George Quasha: From 'Alternate Lingualities (preverbs),' with a note on 'Self-organized Criticality'

G. Quasha: Axial Drawing (Dakini Series), December 2015
G. Quasha: Axial Drawing (Dakini Series), December 2015

(Six from a series of thirty-four poems)

for Lissa Wolsak

1                                                                                              taller tales still to untell

My life or this dream may have matured to the point where I can say I eat earth.
Suddenly I see myself dancing alone never alone in a mirror reflectively still.
I woke in a sweat because I remembered I have no name.

Mind awakens by field, fireflies.
Eating earth is not eating dirt, the latter requiring more complex evolution.
We’re only foreplaying in the sensible.

Dragon eyes are her apertures and my port of entry.
No customs pertain.
Finding fire in the cold of her body I lit up.

Anima animates my animal awake to her human.
Reading certain texts you touch a mind you could never find.
I can say what is true so long as I do not believe it.

I’m still tracking the beings I know without knowing—especially not who.
The faith of the bowman is beyond belief.
The tall slender high-heeled tale goes like this dakini sounding of unknown origin. 

The target sucks in the arrow.
Effortless expression has got my number.
Veda: Eat pussy with fire until turning up swirl rouses the dragon.

No need to believe that—there’s no her and no me where she has us going.

2                                                                                                                                  spread

I’m revising my sense of beauty as we speak.
I write the line as if running out of ink.
It means the book means in flashes of the field, surrounded and self-erasing.

In the end nothing to rely on but a hunch.
The ego doesn’t die, it just fragments, pales, and multiplies.

It’s got craft if attachment releases without rejection of sensual texture.
You see it in deep cloud activity with your own eyes, not entirely yours.
My life or this dream may have matured to the point where I can say I drink dragons.

Running out of ink running out of my cave, all for love of cageless eggs and spread.
Order is performative.
It hits the spot.

The cloud is making offerings on my behalf which helps me across the bridge.
I can only say this due to the proto-allegorical tendencies of my life in footnotes.
Distraction is not knowing the speaking is going on without your apparent consent.

Duly noted and on foot as reflected by the page.
I get lost enough to let it show.
Notably: The greatest number of egos congregate where one has been annihilated.

This line of thinking accounts for my no count identity.
I grow less sure of one as a day ages.

20                                                                                                       gender dynamic

Poetry is language willing to get excited not knowing what it is.
In the divine moment the mirror looks the other way.

Only the things never thought can reach us at this distance.
Fixtures of body are depressions of form.
Mirror art is less and less reliable, only where spooked it reflects further.

The poem keeps turning away from itself to escape conditions.
Pronouns are drifting, feeling unwanted.

When I see myself clearly I’m the echo of my poems.
Contradictions come to light like moths.
Disappearing shadows guide my reading.

Body patterns depress.
Known beauty is parasitic.
Buddhas teach nothing.

It’s tomorrow all around the poem where I hides from aggression.
There’s discursive hope in confusing pronouns.

You answer my burning question and I cool down inside.
She answers, I heat, the attitude producing the question ignites.
Mystical union gives off interpronominal pulsation.

 22                                                                                                        story is a killer                    

Chi riding wind scatters till meeting water retains.
I write what I long to read that longs to be read and it lengthens, then cut.

No blow benign unless driven by winds of unaccountable awareness.
I take back all strikes against others and myself but note not all rush back home.
The same for the opposite but there is no opposite. It’s narration, how we get here.

The sky clouds, the line crowds: step by stop, word by world, repeat not, no spell.
Refuge narrates unless the breath draws up unaccountable awareness.

The book is watching. The page flicks askance. Rhetorical fractals. Deadly story.
Literary mind is never ready for its ditch.
Fencing distracts from vulnerability.

In an instant I am my poem.
What was I thinking before the train blew through… but the thought escapes me.
All the poems ever read are your own forever but who’s counting…

Your life work talking about itself talking about itself tracks itself when you let it.
It’s a diary of everything that never happened before its moment.
Instantly speaking its dialect of not ever before loses me but now I’m found, telling.

Follow the appetites.
A surface moving aright feels the surgent underpulse of verb acting up in flow.

Lingual eros tells the touch that takes itself back at the threshold.

23                                                                                                                    body at large           

The frog pond knows you’re listening.
The poem gets excited being read.
No one can prove any of this which qualifies it to be the subject of poetry.

Music spirals in the head, in the cells, in the room.
This is what we mean by touching.
You get what you can handle.                                

Listening to the same sound equals breathing the same air.
Getting so close you wonder how can anything contaminate the unlimited.
Listeners touch from inside to inside direct.

Self-celebratory mind is never ready for potholes.
When failure to find order times out the session reading mind crashes.
If only it had held on longer it could have bottomed out and burned with the poem.

The true subject of poetry is knitting, scale-invariant.
Concerto robust weave around chamber sensitive skin.
I keep hoping I’ll find the fit but it finds me first.

The theme fields are barely edible.
That had to be written lest she refuse me unaccountable awareness.
If I’ve said it once I’ve overspoken for a self-true body of work teaches itself.

Suddenly I’m watching squirrels with my whole body leaping through trees to tips.

25                                                                                                        seeing from behind

Language has better things to do than say what I mean.
Picking on pronouns may be a cheap trick vitalized by an unfolding nature of things.
We hold their feet to the fire and suffer the burn.

Successful communication is blood from a turnip-shaped stone.
Logics are that evolve on a curve. Consistency is not a core virtue.

Never enough language for everything trying to be said true to its singularity.
The past leaps up out of the present waving its signifying arms, futuristic.
I play a shell game with myself and always get it wrong.

Turbulence, lightning, my landscape’s minding.
I accuse the mirror which in turn accuses me.
Syntax ends up turning on itself midway.

Pick the shell phrase that conceals the Stone.
Wrong forever the thinking to find.
Purport and import dance through our discourse.

No god who lets you name him/her/them can be trusted.
I mirror her mirror before it sees me.
The third gender is the one engendering free.

They speak me from behind myself for whose sake is yet to come.

Preverbs and the Poetics of Self-Organized Criticality

A few months ago I had very interesting conversations with James Sherry in which we discussed the issues in his important piece on ecological thinking and poetry, “Against One Model,” where he raises what I consider to be a core issue today: “… can poetry enhance our correspondence with the non-human components of the biosphere, giving us a chance to adapt our culture to new conditions?” He stands against the idea of a “single model of human interaction with the biosphere,” and his approach resonates with the poetic principle I call axial in its avoidance of model-based solutions whenever possible, and for me that includes any binding single-concept approaches to poetic theory and practice. Axiality is a principle conceived as necessary free space for continuously rethinking anything at all — even wheel-reinvention. The appeal of applying external modes of thinking to poetics — like ecology, quantum physics, ethology, linguistics — functions both as source of alternative approaches to poetic principle and as inquiry into how poetics can help us rethink our relation to the world. Axiality encourages the view that these seemingly contrary orientations are not either/or — the poem or the world — but instead that poetry comprises a zone of oscillatory thinking — poem as working matrix of revisioning all manner of questions facing us. Accordingly I want to mention here my interest in considering a poetics of self-organized criticality regarding how a poetic process might become intelligent in its own right, and for me how ordering becomes articulate in relation to sustained trust in the self-organizing process.

In a recent dialogue with Thomas Fink about the four published books of preverbs I wrote that seventeen years ago preverbs started out as an accumulation of individually generated lines with no concept of discrete parts beyond collected bunches of non-linear lines with titles (a “poem” was over a hundred lines single-spaced and no breaks). That was true for about the first 5,000 lines. It evolved, like everything in preverbs, by something like self-organized criticality (SOC). That rather specialized physics term was introduced to me a few years ago by the Scottish nano-physicist James Gimzewski (UCLA), working with the artist Victoria Vesna, and it helped me understand how preverbs had evolved from the level of single line to poem to book. Frankly there were important gaps in my retrospective understanding of the uncertainty process which became somewhat clearer when I thought about it using the concept of SOC. Defined technically as “a property of (classes of) dynamical systems that have a critical point as an attractor,” it describes an approach to complexity in which a system with many units interacting locally has an unpredictable critical threshold for change globally. Studying the part will not predict the behavior of the whole. Examples include the weather, earthquakes, climate change, the global economy, and, recently, brain activity — now poetry. The base is the old but continuously refined idea of self-organization, describing overall order emerging out of local interactions, the smaller components of an initially disordered system, or chaos.

From the beginning preverbs have come mostly preformed and performative in the ear-mind. I write them in a notebook I carry with me everywhere, ever ready to write because I have about 30 seconds before they recede into the noesphere, back to the wild (perhaps to be picked up on by some other poet). The principle by which lines were and are selected for inclusion in a given poem underway I regard as dowsing — the pen as doodlebug or divining rod, so to speak, an indicative conduit. You could call it syntax witching. I gravitate toward this sort of metaphor of the unexplainable because the process is self-generating, not contrived or rationally focused or adapted for aesthetic effect. It’s a nodal event that comes with a body-sense aura, which over time one gets better at distinguishing from mental babble. A sharp incursion of the unknown attractor.