Venerable are Letters, infinitely brave, forlorn, and lost.

As one year ends and another begins, there are letters to consider, lives to examine, the uses of time about which to inquire. In Jacob's Room Virginia Woolf does this magnificently. The technology of letter writing has changed radically; are emails and tweets and blog entries forms of letter writing? are all letter forms equal? Woolf plumbs ontology via the letter. There's so much to dwell upon here. What an interesting entrée into the next year.

Let us consider letters--how they come at breakfast, and at night, with their yellow stamps and their green stamps, immortalized by the postmark--for to see one's own envelope on another's table is to realize how soon deeds sever and become alien. Then at last the power of the mind to quit the body is manifest, and perhaps we fear or hate or wish annihilated this phantom of ourselves, lying on the table. Still, there are letters that merely say how dinner's at seven; others ordering coal; making appointments. The hand in them is scarcely perceptible, let alone the voice or the scowl. Ah, but when the post knocks and the letter comes always the miracle seems repeated--speech attempted. Venerable are letters, infinitely brave, forlorn, and lost.

Life would split asunder without them. 'Come to tea, come to dinner, what's the truth of the story? have you heard the news? life in the capital is gay; the Russian dancers...' These are our stays and props. These lace our days together and make of life a perfect globe. And yet, and yet...when we go to dinner, when pressing finger-tips we hope to meet somewhere soon, a doubt insinuates itself; is this the way to spend our days? the rare, the limited, so soon dealt out to us--drinking tea? dining out? And the notes accumulate. And the telephones ring. And everywhere we go wires and tubes surround us to carry the voices that try to penetrate before the last card is dealt and the days are over. 'Try to penetrate,' for as we lift the cup, shake the hand, express the hope, something whispers, Is this all? Can I never know, share, be certain? Am I doomed all my days to write letters, send voices, which fall upon the tea-table, fade upon the passage, making appointments, while life dwindles, to come and dine? yet letters are venerable; and the telephone valiant, for the journey is a lonely one, and if bound together by notes and telephones we went in company, perhaps--who knows?--we might talk by the way.

Well, people have tried. Byron wrote letters. So did Cowper. For centuries the writing-desk has contained sheets fit precisely for the communications of friends. Masters of language, poets of long ages, have turned from the sheet that endures to the sheet that perishes, pushing aside the tea-tray, drawing close to the fire (for letters are written when the dark presses round a bright red cave), and addressed themselves to the task of reaching, touching, penetrating the individual heart. Were it possible! But words have been used too often; touched and turned, and left exposed to the dust of the street. The words we seek hang close to the tree. We come at dawn and find them sweet beneath the leaf (90-91).

Emily Dickinson: "A letter always feels to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend." written to Thomas Wentworth Higginson June 1869 (L33)


The Practice of Art

Poinsettias in Watercolor by Flora (Clay's Mom)
Acton, Massachusetts 2008 & 2009


Waldrop on Oppen: the Distrust of Language

Saturday, December 12, 2009 Rosmarie Waldrop delivered the Poetry Center at San Francisco State University's George Oppen Memorial Lecture held at the Unitarian Center in San Francisco.

Despite the fact that is was a dark and stormy night, Poetry Center Director Steve Dickison and Elise Ficarra had to dig up extra chairs because the room at the Unitarian Center was packed to capacity with eager audience members. Waldrop's talk--Words, There are Words--pulled from Oppen's Daybooks, Letters, and Poems, made excursions into Agamben, Heidegger, Blanchot, Stein, Rilke, St. John of the Cross, and then returned to Oppen. Some of the poems Waldrop rested upon included "Parousia," "To Make Much," and particularly, "Psalm."


Veritas sequitur...

In the small beauty of the forest
The wild deer bedding down --
That they are there!

Their eyes
Effortless, the soft lips
Nuzzle and the alien small teeth
Tear at the grass

The roots of it
Dangle from their mouths
Scattering earth in the strange woods.
They who are there.

Their paths
Nibbled thru the fields, the leaves that shade them
Hang in the distances
Of sun

The small nouns
Crying faith
In this in which the wild deer
Startle, and stare out.

Waldrop's talk included a nuanced reading of the myriad and disparate ways Oppen wrestles with the vexing problems and possibilities of language and the relationship of words to experience, being, and perception. In Daybook IV, Oppen writes: "relevant thought begins with the distrust of language" (181). Does language enact a kind of separation--"with the word we see from outside" or are words also a mode of being? In Of Being Numerous, thinking and writing seem to be one. Do things exist because the word exists? Must we keep singing to keep the world existing? Waldrop's talk was expansive and my notes on it are, well, notational. Here are some of the lines jotted down in my notebook:

Oppen's valuation of thought over words.

Pregnant with the holy word will come the virgin walking down the road if you take her in (See Poems of St. John of the Cross)

all that was to be thought comes down the road.

words are a mode of being
words come down the road

See the poem "To Make Much" from Primitive

right word and music of the poem

the fatal rock that is the world

Oppen's struggle with everyday speech and the struggle for the "right" word

Things don't know their name

words bring things/beings into linguistic "being" out of the material

Drawing attention to Oppen's use of rhyme in "there," "there," "stare," Waldrop's reading of the poem "Psalm" closed with the observation that the indented first lines of each stanza--

Their eyes

The roots of it

Their paths

The small nouns

--enact Aquinas's proposition that truth follows the existence of things.

Waldrop's talk performed a rich reading of Oppen that wasn't focused on producing a radically new reading of his preoccupations but rather stopped and luxuriated in the work's complexities and ambiguities.

You might want to check out Jacket Magazine's Special Section on Oppen. Thomas Devaney edited this and you can find it HERE. Stephen Cope's article also includes a discussion of "Psalm."


A Selection of Work from Emily Abendroth

Emily Abendroth's work gives the mouth and mind a workout. Hers is a poetry that puts language through its paces, puncturing the prosaic and splitting the crags. Language knows itself as shutter and flash. Lavish luster, agitated froths.

Two from Toward Eadward Forward

The Prickly Fix of the Hoary Puccoon

Emily Abendroth currently lives and works in Philadelphia, where she co-curates the Moles not Molar Reading Series with fellow poet Justin Audia. Recent work of hers can be found or is forthcoming in Digital Artifact, Encyclopedia, How2, Pocket Myths, Horseless Review, Eco-poetics, and Cut & Paint.Her chapbook, Toward Eadward Forward was published by Horse less Press last year and a lengthy excerpt from her book-length work in progress "Muzzle Blast Dander" can be found in Refuge/Refugee (Volume 3 of the Chain Link book series). She is currently and ever-so-slowly piecing her way through some writings and thinking on solitary confinement practices in U.S. prisons.

The Prickly Fix of the Hoary Puccoon by Emily Abendroth

: The Prickly Fix of the Hoary Puccoon :

Antsy, and visited by ants, the five-lobed calyx balances. With an easy glub, the plant secretes its chub, loosing by dewy cue the flubber of its moist substance. It glances upon stranger neighbors with four hard nutlets, cutting a route – by stout taproot – into the shoal of loam. Handily, it combs from the domed soil a home that first bemoans and minerally resists the fisty entry of its narrow-boring tendrils, their formidable brood of surface-intruding botanical mandibles.

An able and unshorn form – both hirsute and hungry – the hoary puccoon’s uppersides provide for all allies an eye supper of the ciliate; its nelly underbelly a jellied crestlog of white pubescence. Of no particular menace, today, a pair of squat coots is afoot at its footings. Scooting there, restlessly.

In messier times, the pestilent and grimy molars of equally hoary children would grind the red puccoon’s root – mutely – with a thick lick of pitch gum, determined to plumb and color their own mouths to a gooey, lewd maroon. Switching at noon, as they always did, to a masticating bid for ochre. Raucously soaking their teeth anew; placing the great sunbelt stew of the pelt of puccoon flowers into their sour and chomp-sore orifices in order to inch the very same oral pitchwad into an auroral catchgob of golden-yellow. Impressing their gawking and limber fellows with the fetching visual roar of amber organ décor.

For any living body, however regal its vestments, the need to wiggle and pigment oneself is still prolonged and strong; indeed, it smells so. Glowing with an uncouth exuberance, the youth chew and chew and chew. Moving the tubular pompon of bloom into their own roomy, unpruned summer intestines. Therein, with no lessening of desire, to toil in the coy company of bastard toadflax and the white-eyed grasses. Until lastly, upon leaving, the puccoon leaves in their slender toothlessness, in their tender serrate-absence, incensed, bend down to frisk and tickle all.

click here to learn about the Hoary Puccoon Lithospermum canescens
(Borage family)

to gallop to skip to turn and run: some poems by Emily Abendroth

Eadweard Muybridge
Galloping Horse

The Walk & The Amble

clocked at midlope, every mare facilely unropes
any strict predictions of flight, unleashing
locomotion like a prestorm hushponcho
the full gipper of precipitation still on the lamb

arching a clipped hoof skyward, it clops down
impounding in puddle a cloud bank, a cone of error
or leaps a brick niche in furclad furor driving
its own warm hide by slack over rocketing strides

the slow open gammed gait of an aggregate body
unabated gives birth to a warren of rabbits, a boon
whose exiting bushels of sallying tushes
usher a second degree prickliness in the orfice
each shuttlecock forthing undocked as if by schooner
a knotted shock of downy assets leaaving the bloomers

the suckel-sated nestmates bivouaking nightly shore
up a shelter girded by their own interlocking appendages
an ecstatic but nodding combobulation, a quixoddity
dressing this thick mess of drowsy possibility
they are sedge-browsers as well as perambulators
ample in coniferous intake, sampling by mud-flanked rudding

and here the pathway to the scissoring extremities
begins at the shammy lapped hindquarters
begins taking stock of what one notices
searoar wordspoor umlautdrum
an amble as twice sprung maelstrom
whose sound is abscounded but movement
lashing, four flyway wind currents concurrently

thrashing a field of addled cattle, their surefooted
and peculiar brattlings riding the hammerdressed dare
the earth you miss while the foot bobs in air

The Canter & The Transverse Gallop

a dank hunk meets one damp hump
and jubilant they schmooze, warp apart
artfully outstrip any gleaning eyes only
to reconnoiter via adroit canticles
fiercely groping each others crops
gamboling off, adducing across the sluices
a soppy course of reciprocal limb action

while elsewhere and solo a route-spurned
racking pony urgently performs its willed
wiliness, totters at half stride in a quicksilver
instant of cliffside bafflement, favoring
the shore forefoot to rehook its course
although consequent hoovefallings find
the unabashed poles of another felt hunger
hunkering in

here amidst the peat-sweating eskers of bog ash
it takes a couple diggers, skids its tracks
tries not to be fearless but recognizably seared
nicked about and yet still leaning forward, as if
sensation were volition itself and imagination
not for the stinting, but sprinting rather

until into panting speed, it oftens the thinking
underlain and most swollen within, tickling
the leonine termperament of our peculiar
a hot minion of still belching waters
a lateral spread, a surfeit of seeing's clinamen
its subjects already and inevitably exceeded
even as in the process of being constituted

such a picture lacks certain necessary uneasinesses
the proposed deoccupation of effluvium itself
an apogee of lavishly collapsed containment
strategies, its objects exuberantly
overlapping one another as a dog laps
rapturously slurping at the agitated froths
couthlessly tapping their propulsive forces
sources via wild budtongued nudgings

Emily's chapbook includes several epigraphs. I thought I would reproduce them here:

"If it is impressed on our minds in infancy that a certain arbitrary symbol indicates an existing fact, if this same association of emblem and reality is reiterated at the prepatory school, insisted upon at college, and pronounced correct at the university, symbol and fact-- or supposed fact-- become so intimately blended that it is extremely difficult to dissociate them, even when a reasoned and personal observation teaches us they have no relationship.

So it is with the galloping horse."---Eadweard Muybridge, Animals in Motion

"all that goes before--the words, the rain's small pellets
small fountains that live, the face of the water, dilations
the heart of the republic--are the subject of the
verb skips..."---George Oppen, Selected Letters

"In the vicinity of Mt. Saint Helens, a Bigfoot beckoned to a person who responded by turning and running." --Oldest known West Coast Bigfoot Record, dating from the 1850s, as recorded on a Posted Chronology of the Willow Creek Bigfoot Museum, CA

to gallop to skip to turn and run


"The Plenty Hurt Me:" An Experiment with Emily Dickinson, Elena Rivera & Me

Last Saturday at Bard College I was in a room with Elena Rivera and eleven others. Elena had given us an alphabetized list of words from an unnamed poem by an unnamed poet. We were to cut up this list and make a poem using all of the words. Outside the second story window, the first snow of the season fell. There was silence. Scissors slicing, people gluing, sometimes sighs. I entered the moment. No anxiety. Moving language for 20 or 30 minutes. This is what I came up with. Some words are capitalized as they were in the list and in the original poem which turned out to be Emily Dickinson's poem #579 from the Johnson edition. You'll find that poem right below mine.

Working with Dickinson's bits of language is meditative, underscores the making in poiesis and how much the activating subjectivity of the person moving words enters the language via arrangement.

Come Home


Nature’s in Noon–- takes away Wine

ample Myself Entering

so seen did hurt near me



a shared Mountain–- of felt hope

And found Bush Crumb

Mine Plenty trembling Room



turning outside Bread

odd, could My Hunger know Birds Persons

unlike the way Years

touched as

drew Road nor That new berry

not Transplanted

Tables Windows

When all was


often looked on-- to--

had been hungry-- for this-- Dining

Written Using the vocabulary of Emily Dickinson’s poem #579
Robin Tremblay-McGaw
December 5, 2009

Emily Dickinson's Poem # 579

I had been hungry, all the Years---
My Noon had Come --to dine--
I trembling drew the Table near--
And touched the Curious Wine--

'Twas this on Tables I had seen--
When turning, hungry, Home
I looked in Windows, for Wealth
I could not hope --for Mine--

I did not know the ample Bread--
'Twas so unlike the Crumb
The Birds and I, had often shared
In Nature's--Dining Room--

The Plenty hurt me--'twas so new--
Myself felt ill--and odd--
As Berry--of a Mountain Bush--
Transplanted--to a Road--

Nor was I hungry--so I found
That Hunger--was a way
Of Persons outside Windows--
The Entering--takes away


A Poem from Camille Roy


'To write is to kill.' ---Blanchot

The chase is on as I imitate gestures,

this time I’m following a large & perfect man.

Dear Succulent:

meat in kindly stripes.

With the excitement of being among men but inside the women

my history floats down the avenue

in blobs / atomic

landfill --- that

purse & its abstraction,

the empty suit.

Revenge is a character who suffered

& became chronic.

I call her

Hotel Paranoia: “Get to bed

on time!

If you want to have sex

Now that I’m so close to the street,

being on the street,

purple in the street,

fried street,

I can delete embarrassment at the level of structure.

(oh fluttering fans!)

I love the cloud

around speech

we call the body...

House of sensation.

Built crud wrapper.

“But what about those Russians, they’re not slouched

in the bed of fake trauma...

Not yet.

...Not in the pleasure sense – No.”

….from 'Sherwood Forest'
…..camille roy 2009