The Poison Pie Publishing House presents:
Proceedings of the International Congress on Exploratory Meta-Living
(link to main page of novel)
David J. Keffer
February 1, 2018
Howard Phillips Lovecraft (August 20, 1890-March 15, 1937) was an American writer who posthumously came to be regarded as a father of the horror genre. Lovecraft is never found in lists of significant American writers, as compiled by academicians. His omission is presumably due to his choice of subject matter, as the writing itself is the work of a meticulous hand. Among aficionados, Lovecraft is second only to J.R.R. Tolkien in his impact on the arts of the fantasy/horror subculture. However, the philosophical distinction between Tolkien and Lovecraft could not be more polar. Whereas Tolkien believed that, with sacrifice, the powers of good had the potential to overcome evil, Lovecraft espoused an alternative belief, namely that the universe was intrinsically inimical to the interests of man. This dour view may also account for Lovecraft's lack of recognition among the literary elite; he did not promote a message deemed appropriate to the literature classrooms of school children.
Curiously, The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, completed on January 22, 1927 and unpublished in Lovecraft's lifetime, is not a work of horror. Rather, it is the centerpiece of his Dream Cycle, which explores a highly detailed realm, imbued as much with the strangeness of dreams as with the terror of nightmares. Events, which might inspire horror elsewhere, are met in the Dreamlands with an analytical detachment by the protagonist, a traveler by the name of Randolph Carter.
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith - America's National Parks disc 1 (Cuneiform Records, RUNE 430/431, 2016, United States, cdx2, discogs.com)
February 2, 2018
Poppy interrupted the account of Lovecraft with a quotation from his local newspaper. He had been seated at the dinner table this morning, drinking a cup of coffee and reading the obituaries, as was his wont. He stumbled upon the entry for a Teresa Margaret White Dewine (1924-2018). The account contained a quote, shared with Teresa by her godmother and adopted by Teresa as a guiding principle. Poppy prefaced this quote by saying, "Stuart, I brought this in for you, seeing as you sit in the priest's seat. I thought you might like it. Everyone else might like it too."
I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.
Each member of the committee reflected upon the words for a while. Stuart broke the silence, saying, "Poppy, you were right. This is exactly the kind of prayer I like. In fact, it's a nineteenth century Quaker prayer. It's often attributed to Stephen Grellet, who was sentenced to execution during the French Revolution of 1792 but escaped to America to become a prominent Quaker missionary."†
"Wow," said Poppy, impressed. He had thought he was bringing something new to the table.
Stuart shrugged modestly. "When you lead the American Catholic Atheist Party, you are occasionally called to say a prayer. Of course, it can be a challenge finding the right tone to satisfy both Catholics and atheists. This one does just the trick."
*"Teresa Margaret White Dewine Obituary", Knoxville News Sentinel, February 2, 2018, p. 11A.
†Wikiquote, accessed February 2, 2018, Stephen Grellet (Nov. 2, 1773-Nov. 16, 1855). link: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Stephen_Grellet.
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith - America's National Parks disc 2 (Cuneiform Records, RUNE 430/431, 2016, United States, cdx2, discogs.com)
February 3, 2018
Hebeloma returned the conversation to the third book of the Hortie pentalogy. "When you introduced him, you twice mention Lovecraft's omission from the ranks of literature's great minds. Does that disturb you?"
Poppy understood that this question had nothing to do with Lovecraft. "Of course not," he replied quickly, for he steadfastly believed that the merit of a work was independent of external accolades, as measured through such metrics as book sales or followers on social media. Not a single word of the writing was changed by praise or criticism or, he reasoned, by having been read at all. "Did you know that some thinkers suggest that seeking internal validation is no better than the pursuit of external affirmation?"
Poppy failed to convince anyone on the committee of his sincerity. It seemed clear that he must have cared about external recognition or he would not have framed his introduction of Lovecraft in this way. By way of apology, Poppy added, "Apparently, I have not yet reached the state of enlightenment, where I am able to leave the cares of the material world behind me."
He smiled weakly. Because of his limited insight into the matter, he had been out-maneuvered. He was undoubtedly the stupidest person on this committee. He reminded himself that he should take comfort in this fact; was it not preferable to be surrounded by smart rather than stupid people? Only if they are kind, he answered himself.
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith - The Great Lakes Suite disc 1 (TUM Records, TUM CD 041-2, 2014, Finland, cdx2, discogs.com)
February 4, 2018
Poppy addressed a troubling subject that he had been ruminating over for several days, saying to his colleagues, "Readers should approach the writings of Lovecraft forewarned. In his letters, Lovecraft disparaged non-Anglo-Saxon races and cultures. While choosing not to convey such themes in his literary works, Lovecraft privately expressed negative views of Irish Catholics, German immigrants and African-Americans. It seems that Lovecraft found reason to object to individuals for any number of reasons. Like a bully on the playground, he could find fault with the skinny kid being too skinny and the fat kid too fat." Poppy shrugged. "I do not intend to play the role of an apologist for an antiquated bigot." He did not admit that he had been made aware of this controversy only after the publication of his revisiting of the novella, a fact which made him appear, in his opinion, more ignorant.
Of course the committee knew more about the subject than Poppy. This time, Hebeloma chimed in. "It reminds me of the case of Rudyard Kipling. In 1899, he published an imperialist manifesto, 'The White Man's Burden', justifying war on the basis of white Europeans civilizing the savage races. Obviously, some people, primarily 'civilized Europeans', appreciated his work; Kipling was awarded the Nobel prize. George Orwell described Kipling as 'morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting' but a champion of the conservative cause! However, some contemporaries, like Mark Twain, called Kipling out for the immorality of his stance." Hebeloma added, "There is no virtue in providing excuses posthumously. We must assume that each writer, irrespective of social milieu, knew the difference between joy and suffering, and made their choices accordingly."
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith - The Great Lakes Suite disc 2 (TUM Records, TUM CD 041-2, 2014, Finland, cdx2, discogs.com)
February 5, 2018
"Despite his personal flaws, Lovecraft nevertheless created the Dreamlands. Once they fell into the public domain, many writers have subsequently entertained themselves in that surreal playground."
"Enough, Poppy, of Lovecraft," said Stuart. "You have yet to tell us anything of your adaptation."
"That's said easily enough," Poppy assured them. "It's a story in which a father and son travel through the Dreamlands along the path originally taken by Randolph Carter in the 1920's. In the original version, Carter's goal was to recapture the happiness of his own youth. However, in the retelling, the father's goal is to find the path by which his son can avoid the traps that have led the father far from happiness."*
The committee took more time in absorbing this brief synopsis than had been spent in relaying it.
"Traps like what?" asked the tanager.
"I don't know," Poppy said, "maybe traps as simple as accidental imbalances in brain chemistry."
"And what solution does the father ultimately offer the son?" asked Stuart with an air of skepticism.
"I can't remember," said Poppy. "You'll have to read it yourself. But I urge you not to place much hope in finding any wisdom in the novel. Had I been able to imagine a robust recipe for happiness, it seems unlikely that I should have so easily forgotten it, nor found any need to continue to write another novel after this one was completed."
*The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath (Revisited): A Modern Adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft Novella, Poison Pie Publishing House, Knoxville, Tennessee, 2012, link to: promotional flyer.
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith's Organic - Heart's Reflections disc 1 (Cuneiform Records, RUNE 330/331, 2011, United States, cdx2, discogs.com)
February 6, 2018
On Tuesday evening, the tanager connected to the video conference with a jittery picture and the occasional static in her voice. "Pardon the technical difficulties," she entreated the committee, "but I'm traveling. Right now I am staying at a friend's apartment." A young, dark-haired woman poked her face briefly into the picture. She smiled and waved, then disappeared. "That's Beatriz," said the tanager. "She's made a hotspot out of her phone. I'll stay with you as long as this connection lasts."
No one asked the tanager where she was going. It was understood that she traveled whenever she felt the urge to move, often with no destination in mind. She chose not to reveal the origin or motivation behind her wanderlust.
Apparently the window to the apartment was open. Sometimes a breeze pushed the tanager's copper hair into her face and blew the white curtains in the background. Voices from the street were caught on the microphone. The others on the committee heard a few, faint words in Spanish as well as another, Meso-American language they could not immediately identify.
Poppy had expected the tanager to question him on the wisdom of having Dad Hortie lead Boy Hortie into a dream to teach him how to live, yet the tanager said nothing of the sort. She seemed to understand very well the educational benefits of travel.
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith's Organic - Heart's Reflections disc 2 (Cuneiform Records, RUNE 330/331, 2011, United States, cdx2, discogs.com)
February 7, 2018
"And what of the last of the four novels written thus far in the Hortie pentalogy?" asked the librarian, who was only the second least frequent speaker on the committee. The soft accent in his voice betrayed that, while he was a non-native English speaker, he had, at some point, lived amongst such people for many years.
"Yes," said Poppy. "When Dad Hortie came home with a book, in which he went on an adventure with his son, his daughter immediately asked, 'Where is my book?' Before a month had passed, he set to work on it."
It was not lost on any member of the committee that Poppy attributed the writing of these novels to the protagonist, yet no one pointed out to him the inherent difference between the roles of author and protagonist. If he could not distinguish between the two by the time he had reached middle-age, it seemed unlikely that he would prove receptive to such a lesson on the subject from any of them now. Of course, they entertained the prospect that he intentionally obfuscated the matter.
"The fourth novel," said Poppy, "is titled 'The Ruins of My Daughter's Cities: An Imaginary Travelogue'. Written from September, 2012 through April, 2013, the novel runs about fifty thousand words. It was published in June of the same year. I ask for your indulgence, while I provide a brief description of the work upon which this novel was loosely modeled."
"Of course," said the librarian. "That is why we are here."
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith - Kabell Years 1971-1979 disc 1 (Tzadik, TZ 7610-4, 2004 (recorded 1971-1979), United States, cdx4, discogs.com)
February 8, 2018
Poppy chose to allow the entirety of his description of The Ruins of My Daughter's Cities to be taken from the 'Author's Foreword' from the 2013 first edition.
Invisible Cities (1965) and Cosmicomics (1972). In the former, Marco Polo regales Kublai Khan with descriptions, both profound and fanciful, of imagined cities that lie within the emperor's vast domain. In the latter, Calvino develops short stories based on absurdly literal interpretations and explanations of scientific theories, past and present. This work before you is an amalgamation of both techniques. Inside the reader will find descriptions of cities that exist only in the imagination, created solely as a means of providing an explanation for the convoluted psychology of the relationship between a father and daughter.
Two well-loved books by Italo Calvino are
I offer this foreword not to forestall accusations of lack of originality, nor to increase the perceived merit of this work by associating it with greater works. Rather, I acknowledge these influences because it brings me a modicum of comfort to recognize that the marvels that lay within those books were not entirely wasted on me.
*The Ruins of My Daughter's Cities: An Imaginary Travelogue, Keffer, D.J., Poison Pie Publishing House, Knoxville, Tennessee, 2013, p. 1. link to: promotional flyer.
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith - Kabell Years 1971-1979 disc 2 (Tzadik, TZ 7610-4, 2004 (recorded 1971-1979), United States, cdx4, discogs.com)
February 9, 2018
For a while, certain members of the committee shared their thoughts on the writings of Italo Calvino (October 15, 1923-September 19, 1985). In general they found him a much more appropriate literary model, relative to Lovecraft. At least part of their opinion seemed to stem from Calvino's academic pedigree and tastes.
"He wrote his Master's thesis on Joseph Conrad," Stuart reminded the committee.
"He developed his own style as a neo-fantasist that traveled well beyond the borders of his native Italy," said Hebeloma.
Poppy felt uncomfortable. It was true that he had enjoyed many books by Calvino and appreciated their literary merits, but he felt that their appeal largely lay not in academic credentials but in the ease with which the writing was able to resonate with ordinary readers. To be stubborn, he said, "I prefer paleo-fantasists."
The tanager, who formally occupied the seat of the devil's advocate, rolled her eyes, as if to signal to Poppy that he had a lot yet to learn before he usurped her mantle.
"How was your book received?" asked the librarian.
Poppy sighed. "I didn't get much feedback. My mother admonished me. She did not perceive its value in illuminating the relationship between father and daughter. Instead, she found the book an unnecessary unveiling of familial matters that would have been better left private. She confided to me, after publication, that she would have preferred if it had not been published. One cannot fault her; she had the best interests of her granddaughter at heart and she unknowingly exaggerated the size and influence of my readership."
"Grandmothers!" said the librarian, as if moved to rapture. "Though they tend to speak their minds in a forthright manner, they are, nevertheless, often misunderstood."
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith - Kabell Years 1971-1979 disc 3 (Tzadik, TZ 7610-4, 2004 (recorded 1971-1979), United States, cdx4, discogs.com)
February 10, 2018
We should say something of our librarian. His presence has become too conspicuous to ignore entirely. Like Earth Traveler Sun, Hong Samud claimed to hail from "some island in the sea". (They shared no other traits. Hong Samud was an inveterate man of peace.) Based on his appearance, one could guess that the island was located somewhere in the vicinity of south-east Asia. Even now he did not provide specifics to the other members of the committee regarding his current whereabouts. The obvious difference in time zones--it was past morning on the following day where the librarian dwelt when the sun had just set for Poppy--corroborated this general location.
The librarian was presented to us as Hong Samud. We took it to be his given name, though later it was pointed out to us by a linguist that it was likely an adopted sobriquet since hongsamud was a transliteration of "library" in several related languages of the region.
He was himself a library. He possessed a store of information the likes of which we have not seen equaled. His memory was excellent but sluggish at times. Often, he could not immediately provide the answer to a query, but, come the next meeting, he invariably arrived well-informed. He seemed to have access to a trove of information, accessible via patient solitude. However, in the age of the internet, where many of mankind's secrets lay exposed and catalogued in electronic databases, Hong Samud was able to discover knowledge of another kind. He often returned with nuance and intent, unavailable in the texts lining the vast electronic corridors of the internet.
In truth we had no idea why a mind of such capabilities had chosen to grace our humble and, at times, ridiculous committee with his presence. He had not, to date, provided a convincing explanation.
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith - Kabell Years 1971-1979 disc 4 (Tzadik, TZ 7610-4, 2004 (recorded 1971-1979), United States, cdx4, discogs.com)
February 11, 2018
Once upon a time, Hong Samud claimed to have been dissatisfied with "the way of things". He had been younger then, though not so young that we could attribute such a declaration to the folly of youth. He had accepted the possibility that individuals could become agents of change, working with those mechanisms available to them, to improve the world. Because he was a scholar, Hong Samud was well acquainted with this general model and many specific historical examples.
He had pondered a course of action. That, ultimately, he chose a different path was a consequence of an honest, introspective recognition on his part. He was a contemplative man, who preferred the company of books to that of people. Of homely countenance and diminutive stature, the idea of anyone pledging their allegiance to a crusade under his banner seemed laughable to him.
Time passed. Gray streaked through his once black hair. Deep creases lined his face. His eyes remained inscrutable in all but their patience. He had built a library, some said more than one, perhaps ten or a hundred. There was no official count. He had once asserted that, "If he could not alter this existing world to a state that better suited him, then he would start from scratch, creating his own world, with meticulous precision, designing it in such a way that the natural outcome of events promoted virtue, recognized and rewarded merit, and nurtured suffering strictly when it led to the growth of wisdom. Pointless suffering or suffering at the hands of an unyielding brutality, willful or otherwise, was to be eliminated entirely." Given his occupation, it should not come as any surprise that he chose to fashion this paradise in the form of a library.*
*The Portable Library of Hong Samud: A Novel that Grew as a Vine Grows, Guided by an Innate, Phototactic Sensitivity, Keffer, D.J., Poison Pie Publishing House, Knoxville, Tennessee, 2015, pp. 1-2. link to: promotional flyer.
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith - Solo: Reflections And Meditations On Monk (TUM Records, TUM CD 053, 2017, Finland, cd, discogs.com)
February 12, 2018
Having finished his description of the four extant books of the Hortie pentalogy, Poppy now made his plea in earnest. "There were always intended to be five books. The first described the family as a whole and the next four each member individually. It is already unfair that Mom Hortie has had to wait as long as she has. Four and a half years have passed since the writing of the fourth book was completed. To ask her to wait indefinitely is too much."
A bemused silence circulated through the committee. Glances were exchanged between monitors. Eventually, Hebeloma, the chair of the committee, vocalized what was in each of their minds. "What is stopping you from writing it?"
Poppy sighed. Although he had known for weeks that this moment would come, he had not been able to formulate his argument clearly. There were many contributing factors and singling any one out seemed to provide at best a tenuous causal relationship. "Would it suffice to attribute it to writer's block?"
This argument, offered weakly, gained no traction with the committee. Had he not completed six other novels in the intervening years?
Poppy shrugged. "I just can't write it."
"Why not?" asked Hebeloma.
"I recognize that the realization of this last book is beyond my capacity to complete alone." Poppy looked to the committee. "I need your help."
"How can we help?" asked Hebeloma.
"I have a plan," said Poppy, relieved to have made it this far.
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith - Ten Freedom Summers disc 1 (Cuneiform Records, Rune 350/351/352/353, 2012, United States, cdx4, discogs.com)
February 13, 2018
The committee listened as Poppy described to them the fifth book of the Hortie pentalogy as he envisioned it.
"Imagine a rectangular window, composed of twenty-five panes of glass, arranged in a five by five grid. The grid is distorted; there is neither a straight line nor a right angle to be found in it. No two panes of glass are the same size or shape. Behind the window stands a woman facing forward. Like a stained-glass window, the composition of each pane is different. One is colored red; one is frosted to a point just short of complete opacity. Another pane is filled with old leaded glass that distorts in waves the figure behind it. Yet another contains a defect that gives the effect of a fisheye lens. One pane is cracked. Through this multifaceted window an image of the woman arises. It is not a continuous, integrated image; it is, rather, a fractured portrait revealing aspects of the woman that would not have been possible had the window been whole."
"A curious book," nodded the librarian, as if he had already held a copy, stored in the wing of his library labeled 'forthcoming collection'. "A book to which a reader can return, time and time again."
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith - Ten Freedom Summers disc 2 (Cuneiform Records, Rune 350/351/352/353, 2012, United States, cdx4, discogs.com)
February 14, 2018
"You still have not told us," said Hebeloma, shifting in her chair, "our role in helping you complete this book."
"I thank you all for your patience," Poppy replied. "You won't have to wait much longer." He paused to examine the faces on the screen. The occupants of the president's and the priest's seats appeared to be giving him their undivided attention. The devil's advocate transmitted from a coffee shop. A flurry of activity, mercantile and social, transpired behind her, at times diverting the tanager's attention from the business of the committee. The librarian's seat was empty. The remaining camera focused on an utterly dark room; as usual, it was impossible to discern if the committee member was present.
"As I said," continued Poppy, "this book is to contain twenty-five passages, organized in a five by five grid. One dimension of the grid corresponds to five topics, five characteristics of the woman behind the window. In the original conception, the other dimension corresponded to five distinct literary devices. The result would have been five traits of the subject each described in five different ways." Poppy seemed both resigned and delighted as he admitted, "I proved incapable of writing this book. Fortunately, some time ago I had a new realization. The five distinct literary styles could be readily accomplished if undertaken by five different hands." He looked meaningfully at the other members of the committee.
"You mean for us to write it?" asked Stuart, stating the obvious.
"But there are six on the committee," said Hebeloma. "Who would be left out?"
"Isn't it obvious?" asked Poppy. "Me!"
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith - Ten Freedom Summers disc 3 (Cuneiform Records, Rune 350/351/352/353, 2012, United States, cdx4, discogs.com)
February 15, 2018
Hebeloma chose to speak for the other members of the committee, who were united in their reservations against Poppy's request. She expressed to him the consensus opinion that his proposal had not been well thought out. "It has taken you a month to come to your point, but there are so many objections," she said gently, "I don't know where to begin. While it is true that you have described to us the previous four books, they do not themselves resemble each other. How can we be expected to write the concluding book in a manner that is consistent with what has come before?"
This issue did not trouble Poppy, for he had a ready reply. He understood that in conventional trilogies, the similarity between books was expected, for marketing, if not esthetic, reasons. A reader who enjoyed the first book could expect more of the same in the subsequent volumes. Because he had no expectation of financial remuneration, Poppy had freed himself of this constraint. "These books are works of non-idiomatic improvisation. If they adhered to a given style, that would become their idiom. That no over-arching style should encompass the books is a natural and intentional consequence of the philosophy driving the creative process. I have no interest in writing a book that resembles one that has already been written in anyway more substantial than its reflection of eternal themes. That the last book of the pentalogy should adhere to this principle is, I should think, essential."
written while listening to: Wadada Leo Smith - Ten Freedom Summers disc 4 (Cuneiform Records, Rune 350/351/352/353, 2012, United States, cdx4, discogs.com)
February 16, 2018
The tanager joined the video conference from a gazebo of some sort. White paint peeled in flakes from the wooden frame. A small patch of green space, perhaps the edge of the park, lay between her and a dirty, cinderblock wall, which formed the background on her screen. From a tree not captured in the frame, several songbirds made themselves heard. Amidst the music of their voices, the tanager asked Poppy, "I still don't understand why you can't write this book...What is the title, anyway? Have you told us?"
Poppy replied calmly, "I'm thinking to call it, 'A Fractured Portrait of Iris'."
"Iris?" said the tanager. "Then Mom Hortie has another name. Thank God because there was no way I was going to name the leading lady in my portion of the story Mom Hortie." The expression on the tanager's face brightened as she exclaimed, "Iris!" She soon returned to her original question. "Why can't you write 'A Fractured Portrait of Iris' yourself?"
"I lack courage," said Poppy.
"What's there to be afraid of?"
Poppy's thoughts briefly returned to his mother's remonstration when he had published The Ruins of My Daughter's Cities. He answered the tanager, saying, "My father-in-law. When I described the arc of the books in the pentalogy and came to the fifth book, he warned me, 'Be careful.'"
"Ha!" laughed the tanager. "Good advice is nothing to be afraid of."
written while listening to: Magda Mayas, Damon Smith & Tony Buck - Spill Plus (Nuscope Recordings, nuscope CD 1028, 2014, United States, cd, discogs.com)
February 17, 2018
Once again the tanager joined their meeting with the song of a bird warbling behind her. It was after dusk, when one might have expected birds to have quieted down.
"What bird is singing behind you?" Stuart asked her.
The tanager cocked her head and listened. Recognizing it at once, she smiled. "A little nightjar!" She looked around in the darkness. "I don't see it."
She returned her attention to Poppy. "You remind me, Poppy, of a bird I once knew." She held a book in her hand and read a passage from it by the light of her monitor. "He was a crow. Once, mistaking fog for solitude, he confided aloud the following sentiment."
I struggle on a daily basis with my inner conviction that existence is meaningless. Because I spend so much effort each morning collecting the willpower to put myself into a frame of mind where I can address the mundane tasks before me, I have, to my great consternation and disappointment, little energy left over to devote to the important work of being a good person, committing good deeds and making the world a better place.
Upon hearing these words, Poppy breathed deeply. A moment of silence passed, then Poppy said to those assembled, "You pierce me to my core. Nothing of me is hidden from you. This is why I have the utmost confidence in you to write, in my stead, the record of my wife that I cannot."
*"The Ornithological Collection of Uwetsiageyv: A Flight of Fancy in 201 Parts", Keffer, D.J., Poison Pie Publishing House, Knoxville, Tennessee, 2016, p. 263.
written while listening to: Evan Parker & Georg Graewe - Dortmund Variations (Nuscope Recordings, nuscope CD 1026, 2012, United States, cd, discogs.com)
February 18, 2018
"It may be," the tanager admitted, "that, between the five of us, we could compose a more laudatory ode to your wife than could you alone. However, the truth, Poppy, is that the world doesn't revolve around you. Each of us is an individual entity with a narrative of our own. You ask us to voluntarily subjugate our will to this common cause in order to placate your own dissatisfaction with the unfinished work of your pentalogy, but what of our needs? Our dreams? Our desires? Should it be said of us that we were satisfied with the role of a footnote in the great saga of Poppy Hortie?"
Poppy's gaze settled on the face of the tanager. He found a symmetry in the blue eyes, the bone structure, and even the framing of her face by the disordered curls. He extrapolated that the young woman's laughter could brighten this moment and the remaining minutes of the meeting. He thought to please her, to elicit this laughter, but the words he had to offer were not of this kind. He contemplated no concrete solution, only an ambiguous and ill-formed idea of multiplicity. "Can we not," he asked the tanager and the other members of the committee, "accomplish everything at once? Can you put into 'A Fractured Portrait of Iris' the expression of your dreams and your desires?"
As he suspected, the tanager did not smile. She adopted a pensive look, as if imagining phrases and themes, which could simultaneously fulfill both her individual needs and those of the other committee members, not just Poppy, but Hebeloma, Stuart, Hong and the dead one.
In an intimation of what was to come, Hebeloma spoke for Poppy, saying, "Tomorrow, I will present my inaugural address."
written while listening to: Isabelle Duthoit & Georg Graewe - Parlance (Nuscope Recordings, nuscope CD 1030, 2016, United States, cd, discogs.com)
February 19, 2018
Hebeloma spoke to the executive governing committee of the International Congress on Exploratory Meta-Living, saying, "By accepting membership on this committee, each of us agreed to devote some time every day in the year 2018 toward the exploration of meta-living. We knew then it would be a joint exercise, requiring coordinated efforts from each of us. We also knew that, while the overall purpose of our work is the common good, the specific nature of our undertaking on any given day was to be freely improvised.
"We have always known that our actions shall never be as immediately beneficial as those of the social worker who runs a food pantry for the destitute or a shelter for the homeless. Still, none among us would argue that music or art or literature fails to make the world a better place. We have each personally experienced this revelatory power, in one manner or another.
"So, today I suggest that we take up this effort, offered to us by one of our own. Let us occupy as much of the year as is required toward the fulfillment of this task. Much that is done in this world is arbitrary and meaningless. Let us endow this task with the meaning of our common purpose. Let us write such a book that the unlikely souls who stumble onto it shall, upon reading any random page, remark to themselves, 'Oh, I did not expect to find such solace here!'"
written while listening to: Isabelle Duthoit, Alexander Frangenheim & Roger Turner - Kochuu (Creative Sources, CS 276 CD, 2014, Portugal, cd, discogs.com)
February 20, 2018
The committee congratulated Hebeloma on a rousing inaugural address. However, Poppy had known these individuals for too long to think that they could so easily abandon their reservations. He counted the seconds between the last compliment and the first objection, which arose from Stuart.
He addressed his initial words to Hebeloma. "In principle, we have an interesting project before us. I am inclined to participate. Yet, I am not completely free of misgivings." Stuart turned to Poppy. "The issue that looms largest in my mind is a very simple one: we don't know the first thing about Iris. How can we be expected to create a record that has the slightest relevance to the person whom you know and love, Poppy?"
Of course, Poppy expected that each author would imbue Iris with traits of their own choosing. Even if the result would correspond to his own feelings for Iris only in the most general terms, he anticipated that the book would be a success, because he had, in a sense, commissioned it. Its intent was inherently dedicated to Iris. Poppy did not share this reasoning, of which he himself was not fully convinced. Instead he chose an alternate tack.
"Years ago, when I first conceived of this book, I attempted to write it myself. Over the course of a year, I wrote no more than half a dozen of the twenty-five passages. Ultimately I found them all unsuitable. Nevertheless, for the purposes of introducing you to Iris, I ask you to allow me to share with you passages from the first section."
To this eminently reasonable suggestion, the committee acquiesced.
written while listening to: Isabelle Duthoit, Alexander Frangenheim & Roger Turner - light air still gets dark (Creative Sources, CS 398 CD, 2016, Portugal, cd, discogs.com)
February 21, 2018
Let the description begin with her physical body.
Much of her history was written in that body. I refer not just to the tale of her genetic lineage, which predates her body and which is present within each cell. The more recent history that has transpired since she occupied it is also written on the paper of her flesh. Those with a trained eye knowledgeable in such matters could read the story expressed within her body--her medical history, her diet, her socioeconomic bracket, the fact that she has born children--all this data, public or private, is on open display. From the width of the hips to the white of a full set of teeth, from her height and a visual estimate of her body mass index, her secrets are revealed.
As her husband, I should like to provide a more detailed description, focusing on areas of particular interest to me, the crook between the jaw and neck, the contours of an arm or breast, the shape of a calf, the firmness of a thigh. She would appreciate none of my meticulous attention to detail. Thus for the sake of her modesty, I restrain myself.
But I promised to begin with a description of the body and I intend to make good on that claim. I shall have to avail myself of more abstract terms that will not meet with her censure. Reference to neither the moon nor the sea shall suffice, though both are thought of in feminine terms and to both many women have been favorably compared. Neither shall a single species of flowers nor a variegated bouquet serve to capture her body. I shall strive to reach beyond common idiom to describe my wife.
written while listening to: Eliane Radigue - Adnos I-III disc 1 (Important Records, IMPREC028, 2013 (originally recorded 1974, 1980, 1982), United States, cdx3, discogs.com)
February 22, 2018
I close my eyes. I replay a sequence of images of her. These images were not captured by my mind for my memory has failed me. Instead, these images are photographs that I have viewed so frequently that their contents and proportions have been burned into that portion of my brain from which I am still capable of retrieving data. Even then the images are distorted and unreal. The complexion of her skin, a pale cappuccino cream of which I have ever been inordinately fond, does not register in this image. Instead, her face is colored by the trace of her actions. Where she has wept in fear, in solitude, in grief, there her skin is as liquid as her tears. The light that enters her is bent by the difference in refractive index. The angles are wrong; her eyes are distorted as if she were the subject of a cubism portrait, perhaps Picasso's Girl with Mandolin, albeit adding several decades to the girl and subtracting the mandolin. Where she has smiled, the skin is as light as laughter, like a sheet hung from the laundry line billowing, fluttering in a breeze not quite strong enough to tease sound from the fabric. Where she has kissed our children, her lips have the color and texture of earth for there is no labor so dear and yet so unrelenting as the loving of children. Where she has watched me age and decay, her eyes are transparent, diaphanous, wrinkled with reflections of light. I see through her until my sight rests on a flickering candle. The aura surrounding the flame expands in graduated hues of decreasing luminosity until it becomes indistinguishable from the surrounding darkness. Even from this image, I can feel its warmth, which is great out of all proportion to its size. This is an image of my wife I conjure from the recesses of my mind.
written while listening to: Eliane Radigue - Adnos I-III disc 2 (Important Records, IMPREC028, 2013 (originally recorded 1974, 1980, 1982), United States, cdx3, discogs.com)
February 23, 2018
I open my eyes and the image of Iris remains before me, but now the juxtaposition of her elemental composition disintegrates. The water of her tears runs into the earth of her lips and a muddy grimace emerges. The wind pushes the sheets into the candle's fire and her face begins to smolder, first along the cheekbones and jaw line, then eating away at the flesh stretched between them before her hair begins to singe and curl. My wife is and isn't here. I see her but I know that I am alone in this room. This image before me is and isn't her. I recognize her in it though I know she is not a creature of ash and mud.
I have endeavored to describe my wife but I feel that you can hardly be expected to place much faith in the fidelity of my portrait of her as it becomes clear that I have begun to lose my cognitive ability to distinguish between reality and imagination. Even I find my memory to be untrustworthy and the concepts, which it presents as if originating within me, to be unfamiliar, if not wholly alien.
Nevertheless, I have this choice to make: to be stupefied by uncertainty into silence or to press forward and, acknowledging the potential unreliability of my words, share with you this story so that both joy and anguish can be set loose from my heart.
So I begin with Iris, my wife, who has loved me all these long years. She did not abandon me despite my deficiencies, many of which have been around much longer than this more recent neurological degeneration and over which I certainly should have been able to exercise greater control. If there is any anchor to which I can cling for support, it must surely be found in her.
written while listening to: Eliane Radigue - Adnos I-III disc 3 (Important Records, IMPREC028, 2013 (originally recorded 1974, 1980, 1982), United States, cdx3, discogs.com)
February 24, 2018
When Poppy had finished sharing the first of his aborted attempts to write A Fractured Portrait of Iris himself, the rest of the committee had the opportunity to respond. One would have thought that a response critical of the utility of information of dubious quality, even if of established provenance, would have been appropriate.
Instead the tanager jubilantly announced, "I'm in love with Iris!" She warned Poppy. "I'm going to steal her away from you. You're unworthy of her."
Poppy said nothing; the threat had little force since he had not forgotten that Iris was a fictional character, otherwise known as Mom Hortie, a figment of his imagination. He had not yet realized that the tanager possessed the ability to infiltrate the realm of his convoluted mental circumlocutions.
Meanwhile, a child, perhaps five years old, appeared in Hong Samud's camera. Her eyes peaked over the edge of the table and into their field of view. The committee recognized her as Sulin, the elder of the two children of the director of the library from which Hong joined the proceedings. (He apparently had need to take advantage of their video conferencing facilities, rudimentary as they were.) Hong himself was, at the moment, absent.
These children had the run of the library on the weekends. The girl examined the screen and named all the committee members, as if reciting the colors of the rainbow. Revealing that she had been eavesdropping, she asked. "Who's Iris?" Even at this tender age, she was learning English, in addition to Malay and the local, indigenous tongue.
"A dream, a terrible dream!" exclaimed the tanager, frightening the girl, who raced out of the room. "But a good dream too!" the tanager called out at her fleeing form.
written while listening to: Eyvind Kang - Visible Breath (Ideologic Organ, SOMA004, 2012, Austria, lp, discogs.com)
February 25, 2018
"I, for one," declared Stuart, "remain uncomfortable with the idea of creating a portrait of an individual based exclusively on second-hand accounts, no matter how well-intentioned." He nodded deferentially in the direction of Poppy's image on his screen. "If, for whatever reason, we are given the wrong impression or led astray, causing our resulting portrait to be wholly inaccurate, what defense do we have? We can only say, 'We never met her.' Then we are well deserving of contempt, for we should not have endeavored to describe someone about whom we know next to nothing. We would be guilty of dereliction of the duty to properly educate ourselves regarding the mannerisms and customs of one whom we presumed to depict. If Iris herself were to approach us and proclaim, 'I am nothing like this. You have grossly misrepresented my person', what could we respond but, 'We trusted Poppy'?"
When he had finished, Hebeloma spoke plainly. "Stuart, you are accustomed to debating the merits of the American Catholic Atheist Party. From all sides you are assailed with meticulous arguments formulated by erudite individuals seeking to undermine the foundation of your position. Your insistence upon launching this project from a stance of iron-clad defense is born of habit." Hebeloma took a deep breath. "But this work is different. We are called to a creative act. It is essential that we each take risks and that we knowingly expose our vulnerabilities to a thinking audience who brings forward reasonable objections. In reading the work, they will resolve for themselves the wisdom of our choices. If we conduct ourselves with honor, we should not be embarrassed by the blame that falls our way.
written while listening to: Michel Doneda, Lê Quan Ninh & Dominique Regef - SOC (In Situ, 590163, 1993, France, cd, discogs.com)
February 26, 2018
"If we are to be artists," Stuart rebutted, unwilling to so easily abandon a point of logic, "should Iris not sit for the committee like a model before a painter?" Of course, no answer came to this objection, since Iris was presumably neither inclined nor available for the suggested sitting. Receiving no satisfactory reply, Stuart reiterated his point. "Why must Poppy interject himself into the proceedings like an obfuscating lens between artist and subject?"
Hebeloma turned to the librarian, who, on this day, was present for the meeting. She hoped to find some support for her position. "Hong, would you share your thoughts on the matter?"
Sitting erect in a wooden chair, the librarian reflected silently for a moment before speaking. "I have chosen a life walking in corridors leading to rooms, in which the walls are lined with books from floor to ceiling. At times, though all my dreams have come to pass, I tire of walking; I grow momentarily weary of the established categories of knowledge. I yearn for a book unlike other books, irrespective of its lack of reputation or editorial polish. The idea of this book, which we now entertain, which, formless, occupies an uncertain future, appeals greatly to me. Upon discovering its succor late on a sleepless night, I anticipate nothing short of delight."
Hong cleared his throat, as if suffering from congestion. This action surprised the other committee members, for the librarian, despite his age, was invariably healthy. He continued, "I accept that the realization of this book may not come to match its potential as we now imagine it, but that possibility does not discourage me in the slightest from the attempt."
written while listening to: Roscoe Mitchell & Matthew Shipp - Accelerated Projection (RogueArt, ROG-0079, 2018 (originally recorded 2005), France, cd, discogs.com)
February 27, 2018
Eventually the committee reached a consensus to embark on the endeavor to create the last entry in the pentalogy. The final vote was unanimous. After the first five votes had been cast, the occupant of the dead chair, who did not speak, typed, unseen, into the chat box, so that the following message appeared beneath the darkened transmission of her camera, "So be it." Such was the means by which she communicated with the rest of the committee.
One might wonder what a denizen of the world of the dead would have to say of Iris. We shall have to be patient, but our waiting shall not be in vain. Fully one fifth of the fractured portrait was to come from this shadowed corner.
While some members had their misgivings, once the motion had passed, all were resolute in their intent to see the task to its completion. Before the meeting adjourned, the tanager made a misguided attempt to reassure the others, saying, "At least, through our intervention, we have prevented Poppy from another catastrophe." Thinking of The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath (Revisited), she said, "He cannot model this last book after the work of a bigot." Then considering The Ruins of My Daughter's Cities, the tanager added, "Nor can he use it as a podium from which he can publicly humiliate his wife, as he did his daughter."
Hebeloma glanced at Poppy, who revealed no reaction to these words. "Escarlata," said the chairwoman, "that is an unkind thing to say."
written while listening to: John Coltrane & Don Cherry - The Avant Garde (Atlantic Records, SD 1451, 1966, United States, lp, discogs.com)
February 28, 2018
Before the creation of the novel could begin, there remained one additional organizational task for the committee to complete. Poppy had described the fractured portrait in terms of a window with five rows and five columns of panes. One dimension corresponded to the authors, who were now identified. The other dimension corresponded to five traits of Iris, to be addressed by each author. These traits had yet to be identified.
"What are the five themes?" Hebeloma asked Poppy.
Poppy hoped to distance himself as much as possible from this work. He had already shared most of his first, discarded passage, which had corresponded to a theme he thought of as 'the body'. He demurred, saying, "I would prefer not to share the five themes that I originally chose."
"How then will the traits be determined?"
Poppy replied in a distracted voice, as if contemplating a distant scene. "While there is no explicit order to the generation of the twenty-five passages, I think that the first five should represent one contribution from each author. In that passage, the writer should determine the theme of greatest sensitivity to them, thus establishing one of the five traits, which the other committee members will follow in addressing."
"Maybe," said the tanager, "we should share our ideas beforehand so that there isn't any overlap."
Poppy shook his head. "I don't think that's a good idea. I don't think the themes should ever be explicitly stated. On the contrary, they should be expressed only within the writing. This allows for a degree of latitude in interpretation, which seems agreeable to the task at hand."
written while listening to: Ornette Coleman - Science Fiction (Columbia Records, KC 31061, 1972, United States, lp, discogs.com)
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