I've already given out a couple of teasers for Torture Garden in the above links, and there's some descriptive prose on The Cultural Society website. Here's a bit more detail:
The hardcore “miniatures” of John Zorn’s “Naked City” ensemble – Zorn on alto, Bill Frisell on guitar, Fred Frith on bass, Joey Baron on drums, Wayne Horvitz on keyboards, and Yamatsuka Eye (sometimes) on vocals – as assembled in the Torture Garden collection (Shimmy Disc, 1989) provided a model for these pastorelles: short, tightly controlled, aggressive, free of all padding and discursive structure.What are you waiting for? These are dandy poems, if a bit lacking in etiquette, gentility, & a sense of what's appropriate around the kids. Order here!
The form of the pastorelles is an “emaciated” sonnet: seven lines to the sonnet’s fourteen, five words to the sonnet’s ten iambs. The poems make great and entirely unsystematic use of found language, usually from whatever I was reading at the moment, though often from what I was (half) listening to: at least one derives from the simultaneously earnest, enraging, and inane discourse of a department meeting. There are a run of pastorelles “dedicated” to various people whose talks and readings I've attended, or with whose books I’ve been engaged: these dedications are not necessarily gestures of admiration or affection but acknowledgment of language appropriated.
The pastorelles’ titles are directly borrowed from those of the forty-two tracks of Naked City’s Torture Garden, but the poems are by no means direct adaptations of the musical pieces; rather, there is a continuously varying relationship between the titles, the musical tracks, and the poems. Not the “condition of music,” but the music of conditions.
I'd be remiss, of course, if I didn't give a shout out to Zach and The Cultural Society.
It was early in January 2002 – golly, almost a decade ago – when Peter O’Leary, whom I knew as a poet but mostly I guess as the executor of Ronald Johnson’s estate, asked me to join him and a few others – his brother Michael, Devin Johnston, Joel Bettridge, John Tipton, and my old friend Eric Selinger – to read Ronald Johnson’s newly released posthumous book The Shrubberies at the Chicago Public Library under the auspices of the Poetry Project. It was a grand event, capped by an absolutely sybaritic dinner at Tipton’s apartment and a more than pleasant informal “house reading” afterwards.
When I got back to the steam, I wove some details of the weekend into a poem, called (duh) “Chicago,” which I sent off to Peter & a few others. Peter, in turn, zipped it to a friend of his who had recently started a poetry website with the ponderous name “The Cultural Society.” And that friend, Zach Barocas, liked “Chicago” so much that he had it up and beautiful in a matter of a couple of weeks.
It’s been almost a decade since, and the Cultural Society has become central to my imagination of contemporary poetry. Zach has published a number of my poems, he’s done a rambly essay on poetics I wrote a long time ago, and which still oddly enough comports pretty well with the way I write & think about writing. More importantly, he published, & continues publishing, a whole community of new & established poets that I find continually enriching – Peter, Norman Finkelstein, Pam Rehm, Mike Heller, Joel Felix, Janet Holmes, Dan Beachy-Quick, Bob Archambeau, Sandra Simonds, Stacy Szymaszek, Bronwen Tate, etc. etc.
Exactly a month ago was the formal celebration of CultSoc’s (pronounced Kult-Sosh) 10th anniversary, & I must say that Zach definitely knows how to throw a party. A reading at Poet’s House in Manhattan – a group reading where, amazingly enough, nobody went way over their allotted time or lost themselves in showboating. Electric new poems from Norman F. and Mike H. A culminatory performance by Peter that practically had me throwing my shorts at the podium. I re-met poets I’d met before – Chris Glomski, Jon Curley; I spent time with poets I’d known for years and years.
It wasn’t just that the poems were great, and the audience receptive; it was a kind of vibratory sense of common purpose, of sheer community, that’s really so hard to come by in this world. The celebration was really a kind of personalized intensification of the community and ethos set up on the tight, spare, precise website. Zach does not do things large – he's more Charlie Watts than Neal Peart, more John Lee Hooker than John McLaughlin – but what he does he does with a clean, beautiful style, and he does right.
He's done right by Torture Garden, as he has with the other snazzy books & recordings available on the website there. Have a look, give a listen (video of some fine readings there, and links to some excellent music), stick around & buy a few things.