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Friday, July 12, 2013

About the Tracing Project


This is intended to describe a series of paintings which I've made since 2005, and poetry that's emerged from the same process.

I find it near impossible to describe the steps that took me through this period of my life. That navigation was guided in some way, the signs I saw seemed numinous, and my responses to those signs, were ritualistic.

Let me give this some framework, which I'll paraphrase, from a work by the indologist Fritz Stahl, "Rules without Meaning".

The statement, "I went to the bus station" is a simplification of many other steps. First you you have to get up, get dressed, put on shoes, take a subway, etc. in order to arrive at the bus station. It doesn't matter how, the point is to get there. All steps are meaningless, so long as the objective is achieved. This is exactly the simile used by Stahl.

Most of life is organized in this manner. We eat breakfast, earn money, raise children. Our actions are objective dependent. There is another class of action, ritual, that is not. The only purpose of ritual is to do certain steps in a certain order. There is no 'objective' per se.

A ritual structure is profoundly different. In fact each step of a ritual is performed in order and is required to be conducted properly. Whereas getting to the bus station is result oriented, the performance of a ritual is not. It is simply performed. Intrinsic steps may not be omitted, else the whole ritual falls apart.

Ritual structures begin, and end, with symmetry. All life, images of the divine, the human body, human behaviors, and religious rituals, yoga, and tantra all possess symmetrical ritual structures.

The structure A-B-A is the building block for all other ritual activities, and as the basis for all learning, is fundamental to all life. Every ritual path has a departure, a journey, and a return. Rituals grow naturally, they absorb less energy, are circular in their path - again the objective is not to get somewhere, but to do. Our planet is falling apart because we have de-ritualized love, removed gratitude from the killing of other creatures for food, even allowed hatred to enter the ritual of war. The rituals that are growing in their place are misinformed, and hurried. They are weapons in the hands of the angry.

-:-

My personal life was in shambles. A young woman, named Raven, had entered my life and then left suddenly. I fell to pieces. I understood the myths of Raven and Coyote in a way that was suddenly and tangibly very real. I was Coyote, brought to ruin by this much cleverer trickster bird. I made drawings and paintings of my wrecked body scattered over the tarmac like the 'Roadrunner' cartoons, which are derived from the same Native American myth.

I won't dwell on this period, except to say that Raven led me to something. She appeared in my life as a symbol of a force that is still potent, and still active in the world. To recover from the heartbreak, I embarked on a project which I'd long put off.

Instead of wanting her, I followed her. Instead of seeking the crow as nourishment I followed the crow. She / He became a spirit guide. Suddenly Raven was everywhere, on every signpost, at every intersection, cawing and pointing the way.

My father, a painter, had on his deathbed, asked me to complete a canvas which he had stretched in the studio, but not been able to finish. He also asked me to paint over a painting which he called "a rip-off of Picasso". I promised I would do both.

The blank canvas was a longish and large rectangle, one he may have been intending for a landscape. I decided I would instead paint a standing portrait, the type of portrait he might well have painted himself. This work would put his death behind me, and take my mind off Raven who was still haunting my dreams.

                                      photo: credit needed
I hired a young model who called herself Rainbow Girl. She began to come to model for weekly sessions lasting two to three hours. I made drawing after drawing. Frustrated and not seeing a finished composition anytime soon, I asked Rainbow to lie down on a large piece of paper. I took a brush loaded with ink and ran it around her body.

In this very first pose, Rainbow unconsciously took a position, that mimicked a Navajo dance which I'd seen over the holidays in New Mexico. It was unmistakable, the Dance of Raven. Though Rainbow herself was unaware of Raven as a mythic figure, she was herself part Native American.

Was she unconsciously dancing the dance of her ancestors? Why the Raven dance, especially on the heels of my devastating break-up?

I was besieged with excitement. All my interest in the unconscious contents of the mind was there to see. Perhaps if I overlapped one tracing over another I would begin to appreciate the full range of motion. Perhaps I'd see the whole dance.

I realized that the act of moving, or dancing, naked, in a trustworthy environment, allows the subconscious to control subject matter. The unconscious had showed up at my door, greedy for avenues of expression, repressed as it were by the more recently evolved conscious brain. If you leave the door ajar - Gods enter.

Rainbow, by invoking Raven, tapped a mythic source of all Native American tribes. Raven was the spirit guide to all Native North Americans. He leads hunters to their game, or away from it. He was unpredictable, and so he was prayed to.

Raven became my Spirit Guide as well. I read everything I could on the mythology, sociology, biology, and intelligence of ravens, and noticed a pattern to the instances in my life where he made an appearance. There was a mythological similarity between the Raven of North America and Quetzalcoatl in Central America, who is part quetzal (an iridescent jungle bird)/ part serpent. Quetzalcoatl penetrates the jungle forest as a quetzal, but also the underworld and the muddy tropical waters as a serpent. The similarities went further Hermes, the Greek messenger guide, led Priam to Achilles in order to recover the body of his son Hector, through the battle lines at Troy. Ganesha in India is another sprit guide, and even today is prayed to throughout India, for guidance. No endeavor is initiated on the subcontinent by a Hindu without some nod to Ganesh. Half-man, half elephant, his long trunk penetrates the jungle with ease.

These are the guide archetypes, ancient, prevalent, and alive in every culture.

In some way I had tapped these forces. They appeared incessantly, in dream after dream, appearance after appearance, through acquaintances, friends, lovers. Raven my old roommate, Rainbow, my new Muse, and now Raven the god, all were appearing in my paintings.

I dreamt of Hermes and in my dream the word showed itself and morphed into the phrase "Her Muse".

One day a young NYU student showed up with her boyfriend. He drew me aside and left with the words, "She's bi-polar. But I think she should do this. It will be good for her."

M_____ was hungry to see her own dance. She made me work very rapidly, very fast. One work after another. I noticed a pattern. She began weaving a sort of cage of lines, that surrounded her body, and then suddenly a pair of hands would stick out of the cage, as if appealing for help, for release.

But as with all things that are complex or unknown, one begins to take notice. One improves the act, and the art.

What started as an action painting experiment with multiple frames, overlapping one tracing of the model over another, led me immediately into a study of psychological content contained in some of these pieces, and the realization that this content was coming from the ritual manner in which I was conducting the work,

I employed a number of techniques to find 'content' in my works, the principle one was tracing the model as she lies or stands against a large sheet of paper or canvas.

One afternoon in 2005 a dark haired yoga teacher named S____ came to my studio. We made a drawing that was decidedly lopsided, and during the break I must have been thinking of ways to loosen the energy. We began to talk about Ganesha, the Hindu deity, familiar to yogis everywhere. I had a small figure of Ganesha in my kitchen. S____ commented on it, and said she was planning on getting one from one of the shops on Second Avenue.

We returned to work, and I suddenly asked her to do her yoga, her sun salutation sequence in order. As she took each pose, I would trace her.

She did so and this was the result. Ganesha had entered the work! I began to look for all manner of logical explanations for this, one being that yoga, when performed in the sand or snow, leaves an impression, that closely resembles the symmetrical elephant headed figure. Could the image of Ganesha have come to India as a result of Yoga?

I had asked S____ to do her sun salute sequence precisely because our previous effort was so lopsided - yoga is a ritual of symmetry. Symmetry leads to balance, towards focus, towards moving forward and ahead. That act itself could be the essence of Ganesha!

The aspects that favor spirit guides were becoming clear. a) They liked ritual. b) They liked symmetry. c) They saw possibilities in dance, and in well-executed rituals when two strangers meet.

I hadn't considered this earlier in the work. I was directing the performance of a dramatic event with a stranger, yet the performances were similar each and every time. This made the whole drama hang together. It gave confidence to those that worked for me. They sensed my commitment to the work, and wanted to participate. And the visual outcome, which arrived as sort of an accident when we were finished, was secondary.

How many rituals are embedded in our lives where two strangers go through a sort of dance that is the same regardless of the outcome?

Catholic confession, marriage, baptism, yoga, meditation, a visit to the psychologist, the singing of scales, counting on one's fingers, even the making of change for a stranger all have varying degrees of ritual structure. In another of my essays I explore the idea that ritual structures form the basis for all learning. The practice of extending the arm as a small baby has a ritual basis that over a lifetime is practiced on a much larger scale. First it is carried out for no particular reason, though reason driven behaviors such as marriage, or baptism, have ritual structures. The structures that they are built upon, have no reason, or cause. They become a practice. They consist of actions that reverse, so that the starting point and the ending points become the same. And fourth, and most importantly they are performed without any expectation of result.

The desire to insert poetry into the painted work, came after a hallucination I experienced one day after working.

There seemed to be several women speaking, from the courtyard outside my window, at the rear of the building, incessant voices, speaking about my work. They were saying things like "He should use color," and "It would be good if he put in some poems". They were critical in many other ways besides.

When I descended to the courtyard to investigate but found no one there. Yet when I returned to my apartment they resumed talking. Eventually, when they did fade away I found myself longing for their return. I investigated the phenomena, and learned that a similar experience had happened to William Wordsworth, and other poets of the same period. The Muse was alive. You cannot imagine my excitement.

I was on a journey through Mythos. Was this journey only mine? The Cosmic Dance which had lead me to Raven, now to Ganesha, now had seemed to bring on the Muse!

Who was the Muse? We have very canned notions of who she was. Of all historical deities in Europe she has perhaps the worst press of any. Briefly, she was the Goddess, the One, the Creator of all, at a time when the Creator was in fact feminine. Hunter gatherers live upon the Earth, and the God they worshiped most is the one who provides. Robert Graves takes the story into the beginnings of written language, and the painful and slow evolution of letters. He elaborates further to say that the language of poetry, that poetry itself, is nothing other than worship, of her. And following from this he dismisses all other definitions of what poetry is. Goddess worship that's it. The use of words and meter, that please her. Metaphor pleases her most. Metaphor, Graves maintains, is poetry, and poetry is metaphor. One can't be without the other.

Transporting a poetic sense into the work didn't seem at first to allow much involvement on the part of the model, and entailed too much prior work to prepare a 'script' of what was to be written. I wanted something live, where I would paint a few lines at a time, in an order that my model uttered them, a drama similar to the one at old Delphi.

I decided to embed poetic ritual into the heart of the project. Poetry would enter as a performance, as a ritual drama. We would trace, and then compose poetry, and then trace again. The poetry would 'live' caught in the 'lines' around the body, lines mimicking letters at times . . . held as if by a spirit catching screen.

We would draw words at random, in groups several at a time, enough until a sentence became clear. She would read, and then I would paint it into the piece.

These works were painted, and the poetry written with a brush. We composed the poems live, painting phrases in the order they occurred.

By embedding the Poetry into a ritual structure of ABBC we get ABPBA. It also means that the last few tracings virtually obscure the poetry. Rereading the poem after we had painted over it a number of times was almost impossible. But if the cardboards were there in the painting space, after the work was over, I could go, as a result oriented person, pick them up, take them to my computer and transcribe them could I not?

Here is one such piece composed with Kayla Berley. The sequence of actions are symmetrical in space and time. The poetry session took up the middle of the sequence. Moreover the phrases were written left to right, and then as more material accumulated, from top to bottom, forming a sort of screen separating the work at the beginning of the session from the work at the end.

First memory gives, never shimmers, or rages,
Grand Sir, first come,
Since chocolate never phones.
You'd better shame Death!
Neither use young sleep,
     Discover peace, so please, try to sing.

About every pithy surface,
So reach, and seek us!
Smear, capture space,
     Know process, from important missions.

Chisel and throw, hide joy
Daughter progress, your mind will crush life!
     Or choose a straight water ritual.

Smoke in manic diversity,
Empower faithful brains, raw partner,
Act crazy,trodding through his sculpture.
Loser, paint this hard!
Doctors only use color above,
Ink scars our mean street,
Ebbs our angry mess,
     like a pre-teen miss.


The words used were arranged according to a simple set of grammatical rules such as:

a) Interpret all words as verbs if possible. Singulars can become plural, all tenses, or conjugations may be reinterpreted. "Give" may become 'gave', and "beers" may become 'beer'. I assumed the Muse is not concerned with tense, or number, since she is not constricted by either count, or time.

b) Listen for words that morph into other words. For instance "she sells" can be read or used as "sea shells". Similarly "cement" can be read as 'see men', or for that matter 'semen'. The Muse is conscious of sound, not text.

c) Set the verbs into imperative form, i.e. "Show that you care" rather than "You show that you care".

d) Assume that the imperative is a command, from neither myself or my model, but rather a third party who is issuing directives TO US! In other words the Muse. As a result this part of the work had aspects of 19th Century spiritualism, the appearance of an outside voice.

e) Use the work that's derived as an oracle. After each line is composed, listen carefully for the next set of instructions.

The Pythian Oracle of Apollo at Delphi were young women recruited at an early age for the job of 'poetic muse'. According to legend, Plutarch, who served as a priest at the Temple of Apollo, attributed Pythia's prophetic powers to vapors, which may have seeped from a chasm in the earth, ethylene gases that emerge naturally from a tectonic fault in the rock below Delphi. (cf. my essay about the Delphic Muses here).

Inhaling these gases, and becoming high, may have been part of the young Oracles' preparation for duty, when they answered questions about people's futures, and may also account for the reports of their altered voices. They always answered in riddles, or metaphor.

These were virgins, trained from birth, and inculcated into the arts of poetry and oral composition. Theirs was a long lasting stronghold of a female goddess cult. The 'voice' of the Oracle was reputed to have been that of Apollo, but one must remember that the cult existed long before the male Gods took it over from the Muses - ever wonder why Zeus sounds like Muse?).

Their utterances were final, and would not be repeated.

I used to explain the process to the models that worked with me, by quoting the famous example of the two Roman senators from the old Republic, who went to consult the Oracle.

The two Senators took with them a young boy, as a sort of senatorial aide, to help them on their trip. Arriving in Delphi, after ritual cleansing, and the payment of large quantities of gold and silver they appeared before the Oracle. The two of them asked together: "Which of us shall be the first to Rule Rome?"

The Oracle responded in a high monotone:

"The first to kiss his Mother shall Rule."

The Senators rushed to their ships, and made haste to be the first back to Rome to kiss his mother. What the two men didn't notice was that the young lad they brought with him, who was standing behind them when he heard the Oracle speak, fell to the Earth and kissed it immediately.

That boy's name was Brutus, and he, not either of the two senators, became the next President of the Roman Republic.

Here is an example of one of my/our/her Oracle Poems. This one was composed with dancer, friend, model and supporter, Joy Voelker:

Imagine dark anger in night . .
Through my ear she goes, through our metaphor of life.
Come sweet obsessive masterpiece
Grander king, she sings many songs.
Finds sleepwalking fun, fasts, starts to hurt
...Writing breaks best solution through night
Worry pain, afraid of self
Have a better laugh, She does see that last free canvas . .
It's why she comes.


-:-

My work with the I Ching made familiarity with the synchronous structure underlying random events. Randomness always contains within it a complete picture of the infinite. The more our physics would classify something as 'random', the greater its degree of resolution of the infinite. Randomness and synchronicity have the same root, and that which we ascribe to being random or by 'chance', is not. In it is a higher kind of order.

The sequence of work when doing the Tracing pieces was ritualistic in structure. I aimed to end each piece with the same action that it began with. By definition a fixed ritual is not random at all. Perhaps the beginning could be structured, but the journey should be towards a state of maximum perceived entropy, and then return iteratively to a point of origin.

Like turns made in a complex cave, the route out of a ritual is very much the same as the route in, but in reverse. Brahmanic ritual in India assumes a similar structure. This way of structuring actions has been used by Hindu priests there for thousands of years, and allows phenomenal recall of words, actions, and events. Ritual does things for the sheer joy of the doing, not with any particular result in mind.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
   Down to a sunless sea.

This magnificent opening to Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan", seems fanciful, without precedent, random and playful, joyous, yet apparently meaningless. Despite the structured melody of sound and meter, and the reference to the famous Mongol ruler, Xanadu is a made up place, seen by Coleridge in his dream. So is the River Alph. Yet how can we not admire the brilliant workings of the deep metaphor at work here, a product of the Muse, for when Coleridge awoke from his nap, he transcribed all that he could, until a neighbor rang his bell. The rest of his dream is lost.

That metaphor, so brilliantly conceived, is one about language. Kubla Khan was reported to have considered building some kind of project for his enjoyment of the beauty of the Altair Mountains, which sit in Central Asia, just west of a vast expanse of desert. These mountains, lush and fertile, are considered by many to have been one of the birthplaces of the Scythian alphabet. Where Alph, the sacred river ran. Is Kubla Khan, who was though to have been illiterate, suddenly moved to write? Is Alph, simply Alpha, the first letter of the Greek and European alphabets?

Then the metaphor moves through caverns measureless to man. Such is the expressive potential of the alphabet. Limitless.

-:-

Whilst the Tracing Project continued, and also produced some poems of the oracular nature, somehow I latched upon an idea of celebrating my muses with poems written only by using the letters of their own name. A name, is the ultimate Muse for a particular person, a poetic equivalent of tracing the body.

Onomancy, or name divination, has deep roots, in Europe and Vedic India. Tom Brown, the famous tracker and author, wrote 'the skull is the ultimate track', meaning that when we come to find a piece of evidence such as a skull, at that moment we can appreciate an entire life. As a tracker the life of a being may be understood through a skull.  During one's life, it may best be understood through the name.

I embarked upon a project of lipograms, poem written the letters of someone's name, and embarked on a series of odes celebrating 'muses' whom I had never met.

One of the first works was a poem for a gal unknown to me, named Sioux Lily, a Native American, from South Dakota. Naturally it wasn't long before I had all the words that could be spelled with the seven letters of her name.

This poem keeps evolving - here's the most recent version:

Poem for Sioux Lilly


Silly Sioux Lilly's soul solos,
S, I, O, U, X, L, Y:
So Sioux Lilly’s soul is ill,
Sioux Lilly's ill is loss of soil,
Sioux Lilly IO you six,
Sioux Lilly's ill is . . . oil.

On one level this seemed like one of the 'silliest' things I'd ever done.

I realized that this activity was, primarily, a meditation, and that as such it would impart a great deal of energy into its subject. The activity therefor, was in a way shamanic, and so as not to run afoul of the energy so encountered, I had to bring myself into a state of ideal love, and respect for my subject.

If one writes a poem about a stranger, then is the poem then addressed to a surrogate? Is that the same as a God or a Goddess? Is a Goddess merely an abstraction of the divine feminine?

To the effect that a model is unknown to me, she in effect stood in for the Muse. There was new power in working with models whom I never knew at all.

I met a Russian programmer, who was teaching math part time in Brooklyn. I hired him and he wrote some programs for me, that would help in the production of a starting vocabulary for my poems. I built up dictionaries and dictionaries of particular subjects. If someone was a chef, I did research on food words, and in particular words coming from the culture of their ancestors.

I built up hundreds of lists, and the new program helped me cut through them and find the ones that could be spelled with a particular letter set.

There's always the poem that will turn into a love poem. A love poem tells you exactly who it's for, and about, and celebrates that person. Love poems are ancient, descended from odes, which celebrate a particular person, who is usually present when the poet recites. They celebrate what is good in a person, and as often are directed to the subject. There is always the feeling that the individual stands for another, for she carries the aspect of the universal. An ode to a woman begins to be about the Muse.

Any woman could play the role of Muse in my performance, and so may also be loved directly through words:


"I'll spell a poem out o' all letters in your name.
A, E, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, R, S, T, U, Y.
So you see, . your name also spells mine . . .

I really am a potter, a painter, my name is Mark
In my name's a kiln, some poems, an' some art.
I'll not tell Aesop's tale to amuse you
Or Animals, asses  or an ark. . .
Nor pirates or players or Pan's pipes
Or a serpent . . or an apple
Or Mars, Saturn, Moon, astral suns, 'ere starlit planets soar
or a union o' opposites
I'll simply say it - I look't at your port
Your sensuous eyes. . . your nose, your ears, your ankles, . .
. . . your knees
In all, I see a million symmetries
I kno' you not at all
Nor you me
So you are my inspiration as a Muse to poetry."


I researched the history of Dionysian drama, and early Greek theater. A conversation with the Muse could be re-enacted if ritualized One could speak with the Muse every day.

It is difficult to describe the feeling of trepidation that crept into my life as I took on these subjects. I felt I was poaching on sacred ground. I realized the implications could be enormous, for me personally, for my work. Deep down I realized that my interest in no way bought favor with my subject. The Muse was real. She may be a personification in the minds of men, she may be a zone of the psyche, or a portion of the collective subconscious, but 'she' existed, and not for me. If I made a misstep, the results could be catastrophic.

Respect was the name of the game. Ritual behavior was her province, and I would listen to whatever she told me. I would think hard about it. I knew already she would be extremely critical, even mocking.

Robert Graves wrote in his major work, "The White Goddess" that the language for speaking to the Muse, is poetry, and that poetry pleases her. She likes it. Write poems as offerings.

This is not hollow old, dusty attic stuff. This is real. The voice of the Muse will take off the top of your head. Every pore in your body will open up. . and you will listen, if you hear it. It's there. . . all the time. You just have to tune in.

There were other exercises . . . . . . many of them visual . . . some of them dance-related and yogic.

When language first evolved in the human species . . . it was considered sacred. Poetry, is really the original state of language, hovering on the synaptic frontier of unconscious mind. The linguistic language forming mind is highly metaphoric, highly abstract, and seems to bring with it another 'voice' from outside. It was suddenly clear how the emergence of language, and the history of the Oracles in places like Delphi and Hungary, and India are just this early ritual of humans consulting their own sub-conscious, pre-linguistic thoughts.

Metaphor, and poetry, like dance, is a ritual structure. It evolves infinitely, yet retains its roots in disciplined ritual behavior.

The poems I wrote with the letter set given by the model's name. . . are conditioned by words that may be spelled. So if your name is . . . Dog . . . you've got a few words that can be put together.

O dog god do good!

Look at this line carefully and you can imagine it as a tiny bit of language, evolving along, in a symmetrical evolution from two other antecedent rituals:

doo g ood . . . . (the sound 'do good' is symmetrical)

god dog . . . . (so is this phrase)

The first phrase may be inserted into the second. . .

god doo g ood dog . . . . (also symmetrical)

Though incredibly boring to study at this level, this is this level of modularity that runs our lives and evolves our languages, like it or not. I make it my business to deconstruct everyday life and everyday language and ordinary names into the metaphors of the archaic mind.

As a technician, I try to find symmetries . . . balance in the selection of words arising from a name. The words that are there I have to use . . . they spell out something! I try to incorporate as many of the strong words as possible.

Any coherently organized lists of words may be read as a poem if one looks for sound!, . . instead of meaning, as spelled words upon a page.

For example the following sequence of poet's names and one dictionary word . . .

edward lear
nina serrano
randall jarrell
seasons

may be transposed as . ..

Add weird lair.
Nine o us ran out
Rained all year,
All seasons.


If your name is just "Rabbit" then we have a number of other words that can be spelled . . . 'bat' . . 'tab' . . . 'rabbi'.

A tit a tar
a rabbi at bar
a tit a tat
a rabbit at bat

This is fairly meaningless when you think about it. But if you read the two couplets above there is a sense of something happening, there is a sense, without knowing. That sound/sense is metaphor. Your mind goes into overdrive trying to resolve the words into an image. Remember Bob Dylan's statement (paraphrased), 'What sounds the same means the same.'

Briefly put poetic metaphor resolves parses all possibilities of sound or meaning without losing any of it. The ritualistic analogy is that tying one's shoes is as important as actually arriving at the bus station.
The performance of a ritual opens the door, makes cracks, that all manner of other content can flow into, yet never loses. Poetry is like a crystal, that broadcasts all possible meanings to all possible seers. Poetry is not always prosody, though there is no poetry without some kind organized discipline to the process of making it. Poetry derives power as a kind of ultimate software, ritualistically reprogramming our minds, into thinking a different way, with the power of sound. Poets are mathematicians of sound.

These studies led me into all kinds of other areas. The origins of the modern alphabet, is itself a mythology that is dense and complex and lasted for thousands of years. It was best dealt with by Robert Graves.

Each letter, was an attempt to comes to grip with the power of a sound. My programs for parsing names into letters that reflect how words are spelled, not pronounced, was by nature, crude.

Try and imagine language at a time when there were less letters . . . or words than there are now. A word had to be used in its metaphoric sense, rather than specific, to achieve power. Language, dreams and poems were all much closer to each other in those early days. The exercise of working with a reduced letter set and thus a smaller vocabulary opened the vessel to metaphor.

The character set makes the poem. With some you get words that you just have to deal with . . . like the word 'jealous' in a small vocabulary offered by this second muse's name. The looming concept of 'jealousy' embedded in her personal name has in fact forced her to deal with the yoga of jealousy at many points in her life. I try to write the poem that is there . . in the words.

Here is an example of a verse composed with only the letters A E S G H I J L N O:

Poem for Jenna Jones

Sing hello, Jenna Leigh Jones, sing hello
Jenna is shining, she goes along in shoes
She's sailing in a sign o' shells
in A E S G H I J L N O

She's an ageless Angel
Singing solo songs alone.
Long legs Jenna, giggling gal Jenna,
Jenna in glasses, Jenna in jeans.


Here's another recent one. I resorted to Whitman's convention of using 'Sing!', as an imperative - it seemed to be so important for her to begin singing the song of her life. I had a stanza in it that first played the three numbers that can be spelled as 'nine. . . one. . .one', but as in yoga that has to evolve to 'one . . nine . . . one' which has symmetry, and does not have violent connotations. 'The words are there already' I tell everyone . . how do you want me to arrange them?

So by dealing with 9 -1-1 as 1-9-1, work is actually being done. This removes obstacles in the subject. This is what shamans do when repeating the name of someone who is ill, over and over. Poetry heals.

"Joanna sings one song
 'n nine songs
 'n one song.
A E G H I  J L N O S U

She sees signs in shells.
In jealous soil.
So sing a song angel
Laugh in June
An eagle's angel laughs so soon.

Sing along angel
Nine Songs . . . laugh, sing
She sells sea shells . . .
Is English usage enough? No nouns!

So sing along angel, laugh along.
One jealous noise."


The words that may be formed with a person's name hold a giant set of possibilities for the bearer, and almost exert a gravitational field. Our names embrace possibilities, (not eventualities) for our own lives. They are the strongest predictors of our future. It is no coincidence that the name 'Clint Eastwood' may be re-arranged into the anagram 'Old West Action'. I realized that our literary and linguistic brain, so recently evolved in humans, was in fact an exhaustive code writing machine, capable of parsing any possibility out of any phrase.

By working a poem to reinforce the positive, and so strengthen the subject, the poet can allow each of us to pursue our 'birthright' which is in most people's case, embedded in their own birth name.

I'll use an example of a poem I wrote for my son, Arjun Brandreth Potter on his high school graduation day. Arjun is a naturalist, and has been obsessed with birds, plants, edible weeds, trees, and animals since the moment he was born. I don't mean he is merely interested, rather he is obsessed. He's familiar with Latin names for most of what he studies. Nature rules his life, and has become his whole work.

Well it was no surprise for me to find out the words that his name composed, once I'd built up a vocabulary that embraced most plant families, birds, mammals, etc. After all my wife and I had given him this name. As ardent lovers of nature, is this the future we planned for our son?


Arjun, eat trout or tuna
. . . . . Nuphar on a pond
Hunt, a toothed boar, and bear.
Run a horned deer  on a heath o’ ca’una
. . . . . prepare heather tea
. . . . . and trap hare
. . . . . haunt a tent taut and bare.
Tap a tree root . . .
Hear thunder roar.
Ponder tender Horehound or Anredera tuber beer
And juju aurora’ appeared.
Pot, Henbane, Anadenanthera, or Arundo root . . . a toad button ‘o rue.

Or a Hoopoe, an Oenanthe,
A Papuan parrot, or Phoebe, Roadrunner, or a Northern Tern
A heron, Brandt or not, Audubon reported.
Ate a pea, a pear a pepper, unpodded
Date, oat and banana, peanut butter, bread and butter heated.
Potato, beet, and rhubarb battered,
Ant prepared and treated.


I also learned that poetry can wield a negative power. An ancient Irish poet, once so inflamed by a rat that came to eat some of his dinner, killed it with a line that stopped its heart.

Poetry and shamanism descend from the same branch of Druidism. Outcasts, both Bard and Vate, held power which the rest of the tribe was wary of, yet needs for good reason.

The word 'vate' stems from the Gaulish vatis, etymologically descended from the Indo- European bha, 'to speak'. Thus a Vate was literally 'the speaker' in allusion to his ability to speak the will of the gods. In Ireland his equivalent was 'the faith', also known by the generic name filidh.

Usually the power is used for good, but not always. A curse was one such poem that held negative power, a violent clot of words that hurled a destructive force at the intended. The mythic Morgan le Fay was known for this. Spells and curses are the negative side of a poet's craft.

Poetry is window into the soul, into history, into the future, and into future existences unimagined by man.

Copyright 2007, 2010 Mark W. Potter, Jr.


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