Page 40 - Litteratteur Redefining World December issue
P. 40

Litterateur redefining world                      December 2020





             In an essay, I wrote this about the poem:


             This poem, like much of my work, deliberately situates itself in the space between
             performance and reading silently. William Burroughs’ idea of the “routine”--with its
             suggestion of vaudeville--is relevant here. I want the piece to be read—but I want it
             to  be  heard  as  well.  (The  cassette  tape  which  accompanies  my  book  Adrift—
             Pantograph,  1993—contains  a  performance  of  the  poem,  as  does  the  CD  which
             accompanies O Powerful Western Star: Pantograph, 2000.) Silent reading will give
             you certain things which you could not get from a performance; a performance will
             give  you  things  you  couldn’t  possibly  get  from  silent  reading.  Neither  the  silent

             reading nor the performance by itself “is” the poem—which I would resist calling a
             “performance piece.”


             Robert Duncan, great poet that he was, did us all the service of attempting to make
             an exact equivalence between the poem as “scored” on the page and the poem as
             read aloud...The suggestion that the typewriter can “score” the poem comes from
             Charles Olson’s “Projective Verse” essay, but Duncan follows Olson’s suggestion
             more  strictly  than  Olson  himself  did.  For  Ground  Work  I:  Before  the  War  (1984),
             Duncan  persuaded  his  publisher,  New  Directions,  to  print  a  facsimile  of  his
             typescript, so that his careful spacing could be reproduced exactly. Still, when we
             hear  Duncan  read  the  poems,  it  becomes  immediately  apparent  how  little  of  his
             voice the page can contain—though the page in itself has considerable interest. As
             his  work  makes  clear,  there  is,  at  best,  only  a  limited  connection  between  the

             sound of the poem and its visual appearance on the page.


             It is in this gulf between sound and print that my poem takes place.


             The poem touches on a number of the themes I have been writing about in this
             essay. When I wrote the poem, I had been thinking a great deal about the work of
             the composer Charles Ives. Often Ives shifts keys so quickly that, by the end of the
             piece,  we  have  lost  all  sense  of  key  signature:  the  next  note  can  be,  literally,
             anything. Something analogous happens here. When we listen to someone speak,
             we are usually listening primarily for content. It is only “secondarily” that we listen
             for the sound of the person’s voice. In my poem we are given so many assertions,
             so much “content”—and contexts shift so quickly—that finally we are “listening”
             to  nothing  but  the  sound  of  the  speakers,  the  “articulation  of  sound”  which  is
             going on precisely at this moment. Content draws us away from the present; my
             poem insists on what is happening right now, forces the listener into a present in
             which  she  or  he  is  immediately  involved.  And  what  is  this  “present”?  It  is  the
             intense perception of a poem being spoken in a room. The poem, directed into the
             consciousness  of  its  hearers,  is  in  this  sense  transformational,  shifting  its

             listeners out of content and context into the pure perception of sound. When the
             two voices suddenly stop and pause before going on to conclude the poem, the



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