Charles Parker known as Yardbird For his love of chicken whether Fried or roasted sometimes performed On a toy saxophone and occasionally Dozed off on the bandstand or failed To show up altogether. He was Jewish.
Of Lizzie Douglas also referred To as Memphis Minnie it was said She could naturally play a guitar But would put the guitar down To turn a trick for two dollars. Her bat mitzvah was in 1910.
Tennessee-born Fred McDowell They called Mississippi Fred McDowell When in Lafayette County around 1949 He taught open-tuned guitar to R.L. Burnside. Those men loved kreplach soup. Gedempte fleisch? They fressed.
Such are the nistarim, the Hidden Ones! ‘Peradventure if ten be found there, ‘For ten’s sake I will spare Sodom.’ Amen!
Light flows our war of mocking words, and yet, Behold, with tears mine eyes are wet! I feel a nameless sadness o’er me roll. Yes, yes, we know that we can jest, We know, we know that we can smile! But there ’s a something in this breast, To which thy light words bring no rest, And thy gay smiles no anodyne; Give me thy hand, and hush awhile, And turn those limpid eyes on mine, And let me read there, love! thy inmost soul.
I posted about Mack here a couple of weeks ago. At the time I knew he wasn't well but I was hopeful. His owner tells me that 11 is well beyond the usual for this breed. Still, as someone said to me after the previous post, these fellas do get under your skin. He's been gone from his usual spot for a couple of days now and I miss him horribly.
John Ashbery, who forged his poetry career out of a genius ability to surprise us, spent last Monday evening talking about the art of chance.
The poet visited an audience of 300 people at The New School to read poems from his most recent book, Planisphere, and from Illuminations, his translation of Arthur Rimbaud’s prose poems due this spring from Norton.
Ashbery repeatedly encouraged the audience to invite chance into their work. Slam words together, he said, welcome surprises in your titles, your sestinas and your writing prompts.
His own ability to surrender control and piece together disparate items helped him master both poetry and collage. (He exhibited 30 years of his collages in 2008.) And it has produced astonishing lines like “nobody knows I’m a nudist” and “how can I lick some calendars?” both from poems he read Monday.
David Lehman, the event’s moderator and the New School’s poetry coordinator, asked Ashbery how the processes of poetry and collage compare.
“In my case, they’re very similar,” Ashbery said. “It’s taking something and saying, ‘that would look nice next to something else, perhaps that thing over there.’ The element of chance plays a very important role. Something is ripped out of its context and forced into a new one, creating a new kind of meaning.”
This is why he is so fond of the cento, he said, a form composed of lines taken from other authors. It allows him to preserve his favorite lines of poetry “as a kind of scrapbook.”
And the sestina? It’s both torture device and thrill ride, Ashbery said, “a cruel, iron maiden form” that gives one the sensation of riding a bicycle downhill.
“The form brings an element of chance to play in a poem,” he said. “The lines will end with six words you couldn’t possibly have imagined before writing the poem. I welcome it as a way of opening and exploring new territory in a poem.”
Photo credits: bottom, (c) Star Black (2011); top and jump, Stephanie Paterik.
The default on my satellite radio is 73, "Seriously Sinatra," which is almost always great, not least because you get to hear guest disc jockeys like Steve Lawrence talk about singing, maybe sing a few bars and tell an anecdote. There was the time Steve was sitting alone and Dean Martin walked in and said "Hello Steve and Eydie."
This afternoon we're listening to the singer Julius La Rosa, who was once famous for quitting (or being fired from) Arthur Godfrey's morning TV show. He was the show's singer, and a damned good one, but he had the nerve to ask for a raise. Godfrey said he "lacked humility." At least that's how I remember it, but I was maybe ten years old at that time, so I'm not ceertain I have all the details right.
Brooklyn boy "Julie" La Rosa is playing Sinatra's definitive "One for My Baby" to illustrate how Sinatra "acted the song." This is an insight one has heard before, but now La Rosa is advancing the thesis that Sinatra "improved" Cole Porter, To do so, La Rosa relies on his reliable baritone to demonstrate the rhythmical difference between what the "melodically magnificent" Porter wrote and Sinatra's swinging rendition of the first line of "I've Got You Under My Skin." The melody is indeed marvelous, but Porter's equally marvelous lyric requires a different rhythm -- the behind-the-beat finger-snapping swing that Sinatra perfected. Now La Rosa is playing the Sinatra cover. I shall pause for three minutes and forty three seconds to listen. Sublime.
Now La Rosa is doing the same thing with "It Was Just One of Those Things." And now "I Get a Kick Out of You." He sings the opening bars as written and then he sings the same in the Sinatra manner to show that Sinatra discovered the song within the song -- the rhythmical delivery without which Porter's music and words would be incomplete. How often have I listened to Sinatra's take on Porter in such Nelson Riddle-arranged records as "Songs for Swinging Lovers" and "Songs for Young Lovers / Swing Easy." But LaRosa has come up with the best radio intro to this trio of Porter tunes that I have ever heard. DL
I met poet Sean Thomas Dougherty back in 1996 when he featured for Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Laura Boss at a Barnes and Noble somewhere near Paterson, New Jersey. Back then I was still working the 12 to 8 shift in a mold making plant. I had not slept well that day, perhaps two hours and some change, and the reading was a thirty mile drive from my apartment. Putting those two factors together, it made sense to stay home and get a couple hours snooze time. Fortunately, reason has never run rough shod over intuition, and something about the name Sean Thomas Dougherty compelled me to forget my sleep deprivation, the thirty mile drive, and the 8 hour shift I was due to punch in on. If you’ve ever worked in a mold base factory, you’ll notice hardly any of the men or women are unscathed. Mangled fingers, slipped disks, an occasional amputation are the rule. Being tired around 3 ton steel, around cutting and grinding machines that eat such steel can be conducive to the loss of body parts. I thought: “so what?” I made the drive.
I’m glad I did. Sean Thomas Dougherty was both a solid poet and performer of poetry. The two are not always one. Some poets, some very good poets go out of their way to make sure they don’t “perform.” God forbid! People might mistake them for entertainers! Personally I always thought a poet ought to risk being mistaken for being an entertainer rather than for being a cadaver who can read (though I must admit it might be interesting to hear a corpse recite poetry). Sean did not ham it up, or oversell the poems. He didn’t have to. I knew by his references, by his metaphors, and sound that he had read a great deal of poetry, that he had a far roaming yet accurate ear, and that these poems I was hearing out loud would deepen rather than disappear when I brought the book back with me to the mold making plant and read them at lunch break. I was right again. I wore his book out, and have had the luck to be his friend for 15 years. We have never lived closer than three hundred miles, and so most of the friendship has been conducted through phone calls, an occasional feature, and long face book threads where Sean spins great punk songs from around the world, and is very expansive in his definition of what constitutes punk . Expansive is the right word for everything he does.
The poem below is taken from his latest, and I think best book, Sandra Sings the Laundry on the Line (BOA editions). Sean reconciles a lot of conflicting registers and references in his poems—hip hop and punk with Lorca, working class narratives with language theory, whatever “defective means” as Williams said will suffice to make the poem live both on and off the page. I have chosen a love poem which has Sean muting his trumpet and blowing soft, yet as Dorianne Laux writes of Sean, this is “the gyspy punk heart of American poetry.” Gypsies can play ballads, too.
Our Love as an Origami Crane
Kiss me as Bjork sings the discordant swoon-light, Searchlights ghost across our bodies banks.
Ankle to hand, the illusionists we’ve become tongues struck to the dark wind.
Pin the mute flywheel you feel, peel back your raiment. Bjork cracks sound,
Rounds vowels we open in field,
yielding a harvest beyond despair --
Repair, nothing we bear shall ever harden into fists.
“The hypertrophy of information leads to the atrophy of form” – Kenneth Burke
In 1927, over 80 years before Zadie Smith warned us of the vapid communications, and the break down of the private self in her well written and lengthy essay on both the movie “The Social Network” and the book “You Are Not A Gatchet” by Jaron Lanier, the philosopher, literary critic Kenneth Burke summed up the distinction between form and information succinctly: information, in and of itself, is inert, non-dramatic, non-relational has none of the glamour of gradual unfolding, or revealing and concealing (intimacy), and its hypertrophy tends to distort people’s ability to create and apprehend form which Burke defined as “the building up and fulfillment of a desire on the part of a reader (auditor, audience, beloved---take your pick).
Whether we are talking of set forms (sonnet) or form as a drama, a narrative, a ceremony, a relationship, form unfolds. It creates anticipation, temporarily thwarts or delays fulfillment, leads to a climax, and then to a slow tapering off in the afterglow of the fulfillment. Form is all about desire and fulfillment (or thwarting). The creator of face book claims he wants to eliminate desire (Hello Lacan), and, to follow what Smith writes, he is well on his way to doing it. Information without form is more or less phatic (a word meaning communication not intended to be profound, but to convey a sort of quick and easy fellow feeling). Information that revels in being phatic (the visual information of an Andy Warhol, the verbal information of a strict Dadaist poem) is part and parcel with certain aspects of post-modernism.
Yet, if this is so, face book might represent a new sort of consciousness. We must be careful of getting cranky about new forms of consciousness. Zadie Smith likes using 1.0 and 2.0 people. She also likes using the word nerd (everything she says to create her sense of nerd consciousness is also one of the traits of high functioning Asbergers, though she never uses this word. At the danger of using an illness as metaphor, nerd consciousness might be rendered as Asberger’s consciousness—a hyper literalism, a tendency towards obsessive preoccupations, and an inability to catch other people’s emotional cues). People with Asbergers must intuit the emotions of others by rote, by training. They do not “get” fellow feelings. They have feelings, but most of them are closer to the basic emotions of fear, engagement, and seeking. They are sincere, and single minded to the point of seeming ironic. They are not ironic. The most valuable insight in Smith’s review of the movie is how the film maker has mistranslated nerd consciousness into the old plot of a man corrupted by power, status, and success. This is the old trope of the nerd who just wants to get girls. Smith does a good job of showing how this is not the case. What Smith does not point out is that removed from face book and its own scary lack of depth, our culture has been rewarding lack of emotional depth coupled with technical expertise for over a century. It is nothing new. Her essay is just a contemporary wrinkle on a very old bed sheet: human loss of true intimacy, depth, and privacy, and the hypertrophy of information over form is something philosophers and poets were complaining about in the 19th century: the world is too much with us late and soon/getting and spending we lay waste our powers.”
Mark Strand reading "First Death in Nova Scotia (c)Lawrence Schwartzwald
Alice Quinn of the Poetry Society of America brilliantly organized the group reading Tuesday February 8th honoring the 100th anniversary of Elizabeth Bishop's birth. At Cooper Union's Great Hall, nineteen poets read a favorite Bishop poem. The reading of poems in chronological order of publication was interspersed with snippets of correspondence between Bishop and New Yorker editors Katharine White, William Maxwell, and Howard Moss -- with Maria Tucci as the voice of Elizabeth Bishop, Alice Quinn as that of Katharine White, and current New Yorker poetry editor Paul Muldoon speaking for Messrs. Maxwell and Moss. We learned that the magazine turned down the Bishop poem that John Ashbery had wished to read, "Over 2,000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance." Longtime poetry editor Howard Moss in one of his letters to Elizabeth Bishop confided that he was up to his ears in poems.Two hundred had appeared in the last two days, "in addition to the usual million." What Moss could use, he added, was a grant to open a hamburger stand in New Jersey.
Richard Howard (L)and James Fenton (c)Lawrence Schwartwald
(Note, if you squint hard enough at the photo of Mark Strand, you can make out Vijay Seshadri, Kimiko Hahn, Elizabeth Alexander, David Lehman, and Jean Valentine in the background; we were seated at cafe tables on the stage. -- DL