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.

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.