Chorus: Gershwin

 

Poems

by

Jack Foley

-once again, "for Adelle"-




It happened during the summer of 1919. I was then twelve resort in Hunter, New York. One day, a young man was per- mountain-resort auditoriums or dance halls were then called. a few numbers and still found me lingering by. I had no opinion, anathema to me. But for fear of offending the young performer I pianist then remarked: "These pieces, kid, are by a young com- that name, kid, for some day it'll be known all over the world." himself so remarkably prophetic. You must remember that by or nothing-except to an esoteric clique in Tin Pan Alley. He had Broadway musical (La, La, Lucille) had been produced a few minor success in the song business seemed a remote possibility. I did not get a chance to forget the name of George Gersh- season's greatest hits, thanks to Al Jolson. A copy of the sheet to sing the current hit songs on Sunday evening, with my brother There on that sheet music stood prominently the name of George After that, the name recurred frequently enough to keep from the Scandals were represented at our family Sunday evening and musicians were beginning to write about Gershwin's talent Taylor, Gilbert Seldes, Carl van Vechten, Beryl Rubinstein, foundly impressed: Remember once again we are in the very musician or highly regarded literary figure or critic to speak or popular composer. masters. I had no interest whatsoever in what then was dubbed (Very little was then known about "real jazz" by the average syncopated or strongly rhythmic-was referred to as "jazz.") a station that I did other popular-song composers, regarding an adolescent can bring to anything that was not the product of Berlin-represented for me a musical slumming expedition upon But for all my high-minded attitudes and highbrow interests vaudeville. In fact, to put it bluntly, I was crazy about vaude- on Broadway, or to the Alhambra in Harlem, or during the in Brooklyn. The fact that I often had to sit through routines bothered me not at all. I was so infatuated with Pat Rooney or with Nora Bayes singing "Shine On Harvest Moon," or Bill down a flight of stairs, that these were always new, exciting dozen times. been Nora Bayes or Sophie Tucker?) presented a musical catch my breath. Never before had I heard an American popular rical structure, so unusual in the intervallic leaps of its melody.

it was true, yes, but only where sex was understood as a weapon
how do we know what we know

summer swishing (of rain) sunny, of or "like" the sun swimming in good health, safe and sound asunder separate torment, toil southern, towards the south I wash boar, swine A SHORT DICTIONARY toil, labor, trouble, misery OF ANGLO-SAXON be weary POETRY IN A swing, vibration, surge of the sea NORMALIZED beset, scourge, beat or flap the wings EARLY WEST-SAXON whip ORTHOGRAPHY make helpless by magic go, weaken, give way, desist, depart revolve, move grow dark, vanish, cease swan firmament I arrange, array tent, building punishment, torment, torture (by burning) offer a sacrifice caulk, paint with tar deny, deprive of, withhold, pull apart, destroy time, while, hour, season I beget (young), multiply I injure firm, to walk on offspring, progeny, men brilliance, beauty joy, gladness, brilliant, radiant, happy, glad, gracious, kind I sin, be guilty I gird, bind round joy in drink-pouring pride, wantonness spiritual, ghostly, spiritually, in spirit, frightful I frighten, torment, persecute I hesitate, delay, hinder joy in drink-pouring hold fast

sex odor become hateful thank, repay "traveling weaver," spider sea, water, name of L-rune I alleviate I delay

At a certain point, he said, the fragments begin to resonate in ways different from their original intention (Night = reading, burning midnight oil) (the story gets told again & again)

The thesis of this book (The Direction of Poetry) is that a poem (WHEN YOU TOUCH ME I'M ON FIRE) is not a poem unless (WHEN YOU TOUCH ME I'M ON FIRE) it has at least some meter, often rhyme. (WHEN YOU TOUCH ME WHEN YOU TOUCH ME) Would it be a total waste of time? (WHEN YOU TOUCH ME I'M ON FIRE) I bought a copy, took the copy home. (WHEN YOU TOUCH ME TOUCH ME) With such a book it makes sense to be wary. (WHEN YOU TOUCH ME I'M ON FIRE) Its "direction" may be towards (WHEN YOU TOUCH ME WHEN YOU TOUCH ME)
the rhyming dictionary!

It's called "Summertime," she said,
yet it's so mournful-

I don't like people; I don't love my neighbor. Every time I put any faith in love or friendship I only come through with deep wounds. Today I am truly a person not open to relationships; this isn't a lie but a very true fact. I am summer deeply lonely, alone. I enjoy life up to swishing (of rain) a point, but I no longer have dreams. sunny, of or "like" the sun I no longer have dreams. swimming
in good health, safe and sound I work towards the point asunder at which I can accept this separate with torment, toil equanimity. southern, towards the south

5I have spent my whole life trying to know myself. If one is interested, as I am, I wash in the history and conduct boar, swine of toil, labor, trouble, misery mankind be weary one should begin with swing, vibration, surge of the sea the material beset, scourge, beat or flap the wings closest whip at hand. make helpless by magic This material is go, weaken, give way, desist, depart oneself. revolve, move But of course grow dark, vanish, cease it's a challenge. swan
firmament as one moves I arrange, array "towards" tent, building or punishment, torment, torture (by burning) "away from" offer a sacrifice the caulk, paint with tar material deny, deprive of, withhold, pull apart, destroy one time, while, hour, season doesn't I beget (young), multiply "know" because "towards" or "away from" are equally irrelevant- one IS "the material"

(Steadfast a lamp burns sheltered from the wind! Such is the likeness of the Yogi's mind Shut out from sense-storms, burning bright to heaven...!)

"Be good, O my Sorrow, calm down. You wanted Evening; here it comes; it's here. A dark atmosphere enfolds the town, Brings peace to some, to others care.

6While the vile multitude of mortals Under the whip of Pleasure, that merciless butcher, Sets out to gather remorse in slavish revels, My Sorrow, give me your hand; let's go over here,

Away from them. See where the defunct Years lean On the balconies of the sky, in superannuated gowns; Where Regret leaps up from the depths of the waters, smiling;

Where, under an arch, the moribund sun sleeps sound, And l-ke, dr-gging from the E-st, a l-ng shr-ud, Listen, darling, listen, to the sweet Night coming." (Baudelaire)

Yr Gershwin, right? You write songs, right? Yr gonna be famous, die young, right? Yr brother Ira, right, will live long, be
happy. Yr the one, but yl die young. Right? Is it right?

to dive
into her deep waters to plunge
into her "pools"

I am the wound & the knife the blow & the cheek the limbs & the rack

How beautiful you are when the light touches your body he said (it was a purely formal relationship) How beautiful as I see you more clearly (he never noticed) Furious masturbation cannot replace you (that she was beautiful) Furious intellection cannot remake you (that her eyes were / beautiful) Furious cerebration- (like angels with beast-eyes)-

-Your problem is that you are extremely self-centered and defensive. But the self-centeredness distorts your perceptions, so your defensive strategies always turn out to be disasters. You react to everything!

this brutal cold weather "people are dying out there tonight"

on Hester Street, east of the Bowery,

To the southeast the Black Hills appeared, hazy and dark Bears were numerous in the piney hills

Night
is normally a time of reduced sensory input, of sensory deprivation, leaving the self more or less to itself,

isolated, or to sleep

the man in the top hat moved, his hands extended-

(This is the "distance" between us- Sound keeps vanishing words keep vanishing-

"I could hear it but I couldn't play it")

The lesson that the Indians saw in this tale was that obstacles can be surmounted and misfortunes can be dispelled if only one has the will. The animals remind us that everyone, regardless of station in life, has a redeeming gift that distinguishes him in the eyes of his fellow creatures (Sleep sound, beloved) . . .

-a frosted brightness on the velvet covering of a dark, dark night flickers across the fleeting emptiness of sleeping sky (tanka)

-the winds blow, biting, and ice hangs on the tree's bough, solidly swaying (hokku)

-a paper flower fell upon the snow-filled grass- a touch of scarlet on the endless white-a rose of winter, cold, without scent (tanka)

Suddenly yesterday afternoon the poem came violently alive in my mouth. Ginsberg's rage, his fears for his sanity, his wild comedy, his ultimate justification-

"here lies the body of geo gershwin american composer composer? american?"

look, George,
ya can't do it anymore,
yr dead- -lemme at that piano! (so nu?)

The Gullah Negro
prides himself on what he calls "shouting." This is a complicated rhythmic pattern beaten out by feet and hands as an accompaniment to the spirituals, and is undoubtedly of African survival. I shall never forget the night when, at a Negro meeting on a remote sea island, George Gershwin started "shouting" with them!

There was a short time of anxiety as the vicious warriors held another war huddle. With jubilant war whoops, two warriors rushed over and grabbed the hapless turtle by the tail. He was to be the first victim, and it just so happened that a deep pond was near by. His claws cut deep grooves in the ground as he was dragged to the water's edge. He begged for his life, but was shown no mercy and was rudely heaved far out into the pond. For a short while he struggled to keep his head above water. But finally, amid gleeful enemy shouts, the poor turtle sank out of sight.
As the motley crew of animals stood trembling, wondering who would be next, the two warriors again marched forward and grabbed the turkey by his skinny, shaking neck.

there-on the edge "They laid him out upon the floor, of sleep- To work him further woe: guiding me into it- And still as signs of life appear'd,
They tossed him to and fro. to dive And they hae ta'en his very heart's blood,
into her deep waters And drank it round and round, to plunge And still the more and more they drank,
into her "pools"- (goddess!) Their joy did more abound." (Burns)

-There are all these power games, he said. Your sense of your own powerlessness is so vast that you enjoy playing relatively "innocent" power games in your intimate relations-games in which you can use your sexual availability (or lack of it) as the primary issue in a little war which you can always-or usually-"win."

Since for this character only the expressive possibilities formlessness, as
formlessness "free-verse lyrics" nothing
but "a vague wash of circumstance"

it happened during the summer of 1919. I was then twelve
resort in Hunter, New York. One day, a young man was per- mountain-resort auditoriums or dance halls were then called.
a few numbers and still found me lingering by. I had no opinion, anathema to me. But for fear of offending the young performer I
pianist then remarked: "These pieces, kid, are by a young com- that name, kid, for some day it'll be known all over the world."

himself so remarkably proph etic. You must remember that by
or nothing-except to an esoteric clique in Tin Pan Alley. He had
Broadway musical (La, La, Lucille) had been produced a few minor success in the song business seemed a remote possibility.
I did not get a chance to forget the name of George Gersh- season's greatest hits, thanks to Al Jolson. A copy of the sheet
to sing the current hit songs on Sunday evening, with my brother There on that sheet music stood prominently the name of George
After that, the name recurred frequently enough to keep from the Scandals were represented at our family Sunday evening
and musicians were beginning to write about Gershwin's talent Taylor, Gilbert Seldes, Carl van Vechten, Beryl Rubinstein,
foundly impressed: Remember once again we are in the very musician or highly regarded literary figure or critic to speak or
popular composer. masters. I had no interest whatsoever in what then was dubbed
(Very little was then known about "real jazz" by the average syncopated or strongly rhythmic-was referred to as "jazz.")
a station that I did other popular-song composers, regarding an adolescent can bring to anything that was not the product of
Berlin-represented for me a musical slumming expedition upon But for all my high-minded attitudes and highbrow interests
vaudeville. In fact, to put it bluntly, I was crazy about vaude- on Broadway, or to the Alhambra in Harlem, or during the
in Brooklyn. The fact that I often had to sit through routines bothered me not at all. I was so infatuated with Pat Rooney
or with Nora Bayes singing "Shine On Harvest Moon," or Bill down a flight of stairs, that these were always new, exciting
dozen times. been Nora Bayes or Sophie Tucker?) presented a musical
catch my breath. Never before had I heard an American popular rical structure, so unusual in the intervallic leaps of its melody.

The irregular line lengths and the seemingly loose movement of the syntax from one line to the next give the illusion of freedom, as if the dictates of the moment itself were governing the movement of the verse... It's the fixed stanzaic structure, he said, that makes the formlessness perceptible (man, how do you know that?)

-She who is reborn with the will to express her own worth, the gift of her be-ing. The Sun goddess, the Child, the Star of the Show, the Actor/Performer, radiating light and warmth, vitality. The Center, the Hub, the Heart, she who vitalizes the circle around her so that it remains whole.
-The Great Primordial Mother Ocean from which all springs and to which all returns! (Delphos in Greek means "fish" and "womb.") Supreme Spirit/Source. Undifferentiated matter, "primordial soup." Timelessness, chaos, merging, blending, oneness, formlessness. Acceptance of all. Compassion.

god I wish I had a
nickel or dime
to spare I wish I had a
nickel or- (people on the streets-one sees them everywhere!)

Deep beneath the earth's crust, the
rock is very hot and is of a waxy softness.
Rock in this condition is called MAGMA. In various places, masses
of MAGMA slowly push upward into the rocks of the crust. These rocks,
when close to the rising MAGMA, are subjected to great heat and pressure,
and, as a result, they are changed to rocks of a different kind.
Rocks formed in this manner are called METAMORPHIC, or "changed form," rocks

a mode of knowing which, though it begins with an act of separation, resolutely refuses to make the leap into the abstract, which in fact deliberately thrusts itself towards others, towards the world, and which conceives of the self as anything but "autonomous"

after a long word after a long word

Reading as a sort of substitute diary-keeping-encountering another's subjectivity as one's own. Instead of I did this or that, he or she did this or that. But the he and she are counters for the missing I-

the picture should show us, she said not what the man "looked like" but what it felt like when he was there (you touched me and I turned to fire)

this cloud is a flower, she said, but it is a flower of the mind, a flower of
consciousness- skyflower. Many of your poems seem to enact the awakening of mind to its own sources (night is not to be found but the day comes)

Bless me, father, four-eyed, I sonned!

Yes, Stephen, I do, & if yo u don't understand that you don't understand the thrust of my argument. You assume you know what poetry is & all you have to do is add it to performance & you get "performance poetry." Note the moment in my essay when I suggest that the term "performance poetry" is a redundancy. And think of the figure of the Homeric singer as the paradigm of the poet. What does that suggest about poetry? If poetry involves the making of sounds, music is an aspect of poetry. If poetry involves rhythm, dance is an aspect of poetry. That is the way I see performance. Cf. the Homeric singer. Performance is an aspect of poetry.

I called upon great Night, Who heard my prayer
and spread her darkness over me!

Sunday night was amazing at my little poetry series. I was downstairs arranging something when Richard Loranger said to me, "The show hasn't started yet but the actors are all naked." What are we doing down here? (Occasional grumpiness with some pain in the high 40's. Downwind from the garbage truck!)

is she interested in you he said or is she interested in your interest in her?

I can't get it out of my mind, I said. It made me realize how frazzled and unsatisfactory so much of my life is. Which, I suppose, is part of the effect love always has or ought to have: an awakening to deep potentialities of joy which lie just behind-or ahead of-or next to- our lives

in the dark, deep dark of this year, the cold holding us (leaves fall, even in california), now, at year-end (gershwin, dead at 38) is it possible / to find / at hearth-side?- things circle out from you-your breasts sweet globes I brush against, in passing-look! TO BE CONSCIOUS IS TO BE SEPARATE-this darkness, now, this "place"-

among the "dead" (among the "dead") speech
is an act
of
courage-

summer Knock knock. swishing (of rain) Who's there? sunny, of or "like" the sun Fire Death Rape and Destruction. swimming
in good health, safe and sound Long pause. asunder
separate Fire Death Rape and Destruction who? torment, toil

Gershwin,
dead, woke after the funeral, his mind clear, his eyes open. This, he thought, is what it's like to be dead. It was not too bad. There was a dead piano near him. He walked over to it, began to play. Minor sixth. Seventh. The chord structure pleased him. He puffed on a dead cigar and looked around himself at the infinitely widening dead expanses of the world. He listened carefully. [chord: E major] Who among the dead could write words?


3/16/89


the poem keeps vanishing




There is a story from my first day at Cornell University-really my first day away from home. My roommate, whom I met that day, was- disturbingly for me-both a Catholic and a wrestler. He had been gracious, showing me around campus, but he was a bit nervous too, and I was by no means certain of anything. That night I tried to get to sleep but had trouble doing it. Suddenly I "heard"-in my head, it wasn't coming from anywhere-Rhapsody in Blue, beautifully played. As I "listened" to the "music" I fell asleep. I have always been grateful to Gershwin for that moment.

there-on the edge of sleep- guiding me into it



Jack Foley
is an innovative, widely-published poet who, with his wife Adelle, performs his work frequently in the San Francisco Bay Area. His book, ADRIFT (Pantograph Press, 1993), was nominated for a BABRA award. His most recent book is EXILES (Pantograph Press, 1996). He is host of "Cover To Cover," a weekly program of poetry and poetry presentations on Berkeley radio station KPFA.



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