Tuesday, November 08, 2011

shameless self-promotion: torture garden

About fourteen months ago, I rejoiced on this blog at reaching the halfway point of a long-term project, a series of short poems that shortly before I had decided would be called Torture Garden: Naked City Pastorelles. And then, six months later, I rejoiced again at finishing them. Now I'm rejoicing at finally pulling back the curtain and unveiling the redoubtable Zach Barocas's cover design for the finished book. The book is in the final stages of production and will be in print in a bit under two weeks. It's now available for pre-order from The Cultural Society's website.

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.

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.
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!
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.

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