…on music and poetry and poetry and music on…
by Steve Fly
“Omniverse / Is / The totality / Of / All the universes / And you / Are welcome / To / Be citizens / Of / The Omniverse–Sun Ra, Omniverse.
“Rhythm…is the first formal esthetic relation of any part to part in any esthetic whole or of an esthetic whole to its part or parts or of any part to the esthetic whole of which it is a part.–James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)
To this drummer/blogger, music and poetry share common parenting in the human universe. For example the 8 fingers and 2 thumbs, 2 arms, 2 legs, 2 eyes, 2 ears, 1 mouth and lungs of the majority of humans on earth create a basis and foundation for the human arts. The infinite potential of human hardware, the body, linked up with the infinite potential of the human software, mind, exhibited together in the spacetime flux of sound and symbol can heal the human condition and help the individual get a taste for freedom, and a little regiment.
Ezra Pound started to write poetry in the musical phrase in 1912, 102 years ago. James Joyce, Jack Kerouac, Ed Sanders, Amiri Baraka, Bob Dylan and Charles Olson John Sinclair continue to innovate the marriage of music and poetry, while assimilating what came before them, poems including history. A poem including history, resting on a musical chassis (a fugue perhaps) when synchronized to become more than the sum of its parts, bursting with illuminated detail. Haiku like condensed moments of multiple meanings arranged in precise structures. In the pocket.
“He (Pound) remarks further in melopoeia we find “a force tending often to lull or distract the reader from the exact sense of the language. It is poetry on the borders of music and music is perhaps the bridge between consciousness and the unthinking sentient or insentient universe.”–Murray Schafer, Pound and Music, 1961.
The phrase ‘beat poetry’ echoes the marriage of music and poetry outright, and its proponents experimented with new musical forms (1940s-50s) to design a new chassis upon which to craft whole a new vehicle with which to carry a new generation blazing into the futurepresent. A small group of wild eyed dreamers well versed in world literature gave birth to a new America, an alternative to the expanding imperialist capitalist American world police, buying up the entire planet and its resources after world war II.
“I consider every creative musical composition a tone poem.–Sun Ra, Poems are Music, Jazz by Sun Ra.
Beat poetry, and beat poets surfed the wake of be-bop jazz engineered by the genius of a Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie or a Thelonious Monk, a new musical form able to contain multiplicity, the perfect rhythm and melody to hook into, waltz with, and to compose by. A new emergent cultural paradigm parented by modernist poetry and be-bop jazz, a new poetic and musical renaissance, new forms able to contain the acceleration of information.
“All of a sudden somwhere in the middle of the chorus he gets IT- everybody looks up and knows; they listen; he picks it up and carries. Time stops. He’s filling empty space with the substance of our lives, confessions of his bellybottom strain, remembrance of ideas, rehashes of old blowing. He has to blow across bridges and come back and do it with such infinite feeling soul-exploratory for the tune of the moment that everybody knows its not the tune that counts but IT–Jack Kerouac, On The Road.
To have learned and mastered the technical skills associated with both fields, and to have unlearned them, and cast off into the real world of the localized circumstances, cast away into the human universe with a dashing of chaos, synchronicity and surprises, the nature of things. Into the time signatures and meters, the swing and canter, the familiar, the haunting, the harmonic laws and the songs, the tunes and the patterns of vibrational frequency, science, mathematics, geography and neuro-relativity all-at-onceness.
The poet composer steersman, author and creator of the observer created human universe. So, the great masters exhibit the contradiction of the unique academic scholar, and the everyman street-hip citizen. Amen. Both high-brow culture and low-brow culture pulled down onto the page, synthesized and projected into the shared world, activated by the human body and extending instruments, refined for further translations. Peace comes of communication, Pound said.
“Poetry, 1st of all, was the and still must be, a musical form. It is speech musicked. It, to be most powerful, much reaches to where speech begins, as sound, and bring the sound into full focus and highly rhythmic communication. High Speech.–Amiri Baraka, New Music New Poetry, 1982.
Technology may help humans extend the output, but at the expense of hindering the input. A microphone plugged into radio network and global telecommunications system can push words and music everywhere twenty-four-seven, yet without sufficient feedback and attention to diversity such technology may simply expand the stupidity and/or dangerous dumbing down of culture, mediated by the moneymen, censored by the state, predictable and so low in information content.
My examples of great poets who surf upon the musical form, and acknowledge it, are difficult to find in 2014, mixed up with painfully weak imitations, watered down bubblegum pop smashes. Plus the entire Juggernaut of popular reading and listening material, the so called entertainment industry, which i
presume to have more in common with the military industrial economic tradition than that of the human universe: the study of mind, body, language, history, geography, geometry and the foundation of the arts.
“I have set this to music. I put a melody to it because Sappho, just like William Blake or Robert Burns, they almost set themselves to music. That’s how I discovered it was choriambic. I figured out the long and shorts as best I could, then I just kind of breathed into it. Just like Yeats, I guess. Yeats, when he was polishing his poems, kind of beat time with his hands, sing-song it, until he’d get the sound. It’s the same way working with Greek texts, to try to figure out the meters for complicated texts or to get the melody lines. I play the Sappho with this little three-stringed dulcimer-like instrument.–Ed Sanders, New Letters Interview.
Poetry classes including and focused on Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Amiri Baraka, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Charles Olson. Music classes including and focused on Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Gil Evans, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus, and Sun Ra. Each a master of their crafts, and each criss-crossing the boundaries of poetry and music in the 20th century. Whenever possible, learn from them, listen and read.
“To put it baldly. The two halves are:
the HEAD by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE
the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE–Charles Olson, Projective Verse.
Furthermore, reconsider the works of our living underground musical poets such as Ed Sanders, John Sinclair and David Amram who each embody this rich tradition in their own way and perform their epic works today, works that condense the brilliance of those characters above and carry the lantern of an ancient bardic tradition that courted many musical forms and many varied harmonies and fluid rhythmic intelligences since the deep origins of time itself. Ancestor worship, as John Sinclair might say.
“It never occurred to me that there would be any reason not to read poetry with music. And the clearer I got my own legitimate historical and cultural sources, the more obvious it became that not only was the poetry supposed to be as musical as it could be, but that reading with music would only enhance and extend its meaning and give new strength to its form.–Amiri Baraka, New Music New Poetry, 1982.
Perhaps this is a familiar story of modernism moving toward post-modernism with the additional under-acknowledged impact of poetry and music on the immeasurable process. Maybe these ideas demarcate groundwork to begin a critique of contemporary figures in the arts of music and poetry, those considered to be the greats today, and look at how they square up to the greats of yesteryear, and the greats here with us today who may have been overlooked by others, or even written out of popular culture due to perceived limits on attention span and the intellect of a general audience? either way, poets who have studied the musical forms and composed by them have a foot in the door.
Amsterdam, Fly Agaric Studios
December 25th, 2014.
Special thanks to John Sinclair for the inspiration for this investigation.
“It is time we picked the fruits of the experiments of Cummings, Pound, Williams, each of whom has, after his way, already used the machine as a scoring to his composing, as a script to its vocalization. It is now only a matter of the recognition of the conventions of composition by field for us to bring into being an open verse as formal as the closed, with all its traditional advantages.–Charles Olson, Projective Verse. .
“Both poems offer instruction on humankind’s place in the non-human world, availing themselves of pedagogical methods that best suit their theories. For Fuller, this is the didactic and linear narrative keyed to the tenets of progress and development. For Olson, it is non-linear ideogram that best replicates his understanding of post-humanist immanence–Mark Byers, Environmental Pedagogues. Charles Olson and R. Buckminster Fuller.
“The poetry I wasn’t to write is oral by tradition, mass aimed as its fundamental function motive. Black poetry, in its mainstream is oracular, sermonic, it incorporates the screams and shouts and moans and wails of the people inside and outside of the churches. The whispers and thunder vibrato and staccato of the inside and outside of the people themselves and it wants to be as real as anything else and as accessible as a song – a song about a real world, full of good and evil.–Amiri Baraka, New Music New Poetry, 1982,
“I think of the chords at times, i think of meditations at times, and rhythms at times, and–i don’t know what else–John Coltrane, Tokyo, July 9, 1966.
Amiri Baraka, “Charles Olson and Sun Ra.” Fourth Annual Charles Olson Memorial Lecture. Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, MA. 19 October 2013.
Jack Kerouac and Steve Allen: Charlie Parker
The Fugs live on Sweedish TV. 1966
Ed Sanders 75th Birthday Party
Ezra Pound reading Canto LXXXI
John Sinclair: the ‘Mohawk’ Interview 2014
Eddie Jefferson: Ornithology
“Poetry lies not only in the spoken or written word. The poetry of facts is stronger still. Objects which signify something and which are arranged with talent and with tact create a poetic fact.–Corbusier, 1923.