April 16, 2014
When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I put on my turntable is “The Versatile Henry Mancini, ” specifically the opening track “Poinciana.” The lines you hear in this mostly instrumental song is “Speak to me my love.” In fact, I believe that it is the only lyrics in the song. Nevertheless it serves as a meditation for me, before I have my first cup of coffee, as I get ready to go to the downtown library on Fifth street and flower. I’m off today to research a writer by the name of Samy Rosenstock, a Romanian poet of some note, who to this day, has a strong influence on my writing. It is very hard to locate his books in English, but I first discovered him as a teenager, when I was desperately looking for a mentor or an influence for my own attempts at writing poetry.
He was the first one to actually do the cut-up writing, where one takes a newspaper and cut out words, and then throw them into a hat, shake it up, and then toss them on a table or floor. You then see what sentences come out, and bingo, you have almost an instant poem. William S. Burroughs is famous for this process and many think he was the first to present it, but alas, it was Rosenstock that came up with it first, sometime after World War 1. Everyone from the great lettrist writer Gil. J. Wolman to David Bowie has used this process of putting together a poem. My technique is similar, but I do this in my head. I sort of have a pictorial memory of an article, and it seems as though it is right in front of me. I choose the words or even half-a-sentence, and I go from there.
Chance is a big part of the process. I am without a doubt attracted to artists and writers who use ‘chance’ as a tool of sorts. Merce Cunningham strikes me as an artist, who can work with others, but there is a deep collaboration between the music, his dance steps, and how that is processed to a live audience. Writing to me is a performance as well. As you all know by now, I have committed myself to writing a piece for everyday this year (2014). To do so, is very much an act of meditation, chance, and using Rosentock’s method of writing poetry. Spike Milligan is a comic writer and performer who I admire greatly, and he too, uses improvisation in his art where one is not sure where it will go. The act of heading towards failure is almost drugged like paradise, and I feel the need to rush to its entrance and work my way out towards the exit.
Charlie Chaplin’s best work for me is not his final films, but the clips I see of him working out his gags, and often failing, and then you see him getting frustrated and losing his temper. That to me, is an inspirational moment for me, to see such a control freak in the moments of utter despair! Also the fact he filmed everything as he worked on the skits, or trying out new things. “City Lights” and “The Great Dictator” are wonderful films, but his outtakes are even much better. To see the artist work behind the curtain, is truly wonderful. The magic is exposed, and people like Chaplin and Milligan are seen working without a net underneath them is thrilling to me. I feel the same way regarding Rosentock’s methods of writing poetry.
So it is odd that when I try to relax, it is with someone like Mancini, Ray Ventura, or Dusty Springfield: artists who only show perfection. Like the yin and yang, I bounce back between the two forces, and here I find myself in the library, in a cubicle, a prisoner of sorts to my private demons.