you need a car. I hope this does not sound too boring if you are reading this in a city.  I once had a lover who texted me: NATURE KILLS AND SEPARATES.  A text I still haveJarvis said: "How do the words get to the page?"  We were talking about fire and water as purgative mediums.  About the painting, pre-quilt, that nobody sees, embedded beneath the layers of silver oil; the notebook - -a diagonal line across the page: its casual and brutal NO.  Jarvis said: "If you destroy the words, if they are never seen, what calls them back?" Luckily, Jarvis scrawled some rapid notes towards the end of our coffee (easily substituted for a drink) and so, apparently (according to his little yellow notebook), I replied:

"The page is an attractant.  It's sticky.  For those of us who love theory, we get it, that the dirt and glitter of the border appears in these books in another form.  Displaced.  Projected.  So that we're writing back to the page from these flecks.  This is not retrieval in a duration. It is entirely spatial.  So that part of it is aperture, stance...and part of it is an occult practice.  You have to prepare the page.  You have to empty it out or darken it.  And the book you write will not, perhaps, be verdant. This is not that book.  It is not "a book for you," for example."


The thing about theory sounds insane out of context.  Let's just ignore that, if at all possible, and go with these questions instead:

1.How do the words get to the page?  2. What attracts them?  3. What did you burn? 4. What did you give to the river?  5. What book do you have in your car, rucksack, kitchen, suitcase, etc, in case of emergencies?  6.Where's the aperture?  7. What regenerated?  8. What survived the fire?

Originally Published: February 7th, 2010

Bhanu Kapil lives in Colorado where she teaches at Naropa University. She also teaches in Goddard College’s low-residency MFA. She is the author of a number of full-length works of poetry/prose, including The Vertical Interrogation of Strangers (Kelsey Street Press, 2001), Incubation: a space for monsters (Leon Works, 2006), humanimal...

  1. February 7, 2010

    Earlier today I stole this sentence from my friend Craig: "I manager to finish a chapter without disaster." Not the Craig who lives upstairs here, but a Craig who writes (dramatically) about sandwiches. I plan to serialize it. \r

    I once dropped the collected Wallace Stevens in Holland Lake while canoeing but that was for a class.

  2. February 7, 2010
     joshua samuel brown

    My strategy has always been different. Throw away nothing! Save, nay, HOARD every word, every digital scrap, every forlorn rant! File these misspelled words, these indecipherable tidbits, this digital detritus away for future re-use on some unspecified date. In our dotage we shall open these files, along with photos of lovers perhaps better forgotten. We shall open these files and laugh, and perhaps re-use them in our memoirs, as we shall both be terribly famous, or at least infamous.

  3. February 7, 2010
     Amber DiPietra

    Once, while in a children's hospital run by old white men with fez hats, when i was recovering from a hip replacement, i became very happy while reading a young adult novel called It Can't Hurt Forever which was about a teenager dying of cancer. then,i got sick from the viccodin and puked on the book before i could finish it. this seemed tragic. the nurse had come in to turn the screws in my room mate's leg. this would ensure her too-short leg stretched with the help of implanted expandable rods. she grew tired of my whining, this room mate. i hoped my puke proved more interesting. it was pre-writing.

  4. February 7, 2010
     Bhanu Kapil

    1. That's funny. 2. Water-damage is an occupational hazard of reading poetry in a natural environment. It's hard to paddle and read at the same time. 3. At least you didn't drop the collected Ezra Pound into Holland Lake.

  5. February 7, 2010
     cara benson

    I think of the word content; how the noun disappears into the adjective. It, I suppose, happens in the reverse. Tho more often I think of rupture, rather, when considering what escapes the body. The fire, then, has not been quite dry. The book has not burned. Content did. (this is how words get to the page, today)\r

    Books in my car are always the books in my bag. The ones carried at that time. There is no book in my bag at this moment. They are all bedside and on the kitchen table. These are those books: Paolo Freire: Pedagogy of the Heart; Leon Trotsky: a printout of Chapter 8 of Literature and Revolution; Collected Poems of John Wheelwright; and Savage Summit: The Life and Death of the First Women of K2.\r

    Aperture: I think of the conical moments (intrusions?) you once mentioned as intersecting a text. A funnel of cosmological time/dimensions into the substrata of the work. \r

    (morning Bhanu!)

  6. February 7, 2010
     Sina Queyras

    The Vancouver photographer Allyson Clay has a folio up on Drunken Boat that features floating, soaking, swimming books. \r


  7. February 7, 2010

    oh I like this a lot!

  8. February 8, 2010

    Beautiful post, Bhanu...I don't know if the notebook is always the book that fails, though. Something to think about. And/or...what is failure? Perhaps there is something beautiful, glorious in that failure. I think of Rilke's notebooks that he transformed into the Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, that he wanted to be as if scraps of paper found in a drawer. Sometimes I think the notebooks of a writer I admire more than their "official works"...I think of Camus' notebooks, or of course Woolf's notebooks, her real sort of life-writing, her notebooks she was always in a way preparing I think with an eye to the outside...\r

    But I like the idea of regeneration, of what survives the fire. Which turns me, for some reason, to Ingeborg Bachmann. I think of her scrawled "Death Styles", just that scrap, in Malina.

  9. February 8, 2010
     Teri G.

    Isn't there a story of John Weiners throwing a bunch of Hotel Wentley era poems under a snowy car wheel, destroying his only copies?

  10. February 8, 2010

    There are a bunch of poems I wish I had burned. But I keep them around out of the paranoia that I could someday use them as starting points for some great work. Not likely . . . but, you never know. I guess that comes from wanting possession of the poetry . . .

  11. February 8, 2010
     Bhanu Kapil

    Good morning, Cara! Though now past noon: midnight in Turkmenistan. Hi. Thank you for these intersecting notes. The image of the knib comes forward, the sentence, as it's written, that tears the page.

  12. February 8, 2010
     Bhanu Kapil

    The cover, too, of Melissa Buzzeo's bookthug "FACE." I telephoned her, begging her to tell me the name of the artist, the photograph, but she is not answering; it is books on a desk, open, next to the sea...and in the book are images of books in the bay. A kind of bay. Wet books.

  13. February 8, 2010
     Bhanu Kapil

    You are Lonely Planet TAIWAN; I am an obscure Asian-American experimental writer who just booked a flight to San Francisco and eats vegetarian Indian food. Which one of us is capable of the kinds of excesses that could register publicly? That would be you, you maniac.

  14. February 8, 2010
     Bhanu Kapil

    Already, you were the person writing this.

  15. February 8, 2010
     Bhanu Kapil

    And from Joshua Kryah's GLEAN: "I saw you burning,/then only the burn. I returned the flint and steel lent to me, expecting/another favor. I was told to look at the flowers in the yard,/to call them by their name. I burnt that also." That passive, ecstatic witness who feels everything in his own body. That lets even the contact, the possibility for relation "get away." "As in," he writes, "I am standing near you/but cannot be seen." Then, CIXOUS: ["Stigmata"]: "This is why I have always had a passion for a particular kind of book: books that get away. Understand this by letting language resonate: books that get away, that escape on every page the fate of books. That can't be closed, that leave us behind, that can't be finished." The tempest of the draft, she writes, somewhere in this book, which is now lying on top of GLEAN like some kind of normative, but still lovely sex act. What else? I like thinking of you in London looking for Jelinek, and everything else a person does, that exceeds what a day is for. This is how I am beginning to understand what you are noting here as failure, its "glorious" attributes, which are not attributes.

  16. February 8, 2010
     Bhanu Kapil

    These "starting points" are literally that, perhaps: dense spots of matter that constitute the "imperceptible" -- though, from species work, how these marks are brought forward are beyond, in its entirety, our control. This is why it is important go for mad walks. Well, I also like that the words "paranoia" and "possession" also appear in your notes: colloquially, but they still have power. They come with their own effects, no?

  17. February 8, 2010
     Bhanu Kapil

    It's snowing in Colorado today and I have to drive down to Boulder soon, the back way. Perhaps I will take my manuscript, "Schizophrene," and tear off scraps as I go, and slip them out the window, though as I write it, I understand it as pollution. Thank you for telling this little story about John Weiners.

  18. February 8, 2010
     Bhanu Kapil

    The photographer is CARMEL AVIVI.

  19. February 8, 2010
     D\'Nunzi D\'Zina

    I have no URL. However, after much extemporaneous speaking followed by deciding never again to do so, I AGREE!

  20. February 8, 2010
     Fred Moten

    Hey Bhanu!\r
    I was thinking about the emergency car book and feeling bad because I don't really have one, because the guide to north carolina barbecue can't really count. But, on the other hand, the way they describe the relation between Mr. Brown (the crusty outside of the pig) Miss Pink (the soft inside) can get deep. And I don't mean to disgust anybody with pork, or, more generally, meat. But there is, in the end, a question of flavor and for me I guess that always is an emergency, which keeps me going though someday it will be my end. But here's the thing! It's music that works that way for me and, onthe other hand, in answer to the first question, the words get to the page by somebody saying them. Just overhearing somebody at the barbecue pit and going off. Ishould go off on "mad walks" more often, as you say, but sometimes driving can work that way.\r

    And the previous versions and revisions, the history of deletion and cutting that gets stuck somewhere in the computer. the notebook materializes that but so does the computer which I realize right now, as I'm typing this, is a kind og garbage dump, or a repository of failure, a workhouse or a debtor's prison, like the Marshalsea in Little Dorit. And the stuff that is supposed to have succeeded is like Little Dorit's father, the mayor, begging all the time in a mercenary delusion of grandeur.\r

    Passages and arcades to give away! Sometimes I leave books on the airplane. I loved your post!

  21. February 8, 2010

    Where’s the aperture? It is the softest spot, where the pollen of words can break the wall and fertilize the egg.

  22. February 8, 2010

    Also, a text experiment. Using a quote above, I exploded it into a 3-d word cloud and projected each word onto the page by method of perspective drafting. So that as you orbit the cloud the image changes depending on your position. The images below each display the top left corner of the page:\r

    500,500,2500 "by lent finished. flowers fate in and This page to lets at for be that have passive, writes, in, kind own books to That..."\r

    @600,600,2500 "finished. This lent by have and in, flowers language to own I for that expecting/another the be away, who to particular..."\r

    @926,1112,2600 "finished. expecting/another This language that the in, and own have I away, flowers for us for look on who particular..."\r

    @5500,5500,2500 "language expecting/another every the of by the that for finished. that be and witness at them own lent only away, I burn..."\r

    I guess we burn the page to investigate the purpose of being.

  23. February 9, 2010
     Bhanu Kapil

    Burst speech (D'Z), a "history of deletion" (F.), these next codes programming a rose (J.): thank you, Colorado and North Carolina, for your rotational notes. Not arson, per se. I think of the comment box as a little copper bowl, the curl of the paper as it it burns, in seconds, pink and yellow, to a bit of ash. I smudge that ash on my forehead and go to school.

  24. February 9, 2010

    Hi Bhanu. Thanks for the Cixous...love "Stigmata." Do you know Jayne Anne Phillips's great essay, "Why She Writes"? (it's online!: http://www.jayneannephillips.com/eswhy.htm). Also Cixous's "Three Steps On The Ladder of Writing" has been an amazing text for me. Love her obsession with Lispector.

  25. February 9, 2010
     Bhanu Kapil

    Thank you, I didn't know this essay; there are great slaps, tears and bitten off parts in my reading list...what else should I know about that I don't know about?

  26. February 9, 2010

    Oh wow, what else... I just noticed you said you were an experimental prose writer & I've always admired Jayne Anne Phillips for her ability to carry a piece forward while being surprising with language, which is why I suggested that essay (& the essay reminds me in some ways of Cixous). "Fiction" writers who do that for me too are Rebecca Brown ("The Terrible Girls") & Vanessa Place...Here in Canada I love Mark Anthony Jarman's work ("My White Planet"). Also love Janet Frame ("The Edge of the Alphabet"), always find it odd her fiction isn't read more. If you have other suggestions for prose please shoot them back! thnx.alex.

  27. February 9, 2010
     Bhanu Kapil

    Tonight I read the final draft of Melissa Buzzeo's "The Devastation." It doesn't exist yet. Is it dead? No, it is not dead. But: how will you read it? This is the opening paragraph:\r

    "At the bottom of the sea, unidentified lovers have survived The Devastation, the water as it violently emptied, the pronouns as they disappeared into the Marine Biology of the ocean floor. Covered in decayed matter, that of the floor, that of themselves, what was once human skin, reeking of a terrible stench, the lovers repeat this one gesture: Reaching and pulling off from the other the clotted elements of the sea. The once animals, plants–-this matted reach. All that is left of language in an alternate system of life. They reach and they recoil in a gesture of extreme erotcism. Extreme because it is all that is left, because it combines what is left and pushes against limit. Erotic because it is the ultimate reach: through nothing, back to one self: the other body at the limit of self."\r

    These are some facts. Also: I asked my essay class today read Sina's newest book, and Asher Gaffar's wasp book, as examples, in part, excerpted, as prose. As metagenomic efforts. Also, Dodie Bellamy's ACADEMONIA. Also the Belladonna Elders series. Tisa Bryant/Chris Kraus. Also Monica Ali's BRICK LANE, for the moment when the trapdoor falls, which leads to: Sarah Water's FINGERSMITH. If I could, I would show you my grandfather's notebook, his planning of an orchard's growth. 19...; and the copies, from the 1960s, of Virginia Woolf's novels, which my father learned English from, in a bedsit in Golder's Green. Madness! Tucked in is a prescription, with the price in shillings, for a sedative: Nat.Mur....\r

    A lighthouse, a broken beach....\r

    Kate Zambreno's insane blog. Les Figues books. This wild animal: Amina Cain. She writes about black wings on the sidewalk. Douglas Martin's ecstatic triptych, "Your Body Figured." Rachel Pollack's talks on the tarot, which are extemporaneous and do not exist in an archive.

  28. February 10, 2010

    Yo Bhanu thanks for the Buzzeo... I think of a few things. The Devastation that has forced the lovers into the water...this is the event that pushes them into sheer gesture, loss of (or giving up of) language. Love this line, which is easy to glide over, set in the middle of the paragraph: "All that is left of language in an alternate system of life." This is the first paragraph of a book? I imagine that sentence as a starting point. Maybe it's an overly obvious connection but I think of Atwood's "Oryx and Crake" (a book I loved) which also begins after the Devastation (the eventual ecological collapse of the planet) and also begins with the ocean: "Snowman wakes before dawn. He lies unmoving, listening to the tide coming in, wave after wave, wish-wash, wish-wash, the rhythm of heartbeat." I also think I could be taking Buzzeo too literally. Because there is the eroticism in this paragraph & it is somehow about love, the scraping off of old language and layers (and I worry whether this is a romantic reading...who are these beings who are so alive who are dragging off the "once animals?"). "Erotic because it is the ultimate reach: through nothing, back to one self: the other body at the limit of self." I like the double use of colons in this sentence; asyntactic imposition of equivalencies...it is the notation mathematicians use for ratios, which for me gives a satisfying balanced way of looking at that sentence. I feel that there's a kind of buried terror in this paragraph also. Is there a surfacing in the book?\r

    Thnx for the list, that is great. I would add to mine The Stolen Party by Liliana Heker (trans. Alberto Manguel) & I've been reading Michael Turner's new novel "8x10" which I am liking. That's crazy/amazing that your dad taught himself English by reading Woolf... reminds me of my Yiddish speaking grandmother who insisted on taking her Isaac Bashevis Singer with her to her very last home, even tho her eyesight was too poor to read anything anymore. So really it was a totem.

  29. February 10, 2010
     Bhanu Kapil

    Hello - - Alex? To the north? Hi. Thank you for these suggestions. Perhaps I should like to add, too, a kind of prose -- Laura Mullen's work: and her "address" (that exceeds the book) in recent video work. Joshua Marie Wilkinson's Rabbit Light episodes; she is in one, and it is dark. Also, I guess it is incorrect to say that my father learned English from scratch from Woolf; he arrived in London with a "bare" English. These books were his "primers," and many places have wavering lines beneath phrases (he read them on the bus going to work), with marginal notes. Totems. Yes, when he was dying, he wanted me to read not the Gita, not the holy books, but these other books. And poetry. He had a copy of The Rattle Bag, an anthology edited by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney; I read to him from that. Thank you for the record of your grandmother. Her "Singer." It is very moving.\r

    Your words on Melissa Buzzeo's "paragraph" are so beautiful. Yes, these are the words that open the book and what follows is language that is vertical, "triage," as Melissa calls it -- the triage of content, but also the gesture of the lovers picking up these meshed, nodal bits of organic debris and laying them on each other's bodies. Slapping them on, in a way. Like Elfreide Jelinek's "meat blanket," I thought when I read it. She just sent me the manuscript so I haven't read it all yet: I am waiting, I think, for Sunday, when my son goes skiing with his dad. On that note, thank you for the "Snowman wakes before dawn"!

  30. February 10, 2010
     Thom Donovan

    hey Bhanu, sorry to be absent from your comments stream for a while. I have been really enjoying your posts, but kind of overwhelmed by teaching and other projects this week. in regards to this post the thing I keep wanting to post is a statement by these two Lebanese artists, Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige, who view their photography in terms of a discourse about occultation and "latency". maybe you'll find it interesting or useful?\r


    We are attempting to find new ways to create images through evocation, absence, latency. Latency is a state which haunts all of our work. Traditionally, latency is defined as the state of what exists in a non-apparent manner, but which can manifest itself at a given moment. The latent image is the invisible, yet-to-be developed image on an exposed surface. \r

    To this should be added the idea of "the dormant", of slumber, of slumbering, of something that can be awakened. To us, latency is beyond evidence. It is the reminiscence of an image, of knowledge but which can be barely grasped. How can one produce images, export them, move them around, while avoiding cut-and-dried definitions? As image producers, we try to avoid being made use of, or taken over by, propaganda within our country or region, or reduced to a simplifying , often "orientalist", vision. Our work takes into account this possible risk, this breach.\r

    Aware of this situation, we resort to the idea of the anecdotal. Etymologically, the anecdotal appears as something unrevealed, something kept secret, at odds with a certain concept of history.\r

    In our opinion, the anecdotal is not necessarily metaphoric, but rather symptomatic. It is not small history trying to reflect history at large, but a research around sensations, and the re-appropriation of events, like elements of space-time that record a specific, significant moment.\r

    The symptomatic is therefore the possibility of an image, the manifestation of something made visible. A symptomatic image is intimately linked to its context, to a situation and to a history. It is a proposal, an experience. By going back to a personal fact, to a given event, or to "something secret", we refuse the spectacular aspect and the general sociological subject. The symptomatic image is the product of a situation that cannot be reduced to an allegory or a symbol. \r

    The anecdotal is the possibility of approaching our history. If we consider official history as written by the winners, there is another unofficial and subversive space governed by the anecdotal, "the thing kept secret," which perforates that official frame. Latency is about affirming a presence. The anecdotal is the story and development of that presence.\r

    ~ from Joana Hadjithomas's and Khalil Joreige's "Wonder Beirut," in *Out of Beirut*, Modern Art Oxford, Manchester, 2006.

  31. February 10, 2010

    Yo Bhanu. Wow, "triage" - love that. I wonder what vertical language means. Now I need to finally get my hands on her book "Face." Thanks for the generous amount of suggestions; always searching for interesting prose to read. Yep to the North. -alex.

  32. February 10, 2010
     kristen stone

    which holland?

  33. February 10, 2010

    hello! this comment is in reference to the fantastic vertical thread of communication above between Bhanu and Alex from up north. i have copied the text into a word file so that i can extract the great prose reading recommendations included within. to this list i wd like to add Bhanu herself. And Jalal Toufic. And Taylor Brady's Microclimates, which inhabits the liminal spaces between (among other things) insomnia, geography, and class.

  34. February 10, 2010

    Thanks Roz! I'll put those on my list too.

  35. February 11, 2010
     Peter Greene

    Re: Starting points, burnt/snow-mashed poems, and mad walks: There is a book in my life, full of important work, that brings nothing but a growing stain on the day from the moment it's opened again. Dots on paper can be mildew, can be the beginning of the brownredrainbowyellow breakthrough of flame, can be the end of a sentence, a long, long sentence, and I think I need to go for a walk and ask the river where to put something that needs to become leaves on water, not in a big yellow folder.\r

    I always get something from the threads that Bhanu starts: thanks to you threadsters and of course to our departing teacher Miss Bhanu.\r