Morning, in Colorado, if I'm not teaching or trying to make a school lunch my offspring will actually eat, involves a second cup of Double Bergamot Earl Grey tea and a quick skim of The Guardian, online, with the memory of pretending to read it, a broadsheet, upside down in bed, with my dad.  The paper, not me.  I was two.

Thus, a few days ago, I paused, mid-sip, to read this: "Now he's ditching the dung and the glitter, and going some place darker."  And see this:


Then read this, which repeats the words but the words are a "connected complex," so I won't kill them down:

" -bit by bit – [he] jettisons the things that made him famous:the dung, the glitter, the multi-coloured, pasted-on genitalia and afro heads. Get up close to his earlier paintings – the surfaces encourage it, catching the light and writhing with life – and you lose yourself in the visual riffs, the art-nouveauish riots of plant life, the chains of dots and blobs, the beats and pulses and beads of colour. It's like listening to multi-layered music on headphones, and being delayed by all the detail."

And put my cup down.


Adrian Searle, in other words, on Chris Ofili's new show :

"[It's] a lesson in learning to be free. Not of the shadows cast by other artists, but of his own.....[S]ome artists grow scared of their shadows; they get so stuck with the thing they have become known for that they are paralysed, ­unable to find a way forward. Ofili, ­instead, has raced ahead. On Sunday he told me that he is letting his new work lead him where it will."

How do you let go of the "dung and glitter" of your early work, whether that's a "body" of work, like Ofili's, or the first "finished" draft of a manuscript? When forming a sequence, a narrative, a long poem, how do you "ditch" what makes/made it palatable, in some sense -- beautiful?/'writhing with life"? -- and go, instead, for the dirty book?  The book that exceeds its contents: that is more than you?  That takes you "where it will"? That darkens, opposing lyric decisions and opportunities.

I began to consider a speck of glitter, a fleck of dirt.  How the "imperceptible" element, brought forward, becomes the site of species intensity; what brings it forward?  The insect in the sodden pasture, carrying a bit of mud on its back, its black and yellow wing, etc.  Shedding minerals as it flies, or is eaten.  Here I would quote Agamben if getting up from this desk to get the book didn't make the floor creak and thus wake my son, in these tentative ten or fifteen minutes before he falls into a truly deep sleep.

Substitute Activity #173: Leaning in a doorway on Monday, at Naropa, I encountered the poet Amy Catanzano as she was leaving to teach a class.  Amy recently wrote an essay with Christian Bok and the Butthole Surfers in it, to give you an example of the kind of animal we are dealing with.  When I asked her about the dung and glitter, she said this.  She said it, and I asked her to write it down, which she did, then sent it to me, in this altered and intensified form:

"Bhanu, the password to the quantum supercomputerpoem will be NCC-1701

My forms, like their protagonists, are all rocketship these days. Yet I would rather consider progress as mutation rather than evolution, which is more inviting of non-linear time where the pre and the post accelerate into what Alfred Jarry calls The Imaginary Present, a second, symmetrical present that redefines duration as the “becoming of memory.”

In proposals such as string theory, time is a cubist face of space, a spacetime comprising a multiverse that interacts with forces such as quantum gravity, which I picture as the invisible background swell in a Chagall painting upon which objects are psychedelically unhitched…

Like a hand on the anywhere, in slight repose. Or, more threadbare: “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes” (oh, Thoreau!).

Seems the pre can include pre-science and also prescience—getting rid of the monolithic hyphen here—a more promising framework for the writing process and progress. Prescience, if plucked from containment within Aristotelian time, provokes alternate universes (which are questions?) of instinct, exchanges between imperceptibility and transparency. That is not to say I’m not all Scientific Method too, wanting to invent new tech for the poem, for you.

Which brings us to the latest reboot of Star Trek. Enterprise engineer Scotty, upon discovering how his future-self develops the Federation’s first Trans-Warp technology—which permits the transportation of people on/off starships traveling at warp speed—remarks, As One Might in a Poem, “It never occurred to me to think of space as the thing that was moving.” I feel this analogy is a good example of the glitter. Now, THE DUNG:

Like a deity this is, and most applauded. I predict a thorough vetting. I predict the top of a poem. I predict preparedness everyone. I predict prestigious prestigious—Like a deity make a power! Like a Titan fake a wake! Like that other face, in alpha-hide, only yours to make


As innumerable as the more benevolent tender buttons in my heart. Shall “I become a transparent eye-ball” (Emerson)? Now that’s a stylistic hyphen. Emerson, again, just past the occasion of glittering—where form makes time: “Words are the finite organs of the infinite mind.”

And so now I am asking you.  What do you do with what is "pre" in your writing? How do you make an abiogenetic decision?  How do you let go of the motifs, styles and obsessions that have brought you this far?  For example, how do I let the "red" soak back into the garden?  I let the rosebush die.  I build a fire from the stalks and petals, on the ice.  Well, I don't.  I notice that it is almost impossible to destroy a living, or near-living, rose.

Originally Published: February 4th, 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 5, 2010
     Peter Greene

    @Bhanu: The rose comes back from the root, often surprising the gardener by not being the rose they had purchased, raised, and then slain.\r

    Gosh, I love the Buttholes. (Favourites: Sweat Loaf, Jingle of a Dog's Collar, Goofy's Lament, Flame Grape, and esp. The Wooden Song, but aren't those everyone's favourites? Who grew up wrecked on drugs in the deep subcultures of the suburban West Coast, that is?) I'm so pleased with YouTube for having so many classics lost/destroyed/left behind now there for me and my laptop and my big leather headphones. I recommend NoMeansNo for other aficionados of West Coast 80's punk funk junk fusion. I lost my front teeth, a jacket, a t-shirt, a pair of glasses, and the straight line of my nose bridge at NoMeansRamones at the Union Hall in Victoria '88 - pre-Hanson Brothers gig.\r

    There is glitter in the mica of the cat's litter, and as she is still too afraid to crap outside the trailer (we're new here), there is a lot of dung and glitter in my life right now.\r

    In space, no-one can hear you scream.\r

    In a synchronous moment, I came here after posting this on my blog, which fits somewhere in here with the $tring theory (short prose bit follows):\r

    palimpsests:ii dream vision of the world\r
    I had a vision then, of all things as a spindle: a golden spindle, inhabited by specks of golden light, turning slowly in a place of blackness. Each point of light follows one of the myriad complex lines or wires that skein together to form the spindle (or shape like a spindle - it is infinitely complex, braided down into itself like a golden steel cable, Fibonacci whorls through impossible Moebian transforms). Each speck upon the spindle is us/we, and we move upon its Fated threads in a way which seems to us like time. Our movement is not real but effects the changes within the Form that allow the golden spindle to braid itself, always changing, always the same. Always we follow our Fated threads; always is something new revealed to us. In this way is the Universe Made and Unmade; we are free, free to become it. (end transmission)\r

    Final note: re: NCC-1701: Bhanu, you should check out Alex Grey's painting Cosmic Christ. Recurring starship dreams, fire and blue electric light.\r

    Night night all.\r


  2. February 5, 2010

    Bhanu, I am in the process of discovering this again the hard way, having recently completed a manuscript myself. So, ask me again in a few months -- but for now I'm venturing this: you turn off the "audience" switch for a brief period. I say this knowing that there are many who "only write for themselves" and "never think about audience" -- positions that I typically greet with skepticism and bewilderment, which is why I so appreciated your comment elsewhere in/on Harriet about being bored by poems that "are not written for others." But letting go of the pre- seems to me to require a brief period of disconnect from those others with whom one has connected or hopes to connect via past work. You do it, then, not long enough to become boring(!), but long enough to feel what new itches need scratching.

  3. February 5, 2010
     Peter Greene

    @Evie: I find that even a putative audience is what gives me the power to scry out stories and the strength to leap up and snatch the poems as they flicker and scuffle and silently pirouette past. If I didn't somehow make myself think that my work was going to help people in some way, I just wouldn't do it. Stories and visions are just as fun without any effort at recording them, and faith in the Muse in the face of the obvious Ozymandian nature of the surfaces of things, well...that's essential, and the Muse is not there as one's geisha.\r

    Hmmm...I better go have coffee. I'm not sure I'm making sense here.\r


  4. February 5, 2010

    "Let us then prepare the page on which today may be born a verdant verity."\r

    -Francis Ponge

  5. February 5, 2010
     Peter Greene

    @Bhanu: I cannot make an abiogenetic decision. That would be Ecthroi, ecthroi, and the dance of the farandolae must end in Rooting, not a whirl into howling darkness. Mother (p)reserve us from those who think we merely dance here on a stage for our own pleasure. Gardens are not farms, gardeners not prisoners, Increase is a matter of growth more than storage.\r

    There is nothing 'pre' in writing. There's what you're writing, and there's what you stop to think about and think you've written, but are merely gumming into unrecognizable smushed-up bits good only for cooking. No eye is entirely transparent. Even computers have shades. Some of them haunt us already.\r

    Don't let go of yourself. Motif, style, obsessive thought: these are identity. The zazen mind is a tool and an illusion. Striving is birth. Emptiness is a condition one must undergo to act with accuracy (essential in writing as it is in all) - but don't let it fool you.\r

    It isn't real.\r

    Even a fleck of glitter, even a handful of diamond powder, is in the neverchanging change of Form-In-Time. Mutation is a poem told in a clear voice, not the clatter of cogwheel and spring. We should know - we are Speaking it at the head of the choir (see: R.A. Lafferty: And Name My Name ). Every step in this corrosively beautiful world is like walking through a vacuum, is being on fire, is drowning, is going blind. Every thing we do is worth far more than the greatest words we can speak to the nonexistent future, every word we speak is for the now it meets in another. A contradictory and holy task, writing. We must strive to be responsible. I'm trying to follow the words of Musashi and find the line, the Way for me - there is one and only one way to do each thing. The great part of Life is that the Way is always changing.\r

    Need more coffee. Stayed up 'til 4:30 transcribing - figured I'd get all the good stuff typed, so that I have to work to make sure I stay ahead of my own rather putative audience.\r


    ps - didn't get it all typed. But I made the cat very tired!

  6. February 5, 2010
     Peter Greene

    pps I obviously failed to close my html italics. Whups. Pretend I did it on purpose. That often works out for the best.\r

  7. February 5, 2010
     Bhanu Kapil

    Francis Ponge's wet page; the subtle turn from an audience, as in Bharatnatyam, the eyes looking sharply up and to the left; the stray golden fibers on the floor of the spinning room...\r

    I also like the idea of a "switch" somewhere on the body! I like the cat somehow pouncing into the comment stream and then delicately leaping off. I like the rose that comes back from the root. \r

    Thank you for these soft notes.

  8. February 5, 2010
     Peter Greene

    Switch on(e), switch on, tail held high and bright eyes inquisitive, mind spinning thought and then word and then golden thread, coiling in and into tresses flowing around a face filled with love, cat to bug: breaks form; bug to cat, tells love in a brief shout, mouse gives birth in the wainscot to five more words and the sea sighs an essay, a susurrus of wisdom, the stones themselves they hold their tongues, for now, for now is the time in which we can make them speak, turn colour into light and Light into Word - we have a few more years, I think, and then the weather is going to change. Hurry on, hurry on to meet the dawn, put your slippers on, hurry on, sundown, sundown!\r

    The cat told me, in the yard, when the wind went coldhotcoldhot like a tap you're trying to adjust.\r


  9. February 5, 2010
     Amy Catanzano

    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.

  10. February 5, 2010
     Amy Catanzano

    Jingle of a Dog’s Collar! Also Cough Syrup, Weird Revolution, Blind Eye Sees All… a mountain of dung&glitter, yes! Not to mention the amazing Paul Leary project, “The History of Dogs.” Alex Grey: he is on my refrigerator, as a poster, staring out with a hundred eyes.

  11. February 6, 2010
     Bhanu Kapil

    "Where did the love I had for you: go? I loved you. Where are you? If you do not come to me now, when I call you...."/Transliteration of a Mira Bai bhajan [accompanied by harmonium, in the garden] [I took out the trees, and the rain, that also populate this "song."] Amy, how does the question of betrayal complicate a quantum logic?

  12. February 6, 2010
     Sina Queyras

    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. I have written this novel (now finished and out of my hands thankfully) at least three full times (I mean conceptually, structurally different), and each with multiple drafts. Those texts, like mulch, made the final version fuller, lusher. \r

    Once I found a squirrel outside of my house in Toronto. It was spring. I was preparing my garden. I took it and buried it in a corner. I planted a kind of wildflower--can't recall the name now, it's like a long grass with small, pink, orchid like flowers at the bends. In any case there was a fabulous peak where I had buried the squirrel, almost half again as tall as the other areas, greener, lusher...\r

    I think of writing like that.

  13. February 6, 2010
     Amy Catanzano

    Bhanu, a word: relativity. \r

    In quantum logic, the betrayal might be dependent on the relationship between the observed and observer. It also might be many-all betrayals, existing in more places than once at the same time, operating within both simultaneity and spontaneity, diffusing the eye-level border of when the betrayal “happened” with the more invisible quantum borders of it “happening.” \r

    However, Newtonian conceptions of space and time are retained in quantum mechanics, which means, I think, that quantum logic is still working with outdated notions of spacetime. Which brings us to relativity, where space and time are made new, but Newton’s conceptions of the observed and the observer are retained. String theory attempts to resolve the inherent conflicts between quantum mechanics and relativity. \r

    So, a new question might be: how does the question of betrayal complicate a string theory logic? In the multiverse, that wilderness of universes, our stories might always be betrayed by their assumptions (those narratives at eye-level). Or, what happens when we consider narrative (and ethics) from both quantum and astronomical scales–at the same time? Outside of time.

  14. February 7, 2010
     Bhanu Kapil

    "I’m trying to think about the spatial relations between the reader, the poem and history. What does it mean, first of all, to consider that this is a spatial relation? Or, better yet, to speak of the space-time of articulation (as futurity, projection)?" -- Fred Moten: both above and below us as we write.