Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Black History Month

From the halls of Trevon Martin
to the shores of Rodney King
we will share our nation's blindness
and our lost belief.
We will shore up the broken levies
along the shattered shore
where we'll dream of peace & freedom
and fellowship no more.

From the hidden Tubman railway
To Lincoln's bold brigade
we will tally all our losses
and the errors that we've made.
We will sing beside the fires
as we watch Atlanta burn
and offer solemn prayers
for the way the lesson turns.

Oh, the dreams of Frederick Douglas
and the life of Malcolm X!
We await another prophet:
Who will be murdered next?
And we bathe by water cannon
And we love the happy dogs
And we think we see our freedom
Beyond the tear gas fog.

Take a sip of Big Bill Broonzy
and a draught of Bessie Smith,
the love supreme of Coltrane
and Satchmo's swinging scat;
you can call with your mourning
or your low-down blues
I've got a Robert Johnson heartache
and my harp's just for you.

Work in Progress.  “Black History Month” is a working title only

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Behind the Curtain: A Loveless Marriage

This is probably the first poem I've written in a while that almost demands an explanation.  In fact, it's possible that the process will prove to be more interesting than the poem itself.

Except for a few stray phrases, this poem began on Wednesday, September 4, the 100th anniversary of John Cage's birthday. The NPR story mentioned that at one point, John Cage determined the motifs for a piece of work by throwing the I Ching; this was his way of removing his ego, and introducing an element of chance. I wondered whether this might be done with a poem.

Over the previous weekend, I had watched a documentary on William S. Burroughs, A Man Within. Burroughs, of course, is best known for his "cut up" technique — which was initiated by his friend Brion Gysin. This I Ching experiment seemed perfect for cut up.

I've also been reading John Neihardt's Black Elk Speaks. There are several phrases and images in this text I've found arresting, "poetic", no doubt because they are "foreign" to my experience.

So the last piece was to throw the I Ching. I couldn't find my copy, so I found a website that would virtually throw the coins. I asked the question, “Who is the blue man?” The "blue man" is a figure from Black Elk's vision. The resulting hexagram was number 54, Kuei Mei, which the website translated as “A Loveless Marriage” (another source translates it as "Converting the Maiden"). I pulled some phrases and images from the hexagram and individual trigrams (top & bottom) and wrote them on an index card. I had already written snippets related to Burroughs (Bill Lee) on an index card, and images from Black Elk on another index card

I assigned each card a value of Yin, changing; Yang, changing; Yin; and Yang. I simply copied out lines from each card, in order, as determined by whether the corresponding part of the hexagram was Yin or Yang.

The resulting poem seems to me fragmentary, but there are moments when the juxtaposition of fragments seem to point to a “meaning”. But clearly, this is a case where any meaning will be assigned by each individual reader. It's a fun process, which I may try again.


Addendum: I went to the second hand bookstore yesterday, thinking I might pick up a copy of the I Ching. There was a hard cover copy of Wilhelm's translation for $7.99; inside was a book mark from a family-owned bookstore I used to work for. Carl Jung believed the I Ching was an expression of synchronicity. This could well be an example. I didn't buy it, but I still might (the weekend is still young).

Thursday, September 06, 2012

A Loveless Marriage

Morning thunder
Bill Lee said, It's a Bardo World
Groom draws no blood from the sacrifice
We're the monsters
Bride's basket remains empty
I've been dreaming

under a blood cherry moon
upon the red earth
crawling between earth & sky
A halt now proves tragic
Ride the china white train
walking east

Geese like arrows
the silver rails
Black-billed bird

The silent chains
Pebbles on heaven's shore
Grandfather Earth

Lightning in their wings
Old Bill Lee said, We're the monsters
No blood from the sacrifice
Crawling between spirit & flesh
Bride's basket remains empty
Grandfather Sky