Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 7- the dangling yarn)

Huginn and Muninn: a digital gothic (part 7- the dangling yarn)

Part 7: the dangling yarn. Playlist: [Playlist: Glitch Mob, A Dream Within a Dream]

tell the day we’re nowhere bound
by way of what was lost between
cross-threaded time like some machine
that eats its end to grow its tale;

with one last day to chase that sound
to gaze behind the weary night
to feel my wings like phantom sight
to fly to die to flash to sail;

tell the night we’re winding down
on one last shore a wreck to find;
tell the wind we’re lost behind
the warp the woof  the weft the veil

and breathed it in          and screamed it out
and burst apart             and still you cling
and so you rise             and now you sky
and sea                         and light

and turn and flap
and flick and fly
and cry and bite

and gasp

and twist and thrash with claws and beak
what prize is this, what drowning gift
I’ve hooked upon our sounding line
and rescued from the nick of death

or has it baited  us      to call us back
to arid dreams             themselves a sea
this bird as birdlike as our sailless hulk
was once upon a breeze          a ship

a young-old man with blazing hair
cradles the snarl of rope and flesh
fixes     in his fog-smoke eye
the two dark answers blinking back

a nearly drowned and naked bird
with ragged holes where wings should be?
what sorry work was made of thee
what crude and grim interpretation
of subtler songs as shift and slip

just as gruff voice                      and grizzled beard
mismatch his freckled young man’s face
itself at odds with the scar that winds
a white territory-border that divides
a blinded eye from one that sees

and stares and glares
and squints      and swears
and hears the poet’s
murdering gears!         authoress!

he barks

t’was you who nearly killed the bird
that made the breeze to blow
who stripped our sails and stopped the wind
who chewed off  wings and swallowed word
and snuffed the growing of the world

his words carry, bell-like           bending
round the mast

and aether-dragging
downward through the knotholed decks

a cry dopplering to groan          and all that’s massy

with his dropping pitch
yields up its phase

gone see-through          while
the things of sound and air
exchange their ghostly lightness

for a standing wave

which slaps and rolls into the lungs and hearts
of all the dreamers within reach

and rattles guts and tuning forks their bones

and draws us up                       up                                                                    to answer

by scruff, or snout, or belly
whether live or dead
dreamt or dreamer

both and neither

including me

dragged full-bodied
from the cubbyhole of never never mind
to feel the hot-nosed press against my legs
hooves and toes            callus-padded claws
trampling my feet

awash in the crowded waft
of badger mean

and mousy meek and
mutty cringe and
mantis strange               and all of equal brute and wit

until the woodwork sags beneath
a brindled crew of dark and light

all staring up into my face

all half-starved for
naught but an age of
phantom cat’s paws batting at
our stays          while we drift unmoored

the deep end of dream
that’s where I am

she thinks

she thinks
wait     wait

yes       the point of view has changed
the lines no longer yours
to weave and splice                                           .

no no   I’ve seen the spiders
spinning meaning as they go
I just report
I just   

read from left to right or up to down
cast  spells        borrow others’ works
steal the sun and claim to have invented light?

no  no
follow the dream
follow the birds that showed me the gate                   

                                                                                    birds. birds? there were two

one was blind and made of song

                                                                                    a black flame

            the other
she followed the lure

no        girl       no

called thought and memory from their fog
then let them fly apart

we would not be speaking now
if you hadn’t stolen through the wall

told time a new dream
unanchored death from his wreck

stripped thought of flight
and put the flame of memory out

hang no albatross around my neck!
how can I kill immortal birds?

these are merely words            and
I tell waking time by

looking where she points her hands
like any other mortal who keeps watch

                                    but in dream

                                    we are merely open sails
that catch        and      ride                                                     
and so reveal
her movement

                        which neither starts nor ends
but is with storm         with cloud                  

                                                with force                               


of salve or speed                                                                     in breeze or gale
in draft or squall                                                                     lingers or appears
punishes by tempest                or                                                         devastates

with endless calm                                 

or mutters dry leaves              in not-quite-words
then shrieks  in the eaves       

                                                                                                and you               eavesdrop

stories insist
as does sleep               hell, I’m dreaming now!

your voice is just another tale  demanding
listen!              translate!

botched. garbled

only partly heard         through shifting walls!

those muffled gifts
in astral language
so crystalline in the grasp of dream
common into mud in the grip of word

and what makes it back into the wake
must still survive a silent roar
electric thoughts connected
fingertip to fingertip               mind to mind
voices pass

                        through tables             walls               my bones
a pseudonoise that circumscribes

a maelstrom of sameness
one shrieking pitch      that equalizes
decapitation         hunger             sex       lost babies
I cannot find my bearings
in a wind that blows all pitches at once
from all directions                 

            my sail is ink
where I invent nothing  and sail nowhere
when anyone can tap
a glowing word on a screen
and transport to another world
awake              without a dream

dream is nothing
symbols in a book          at worst
a simple cipher for the little darknesses we fear
a puppet stage on which we practice dying
or at best

fly        escape             forget               become unreal
so tell me

how can I steal anything of value
from a lie

girl, girl when will you learn
there is no practice        only life

and dream is not escape or lie

have you ever tried to stay awake?
until delirium removes the sense

and dream invades                                                                  it is true            death is real

you will die

the only thing immortal is the tale
and tale is wind

you are             the sail              the bird
and word is all       the wind is

cast the nets!

he shouts
stumbling aft toward the hatch
to the watching crew he says 

find her!

and presses flat against the helm
as nose and tooth        dive madly in a ball of fur
through scupperholes into the bilge

or labor sloth-by-sloth into the yards
while one dog, overwhelmed
goes dervishing around the deck

the ship goes quiet      as all the rest
answer and depart to crawl and trawl
and home                    and scent and sense  and search

all but a hawk that lights upon the starboard rail
and a soft gray toad emerging from the binnacle

will you also help?

he asks
but the hawk has already plunged
into the greening waves

and the toad climbs skyward into secret crevices
that vein the air in silver fire

cradling the weightless bird
he locks his damaged eye on mine

you, poet…
come below

read part 8

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the sound of Svalbard, and the purpose of mystery

the sound of Svalbard, and the purpose of mystery

San Francisco
September 8, 2012
278 days until the Arctic Circle expedition

Svalbard. This is where the journey aboard the barquentine begins. To my English-centric poet’s ears, the name sounds like water running over ice. Like something silvery and fluid. It slides like headlights over a white wall, or like an otter buoyed by its playful nature. At the same time, it has teeth, this otter, and this word: Svalbard.

I find I can’t look down when I say “Svalbard.” It is a word inherently long-sighted, and makes me look up and outward.

All place-names have their inherent music: consider, for example, Snohomish, which sounds to my ears like walking through a bog, or slushy snow. Or what about Oropollo, which I heard someone say in the hallway the other day, and seems to be a surname and not a town. But Oropollo… it sounds like a rooster crowing through a beak full of honey, and doesn’t it translate roughly to something like “chicken of gold?”

And what about Affpuddle, Anton’s Gout, Barton in the Beans, Eccup, Droop and Fogo? Or Scragglethorpe, Scratchy Bottom, Vobster, or Titty Ho? All in Britain!  Britain wins. Except maybe for Toad Suck, Arkansas, which my family has attempted to find numerous times after seeing the sign on the Interstate for “Toad Suck Park.” I mean, who could not go there, given the opportunity?

So Svalbard… I wonder to the Norwegian ear, does it have the same soft ring, or does it fall on native ears the way, say “Duarte” or “Placentia” or “Fontana” falls on mine?

Mystery is all about what you don’t know. Mystery is all about how something sounds, or seems.. .not what it actually is.

Or maybe not. Maybe mystery grows… maybe it’s impossible to completely resolve certain states or experiences… places we can’t replicate, or predict, or dissect: like love, or hope, or epiphany. Or what about experiences we share but can’t possibly report back from or explain… like death, or the fashion sense of the 1970’s?

Is it really possible to know all there is of something? Absolutely and completely crawl inside it and solve it for zero? I don’t think so. I think the more we invent new ways to see, the more there will be. Think about telescopes: first our world was the center of the universe, with heaven hung like a chandelier above it, and a big pit underneath full of flames… now we are riding an expanding bubble full of whirling suns into a what or where without a name. There’s a mystery to wrap your head around.  Orthe invention of microscopes, which revealed smaller and smaller structures until they stop being matter and are just vibrating forces.. and even then we detect, behind that, the shadows of those forces. Or what about chess?

Is all this still about Svalbard? Yes. It’s about the music of names. It’s about naming mystery… about looking closer and deeper. Of adventuring. Of being happy, ecstatic at how the mystery of things keeps refilling itself to keep pace with our relentless curiosity. That’s the point, I think– or if not the point, it is the grand prize. Not to know, but to keep wanting to find out.

Svalbard… for now it is a name, and a chain of islands near the top of the world. On a map I can walk easily across the oceans with my eyes to it- a place that almost everything on Earth is south of. And soon, I’ll know a little more.

i dreamt i was a polar bear burrito

i dreamt i was a polar bear burrito

San Francisco
September 6, 2012
279 days until the Arctic Circle expedition

focal area of arctic ice meltI dreamt I was a polar bear burrito.

As in, I was seeing the world from the perspective of a polar bear. I was very  hungry and there was a delicious smell, a hot, living, promising smell. I followed the smell to a smallish, bluish lump, which I then ate. Then, as often happens in my dreams, I was both the bear and the bluish lump, which was in fact a person asleep in a sleeping bag, and i was that person. I was both the polar bear and me asleep in the sleeping bag, inside the bear. These are the impossible insights of dreams.

When I woke up, I started to think about polar bears. What is my polar bear gestalt?

There is the polar bear of the Coca Cola advertisements of the 1990’s, the affable, rotund cartoon swilling sugary liquid alongside cavorting penguins at an idyllic pole where it is always Christmas. The idealism is sickly-sweet and hard to take, and it’s difficult to forgive the basic geographical impossibility of penguins (Antarctic) being anywhere near polar bears (Arctic) except perhaps in a zoo. Or in dreams. Or in a fantasy where a natural predator has become a slothful, sentimental tool.

The next image that popped into my head was that of Iorek Byrnison.

He is one of the heroes of Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass trilogy. This is him in his battle gear. He’s both savage and kindhearted, and like most characters in books, he is not an actual polar bear, but a Polar Bear: a cipher constructed of fears and wishes. He’s indomitable strength, tempered by a human sense of honor and chivalry. He’s more powerful than pain, as he can’t not fight to the death. he’s a dream bear, and a story bear. He is how we bear (oh yes, pun intended) to deal with how merciless actual survival can be. That’s the beauty of characters in stories- they can force the world to be a place where things make sense, and where fairness and safety can be won, and even sustained.

With that alarming synchronicity that often accompanies dreams, I saw this article today on the BBC: Arctic ice melting at ‘amazing’ speed, scientists find

In it, the Director of the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) says:

“…we must adjust our understanding of the system and we must adjust our science and we must adjust our feelings for the nature around us.”

This is the moment where the dream and the day collide: if an animal, a real animal in danger of becoming extinct within the next 50 years is dreamt of as this:

but actually looks like this:

then it is time for the dream to change.

you can have a boat on your ship, but you can’t have a ship on your boat

you can have a boat on your ship, but you can’t have a ship on your boat

San Francisco
September 5, 2012
281 days until the Arctic Circle expedition

So yesterday I promised to help us all avoid future humiliation when hanging out with sailors: what to call his or her vessel, or more importantly, what not to call it.

So the first distinction: boat or ship? Though there is argument about the particulars, there seem to be two main determinants: size and range. Ships are larger: hence, you can carry a boat on your ship, but you can’t carry a ship on your boat, well, unless you have one of those ships in a bottle in your boat, but come on, this is very serious. Ships are bigger than boats, which is not a comment about power, I mean a tugboat can push/pull a cargo ship out of the harbor. This is not a size contest, ok? Sheesh. Which is where the second determinant comes in: range. Boats are designed to stay near land, while ships are built to cross oceans.

But of course it’s not that simple. Now add masts and sails, and you have a whole new world of ships, barques, barkentines, brigs, brigantines, and sloops, oh and yawls, ketches, schooners, cutters and snows, caravels and something called a freedom. When I first saw this chart, I thought,  “Hooray!” But I was also that kid who liked to spend saturday morning watching cartoons and memorizing cat and horse breeds from one of those encylopaedic books. So I fully understand that “Hooray!” is not going to be the typical response to this chart. So, because I like you and want you to continue on this journey with me, I’ve provided crib notes below.

In the realm of tall ships, the word “ship” is very specific. Did you study the very simple chart I gave you yesterday?  Here it is again:

How to tell what a tall ship is called in three simple steps:
1. Count the masts.
2. What types of sails is it rigged with? (Square*, fore-and-aft**, or both?***)
3. If it has both types of sails, how many masts are square-rigged?****

*square sails hang on yards that are perpendicular to the mast, and are rigged perpendicular to the keel of the vessel.
** fore-and-aft sails are triangular, and are rigged parallel to the keel of the vessel.
**the long, triangular sails (jibs) hung on the bow do not count, only sails on the masts.
****although sometimes, with a topsail schooner, just the upper part of the foremast is square-rigged.

Don’t give up! Ships are like the English language: there seem to be more complications and exceptions than rules. There is always that silent e that makes the vowels go long, but seriously the music of language and the music of ships is totally worth getting it wrong.

So because I am feeling confident enough to offer some very basic rules about naming tall ships, and because I’m about to be late for work, I’m gonna break it down:

Three (or more) masts

1. A true “ship” has three or more masts, and they are all square-rigged. (#1 above).

2. If it has three or more masts, all square-rigged, except the last mast is rigged fore-and aft, you have a barque/bark). (#2 above).

3. If it has three or more masts, but only the first mast is square rigged, and the rest are fore-and-aft, you have a barquentine (barkentine). This is what we’re sailing the Arctic Circle on! (#3 above).

Two masts:

1. If you have two masts, both square-rigged, you have a brig. (#4 above)

2. If you have two masts, and only the foremast is square-rigged, you have a brigantine. (#5 above)

3. If you have two or more masts, and all are fore-and-aft rigged, you have a schooner. (#7, 8, 9, 10 and more above.)

One mast:

1. If you have one mast that is square rigged, you have a disaster.

2. If you have one mast that is fore-and-aft rigged, you have a sloop. (#16 above).
I fully expect (and deserve) to now be schooled by you die-hard sailors out there.

every ship is a vessel, but not every vessel is a ship

every ship is a vessel, but not every vessel is a ship

San Francisco
September 3, 2012
282 days until the Arctic Circle expedition

Yesterday I got to thinking about the barkentine (alternately: barquentine) I will be sailing on during the arctic trip, and this got me thinking about seagoing vessels in general. People generally refer to anything with a hull as a boat, and anything larger than, say, a city bus, is a ship. To be honest, I used to call everything a boat or a ship myself, until an educational and humiliating moment two years ago at the San Francisco Maritime Library.

The maritime library is housed at Fort Mason, just west of the aquatic park, where you can check out the Balclutha if you’d like to see a fully-functional three-masted ship (yes, in this case, it really is a “ship” which I’ll explain later). The aquatic park also has a Junk, two or three paddle steamers, and and assortment of other restored vessels. The best part of all is that the office for the people who work out on the pier is made from an old tugboat cabin. Seriously. There are no depths to my jealousy about that.

Okay, so back to the whole ship versus boat thing. About five years ago now, I first discovered Ron Filion’s map of buried ships beneath San Francisco, and my life was changed forever. Many of the vessels on his map have incomplete identification, and I spotted an older version of this map that hangs on the wall of the Old Ship Saloon (Pacific @ Battery). Both maps are compiled from the verbal accounts of “old-timer 49ers” who were still alive and had personal memories of the names and locations where gold rush vessels had last been beached, moored, or broken up. Ironically, in the 1870s, San Francisco had largely already forgotten that it had once been compared to the Italian city of Venice, because a large part of it had been dominated by the scores of vessels left behind during the gold rush. Many of those hulks were “discovered” multiple times- Niantic, for example, whose bones lie beneath the southeast corner of the Transamerica building, has been stumbled upon at least three times (1872, 1907, and 1978) as cellars and sub-cellars and elevator shafts have all been dug in the area. But what interested me about Ron’s map was not the known vessels, but the unknowns. If over 600 had once crowded the wharves East of First Street, which was then underwater, and 250 or so had avoided the shipbreaking yard (near where the Hills Brothers building now stands), what were the names of those that were sunk in situ for landfill? For some reason, those unknown vessels haunted me. Everywhere I walked I thought of those almond shapes of the hulls sailing through the earth below, throwing back wakes of broken bottles and beetles and sand, and the refuse piles of 150 years ago.

I had the extremely ambitious idea that I would spend my weekends doing research at the maritime library, finding out the names of those lost ships. There was a log after all– every vessel that entered or exited the bay was accounted for by the harbormaster, so why would I be able to use those old maps, along with the ship’s lists, to put names to the missing? Grand schemes like this are common for me– when I was in sixth or seventh grade, I saw a show about the lost Titanic, and decided that if I spent enough time in the library searching the records, I’d be able to pinpoint where it might be found. I think that was the summer I also learned about the Bermuda Triangle, and read about the ghost ship, Mary Celeste— found cruising at full sail but with no crew. That summer all the world became full of mystery and lost treasure, and I’ve thankfully, never really recovered from that.

At any rate, I finally did show up at the maritime museum about two years ago when my research on San Francisco’s Gold Rush Fleet began in earnest, for the Armada of Golden Dreams, the audio tour I directed with Invisible City Audio Tours. I remember showing up on a sleepy weekend afternoon armed with sheaves of papers and lists of ships and asking one of the volunteer librarians for help. We got to talking for awhile about my project, and to his credit, he did not try to discourage me, but after about ten minutes of conversation he stopped me and said, “Look, I’m going to do you a favor and tell you something that no one else will tell you. No one will take you seriously if you keep calling everything a boat or a ship. The correct term is vessel. Every ship is a vessel, but not every vessel is a ship.”

And he handed me a chart with the silhouettes of sailing vessels on it.

types of sailing vessels“If you want to be taken seriously by anyone when you are talking about your project, and you don’t want to embarrass yourself, you better memorize this.”

Here’s the chart.

Tomorrow I’ll explain what it means. And just so you know that my tendency to spin yarns has a point, I’m going to come back around to where I began. The vessel I’ll we’ll be aboard in the arctic is a barkentine. I’ll show you in tomorrow’s post how to look at any sailing vessel and be able to tell what the proper name for it is, just in case you need to make a positive nautical impression anytime soon.

sail the arctic circle with me on a tall ship!!

sail the arctic circle with me on a tall ship!!

Sometimes dreams actually come true.

Today I am officially announcing that I will be sailing the arctic circle on an ice-class tall ship in Summer 2013 as part of an arts and science residency with The Arctic Circle.

The Arctic Circle is a unique, incubator program where artists, scientists, and environmental activists get together to work on individual projects and cross-pollinate ideas, all while sailing on a barkentine around the arctic circle in the International Territory of Svalbard.

Believe me, if this sounds like an ecstatic, wonderful dream to you, impossible, amazing, once-in-a-lifetime, I feel the same way! I keep waking up in the morning thinking… okay, I dreamt that this was going to happen, right? It’s not really true.  But it is!!

I will be taking part in the first summer expedition in July 2013, when it will be light 24-hours a day. For my project, I’ll be recording and documenting the experience, with a particular focus on the effect that the isolation, and the intensity of the arctic environment will have on the work of those on board. I will be journaling, writing poems, and collecting audio recordings of the ship, the sounds of the sea and ice, and talking with other participants about the impact of the voyage on their creative process.

My documentation of this voyage officially begins now, because though it may be months before I actually get on a plane to go, the expedition has already begun. Over the next few months, I will learn as much as I can about the region I’ll be entering, the arctic environment, the vessel we’ll be sailing on, and the history of arctic exploration, as well as delving into the tradition of the poetic journey. I’ll be documenting this process in the form of letters, a longstanding custom of maritime history.

Each day I’ll be writing you a letter about my research, my thoughts, or whatever new aspect of the voyage presents itself. It is my way of taking you with me. So please stop by and check out the new posts each day, and feel free to suggest ideas or ask questions. Come explore the arctic circle with me!

-LJ Moore
San Francisco
September 2, 2012

This Terrible Symmetry: a review of Helsinki, by Peter Richards

This Terrible Symmetry: a review of Helsinki, by Peter Richards

by Peter Richards

I rarely have a viscerally bad reaction to a book, but when it comes to connecting with a reader, I find it frustrating when surrealism is confused with, well, confusion. Other reviewers describe this book as containing an “exuberant grief,” but in my review this month in Gently Read Literature, I argue that there is a way to use surrealism in poetry to heighten and clarify awareness, particularly when writing out of grief -T.S. Eliot did it in The Wasteland– but Richards does not sustain it in Helsinki.

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