Old love and time are buried, and the earth devours them. is a 4-track mix to tape, with the A & B pairs of stereo channels, recorded in opposite directions, presented together. All material is heard twice, once in each direction. The dual basis and frame consists of two recent recorded readings: Christoph Girard reading his 3.5 poems in my Los Angeles apartment, and my ongoing tape piece readings 54, for Manfred, with everything impressed upon it in its initial recording/playback-reading phases in South Florida (including my voice reading from gathered texts by Dorothea Lasky, Arlo Haskell, David Pocknee, Manfred Werder— including many of his own found words and sentences— and Chika Sagawa, whose poetry gives the present piece its title). These streams of speech wend their ways intermittently through a dense polyphony of field recordings (other speech) made between 2006 and 2016: several from inside my apartment; outside the Rothko Chapel; at Giant Rock Airport; frogs at night from a motel window in Orick, CA; working on my piece clouds and grasses at Ucross (with harmonica and ebowed guitar)— and others now lost to my recollection, just part of the landscape.
Words, words, words,
At a certain point in 2011 I began making tapes whereas up until then, I’d made (mostly) text scores. Tapes advanced in real time, in PLAY mode, occasionally switched to REC to snag a moment of field sound. Sometimes keeping this going for several loops around a tape, the feeling of travel in there. And this practical epiphany did come on the heels of a big drive through the country, during which I’d made next to nothing. It was in L.A., when I got back, on the subway to the mechanic to check on my car. With all that other space and time piled high in my rear view mirror. I’d written a score, nothing which can be used (As clouds reappear after rains), which is #250-or-so in my Ashbery series. It’s from John’s poem “The Thousand Islands,” but I connect it with Eileen Myles. In particular, something they’d written in Inferno, how being a poet is hitting REC. The piece’s title, drawn from lines in the poem, appears above my name a dedication “for Eileen Myles.” At bottom, the dates & place of composition (31 December 2010 – 1 January 2011, Los Angeles). In between you get the text below— at left, more lines from the poem; on the right, my 2 cents:
A promise of so much that is to come,
Extracted, accepted gladly
But within its narrow limits
No knowledge yet
an impulsive recording of nothing—
brief and fleet
Idea is not continuing—a swift imperfect
Condensation of the indifference you feel
To be the worn fiber and bone which must surround you
For the permanence of what’s already happened in you.
Over a decade ago, John Ashbery’s poems had seized me where my music was. I’m pretty sure it was in a bathtub at the Mesa Inn, El Paso, reading “Clepsydra.” It was late autumn. I was on my way to Nebraska. All the water had drained away but I kept reading:
He was out of it of course for having lain happily awake
On the tepid fringes of that field or whatever
Whose center was beginning to churn darkly, but even more for having
The progression of minutes by accepting them, as one accepts drops of rain
As they form a shower, and without worrying about the fine weather that will come after.
Why shouldn’t all climate and all music be equal
For reasons I can’t explain, reading his poems became inseparably a process of writing through them, tracing them like sketches of life in motion, only with and of language, to follow some stray bit of outline into other vital experiences of now (music per se):
…the truth that, invisible,
Still surrounds us like the air and is the dividing force
Between our slightest steps and the notes taken on them.
nothing which can be used (As clouds reappear after rains) is both typical of the series and typically unique: not a piece written upon the poem so much as found around and through it, marking out a little room for a bit of potential to be borne out on its own terms. The strand that seemed to give my “slightest steps” some queer direction and a little margin to boot, space for “notes taken.” The words I added didn’t make the piece, but perform it: pointing from right to show what’s on the left. The music is there, inside the poem, never leaves it— and yet it situates me reading it, draws me through its language-body as I rest it upon mine. This shared situation is key: reading unravels us, reader, poem, poet, and present(s) alike, all partaking in something utterly mutual within language.
A couple years earlier, I’d written John in the middle of the night from an IHOP in L.A., about wanting to make a new kind of tape, having to do with travel, and that tape got started and quickly put aside. But now I knew how to finish it and so like a time warp after the first few minutes of field sounds I’d managed to slowly pile onto it, end to end from many drives across the country, plus answering machine messages, etc., the 90-minute tape lurched forward in real time, all the way around a couple times as I went about my life, irregular ellipses of not-home recorded here and there, and finally projector noise as I sat at a screening of Paul Sharits’s N:O:T:H:I:N:G at the Echo Park Film Center (where I knew Eileen was also, sleeping upstairs in the Machine Project apartment). All that other time, other life, somehow gathered among those few lines from a poem in Rivers and Mountains— which ultimately deals with the nature of everything and nothing. This nothing which can be used. Which is language. And the brief blips of sound popping in amid lengths of blank tape are almost like words: little flags of world, moments flapping in time. I came to understand that language is recording: every line, every word transmits information from somewhere else while also continuing to record, receiving chunks of present as it goes. I’d thought a lot about silence, but now it took on an overtly material dimension, a kind of nothing inside of everything— a drain the world is constantly swirling down into and cascading out of, different parts from different times and places. A wormhole.
Three poets have brought me before the unicorn tapestries (which I’ve never seen, except in cropped detail on some old postcards my friend Liz Kotz once gave me)— possibly each referring to different tapestries in the same genre, same scene but different moments, in different time. First in Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, an image of such deep suspended melancholy:
What has happened? Why is the little rabbit running down there, why can you immediately see that it’s running? Everything is so restrained. The lion has nothing to do. She herself is holding the pennant. Or is she clinging to it? With her other hand she has grasped the unicorn’s horn. Is this mourning? Can mourning stand up so straight, can a mourning-dress be so mute as this velvet, green-black and faded in some places?
The heightened confusion between surface and scene, the abyssal fabric that binds us across language to the realm of the unicorn, never yields to what we know, what the rabbit knows, will happen next— the unicorn’s entrapment and killing— but regathers the living moment, holds it in the tension of the weave: mortality and loss are woven into the lining, subverted. They do not supplant the scene, they support it. I printed this passage on transparency and slipped it into one of my Heliogabalus operas, which are my complicated reading of Artaud’s book (a gift from Eileen), staging my pursuit of another unicorn.
The next occasion came when reading the last part of Eileen’s Afterglow on a flight from O’Hare to SFO this summer, this time the tapestries at the Met I think, depicting the hunt. Here, the image sours: “They used a young virgin with braided hair to trap the pansexual unicorn. I can’t even stand to look at those tapestries. It hurts.” Eileen’s unicorn, their pit bull Rosie, was dead. And now John Ashbery, another unicorn— my unicorn— had just died. I felt I understood. And then Eileen proceeded to outdo Rilke in weaving a new tapestry in collaboration with their unicorn, the ghost of Rosie, if not to undo death then to go back and mend the fabric, to restore the lining:
The pit bull walks over to the carpet on the wall. She gets up on her hind legs and she pushes up the edge of the tapestry a little bit. The underside shows.
It’s a maze of pulled threads, colors. This is what I mean. In terms of story, the front of the carpet, we’re taking the moments and we’re freezing them. An entire existence. Right to the tiniest stitch. Yet the whole thing is mobile. She gives the thing a shove and it shakes and buckles. Look. Everything does.
And then last week, reading Paterson on the free casino bus from my neighborhood McDonald’s:
A tapestry hound
with his thread teeth drawing crimson from
the throat of the unicorn
A prayer before gambling: all is thread— the teeth, our blood, the unicorn…
Tiny strands of time, woven in vast bundles. Filling out all that empty space. Mostly ground, upturned, pushing the scene forward. A million filaments transmitting, transmuting some distant unreal eternity across little lengths of string. Like Sappho, the most perfect poet, only fragments, whose eternal remains also filled out my notebook while I sat in an alley bar in Mexico City. The decomposition of language, unlike the body, gives it life: a carpet of nerves radiating stimuli, other light from other time, more and more even as it fades, stains, comes undone. We could step out onto it and it would hold us, in our time. And the sky along the top, just fabric. The most parts, having the most threads. And all of us piled onto that bus, the people of McDonald’s, so many homeless. Our fleshy lengths slumped and dreaming together as we ride into the navy twilight, on our way to the island of the unicorn. Stuart Krimko calls the casino my home away from home away from home. A kind of homelessness, which is a good way to think about poetry. Not to glamorize abject poverty, but a way of being always somehow in transit.
Poetry is bad lit. That’s what makes it great. And we can make bad lit from anything. Poetry unravels, grinds the world to linguistic pulp and throws it back in broadcast dispersal. No time, no life in coherence or in rendering. Have you ever gone past a rendering plant? All time is lost time. It jumps ship in order to live again. Another prayer from Paterson: “write carelessly so that nothing that is not green will survive.” Taken out of context any line can bridge the circuit. You imagine being inside something again. In its woeful incompleteness, it drags the world along— it records, it plays back for you.
From the start I felt the bits of recorded sound as language, as writing. The process seemed to establish concretely that language is part of nature, and vice versa. Soon the Ashbery pieces (and others) became strangely broken recorded readings, my life with the poem, reading/recording it. Sometimes over and over, like in a tape I made of Eileen’s essay “The End of New England”— a kind of bedroom travel epic, hours and hours of reading the text, silently and aloud, in my apartment late one winter while the tape rolled, keeping me company. Occasionally jotting down a bit of time in magnetic pencil, but mostly playing back the sometimes blank, sometimes noisy, wordy silences from where we’d been. The room. My breathing. Music playing. Whale song (I was in a cloistered mood, so I put on nature tapes). The text jumping through the holes in its past, maybe five intermittently recorded layers of time wrapped around itself. What do I mean? Oh I dunno. All this around me, can’t you hear.
These tapes are just crumby lists in the end. Which is to say poetry. And as the tape recorders have started to die I’ve begun making lists in notebooks, just lines from whatever I’m reading. Reading lists. I don’t call it work but practice, a casual itch to gather as I read. Slowly building up an endless text day by day. Recording my days, like a diary. And portions of these recordings can break off, too. Like scores, or more like parts. Just stuff that goes along with…
These lines, taken down at my window this past wet winter. Someplace between Hopscotch and Let It Come Down. Later, becoming material for an ensemble performance in Chile. I’m listening to the recording now, and the words are being read back to me in Spanish, “Palabras, palabras, palabras, …” while a tape from my recent life in Marfa and Los Angeles plays into theirs, an early spring room in Valparaíso:
18 ii 17
Sometimes the word, sometimes what the word transmits.
to open a way through language
somewhere between electromagnetism and chemistry,
Words, words, words,
choosing working hypotheses,
look for the Pleiades again,
19 ii 17
the sky glimmered whitely.
“Listen to the rain,”
the sound of the words in her head;
the sound of her voice astonished her even more;
it was gray with the feeble light of dawn
The rain fell evenly and quietly.
everything had begun because everything had come to an end,
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