San Diego Poetry Guild

notes on guild, poetry, and San Diego


Tao Drops, I Change

Escaping the fires (which are now burning destructively eastward, while the smoke is still bad here in the west) this Friday morning and flying out/up to NYC for the Saturday afternoon Subpress reading. I've had the good luck to pair up with Steve Carll (who won't be there, sadly) in the writing, designing, publishing of a new book, Tao Drops, I Change, due out by the end of the year, we hope.

Several years ago I tried -- and failed miserably -- to write a poem series using the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching as a formal map of sorts. After moving to SD, I found out from Steve when he was in town for a reading one weekend that he had made a similar attempt -- and succeeded. The proof was in the manuscript, titled I Change, that he sent my way later that summer.

About a year later (late '99, I think, definitely before the 2000 prez-election), I found myself reading the Tao Te Ching and, having some time in the mornings those days, decided to write a series based on the 81 poems therein. The plan was to email them around daily -- spam-like, as "tao drops" -- until I had run out of poems. It took about three months finally because I ended up missing a few days here and there due to travel or work or something. I was thinking the other day while getting the poems together that this "email art" activity would have (maybe) made for a good blog.

Actually, I didn't email the poems directly but sent a link to a page on my website where I posted the poems along with an image derived from the black and white photos in the large-sized Feng/English edition (Vintage/Random 1972). The daily routine involved writing (rewriting really) the relevant poem, scanning the companion image, toying with the image (and sometimes the text) in Photoshop, then posting everything to what was then the Sunbrella Network. The whole mess is now archived here.

So Steve, of course, was one of the recipients of those spam-links and he approached one day with the idea of combining his Change and my Drops for a Subpress book (he's the member, not I). I really hadn't consciously made the link (pun belatedly acknowledged) between the two texts, so the proposal startled and thrilled me. We got to work a few months later trading manuscripts and working on pairings.

Given that there are 64 poems in I Change and 81 in Tao Drops, we had some trouble at first coming up with a scheme for how to "match" them. The number issue was tough enough, but we also obviously disagreed initially with some of each other's proposed content matches. He saw his #32, for example, working well with my #13, but I had already paired #13 with his #58. You can imagine the problems.

Eventually, I conceded with much humility that Steve's combinations, all in all, were much better than mine, so we followed his map quite closely with some adjustments reflecting the decisions I'd made. And so, Tao Drops, I Change was born.

I'll abbreviate the three subsequent years, during which both Steve and I passed through some serious life changes. He got married and had a baby with Leigh, and the three of them regrouped as a family in Honolulu. I got married too, to Octavia, and inherited two young girls (4 and 6 at the time), and the four of us moved out to La Mesa which sits just east of the SD city limits. I took a new job running the "Learning Skills Center" at Cuyamaca Community College and Octavia was in the process of moving from one job to another. The kids had to learn what "public school" was all about, and I too had to learn that year that running a skills center was not the right career move for me. I quit and went back to school and now wonder if really THAT is what I needed, blah blah...

Anyway, the point is much did indeed Change over the course of those three years and so the book project got put on hold, picked up occasionally, put back on hold again, etc. Steve and I exchanged occasional emails (often several months apart) about page layout and cover images -- I love the way Subpress puts the means of production squarely in the writers' hands! -- and eventually things came together.

I know for a fact that this book is better -- and good -- as a weaving together of these two projects. The two "sides" of TD,IC complement and relieve each other, toggling each other's pacing habits and syntactic strategies. Silly to say much more about it, but I'm happy with the way the title, all the way down to its comma, suggests the cumulative movement, the accruing action, of this work. The logical relationship between the two sentences remains less than explicit (e.g., compare "bough breaks, cradle falls"). But I can guarantee that where there's "drop," there's "change," and vice versa, and where the "tao" drops, the "I" changes, in literal ways conveyed in part, I hope, in this short narrative.

I wanted to think some of this through before rising up out of the smoke this Friday, and I thought it would be fun to share.


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