Noxious Beams

Jackson Mac Low - "Feeling Down, Clementi Felt Imposed Upon from Every Direction" (3'36"). The debilitating effects of political heteronomy are here registered at the level of the named individual (Lat. clemens: mild, merciful), who, hemmed in, experiences a myriad of deleterious contradictions. Mac Low constructs the scenario incrementally, beginning with a single-sentence strophe and adding a sentence per strophe up to the seventh and concluding one (audia transcript here). While submitting himself to a number of constraints (source texts from Charles Hartshorne, Gertrude Stein, Lewis Carroll, and Gerard Manley Hopkins diastically selected; the epigraph as "seed text"; the predetermined sentence-to-strophe ratio), the poet, in contrast with the poem's protagonist, is afforded a certain margin of autonomy: "Words were modified, added, deleted, etc., as needed. Everything was tampered with." • Listening to the audiotext, the strophic divisions are perhaps less audible than the lexical repetitions, which lend a sestina-like impression to the poem while in fact following a much more erratic pattern. • Also interesting are the seven interrogative utterances among the poem's twenty-eight sentences (two in the third strophe, one each in the fifth and sixth, three in the seventh). These implicate the narrating voice in the action of the poem (the questions can sometimes be embedded in the character's perspective, but often not), while also calling attention to the role of the messages' recipients (us as listeners/readers). • Favorite line: "Possibly, she supposed, someone of limited understanding had mistaken an ironic remark for a revelation." • On a personal note, I feel fortunate to have heard Mac Low read three times in the months before his death in December 2004 at the age of 78: once with Anne Tardos here in Orono in late April, then in early May at the Bowery Poetry Club reading with David Perry from which this track is taken, and again at the NPF Poetry of the 1940s conference here at UMaine in the summer, where he performed some of his earliest works, including the incredible "HUNGER STrikE whAt doeS lifemean" from 1938. The pleasure of hearing his voice now mixes with the sadness of knowing he's no longer here to tamper with textuality and lodge his perpetual objection to stupid surplus suffering.

Another take, recorded in Cambridge, June 2004 (note the magnificent roar of "shut up" just after the poem's beginning). PDF of poem via Chax Press. Eoagh Nº 2, In Remembrance of Jackson Mac Low. More Mac Low at PennSound. Mac Low page created and maintained by Anne Tardos. Author page at EPC. Bio-bibliography (to 1995) by Al Filreis. Karl Young's review of the essential 1993 CD Open Secrets. Publisher's note for Doings: Assorted Performance Pieces 1955-2002.

Visual representation of a phrase by Mac Low

Friday -- 07 July 2006 -- permalink

The Lipstick of Noise is a product of the Third Factory • Inspired by the music blogs • And by Paul Blackburn's reel-to-reel deck. Intending to make good use of PENNSound and other sources of digital audio files of poetry • Comments welcomeXML.