Clattery MacHinery on Poetry

April 1, 2007

Gill Dennis on Johnny Cash & voice in poetry

   


   

I thought this was very good:

Poetry Northwest: Unchained (by Gill Dennis): In which a screenwriter listens to Johnny Cash and considers the origins of a sound and in so doing sheds light on the subject of voice in poetry

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning:

In a second, he was on his feet, pacing. Agitated. “You want to know about my daddy? I’ll tell you about my daddy. When my daddy was on his deathbed and said he’d made his peace with God he was still a racist. Do you think that’s possible, to have made your peace with God and still be a racist? Well, he was. You want to know about my daddy? I’ll tell you about him. His brother was a county sheriff in Louisiana, who didn’t want black people in his cells. When a warrant would come in for a black man, my uncle would deputize my daddy and they’d go out to the man’s house, knock on the door, and ask, ‘Is Leroy in?’ And when Leroy appeared, they’d take him around back and shoot him. That’s who my daddy was.” John studied me. He looked down at the tape recorder. “Is that thing on?”

“Yes.”

“Turn it off.”

   

. . . .

   

And here’s an excerpt from the heart of the article:

The casualness of his voice gives it a striking intimacy. It is close to you. The voice encloses you. It sometimes sounds as if it is inside you. Once in Hendersonville, Tennessee, going out to John’s farm in his truck, I asked him what he’d sing in the fields picking cotton with his family. He thought a moment and then sang “My Grandfather’s Clock,” the whole thing from beginning to end with great care about a clock that “kept its time with a soft and muffled chime . . . / And it stopped . . . short, never to go again, when the old man died.” He sang quietly in that deep voice. It was as if he was speaking to you, you alone in the car with him, finding his way into the song to get it to you, as if there was no one else in the world but the two of you. It was riveting. What you wanted was everyone you love to be there. You thought, I wish I could make a few phone calls here.

   

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My Grandfather’s Clock by Johnny Cash


   

My grandfather’s clock was too large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor.
It was taller by half than the old man himself,
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.

It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born
And was always his treasure and pride,
But it stopped short, never to go again, when the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering,
His life seconds numbering,
It stopped short, never to go again, when the old man died.

My grandfather said that of those he could hire,
Not a servant so faithful he found.
For it wasted no time and had but one desire,
At the close of each week to be wound.

And it kept in its place, not a frown upon its face,
And its hands never hung by its side,
But it stopped short, never to go again, when the old man died.

It rang an alarm in the dead of the night,
An alarm that for years had been dumb.
And we knew that his spirit was pluming for flight,
That his hour for departure had come.

Still the clock kept the time with a soft and muffled chime,
As we solidly stood by his side,
But it stopped short, never to go again, when the old man died.

Ninety years without slumbering,
His life seconds numbering,
It stopped short, never to go again, when the old man died.

   

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November 15, 2006

From Pining Poem to Haunting Anthem: "Dark Eyes" by Yevhen Hrebinka

   

Duration 2:12

Chet Atkins (1924-2001)

   

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originally a poem in Ukrainian
   

by Yevhen Hrebinka (1812-48)
   

composer unknown
   

Dark Eyes (The Gypsy Anthem)
   

Eyes of ecstacy, always haunting me,
Always taunting me, with your mystery,
Tell me tenderly, you belong to me
For eternity–dark eyes talk to me!

Eyes so dark and dear, eyes of loveth here,
Beauty full and true, I’m in love with you.
Give me eyes of love, like the stars above.
You stole my heart. May we ever part!

Gypsy melody that has haunted me,
Won’t you set me free of all memory:
Of the time that’s waste, of the path we traced
Of the pain we taste–so endlessly!
   

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К. П. Гребенка

Очи черные, очи страстные !
Очи жгучие и прекрасные !
Как люблю я вас! Как боюсь я вас !
Знать, увидел вас я в недобрый час !

Ох, недаром вы глубины темней !
Вижу траур в вас по душе моей,
Вижу пламя в вас я победное:
Сожжено на нем сердце бедное.

Но не грустен я, не печален я,
Утешительна мне судьба моя:
Все, что лучшего в жизни бог дал нам,
В жертву отдал я огневым глазам !
   

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Duration 2:02

Dmitri Hvorostovsky (b. 1962)

   

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September 10, 2006

Call 911: Beck, Armitage, & Stevie Ray Vaughn Out of the Blue

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Jeff Beck–Going Down (1983, Arms Concert NY)

 
 

If I were to say that Jeff Beck is one of the great rock and roll guitarists, thousands or millions of people would be outraged that I did not name him as the single greatest. And here is one of the great rock songs, “Going Down.” If you like this kind of music, the guitar work is extraordinary. Frankly, I am at risk of not completing this poetry blog post, because I want to play this over and over, just listening and appreciating. But, isn’t there a flaw with the song–I mean, what about the lyrics?
 

Going Down
 

Well I’m going down
Down, down, down, down, down
I’m going down
Down, down, down, down, down
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the ground

She’s gone
Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
She’s gone
Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the ground

So I’m going down
Down, down, down, down
I’m going down, down, down, down, down
Down, down, down, down, yes I am
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the

Well I’m goin
Down, down, down, down, down
I’m going down
Down, down, down, down, down
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the ground
Gone
Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
She’s gone
Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the

Well I’m Down
Down, down, down, down, down
I’m going down
Down, down, down, down, down
I’ve got my head out the window
And my big feet on the ground, yes I have
Well she walked out the door
And I crawled right out there

 

 

In rock and roll, to have that much singing in a song, you’d think there’d be room for something more, some more depth. These words are okay. They give a background to feature the intrumentation with. And we get it about the going down part. So okay, but, on the other hand–just okay. Yet and still, the song remains amazing, if you’re into this kind of music.

What does this have to do with poetry, and Simon Armitage? For the 5th anniversary of 9/11, Armitage has a film-poem coming out. It’s called Out Of The Blue (the link is to his blog where the poem is, and here’s more blogging about it).

I love the technical virtuosity, and his musical ear in the poem. If you like this kind of poetry, it is remarkable. A minor downside is that it reads at times like he had T.S. Eliot ambitions while writing it. That’s okay. This post ends with Jeff Beck being joined by Stevie Ray Vaughn. Unreal!!–though SRV may be the only guitarist who honestly can do a great tribute to Hendrix. So, the “tribute” aspect of Armitage’s poem is forgivable, if existent for a given reader.

Isn’t there a real flaw with the poem, though? In the Richard Brooks article, Poem for 9/11, by the laureate in waiting, in the last Sunday London Times, Armitage is quoted as saying, “I wanted to do something which was both commemorative and elegiac, but not political.”

If Armitage is going to load his character with thoughts of someone, anyone, in the Towers five years ago, why load his or her mind with section three? Here’s some of it:

Is it shameless or brash to have reached top,
just me and America
ninety floors up?

Is it brazen to feel like a king, like a God,
to be surfing the wave
of a power trip,

a fortune under each fingertip,
a billion a minute, a million a blink,
selling sand to the desert,

ice to the Arctic,
money to the rich.
The elation of trading in futures and risk.

Here I stand, a compass needle,
a sundial spindle
right at the pinnacle.

Under my feet
Manhattan’s a simple bagatelle, a pinball table,
all lights and mirrors and whistles and bells.

In an e-mail, I wrote this to him a few nights ago:

The problem is in Section 3, where your character goes into a hubris situation, but also where he has ideas that truly a normal worker wouldn’t. For instance, a salesman would not really sell ice to the Arctic per se, but would look for where there was a need a fill it. An individual worker is not concerned with millions in a blink–his next $500 commission, or Friday’s paycheck with the $120 in overtime maybe.

Your risk becomes that a legitimate read is that the poet is saying that this type of thinking in your section 3, is representative of what the thousands who died were going through. My initial read was simply that you were showing how the greatest a human society can create or has come to, can become dust in moment. I suggest making this statement some other way than by making it part of your character.

Therefore, early in the poem, that character is no longer human, but representative of something social, and what follows is a comeuppance, and legitimately a political alignment because the murderous and destructive events were human-made. Of course, I do not think you mean for this to be the case, or that you believe this, but this is how the poem can be read and so will be, and maybe, therefore, should be.

Possibly, the video production will make up for his banker/ghost saying these things or having these thoughts five-years hence. On the other hand, loading a representative character with those words might bring such a poet as Armitage down quickly, especially one commissioned as a laureate-in-waiting. Look what happened after Amiri Baraka’s Somebody Blew Up America, and Armitage’s poem is debuting on an even wider stage than Baraka’s.

We’ll see. In the mean time, I can enjoy his great riffing with the language. First, though, let me hear that Beck/Vaughn guitar duet one more time.

Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jeff Beck

 

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Commemorative 9/11 Addendum
 


 

One way to commemorate 9/11 is with a Desktop Theme called “In Memory Sep 11” by Ingalill Colbell at Themes You Have Never Seen Before (Page 5).

And by the way, I organize my themes using Desktop Architect.

 

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