In which are explored the matrices of text, textile, and exile through metaphor, networks, poetics, etymologies, etc., with an occasional subplot relating these elements to Iggy and the Stooges.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Knit a poem, everybody!

My erstwhile collaborator and pal mIEKAL aND sent me this link from the British Poetry listserv: Turn a poem into a blanket! The British Poetry Society has gone craftsy! Calloo callay, I'm chortling in my joy.

Monday, May 30, 2011

skein, skin

Skein: A mystery word! "O. Fr. escagne, of uncertain origin." Well, somebody must know, though it seems to have survived solely as a (fairly widespread) surname with no meaning attached.
The synonyms below are wonderful, building to a crescendo of hopeless confusion and multiplicity.
It is noteworthy that skein suggests confusion and entanglement, while "clue" comes from a ball of yarn that can lead someone through and out of confusion into clear knowledge and certainty. It's true that in the weaving or knitting process, one turns the skeins into balls of yarn (using a swift, another one of those marvelous words, or a little girl with arms held perpendicular to the floor, about a 16 inches apart, or the back of a chair), which then enables one to move forward into the next configuration: casting warp on the warping board or casting stitches on the knitting needles. But the two forms, skein and ball, don't really look so different, especially as most skeins I buy have already been looped and ordered in some kind of loose way, like those two snuggly littermates I got the other day (and why didn't I get a sensible color like black which I really know I can use?)
Skin, on the other hand, goes on and on, but in a somewhat confused way. However, this morsel–Ir. scainim "I tear, I burst"–is just what I'm looking for. No skin without being skinned. No surface without scarring. No border without transgression. Bursting out of your skin comes along with having skin.


-a length of wool or thread loosely wound into the shape of a ring
-a large group of wild birds such as geese

Etymology+Origin of skein (noun)
c.1440, from M.Fr. escaigne "a hank of yarn," from O.Fr. escagne (1354), of uncertain origin.

Synonyms for skein (noun)
jungle * , muddle , snag , labyrinth , coil , mat , jam * , thread , entanglement , mess * , mix-up , web , snarl , series , morass , strand , rummage , sequence , tangle , flock , twist , knot , maze , cat's cradle , mass , complication , mesh

3 entries found adjective | noun | verb |

Etymology+Origin of skin (adjective)

c.1200, "animal hide" (usually dressed and tanned), from O.N. skinn "animal hide," from P.Gmc. *skintha- (cf. O.H.G. scinten, Ger. schinden "to flay, skin;" Ger. dial. schind "skin of a fruit," Flem. schinde "bark"), from PIE *sken- "cut off" (cf. Bret. scant "scale of a fish," Ir. scainim "I tear, I burst"), from base *sek- "cut." Replaced native hide; the modern technical distinction between the two words is based on the size of the animal. Meaning "epidermis of a living animal or person" is attested from 1340; extended to fruits, vegetables, etc. 1398. ~123~"Ful of fleissche Y was to fele, Now ... Me is lefte But skyn & boon." [hymn, c.1430]~123~Jazz slang sense of "drum" is from 1927. As an adj., it formerly had a slang sense of "cheating" (1868); sense of "pornographic" is attested from 1968. The verb is attested from 1392, from the noun. Skin-tight is from 1885; skin deep is first attested 1613 in this:~123~"All the carnall beauty of my wife, Is but skin-deep." [Sir Thomas Overbury, "A Wife," 1613; the poem was a main motive for his murder]~123~

Synonyms for skin (adjective)
starkers , unclad , nude

Definition skin (noun)

outer covering, especially of animate being

Notes to skin (noun)

Synonyms for skin (noun)

membrane , crust , case , jacket , fell , bark , surface , coating , casing , leather , slough , rind , exterior , husk , parchment , envelope , hide , bill , dermis , carapace , shell , sheath , complexion , derma , integument , outside , tegument , epidermis , sheathing , peel , fur , coat , cutis , shuck , vellum , film , pelt , chamois , hull

Definition skin (verb)

-the natural outer layer which covers a person, animal, fruit, etc.
Examples for skin

-dark/fair/pale/tanned skin
-skin cancer
-Babies have soft skins.
-Native Americans used to trade skins (= the skins of animals that have been removed from the body, with or without the hair).
-a banana/potato skin
-The bullet pierced the skin of the aircraft.
-Many electronic devices let you create your own skins.
-We had no umbrellas so we got soaked to the skin in the pouring rain.
-I don't worry about what he says - I have a very thick skin.
-I've got an old sheepskin coat.

Synonyms for skin (verb)

remove , knock , bare , abrade , scalp , decorticate , bark , strip , criticize , husk , shave , thwart , scale , denounce , exuviate , rap , scrape , condemn , gall , cut up , unclothe , cut off , undo , cast , shed , peel , blame , flay , pull off , cheat , rip off , defeat , exploit , lay bare , hull , maul , chafe , disarm , excoriate , shuck , pare , rind , deceive , trim , slough , graze

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hand-dyed Silk in Basel

My first day in Basel was Thursday. I slept for a few hours, then went with my hostess, Kathrin Schaeppi, to an English-language poetry reading at the University. En route we passed the open market at Barfüsseplatz (named after the barefoot Franciscan friars, and not, as i first thought, after the discalc'd Carmelites...) and I spied a color-draped booth with skeins of all possible hues hanging in rows in sumptuous splendor. We made a beeline for it and I ogled the goods. The woman was French-speaking, from La Chaux-de-Fonds; she gave me her card: Holzart Atelier Hachem ("tournage et découpe de bois /soie et laine"); her son does the wood-turning and she does the dyeing of silk and linen. It was expensive, as is everything in Switzerland, but I couldn't resist, esp as I was vulnerable from many hours of travel and few hours of sleep. I picked out two skeins in somewhat counter-intuitive colors for me: yellow variegated and slate-blue/yellow variegated. Here's a picture; I'd forgotten my camera on the excursion so didn't get a pic of the booth and the beautiful artisan. However, she's there every second Thursday so I'll get a chance to revisit the scene. This picture is taken against the sheets of my cozy single bed on Bachlettenstrasse. The two skeins look so happy nestled together; it's a case of do-i-want-to-impose-violence-on-them-through-use or do I want to hang them on my wall when I return? The loom room at home is painted a compatible color, a dark blue-gray. Perhaps that's why I chose these colors. I'm not sure which of my friends would wear them, or what I can make: 400 metres per skein, she says.
Skein/skin. Almost too obvious, as in Stein's Miss Furr and Miss Skeene, who were so close, like my two lovely loopy skeins of silk, that they were "regularly gay." But a proper etymological romp remains to be romped.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Reverse Waterfall

Here is a short video by the great Cecilia Vicuña at her Oysi site (listed to the right), a wonderful database of and resource for oral poets around the world. Gorgeous strands of dyed and carded but unspun roving hanging down from a well-like opening of light; in Douglass Library, it seems, at Rutgers University. The pure-voiced singing also echoes as if rising from a well. Women's labor re-imagined as unalienated in orange, tan, colors. A real delight.

Sunday, May 8, 2011


Here's a shot of the Asemic Kill City/Raw Power scarf in its habitus at the Text Festival in Bury, England, in the art gallery's accompanying exhibit. Thanks to Nico Vassilakis for sending me the photo. And here, Ron Silliman tweets about it! The background of his Twitter account looks like a repeating pattern of artwork by the great collagist Jess, Robert Duncan's life partner: ornate, rococo and postmodernly lush. It's an honor to have the scarf displayed at this Festival, where a host of luminaries, including Ron himself, Christian Bök, and later on, Adeena Karasick, my collaborator, are reading their work. In response to my query, James Williamson has expressed a preference for a short fringe in accordance with men's fashion protocol, and to keep it secular (I told him the long fringe might make people mistake him for a rabbi). I will donate (!) the leftover thrums to the Minnesota Center for Book Arts for their papermaking mavens.

Danish Peasants

On Mothers' Day, thinking about my mother, who started life as a Danish peasant girl over 95 years ago. She's still going, but not so strong as before. I did a google-image search for "Danish peasants," and found this fascinating piece by Suzanne Bocanegra, in which she translated a weaving pattern into a musical performance. There is a series of photos at the site, as well as an explanation of the translation process. Anything that involves counting in the lower whole numbers, numerical patterns, etc., can be translated from one system to another. Well, I say that rather glibly, not knowing what I'm talking about when I say "anything." But weaving patterns can be transliterated into other forms of gridded figurings-out and then parlayed into another art form. Language too, if you assign numerical values to the letters of the alphabet, as in Kabbalistic methods of composition and wordplay. The surplus of suffixes and prefixes in the title "rerememberer," with the "b" as the only barrier to a pure palindromic reading of the word, functions as a kind of elaborate border around the core letters "memb," which can be in turn elaborated into other words like member, membrane (the connection with tissue and cloth here is obvious), remember, memorial, ember (the glowing core of a word, process, emotion, energy that is either dying or coming to life), and so forth. The letter M is "mem" in Hebrew, and signifies water. The letters on either side of the core hold in the water, the way a membrane holds bodily fluids or a basket, properly made, holds something viscous or even fluid. The way my mother lives in my heart, my heart lives in my body and my mind.

I wish there were a visual image of the Danish peasant cloth on which the piece is based. If I were methodical and patient enough, there might be some way for me to reconstruct the pattern retroactively (if I could see the musical score), but I'd not know the colors or the dimensions. And anyway, I am not methodically minded or patient in this way.

The x-stitch above is one I made for Mother a few years ago, after she said, in response to my query, that all she wanted for Christmas was respect. The crown and heart, as well as the red and white colors, are typical Danish motifs, and, as mentioned in an earlier blog entry, the materials I use are generally Danish, from the Danish Handcraft Guild flower-thread to the pattern-books, from which I got the heart and crown.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

yarn bombing...

This made my day: a yarn-bombed bike-rack in the Bay Area. Here is the full story by the yarn-bomber on her blog:
And here's a whole website/blog on yarnbombing. Those intrepid Canadian ladies ride again!

I really like this new trend, graffiti with a fiber twist; how can it help but brighten people's days? It seems a non-aggressive, distinctly gendered form of stealth street art that is gaining sway. Its ephemerality is part of its appeal; one of the comments on the boingboing article said that this beautiful clothsnake will start to rot within a week or so...and perhaps that's true, but that makes the collision of art for art's sake and exuberant anonymous subversive (quasi-political, even) gesture all the more touching. And the colors bring to mind Rosa Luxemburg's and Emma Goldmann's desires for a whole self revolution that included eroticism, joy, physical movement, and everyday beauty. The bike-rack shape, too, ensheathed this way, suggest the Uroboros and other primal and mythically foundational serpents, bringing just the right pleasurable instability to the Garden of Industrial Order.

Monday, May 2, 2011

100 Thousand Poets for Change...

The piece I posted a couple of weeks ago, SOS, has been published on Anny Ballardini's fieralingue site, in the Poets' Corner section. She and Obododimma Oha co-edited a division of 100 Thousand Poets for Change, something started by Michael Rothenberg, editor of the online journal Big Bridge.

I got a nice note from Obododimma saying "Thank you for identifying with our project."

In other news, I was lucky enough to attend an Iggy and the Stooges concert in Ann Arbor, their hometown, on April 19. It was a tribute to Ron Asheton, their founding guitarist, who died in January of 2009, so there was a lot of emotion and history packed into the evening, which was both a moving memorial with family in attendance (and on stage: Scott Asheton aka Rock Action, the band's drummer, is Ron's brother) and an intense display of rock and roll at its rawest and realest. In terms of textiles, black denim and black cotton were, of course, the leading indicators, but there was a young woman in a purple lycra body suit who got up on stage (as did I) during the de rigueur, Iggy-instigated stage invasion, and my FB friend Amy Verdon sported some really great gold lamé boots with her blue jeans. Afterwards, I asked James Williamson, the band's current guitarist for whom I made that Raw Power/Kill City scarf, to autograph my dress. "You're kidding, right?" he asked. No, I said. I'd seen a girl ask Richard Hell to autograph her skirt a few years ago at a reading he gave at the Walker Art Center, and I'd been struck by it. So a few helpful folks steadied my silky (rayon) dress against my ample leg, and he provided his signature with a Sharpie. My friend the ace photographer Heather Harris later suggested getting a fixative at an art-supply store to make sure the signature didn't wash out.

Are the Situationists the first movement to write slogans on their clothing as a political/artistic statement? Certainly writing surfaces and clothing have been interchangeable throughout history; witness the haunting trope of Sappho's poems written on papyri that were then used as winding clothes for the dead.

There are West African traditions of stamping slogans and sayings on women's wrap garments; they'll have a variety of wraps so that they can match their feelings to the saying on the wrap when they go out...

I'd be happy to learn of other such traditions.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mail Art Show Update & Ruminations about Writers vs Embroiderers

Here's the blogsite for the mail art show I sent something off to recently. It's nice that they make everything available for viewing online, though many of these call for touch as well. Haptic/synaptic.

I've been thinking of the seeming decorousness of textile arts, especially as feminized as they are in our culture, and how this often displaces, or plays a strangely adjacent role, to inner wildness. Adrienne Rich's "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers" hints at this but in a compensatory, diminishing way; Aunt J is clearly less than she should/could be. Why should this be? The sock-yarn named Iggy Pop (see, for example, seems sorta ridiculous, but then think of the lady knitting far into the night, listening obsessively to Raw Power, as i did when weaving at the IAS a few years ago; it's trance music for a trance activity. It's creative and violent in its own way. The dark night of the soul becomes the cute baby socks or the dangerous punk fashion style accessory, lovingly made with artful design. Tragic histories are hidden behind sumptuous textile creations. The drama of rock and roll sublimates as much as the lace, linens and embroideries of altar cloths and torah covers...

The people writing such texts as "Aunt Jennifer's Tigers," or Henry James, who, in a devastating last sentence, condemns a "spinster" to disappointed, bitter life-solitude (""Catherine,... picking up her morsel of fancy-work, had seated herself with it again — for life, as it were."), are writers. Maybe they see their own activity as superior to, or more expressive than, these women's "fancy-work," in a typical gendered division not only of social prestige (writing is "head-work," needlepoint is "hand(i)work"), but of the permission or assumption of the right to express anger or any powerful emotion. But perhaps I'm being unfair and it's more the case that there is a positive–or, more likely, ambivalent and ambiguous– identification at work: that Rich and James understand themselves and their subjects as involved in the same kind of sublimation that constitutes this kind of hobbyist, minor manual labor, concentration, freeform improvisation, cultural expression.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

velvet, vellum, veil, vulva

These words are not related, though I wish they were ... there's enough overlap with other cool etymologies I've posted earlier, as well as with compelling textilic words with wider resonances. And the Sanskrit WAR, to cover, protect, clearly seems related to veil; or to weave... The notion of concealment, covering, enclosure whether as an in-spiraling shell (vulva) or a shaggy fleece (velvet), emerges repeatedly. The need for shelter and the need to be known are intimately related to the mysteries of concealment and revelation at play in writing and textile practices.

Another element comes to mind in the practice aspect of this nexus of need and mystery: the rhythm of the practice itself, whether it be the clack of the loom (the Dogon myth of origin ascribes creation to "the creaking of the word," i.e. the sounds of the loom creaking and clacking in the weaving process) or the gentle click of the knitting needles in institutional meetings, the reassuring movement of hand and pen across paper in the kind of self-soothing relationship attributed to children's feelings for their various transitional objects, the typewriter's thump or the muted sound of the computer keyboard, or the visual rhythm of etymological dictionary entries, the lists of abbreviations, symbols, varied fonts and cases, the iterative spell of wordlists on the page and in the mind's ear.

VELVET, a cloth made from silk, with a close, shaggy pile; also made from cotton. (Ital.,—L.) 'Velvet, or velwet, Velvetus;' Prompt. Parv. Chaucer has the pl. velouëttës (four syllables), C. T. 10958; whilst Spenser has vellet, Shep. Kal., May, 185. β. Again, the form vellure occurs in Holinshed, Descr. of England, b. iii. c. 1 (R.); which is borrowed from F. velours, 'velvet,' Cot. γ. But velvet, velwet, velouet, vellet are various corruptions of O. Ital. veluto, 'veluet,' Florio; mod. Ital. velluto. The word is interesting as being almost the only Ital. word (in E.) of so early a date; it may have been imported directly from Italy. The Ital. velluto answers to a Low Lat. form villutus*, shaggy, allied to Lat. uillosus, shaggy; whilst F. velours (O.F. velous, the r being unoriginal) answers to Lat. uillosus directly.—Lat. uillus, shaggy hair, a tuft of hair; so that velvet means 'woolly' or shaggy stuff, from its nap. Allied to uellus, a fleece; orig. 'a covering' or 'protection.'—✔WAR, to cover, protect; cf. Skt. úrna, wool, lit. a covering, from vri, to cover; and see Wool. Der. velvet-y, velvet-ing.

early 15c., from O.Fr. velin "parchment made from calfskin," from vel, veel "calf" (see veal)

early 13c., from Anglo-Fr. and O.N.Fr. veil (O.Fr. voile) "a head-covering," also "a sail," from L. vela, pl. of velum "sail, curtain, covering," from PIE base *weg- "to weave." Vela was mistaken in V.L. for a fem. sing. noun. The verb (late 14c.) is from O.Fr. veler, voiller, from L. velare "to cover, veil," from velum. Figurative sense of "to conceal" (something immaterial) is recorded from 1530s. To take the veil "become a nun" is attested from early 14c.

1540s, from L. vulva, earlier volva "womb, female sexual organ," lit. "wrapper," from volvere "to turn, twist, roll, revolve," also "turn over in the mind," from PIE base *wel- "to turn, revolve," with derivatives refering to curved, enclosing objects (cf. Skt. valate "turns round," ulvam "womb, vulva;" Lith. valtis "twine, net," apvalus "round;" O.C.S. valiti "roll, welter," vluna "wave;" Gk. eluo "wind, wrap," helix "spiral object," eilein "to turn, squeeze;" Goth. walwjan "to roll;" O.E. wealwian "roll," weoloc "whelk, spiral-shelled mollusk;" O.H.G. walzan "to roll, waltz;" O.Ir. fulumain "rolling;" Welsh olwyn "wheel")

Friday, April 1, 2011


Yesterday I made it to the post office right before 5:00 closing, to send out copies of my chapbook (Meshwards) to the Dusie Kollektiv. I'd spent a few happy hours with the wonderful poet Beth Workman stuffing and labeling 85 envelopes with our two books; we then split the goods and each mailed out half.

In return, I've been getting chapbooks from other Kollektiv members. It's really thrilling to see this alternative poetry gift/exchange economy unfolding. There's a wide variety of work and imaginations and they come in different-sized envelopes making a tantalizing pile on my stainless steel kitchen table.

The cover image, reproduced above sans text, is a close-up of a section of a baby blanket I made for Omi Tinsley's baby, Baia.

Thursday, March 31, 2011


type of Hindu religious book, 1799, from Skt. tantram, lit. "loom, warp," hence "groundwork, system, doctrine," from tan "to stretch, extend," from PIE base *ten- "to stretch, extend" (see tenet).
1905, from tantra + -ic; used loosely in the West to denote erotic spiritualism.

"series of aphorisms," 1801, from Skt. sutram "rule," lit. "string, thread" (as a measure of straightness), from sivyati "sew;" cognate with L. suere "to sew" (see sew). Applied to rules of grammar, law, philosophy, etc., along with their commentaries.

As in suture.

thread (n.)
O.E. þræd "fine cord, especially when twisted" (related to þrawan "to twist"), from P.Gmc. *thrædus (cf. M.Du. draet, Du. draad, O.H.G. drat, Ger. Draht, O.N. þraðr), from suffixed form of base *thræ- "twist" (see throw). Meaning "spiral ridge of a screw" is from 1670s. The verb meaning "to put thread through a needle" is recorded from mid-14c.; in reference to film cameras from 1913. The dancing move called thread the needle is attested from 1844. Threads, slang for "clothes" is 1926, Amer.Eng.

early 13c., "spider," agent noun from spin. Meaning "person who spins textile thread" is from late 14c.

purl (v.)
"knit with inverted stitches," 1825; earlier "to embroider with gold or silver thread" (1520s), from M.E. pirlyng "revolving, twisting," of unknown origin. The two senses usually are taken as one word, but this is not certain.

1590s, phonetic variant of clew "a ball of thread or yarn," with reference to the one Theseus used as a guide out of the Labyrinth. The purely figurative sense of "that which points the way" is from 1620s. The verb meaning "to inform someone of the important facts" is attested by 1934.

1887, coined from Gk. mitos "warp thread" (see mitre) + Mod.L. -osis "act, process." Term introduced by German anatomist Walther Fleming (1843-1905) in 1882. So called because chromatin of the cell nucleus appears as long threads in the first stages.

Found in the Debris

Cleaning the debris–books, papers, paper clips, cds, etc.–off the floor in my study has had its share of delightful revelations, if not the two cross-stitches I seem to have permanently mislaid and was hoping to unearth. I found some notes I took a couple of years ago, some of which overlap with material i've posted earlier on the blog, and thematically of a piece. Forgive the redundancies; I'll try to prune.

History/Weaving Terminology
(See Derrida, Dissemination…)

"study of organic tissues," 1847, from Gk. histos "warp, web," lit. "that which causes to stand," from histasthai "to stand," from PIE *sta- "to stand" (see stet). Taken by 19c. medical writers as the best Gk. root from which to form terminology for "tissue."

1390, "relation of incidents" (true or false), from O.Fr. historie, from L. historia "narrative, account, tale, story," from Gk. historia "a learning or knowing by inquiry, history, record, narrative," from historein "inquire," from histor "wise man, judge," from PIE *wid-tor-, from base *weid- "to know," lit. "to see" (see vision). Related to Gk. idein "to see," and to eidenai "to know." In M.E., not differentiated from story; sense of "record of past events" probably first attested 1485. Sense of "systematic account (without reference to time) of a set of natural phenomena" (1567) is now obs. except in natural history. What is historic (1669) is noted or celebrated in history; what is historical (1561) deals with history. Historian "writer of history in the higher sense," distinguished from a mere annalist or chronicler, is from 1531. The O.E. word was þeod-wita.

ME lome, AS loma/geloma/gelome, “often-used thing” –(that old familiar thing) orig. used for a plow or a loom, etc. from “frequent”…”tool.”
Loom as a verb, LG lome, loam, SW loma, to come slowly…orig nautical? Or is it possible, as some etymologists propose, that it’s a reference to the slow becoming of the cloth on a loom as it’s loomed, or woven…?

Text/ile: from “texere,” to weave. A very basic connection that’s built into the language. In fact, like the word “texture,” these words have the connotation of a “basic structure,” as in “the texture of society.”
What does it mean to be “basic” in a field where ornamentation and baroque extrapolation on the one hand (i.e. the “riff”), and ever greater deconstructive depth on the other (i.e. deep analysis) hold sway? To be basic is to be thick, stumpy and low; to be at the ground floor, in the abasement, just barely hanging on but also holding the structure for everything else: it’s a sine qua non, what’s essential.

Loom/book: a sort of basic resonance in the gutteral simplicity of the words. But “book” comes from beech tree, a fully organic entity, whereas loom is a tool for changing and ordering an aggregate of things (yarns or threads) into something else: cloth that can be used for a covering.

Warp (to throw).
weft or woof (wefan, to weave), web, and weave all share a root.

from scratch, engrave, tear, wound… like “writhe,” from IE wer- to bend, twist, tear, wound…to cause to twist or contort… wreath too comes from this.

Shuttle shares a root with “shot” –AS scytel (missile) and sceotan, to shoot), which led me to wonder if weapon and web/weaving were related, but not so, or not directly.

Heddle, like needle. From hebban, to raise (heave, heft, heaven???, have, heavy, etc). OHG habig

It appears that if we look deeply enough and broadly enough, every word is related to every other word (though not always directly) every thing is related to all other things, and as Wallace Stevens said, everything is like everything else. There are no two things that cannot be placed into relationship, and that relationship is not random, in fact we are not doing the placing; we are simply uncovering a relationship that has been implicit. Language offers historical evidence for the connection between these different tools, activities, ideas, tendencies; language is, as others have pointed out, an archaeological system but it’s not static, and it’s subject to imaginative interventions. Literary language is suited to this kind of uncovering, though all language does it.

What am I hoping to gain from an experiential stint with textiles in this exploration of the historical linguistic and also heavily metaphoric relationship? The sensory immersion in the smell of unprocessed sheepswool (IE base wel, hair, wool, grass), the sound of the loom clacking and the treadles and beater (batten) thumping, the rhythm required, the necessary listening (music or NPR), the body’s involvement (backbreaking back-threading), is of an hypnotic condition far removed from the alertness required of textual production. In fact until this project swam to the surface of my professional life the two activities–writing and weaving–had complementary but opposing roles in my life; the weaving was a break from the writing, a place to go where creativity was mindless, automatic, untroubled by intellect or the seductive madness of words.

What I had been calling metaphoric, i.e. the obsessive recurrence of textile metaphors in literary criticism and writing about texts, is not really metaphoric after all, because of the etymologically overdetermined connection between the two realms. But in terms of experience, most text workers don’t really use their textile knowledge, being knitting, sewing or other (weaving, embroidering, shopping, wearing clothes, decorating a house, etc) to really lead them in their textual thinking, though they often use a textilic vocabulary as a resource for figurative language to describe this thinking–not only weaving, webs and networking, but knotting, interlacing, etc. So, if there is such profound overlap, why are the modes of textual scholarship so different, and keyed to such a different regime, not to say hierarchy, of knowledge (somewhat like Patricia Smith’s topic of the scientization of craftsmanship; the craftsmen were trying to close a gap that had developed btw Enlightenment style of knowledge –science v art– and the previous understanding of science/art)? But there are many such examples of estrangement from etymological kinship; perhaps one glaring one is the word “labor,” childbirth and industrial factory work; we can see the relationship but the two have such different resonances that women in the early days of second wave feminism claimed a desire for reformed childbirth as the ultimate unalienated experience and a site of deep personal and gender empowerment, etc., blah blah blah. This terrain makes me a bit uncomfortable because of the clear limitations of these kinds of grandiose and utopian desires for proximity with a presumed natural state, and the ways in which this type of feminism, which also turned to crafts like weaving etc., strike us as intellectually dated. Metaphor, too, has gotten a bad name for good reasons (it’s a mystification of relationships rather than a clarification, as is metonymy, etc.), and there is certainly a way in which the use of textile imagery by feminist criticism in the 1970s and 80s displayed what Renato Rosaldo has in a very different context termed “imperialist nostalgia,” so I’m not especially trying to revive an earnest but sentimentally corrupt critical idiom. In fact, I find myself rather defensively trying to define my project against that idiom, to what end I’m not sure, since it’s not an issue in the profession anymore.

Monday, March 28, 2011

It's in the mail...

The (Asemic) Raw Power/Kill City scarf is in the mail to Bury, England, UK. Whew.

I asked my colleague Michael Hancher to scan in a piece I'd made for him back when he was the chair of my department. He did a great job of being fair, even-handed, non-defensive and intellectually engaged. I called it, obviously, SOS. He salvaged the department. It looks a little psychedelic, with a central mandala and smaller "bubbles" around it, and it looks to me as if it were floating past on a river of linen drifting off to the viewer's right. I made the Iggy piece, "Open Up and Bleed," after this one, and I can see the resonance: the big circle (O) in the center and the other letters swirling around it. I've read that the shape of the letter O comes from the eye; some ancient alphabets have a dot in the center for the pupil. That works for TV Eye in Stooge-speak.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

IAS Psychotic Reaction: Not What It Sounds Like

And here's the other piece I did in my IAS residency. It has that flamboyant name because there's a great protopunk, garage song, "Psychotic Reaction" that bristles with energy and was inspirational for a lot of rock writers (esp. Lester Bangs) and later musicians. I was also thinking of the pun on "I" as...psychotic reaction, because of the formation of the "lyric I" as a (sort of sane, or at least understandable if somewhat misguided) response in the history of poetry to industrialization.

The weaving really has nothing to do with that, though. It's just meant to be a fun title. Also, Susannah L. Smith of the IAS aided and abetted my punk enjoyment during that spring by talking about her pogo-ing and Ramoning days. She gave me the dark green yarn that appears in the piece, so I thought I should at least obliquely acknowledge her influence and our garage-rock bond. She is also the cousin of guitarist Nathaniel Braddock.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Psychedelic White: Bollywood Ringtone Suicide –Not What it Sounds Like.

Here're a couple of photos of one of the two pieces I wove for the Institute of Advanced Study here at the U of MN during my residency there in Spring 2008. I called the piece Psychedelic White: Bollywood Ringtone Suicide, after the projects of my fellow Fellows. Arun Saldanha had written a book called Psychedelic White: Goa Trance and the Viscosity of Race; Jigna Desai works on Bollywood beyond Bollywood; Sumanth Gopinath is writing a book on ringtones and globalization; and Hoon Song was working on teen suicide clubs in Korea (the link, though, is to his book on miners and unemployed pigeons, I mean the other way around). One of the patterns I used (again from Marguerite Davidson's pattern book) was Blooming Leaf, because Rachel Slocum works on farmer's markets and race, and is an ace gardener.

I like the fluffiness and magical properties of the fleece mixed with the gold metallic; I'd like to be enveloped in such a cloud without earthly substance but lots of sensation. And there's a textual dimension to the patterning as well, reminding me of sheet music to be sung, a score made of tactility. And that group of IAS residents also had magical and fluffy properties. They were a great posse. I had hoped to make my weaving projects somewhat more communal: have my office door open, invite people in, have them weave bits of the pieces themselves, because community is one of the things I really enjoyed about the IAS, and it's one of the key elements for me in poetry scholarship and practice. In fact it didn't really happen in exactly that way, because everyone was busy, and i wanted to blast Stooges music while I wove, which inhibited my open door policy. But we did other stuff together, like going out for a drink/nosh after the Thursday talks, and now Arun and Rachel are neighbors. I felt enveloped in a cloud of creativity, intelligence and expansiveness that spring, after a few weeks of initial awkwardness that apparently accompanies every new cohort's semester-long course of togetherness.

Monday, March 21, 2011

(Asemic) Raw Power/Kill City

Here're a few more shots of that scarf I made for James Williamson to acknowledge his rejoining the Stooges after a 30-year hiatus. I'm sending it off to one of the exhibits connected to the Text Festival in Bury, England, UK from May to July–overlapping with the time the Stooges will be touring the UK and Europe. I won't be seeing them, as they're doing the festival thing and that's just too many people for me, but I will be at their Ann Arbor benefit for the Ron Asheton Foundation in April. Very happy, not only to be seeing Iggy and the Stooges, but to meet some of my Facebook friends in the Stooges fan community.

The "asemic" element in the title refers to the reverse-side shots, the back view of x-stitching. You can sort of tell what it says but it's not fully clear. Sure enough, that's what those hotshots at the Text Festival were interested in when they contacted me. It was through the shots I posted on Facebook. How do you like that.

For the patterned part of the white scarf, I used the Undulating Twill pattern from The Handweaver's Pattern Book, by the great Marguerite P. Davis, which is a sort of bible for weavers of my generation who learned to weave in the 1960s and 1970s. This is my third copy, and it's already getting torn and frayed. The pattern is one of my favorites, because it has a slightly hallucinogenic, swoopy wave effect, resonating well with the swoopy, slightly hallucinogenic 60s and 70s. The patterns all work for a four-harness floor loom, which is what I've got.

I've never packed up anything for an exhibit before: I've let mIEKAL handle that if it needs handling, or just sent snapshots or scans to be exhibited in lieu of the real thing, which has often already been given to its intended recipient by the time an exhibit opportunity comes up, so I need to get some "tissue paper" which, I assume, is not the same tissue paper as Kleenex, then some bubblewrap (how I wish I hadn't so virtuously thrown all mine out a few months ago), etc. All the little steps of this new medium are annoying and exciting at the same time.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fluxus/Kaunas Biennial

Here is the image I am mailing to the Textile-themed Fluxus Exhibit at the Kaunas (Kovno) Biennial in honor of George Maciunas.

For the occasion, I'm calling it FLAX/FLUX.

Here's the CFW, in case anyone else is interested:

A message to all members of OPEN Fluxus


In conjunction with the Kaunas Biennial, I have been asked to curate an exhibition relating to the history and current activities of FLUXUS artists and affiliates. As part of the exhibition, I am putting out a call for work to the mail art community. As the Biennial is Fiber / Textile oriented, keep this in mind when you are creating work to send ... The concept for the show is as broad as you can make it. Postcards, Artist stamps, Visual Poetry,Boxes, Objects, Zine Work, Stickers, Anything ......

The show’s title “GEORGE MACIUNAS AND BEYOND : FLUXUS NEVER STOPS” relates in part to an homage of George in his hometown, Kaunas, and a celebration of his “local hero” status, as well as an exposure of continuity in the FLUXUS community . Pease include your Name and contact info on back. Documentation to all .

c/o Keith A. Buchholz / curator
3449 Hartford
St. Louis, Mo. 63118
Visit OPEN Fluxus at:

Madness and Sewing in the Village...

Beautiful sentences from Elizabeth Bishop's "In the Village," sent to me by new media writer J.R. Carpenter.

"The dressmaker was crawling around and around on her knees eating pins as Nebuchadnezzar had crawled eating grass." Bishop, Elizabeth, "In the Village," The Collected Prose, NY: FSG, 1984, p. 252.

"Her house is littered with scraps of cloth and tissue-paper patterns, yellow, pinked, with holes in the shapes of A, B, C, and D in them, and numbers; and threads everywhere like a fine vegetation. She has a bosom full of needles with threads ready to pull out and make nests with. She sleeps in her thimble." Bishop, Elizabeth, "In the Village," The Collected Prose, NY: FSG, 1984, p. 258.

Reminds me of a talk I heard by the marvelous poet/singer/activist Julie Ezelle Patton in November at Pratt Institute (thanks to Rachel Levitzky and Ira Livingston) in which she spoke of her engagement with poetry rising from her love of paper; her mother, an artist, taught her to sew her own clothes at an early age, and she would indeed be crawling around on the floor surrounded by the thin, filmy paper of patternmaking. "Pinked" in "In the Village" means not the color pink but zigzag-edged, as in "pinking shears."

Need I even mention the "holes in the shapes of A,B,C and D"? Stencils, like lace, or like photography, and art-form of negativity, just as women are considered "negative space." Holes in the shape of be filled by the spirit of letters. Reminding me that I must post Adeena Karasick's commentary framing her video "Lingual Ladies."

The connection to madness and the animal abjection of crawling around eating grass, pins, etc. is a haunting one related to the madness of Bishop's mother, who was permanently institutionalized when EB was very young. Indeed, as I recall, that is the (muted) theme of "In the Village." I think also of the bestiality of descriptions of the "madwoman" in Jane Eyre, who is compared to an animal in the only scene in which she is fully revealed...

Something about "looking ridiculous" (a phrase that arises in pornography and Harlequin romances: "O knew she must look ridiculous...etc.") in the process of losing oneself in the creative act, be it sewing, writing, dancing, or sex. But cross-stitchers and knitters don't look ridiculous; it's such a contained, serene "habit." Maybe that's why we do it in public.

Thank you, JR, for these haunting, violent images.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Scroll/Scrawl? or Crawl/Scrawl?

Curiously enough, scroll and scrawl are not related but have become so through modern semantic marriage, which makes inlaws of many other words related to writing and undignified physical activity.

Scrawl is possibly related to crawl and sprawl; the former is a form of abject movement associated with "lower" life forms or human misery, the latter, with undignified posture, whether the body is at leisure and unguarded or cut down unexpectedly as from a bullet. But note the possible relationship to "scribble" through "scribble-scrabble," and note also the childlike nature of these words in relation to the childlikeness of the names of weaving and textile implements discussed earlier.

If you read to the end of the etymological entry below, you will find a reference to women's genitalia.

scrawl (v.)
1610s, perhaps from M.E. scrawlen "spread out the limbs, sprawl" (late 14c.), which possibly is an alteration of sprawlen (see sprawl) or crawl. Related: Scrawled; scrawling. The noun is recorded from 1690s.
1530s, "to scrawl, scribble," from Du. schrabbelen, frequentative of schrabben "to scratch," from the same root as scrape (q.v.). Meaning "to struggle, scramble" first recorded 1630s. The game Scrabble is from 1950, proprietary name (reg. U.S.), probably from scribble-scrabble "hasty writing" (1580s), a reduplication of scribble.
doodle (v.)
"scrawl aimlessly," 1935, from dial. doodle, dudle "fritter away time, trifle," or associated with dawdle. It was a noun meaning "simple fellow" from 1620s.
LONGFELLOW: That's a name we made up back home for people who make foolish designs on paper when they're thinking. It's called doodling. Almost everybody's a doodler. Did you ever see a scratch pad in a telephone booth? People draw the most idiotic pictures when they're thinking. Dr. Von Holler, here, could probably think up a long name for it, because he doodles all the time. ["Mr. Deeds Goes to Town," screenplay by Robert Riskin, 1936; based on "Opera Hat," serialized in "American Magazine" beginning May 1935, by Clarence Aldington Kelland]
Related: Doodled; Doodling.
Doodle Sack. A bagpipe. Dutch. -- Also the private parts of a woman. ["Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue," 1796]

time balls

Keeping track of ones life thru winding a ball of yarn...a Yakama custom among women. At significant moments (the birth of a child, a move to another home, a marriage, etc, the winder/memoirist would insert a knot, bead or other way of indicating "eventhood" in a thread of life. These "time balls" were called ititamats, and at the end of the yarn-winder's life the ball would be interred with her. When I googled "ititimat" (as I initially thought the word was spelled), almost all sites listed were mangled spellings of "intimate," which was quite amusing.
I came across the word at the website of Canadian writer and textile artist Susan Allen Grace, and specifically here.

The word "yarn" itself hearkens back to one that mean "animal guts," which were used for divination purposes as well as serving as the earliest form of thread to tie animal skins or sheets of bark together for garments or shelter. So from the start of human endeavor, imaginative storytelling, whether an account of the past (memoir) or the future (divination), was inextricably joined to the crafting of clothing and shelter, and acknowledges the human debt to the non-human animal (and eventually vegetable) world. Moreover, the root word is one signifying "enclosure" or binding, bringing us back to the Beit, Tiny Ark-hive in which the second letter of the alphabet, figured as a dwelling-place, is also the holy spirit, Shekinah, breath, word, life, in the beginning:

spun thread, the thread of a rope. (E.) M. E. yarn, ȝarn; 'Ȝarne, threde, Filum;' Prompt. Parv., p. 536.—A. S. gearn, yarn, Wright's Voc. i. 59, col. 2; spelt gern, id. 282, l. 2. + Du. garen. + Icel., Dan., and Swed. garn. + G. garn. β. All from the Teut. type GARNA, yarn, string, Fick, iii. 101. Further allied to Gk. χορδή, a string, orig. a string of gut; cf. Icel. görn, or garnir, guts (i.e. strings or cords). From ✔GHAR, to seize, hence to enclose, bind; see Yard (1) and Cord. From the same root are cor-d, chor-d, as well as cour-t, yard, garden, &c.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

scroll, skull, shawl, scrotum

These words are not etymologically but sonically related, and resonate auratically with themes explored here.

Here's the etymological logroll/blogroll/roll-call/google search results for "scroll."

scroll (n.)
c.1400, "roll of parchment or paper," altered (by association with rolle "roll") from scrowe (early 13c.), from Anglo-Fr. escrowe, O.Fr. escroe "scrap, roll of parchment," from Frank. *skroda "shred" (cf. M.Du. schroode "shred," O.H.G. scrot "piece cut off," Ger. Schrot "log, block, small shot"), from P.Gmc. *skrautha "something cut." The verb meaning "to write down in a scroll" is recorded from c.1600; sense of "show a few lines at a time" (on a computer or TV screen) first recorded 1981. Related: Scrolled; scrolling.

"long, tedious, complicated story," 1957, from Yiddish (e.g. a gantse Megillah "a whole megillah"), lit. "roll, scroll," name of the five O.T. books appointed to be read on certain feast days. The slang use is in ref. to the length of the text.

"one with a head as hollow as a fiddle," 1854 (fiddleheaded), from fiddle + head. As a name for young fern fronds, from 1882, from resemblance to a violin’s scroll.

1590s, from Anglo-Fr. escrowe, from O.Fr. escroue "scrap, roll of parchment," from a Germanic source akin to O.H.G. scrot "scrap, shred" (see scroll (n.)). Originally "a deed delivered to a third person until a future condition is satisfied;" sense of "deposit held in trust or security" is from 1888.

nave (2)
"hub of a wheel," O.E. nafu, from P.Gmc. *nabo-, perhaps connected with the root of navel (q.v.) on notion of centrality (cf. L. umbilicus "navel," also "the end of a roller of a scroll," Gk. omphalos "navel," also "the boss of a shield").

1690s, "spiral ornament on an Ionic capital," from Fr. volute, from It. voluta, from L. voluta "a spiral scroll," originally fem. pp. of volvere "to turn around, roll" (see vulva). Extended 1756 to any spiral thing or part. As a type of spiral seashell, it is attested from 1753.

page (1)
"sheet of paper," 1580s (earlier pagne, 12c., directly from O.Fr.), from M.Fr. page, from O.Fr. pagine, from L. pagina "page, strip of papyrus fastened to others," related to pagella "small page," from pangere "to fasten," from PIE base *pag- "to fix" (see pact). Usually said to be from the notion of individual sheets of paper "fastened" into a book. Ayto offers an alternative theory: vines fastened by stakes and formed into a trellis, which led to sense of "columns of writing on a scroll." When books replaced scrolls, the word continued to be used. Page-turner "book that one can't put down" is from 1974.

early 14c., from Anglo-L. biblia, from M.L./L.L. biblia (neuter plural interpreted as fem. singular), in phrase biblia sacra "holy books," a translation of Gk. ta biblia to hagia "the holy books," from Gk. biblion "paper, scroll," the ordinary word for "book," originally a dim. of byblos "Egyptian papyrus," possibly so called from Byblos (modern Jebeil, Lebanon), the name of the Phoenician port from which Egyptian papyrus was exported to Greece (cf. parchment). Or the place name might be from the Gk. word, which would then probably be of Egyptian origin. The Christian scripture was refered to in Gk. as Ta Biblia as early as c.223. Bible replaced O.E. biblioðece (see bibliothek) as the ordinary word for "the Scriptures." Figurative sense of "any authoritative book" is from 1804.

For SKULL, I found this piquant and useful medical etymology:
gr SKALLEIN TO DIG and leads to
hx> SKOAL or to TOAST BY
med> biol> CRANIUM or CALVARIUM or

SHAWL is the least interesting. The online etymologies only take it back to a place-name in India; I'm a bit surprised by the lack of curiosity displayed by these etymologists. What does the place-name mean???:

1662, originally of a type of scarf worn in Asia, from Urdu and other Indian languages, from Pers. shal, sometimes said to be named for Shaliat, town in India where it was first manufactured. Cf. Fr. châle, Sp. chal, It. scialle, Ger. Shawl (from Eng.), Rus. shal, all ult. from the same source. As the name of an article of clothing worn by Western women, it is recorded from 1767.

A short google-search for Shaliat + India simply revealed more of the same brief etymology, but also this charming response to a question about the word "shawl" being of Asian origin:

"Most thing orininate from Asia. Like Cuntney, Jungle, Bungalow,. Shawl is condense from the town it originated sometimes said to be named after Shaliat, town in Indiawhere it was first manufactured sometimes said to be named after Shaliat, town in Indiawhere it was first manufactured in India Shaliat"

But on a hunch, I hit paydirt with scrotum; it's related to shroud, which must absolutely be related to shred and hence scroll:

1590s, from L. scrotum, cognate with O.E. scrud "garment" (source of shroud).
"Isn't the sea what Algy calls it: a grey sweet mother? The snotgreen sea. The scrotum-tightening sea. Epi oinopa ponton." [Joyce, "Ulysses"]

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Lingual Ladies, Text and Gender

Dear All:
Here's Adeena Karasick's video, Lingual Ladies, a repurposing, scrappy and pieced-together parody of Beyoncé's smash hit Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) that is also a celebration of innovative women writers and a call to pens. Enjoy!
Adeena's website is listed to the right, in the URL-roll.
And here's the intro she delivered when she presented it yesterday:

Adeena Karasick

For Banff Presentation In(ter)ventions : Writing at the Edge 2011
For the past 20 years, my work has been focused on aspects of intralingual post literary construction – whether its videopoems (I Got A Crush on Osama, or This IS Your Final Nitrous) slide projections, homolinguistic, pataphysical translations, or the repurposing of the 50’s style dating etiquette handbo, “The Rules”, its incorporating a post-literate, hyper-generative aesthetics highlighting recycled language, sampling, borrowing, cutting, pasting, mash-up, engaged in an inter-ventive poetics marked by neo-formalized post-consumerist media-enfused transgressive linguistic practices.
During my two weeks here at Banff as part of the In(ter)ventions Residency, I made a video called “Lingual Ladies” [a parody or repurposing of Beyoncé’s pop hit “Single Ladies” and kinda acts as an example of and commentary on Conceptual Poetry.

The video foregrounds the process of hunting and gathering, of assemblage, bricolage, grabbing and cutting and pasting; becomes a kind of cultural translation, a socio-cultural ideological religious mash-up. It draws from the materiality, miasma of cultural/intellectual archive -- and aims to de-hierarchize or problematize, interrogate that distinction between a kind of philosophical / high art discourse and the “lowbrow” seeming banality of pop culture.

Along with Beyoncé, it features cameos from the texts or likeness of Gertrude Stein, Wittgenstein, the Italian and Russian Futurists, Marx, Derrida, Levinas, Benjamin, bp Nichol, Spinoza, Helene Cixous, Hannah Arendt, all floating through the boppy mistranslation of a pop song.

Basically this is my rallying cry for the women of Conceptual Poetry to "put their pens up", TO WRITE and be engaged / participate in a vital act of cultural translation, a memetic translation. And if a meme, a unit of cultural info virally replicating itself through language, “make a text of radical memes”.
The fact that there are three dancers was kinda crucial and significant. As Maria mentioned in her brilliant talk regarding her illuminated cross-stitch, 3 is synechdoche or metonymic of the Three Fates, Macbeth’s 3 witches, of course the Kabbalistic notion of the three mothers (ALEF, MEM SHIN), letters or vessels of fiery potential (and by the way not only reference the beginning of the word “shmata” but means “Hear This” (Listen Up)…AND very significantly, Irigaray’s notion of “The Law of the Excluded middle” – (her retranslation of Plato), which interrogates a highly problematic reductive binaric structure embedded with boo hiss hierarchization. So, of course this tripartite structure opens up any limitive dynamic of either /or.

I wanted the video to be highly parodic in nature, satirical and ironic. And, if you really think about it, parody is not merely a “send-up” or spoof, generated to mock but rather as a jumping off point, to comment on cultural practice, female representation intellectualism, meaning-making. Its satirical in the way that its social commentary, incorporating strategies of exaggeration, juxtaposition, fractured comparison, analogy, and highlights certain discordant features of “reality,” art, ideology, the concept of framing ---

And it made me really think about the whole notion of framing / of how a frame is a bracket / a cutting off and into – is NOT a static enclosure but a kind of calling into, a caress (like how Fred was writing about Isadore, a door; the frame is a passage into and out from --- a contingent holding pattern from which one can intensely investigate luxuriate or bask in and then let go of…a flux of frames reframed in infinite aims

Through the making of this it made me really question WHY is it so important or interesting to engage in a process of repurposing or stealing, borrowing shoplifting information – and it just made me really think about how everything is a parasc/tical process, all intertextual and archival; a rewriting, a retranslation of a retranslation; how the page a pageantry of the giddy googler gone rogue mad gatherer. & madly gathering, i’m not just a RAG picker but a FRAG picker / plucker of fragments of parsed pulse plais plays laced socio-political-lingual culturul shards fractures highlighting how nothing is pure, but contaminated with palimpsested resonance --

So Lingual Ladies – a work of excess and exuberance; writing against resistance enclosure, risk, fear, but with festive frivolity…And like in the project with Maria --

weaving words through all that is dirty and degraded;
making meaning out of the syntactic rags, tags, remnants, moments, the
found data, shattered matter,
shredded fragments garments of the other

and anti-absorbedly sops up
all that surrounds
caressing what is dirty and contaminated, expropriating,
re-appropriating the proper, improper,
impropriotous, riotous
celebratrating (syllaborating) all that’s filthy and wrinkled and inside out.
all that’s unfolded, soiled, sullied and un-rinsed
all the philosophers and poets and semioticians all the feminist writers / warriors and
semerotic infidels

and i want to plunge into your spongy thickness / your infected inflection,
yr intertextatic syntacticism


Saturday, February 26, 2011

God is Afoot, Magic is Alive

Yesterday I gave my end-of-residency presentation along with all the other members of the In(ter)ventions: Literary Practice at the Edge program at the Banff Centre for the Arts. I showed a bit of work from the past (eros/ion, with mIEKAL aND), more recent past (Flaxen for Jen Bervin and Raw Power/Kill City for James Williamson); then I showed my blog (this blog) and read a bit of it, as well as the Aleph Mem Shin x-stitch, which is almost finished by now. It was a headlong rush through the material and I was winging it on a very pleasant adrenaline high that was part informality and partly exhilarated nervousness. It was the last of a series of resident presentations, all of which were both brilliant and piquantly in-process and there was a good feeling of artistic community.

Afterwards, at dinner, Paul Seesequasis, a gracious and generous human being, gave me an amazing gift: a first pressing copy of Raw Power in mint condition. I needed to lean on J. R. Carpenter in order to not have my knees completely buckle under me. I was still on the adrenaline rush and that gave me another wave of it.

Stay tuned for further musings on how the Iggy and the Stooges fit into this saga, this yarn of text and textile, this intermeshing of tactile praxis and cerebral spinnings. As I wrote on my FB page, there is no end to Stooge Magic. James Williamson noted that it (the receipt of the Raw Power gift as somehow karmically appropriate to this creative journey) was poetry! and it was indeed poetic justice. It seems to happen when I simply go towards the doors that are opening. Stooge Magic, I'm calling it for now, though it's got lots of names. God is afoot, magic is alive, as Leonard Cohen wrote (in Beautiful Losers) and Buffy St. Marie sang.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Progress, Not Perfection

Okay, so here's the Mem and the Shin. Tomorrow I tackle the Aleph.

The Scrappy John Lydon

Mr. Rotten's Scrapbook won the first Best Book Award of the 2011 NME (New Music Express) Awards last night.
In an interview, John Lydon remarked that "it's a scrapbook, but it's not just scraps. It's more like a roadmap." The distinction is worth considering. Scrapbooks are nostalgic attempts to fix events and noteworthy items into a book that reifies its maker's identity for posterity; roadmaps are forward trajectories. Lydon assumes that people will want to imitate him, so the scrapbook (retailing at $724.50) also becomes a how-to guide. Right now in the lit crit biz there is a surge of interest in scrapbooks as cultural markers and historical bricolage, the work of amateurs creating themselves through collections of key moments in their lives, windows onto historical eras, specific cultural loci, and individual sensibilities as they are socially framed. See, for example, poetry-and-popular-culture tzar Mike Chasar's Poetry Scrapbooks: An Online Archive. So, as usual, Lydon has his finger on the pulse of the times.

Lydon also paid tribute to Ari-Up, his step-daughter who died some months ago.

Lydon was known in the 1970s for his breakthrough sartorial style (based, according to some books, on Malcolm McLaren's perception of Richard Hell's style), which included dishevelment, elegantly tattered clothing, layers of tornness upon tornness, and so forth–what became known as punk style. He has written that he was positively impressed by the dress of street people, the homeless, they had a certain style. So did he, consisting of a rageful working-class sensibility crossed with killer fashion instincts.

B, tiny arkhive: for Adeena Karasick

Since Adeena Karasick is so much a part of this Banff/blog/collaborative/shmata-shma'atta experience I thought I'd share a token I made for her a few years ago, when I was writing a presentation on her book Dyssemia Sleaze for a conference at University of Alberta on archiving the modern, or something like that. There's a picture in the poem "The Wall," centerpiece of DS, an Avedon photo of a man with bees swarming all over him. Very disturbing. I learned from Adeena's Kabbalah studies that B, Beit, is a house (archive), and as second letter of the alphabet, is sort of a female (but not in an absolute sense) principle, breath, etc. So I made this little Beit, a bee-hive ark-hive of scriptural activity.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Intertextile, Text in Exile: Shmata Mashup...

... is the title of a performance piece/long essay-poem (poessay?) that Adeena Karasick and I have been working on, starting last February. I've been collecting and generating texts and textile pieces for my Text, Textile, Exile project for a few years now, and when I went to New York a year ago (Feb. 2010) I met with Adeena and learned that she too had been working along parallel lines. While reading the entirety of a book we both had essays in (Radical Poetics and Jewish Secular Culture), she had discovered a marvelous pun: shmata (Yiddish, "rag") and shma'atta (Hebrew, "the text at hand") and we were off and running.

We had worked together before, having presented a collaborative closing lecture, "“Simultaneous Jewissance: Performing Critical-Creative Mutual Influence,” for a conference sponsored by the University of Minnesota's Department of Theatre Arts and Dance in 2006, and it had been a gratifying experience, well-received as well as enjoyable, so we had a precedent for working together. We feverishly generated text and then at the end of February debuted our piece as it then was to In(ter)ventions: Literary Practice at the Edge, a conference at Alberta's Banff Centre for the Arts where, a year later, we are both residents in a program by the same name, in which we hope to further our collaboration. We also gave the presentation in slightly altered form at the Post_moot Convocation of Poetry and Performance in April 2010, at Miami University, Ohio.

Now we're back here at Banff; I'm working on this blog and also on our piece (x-stitching the letters Aleph, Mem, and Shin (the three mothers); Adeena is working on a video and also on our collaboration.

The photo represents the MEM under construction; i'm adding a gold metallic luster-crust to it to make it a little more interesting.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Word-list Magic/Rags and Raggedy Androgynes

On my last sabbatical (2002-03) I can't say I did much other than read some books and write some essays. One of the books I read was Graham Robb's biography of Arthur Rimbaud, patron saint of all teenage outsider writers, punk poets and literary misfits. And, of course, an exquisite poet whose work changed the course of French literature and modern poetry and poetics. I was captivated by the detail that, during their short sojourn in London, Verlaine and Rimbaud made word-lists of strange and piquant English words and idioms they found appealing or useful. Apparently Rimbaud continued this practice throughout his lifetime, varying the language of the lists as his geographic circumstances changed (dramatically) over time.

Online dictionaries and etymology databases have made it easy to compile such lists, with the added pleasure of the random unexpectedness of some of the words that turn up. The "ragman's roll" is the very item that Leo Spitzer related to "rigmarole" and "Rehoboam." And it's not, as I assumed, something that ragmen carry with them on their backs. According to wiki-p, it's "collection of instruments by which the nobility and gentry of Scotland subscribed allegiance to King Edward I of England, during the time between the Conference of Norham in May 1291 and the final award in favor of Baliol in November 1292; and again in 1296." By "instruments" is meant documents, it appears. And the etymology is unclear as well, though Leo Spitzer's (mentioned in an earlier blog entry) is generally taken seriously.

In these lists of words, depth is sometimes sacrificed for these rough-tumbling, tongue-twisting concatenations. Any one of them is the opening of a whole world of sentience and intellect, but the arrangement in algorithmic lists has its own glamor.

Ragged lady
ragged orchid
ragged orchis
ragged robin
Ragged sailor
Ragged school
ragged-fringed orchid
raglan sleeve
Ragman's roll

Weavings for Ed Cohen

Here are pix of two hangings I made for my friend Ed Cohen, who teaches cultural studies at Rutgers University and whom I've known since our graduate school days in the Program in Modern Thought and Literature at Stanford. The brown/blue one dates from 1989 and the red one from 2008.

During the same period in which I asked for and received the beautiful writings from Masha Zavialova and Christopher Funkhouser posted below (, I also asked Ed for a response. Here's his sweet and rather, um, flattering essay:

Tendencies and Tensions: Weaving the Stuff of Creation
by Ed Cohen

Woven threads: textiles, texts, tissues, living stuff. These plays of warp and woof have variously served as images for language, social relations, human flesh, dreamscapes, women’s work, and the negation of the natural world by human labor more generally--all true enough in their ways. However, they also reveal processes actualized, virtual tendencies made palpable through creative choice and deliberation, decisions which divide the what may have been or may yet be from the what is, and simultaneously wind them all together. Woven events incarnate an ontology of time that Henri Bergson named “duration,” a time of change from which the unexpected may tear free of the already known or the presumptively knowable. Thus, they can actually manifest freedom as a creative form. Cunningly detained within the loom’s tightened strings, time may reveal an élan vital—a living spirit.

Bergson (especially as reworked and refigured by Gilles Deleuze) posits duration as a “virtual multiplicity” which entangles “heterogeneity and continuity.” As Deleuze puts it, virtual multiplicity “does not divide up without changing in kind, it changes in kind in the process of dividing up.” Enduring time represents tendencies spun and unspun, wound and unwound, changing and unchanged. Knotting this divisive coalescence together requires tensions and “de-tensions” [détentes], contractions and expansions, restrictions and transgressions: “Duration is only the most contracted degree of matter, matter the most expanded [détendu] degree of duration.” Tractions and tractabilities mold the mortal coil.

Underlying Bergson’s (and Deleuze’s) metaphysical intuition, lie manifold intentions, attentions, extensions, retensions, detensions, protensions, tendencies, and intensities: in short “tensions” that tend simultaneously towards and away from each other and thereby make the universe matter for a time. All these tendentious concepts trope on a hidden etymology: the Latin tendere refers to stretching, as in the stretching of an arm or a bowstring, i.e., to the movement of something beyond itself even while it remains itself, to the elastic spring of being. Essentially taut and loose, the universe weaves itself into being. Shuttling (between) time and matter, it creates the enfolding fabric of existence.

On the loom, strands stretched between cross pieces of a frame create a potent emptiness. They determine a field of indecision which calls forth decisions. They manifest a matrix of fertile vortices which hail color and texture. Each choice rends time, slicing the virtual from the actual. This fiber, this tension, this movement, this instant growing out of, flowing out of, increasing and enhancing by restricting and condensing, the indeterminate potential from which it emerges. The resulting fabric, inexorably tied to its moment of creation, sutures past, present, and future, making time matter.

The gift of fabric, then, is literally, actually a gift that keeps on giving. The tapestries that adorn on my walls and the scarves that caress my neck bless me not only with their beauty and their palpable grace, but also with the temporal traces that weave us all together. In each unique piece, I hear the sun that warms the grass, the sheep that shed their wool, the hands that spin and dye the yarn, the tools that build the loom, the fingers that move the shuttle, silently sing together a chorale of praise to the stuff of creation. And for this blissful texture, I bow in thanks to my friend Maria who has bestowed such stuff upon me time and time again.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Ragpickers cont'd.

Walter Benjamin was drawn to the figure of the ragpicker because he had the insight that Baudelaire was drawn to the ragpicker because the poet felt a kinship in their activities (thank you for following that raggedy, iterative chain of a sentence). Benjamin, a compulsive collector and chronicler, was himself a cultural ragpicker who wrote a sentence that has become doctrinal for me: "Nothing that has ever happened should be lost to history."

Collecting detritus as a profession and/or an avocation has, of course, different inflections in different contexts. See for an account of the ways in which Indian ragpickers form a foundational element of the functioning economy, but at the bottom rung of the social ladder. The upper and growing middle classes are encouraged to recycle as a growing social value, while the recyclers themselves are devalued. This reminds me of George Lipsitz's astute observation that the US values Black culture but not Black people.

In this blog, I'm collecting scraps of etymological detritus from low-level online sources, but as scrolled alliterative concatentations they have an anaphoristic, list-poemy feeling to them which dignifies them through iteration and accumulation. I'm collecting writings by others that have been sitting in a virtual file for a few years and stitching them with clumsy big seams into the scroll of the blog. I've been spewing random thoughtlets and half-raveled observations, as well as transfering my own writing from files to public bandwidth. Crudely stitched together into a long shawl of scrawlage, they unwind down the page for your pleasure and to see what happens. What new angle or angel will be revealed? what new language unconcealed?

negative space

Tatting, making lace through making knots, is the art of nots: the creation of negative space. What is lace but a decorative enhancement of negative space? Tatter, which is to "clothe in slashed garments" –how's that for a dramatic/poetic phrase?– is to invest someone in negative vestments, to disinvest, to divest. The slashes and gashes let the wind through, piercing to the bone with chill. The slashes in a garment let the air in, the slashes in skin let the lifeblood out. Iggy Pop slashed himself with glass, broken drumsticks and his own fingernails in the height of a Dionysian trance of performance, transported beyond a realm of physical pain. Until afterwards.

Knotting, notting (Nottingham was an industrial lace-making center in the UK until the 1960s, when they sent all their industrial lace-making equipment to China) is the creation of something (wearable) through the creation of nothing and vice versa. Is "knot" (or not) the past-tense of "net" the way "rot" is a past-tense of "ret," the process of wetting flax before turning it into linen? What does it mean for negativity to nonetheless be a creation of something tactile, palpable, generative? The dialectic, o yes, the dialectical dance, i'm entranced by its romance, how two make one and on and on.

Woman as negative space is a constant in the tropes and figures of Western expressive culture. The listener, the creator of domestic space through self-cancellation. "All I ever wanted was to make it good for you." It's not all bad. Listening is good; self-effacement means you can be a fly on the wall; strategic camouflage. Keeping someone warm, holding them in your holds and folds.

But the Tate is also the Father. "Tate/Shmate." A dad-rag, an ineffectual, feminized dad, like in Rebel without a Cause, wearing an apron/gladrag and washing the dishes. The absent father is the powerful father, mediated by his Name; the presence of the father vitiates his power; he's just a loveable fool/tool, boytoy.

i'm in tatters/doesn't matter

Ongoing Etymologies: Adeena Karasick's eternal phrase "haughty taughty tater tot" underlies some of these humble torn and shredded fibers...

tatter (v.)
mid-14c., "clad in slashed garments," from O.N. toturr "rag," cognate with O.E. tættec, tætteca "rag, tatter," Low Ger. tater "tatter." The noun is attested from c.1400.

"ragged child, person dressed in old clothes," c.1600, probably from tatter, with fantastic second element, but perhaps also suggested by Tartar, with a contemporary sense of "vagabond, gypsy."

fabric with small and even check pattern, 1891, so called because it was similar to the traditional design of horse blankets, in ref. to Tattersall's, a famous London horse market and gambler's rendezvous, founded 1766 by Richard Tattersall (1724-95). The surname is from the place in Lincolnshire.

"making of knotted lace," 1832, of uncertain origin. In Fr., frivolité.

late 15c., "to stammer, prattle," in Caxton's translation of "Reynard the Fox," probably from M.Flem. tatelen "to stutter," parallel to M.Du., M.L.G., E.Fris. tateren "to chatter, babble," possibly of imitative origin. The meaning "tell tales or secrets" is first recorded 1580s. Sense influenced by tittle.

formed in English 1888 from tattle + tale. Probably patterned on telltale (1540s). A 16c. word for “tattle-tale” was pickthank.

tattoo (1)
"signal," 1680s, "signal calling soldiers or sailors to quarters at night," earlier tap-to (1644, in order of Col. Hutchinson to garrison of Nottingham), from Du. taptoe, from tap "faucet of a cask" (see tap (2)) + toe "shut." So called because police used to visit taverns in the evening to shut off the taps of casks. Transf. sense of "drumbeat" is recorded from 1755. Hence, Devil's tattoo "action of idly drumming fingers in irritation or impatience" (1803).

tattoo (2)
"mark the skin with pigment," 1769 (noun and ver, both first attested in writing of Capt. Cook), from a Polynesian noun (e.g. Tahitian and Samoan tatau, Marquesan tatu "puncture, mark made on skin").

1510s, "tangled or matted" (of hair), Scottish, probably related to O.E. tættec "a rag" (see tatter). Sense of "tattered, ragged, shabby" first recorded 1933.

1866, Iron Age civilization of Europe, from the name of a village in Upper Austria, where implements from this period were found.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Scrappy scraps

I am I because my little google-search engine knows me: this is what came up when I looked for scrap + etymology, several threads relating to writing (blotter), etc. "Chiffonier" is not only a piece of furniture, but is the French word for "ragpicker," a theme I looked at a bit a few days ago. What does it mean when a human being is synonymous with a piece of furniture, a literal commodity (commode is one word for bureau) that is a depository for detritus, gladrags and doodads? The human is reified as his/her labor around the edges of the formal economy. At the same time, "chiffon" in American English has come to signify something airy and lacy, such as the meringue on top of a lemon pie or an elegantly diaphanous fabric.

scrap (1)
"small piece," late 14c., from O.N. skrap "scraps, trifles," from skrapa "to scrape" (see scrape). Meaning "remains of metal produced after rolling or casting" is from 1790. The verb meaning "to make into scrap" is recorded from 1891. Scrap iron first recorded 1823.

"consisting of scraps, 1837, from scrap (1). Meaning "inclined to fight" (1895) is from scrap (2).

scrap (2)
"fight," 1846, possibly a variant of scrape (q.v.) on the notion of "an abrasive encounter." But Weekley suggests obsolete colloquial scrap "scheme, villainy, vile intention" (1670s). The verb is recorded from 1874. Related: Scrapped; scrapping.

cornmeal boiled in scraps of pork, 1855, probably a dim. form of scrap (1).

1825, from scrap + book. As a verb, by 1889.

1590s, from Anglo-Fr. escrowe, from O.Fr. escroue "scrap, roll of parchment," from a Germanic source akin to O.H.G. scrot "scrap, shred" (see scroll (n.)). Originally "a deed delivered to a third person until a future condition is satisfied;" sense of "deposit held in trust or security" is from 1888.

1590s, "thing for drying wet spots," from blot. Meaning "bad writer" is from c.1600. Sense of "day book" is from 1670s, and the word was applied early 19c. to rough drafts, scrap books, notebooks, and draft account books. Hence the police jargon sense "arrest record sheet," recorded from 1887.

retail (v.)
mid-14c. (implied in retailing), from O.Fr. retaillier "to cut off, pare, clip, divide," from re- "back" + taillier "to cut, trim" (see tailor). Sense of "recount, tell over again" is first recorded 1590s. The noun meaning "sale in small quantities" is from early 15c., from M.Fr. retail "piece cut off, shred, scrap, paring."

"piece of furniture with drawers for women to put needlework, cloth, etc.," 1806, from Fr. chiffonnier, a transferred use, lit. "rag gatherer," from chiffon, dim. of chiffe "rag, piece of cloth, scrap, flimsy stuff" (see chiffon).

late 15c., from earlier rif and raf "one and all, every scrap" (mid-14c.), from O.Fr. rif et raf, from rifler "to spoil, strip" (see rifle (v.)) and raffler "carry off," related to rafle "plundering" (see raffle).

lean (adj.)
"thin, spare, with little flesh or fat," O.E. hlæne, possibly from hlænan "cause to lean or bend," from P.Gmc. *khlainijan, which would make it related to O.E. hleonian (see lean (v.)). But perhaps rather from a PIE *qloinio- (cf. Lith. klynas "scrap, fragment," Lettish kleins "feeble").

junk (1)
"worthless stuff," mid-14c., junke "old cable or rope" (nautical), of uncertain origin, perhaps from O.Fr. junc "rush," from L. juncus "rush, reed." Nautical use extended to "old refuse from boats and ships" (1842), then to "old or discarded articles of any kind" (1884). The verb meaning "to throw away as trash, to scrap" is from 1916. Junk food is from 1971; junk art is from 1966; junk mail first attested 1954.

1590s, from L. laceratus, pp. of lacerare "tear to pieces, mangle," from lacer "torn, mangled," from PIE base *leq- "to rend" (cf. Gk. lakis "tatter, rag," lakizein "to tear to pieces;" Rus. lochma "rag, tatter, scrap;" Albanian lakur "naked"). Related: Lacerated; lacerating.

scroll (n.)
c.1400, "roll of parchment or paper," altered (by association with rolle "roll") from scrowe (early 13c.), from Anglo-Fr. escrowe, O.Fr. escroe "scrap, roll of parchment," from Frank. *skroda "shred" (cf. M.Du. schroode "shred," O.H.G. scrot "piece cut off," Ger. Schrot "log, block, small shot"), from P.Gmc. *skrautha "something cut." The verb meaning "to write down in a scroll" is recorded from c.1600; sense of "show a few lines at a time" (on a computer or TV screen) first recorded 1981. Related: Scrolled; scrolling.