His near stammering. With disconcerting promptness one word hid behind another. -- Maurice Blanchot, Le Dernier Homme Contact me: red3ad (at) yahoo (dot) com


burn everything 

For all the claims of ease of communicability made on behalf of the Information Age, technology has made forgetting so much easier. Not only does the torrent speed past and sweep so much away, but e-mails, memos, blogposts, photos and novels can be disposed of with two simple clicks. In the olden days, disposing of a letter took some degree of thought and action: tear it apart or burn it. (One does not idly throw away a letter). The physical action this entailed always gave one the opportunity for second thoughts; the letter could be taped back together, pulled from the flames. Once, on a hike into a remote area on the coast, I packed in a bundle of 5-10 years of writing, and after dinner, sat by the fire and watched as they were reduced to ash. We’ve all seen filmed images of burning pages curling back & blackening; this was personal. At one point I was seized with a fit of misgiving and grabbed my notebook, writing what escaped from the ever-increasing margins, writing at the edge of the fire. Some of this was shredded or sifted into other poems, other books. Some silted down into the boxes of papers that, should this building catch on fire, I’d stop in front of and wonder: really, is it time to let all this go?

the shingle at my feet 

S., with whom I had a somewhat brief and unusual friendship at around the time I discovered Woolf’s story, “Solid Objects,” (in brief: small town; long walks, long letters), once sat me down at a table in the basement of the boarding house where she lived (its dreary “common room”) with an antiquated anthology of poems and requested that I pick one that meant something to me and then to defend it. It was Arnold’s "Dover Beach"; one of the few things I was taught in high school that made resonance. Was it the bleakness, presentiment, or blind chance? But somehow, “...that grating roar / Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling” still lingers in the subconscious; re-reading the poem now, I recognize the riptide in it in the films of Derek Jarman; it lingers through Woolf; I see it in the “naked shingles of the world” that the moon lights up when I take a walk down the alley; I now attach it to my last trip to the beach. I might well still have the letters, somewhere -- a foreign shore they would find, no doubt, were they to make landfall again.



in quotes in the original 

“So nothing will ever be written down again. Perhaps
the act of writing is necessary only when nothing happens.”

--Clark Coolidge, The Crystal Text


thing, writing 

One could start with Ezra Pound’s three “Imagist” criteria for poetry:

1. Direct treatment of the ‘thing,’ whether subjective or objective.
2. To use absolutely no word that does not contribute to the presentation.
3. As regarding rhythm: to compose in sequence of the musical phrase, not in sequence of a metronome.

-- allowing that “the musical phrase” extends to those of Webern, Feldman, etc. The most important word used by Pound?-- CONDENSARE. A poem a stony lens, a melting bead of water. But while lists and manifestoes are useful tools, it’s rather pointless to set down rules; each writing will make its own. No doubt centuries of rain have erased inscriptions in Gray’s English churchyard; it doesn’t rewrite the poem. And I am sure the stones are very fine objects in their own right.

While almost any thing or any writing sets up echoes -- sometimes as a slapback report, at times a long, distended tone (trains at the switching yard at the edge of town produce a rumble often mistaken for thunder) -- and while most everything is dirtied, shadowed, or occulted by associations and contexts both intended and accidental, sometimes I think of a kind pure writing, or a “purity” (a loaded word, but one that will have to suffice) -- beyond subject or object, neither speech nor text, medium and material, particle and wave.

The names of minerals and the minerals themselves do not differ from each other, because at the bottom of both the material and the print is the beginning of an abysmal number of fissures. Words and rocks contain a language that follows a syntax of splits and ruptures. Look at any word long enough and you will see it open up into a series of faults, into a terrain of particles each containing its own void. This discomforting language of fragmentation offers no easy gestalt solution; the certainties of didactic discourse are hurled into the erosion of poetic principle. Poetry being forever lost must submit to its own vacuity; it is somehow a product of exhaustion rather than creation. Poetry is always a dying art but never a dead language.-- Robert Smithson

Subject or object, speech or text, medium or material, particle or wave, one sets down to write what one does not know. From 25 Aug 1982 to 9 June 1983, Clark Coolidge sat down at his desk each day with nothing but paper and a piece of quartz in front of him; The Crystal Text is what followed. Poem, meditation, daybook; it is a book, and as such, it is an object and a becoming; the genre is immaterial.

“Rearranging all the things into forms of face
pressed into the air. Not knowing what to be there,
nor budging from it. Image as negative
off the “real” world. Impression in what?
Vacuum of ignorance? I am accoutred
with knowledges. But they seldom make an
inroad. The image is what I have forgotten
the painter prized. It curls itself out of semblances
of silence and the unaccustomed nerve.
Bloat is the result and knowing takes no hold.

The crystal brings sided air to a water standing.
Quartz is the original untampered word.
When I propose a live reading of a poem I think of
going up there to cut some fine edges.


What I need I will get.
But the supplies must be reduced.
These words here are already too much.
Many words stand for a vast emptiness.
The only way it may be reduced to sense?
Few words to be a hugeness of forms.
Also those words to be tiny pockets
contain the things that are enough.

--Clark Coolidge, The Crystal Text
Obviously you're working some things out, a friendly critic might say; your problem is that you're a materialist and a daydreamer.


"which I hold sometimes if I am feeling bleak" 

Why a poem like a stone, when there is the stone, there on the desk: its beachworn form; grey on grey, its striations, crystalline flecks; what it signifies and what it repudiates: the weight of it in one’s hand. The physical presence and unspeakable distance it radiates, just sitting there.
Was I 19, 20 years old, then?-- when I read Virginia Woolf’s story, "Solid Objects." Like an epiphany; the shock of sympathy and recognition I found there, not only in the language, but in the character of John. And I sensed that I was somehow lost, then. In truth, John had been that day to Barnes Common, and there under a furze bush had found a very remarkable piece of iron. It was almost identical with the glass in shape, massy and globular, but so cold and heavy, so black and metallic, that it was evidently alien to the earth and had its origin in one of the dead stars or was itself the cinder of a moon. It weighed his pocket down; it weighed the mantel-piece down; it radiated cold. And yet the meteorite stood upon the same ledge with the lump of glass and the star-shaped china. And so -- to a lesser extent -- objects occupy my desk; stones, dried leaves, a section of rebar; a glass box with silver fittings (a gift from a friend) contains others; the bookshelves hold miscellaneous large fragments, postcards, and a coffee can and a box are filled with paperclips found on the street.
I remember reading one of those Guardian pieces on writer's rooms; a friend had read the same article, by Hilary Mantel, and remembered it to me. I knew immediately of what she spoke, though I -- to this day -- know nothing of Mantel or her work, only her work space. Funny that one detail struck us both so: "My desk was made in Norfolk in serviceable pine. It is arranged in layers, as a working model of my mind. The surface is dull, plain and tidy. The only ornament is a tiny, chipped pottery cat in a basket, which I hold sometimes if I am feeling bleak. In the upper drawers are half-used notebooks, fossils, crystals, seashore pebbles, a pack of tarot cards, my five-year diary, a steel measure, a stop watch and a last letter from a dead friend."

Objects and their kin; unposed rhetorical questions. You roll a stone across your palm, finger a string of small blue beads, a piece of steel with an unusual patina; you remember the quality of sunlight, the tone of a voice, scents of sea water, freshly cut hay, rosewater. Rain after a dry spell; streets slick with tire-hammered oil. You hold a ceramic bird, a salt shaker broken from its base. The bleakness. The tide comes in and the tide goes out. The sun goes down and you walk away with a stone in your pocket.


"something like storm and like sleep"

enclose the noise
of another tongue
adding to what falls

"something like sharpening a knife"

outside it
no levity


fable that nourishes

unbeknownst to them
we bring forth

unwonted acts
buried in the hand

-- Claude Royet-Journoud, from Objects Contain the Infinite


I date the page “20” and go back, draw a line through the zero to form the number twenty-one, but the circle stands, cut-through, negated -- symbol for an empty set.
A mistake, I think, to have placed my desk by the window. Facing a blank wall makes me feel claustrophobic, though. It helps to have some space; I seem to need some depth of field.

First image of the day: a crow on the opposite rooftop, a bone in its beak.
Later: sun breaking over the trees and falling on the rooftops out back; the tarpaper nightblack with dew, wch burns off in wisps and sheets of vapor. From where I stand on my building’s fire escape, I’m just below the roofline, so I see the edge and the mist stream off in profile, licking around the edges as it rises and evaporates into the day.
I dreamt something last night, and while I wonder at this sight, so material-aethereal, I realize I’m losing any wisp or trace of the dream; no ruin, not even the shadow of an image.
Another cigarette, and the mist still rising, copiously. I move up a few steps wch lends a view onto the roof, a black sloping wing, smoldering. Nearly finished, I shred the butt of the cigarette between my fingers, raining down brown dust lit gold by the sun. The ashy tip dangles from the end, then drops, falling through the shimmery field, smoke trailing in its wake. An anti-meteor: a smoking, black earthbound ball. It falls without a sound. A jet banks in the distance, catching the sun for a moment, a point on its arc. By the time I’m sitting at my desk, marking off an empty set, it’s passing overhead.


like a mislaid letter 

the tide comes in and the tide goes out



no; more slowly

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