Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Green Bottle Blues

In the first installment of the new podcast project PoemTalk, three poets discuss William Carlos Williams’ short poem “Between Walls.” It seems that since PennSound has posted all of Williams’ available readings, people are starting discover with dismay that his reading performances do not give any clue as to particularities of the line as he wrote it.
One could speculate whether he knew what the heck he was doing. Maybe he felt too constrained by the genteel context of the pre-Beat-era public reading to really perform his lines as written. Regardless, I liked the almost petulant flavor of his home-recorded reading: he projects the word “nothing” as if he wanted it to be an object . . . a "something" beyond him. “Broken” and “bottle” are flung far enough from the body so they could stand off and judge it; or rather, not even that far—it’s more like spit in the wind. (Cf. Marinetti, whose flung words transform the provincially trapped poet, merging into an international technosphere.) The poets had a good laugh at the improbability of doing a podcast devoted to Paterson: Do it!
My only criticisms at the onset of this well-produced and interesting project are the tag line and the intro. The idea of “close but not too close reading” is a cute phrase that conceals a lot of culture war ressentiment—and it has always seemed to me disingenuous for the poetic avant-garde to disavow the theoretical practices that have helped over the years create its core audience. And the intro sounds much too much like that of Martin Spinelli’s Radio Radio (which, because Al Filreis sounds almost exactly like Spinelli is just . . . weird): so Al, if you need someone to design a new intro for you, call me!

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Monday, December 17, 2007

It's Hard to be Hydrocephalic

Last week, New Jersey as an Impossible Object taped Graham Stowe singing his Patersong "The Skeleton of Peter the Dwarf" based off material from Books I and IV (pp. 10 and 192 respectively). The music is by Jonathan Sircy. More of their songs based on Paterson can be found on archive.org. Graham is a doctoral candidate here at the University of South Carolina, and is embarking on a dissertation about Williams' Paterson and Olson's Maximus Poems. Along with Kenneth Camacho, he's kept a blog, The Paterson Project, which documents their use of Paterson as raw material for new poems and songs.

The Skeleton of Peter the Dwarf

It’s hard to be a hydrocephalic.
54 inches, head to toe
(27 from my chin to scalp alone;
That makes me a marvel.)

Washington came to see me
(the man, not the city; or, maybe, the city is the man).
He looked at me; marveled at me;
I answered with inactivity.

I floated along, day to day,
endlessly rocking,
loving Jesus and preacher’s conversation,
swelling with pride at the show I could provide.

It was hard for me to move,
my head being so huge,
but I got by without going out;
keeping to the cerebral.

my head's got its own box now,
it's lost all its water!
and now they say my skull is a marvel!
but they say nothing of the parts of me everyone's had.

What I never told in my time
was that, more than theology or phrenology,
all I ever wanted out of life
was to not shit in my cradle.

A tiny outhouse with plenty of headroom,
straps to hold me up and a stand
from which I could read
my Bible or a dirty magazine.

Oh that would be marvelous.
“A marvel indeed,” they would say,
as they tied me in and
sang of my tenacity.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Acousmatic Ghosts

I’ve been wondering lately whether Williams’ Paterson might help me think through issues on another topic I’ve been writing on—Pierre Schaeffer’s acousmatic music and contemporary uses of the term acousmatic. Both Williams’ and Schaeffer’s work draw from the fragment, snapped out of the flow of life, and transformed in the work. The notion of the acousmatic implies that, with recorded sound you listen blindly—the lawn mower weaned of its backyard and whirled into multitimbral projections (something that the word cannot do as easily, unless all semantic and word-based elements are erased –cf. the poesie sonore of Henri Chopin, et al). Yet, with tape music, before these sounds become otherworldly, they are in the world, and the choice one makes to sample or process a sound is not an arbitrary or unmeaningful one (I once had a student who told me his abstract sound piece was composed of the recordings of holocaust survivors he found on the web; he didn’t seem to have any investment in either why he chose the samples or distorted them beyond recognition, other than that they were there and he could do it.) Contemporary, conservative acousmatic artists will claim that the referent does not matter in the pursuit of some purist idea of art. Francisco Lopez, perhaps the most anxious of these latter-day acousmatisticians, seems so put upon by the idea of significance that he goes as far as to say: “There can only be a documentary or communicative reason to keep the cause-object relationship in the work with soundscapes, never an artistic/musical one.” But it’s precisely the communicative and documentary urges that motivate both Williams and Schaeffer to create texts uniquely drawn from the world—not to reflect it, but to imagine new relations. In his essay “Hypermetrics” Sean Cubitt says, “Williams is prepared to open the foot to relativity, not only in the abstract, but in the weight of the relations between people that are concretised in words” (Writing Aloud 122). Compare Schaeffer, who old-school acousmatician Francois Bayle describes as wanting to “relate a musical object to its most general context, to the spiritual destiny of the period” by arraying “marks, blank spaces, questioning forms which, . . . designate what neither shows nor conceals, but beckons.” There is a sense that, far from lugging the reel to reels up high Parnassus, the acousmatic musician threaded his capstans to navigate the high seas of "unmusical" sound, as well as the oceanic substance of future time itself. As such, he needed to create a network of relays between the documentary source of the recordings, the present tense of composition, and the future relations such experimentations heralded. Perhaps what haunts both Schaeffer’s and Williams’ experiments is the intractability of the real, but what makes them still valid is their hypostatizing of democratic ideals in form and their openness to the potential of the future. Sean Cubitt goes on to say, “Capital’s social relations could not afford a resolution: the power of this poetry arises from its failure.” (123) Strange sentence, that. Does “its” refer to the social relations or to poetry? I guess, maybe to inaccurately quote a line I heard Charles Bernstein once deliver, red wheelbarrowing-it for the audience, “so much depends upon what you mean by failure.”

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