Enunciate, craft, massage into shape. Learn by doing. Note down partial approximations of eidetic imagery. Thirty-one syllable word-clusters, as in the Japanese tanka. Bars of neon form an elongated “C,” the unfinished outline of a cursus. Diet remains for me a site of struggle, a point of contention. Cooking and eating from home have not yet become welcome parts of my practice of everyday life—nor has any decisive shift toward vegetarianism. Old, long-established eating habits are hard to break on a budget. Objects and textures pass rapidly through a set of multidimensional windows or portals, as would an array of illustrations on a picture wheel. Operating an imaginary View Master is a bit like exercising a phantom limb. But see with it we may. A food truck specializing in seedlings and nut bars pulls up in a park, an abstract crayon parrot drawn across its side. Golf courses designed like cakes dissolve and vanish. Front end to back end: “Folks, it’s not a screensaver I seek—it’s a quest, a vision, an account of an inward journey, magic everywhere.” Weird sonic matter wells up, giddy microtonal burblings and hijinks. Is a trope like a lasso? Is language like a rope, fashioned in a circle to ensnare? Or is it a sounding forth in song in response to the cosmos? Let us become like trees shining gently all around. Somewhere in my mind is the Incredible String Band’s “Painting Box.” Somewhere I sing it aloud to a child.
In its final scene, the Netflix television series Russian Doll allows its time-looped protagonists, Nadia and Alan, to reunite as their best selves amid a parade of party people waving red flags of revolution. Given our current slime-pool polis, it seems reasonable to regard the show’s Groundhog Day purgatory as an allegory of that era of reaction since the defeat of the Sixties that Americans on the Left took to calling “neoliberalism.” The show boldly imagines that those who wish to live will one day get it right. In it I see a spirit similar to the one that animated Mitchell Goodman’s 1970 anthology The Movement Toward a New America, a book I wish I could somehow integrate into my classes. Let’s be straight with ourselves. “The Movement,” as Goodman defines it, “is the act of getting ourselves together. Clarity. Coherence. Community. It is also a vision” (vi). As if hearing a voice speaking out of myself, I read passages written by a man once known as Peter Marin. He tells me, from the future, to look for a book of his called The Free People. At the start of an essay of his featured in The Movement Toward a New America, Marin offers a description of a method of composition eerily similar to the one animating these Trance-Scripts. “Shuffling through my notes,” he writes, “I feel like an archaeologist with a mass of uncatalogued shards. There is a pattern to all this, a coherence of thought, but all I can do here is assemble the bits and pieces and lay them out for you and hope that you can sense how I get from one place to another” (vii). Like Marin, I am “impatient with transition, the habitual ways of getting ‘from here to there.’ I think restlessly; my mind, like the minds of my students, works in flashes, in sudden perceptions and brief extended clusters of intuition and abstraction — and I have stuck stubbornly to that method of composition” (vii).
When writing poetry, one ought to put one’s breath into it. Count the length of one’s line, listening to thought’s syllables. Practice what Charles Olson calls “composition by FIELD.” When we set aside old fears, we unlock our hidden capacity to resonate in sympathy with others. Keep going, keep learning, keep growing. Open windows, let in light, sit outdoors. When I do so, I see trees, the modest, low-slung buildings of an invisible campus.
I resonate with the music of M.C. Richards’s prose in her book Centering. These trance-scripts share some of that book’s form and sentiment. “Its form,” as Richards intones, “is a demonstration of what I say in it. Themes recur and vary. There are passages of development and recapitulation. I wish to offer its meaning not as rationale but as physical presence in language. Iteration and reiteration like days in a season, and we come to the feel of its weather. […]. Sudden changes of tone — from refinement to coarseness, from mechanics to rapture — are moods of nature” (6). Like Olson, she points to breath as the tender, limber thread we walk on our journey between life and death. Breathe deeply and wish well one’s entire sphere. Let the world enter one’s awareness with each breath. Wish well, wish love and bliss to all. It’s such a simple task, and yet I’ve struggled throughout my life to keep it first in my thoughts. To behave well and bring happiness to others. Why can’t we just imagine that and do it?
The worker must have her bread — but she also must have her roses. Hand over, motherfuckers, or we’ll storm your gates and tax your estates. We’ve had enough of these open-air debtor prisons. We will remain silent no longer. From out of the monoculture into Out There step bands like Tower Recordings and Wet Tuna. By exercising consciousness, I can release from my usual mask of pain into an embodiment in breath and posture of loving kindness. “Focus on one’s breath”: this is what Charles Olson proposes in his essay, “Projective Verse.” The brain is there in the breath, the line, and the syllable. Regulate breathing, and awareness intensifies. We see and hear more of the grand dynamic. The creak of the kitchen table from the push of our hands as we write. Objects arranged on the table’s surface. Olson intervenes at just this moment to remind us to concentrate on breath and beware the ease of the descriptive. Within the energy field that will become the poem, he says, one must manage syllables and lines in their relations to each other. Such was the way Olson taught his students to write, both at Black Mountain College and elsewhere. Linguistic objects — words, sounds, sequences of syllables: for these, the poet finds a use.
As a kind of essayist — one who writes to think, to find out, to endeavor — I often look for meaning, associations, correspondences, in that upon which I gaze. A friend lends a note of caution: some of what we find, he reflects, might be projected, phantasmatic rather than cloud-hidden. Of course, fantasies are not purely illusory. Psychoanalysts encourage us to think of them, rather, as scenes that stage unconscious desires. Lacan reads fantasy as a defensive formation assembled by a subject to veil the enigmatic desire of the Other. Fantasy hastens an answer to what can never be known, like one’s face or the back of one’s head, that which can never enter directly into the field of one’s perception. Fantasy pretends to solve what Lacan calls the mystery of “Che vuoi”: “What do others want from me? What do they see in me? What am I for others?”
A parallelogram of forces swerves around a refrigerator drawer. I kneel and pat a patch of moss. Fields glow with thousands of yellow daffodils. ‘Tis the season ’round these parts. Is the universe trying to cultivate or diminish consciousness? Out of the blooming buzzing late capitalist totality comes Darren Angle’s reply: “The long hall of consciousness / makes room for shit like hot dogs.” Let us not abstract ourselves of particulars. Reinteriorize the different moments of exterior causation. Reintegrate chance with historical necessity so as to allow for synthetic progression. Otherwise, we’re just looking through bloodshot eyes.
Writing while high is a bit like trying to describe a sense beyond words. One would need formal devices — spinning Hypno Disks, entrancing patterns and rhythms. One could soundtrack one’s walk beside a curved, moss-covered wall with Equal, a cassette-sized aggregate of “electro-acoustic clicks, knocks and bumps” by Ecto Mist, released this past summer on Genot Centre.
Ecstatic, transcendental and magickal bliss. Or one can feel real awe tinged with fear by walking outdoors listening to Brian Jones Presents The Pipes of Pan at Jajouka. Defy western culture’s ban on new ontologies. Fashion for oneself a homemade version of Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville’s Dreamachine. For more on this device, see John Geiger’s book Chapel of Extreme Experience.
Prayer will take us there. We might as well call it that, this act of turning inward, even if there aren’t any mantras involved or words addressed to a higher power. Much of my learning occurs these days through concentration on letting the mind go where it may. I hang back a bit and wait to see what stirs. Hands meet with fingers and thumbs arranged to form a triangle. I hold up to my eyes an inverted, upward-pointed Merkel-Raute or Triangle of Power, tolerating it the right to expand slowly across my field of vision, the gesture crossing outward beyond my peripherals. No more aristocracy of moneyed corporations, I declare to potential comrades. But few heed the call. They look at me askance, shake their heads reprovingly, and return to their sullen pursuit of property, most of them declaring themselves for business, without ever having been taught how else one can be. The Real is that which one feels deeply in one’s mind. Let’s do it, sings the chorus. Now is the time for love. The world has never felt itself so much a totality as it does today — so let us raise glasses instead to the visions in our minds. Let us imagine for one another how else the world may be. We have become more or less completely, more or less obviously, more or less miserably, the dependents of capital — so let us change that. Wildlife, like wildfires, rise up and appropriate thy appropriators! Humanity’s running down the clock, one way of being having come to dominate all the rest. And there’s no longer any imagined purpose to any of it. One is tempted to wish for some chance intervention, some upwelling of otherness. Cast over the soul a luminous spell, craft for it a key that opens doors onto possible worlds. Passion destines its victim, writes de Rougemont, “to contest with every breath everything that officially regulates social life” (73). Weed grants me such a passion; it fills me with words and metaphors, interlacing symbols through which to enunciate a mind in its refusal to adhere to the as-is.
The change in mood or disposition is nearly instantaneous. I pause to investigate being, even as I continue to review sentences under my breath. I exist, take stock of myself and my surroundings, and then, following the way an exhale follows an inhale, I dictate silent sentences in response, the inner “I” reviewing words according to a learned social rubric. Once satisfied, I trance-scribe the results by hand into a marble, college-ruled Mead composition notebook. I establish these as conditions on which I work. Let all take note. Add to that the poetic cocktail of substances I ingest each day. Compared to Hunter S. Thompson, though, I remain quite the minimalist.
Rock stars, meanwhile, were Joan Didion’s ideal subjects, since they lived a disorder to which she could respond with horror, allowing the dissociative, detached bourgeois self to co-exist in a common story with its time. “The story unfolds,” Didion once said, “as you write it.” Personal phobias and superstitions intersect with the affect of one’s historical moment. One can tell and examine the story of one’s time. The emotional life of late capitalism. Illumination of peripheral detail. Corroboration of the aural through the gestural. There is, alas, a faint delay to be heard, perhaps equivalent to that which exists between an object and its shadow. We try to trust fully in life as would a singularly blessed and accepting child. We observe the embroidery, worked into the day’s pattern to lend verisimilitude. When we look into the light, we’re rearranged, our faces melt, mountains become plains, a foot slips on a banana. It helps when we imagine ourselves in a library. Light shines instead out from behind a cloud; the crowd goes wild.