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About the "Muse Poems" and "Song of 81 Poems"

This page is meant to satisfy the curious as to the evolution of two groups of poems that you will see scattered about this blog. The first, the "81 Muse Poems", and the second group, currently a work in progress called the "Song of 81 Poems" have a common genesis.

Before reading this have a look at my page on "The Tracing Project", where I explain in detail how ritualized production of paintings evolved into poetic metaphor for me during the years 2005 to 2008. The paintings may be looked at as a chronological slide show here.

The Muse Poems were initially an experiment within the body of the painting project, but later became the thrust and continuation of that work.

Most of the time when I painted with a model we did not produce any poetry. My objective initially was a kind of codified dance, to learn what the relationship was between the postures we take, and our collective and individual mythos. I sensed as soon as I began this work that there were messages waiting to be uncovered, and later interpreted, but initially I saw them all in lines. Later I introduced color, even began painting with other substances, such as coffee, and began the ritualized painting of 'objects', rocks, stones, and everyday items.

It was upon a re-reading of Robert Graves' 'The White Goddess', that I began to understand the mythology contained in letters. Graves' letters were similarly rooted in Carl Jung's archetypes.

I embarked upon a series of lipograms, poems that employed a constrained set of letters, to see if the letters in a friend's name held the myths of that person's life. The results were astonishing. It seemed as if we live in order to spell what we can with our letters! The success of these poems strengthened my resolve in the tracing work, to find some automatic way to make poems that were neither the product of myself, or my model, but rather a concert, or play between three entities, the two of us and the third being whom I for lack of a better moniker, called the Muse.

We 'listened' for what she said in a fairly straightforward manner. The poetry was conditioned by the request to my model to "Listen for what you are being asked to do. If (she) were were talking to you, what would she say?"

We made the poems out of the fabric of this third voice. Frequently it is very critical, and much to the point as regarded my own relationship with my work partner. She is hypercritical, loves sex, (but hates sex without love), sees through falsity in an instant. In each and every poem there is at least one or two anecdotes which are applicable to the meeting which produced the work.

I stopped work, exhausted, and went to Germany for a tour of art galleries in 2008. While there I looked back and realized to my astonishment, that I had worked with exactly 81 different women. Some I had painted only once, others I had worked with dozens of times. 81 is a tantric number, a perfect square, and the basis for much tantric and Buddhist art. It is the perfect crucible for the organization of ritual.

My wife had reminded me of the ritual nature of my work shortly after it began. In fact she even supplied scholarly references for me to read on the topic. Fritz Stahl's 'Ritual without Meaning' and 'The Yogini Cult Sculptures' were all works which lead me further into a dissection of ritual tantra, as a way of seeing how my own work might be related.

Whatever I read, the work itself had its own momentum. It is impossible for an artist to do a thing if it does not feel right. The project never evolved through design, only through intuition. My scholarship followed behind, and often had me perplexed until a later break occurred in the work.

When I laid down my brush in the spring of 2008, I realized that a newer longer project had its genesis within what I had already accomplished. Poetry. 

The poetic works within the tracing project usually consumed an hour or more of composition and transposition onto the paper or canvas and usually occurred in the middle of the work. If A = painting, and B = Poetry then the sequence of work was usually ABA. This is a typical ritual structure, and possessed a symmetry. Rituals are symmetrical because that is how they are created and remembered. It is a journey that is then retraced. Ancient rituals often seem asymmetrical because the retraced steps become abbreviated over time.

Ritual is the basis of all learning. To speak we must learn first to open our mouths then close them. Make a sound, then cease. No direction that does not retrace, is sustainable. Ritual actions are a 'codex' for remembering, and preserving culture.

Initially and with some of the works, the poetry is short, and written across the face of the painting, sometimes at the beginning, or the end. But in the most highly evolved paintings later in the process the poetry is embedded in the middle. Poses leading up to and away from the poetry are highly structured. Pose sequences were memorized and repeated in reverse sequence after the poetry composition.

I've written in a number of other places about the mechanism of poetry composition. Let me first say here that the poetry was a difficult and demanding process. It was not possible for me to compose with every model that I worked with. Many helped me produce inspiring images, but on mention of poetry or composition the air in the room went dead. I listened. 

In all about half these first 81 models helped me in composing these works. Of the works listed below, they are co-authors in every way. My record keeping during this period was not perfect. Some of the poems survive only because I hastily recorded them on a scrap of paper, or photographed the cardboard before cleaning up after work. I never imagined that these works would evolve into a serious poetic voice.

While painting I dominated the stage, moving the ritual along, encouraging my model to imagine, ask questions, see answers. Their inspiration and intuition about word order influenced the outcome enormously. In every case it can be felt, and sensed. I never pushed my work companions to string words together in ways that left them feeling challenged, or behind. This can be seen particularly in Poem #1, Raw Raw Words, which is just what the first line of the work proposes, raw. However the work is highly sophisticated, and one where I played less of a role in composition than many of the other simply because my model was so confident of what she was doing. I've subsequently subjected the words in that work to aural, and linguistic analysis, and have discovered that embedded in that work lies a life history of my model herself. [I had asked her to tell me of her past, but she had not]. It is there in the poem. Did she know she was telling me as she composed these words? Not at all. The intermediary was the Muse that I speak of. 

The Muses of Ancient Greece were supposedly the 9 granddaughters of Zeus (Dios). Their grandmother, was the original Muse, and the Goddess of whom I speak now. She was the ancient Goddess of Europe, the most powerful of all deities, until she was usurped by Zeus and his metal-wielding pantheon of warriors, smiths. This Muse, Queen Mother of all Creation, was extremely powerful, and combined beneficence with cruelty, justice, Death, and Birth. She was all forces beyond the ken of mankind, in the form of a woman.

The Muse had red hair, could inspire terror, also creativity. She was the source of all creation. It is her voice that we struggled to 'hear' in these works. Her analogue in India was Kali, except Kali had the beneficent aspects stripped from her and given to Shiva, when male gods ascended the thrown, again, about the time of metals and organized agriculture.

My poetry muses / models for this project were the young women listed below. A number of them I worked with many times. When working we composed onto 'cardboards', laying the magnetic words out onto shirt cardboards. During a productive session often four or more 'cardboards' would be created. I realized that the natural break was at the end of the first or second cardboard. This explains why several poems were composed on the same date, and are embedded often, into the same painting.

When putting the poems into shape for publication on this blog a number of liberties were taken and are still being taken. They are much the same liberties taken by speakers learning a new language, or a child learning to speak, or an experienced speaker trying to repeat verbatim what he or she has already heard. Language changes and morphs over time.

Some of those liberties were:

a) tense could be changed at any time.
b) singular could become plural
c) a first person subjective pronoun could be introduced when absent
d) words could change into other words. I.e. 'be come' becomes 'become' or at a stretch 'bec ome or "back home." Remember language depends on being able to translate, and transliterate, and read. Communication always involves some degree of interpretation. By reading the chosen words rapidly the alliterative facility made new words.
e) words could morph on the basis of spelling. Imagine a speaker not knowing a word, but knowing it's spelling. 'concrete' can then morph into 'See on Crete . . '.

Outside of these rules, the word order in these poems is exactly that drawn (and reordered only within a line) by my models. I've made the sequence of those words the basis of my work in all these poems and in the second derivative of these works, "The Song of 81 Poems" which I'll explain in a moment.

When putting these poems into shape, always referring back to the original for fidelity of word order, I realized that I was nearing that magical number 81 once again.

I excluded a few of the poems, but substituted them with poems from works made since the first part of the project. "I am" written with Niki Rubin in 2010 as we prepared to paint and perform in a Manhattan club, was one such late work included in this early body of work. Niki and I had worked together many times during the early period and this piece I felt needed inclusion to mark our continuity into the present. 

As the work continues, albeit more slowly, I've decided to link more recent efforts in skeins, to works from the past. Poem 54-2 was one of two poems that composed during the painting performance Niki Rubin and I did together in New York. It was linked onto poem #54, both of which are part of the Muse Poems body, for no other reason than I was born in 1954. That poem's title is "Him", my co-author, Grace Fantechi, who claimed to have spent a number of years of her childhood, living near Alpha Centauri, after being taken aboard an alien spaceship.

Remember tantra is organized, but not rigid. A structure is decided upon, and adhered to, precisely so that it can be made flexible thereafter. The poems selected for this grouping were the ones that seemed logical. Other poems written using the same methods were excluded. All of the works however have their roots back into my studio work that occurred during 2006 and 2007.

Poem #44, Russian Poets II, and Russian Poets I, are work for a good friend, poet, and model Natasha Romanova. We shared a lot of poetry during that period. Our sessions were filled with conversations about poetry. She read her own works, beautifully, and I read back to her. I realized that the Muse Poems needed something about poetry, a stand-in poem, something standing for questions phrased to the ancient Oracle at Delphi. After all the work is a transcription of a conversation, but what of the questions posed to her, the Muse?

I realized it was essential to incorporate the masculine element into the work. I dug up a series my email correspondence with a Russian computer programmer who designed software for writing my lipograms. At one point we engaged in a short exchange about famous Russian Poets. I copied the vocabulary from those emails, sorted an alphabetized it using his software, and composed those alphabetized words, into a poem. That further deepened my access to the library of Mnemosyne, and all her content.

Why include a piece of experimental writing in a perfect square series of 81 poems? The number of 81 is of no significance other than a sentimental coincidence, my noticing I had worked with 81 different models before my first major break in activity. I could easily have excluded these from the sequence, and substituted others. After all the work produced more than 81 poems.

In the months before this work I had detailed dreams about Hermes, and in particular saw his name in my dream spelled "HerMuse" . . . He led me in one of the dreams to the grave of my father, which turned out to be a large canvas. The name for the God of guidance was always transformed at the end of the dream into something feminine. A short time after this I began hearing voices, women's voices, in places that were empty and deserted.

Here we come to the idea of Hermes. The Muse, whether she is Robert Graves' goddess of ancient Europe, or the classical grandmother to the nine Muses of the arts whose name was Mnemosyne, which means 'memory' . . . the Muse must be found! She must be located and brought offerings Not all are admitted access to her. So the guide Hermes comes into action. And here I refer not to just Hermes, but any of the mythical spirit guides, be he Quetzalcoatl, or Ganesha, or Raven.

So the series of Russian Poet poems are my thanks to Hermes, and my offering of Russian poets to the Muse herself. Natasha was the one Russian poetess who participated in the work.

The attribution to Muse Poem #30 is lost. I kept a record of the content, but lost my connection to whomever helped me write it. All I have is a photograph of the cardboards with words.

The act of composing and 'fitting' into perfect squares, (8x8=64, or 9x9=81) occurs within such a grid by accident. There seems to be a subconscious organization at work in every instance. Once the mind provides a structure for content, content fills it. The subconscious rushes to inhabit every nook and cranny, wherever it knows it can make a statement.

Knowing and believing this, it was only after I had finished editing all 81 Muse Poems that I simply linked together the first lines or words of each Muse Poem into a single work. This is "Tantra of 81 Titles of 81 Muse Poems". If you read it alongside the list of muse poems below you will see it is exactly the list of poem first lines/first words of each of the works, read in order. 

I 'ordered titles' once again, after my tantric tea-bowl experiment. 36 Tea-bowls (6x6=36) from the same firing, same origin, same birth, were given away, and a small couplet or quatrain was composed for each bowl. These couplets and quatrains were then linked together to form a single work "Tea Bowl Tantra". 

There is some manipulation in order to obtain a smooth reading of the 'resulting' poem, but not much. Making the works, putting them online, editing, etc. is too much work to be concerned with how the title (invariably the first 1-5 words of each work), lines up with the next. 

The result is essentially accidental, though now that I'm assigning slots for the second series, I do have some leeway as to where I put the works. But so far I haven't exercised that manipulative power. Why not? Because I just noticed it was there.

Such is tantra. Structure becomes a vessel for the subconscious to put content into. 

What dictated the order of the Muse Poems?

Nothing but happenstance, and the order in which I was inspired to work on them. Once the works were written the ordering was very haphazard. I initially tried to group them by model, and having assigned some percentage of the works a number I noticed right away that would be impossible.

I began filling up the slots!

Same thing with the 36 Tea-bowls. Order of creation is meaningless, especially with a blog-edited poem where the number of edits in order to present the work in the best way numbers in the hundreds.

Fidelity to the original cardboard ordering is paramount. The differences between what is here, and what was originally ordered, are slight. But the rules of transformation make that slight difference altogether transformative. Suddenly there is our voice.

The only order is that which seems to happen. It is into this amorphous void that the Muse intrudes herself at the last minute. Beating these works into publishable shape took time, with a lot of reading out loud to myself in times and places when no one else could hear.

Work has continued on the project, and I've begun filling in a second square, Series II. Dates are approximate, some of the later work from 2011 is included in Series I, and also a very few of the earlier pieces from 2006-7 are included in Series II.

Overlap is the way of Hermes. Structures are to be made porous.

  Muse Poems Series I:

   1  2   3   4  5   6   7   8   9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36
37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45
46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54
55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63
64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72
73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81

  Muse Poems Series II:  

   1  2   3   4  5   6   7   8   9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36
37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45
46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54
55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63
64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72
73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81

       Tantra of Poem Titles          Title of each Poem
       Song of So Many Poems    Collage of Lines from each Poem

1     Raw Raw Words                Jennifer Feliu, 12/13/06
2     Secure your last Thought   Danielle Dube, 5/9/06
2-2  Good Boy                          Niki Rubin, 2/15/11
3     Perform Observations        Alex McCord, 1/10/07
4     Over Me                           Tiana Hunter, 1/7/08
5     Start                                 Brooklyn Suicide,  5/18/06
6     I must see when                Layna Roberts, 6/2/06
7     As you and me                 Jennifer Hughes, 5/31/07
8     I am                                 Niki Rubin, 12/20/10
9     Understand                       Amber Parker, 1/5/07
9-2  Understand again               Brooklyn Suicide, 5/18/06
10   Fiery Film                         Rebecca Kilgore, 5/19/06
11   Picture Above                   Brooklyn Suicide, 7/27/06
12   Dust                                 Brooklyn Suicide, 7/27/06
13   The Other                         Niki Notarile, 5/30/07
14   Muscly Men                      Layna Roberts, 6/2/06
15   Offer her Unity                  Layna Roberts, 5/12/06
16   I could learn                      Layna Roberts, 5/12/06
17   Only                                 Alex McCord, 1/10/07
18   Bird of Black                    Tiana Hunter, 1/7/08
19   See I hold you yet             Layna Roberts, 7/5/06
20   Filmy aesthetic                 Pareena Lim, 7/8/06
21   She still has                     Layna Roberts, 7/17/06
22   Look                                Layna Roberts, 7/17/06
23   Hard Thin Language          Pareena Lin, 7/18/06
24   Question                          Layna Roberts, 7/5/06
25   He crept around . . .          Bianca Moscatelli, 10/3/07
26   Our Master                       Rainbow Girl, 11/30/10
27   Appear                             Ona V, 5/25/06
28   East                                 LB, 5/3/06
29   Find more Music               Jasmine Rituper, 6/8/07
30   Kiss me                           Co-Attribution lost, date unknown.
31   See Romance                  Jojo Monson, 9/6/06
32   Stop the Night Sky           Jojo Monson, 9/6/06
33   I See Sculptures              Jennifer Chicheportiche, 9/5/06
34   Draw Always                    Jennifer Chicheportiche, 10/11/06
35   Model                              Jennifer Feliu, 12/5/06
36   If Silhouette                     Ona V, 5/26/06
37   Don't Suffer                      Danielle Dube, 7/24/06
38   First Memory                    Kayla Jo Berley, 7/13/06
39   They Know                       Kayla Jo Berley, 7/13/06
40   Here Howls                       N_____ N____, 7/15/06
41   This Mare above Him        Jamie Matson, fragment, 10/18/06
41-2 Her Situation                    'Cake Knife', 6/8/11
42   Speak Out                        Jessica Crandall, 8/16/06
43   You and Her                     Brooklyn Suicide, 5/18/06
44   Russian Poets II               for Natasha Romanova, 2006
44-2 Russian Poets I                for Natasha Romanova, 2006
45   Let Her Use It                   Evgenia Radilova, 12/15/06
46   Smother us Black             M___ M___, Date unknown.
47   Always scratch . . .           Pareena Lim, 7/19/06
48   Somehow Forget              Ona V, 5/26/06
49   Improve                           Stephanie Landwehr, 8/30/06
50   Please Comfort                Tasha Lebron, 8/31/06
51   Joy                                 Jennifer Chicheportiche, 10/11/06
52   I never chose . . .             Sasha Magdelevich, 12/7/06
53   Breathe                            Eva Moll, 7/21/06
54   Him                                 Grace Fantechi, 11/13/07
54-2  The Way In                     Co-attribution lost, date unknown.
55   You won't cover all love    Tiana Hunter, 7/7/08
56   Young Headed                  Niki Notarile, 2/15/08
57   How Will You Go?            Niki Notarile, 3/6/08
58   Part II is Lost                   N_____ K_____, 6/26/06
59   Lead Her                          Eva Moll, 7/21/06
60   Seek                               M____ M____, Date unknown. 
60-2 Take Health                     Kerri Taylor, 3/1/12  
61   Such a Wild Chant           Tasha Lebron, 10/16/06
61-2  Every Monster Bird           Niki Rubin, 6/23/11
62   Many said . . .                  Audrey Ellis, 10/14/06
63   Art Crush, Twinkle Boy     N____ K____, 3/13/07  
64   Then                               Jennifer Feliu, 1/5/2007
65   All Motion                         Layna Roberts, 6/6/07
66   Patience, Know time         Leslie Garrison, 2/3/07
67   This Impulse                    Niki Notarile, 2/27/08
67-2  Puny Companion             Niki Rubin, 2/16/11
68   See that studio                 Rebecca Cousin, 5/23/06 
69   Follow the Language         N____ N____, 5/31/06
70   Sense a B'line Character   Layna Roberts, 7/20/06
71   If Time Could Think           N____ N____, 6/12/06   
72   Important Music               Joy Voelker, 2/7/07
73   Feel More                         N____ K____, 1/29/07
74   Muse                               Joy Voelker, 1/7/07
74-2 Make . . Other Commune   Natasha Romanova, 10/10/07
75   Make Cooking                   N____ N____, 6/18/06
76   Balance                           Jasmine Rituper, 6/8/07
77   Open that                         Jasmine Rituper, 6/8/07
78   Empower                         Niki Notarile, 2/2/08
78-2 Her Identity                      Brooklyn Suicide, 5/18/06
79   Come and Manipulate       M____ J____, 7/13/06
80   Carp Us Down                  Natasha Romanova, 10/10/07
81   Take this . . .                    Leslie Garrison, 2/3/07

What of the work, the process, the ritual itself.

It was a stage of sorts, the principal players, my model, and myself:

During the painting she usually laid down on the canvas, though for some of the works we danced literally, together, while holding the brush. We took frequent breaks, drank tea, played music. The poetry was composed at a corner of the workplace, the model usually sitting in a chair with the cardboards placed on her lap, and a supply of random words to draw from in a bucket to her left. During such episodes I would pace about muttering the words as she read them to me. After five or seven words were drawn we would put them into some kind of order, reading them aloud and hearing them together. So the meanings evolved. I then would load a brush with paint and record them onto the painting.

This scene was theatrical. At all times we felt there was an audience present though this was only occasionally true. What made it theatrical was not the two players, myself and my employee, but rather the presence of the Muse, whom we had invited to attend. 

How had we extended such an invitation? The painting process and all the steps that led up to it, were an invitation to this facility. In modern psychological terms by setting up a construct for content, we had already invited the Muse to be present. Layna Roberts will be coming today at 4. Incense burned. Tea concocted. Workspace made spotless. Colors mixed. She arrives. We drink tea, eat grapes. Work begins. She takes a sequence of poses. That sequence is ordered, and temporally symmetrical. Time for poetry.

At the time words were first drawn there was a charged atmosphere of 'content' in the room. Conversations had covered multiple subjects, yet the actions of the participants were remarkably free since they were preplanned, and predetermined. Ritual empties the mind. Therefor upon drawing random words it becomes apparent that they seem anything but random. They seem precomposed, or predetermined. The Gods are brought into the room through the removal of Logos.

The scene was more that of an ancient Oracle of Delphi, or the proscenium of a Greek stage, than a modern artists' studio where a model was being painted. Our attentions were pressed flat against our night, against the possibilities of dreams. Not one participant ever mocked this process or grew bored with it. Something was there. 

A continuation of this work necessitates a continuation of the ritual. But what IS the core ritual that brought us to this state. I have in a cumbersome way, tried to define it, but have not altogether succeeded. Many questions remain.

For instance what if a larger audience were brought to participate and witness the drama? 

What if some of the linguistic elements in transcribing the poetry were made more codified, and rule driven?

What if models were prepared for this interaction?

Some of the poems were remarkably short, and clumsy. Others were longer, highly evolved in syntax. Indeed there were days when obtaining 'language' was difficult. I've remarked to myself how the simplest of the works, with the clumsiest of word orderings, often contains the densest amount of meaning. For instance Jenn Feliu, was driven to work with the words she drew, even though it was only a few, and managed to condense into a few lines, what appears to be a unique personal history. Other models returned to particular themes again and again. 

And my themes, are ever present. Again and again I hear elders and loved ones berating me for my behavior, but also lauding me for restraint, and ability to investigate difficult subjects.

What if each poem were to be 'read' hypothetically by a single member of a chorus. Model 1 would read part of her Poem, then Model 2, etc. Once all the models had finished, reading only a line or a word of their poem a new poem would be woven. That I called a "Song of 81 Poems". And so I embarked on a project of weaving all 81 Muse Poems together to form a new body of 81 works. The shorter poems would be read more often because once finished that member of the chorus would simply start over. 

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