preverbs [2011]

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a preverb

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is a one-line intentional act of language that invites configurative reading

to become a singular event of meaning

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My conception of preverb derives originally from William Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell” (The Marriage of Heaven and Hell [1790]) in which the traditional wisdom proverb (as in the Biblical Proverbs) is turned on its head, as it were, in the interest of breaking convention and reinventing “wisdom” as a non-dogmatic state of visionary perception; it subverts mind-control by originary verbal acts that bring one to one’s senses. (E.g., “If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise” or “No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.”)  Preverbs project a state of language awareness previous to wisdom while honoring the wisdom impulse—the wish to state enduring truth. Accordingly a preverb embodies, say, an insight, stating it in alignment with a principle of variable sense and requiring engaged attention in discriminating meaning. This describes an axial principle in language, implying that meaning issues from choice and is impermanent.

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Proverbs traditionally are memorable and subject to frequent repetition; preverbs are resistant to memorization and repetition and attract further thinking. (Blake celebrated the Daughters of Inspiration over the Daughters of Memory.)

see also: wall preverbs

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Verbal Paradise (preverbs)

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This is the first public reading of Verbal Paradise (preverbs), which is itself the first of a projected six books of preverbs, just published by Zasterle Press (La Laguna, Spain: 2011), under the editorship of Manuel Brito.

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The reading took place in Kingston, New York on February 12th, 2011 in the Cadmium Text Series curated by Anne Gorrick at R&F Paint, who introduces the reading. It engaged the first and last poem-complexes as indicated in bold in the book’s table of contents below:

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pre play

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this is not what you think

my past’s different from what used to be

verbal paradise is not a turn away

defining gesture

bottling up

response request

holding you at a distance

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pre, a coda

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Available from SPD

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a note on preverbs and axial poetics

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[The following statement is an updated version of a note on axial poetics, with specific reference to preverbs, which was first written in an email to Jerome Rothenberg. The occasion was his offer to post preverbs on his blog Poems and Poetics, which in fact he did on April 1, 2010, including the preverb-complex Things Done for Themselves. My statement here offers one kind of frame of the long-developing work I call preverbs; yet I recognize that a great deal more needs to be said. Rothenberg's blog is certainly one of the powerful streams of poetic manifestation, and I owe him a multilevel debt of gratitude for his support and for the occasion of writing this statement.]

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~~~ In the last year or so I’ve concentrated on bringing the preverbs to a perhaps final stage, long in coming. And the over 4000 original lines have been not only pruned and often reconceived, reconfigured at every level, and continuously added to, but further “complexed” in what in fact I think of as preverb-complexes (or, simply, poem-complexes). There are at this moment 32 realized, ranging from 14 to around 300 lines each, and a number of others still in process. (At other times I’ve called them “configurations” and “constellations.”) This honors a specific principle of axial organization, which I have literally had to learn over and over again how to engage, and has taken me over 12 years to bring to full articulation. They are “fields,” perhaps deeply in Olson’s sense but decidedly not projective—except that a line, the defining preverbial unit, may well be considered a discrete micro-projective event. But it’s axial, which means that the projective force, beyond the line (or syntactic unit), is not forward but radial, and of course highly variable in reading—a processual ambi-valence. (I retain Olson’s sense of field as high-energy construct, but not his sense of a primarily forward-projective dynamic in how it appears to originate or function; yet, indeed, even his compositions were often configured in an atemporal or spatial field dynamic, sometimes as collagist assemblings or, I suppose, as sort of pre-word-processing hypertexts.) Any given “close” reading is a singular event. There is no “same poem” to read twice—and obviously I know that’s a play on the Heraclitian, but with a preverbial further twist: you can’t step in the same river once. ~~

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So, this is a first-level take on axial poetics, which is itself a principle-based poetics with a focus of poetics of the singular. And it’s consciously non-literary, where this distinction begins with the view that the poetic is (ontologically as well as historically) prior to the literary. The absence of such a distinction may have caused some to consider me as no longer writing poetry at all. I don’t agree, of course, despite the fact that in a provocative mood I might have said things that sound like “this is not poetry.” (I’ve long appreciated Antin’s stance, and for me in a different way the poem comes in under the radar of the “poetic.”) Poetry, in my mind, is intrinsically axial, as “verse” is “turning,” a revving of intensity in verbal transformation by way of variability. And variability is itself variable in that it happens at varying (non-consistent and non-separate) levels: semantic, syntactic, tonal, rhythmic, narratological, rhetorical, etc. There is no consistency of method and no commitment to ideas of “style.” (Takes more energy to read but is accordingly the more intense.) [NB: an early attempt at exploring an axial poetics is available online at Exquisite Corpse and Beehive]


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The unit in the preverbs is the line (open-middle syntactics), modeled originally on “The Proverbs of Hell,” but in the end there’s no model, which of course makes it all the more “Blakean” (model as something to parody or transform). (My original title, “The Preverbs of Tell: News Torqued from Undertime,” is no longer foregrounded, and I’ve settled on “Preverbs.”] I’m seeking a balance between the independence of preverbs/lines and a clustering force with forward flow. Each line is a small field of axial possibility; that is, there’s a hidden axis that is the structural site of variability. This relates to my work in sculpture, drawing, and video, most obviously the axial stones, where the axis of balance between two stones is not apparent at a glance. [I develop this notion in Axial Stones: An Art of Precarious Balance, Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 2006]. (And it relates to the practice of axial drawing in which two hands draw simultaneously from an axis at once in the center of the body and resonantly on the surface of the paper; and axial video, Axiality in this context may seem to be a function in the exercise of precarious balancing of possible meanings or stones—or lines, either graphic or lexical. On the principle that like attracts like, the preverb-complexes form over time, discovering their components by attraction. (Stones, like words and ideas, come into relationship, after first attracting me, by being brought to reside on my property, and in time they call me to work them to a refined state together; to do this I must be sensitive to their attractions and their “will” to conjoin, always somewhere beyond my understanding.) This includes a “poetics of service”; how we serve by listening, and how this heightens the sense of singular life. (I probably owe this to Cage, to some degree.)

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A “how to read the preverbs” would be mostly a how not to read—how not to hold them to what they are not willing to be, e.g., to expect narrative, development, or any other interpretable momentum. Non-expectation instructs me in listening better, and the writing is born there. The lines, the tiny fields, attract each other in a process of continuous refinement until, as with the stones, there’s a still point—where they become weightless and levitational and I can feel the intensity of their conjuncture. Then I let them sit, until they call out for more. When the whole large field (the complex, the poem) goes into its silence, I know it’s done. Even after years of forming and reforming in these complexes that have been named during more than a dozen years, this completion process can take days or weeks of reworking, until they settle into place. The “revisioning” process—also a further listening—is always primary composition; lines fail and fall out or change, new ones arise—everything moves about until completion. The process reflects an interdependent animate nature in language, concentrated to the point of willfulness in the axial field. ~~~

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So reading preverbs involves a relatively “free” (=not fixed, non-programmatic) oscillation of fields—from the line-field to the group-/stanza-field to the titled complex-field. Like a Klein Form there’s no definitive “outside,” no inside/outside distinction. It’s a mind field. And, to use a word from Somapoetics, gnosemic in aspiration.

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I want to be clear that I make no claim on the axial as such—only the fact of focusing on it, intentionally furthering its practice—and I find axial poetics in play in many poetic works, including Rothenberg poetics pretty much all along, and going back to Deep Image. I find it of course in Blake, in G. Stein, in Joyce (esp. the Wake), in Stevens, in Robert Duncan (Structure of Rime), in Mac Low (e.g., Bloomsday), etc. Syntactic becomes synaptic. Robert Kelly has highly axial works as early as Deep Image, but especially at play in a poem like Axon Dendron Tree or Sentence. And Clark Coolidge, Franz Kamin, Charles Stein…. The latter and I have explored axiality, for instance, in Maurice Blanchot and Gary Hill [An Art of Limina: Gary Hill’s Works and Writings, Barcelona: Ediciones Polígrafa, 2009]. ~

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Yet an axial poetics is not subject to full definition because it’s not really conceptual; it’s principle-based, and as such can only be discussed in relation to actual/singular manifestations, which, however, are never definitive. ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

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Witnessing the Place Awake

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I

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Every word tells the poem it is.

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The terrain tears through its apertures to cry out.

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Say the never said—is this the part that never speaks?

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I’m traveling here as long as I remember.

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Does the poem talk to itself when you’re not around?

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I hear what I say with your other ears. ~~~

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This is the sense of place sensing place before you. ~~~

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Like desert this dries me out, and no desert I call home.

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Hear from afar what sees itself near—yet to land. ~~~

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There’s no end to reading two ways at once. ~~~

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Language invents poetry to be free in bounds.

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Each letter hides the permission: write like no one. ~~~

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Dance on me till I rise again.

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A line I ride is a side apart. ~~~

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Expect nothing less, heard said. ~~~

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II

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Some sentiments alter intention after the fact.

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With this in mind I’m coming to know your way. ~~~

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What you read is marked by previous reading, reports the rousing book.

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And now I am what I see seeing me. ~~~

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At last I thought her in standing waves on my own two feet.

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The present point in time is relentless.

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I was a verbal object until your eyes reread me. ~~~

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III

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Beginning zeroes its bang, audible still.

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The old typewriter is never silent. ~~~

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A line is a flap.

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A living mask sheds the dead. ~~~

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The S-torque of a hand writing its word swerves the sword.

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She is the action I name through. ~~~

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Self, self, self, self, saying saying itself feels better.

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Show, shown, a… name is never the same, hiding in moving things. ~~~

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Any shoe you walk in is yours in its own way. ~~~

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IV

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She sways to swap the gaps between us.

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Music leaches from words. ~~~

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Connection by disjunction is a sound function.

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We leap across each other, each to be the other. ~~~

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Dolphins. Hyphens. Orphans. Orphic transitions.

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How we couple as separates in non separation. ~~~

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Sauntering sames.

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Mime means, my memes, time dreams from within. ~~~

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Virals spiral therein with. ~~~

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V

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My eye saw her first, then I caught on to her life of its own.

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You’d never know it but this is romance. ~~~

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I hover here in the crux of the matter, sex before the scatter.

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My rousing hands contain her space live. ~~~

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Declare the place to be as it is.

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If I read the line after her it’s already excited. ~~~

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A line longs in its nature.

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The thing said true’s still secret. And more. ~~~

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Then reading traces the foregone until it freshens. ~~~

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VI

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The foreground is that she is.

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Then comes the line that flies ahead of its time. ~~~

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Sequence is backwards till round about. ~~~

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Thresholds are two-faced.

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A trick is never to cross. ~~~

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If everything tells, what matters where you are?

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What terrible beauty this ecstatic intricate syntactics holds me from? Tell. ~~~

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You make me real to realize how raw, how raw.

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Crazy wishdom. Everything falls south to the mouth. ~~~

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Don’t try to make sense.

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Time senses by. ~~~

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VII

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Executing a line is catching as it flies.

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Carnally she tells me to tell to know. ~~~

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The word is having its way with sounding itself.

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Conjunction by declaration is sacred carriage. ~~~

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A true line knows me before I do.

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Telling knows further. ~~~

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Her book birds in words.

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What’s your name, names you. ~~~

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I was thinking this when the thought took to feeling.

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Lineal surfacing frees me not to resemble my kind. ~~~

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Voicing sound is tearing up the ground. ~~~

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VIII

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Meaning here is a firefly phenomenon.

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A line rides between the sides. ~~~

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Grieving taught me a thing can say its matrix.

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A fold has another right under. ~~~

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Thresholds go both ways regardless.

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I was feeling so much it started thinking. ~~~

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Saying itself initiates matter, its own unknown. ~~~

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Black Scintillation

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I

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A breeze of being just eased my clouds. ~~~

Merely walking here is bounding sound. ~~~

I know you’re near because I’m hearing, out this way. ~~~

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Catch a breath. ~~~

Watch matter until you see it knowing. ~~~

What I track talks back. ~~~

Look ahead straight down, said here. ~~~

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True things are written backwards in the act itself. ~~~

So you think for others: Unwind me between in blank ventilation. ~~~

Heart twins inside, knowing too much to know each other. ~~~

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Speaking simply is as dense as it says, the want of what is found here. ~~~

Face the possibility: poetry at root is non relative. ~~~

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II

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I feel voices hearing. ~~~

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Saying truly positions up to edging over, or falling falsely. ~~~

Is poetic hiding in full view what is here beyond in life? ~~~

Go back, rest up midway, move on, a little endless, less pregnant. ~~~

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I don’t know where I am without you, get lost in the address. ~~~

Put one foot forward, let the other go, divide to say what you know. ~~~

The space of being touched is a line as long as it feels. ~~~

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III

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This is the field feeling free. ~~~

Let fire out, rip flow. ~~~

Life never improves, she says, it has another work. ~~~

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There are sounds once heard follow the voice inside. ~~~

I’m replaced. The line breaks to do it in my place. ~~~

Slow incendium. ~~~

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IV

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Drawing itself to end up here starting, it’s in. ~~~

I was one till I met you. ~~~

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Some say they hear reading. ~~~

I want it everywhere, terrible lucidity. ~~~

Lack tracks. ~~~

Hole wholes. ~~~

Breakout particles surface worlds, drawn down. ~~~

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The line replaces itself as it reads. ~~~

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V

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Back up and be still here. ~~~

I love twins. Twins love I. Orphic babel. Reversible lumens. ~~~

Any breathing sings a raspy song enough. ~~~

Here we are crossing the plane of response. ~~~

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So, ideas have themselves. ~~~

How else the heartened way? ~~~

Virgenics of mind only? Yet the voice fills. ~~~

Poetics in parthenogenia, for strictly speaking there is no alone. ~~~

As line lines. There you. Go on. ~~~

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Voice fails in feeling’s fall back. ~~~

Line action, limb action, tongue action perform alike. ~~~

The straightest shot between two minds makes a world around one. ~~~

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VI

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Breathe me a word. ~~~

I am you, she said, knowingly. ~~~

I have worked my way free of sense. ~~~

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There goes the medium’s wave, mind surfing its own way out. ~~~

A line fluctuates by spooking the elements. ~~~

This is what waves do when cornered. ~~~

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Writing here is multiple entry, yet I lose my point. ~~~

This line goes both ways differently. ~~~

I could only say, “Thank you for joining me in this further imbalance.” ~~~

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Thus the poem eats its ups and downs. ~~~

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VII

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Rest up, she warned, another is coming harder than ever. ~~~

A running start, a leap into the middle, and vacation in the world. ~~~

I hover at your instability threshold like a homeless hunger thief. ~~~

I don’t understand things. ~~~

Suffer yourself. ~~~

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Meaning breeches at the lips. ~~~

Personally I long for speaking in whales. ~~~

Things get right by waiting new. ~~~

So suffer better. ~~~

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Listen to that thought lisping toward the very lips. ~~~

Let’s get ready knowing that everything is at once. ~~~

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VIII

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Reading you requires an active eye, loose tongue, and a free hand. ~~~

Obviously speaking true shatters symmetry, as a starter. ~~~

And ears long to be spheres, with oars. ~~~

And you must make me dizzy, the floor’s breathing at me. ~~~

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I read face first. ~~~

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Falling falsifies the stance while renewing a longing to stand. ~~~

I beg to differ differently, if you follow. ~~~

A line is where language gets away. ~~~

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Think right and die on the tongue. ~~~

I get myself back from my verbal objects. ~~~

Spheres pulse transparent, saving the appearances. ~~~

I’m a twenty-four hour person, she said. ~~~

Call anytime. Any time calls back. ~~~

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Or recall, oracle, down her hall. ~~~

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IX

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Black scintillation ventilates the light. ~~~

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