Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Poem/Essay: "After C (3): Tayloriana"

Soon June will be here, and so, in advance of its arrival and the freedom it'll bring, I'm posting one of my favorite pieces I've ever written, "After C (3): Tayloriana," from the manuscript with artist (and poet/critic) Chris Stackhouse: Seismosis. We initially collaborated on this project several summers ago, and we both think of it as ongoing. I have since written more little "essays," as I also call them, and not long ago, for a pending publication in the Indiana Review, Chris completed a new drawing. The text below appears in New American Writing (No. 21) and is currently online. (Seismosis itself appeared in a lovely, tiny, limited, letterpress edition from the Center for Book Arts in the fall of 2004, and we've been discussing a larger version with another potential publisher).

As for the poem itself, "drawing like flying open alone"--Cecil and Chris and Adrian and Mendi and Eric and Jerry and Tisa and Kevin and any number of other voices, conversations, dialogues, came into play here. Not academic, but involving "looking as some other thing." Another form of knowledge production, (critical) practice, abstract and phantasmal, but still you can, if you look at the sign hard enough, call "the depth extraordinary." A hopeful copy.


I have to find it again, an extreme music. Inspired by voicings: out, but I may lose it again. That I may live it, utterly beautiful in its rendering. The brink of composition, brink of the hand called looking. And open, drawing like flying open alone, broken without having to take me. Musically it was composition of a distant whiteness, where absence too was thrown, by concentration alone, but not in the listening. Drawing. A profound transitional, kaleidoscopic, where the axes of decay were really the depiction. Dark seisms really come to mind, the first death and the last one, each darker, these first, these powerful, arranged as a collection. Arranged, not solo. At that time I was collecting other pieces, hands, the electronic composed as an album. Looking as some other thing. But I may pick another break, piece the track. In concert. I've since thrown it. He called the depth extraordinary. A fearful copy.

Copyright © John Keene, 2004-2005.


  1. John, I love these poems I've seen from Seismosis and it's very flattering to think I'm involved in your practice. Will you say more about what you're drawing on here -- in terms of language and form? These poems do the same thing to me but I don't know *how*. I mean, maybe that's the magic and it's none of my business, but I'm really curious about what your process is.

  2. Mendi, I have to think about your great question; I did develop a process, which involved a particular series of techniques, of writing, viewing (Che's drawings), reading, revising, not looking (or in a different way, etc.), listening (the drawings, Cecil's music and other stuff Che was or wasn't listening to, prior texts [your e-mails or "H*nh" for example), silence, my inner radio, etc.), and then trying to get some of it down. And I would ask, how can I funk it some more. That's sort of how I started.

    A colleague who's a philosopher noted that there is an insistent *music,* or lyricism, and an underlying form that he thought pointed to Kant rather than Adorno--I guess he was attuned to this because I actually tried to evoke some stuff in a preface to a reading I did at the university--but the weird thing was I actually have a piece called "(Anti-)Kantian," but hadn't read any Kant around the time I wrote it, and the work aims to be anti-Kantian at a certain level, though at another, you could argue that abstract art is, by its very nature, Kantian (unless you proceed from the notion of a spiritual purpose in the imagery and language). But most people wouldn't buy that, at least nowadays. At any rate, serendipity plays a role too.

  3. Thankyou! And I am going to have to do a long intense interview with you to think more about this process stuff and funking more. When I read "Of M" I felt that I understood more about your process and could really read myself better, in effect, because I saw the rhythms and meanings and languages you (1) inserted and (2) unearthed in the language I had presented. Interestingly, it made me think more about my own process, the throw-away writing that comes out somewhat spontaneously when I'm writing a fast, though sometimes intense, email, and also about my desires as a writer. But it also made me really value about friendship (and ours in particular) that I could present myself in writing and understand myself differently/better in your read/remix. And so I have to admit that when I read your other pieces from the collection I read with this lens. I'm struck that I have that sense of new life being inserted (or funked) into something (language/phrase/narrative) that might exist somewhere without even knowing the source.

    And you know I LOVE that you have a piece called "(Anti-)Kantian" that you wrote before reading him! I want to think more about that and why it excites me in part because there is this kind of (potential) anxiety of influence in reading and then writing anti-X. And maybe I love it in part because now that you *have* read Kant and have a read on Kant and can maybe also READ Kant the title could just as easily be heard as Ante-Kantian as well.