Thursday, August 04, 2005

Viola da Gamba Was Not Vasco da Gama's Spinster Sister

The theme of last Saturday’s Patrick Finley Memorial Poetry Salon was exile, which some salonistas misadvisedly chose to embrace through the act of absence, i.e., exiling themselves from the salon. Hah on you people who did not come, for I tell you now that saloning well is the best revenge. And that is what we did.

Now to the salon itself, to the “playlist” as I believe you young people of 40 and 45 would call it.

May I say in pungent summary that it was yet another snowflake in the great salon art-storm. That is to say *it was unique.* (No, it didn’t melt, run into the gutter and turn into a kind of nasty what-do-you-mean-they-call-it-Potterville? slush. Work with me, people.) What I am saying is how often are you *privileged* to hear the music of the Spanish Jews expelled from Spain in 1492 played on instruments of the period. This is a music never written down but passed on orally, which means its performance is a kind of reconstruction, far more than regurgitation, as terrific as regurgitation can be.

Oh break your heart if you were not there to hear the Lyle York Project, aka The Sephardic Tower of Power, plucking, blowing, banging on their antique instruments with poignant plaintive passion – not to mention a beat you could shake your deracinated booty to. I must say the strength and beauty of their performance made *this* observer wish that Lyle and the Family York had NOT engaged in a one-off exercise, but that last Saturday had in fact been the first of 50 or a hundred performances, the beginning of a world tour periodically characterized by episodes in which the Yorkies (Woof!) more than once as the great ones do -- rosehipped to the gills on some righteous herb tea -- trashed, or at least seriously discommoded, a series of Motel Six continental breakfast buffets….

Isn’t it pretty to think so? Once was not nearly enough. They found their animal and set it free.

Lylathon 2000 began the salon in what Ms. York described as a form appropriate to the mode, the players just sitting on down, noodling and tuning up and then easing into performance without introduction as an abashed audience wiped the crumbs from their faces and slunk away from the buffet.

It was … satisfactory. (The music. Though I don’t mean to slight the buffet.)

Then up sprang I with a bit of nonsense about Rupert Murdoch having agreed to subsidize the evening in return for my reading the fall schedule of Bard TV, the brand-new 24/7 Shakespeare Cable Network, an exercise so witty that it took the audience’s utmost concentration to keep from bursting into wakefulness. Then Gayle Feyrer read some Mary Oliver, the patron saint of these salons. Then Robert (Bob) Wieder clicked the tumblers on the vault that holds his bulging oeuvre (but enough of the fashion side of the salon) and shared his meditation on “Carhops: The Last American Cowgirls.”

I’m serious about the vault. The piece was originally written for Penthouse as a respite between the pictures of preening strumpets.

There was a great deal of vulgar laughter of the kind I was very careful not to excite. Then Barbara Dietrich read the lyrics to a Sweet Honey in the Rock song, following which she “played” – as you and I play, by pushing the button on the CD player – the group’s actual performance. They work a capella. Just gorgeous. Then David Reinke took American sports teams to the woodshed on account of their use and misuse of team names and mascots that disrespect Native Americans. Then yours truly again thrust himself forward and read a translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of Ovid’s words from exile. Then Brother Dan Harder ….

Here I must pause. Of course, BD did zipper poems concerning his days in, oh, for thematic purposes let us call self-exile in France when he was a boy-lad. And these were pretty damn dazzling zipper poems – read poem on left side of page; read poem on right side of same page; then read right straight across the page: two into one will grow making three! Fine. Great stuff. All once and future salon newcomers are advised to note in your commonplace book that on this date and this hour your first heard BD aka the Big Zipper, and:

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific--and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

(And if at this point you think, “Darien? Will Farrell is good, but he’s no Dick York….” Well, horseman pass on by.)

Anyway during the salon countdown – apologies to the Kasey Kasem estate -- I mentioned the presence of the Sephardic music to BD, and he allowed as how he might as well bring his drums. And he did. He brought these whacking big what I would call conga drums, though I believe he calls them Sasquatch and Nessie. So he hits a few musical licks, with musical explanations at which the musicians nodded but which I will not repeat because even if I got them right it would be the parrot apeing or the ape parroting. This I do understand. He laid his two hands on his two drums, and each finger did something different. One beat out 4/4 and one beat out 3/4 and one beat out 9/8 and one beat out 19.99 plus tax and one beat out 3.1416 and one I think was doing Morse code and the rest pecked at the drum skins like sparrows for all I know signaling the mother ship.

My word.

Then we “broke” for cookies, cakes, cheeses, assorted treats and plenty of wine from Matt’s own cellar. (Coal cellar? Fruit cellar? Storm cellar? Certainly, I think, not his *wine* cellar.)

And at some point the second half of the salon intervened. It began with Gayle Feyrer reading the escape scene from Dumas’ – “Dumas Pear,” so called because of his distinctive shape – I say the escape scene from his “Count of Monte Cristo.” Every salon has a lesson or two, and this was one of them: Gee, a brief passage skillfully written and read, its purpose no more or less than creating narrative suspense is just so darn much fun even when you know what is going to happen. It’s a familiar story but he’s in the water sewed up in a sack with cannonballs or something tied to his legs! Please keep reading until he’s safe!

She didn’t, though. It was like Easter without a resurrection.

Ah, and now came A Moment. Robert (Bob) Wieder returned to the stage to read his lively comic account of where might now be certain late lamented persons of note had they not taken the pipe or caught the bullet. Now, this is a funny premise in the hands of a master, and RBW is a master. But he is also, uh, somewhat acidulous, kind of a /what does not destroy us makes us strong/ kind of guy. So the bit is rolling along, a real acid bath. He’s not killing, but he’s wounding but then then then he introduces the notion of what ML King, RKennedy and the big enchilada himself JFK would be doing had they not been struck down by the assassin’s hand.

It was all whores and barbecue. That Bob. He so mean.

And some laughed aloud, braced by the tonic fury of it all, and others got these little pinched-up faces and look furtively toward the nearest exit…. What it was was the entertainment acquired a real multi-level quality and that’s always the best kind, don’t you think? I mean you there you with the stars in your eyes fun never made a fool of you not until now you used to be too wise….

I believe I have wandered off the point. Which Bob did not, but took that point that spike and pounded it into our temples….

Well, I enjoyed it. But then again by that time I was pretty much drunk.

And then Jon McKenney read – oh recited more like – an original poem much I thought in the tart (yet pastoral) spirit of RB Wieder. Most delicious, fierce and wonderful. I took the liberty of asking Jon for a copy, which I shall attach at the end of this. (Your word for today is lagniappe.)

And then the Lovin’ Yorkfull came back and finished the evening. Now, I had been told earlier that at some point the music would grow quite lively indeed and that at that point we should all get up and dance like gypsies. But if there was a hand signal, I missed it and so the music ended with our bottoms glued to our seats. And so up I rose into the yawning silence, and I said Play it Again, Samantha, and dance we will. And they did, and we did.

The rest really is silence, blindness, a white space in which nothing is seen or heard. Recherche all you want. This is a point in temps that is better perdu.

P.S. Sylvia Rubin didn’t show up at the Salon (she said) because she tried to break up a street fight and was knocked to the ground, receiving cuts and a concussion. She deserves a bright gold medal and a good spanking.


“…be thou me, impetuous one!”
Shelley, Ode to the West Wind

“…Bethou, bethou, bethou me in thy glade.”
Wallace Stevens, Notes toward a Supreme Fiction

The blank, receding seasons, and the rose,
A slimsy hand catching tatters by the toes,
The jog-trot hours in the washed-out run of days,
The mirror that reflects an empty gaze,
A solitary bed, a hollow heart,
An actor who forgot his part,
Those sodden fictions from the sky
That vanish in a blinking eye:
In this blue, gold, green glow of the glade
Where all things vanish and all visions fade,
The night descending, you conceived,
Relentlessly burgeoning, the bright rose
Under whose seal you furtively compose
Recollections of a life deceived.

You cut across your dusty bones,
Gray in gloom, in the dying light, in the dead season,
Over the brawling brook and its mucid stones,
Longing to untangle from the weeds your reason.

You had your wedding days with waxen women
Who melted in the summer sun,
Whose limbs were chilly tallow on a winter night,
Whose faces turned aslant in speckled light
Whenever in that light you turned your outside in—
Turning that mask you likened to a face—
Turning its lacquered glance into a space
Dingy and swagging over the fictive heather—
So empty, endless, free of any weather.

Will you believe your wisdom, or your own eyes
Looking into the bleary skies
At fat clouds stuffed with glittering gray,
The substance of your godhood for the day?

How do you find those phrases that lie
Under the wisdom of that smoky sky?
When you sit and listen in the changing light
Upon some temperamental height—
And you’re breathing in the yellow broom
Brilliant in the afternoon,
And hear the idle phrase
Of all the days
You lost in dreaming glory—
And tried to get them back in rime and story
In a room full of shadows and shelves—
(The dream-room of our altered, errant selves
Where all the creatures gather, mutter, gape)
Crammed with books of every shape,
Each shape the shape of the life contained within
While each life straining slowly out
Flutters in the heat that snuffs it out.

This book the bottle, Sybil hanging by her heels within;
That book, an angel by a whisker on his chin;
And there an ark of soggy beasts
Bleating for the insubstantial feasts
Where God, relenting, sets his creatures free
To frolic in their new-found deviltry.

And here’s a book of quipping cats,
And there a book of buggy bats
Eating out two tons of bearded gnats;
And then a book of garbled gardens
With stony saints remitting sins
And crumbled kings conferring pardons,
And aging goddesses with crenulated chins.

And now a book about the noble rot that sweetens sour fruits—
About the blight that makes them bitter—and the roots
That blandish empty bellies—
And all about the sweetmeats, cakes and jellies.
So what green sauce is this, and what the red?
How shall the mother of our food be fed?
A lavish lot, these books that handsomely array
Ten thousand banquets brought upon one tray.

And finally, golden in the grubby room,
A book that told of its own author’s doom
Averred the bioluminescence of the soul,
Mythic and unquenchable and whole;
A civil purpose hiding in his hat—
Snagged in crabbed weather on the way
To a wrangle of reason—he blew to bits
All the brabblers and the scantling wits,
And living to a great old age he died
So sweetly that his golden book belied
The horrors that the living lump decried.

Your book’s your world, and there the glade grows glum—
Your bright breath bleeds into the frosty night
While the night wind sulks in the moon-white willows—
And is your book not like the leaves
Hissing in the watery breeze,
Its phrases falling like a dying pun,
To shift and shuffle in tomorrow’s rising sun?



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Anonymous said...

Hello Michael! If you do another Patrick Finley Memorial, I'd love to be there. I have warm colorful memories of Patrick and quite a bit of his writing, including some powerful love poems he wrote to me. Did anyone ever publish his work, as we discussed after his death? If so, I would love to buy a copy. I donated toward the publication process at the time. I hope you are doing well. Warmly, Jan Elise Sells