RELENTLESS

mood: RELENTLESS. Click on poem to see bigger version.

Poem 1 = entire grid
Poem 2 = inner circle, central vision that’s left
Poem 3 = Blind Ring

Poem 1

Standing staring one day I tape a piece of white paper to the wall at eye level. I keep my right eye closed as I look with my left. Take a pencil and trace what I see: a rough sketch of an uneven loop thicker on one side. My ring scotoma. I test out different paper some empty some filled with words one containing a grid. I draw a ring on everything. I cut it out. Super impose it. Draft poems inside outside around it about decaying cones thinning retinas my moods as I gradually lose my central vision. Always working for better words better forms and better paths to other ways of seeing.

Poem 2

empty
words
a grid
on everything.

Poem 3

Twelve thousand years ago water from melting glaciers began to wear down limestone to form a gorge. Thirty years ago cone cells in my macula began to malfunction to form a scotoma. I am both limestone and water. As I dissolve my slow steady flow carves out a new geography.

Resources and Additional Thoughts

Relentless Poem 1 is partly the story of the creative process and how I found the form for these poems.

from log entry on august 25, 2020

Yesterday afternoon, I decided to try finding my blind spot again. This time I took a sheet of white paper and taped it on the wall, at eye level. I closed my left eye and stared into it for a minute or two with my right eye until a grayish circle with a white center appeared. I quickly traced it, then colored it in.

Original sketch of blind ring

I want to keep experimenting with this image–maybe make a concrete poem out of it or something? I haven’t figured it out yet…

from log entry on august 26, 2020

a block of text with a dark gray ring drawn over it
Ring Experiment

Not sure how to make this work yet. In the above experiment, I focused my eyes on the center of the page–the W I think–and then traced the blind spot I saw. I could try focusing on different spots. Should I create the blind spot tracing with every new experiment or create a template of my blind spot that I can easily place on different texts? Should the text be blacked out or just not there–an absence in white?

Scott suggested creating two poems out of it, one with the blind spot words removed–so a ring of white, and one with only the blind spot words. This makes me think of the amazing poems of Diana Khoi Nguyen in Of Ghost, especially Triptych.

from log entry on sept 4, 2020

Continue to work on my mood ring poems. The first one is Wonder. Here’s a draft with a quick, crude sketching in of my blind spot/ring. I haven’t figured out how I want it to be yet: white space where the ring is? Dark space? A ring superimposed?

a block of text with dark ring drawn over it
Ring Experiment
a block of text with mostly black letters and some, in the shape of a ring, in light gray
Ring Experiment

Do I want to try and rework it so that the center part is another poem? Is that too much? I like the challenge of it, but I don’t want it to be overly clever.

from log entry on sept 24, 2020

 have decided that each of these mood ring poems will be a block of text very similar in size and dimensions to the Amsler Grid, which is a grid you can use to check for macular degeneration. Each of the poems will have my blind ring on it in some way–lightly superimposed or darker, blocking the text, or maybe even creating an erasure poem. I’m still trying to figure it out. Here’s one possible version:

a block of text in black with a ring of lighter gray text and a few words in bold: "what I saw was real no longer"
Ring Experiment

Originally, I made the “ring” text even lighter but I’ve been thinking I might want to make the ring become more difficult to see around as the poems continue–so the text would get lighter and lighter?

The inspiration for the block of text is the Amsler Grid:

Amsler Grid

MORE ON THE EVOLUTION OF THE FORM

Dark ring cut out on white piece of paper: sometimes I placed this over printed-out text and sometimes I used static to stick it directly on my computer screen.
After I decided on a form of 3 poems in 1, I tried writing out the text by hand. I soon realized it was too uneven and that I needed a more formal/rigid/uniform shape in which to fit the text.

3 poems in 1 grid

Poem 3 centers on the Mississippi River Gorge and its creation.

from a log entry on nov 11, 2020

Working on another mood ring poem and thinking about repeated habits, the slow and gradual erosion of my central vision, the dissolving and/or reforming of the self in new ways, my persistence in finding better ways to make sense of and communicate my experiences, my unflagging desire to craft poetry out of how I try to be when I cannot see or when I see in new ways. I’ve decided the best word to describe this is relentless. I’m also thinking a compelling metaphor for it is the gorge and the slow (but not that slow, really) erosion of the limestone that created (and continues to create) it. Here’s some facts to remember and use:

12,000 years ago the falls were formed when glaciers melted. They were originally in St. Paul, but traveled upstream to downtown Minneapolis–traveling about 10 miles at a rate of 4 feet per year. 3,828 years ago the falls were near the railroad trestle. The falls stabilized/stopped moving in 1870. 

NPS and FMR

The gorge was formed from the turbulent water of Saint Anthony falls wearing away the lower soft layer of Saint Peter Sandstone and undercutting the layers of shale and limestone above. Top layers began to crumble and the falls retreated slowly upstream for 12,000 years to their current location in Minneapolis.

Friends of the Mississippi River Gorge

Even before I ran above the gorge and started spending thousands of miles beside it (almost 4000 since I began the log in jan of 2017), I have liked erosion as a guiding metaphor. In one of my first blog entries ever in May of 2009, I describe erosion as a metaphor for my version of troublemaking:

About 7 years ago I spent a month at my family’s farm in Upper Michigan with my mom. We went hiking a lot, exploring as many different trails as we could find. One day we decided to hike a trail to a waterfall. It was a hidden trail–hard to find and full of ticks. As we neared the end of the path, I noticed that there wasn’t one big stream that rushed over the rocks to create a waterfall, but a number of small streams. The water in the streams was moving fast and you could see how each little stream was eroding the ground that separated it from the others. As I studied the streams, I kept thinking about how they were slowly, patiently and persistently wearing away the ground. 

Years later as I developed my own theories about troublemaking (how it works, what it does), I was reminded of that image of the streams and the waterfall. Troublemaking can be intense and provocative. It can anger or alienate us. Troublemakers can challenge us in intense and violent ways. Their methods can be confrontational and immediate. But troublemakers can also be patient and persistent. They can dedicate themselves to always thinking, always challenging, always asking questions. Never stopping. And, through this persistent process, they can unsettle the ground that fixes us in limited understandings of the world.

Paying Attention to Troublemaking

I am both limestone and water. As I dissolve my slow steady flow carves out a new geography.

I like this idea or erosion as being both the destruction/breaking down of something and the construction/building/creating of something new. Water breaks down the limestone and in the process, creates a new landscape–a gorge, ravines, sandy beaches along the shore. This also works for my vision: as my retina thins and my cone cells erode, a new way of seeing is created. No sharp lines, but soft forms. No quick, instant flashes of recognition, but incoherent blobs that slowly take shape. No straight on, bold stares, but sideways glances. A way of seeing that relies more on other senses–hearing, touching, smelling.

This breaking down to create something new, reminds me of the first grad school class I took, way back in the fall of 1996: Critical Theory and Deconstruction. In that class, I learned about Derridean deconstruction. Deconstruction has two parts: 1. the critical interrogation of a concept, structure, norm, master narrative AND 2. the creation of something new out of it–reshaping it for a new purpose, reciting norms a little differently, opening up a space for a different way of seeing.

from a log entry on november 12, 2020

As I ran, I thought about my latest mood ring poem. Relentless. Some lines popped in my head: “I am not the river but the limestone…” and “I am not the limestone but the river” and “I am both the limestone and the river.” Thinking about how the relentlessness comes both from me as I try to make sense of my vision loss and write about it and from the erosion of cone cells as they continue to destroy my central vision.