Monday, August 11, 2008

poetry and, um... dirigibles.

For the last month or so, I've been reading and thinking about the issues around rhythm within spoken poetry, as opposed to how it appears on the page. And I had hoped that this would be an extended, cogent discussion of what might be done. But I keep constantly finding myself thinking about dirigibles, with them bumping their way into my awareness like affectionate puppies. Who doesn't have these problems?

This all started after watching the mash-up Zeppelins vs. Pterodactyls ; innocent enough, you'd think, with the dirigible quietly looming out of the clouds; inexorably nosing its way through misty skies, accompanied by a faint buzzing, like a giant electric razor. There are songs, machine guns, and choppsy 30's women, who occasionally scream (-this is the era of Fay Wray, remember) and of course zeppelins and pterodactyls. These lost giants of the air, confined to some grainy images from 30's newsreels, are only in a few films: I found myself trying to find the 1931 Frank Capra film Dirigible!, which starred Fay Wray and Jack Holt (who was famously drunk throughout all the filming) in an lighter-than-air thriller (a meringue of an adventure?) at the South Pole, shot entirely in New Jersey with detergent flakes. I have only been able to see this film once, and then only the first third, as my pianist showed up and insisted we leave for the gig. Insisted. Priorities?

Anyway, back to business - this idea of floating above the earth is not unlike being free of rhythmic constraints, detached from earthbound time frames, like in a dirigible ? (talk about a dodgy link, I was wondering how to get out of the first riff) One of the main things interested in is that the poets try not to conceive of their words as having a predetermined rhythmic bias. I've often asked Malcolm, in a completely dufus sort of way, about the apparent rhythm in one of his poems; he would then spend ages explaining it to me, I would glaze over trying to see it, and then I would perform it completely ignoring his advice. Some of the reading I'm doing points out the triumph of a completely visual experience that seems to have become more prevalent in the hangover after High Modernism, the kind of reductive approach of being able to analyze their work in purely lexical or visual terms. The thing is fixed, on the page, and ready for dissection, encouraging the view of poetry as a private act, rather than public performance, open to transgressive meanings. We can go a bit further with this with the idea of playing with structure later.

Think of it: if you look at the published sheet music for, say, My Funny Valentine, the song consists of plodding quarter and half notes, straight-up triadic harmony reinforcing a regular barline-constricted meter of 4/4. Played like this, very, very boring. Now listen to Miles' version, on the album of the same name.

more on this...


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