the rigorous m

bits and bobs, quotes and catching up

Archive for December, 2013

Posted by rigorousm on December 29, 2013

BM: Judaism to me, as badly as I practiced it, what I’ve always loved about it was its total embrace of complexity, its admission of unknowability. The whole territory of God is put into such an ineffable space. No matter how smart we are or how mystical or focused we are, we can’t get any closer.

like all disaster stories, The Flame Alphabet at its heart is about the fear of something human beings cannot control, something ultimately beyond the forces of science to handle.

Sentence after sentence, Marcus crams rags down the reader’s throat, dwells on infested and grotesque bodily discharges, conjures images of the most depraved forms of human suffering. The result is a novel that is, as many reviewers have glibly and unreflectively pointed out, a genuinely unpleasant reading experience.

The Flame Alphabet stages a scenario where language is literally “off-limits,” but isn’t our own world one in which words no longer mean what they’re meant to? Where any sincerely meant “meaning” seems on the brink of slipping into cliché? In this respect, surely our language is out of reach too; our writing worn down, our speech obsolete. Marcus has sometimes shied away, shrewdly, from using the word “experimental” to describe his own writerly style. Yet if his protagonist, Sam, is in some sense a writer-by-proxy, it’s not insignificant that he should be placed in a lab (of all places!) working on what, in a way, is an exemplary literary experiment.



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quotes: on the state of the museum in the 20th c

Posted by rigorousm on December 29, 2013

Painting and sculpture… are orphans. Their mother is dead, their mother, Architecture. As long as she was alive, she gave them their place, their function, their constraints.

Paul Valery – The Problem of Museums – 1925

Museums are dead things; there is no optimum space for living painters because art is no longer connected with living institutions like the church or government as it was historically, or with the life of the bourgeoisie, as it was in the 19th century.

Eric Fischl

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Balingit on your heart

Posted by rigorousm on December 29, 2013

Your heart is a pump not much bigger than a sweet potato.
It weighs about half a pound. It is a hollow
ball of muscle of butterflies of stone
connected to your arteries and veins.

Your heart is a steel wrecking ball, glove
unbuttoned at the wrist. Slip it off, see your heart
dented flat in places. Winking,
a mirror ball all night tossing stars

Until pound becomes gush and sigh—and heart settles
down to feeding cells, firing the dark
regions of your hungry brain, moving blood
steadily, without fail.

But we are all so deceived by the heart as a pump we forget
the heart itself is alive! Odd to think, the heart must pump
blood to the heart. Feed
its own lush cravings. Dream—no matter

how fast your heart beats—it’s how
hard your heart beats that’s wildly important.
(For while everyone knows that the heart beats,
very few of us know why.)

Your heart is tough but it can suffer
injury, like any other part of the body. Luckily
given half a chance, a healthy heart will heal itself
if the cause of the hurt is lessened or removed.

Did you know, if all the work your heart does in one day
could be used to lift you off the ground, it would raise you
twice as high as the Empire State Building, twice as high
as the lowest clouds in your sky on a brooding day?

I weeded and automated two school libraries. Pre-adolescents & teenagers coursed through these cavernous rooms, flinging off energies which made the books glow. Nevertheless, I sent many wonderful books to recycling bins, minus their cloth-covered boards, which elementary teachers hoard. I kept Your Heart and How It Works by Herbert S. Zim (Morrow, 1959). All About Snakes (Random House, 1956) inspired “Shake the Famous Tail” in the anthology North of Wakulla (Anhinga P). New poems are germinating from Seeds: Their Place In Life and Legend (Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1936); from a book about the virgin Moon; and from a biography of President Kennedy as a man who would never die.

JoAnn Balingit, “YOUR HEART AND HOW IT WORKS.” Diagram 4.3.

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ponce’s warning

Posted by rigorousm on December 29, 2013

An accident has occurred. The accident is no cause for alarm. Unanticipated events have led to unintended consequences. All evidence has been removed to an undisclosed area so that authorities may conduct a thorough investigation of the accident. Until the investigation is complete, authorities will not comment on the circumstances leading up to or the possible causes of the accident. Since the effects of the accident are most likely negligible, the investigation will itself be negligible, a matter of routine. The negligible investigation of this negligible accident may result in minor disturbances. These disturbances will be less distressing if curtains are drawn and the volume on entertainment consoles is adjusted accordingly. Speak loudly and clearly when addressing spouses, children, and pets. Make use of any stockpiled food as egress from homes has been temporarily prohibited. Units have been dispatched to monitor compliance with this temporary measure. Your compliance is appreciated for the duration of this temporary, negligible, accidental interruption.

This piece was inspired by a radio report about a Chinese submarine accident. In its vagueness, the language used to describe the accident was more disturbing than any concrete narrative of events.


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Posted by rigorousm on December 29, 2013

4: Poem is a bright river, clear and deep, flowing over smooth yellow stones
And is a broad-leafed kite that leads the wind by the hand.

3: Poem can be read backwards and mean the same thing
And is a lost kite with limited direction from the wind.

2: Poem is not always a poem and pools by dark rocks
And is a knotted string inappropriate for a kite.

1: Response is a dusty riverbed with little or no stones
And is an irrelevant idea of holding something up with the sky.

There are no philosophical truths, no truisms—only rubrics. Dawn and dusk being the interpoles of languishment. When one mistakes a Great Horned Owl for the sounding of his bird clock, we have a rubric. When one chooses a counter-top cleanser based on the content of its natural orange additive, we have a rubric. When one circumvents the parallax of his/her own tidal ubiquity, we have a rubric. The forest moves in a rubric; the meadow too.

— Paul McCormick, FOUR-POINT RUBRIC. Diagram 4.2.

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gibbs on grieving

Posted by rigorousm on December 29, 2013

The Park

The municipal park has a pond and benches. Many of the benches are dedicated to the memory of other dead people, which will get you in the right frame of mind. Don’t bother with the little plaques giving names and dates and brief homilies, though, as they could distract you from your own private sorrow. Sure, other people have died, but that’s not why you’re here, right? Let’s focus a little. Children play by the pond, which is rounded by concrete and has secure railings. During spring, ducklings follow their mothers across the water and bob endearingly over the rippling wavelets. In winter, the trees are bare. Across from the pond, there is a tarmac area for ball games, surrounded by a high fence. A single laburnum grows alongside the fence. As the summer progresses, its tender yellow flowers push through the mesh of the fence, allowing its pea-like seed pods to drop onto the play area. The seeds inside are highly poisonous, but what with all the processed food kids eat these days, most of them wouldn’t even know to open the pods, let alone eat the seeds.
– – – –

The Office

Consider carefully the environment of your office. Open-plan offices are not conducive to outpourings of grief, and even if you have your own private room in the office, you are rarely alone at work. If you cry openly, colleagues will become embarrassed for you. They may increase their distance. They will certainly resent your self-absorption. You used to be a reasonably fun person to have around. Be open but cautious. That simple shoulder squeeze might not necessarily be an expression of sympathy. It might be saying, ‘Buck up!’ It might be saying, ’You’ve had those figures on your desk for two days now. When were you thinking of looking at them?’ On the other hand, the office can be a good place to work through some of your feelings of despair and worthlessness, if you really decide to apply yourself at this time. Workaholism is a common by-product of grief that, while not compensating for your loss, can make you feel a whole lot better about yourself.
– – – –

The Bar

Don’t sit alone at a table; that’s sad. There’s people intent on having actual fun — and willing to spend a lot more than you on drinks to do it — want to sit at that table. Sit instead at the bar. They won’t notice you there. People are talking to themselves, or else talking to the bartender who is casually ignoring them. Warning: in films and on television, grieving and heartbroken people often find strength and support from a bartender, who listens somberly while cleaning a glass or wiping down the bar top. In reality, these people are underpaid and very busy, and anyway, they have dishwashing machines to take care of the glasses. Don’t keep selecting sad songs from the jukebox all night. Listen to the happy, party atmosphere songs other people play. Life goes on around you. Don’t try talking to the suited members of staff in the toilets who hand out the paper towels. They are there to stop people taking drugs in the cubicles and are unlikely to be very good listeners. They might help you if you collapse in your own vomit, but that help will be limited to assisting you to the back entrance of the bar. Don’t talk to other drinkers who approach you while seated at the bar. Their stories are likely to worse than yours.


Pick up stones and throw them in the sea. Throw them out to, throw them at the sea. Pick up the stones, individually or by the handful and shy them, hurl them, loose them at the rising flat muddy plane of the sea. We say stones, we could mean pebbles, would accept shingle. We counsel against sand or cliff edges. Leave these places to their own, no less limiting scripts and narrative arcs. The beach is a fine place to grieve, but the novice should beware. Unlike other venues treated here, it does not draw you back into the stream and traffic of life, is not concerned with helping you detach that part of the deceased person you would carry with you from the indigestible bolus of their absence; rather, the beach draws you out, towards them. Setting itself up as a neutral territory, a no-man’s-land of the soul, the beach is a liminal zone, a Checkpoint Charlie, a potentially treacherous place for those that cannot control the tides, or at the very least swim.


Lay your head on the table and your arms on either side of it. Lie your head this way, and you are faced with a partial inventory of culinary detritus: ketchup bottle, upturned salt cellar, stainless steel cutlery. That way, the sink and the window. Most likely the sink, but more properly the window needs cleaning. The window will always need cleaning. The time does not exist in which it is, was or will be free of smeared dirt. Dirt, though, does not prevent the light from getting through. The dirt throws the light into relief, down-shifts it into visibility. In the olden days, churches and cathedrals told religious stories to the illiterate masses through the medium of stained glass windows, and your kitchen window might serve in a similar respect. The light is the divine, the ineffable; the dirt, the transient, the fallen, the human: that kind of thing. Sat head rested on the kitchen table you can plan, or contemplate planning, the rest of your life, safe in the knowledge that those things you will most need—corkscrew, can opener, absorbent paper towels—are close at hand.


A moon landing is one of the most complex, dangerous and costly operations that mankind has yet found itself capable of, so think carefully before committing yourself. You will have so many operational matters to occupy your mind—checking the tricksy fixings of your space suit, radioing reports back to earth, carrying out the mundane round of scientific experiments that, quite frankly, could have no conceivable interest to those outside a narrow coterie of boffins—so much to do, in short, that personal matters may well get squeezed right out of the schedule. And for god’s sake, don’t mention grieving on your application form: you probably won’t even get an interview. Yet those that have undergone this extraordinary experience have vouched that it carries a definite spiritual dimension. This, we must assume, was not planned for by the space agencies. Consider: the unique perspective on the home planet, the appreciation of the vastness of space, the sheer animal pull of rocket-powered acceleration. And, on the moon itself, the regression to relative weightlessness, the boundless joy you will feel in this uninhabited sphere, all yours to tour and rule, the glee occasioned by this splendid game of hide-and-seek. But—oh! then you stop, and think.


Geraniums, gardenias, nasturtiums, you can’t name them, but you know they’re here. Among the dumb suspects laid out on the lunar greensward of next door’s lawn. You pace along the row and back again. They make a pitiful sight. Terminally obstinate interrogatees. Downed pigeons. A well-aimed kick pierces the turf, you agitate the foot from side to side, and lift and follow through. A divot frees itself from the earth and skips a yard. Dumped out of its element it lies gasping, like a washed-up jellyfish. The underside of the clod dangles pale grass roots like brain gunk from a scalp. By day you have seen your neighbours cultivate their garden, a permanent labour to no perceivable end. Kneeling at the beds that line the walls of the house, they are tending, you think with a sneer, their own graves. Now an empty bottle sails through the air, cutting the infa-red beam of the security spotlight and tripping on the halogen lamp just too late to catch the shards of glass falling from wall to patio. Silence. No one stirs. The night sneers back at you. The smash elsewhere, the light a fox. Now you could holler. Stamp and dance, jump onto the teak bench, feet on the back rest, forcing it over and down with your momentum. Swing from the tender branches of the young apple tree until they break. Start in on the flower pots. That would show them. Wake them, quite literally, up. Wake them all up. Every last one of the ignorant sleeping fuckers. Let them come down here, mano a mano, all of them, mano a mano a mano a mano, and deal with this thing, once and for all, face to face. Face to face to face to face. Have it out and have done with it. Come on.

–Jonathan Gibbs, “Suggested Venues for Grieving” (A simple satire on the bereavement memoir genre. The kitchen, now I come to think of it, is modelled on the kitchen in West Hampstead where my friends Joel, Alex, Ian and Sarah shared a flat and on whose table, no doubt, I rested my head many times.) Parts 1-3 (The Park, The Office, The Bar) from McSweeney’s. Part 4-7 (The Beach, The Kitchen Table, The Moon, Next Door’s Lawn, 4AM) from Diagram 4.3.

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Man plays only …

Posted by rigorousm on December 28, 2013

Man plays only when he is in the full sense of the word and he is only wholly human when he is playing.

Friedrich Schiller

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carrier’s skeleton of a poem

Posted by rigorousm on December 28, 2013


I.     I would’ve enjoyed walking from hotel to restaurant had it not been for breath

II.    Two miles along backside streets and things are foggy with it
        A. It’s not enough to say “winter” when I can smell onions and pinetree on
             the mouth of a stranger

III.   Landscapes bore me
        A. This particular one resembles the profile of my high school counselor
               1. I am not
                    a. resourceful
                    b. proficient
                    c. planned or stimulated
               2. because in my own version of heaven I am blond
                    a. thinner and contagious

IV.   No one really dies in stories in these landscapes
        A. or between the hours of 5 and 6 a.m.
        B. If I could come back from the dead I would

V.    Now near the end of the middle stretch of the road

VI.   It turns out I am walking in the wrong direction to La Cazuela
        A. The smell of tacos drifts from the other side of town
        B. I want to sit at a table
               1. drink sangria
               2. re-read my horoscope in the newspaper
                    a. the one from this morning
                    b. that says I should not lean
                    c. but it’s a good day to lie
                         i. flat on my back

When read out loud, you should enunciate the A’s, II’s, i’s and so forth. I liken poetry to a house of sorts where form creates plaster walls. The tenants or owners before you may have lived in this same house, yet it is your decoration of that house that makes it separate and new. Poems that create different boundaries through the pretense of switching genre re-decorate or re-build. The poem above attempts to work out this affectation of genre. Specifically, it asks about the limits of poetry; it asks if it can build a door leading to a brick wall or a new wing onto its house without contracting a builder. How much genre-switching can a poem withhold before it is not a poem? Likewise, how many rooms can be added to a house before the foundation collapses? And if the foundation does collapse, what kind of house should be built from the debris? Maybe we shouldn’t re-build a house at all; maybe an apartment building is suitable. How many poets does it take to screw in a light bulb?

Alissa Carrier, SKELETON OF A POEM. Diagram 2.2.

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Langan’s Orpheus and Eurydice

Posted by rigorousm on December 28, 2013


Speck on the other world, is your hood
pulled tight and tied? Blemish on this world,
wearing a raincoat walking in the rainstorm

is a good idea, say the wise. Mist is a baleful
procedure, how grass grows is a procedure,
both tree and squirrel follow procedures,

the lover disguises herself in procedure:
she raises the mainsail, she raises the jib.
Her soul is like that, a woman alone at sea.

Eurydice’s in the distance, we cannot know
what she is thinking, she is following;
maybe she is humming then singing

against pain: thinking but declaring nothing
along the trail, whistling, remembering,
counting, then with sudden breath at his neck:

“Don’t turn round, shroud of shrouds”…



Just before or just after turning round?
Or in-between, one breath from the tape-breaking,
boy becomes man, finally, on the frontier, free gesture

sorrowful Orpheus can’t take back because now she
is gone again, the beloved, it’s been decided?
Maybe you wish to review the attending grieving,

as this may teach you better how to endure?
Or you prefer to watch the long hours of anxiety
filling his head before he yields to the inevitable gravity?

I can’t deny your choice may lead you to greater
self-knowledge, etc. It could even make you stronger,
it could start to make you whole again,

studying the flickering restraint or self-torture.
But just so you don’t forget, it wasn’t his fault or hers,
yours or mine, we shouldn’t blame God or nature.

The sun was shining. Beautiful Orpheus turned.

— Steve Langan (Orpheus and Eurydice crowd into my manuscript “Hex,” even more be-hexed, if just barely, than its abject (but willing to learn another way!) speaker.) (Original publication in Diagram here)

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Dillard on Writing

Posted by rigorousm on December 1, 2013

The line of words fingers your own heart. It invades arteries, and enters the heart on a flood of breath; it presses the moving rims of thick valves; it palpates the dark muscle strong as horses, feeling for something, it knows not what. A queer picture bedsin the muscle like a worm encysted– some film of feeling, some song forgotten, a scene in a dark bedroom, a corner of the woodlot, a terrible dining room, that exalting sidewalk; these fragments are heavy with meaning. The line of words peels them back, dissects them out. Will the bared tissue burn? Do you want to expose these scenes to the light? You may locate them and leave them, or poke the spot hard till the sore bleeds on your finger, and write with that blood. If the sore spot is not fatal, if it does not grow and block something, you can use its power for many years, until the heart resorbs it.

— Anne Dillard, The Writing Life p 20.

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