Not a design flaw. A caution.

30 May

I’ve been reading David Finkel’s Thank You For Your Service, which deals with the reintegration of American soldiers after service in Iraq and Afghanistan. And so of course there’s a lot of attention paid to PTSD and traumatic brain injury and therapies meant to relieve the suffering caused by both. It sort of suits Finkel’s agenda (this is a book with an agenda, I think, as much as it is one of reporting) to show how this is kind of an insurmountable problem, that n0ne of the therapies quite do the job.

But it made me wonder, too, about what other message could be heard from these circumstances, these injuries, and how they go all the way back to the initial diagnoses of shell shock following the first world war:

To wit, that we have developed warfare to such a degree that no one, whether on the victorious or the losing side, can do it safely enough. That IEDs, and mustard gas, and just generally the level and degree of horror that soldiers face in modern warfare is more than the human brain can process. And maybe we should be more aware of that, and full back.

Instead, of course, we see it as a challenge– the idea that science (and medicine) will find a way to deal with this, and one thing we are not lacking is subjects to experiment on. (This is, sometimes, the problem with the progressive ideology of science– that there’s a solution, we just need to find it. A less scientist perspective might be, that’s a dead end; let’s not do that anymore.)

It makes me wonder, a little, if this is part of what drove the modernists to make the claim that we’d gone wrong someplace, that a progress that led to this was a progress that should be rejected. I mean, it’s hard now, a hundred years since the start of WW1, to step outside of everything that’s happened since, but it does make me at least feel a flutter of sympathy with those guys, with what they saw as horror and we see as one more problem, something that can be solved, so we can get back in there.



Ms. Marvel #3 and Islamic Art

23 May

I should say up front that I am really enjoying the new Ms. Marvel series, primarily created by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona. It’s a witty take on teen superheroes and, though most of the writing about the series deals with the Islamic angle (and I’m adding to this), I think it’s got a lot of other things going for it, too. For example, Kamala’s shapeshifting powers are visually really weird, in a way that shapeshifting hasn’t been since the earliest adventures of the Fantastic Four (I remember reading an issue of that book as a kid and being sure that Reed Richards must be the bad guy because of the way he looked squeezing through a hole where a screw had been). I didn’t read Flight, Wilson’s earlier book, but I really really like what she’s doing with this book. And I remember Alphona as the artist on Runaways, but I can’t remember ever being as impressed with his work as I am here. It’s really stand-out stuff and I hope he starts getting some recognition for the work. That said, I thought the third issue was the weakest one so far, and it also provided us with the page I want to look at in this post, which is, well, weird. Here it is, from protagonist Kamala’s trip to the Islamic Masjid of New Jersey (aka the mosque her family attends):

ms marvel mosque


To me, at least, this page is kind of a mess of crossed lines. The first panel, of Kamala and her friend sitting on prayer mats, should be setting us up for what’s to follow: notice the way the sides of the rugs align with the sight lines of the characters, leading directly to us, inviting is to view them straight on.

But see what happens in the next panel? The rugs have pivoted, so that now the rugs point right to left (an awkward movement, given that traditionally panels run from left to right, so our characters are blocking the forward action of the panel). Also, note how the dialogue (and characters) are aligned, so that we read Kamala’s dialogue first, though that means we read from bottom to top, again a break with convention. Finally, note the screen on the left third of the page. The screen divides the women from the men in the Masjid, though it kind of gets lost in all the other horizontal and vertical lines on the page– the edges of the rugs, essentially, swallow the screen’s form.

Skip down a panel, and what was, in the first two panels, a relatively up and down, left and right series of lines becomes diagonal. I think it might be clever that the Imam is talking to the girls who are physically behind him (and behind the screen), making the panel border between the second and third tier the screen, if it weren’t for the break from left-right to the diagonal lines of carpet. It’s a nice idea, but it’s too much for my eyes to handle.

(The last tier works fine, I think:)

So what’s happening here? Alphona is a very solid storyteller, in general, but this page is, to me, kind of a mess. But I think it’s a mess in an interesting way. No doubt Alphona is aware of the way that Islamic art, while not always condemning it, eschews representational art. In the place of portraits, Islamic (and especially Arabic expressions of it) art focus on patterns and calligraphy. And I think that’s what Alphona is trying to do here: while the eye is confused reading this panel sequentially, I do think the patterns in the panels are great, or are at least something different for a comics page. Notice the work he puts into the carpet borders, the way he stacks them in and spreads them around. It’s really nice work, and what I take as its conscious intention to honor Islamic traditions really goes a long way toward making this comic seem special, to earn its bona fides.

Even though I found this page hard to read, it really impressed me– it feels like Alphona is really trying to honor the culture he is depicting, in a sophisticated way. I’m not sure it totally works yet, but I definitely want to see him work more in this direction in the future.


Downtown Development

21 May
Student housing in process-- these developments are everywhere now.

Student housing in process– these developments are everywhere now.

Last night I was out with a friend and saw a weird new structure downtown. That’s no surprise, really– this is a college town and every five years or so it seems like the city reinvents itself. At this point, it feels like we’re at the peak, the crest of a wave of development in student housing. Old buildings are torn down and rebuilt as high rise complexes; other, older structures that have partisans with long memories are left standing, but subdivided to suit, upgraded with new features– showers, flat screens, whatever it is the kids want out of their residences. It’s all about student housing downtown, so much so that I hardly notice it at this point; I see a pile of dirt on an empty lot and think to myself, apartments for students.

This was different, though– catercorner to the wooden patio where my friend and I were sipping our beers was a structure that can’t be housing. It looks like a greenhouse, with that low wall, rounded sides, leading to a shallow peak. Only this one is massive– it must be, I don’t know, fifty feet high and maybe two hundred long, a massive growing shed. And stretched over that frame I described, a white skin of polyurethane or some other plastic shell. It’s the lack of any obvious doors or windows (and wouldn’t a greenhouse need some natural light, or at least something other than plastic as the sole membrane between it and the outside world?) that makes what goes on inside a mystery.

I’m sure we’ll hear soon enough, probably at another city council meeting. Knowing this town, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear its a marijuana grow operation on an industrial scale.

mystery structure

mystery structure (3)

Mystery structure. I tried to capture a sense of its scale. And a danger to whom?

Mystery structure. I tried to capture a sense of its scale. And a danger to whom?

*edited to include photos.

Why all this fuss about Ed Dorn?

19 May


Ed Dorn isn’t my favorite poet, not even my favorite poet of the Black Mountain crowd– I’d much rather read Robert Duncan with his lyric pauses, and even Charles Olson, with his incredible ambition outstripping his talent is more satisfying to work through. And anyhow, the Gunslinger poems bug the hell out of me.

But still, I really enjoy reading Dorn, especially this early stuff. There’s this sense you get of the man, of being not fully embodied in his work– at one minute, he feels more like an academic scribbling poems that are marginalia to his favorite works, and at others, he’s the acolyte to Olson, so enshadowed by the Boss-man that he thinks the best he can do is imitate. But in spite of all that, there are these flashes of brilliance– he can really knock it out of the park, sometimes, as he does in “Six Views from a Grocery,” for example.

And because he’s not always committed to a particular way of working, he’ll sometimes surprise you by finding a new vantage on things that Olson would be too stubborn to attempt, or that wouldn’t quite fit the music of Duncan’s lines. Dorn is a completely minor poet, but that just means that his gifts, when they are on full display, are hard to easily categorize.

Ed Dorn, “On the Debt My Mother Owed Sears Roebuck”

18 May

As promised, here’s the text of the most famous poem I can think of that isn’t easily found on the internet. Maybe I’ll get a cease and desist letter and find out why it’s so hard to find this poem…



Summer was dry, dry the garden
our beating hearts, on that farm, dry
with the rows of corn, the grasshoppers
came happily to strip, in hordes, the first
things I knew about locust was they came
dry under the foot like the breaking of
a mechanical bare heart with collapses
from an unkind an incessant word whispered
in the house of the major farmer
and the catalogue company,
from no fault of anyone
my father coming home tired
and grinning down the road, turning in
is the tank full? thinking of the horse
and my lazy arms thinking of the water
so far below the well platform.

On the debt my mother owed to sears roebuck
we brooded, she in the house, a little heavy
from too much corn meal, she
a little melancholy from the dust of the fields
in her eye, the only title she ever had to lands–
and man’s ways winged their way to her through the mail
saying so much per month
so many months, this is yours, take it
take it, take it, take it
and in the corncrib, like her lives in that house
the mouse nibbled away at the cob’s yellow grain
until six o’clock when her sorrows grew less
and my father came home

On the debt my mother owed sears roebuck?
I have nothing to say, it gave me clothes to
wear to school,
and my mother brooded
in the rooms of the house, the kitchen, waiting
for the men she knew, her husband, her son
from work, from school, from the air of locusts
and dust masking the hedges of fields she knew
in her eye as a vague land where she lived,
boundaries, whose tractors chugged pulling harrows
pulling disks, pulling great yields from the earth
pulse for the armies in two hemispheres, 1943
and she was part of that stay at home army to keep
things going, owing that debt.


The text comes from the Grey Fox edition of Dorn’s Selected Poems, pp. 25-6.

Ed Dorn, Collected Poems, Four Seasons edition, TOC Transcribed

18 May

To go along with my transcription of the table of contents of the other Dorn collection from the 70s, here’s the table of contents for the Four Seasons edition of his Collected Poems.


Collected Poems
Four Seasons, 1975



The Rick of Green Wood
The Hide of My Mother
Are They Dancing
The Air of June Sings
When the Fairies

The Sparrow Sky
3 Farm Poems
The Open Road
The Song (So light no one noticed)
The Top List
The Prisoner of Bellefonte (pa)
Like a Message on Sunday
Our Camp
The Argument Is
A Country Song
Prayers for the People of the World
And Thus
There Was a Change
If It Should Ever Come

The Deer’s Eye the Hunter’s Nose
Wagon Wheels
The Sea Corner, of the Eye
Trail Creek, Aug 11, the Reason of Higher Powers
Home on the Range, February, 1962
Time to Burn
On the Debt My Mother Owed Sears Roebuck
Death While Journeying
Ledyard: The Exhaustion of Sheer Distance
Los Mineros
In the Morning
The Land Below
Hawthorne, End of March, 1962
The Song Is Ended
In My Youth I Was a Tireless Dancer
The Pronouncement
A Too Hopefully Bold Measure
The Encounter
Time Blonde
Unlike Music
Oh Don’t Ask Why
A Fate of Unannounced Years
Hands Up

From Gloucester Out

Song: The Astronauts
The Problems of the Poem for My Daughter, Left Unsolved
A Letter, in the Meantime, Not to be Mailed, Tonight
Inauguration Poem
West of Moab
Idaho Out
Six Views from the Same Window of the Northside Grocery
Daffodil Song
Song (my wife is lovely)
Love Song (for Lucia)
Love Song (for Cathy)
A Vague Love
Another Vague Love
Song (Oh Gods of my disembarked soul this is sad)
A Wild, Blue Yonder
In the Shadow
Song (If the world)
Song (There is a blue sky)
The Explanation
Song (So we somewhat stagger together)
Song (Christ of the sparrows Help me)
Parlor Car Beer
Poem in Five Parts
Song (this afternoon was unholy, the sky)
Dark Ceiling
This March Afternoon
Song: Heat
Song: We Shall Refrain from Them
The Smug Never Silent Guns of the Enemy
Fort Hall Obituary: A Note
Morning Letter, March 19, 1963
Eugene Delacroix Says
Song: Venceremos
The Sense Comes Over Me, and The Waning Light of Man by the 1st National Bank
Song: Ritual Party in the Alley
A Luxurious Jungle in Which
Song: Europa
For the New Union Dead in Alabama

The World Cup Score of 1966

The North Atlantic Turbine
On the Nature of Communications, September 7, 1966
Wait by the Door Awhile Death, There Are Others
A Morning to Remember, or E Pluribus Unum
A Notation on the Evenings of November 17, 1966
An Idle Visitation
Song (Again, I am made the occurrence)
The Sundering U.P. Tracks

The Cosmology of Finding Your Place


The Kultchural Exhange
Heavy Acquisition
Easy’s Best
The Poet Lets His Tongue Hang Down
Executioner, Stay Thy Cold Blade
The Octopus Thinks with Its Arms
The History of Futures
The Stripping of the River

Index of Titles and First Lines


Still to come: a transcription of “The Debt My Mother Owed Seears Roebuck,” which is what started me on this stupid project. And after that, maybe a few reflections. If you’re good.


Ed Dorn, Selected Poems 1978, transcribed TOC

18 May

As much as I like the grottiness of the scans I made of the tables of contents, I think they might, on occasion, be kind of hard to read. They also aren’t ready searchable as text. So, I typed up the list of poems. Here’s the poems you’ll find in the Grey Wolf Selected Poems of 1978.


Edward Dorn, Selected Poems
Grey Fox, 1978


Preface by Robert Creeley

The rick of Green Wood
The Hide of My Mother
Are They Dancing?
The Air of June Sings
A Country Song
Prayers for the People of the World
There Was a Change
If It Should Ever Come
Home on the Range, February 1962
On the debt My Mother Owed Sears Roebuck
Wagon Wheels
Lose Mineros
In My Youth I Was a Tireless Dancer
For Gloucester Out
Idaho Out
Six Views from the Same Window of the Northside Grocery
Song (Christ of the sparrows Help me!)
The Smug Never Silent Guns of the Enemy
Song: Venceremos
For the New Union Dead in Alabama
Nine Songs
On the Nature of Communication, September 7, 1966
Wait by the Door Awhile Death, There Are Others
A Notation on the Evening of November 27, 1966
Executioner, Stay Thy Cold Blade
Song (Again, I am made the occurrence)
The Sundering U.P. Tracks
Think Octopus Thinks with its Arms
The History of Futures
The Stripping of the River
Dress for War
Nana & Victorio
Juh & Geronimo
Shifting an Interference with nature to a Scientific Obstruction
An Opinion on a Matter of Public Safety
Wet Cakes
The Sociology of Games
Del Mar
You’re Supposed to Move Your Head, Not Your Eyes
Palms, Victory, Triumph, Excellence

Index of First Lines and Titles

grey fox 001 grey fox 002