Thursday, March 26, 2020

About “Never Thunders”

This poem began as a walk in the field with my high school chum, Dana P. This was my second year of college. I was living in Boyd House (a converted military barracks later torn down). I had recently returned from Princeton, NJ, and the end of a romantic relationship.

Dana had come to visit me, and we were walking out in the fields - somewhat lost in the stars and fog. Off in the distance, I could make out the flashing red lights of broadcast towers. That sparked the first line.

It’s likely Dana and I went back to my dorm room and started writing. We’d often do that, huddling on different sides of the room to write. Dana still thinks the poem is directed at him. It could as easily been directed at the girl I’d dated in Princeton.

Or, it could be directed to “the eternal feminine.”

There’s a sense in which this poem uses several  different methods. One is automatic writing, a technique developed by the Irish poet WB Yeats - it’s pretty much what it sounds like: you start free-associating on paper without worrying about meaning or structure. The poem also uses “paste up”, a sort of literary collage where you paste (in my case) song lyrics and fragments of other poems into your work. This is especially evident in the opening lines, where I quote the British poet William Blake (“mind-forg’d manacles”), a song made famous by The Brothers Four (Greenfields) and Bob Dylan (held mountains in the palm of my hand).

Another high-school friend, Gary, quotes Gregory Corso to the effect that to be considered a poet one need only write one great poem. This may be that poem for me.

It’s definitely a performance piece. I still remember the first time I read it to an audience - at the Library Bar in Norman - the MC said, “You got chops, man.” I’ve played with different musical selections to accompany my reading - the one you heard in the video, from Larry Fast's Synchronicity and Ralph Vaughn Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves - I’ve decided the Williams’ piece is too on the nose, and have stuck with Fast's tribal electronic music. I was once accompanied live by David Amran, a Beat pianist.

What makes it work? I think it’s the repetition - watching, waiting - and the occasional rhymes. 

What does it mean? Is it a love poem to Jenny (the girl in Princeton) or something Dana sparked, or praise to the Muse of the Eternal Feminine? Maybe all of the above.

Or maybe it’s the poetic equivalent of a shaggy-dog story, which ends with a little surprise - Greensleeves.

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