Sunday, May 23, 2010

From the Notebooks (part of a long series)

I never know what to do with all the stuff that’s in my notebooks (half thoughts, abandoned ideas, etc) that I don’t use, so now and then I post them. That way I can say I’ve used them for something. I’ve been busy this year and haven’t gone back through them, so I have several piled up here by the computer. I’m calling it a summer project.

I keep reading things that remind me of things I want to read.

“To intend” and “to cease from.” Everything already splits in two.

Because appearance is, or might-as-well-be, something gets your attention is what occurs to us.

The best art is idiosyncratic. Can this be somehow embraced in the creative writing workshop?

But how to know if I’m in error? “To Not Be in Error” Is that the goal of the creative writing workshop? If so, that is a goal that can damage as much as it helps.

And words fell out.

All dyads are triadic when you look closely. Or, all dualistic economies fall to the third thing. Which exists as possibility.

What bothers me the most is when I find poetry that participates in mawkish overwriting and assumptions of propriety and behavior. It focuses on synthesis, when the best art participates in antithesis.

“Excellent art” and “the best art.” Such phrases leave one open to criticism, which is why so many people avoid the conversation. To our detriment.

At the base all examples are personal: I write almost exclusively through collage (as I’m doing now), but once it’s been set down, I’m not tied to the procedure and am quite happy to revise. I’m guessing that many poets and artists come by their material in similar ways—something appeals in some way either an event or a phrase or a process or strategy . . . but revision is a wildly divergent activity, and where we go radically divergent paths. For to revise one must contemplate a totality, while when composing one can just go on the feel of the thing, however one defines “thing.”

Is there nothing invariant in this sequence of variations?

The twin problems I’ve come across in workshops are this:

1. Composition is usually thought of as coming out of some experience the writer has had (autobiography), when there are numerous other places to start. Or numerous other ways to define “some experience the writer has had.”

2. Revision is thought of as moving toward error-free prose and content comprehensibility. In other words, it seems to me that revision in creative writing workshops is often seen no differently than in first-year composition classes.

We are taking up our position (in language) in a realm of things that never meet. Then further modifications take place.

On the other hand, some things are insignificant. Not all things are equal.

Structure changes over time so that it can continue to make reference to things in the world.

It’s not about expressing yourself. It’s never been about that. It’s about what your materials can do.

Art that is pretty and ugly at the same time. The best artists seem to understand this in some way, where lesser artists concentrate on the best word (use of color, etc) when it’s never been about that. “The best words in the best order” is a smokescreen.

One thing is made clear by structure: we can evade ourselves right into meaning something.

The subject is the object of its subjectivity.

“Things are as they are.” To say this is acknowledgement, not acceptance. But participating with things as they are will appear to change them as in participation you are adding yourself to things. You play this blue guitar.

One does not need to be saved from things. Things are one’s natural space.

I would be certain if I knew what that was.

Sensations of the world are not proof of the world.

The Big Issue of History

Does art travel toward immanence or transcendence? Either? Neither? Both / and?

One must forget something in order to have ideas. Because we’re all only partially.

Art says, “I am a now that keeps forgetting itself in order to remain.”

Is the role of creative writing workshops (or classes) to make people better poets? Or to make them better readers? Or are there goals, not a goal? I think neither of these are the goal, expressed that way, as that is just the visible residue of the real goal, which is to have people in a space participating with the artistic sensibility. I need a better phrase than that, as that doesn’t quite catch it. Looking at art as art producers is a different thing than having a class.

Philosophers go wrong through a lack of empathy.

Art can be said to be a study of misunderstanding.

If you fake something all your life, are you really faking?

All the art is already on file. What we see are copies done by monkeys using rubber knives while watching pornography.

And then it’s over and they also called it art.


At 5/23/2010 8:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like this one: "Art can be said to be a study of misunderstanding."

At 5/23/2010 9:07 AM, Blogger Paul Gibbons said...

Nice aphoristic blog entry. You might like reading Clouds of Magellan by Norman Dubie, if you haven't already. Provocative in some similar (and perhaps productive?) ways about poetry training.

At 5/23/2010 9:28 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hi Paul,

I have some Dubie, but not his prose. I'll look for it! There was a similar book (maybe?) by Roethke many years ago that I found interesting off and on, titled, I think, Straw for the Fire?

I'm currently reading a new book by an author (Evan Lavender-Smith) I'd not come across before, titled From Old Notebooks that's also similar, but his is more like Plotto.

At 5/24/2010 8:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

love the monkey thing.

seriously I want to use this whole post in my next workshop.


At 5/24/2010 9:00 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

There needs to be a monkey manifesto!

At 5/24/2010 9:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love this, John. As is, I'd call it an essay---it's all connected and again not, like letters of a word. And what of nonduality? Subject/Object is fascinating---lately I find myself tortured by Singular/Plural.


At 5/24/2010 9:02 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

NC: If you haven't gone back to it in a while, Oppen's "Of Being Numerous" does a very good job with the singular/plural.

At 6/20/2010 9:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Revision is thought of as moving toward error-free prose and content comprehensibility. In other words, it seems to me that revision in creative writing workshops is often seen no differently than in first-year composition classes."

I've noticed this, too. Any constructive ideas for an alternative? What are other methods/ways of revision?


At 6/20/2010 11:35 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


If I had the answer to that!

There are times, though, when it’s good to have a first-year composition attitude about writing (mostly for me that’s at the sentence level). But being aware of the tendency for creative writing classes to default into that might serve as an answer of sorts. Just keeping it in our minds so we can attempt to work against its largest pitfalls.


(There are so many ways to revise, though. There's a new book coming out this fall that looks excellent by Joshua Marie Wilkinson from Iowa on creative writing. I forget the title!)


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