Jim Leftwich

Bag Texts

According to Turtle Trax Glossary, an arribada is a mass nesting of turtles. Perhaps the most famous arribada was recorded on film by an amateur cameraman, Ing. Herrera, and shown by Dr. Henry Hildebrand in 1961. It recorded an estimated 40,000 Kemp’s ridley females nesting on a single day at one beach in Mexico, Rancho Nuevo. In So Excellent A Fishe, Archie Carr gives a marvelous account of the circumstances leading up to this event, and his elation at seeing the film for the first time. Rancho Nuevo remains the only known nesting beach for the Kemp’s ridley. According to the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service Recovery Plan for the Kemp’s ridley, from 1978 to 1991, a single arribada rarely reached 200 females. The Kemp’s ridley is considered to be the marine turtle most at risk, and is listed as endangered.

I first saw the word “arribada” in an essay by Mike Basinski on the subject of visual poetry and experimental textual poetries functioning as scores for the performance of sound poetry.

“The film was short,” wrote Archie Carr in So Excellent a Fishe: A Natural History of Sea Turtles (1986). “It was shaky in places, faded with time, and rainy with scratches. But it was cinema of the year all the same, the picture of the decade. For me really, it was the movie of all time. For me, personally, as a searcher after ridleys, the film outdid everything from Birth of a Nation to Zorba the Greek. It made Andres Herrera in my mind a cinematographer far finer than Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock or Walt Disney could ever aspire to be. At the Cannes Festival the film might not receive great acclaim, although it might. To any zoologist, however, especially to a turtle zoologist and most specifically to me, the film was simply shattering. It is still hard for me to understand the apathy of a world in which such a movie can be so little celebrated.”

I think I first saw the Basinski essay in the mid-90s. It may have been in the “technique” volume of O.blek 12 (1993). I don’t remember.
No matter when I first encountered the word, I remembered it in the summer of 2002 when, after attending the Avant Writing Symposium at The Ohio State University, I started tearing and stretching plastic bags to create a form of visual poetry. The first “bag text” I remember making was entitled “Ramada Arribada”.




Ramada Arribada 2002

In 1914, John B. Rathbun wrote, “The scratches and dirt produce what is known as a ‘rainy film,’ or a film in which the motion of the scratches on the screen appears as a heavy downpour of rain. A film in this condition is exceedingly annoying to an audience for the ‘rain’ not only obscures the picture but dazzles and tires the eyes as well.” from Motion picture making and exhibiting. A comprehensive volume treating the principles of motography; the making of motion pictures; the scenario; the motion picture theater; the projector; the conduct of film exhibiting; methods of coloring films; talking pictures, etc.

A bag text is a blurred text, a splotch poem, a letteral taffy, blot into blotch, a botched attempt, a skid-mark, a reading-route announced at its signpost as cul de sac, to be read while going ninety miles an hour down a dead end street.
A bag text begins as something readable, but not interesting enough to read more than once, and is transformed into something unreadable, and therefore interesting enough to read and misread as though it were a poem.
The legible bag text is useful and therefore useless. The illegible bag text is useless and therefore useful.
Is it enough to say we defamiliarize the bag text by positioning it under the umbrella of ostranenie? Of course it is. The language in a poem is always already defamiliarized.




The bag I am looking at now reads:


Should I suspect it of speaking to me in code? The bag text is dirty concrete, thus its crumpled, crinkled, wrinkled, corrugated condition. It is a flattened clump.
It is not speaking to me at all. It also is not silent. It transmits a letteral music, a tangled nest of marks and letters.
What do I want to know?
What am I willing to know?
A bag text is a minor entry in the unnamed training manual, listed under the heading of “de-programming device”. It will train your dendrites to a hidden trellis. It will unwrap your axons from the dominant lattice.
Of course you have to do this many times, this and similar things, over and over, day after week after month after year, decade after decade, day in, day out, hour after hour, minute by minute — some of it will be as tedious as this, and will last almost infinitely longer.

“They killed turtles, distributed the meat in the interior, dried calipee for sale, and mined the eggs in masses. Three years ago I realized that I had heard no definite report of an arribada since some time in the latter part of the 1950s,” wrote Archie Carr in 1986, in So Excellent a Fishe. “Now I have just finished canvassing every possible source of information, and it adds up to the dismal certainty that no arribada has been seen for at least seven years. Two or three skipped years might be attributed to chance, because ninety miles is a long beach and there are not really many people there. Now, however, there is no escaping the snowballed evidence that the great arrivals have failed. Cotorras still straggle ashore along the Tamaulipas coast, but they are few and scattered. The fabulous conclaves of former years have gone the way of a thousand other sea turtle colonies before them.”




Russell Mclendon (2013) Sea turtles around the world are eating plastic at an unprecedented pace, a new study reveals, with some species downing twice as much as they did 25 years ago. This indigestible, potentially fatal diet is especially popular among young turtles in the open ocean, deepening concerns about the ancient animals’ long-term outlook.
Plastic bags can bear a striking resemblance to jellyfish underwater, and scientists have long known they have a tendency to confuse hungry sea turtles. But the problem has exploded lately amid a historic surge in plastic pollution, which is forming giant oceanic “garbage patches” that are expected to continue growing for centuries. The new study is the first global analysis of the issue since 1985, covering more than a quarter century of research on green and leatherback sea turtles, both of which are endangered.

The bag I am looking at now reads:

cim Jir

It is curved and flaps quietly like a kite in gentle wind. It has collapsed on the floor like a discarded shirt. It is a beach towel abandoned to high tide. It is a seagull advertising its own imminent death by plastic, death by immersion in plastic, death by consumption, consumed by plastic. We will turn ourselves into a poem, and the poem will die, consumed by plastic, immersed in plastic death. We will turn our death into a poem, and our death will die, eaten by plastic, to exit as plastic shit. We will turn our shit into a poem, and our shit will die, eaten by plastic death, shit by plastic poems. We will turn our poems into poems, our death into shit and our shit into kites. We will flap our deaths like floors in gentle wind. Our deaths abandoned to advertising. Death by consumption of ourselves.





Jim Leftwich is a poet who lives in Roanoke, Virginia. ​Recent publications include ​​Volumes 1​, 2​ & ​3​ of ​​Rascible & Kempt (Luna Bisonte 2016​, 2017​, edited by John M. and C. Mehrl Bennett).