Monday, March 07, 2011


It seems like yesterday, though it was actually half a year ago, that I rejoiced in this here blog-space at reaching the halfway point of Torture Garden: Naked City Pastorelles. At the time I'd been working on this 42-poem sequence for a couple of years. Well, I seem to have picked up steam over the last few months, & earlier this evening I drafted the last of them. So the sequence, at least in draft form, is complete, from #1, "Blood Is Thin," to #42, "Gob of Spit." I've been contemplating some prose around the project:
I began with a vast admiration for the music produced by John Zorn's Naked City ensemble – for the record, Zorn on sax, Bill Frisell on guitar, Fred Frith on bass, Joey Baron on drums, Wayne Horvitz on keyboards, & Yamatsuka Eye (sometimes) on vocals. The band, like so many of Zorn's projects, was the unholy marriage of beloved genres – in this case noir film music, jazz, surf music, and hardcore thrash.

On one of my stays in Austin, Texas to research the LZ biography, I picked up a copy of the band's double-CD set Black Box. One disk was the half-hour, endlessly deferred volcanic noise ejaculation Leng Tch'e; the other was Torture Garden, a collection of 42 hardcore "miniatures," brief explosions of tightly controlled noise, genre-zagging bursts none of which clocked in over 1.18 (one of which is a mere 11 seconds). I listened to Torture Garden over & over, & more & more it struck me that these pieces appealed to me as models for poems: short, tightly controlled, aggressive, free of all padding & discursive structure.

The form at which I arrived for these "pastorelles" was what I think of as an "emaciated" sonnet – 7 lines to the sonnet's 14. The 5-words line is obviously borrowed from LZ's late work, "A"-21, "A"-22 & -23, and 80 Flowers. The poems make great & entirely unsystematic use of found language, usually from whatever I was reading at the moment, tho often from what I was (half) listening to: at least one derives from the simultaneously earnest, enraging, & inane discourse of a department meeting, & there are a run of pastorelles "dedicated" to various people whose talks & readings I've attended – not necessarily as gestures of admiration or affection (tho I'd stipulate that I do admire & like most of them) but because I've stolen their language.

The pastorelles are not meant in any measure to mime or reproduce the sea of interfering & overlapping discourse in which we swim, nor to provide some shorthand rendition of contemporary attention-deficit-disorder. They are as carefully composed as I could compose them. I did not want mere noise, but controlled noise.
Here's a recent example:
37. Obeah Man (for Peter O'Leary)

Stand up a brave attempt
construing possession and commentary random
meeting stand up in Gaza
holographic paradigm to scatter construe
intermediary mouthpiece imperative prisms skins
shamelesssly faunted the aria the
apse the ribcage fitful broken.
Strikes me these 42 nuggets would make a dandy chapbook, no?

1 comment:

Tom Quale said...

Glad to hear it's done. I love the whole idea and am a big fan of what I've seen so far. The whole project makes me wish I was a publisher because a beautiful little book is just what the Torture Garden needs--something as clean and classical and pristine as Laurie Duggan's little book of Martial's Epigrams (Pressed Wafer). Please let your readers--particularly this one--know when they are published.