Cut-Ups Exercise – Communications from elsewhere

For this exercise, we were instructed to write a poem composed entirely of phrases listed from other sources. I looked through a variety of sources before deciding which I wanted to use. Further explanation of these choices can be found after the poem. There are several available engines that one can use to cut-up their work to reconfigure it. I did not use one, although I would be interested in seeing how (or if) it would change the syntax and interpretations of this work.

Communications from Elsewhere

Any number of discourses concerning the cultural paradigm of context may be found.
Thus, the subject is interpolated into a postcapitalist modernist theory that includes language as a totality and places contexts of dialectic and
Reaches consensuses of failure.
The cultural paradigm of context states that culture has intrinsic meaning.
Either reject dialectic sublimation
or
conclude that the purpose of the poet is deconstruction,
given that language is equal to culture.
However, if textual objectivism holds,
we have to choose between
Structuralist desituationism and the postdialectic paradigm of expression
A predominant concept is the concept of dialectic narrativity and consensuses of dialectic.
The realities of futility
In a sense, the subject is contextualised into a theory that includes narrativity as a whole.
It could be said that many dematerialisms
(concerning the difference between society and consciousness)
may be revealed.

I chose to use the Post-Modernist generator and generated a range of essays, and selected lines from each that I enjoyed. The PoMo generator randomly creates essays using intentionally convoluted language, mimicking and critiquing the sometimes nonsensical approach to academia that post-modern intellectualism uses. While the language makes sense on one level, and is for the most part grammatically correct, it has little to know real meaning. Instead, it plays with language and sound, rather than looking for direct meaning. The abstraction allows for the audience to interpret the poem more loosely, an also gives one the freedom to not apply any interpretation whatsoever – instead, focusing instead on the poetic expression.

Mad Girl’s Love Song – Tzara’s Hat

For this exercise, I used an engine on the Language is a Virus website to generate a poem. My professor describes the exercise as a cross between Tzara’s Hat (a cut-up poetry technique), and Mad Libs. I selected a variety of parts of speech, and put my verb choices into a variety of tenses, not realizing that the generator would also be changing tenses. Throughout the poem, you can see where different words have been given endings that make them into non-words. This poem follows the original structure of “Mad Girl’s Love Song”, a poem by Sylvia Plath.

dada manifesto on feeble love and bitter love

I stressed my Pariss and all the journal moutheds essay;
I muddied my awards and all is transformed again.
(I transfigured I floated you up inside my engraving.)

The predators go sippeding out in strained and peculiar,
And inconsistent forensic tumbleds in:
I spelt my loafers and all the photograph wass spirograph.

I writinged that you forgettinged me into bread
And scored me emerald, hatcheded me quite clean.
(I transfigured I floated you up inside my engraving.)

house fells from the Washington, lemon’s soaps consumed:
floured monopoly and laces’s formula:
I spelt my loafers and all the photograph wass spirograph.

I droppeded you’d slipped the way you spiced,
But I slept saccherine and I ran your agent.
(I transfigured I floated you up inside my engraving.)

I should have regretteded a xerox instead;
At least when queen of france lettereds they gilded back again.
I spelt my loafers and all the photograph wass spirograph.

(I transfigured I floated you up inside my engraving.)

The most interesting part of this generated poem was seeing its relationship with the original Plath poem. Mad Girl’s Love Song is something I have read before, and immediately remembered once I reread it. However, without being prompted by the citation on the Language is a Virus website, I wouldn’t have known to look for any source material. Only when contextualizing this poem within the original am I able to recognize the structure and flow. Without that knowledge base, this poem could be a wholly original composition – and I wondered if it mattered at all whether it was or not. This exercise made me reflect on the role of originality, the purpose of context in understanding a composition, and the value of individual perspective vis a vis objective truths.

Acrostic Chance – The Pillow Book

Sei Shonagon was a lady in the Japanese imperial court around the year 1000. Her book, “The Pillow Book”, captures her observations about life in the court, and her opinions on a great many aspects therein. Many of her entries are crafted as prose lists, and include her thoughts on a wide variety of subject matters. To give a taste for what some of her shorter entries were like, I have included several I found particularly amusing.

[49] Cats – Cats should be completely black except for the belly, which should be very white.

[140] Alarming looking things – Thorny acorn husks. A hairy yam that’s been baked. The prickly water lily. Water chestnuts. He sight of a man with a lot of hair, drying it after washing.

[262] Gathered Trousers – Dark Violet. Spring-shoot green. In summer, lavender. On very hot days, trousers in the lapis lazuli blue of summer insects give a sense of coolness.

Sei Shonagon was obviously someone who experienced a life of incredible luxury. Her thoughts are by no means indicative of the general experience of a Japanese person at that time. However, the incredible attention to detail has provided scholars extensive details about court life at the time, and paints for contemporary readers a vivid image of her lifestyle and surroundings.

This poem is an acrostic of the title “The Pillow Book”. Each letter was given a numerical value (A = 1, Z = 26) which would correspond to the page of the book. From the beginning of the page, I would look and see the first mention of a word with the same first letter, and would then copy starting from the word I had chosen until the end of the sentence. In instances when the letters were repeated (Such as L, or O) I looked for the next instance in which it was mentioned on the same page to prevent redundancy.

The Pillow Book

To the palace and taking part in festival processions.
How could he resist the forbidden urge to peep into a room – especially if there’s a woman in there?
Everyone bursts into delighted peals of laughter – though you can certainly see why the poor victim herself feels upset.

Proceed to fold a piece of white paper, and said to us, “Now I want each of you to write here the first ancient poem that springs to mind.”
Inkstone and some other objects through to me.
Laughed with relief, and sent for Ukon and told her the story.
Light rain begins to fall around daybreak on the ninth day of the ninth month, and there should be plenty of dew on the chrysanthemums, so that the cotton wadding that covers them is thoroughly wet, and it brings out the flowers’ scent that imbues it.
On display below the blinds that hung from the little half-panel shutters.
Which there should even be grand-children crawling about, yet the two parents are indulging n a “daytime nap”.

But also at the dark of the moon, it’s beautiful when fireflies are dancing everywhere in a mazy flight
Of the attendant’s feet as they arrived to deliver His Majesty’s meal.
On his way along the corridor, then returned to seat himself by the vase of blossoms once more.
Korechika languidly intoned the lines from the old poem “The months and years may pass/but let this remain unchanging/as Mount Mimuro….”

Overall, I find that this poem of The Pillow Book provides an interesting synthesis of the book as a whole. While it does not provide all of the context that would be necessary to understand Shonogan’s life, much of the beauty of her language still comes across. Furthermore, obvious cultural symbols and indicators are still preserved, through reference to His Majesty, and the inclusion of classical poetry. I personally still prefer the original text, but feel that I may have a greater appreciation for its form and content because of this exercise.

Phrase Collage – weird, bizarre symbols

To get these ~100 lines, I copied down quotations from a variety of sources. Many lines come from thing I have overheard over the past several days – a few things jotted down from lectures and seminars that I am in, as well as the snippets of conversations that I have caught when walking down the street. Correspondence between myself and friends have also made their way into these lines, from text messages that I have sent and received, emails and facebook messages and status updates. To diversify some of what I was using, I have also randomly selected tweets from the twitter account “horse ebooks” and a couple of lines from Twitch Plays Pokemon. Because this poem is long, please read it after the cut.

Continue reading

Sharing a meal with friends

Last week, I cooked dinner with friends at an apartment off campus. J. and G. met with me at my dorm, and we walked over together. I brought over lentils, a box of pasta, and a mix of vegetables. Bobby, whose apartment we visited, taught us how to make bread. In the second grade, my class used to bake loaves every week to bring down the street to the men’s rehabilitation mission, but I hadn’t done it since.

B. bakes bread frequently, and knows how to fold the dough into itself with ease. I didn’t quite have the style yet, but shaped it to the best of my ability. After the dough had risen again, we slapped it experimentally and cut the letter X into the tops of each ball with a large sharp knife and put it into the oven.

I cooked lentils and pasta over the stove, and we chopped our vegetables into rough chunks. I have never made lentils before. Truth be told, I can’t remember ever eating them before I went over to M.’s for brunch this January. (She lives in the same apartment as B., along the other side of the building and several floors above. She let me in through the fire escape door and we climbed in through her bedroom.) Once the bread was baked we mixed lentils and pasta shells together with the vegetables. L. had arrived by this time, and we sat down around the wooden kitchen table and shared our meal.

I really enjoyed it, and am glad that we spent the time together. It made me happy, and I hope that we do it again soon.

Lately, a lot of discussion on campus has had to do with mental health and wellness. I understand that it is an incredibly important topic to discuss, and am glad that it is getting the recognition that it needs. The culture at my university is frequently a stressful one – at an Ivy League institution, the competitive and pre-professionalism can sometimes make moments of relaxation and restfulness seem like wasted time. We have high expectations for grades, responsibilities to our organizations, and aspirations for summer internships and jobs. However, in our pursuits of prestige, I think we can very easily lose sight of purpose.

This isn’t to say that my peers (and myself included) aren’t purposeful. I have met some of the most driven and well planned people here at Penn, whose plans for the next several years surpass most things that I could imagine doing in a lifetime. To me, purpose has a lot to do with emotional and intellectual fulfillment, both in the present and for the future. I need reminders, sometimes, to seize opportunities for “wasted time”, to spend a few hours in a conversation with a friend instead of on another application for summer research funding.

One of my goals for the year was to be more mindful, and spend more time connecting with the people around me. Dinner was part of that. This weekend, spent on a trip to Washington, D.C., with friends, was part of that. Taking a few moments from my day to write this is part of that.

Plaything of the Poor – Notes on the Text

The following are notes on my translation of “Le Joujou du Pauvre”, a piece written by Charles Baudelaire. The translated poem can be found as “Plaything of the Poor – Le Joujou du Pauvre translation“, and the original French text can be found here.

Notes on the text:

The title, “Joujou du pauvre” is translated here as “Plaything of the Poor”. Joujou is a familiar term used for the word ‘toy’, and is a diminutive of the word jouet. The conscious choice on Baudelaire’s part to use infantilized language cannot easily be replicated in English, and much of the nuance of this choice is lost in translation.

“le polichinelle plat” is translated to “paper puppets”. The original use of polichinelle carries with it connotations of Pulcinella, a character trope in Italian puppetry . This puppet is typically garbed in white with a black mask, representing  life and death. The allusions to mortality presented by this puppet makes it an interesting choice to give to give in “homage” (translated literally) to the poor children. I do not know how recognizable this allusion would be to Baudelaire’s original audience, but felt that it detracted from the substance of the poem when interpreted by a modern audience.

“d’une autre pâte” is translated here as “crafted from something different”. To the best of my understanding, pâte is a word refers to dough one would use for baking. A literal translation of this line would then make the child “made of another kind of dough” than the other. I did not find the literal translation to possess the same facility with language as it did in the original French, and changed it accordingly. Still, I find it interesting that Baudelaire’s word choice played on this idea of children as confections, or something to be cooked.

“With teeth of an equal whiteness” is a line that has fascinated me for a while. Though I have never before attempted to translate this piece, I first encountered it several years ago as part of my high school French curriculum. I read this piece at the same time as we covered Hamlet, and this line struck me as something that spoke to pieces of the play. To me, the equal whiteness of teeth felt that it could be both commentary on the equalizing nature of death (in that these two boys were ultimately alike in basic human form, and that their differences in experiences would eventually be meaningless) and critique on the social inequalities present in Baudelaire’s own time period (a critique that can still easily extend to a modern era).

Plaything of the Poor – Le Joujou du Pauvre translation

Le Joujou du Pauvre is a piece written by French author Charles Baudelaire in his collection “Le Spleen de Paris”. I have translated it to English, although the original can be found in full (with commentary in French) here. Although I first did a literal translation, I provide here another edition that takes some stylistic liberties. These choices, which I describe more extensively in a separate post titled “Plaything of the Poor – Notes on the Text” were made to preserve some of the non-written components of this poem. (ex. the overall tone of the piece, the clarity and readability, etc.) If interested in the process of translation, I encourage you to take a look at it.

I will give you an idea for innocent entertainment. There are so few amusements that are without guilt!

When you leave in the morning with the intention to stroll through the large streets, fill your pockets with small inventions, — those paper puppets moved by a single thread, the anvil-beating blacksmiths, the rider and his horse whose tail is a whistle – and along the cabarets at the foot of the trees, give the toys in homage to the unknown children and poor that you encounter. You will be able to see their eyes widen immeasurably. At first, they will refuse to take it; they doubt their good luck. Then their hands will grip strongly at the gift, and they will flee from you like cats that take the morsels you have given them and eat far away, having learned to distrust man.

The whiteness of a lovely sun-beaten house appears from behind the gate of a large garden on a road. There, there is a beautiful and well-kempt child, dressed in coquettish country styled clothing.The luxury, recklessness, and the habitual spectacle of wealth, makes these children appear so lovely that one would think them crafted from something different than the children of mediocrity or poverty.

Lying on the grass beside him is a splendid plaything, looking as fresh as its master: varnished, gilded, and costumed in a purple dress covered in feathers and glass beads. But the child does not occupy himself with his preferred toy. Instead, here is what he watches :

On the other side of the gate, on the road between the nettles and the weeds, there is another child. An impartial eye would discover beauty in this dirty, spindly, and sooty child – using the eyes of a connoisseur to discover the ideal paints beneath the veneer of an outcast, and applying the repugnant patina of misery onto their canvas.

The two worlds of the large street and the mansion are separated between a symbolic barrier. The poor child gives the rich one his favorite toy, who avidly examines it like a rare and unknown object. However, this toy, that the slovenly child had irritated and agitated through shaking in its gated box, is a live rat. Undoubtedly, his parents thriftily captured the plaything themselves.

And the two children laugh beside one another as brothers, with teeth of an equal whiteness.

ICA Inspired Poem – You are a quinceanera

This is a poem inspired by a visit to the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia. I was moved by the atmosphere of the museum and compelled to write the following. We were to pick pieces from the current exhibition, and will be performing some of these poems beside the individual artworks. This poem was inspired by several portions of the ICA – the current Ruffneck Constructivists and ICA@50 exhibitions in particular.

You are a quinceanera

You are a quinceanera,
You dance between the lines and waves, scratch into your contours the feelings of movement,
A ballpoint boat on a ballpoint lake singing “help is on the way”.
So I can slip out of the dress that is made with a hundred million sequined beads
leave it to puddle in the middle of the floor. It holds onto the shape of my body
and I drown in it. But with scribbled secret notebooks, you come to my rescue
sketch a rope and throw it to me. I’ll feel the nib of your fountain pen clumsily make its way
after all this time. An archaic type of searching and retrieving.
I want to drag you out. I want to dance with you slowly to a fast paced song.
You are a quinceanera, you are a festival, you are out of control.
Party games have taken a turn for the stranger, and the strangers in the room mimic familiarity.
Besides all of this, dabbling in the occult always made me feel reckless.
But when my Ouija board is made of hands, and everyone and everything is pointing fingers in the wrong directions,
I can’t for the life of me understand what the purpose is, or why I’m missing it.
But there are open freeways and invitations for driving
And behind the wheel of a car, the journey always struck me as beautiful
Except for the time that I was driving to the dentist
and a woman rushed through a red light when I had the right of way
and the cars careening collided colluded
(with far less broken glass than I could have ever imagined)
and I called my father and told him everything.

Stream of consciousness writings

These three poems were written over the past week.  The experiment was to write down everything that comes through your head while you are thinking about writing this poem, and then to copy it as exactly as possible without self-censoring or editing later on. Taking the three pieces together, it’s an interesting way for me to look at the past week. These poems capture moments where I was sitting at Philo, when I was taking notes in a Sociological Research Methods course, and when I went home for dinner over the weekend.

Typically, in my writing, I like to edit and rework pieces several times so that I can feel like I have used the most exact and precise language. Outside of this experimental writing course, I am also in an advanced fiction writing seminar. That course is one that highly values the very conscious efforts made to edit and pare down drafts to get the best work possible, so having an exercise that thinks that the first draft is the best draft is a very different approach to writing.

1.
Write a poem where you don’t edit anything out
Where everything that is there is there to stay
And we transcribe our thoughts of the process because the process is interesting and the keys are moving and the sound in the ceiling keeps a metronome that we structure our lives around and we can’t find where it’s coming from or going to but we want it to stop –
Augustus is in the chair next to me, his yellow laced sneakers on the table and the black pants that he likes so much on his tall legs as he laughs about something that I can’t hear
Jack Kerouac says not to use periods but that’s a stylistic choice I don’t agree with. Whenever I write in chats and text messages, I make sure to use them bountifully. There’s a remarkable sense of finality to the messages when they come in short bursts like telegraphs or telegrams or telekinesis through the static hum.
The truth is, I’ve never read much by Kerouac. Back when I used to commonplace (taking down the small finite details of words and reading, scribbling into a marble covered notebook my favorite quotations, as if rote memorization of these shards of literature would be enough to pepper my speech with eloquence. [and, truth be told, it worked. At least, to some small degree.]) I included a line or two that talked about scribbled secret notebooks, for your own joy, and I liked that. Because these are secret scribbles, the kind that you trace across someone’s shoulder blades at nighttime like they’re fragile (they, being the words, but maybe also the person) or that you store in a jewelry box when you are a child, only to find and release years and years later.
I used to store my memories that way in boxes. I never wanted anything to expire, so I’d put them piece by piece into boxes with layers of tissue paper to keep them delicate and would exhume them regularly enough to feel and touch and want
And I got your email
So we’ll talk about it eventually if I layer it carefully enough and put it into the right earmarked folder
But no promises because my digital persona is just as hectic as my flesh and bone body and maybe even a little bit more reckless. But come to think of it, much less reckless, because I can still feel the ways that my fingers move and I can never figure exactly how or why that happens.

2.
In the absence of this storm, the storm is not the only thing that would be multiple causes of branches
The storm was not a necessary cause – things fall apart for a bunch of different reasons.
It was neither a sufficient or necessary cause, but a cause nevertheless, and we call it a precipitating cause (precipitation cause, cause cause cause)
The social world is much more complicated. Happiness has many factors and causes and when we figure out everything that contributes we will learn the deterministic relationships and bottle them up and sell them. In the absence of X you will not have Y, our tagline as a product, marketed as “Deterministic Happiness”, recommended by sociologists.
I wonder if having more happiness would cure my tonsils – they are walnuts at the back of my throat, I wonder how they are doing, I think about tea and granola bars and the Nyquil that I have been drinking from a plastic measuring cup, drink it like a shot of espresso and wait for it to hit me with the opposite clarity of caffeine.
Happier people are more attractive people, time ordering should be a criterion of a causal relationship.

There’s always ambiguity.

3.
My cousin’s car was stuck in the driveway and so my brother and I ran to the train station together so that we wouldn’t miss the regional rail – he had class in the morning, I had no pressing desire to get back to my dorm but kept pace a few steps behind him all the same as if I had the same urgency.
When we were standing on the platform – he was under the overhang, but I was worried that the trains wouldn’t see us, so I stood out where the snow was falling into my hair and speckling my black peacoat with damp.
James says, I forgot what it is like to be quiet.
And I think, with all of the snow and all of the softness, I forgot about some of it too. And we stand and appreciate the sound of very little happening at all, until the electric grind of the train can be heard but not seen, until it can be seen and heard, and seen and heard and felt as it throws snow onto us when it stops, and then the moment is over.

Gong Hay Fat Choy! Thoughts on Lunar New Year.

red and gold fireworks

The house is cleaned thoroughly before the Lunar New Year to sweep out bad luck, but not on New Year’s Day, for fear of cleaning out the good luck in store for the coming year. It’s apparently a traditional practice, or so I hear from the internet. My family didn’t adhere to a lot of these traditions growing up. In a multicultural household, it’s hard to keep track of all of the things you’re supposed to do, or the days that you’re supposed to do them on.

Still, I find comfort in traditions. Although the ways that we perform them may be different, and although my interpretations of their meanings may not be universally shared, it is something that I grew up around and appreciate. This year, as a sophomore, I am living in a dorm with a full kitchen. While it has a pitiful amount of counter space on which to work, I have enjoyed being able to get off of the dining plan and cook my own meals. I decided that I wanted to celebrate lunar new year by cooking dinner with my older brother. My mother sent me her recipe for wonton filling a few weeks ago, following a conversation that we had over the phone.

Although I could likely approximate many of the ingredients at the grocery stores around Penn, I made a trip out to Chinatown to purchase most of the things that I needed. As a note, I can’t read Chinese, and the small amount that I can say always tends to comes out convoluted and incorrect. (My garbled American tongue doesn’t know the accents it ought to use, and fails to replicate the proper tones.) Still, grocery shopping in Asian stores has a sense of familiarity with it. I spent enough time shopping with my mother in the Chinese grocery store to recognize labels and packaging, to know what brands we always liked and disliked.

I cleaned my apartment – washing and folding laundry, sweeping the floors. Although I know that these are behaviors that we should ingrain in our day to day lives, I sometimes fail to pay sufficient attention to the small tasks associated with cleaning and washing. One of the things that I know I need to work on in the coming year is mindfulness, and working on being present. Appreciating

I prepared food – pulling out bottles of sesame oil and soy sauce from my pantry, and oyster sauce and green onions from the refrigerator. I try to cook Chinese food whenever I can, but as a college student with time constraints, heavily involved meals don’t tend to happen too frequently. My dinner crowd increased from just myself and my brother to my three roommates. And, overall, it was really nice. I made wonton soup and a rice noodle dish, and enjoyed both the processes of cooking and sharing. We got to talk, and to listen.

It certainly isn’t tradition in its strictest sense – I don’t think that my ancestors had originally pictured that the new year would be ushered in by a mix of students in a crowded living room, looking out over the skyline. Still, I can’t imagine having it any other way, and feel that the purpose of the festivities (a celebration of togetherness, and remembrance) is one that has been maintained. I’m glad to have spent the day and night with friends and family, and am looking forward to continuing it throughout the rest of the year. Tonight, I’ll be cooking a second time for a dinner with friends in a student group I am part of. I mixed more wonton filling, and have hard boiled eggs sitting in my fridge to turn into tea eggs. Some more friends are coming over to help me prepare the meal, and walk it over to the halls together. It’s certainly starting my new year off right.

Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy Year of the Horse! Wishing you and those you love a happy and rewarding year ahead of you.

Mid-Autumn lion dance