To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Jackson Mac Low: A Poem from 154 Forties, with the Foreword by Anne Tardos

please note. a list of postings after january 12, 2012 can be found here

[From 154 Forties by Jackson Mac Low, to be published by Counterpath, Denver, Colorado, 2012]


 Finding your own   level of hell   with cultural signifiers glowing in
     the lamplight
giving a safe    suntan     both opaque and transpárent-in-a started
of-your-fírst - bánd in a hip commúnity-where áll will be one -
     foréver-in-a whóle-new-cán
better-than-a-dog with a túrnip-and-a bée in the building collecting
money-for-the-French - overcapacitátion-of-a-secret stár on a
favorite yacht on a ledgelike evening
telling your stories through me

Showing-mé to mé   emptying texture from things-from-which-I-
as it clings to a lóng-wooden-táble     tagging someone to-spéak-
with two more eyes along its flank as-lócal-as-a-memorial-
overjoyed and meaningless     as the sort of political process I try
     to shru off    foreshadowed-in-a-book of mémories     it came
     through the door that was found
in the sky   moving-acróss-itself

Delayed by an-impróperly-drawn-cóntract inscribed on a falling
a free-lance composer loves móst  to-be-writing-as-he-spéaks
difficult to see - any-resúlts    to-talk-about-lífe - próblems     to
     be free  he released
a work for chorus one-hour-lóng and one for sólo voice to fínd
      - tíme to bréathe     tén - páges a dáy to keep up the pace  
     one minúte a day  two or three hours to copy
two or three seconds of music

To concretize that thinking with nón - Wéstern elements   nót
     the reason
dimensions of time and space  a little at first in numerous
     currents of time
now the single unrelenting-units-of-our-líves in ábsolute time 
     but óther  courses of time
defy    measurement-by-digitalized-únits    always shifting
don’t-have-any-room-to-compláin every-minute-of-the-dáy
     caught up in grand ópera
Japanése musical groups    don’t have conductors

Each with a time of their own   they produce their beat-by-
of different tíme-frames   time-spáce difference breaking down
they-interséct-each-other unlike the gardens-of-Versáilles
meant to be wálked-through and seen-from-different-
     víewpoints    they mutually reinfórce-one-another  spring 
     summer   autumn and wínter
Japanése    gardens are the-sun-and-the-móon togéther

The not-twó-entity     the spáce here óne    overall-strúcture
concretely-bound-togéther     spring’s direction is east 
     its pitch is G
rereading-them-in-a-módern cóntext     getting-lóst in
     today’s  society
not simply relics-of-the-pást     reintegrated-in-the-fúture
     strongly pulled toward Wéstern things   how-can-that-
assimilating Western rational thínking

 Shine the Light Internátional     the best of the West and
     the East together
the reception after the concert     the theories  the experi-
     ences   the caréer
dréad    doesn’t-seem-to-have-múch    to-dó-with-it   just
surprised    not very large
lots of electrical óutlets     nóne of this is part of our start
     to restóre it    I’m sórry about it     we each have our
     níche and are própped-in-it   at a wonderful móment
deep-appreciation-of-the-Ásia Society

 Twó   páckages-like-Chrístmas presents   Martin-Luther-
     Kíng    the Pówer-Structure
Panther     a wéekend - house   the-Fóur - Séasons   a
     hillock of stone  in-the-sáme-bréath
swatting-out-mosquítoes     luck or hábit   the ending
     fire a rainbow     the scenery
encased in the clouds with the birds in-the-middle-
     dístance     a cóal-stove    existence-that escápes -
     yéars - after-we’re-góne just-a-little-bit-senti-
beside a lake without a náme

New York: 18 –25 February 1995; 11-15 September 1997

the foreword to 154 forties by anne tardos

I remember asking Jackson, why 154 Forties? Why that number? Why not another? He never gave me a clear answer. Only after his death, while editing Thing of Beauty, did it dawn on me that he might have been referring to Shakespeare’s sonnets, which also number 154. Such a reference would indeed have to have been couched, if that’s what he was doing. And the more I think about the Forties’ format, the number of lines, long ones and short ones, the more I believe my hunch to be correct.
Mac Low wrote the 154 Forties over a period of ten years. He began writing them in 1990, and finished writing the first drafts in 1995, although he continued revising them until 2001. He wrote the first drafts into a notebook. The poems incorporated everything he saw and heard and thought of at the time. When in Europe, he freely included words from languages other than English. (In the few multilingual Forties, he included elements and notational methods from some of my own multilingual poems.)  I remember Jackson writing during poetry readings, music and dance concerts, in cars, planes, trains, and boats. The poems’ end notes document the exact time and place of each poem and subsequent revision(s).

Back home, at his computer, he would type up what he had written. In his “Notes to 154 Forties” (below), he describes the prosodic devices he used to indicate reading tempo, stress, and dynamics. Jackson was, after all, a performance poet.

Many of the Forties have appeared in magazines and anthologies. Zasterle Press in the Canary Islands, published 20 Forties, in 1999. A selection of four poems was translated into French, by the translation collective in Royaumont, and published in 2001 by Un bureau sur l’Atlantique as Les Quarantains (Extraits). This is the first time the Forties are collected in their entirety.

The Forties stand as Mac Low’s most important achievement. His encyclopedic knowledge, humor, and boundless imagination, are abundant in these poems. Who can resist a “perpendicular tofu cancellation” or “J. Edgar Hoover Blackmailed Transformational Linguistics,” the title of Forties 126. Each title is composed of the first word(s) of the first stanza and the last word(s) of the last stanza. These titles are a poem within the poem. The musicality of a line like “Toffee clinic alcohol-cadenza lyricism strife megalópia tank” is clear.

Had he not previously worked with systematic chance operations, he might not have been able to write these spontaneous and intuitive works. His transition from chance and deterministic methods to free writing, however, was not abrupt. Between his system-based works of the mid-1950s, Jackson also engaged in various mixes of chance and choice, as in
the "Light Poems" and "The Presidents of the United States of America."                           

Among Jackson’s papers, I came across an unfinished letter in which he discusses the evolution of his poetics: “I don’t believe that poetics should be prescriptive, even though an artist may adopt or develop certain theories to guide her work at various times. I consider such theories to be ‘scaffoldings’ that help the artist make the works, but that may well be discarded and/or modified afterward. Ultimately, they may have little or no truth value (except as analyses) and may only indirectly embody or express ethical or political values.”                                                                                                                                                                   Later he adds, “I am an empiricist, a pragmatist, and a metaphysical skeptic—in an embracing rather than a rejective sense. Mind and matter are two aspects of the same ‘thing.’ Consciousness may ultimately be explained by material causalities, and material phenomena may be explained by physical causalities.”

Mac Low was continually defining and redefining his political, artistic, and philosophical beliefs. He also moved freely between art forms, often drawing and painting words and phrases, making collages and constructions. Exhibits of his visual artworks and lesser-known collages have been shown around the world. They are as complex and multifaceted as his poetry.                                                             

The Forties, it seems to me, are a deeply engaged exploration of language. The nod to Shakespeare, if my guess is correct, is appropriate and modest. Mac Low never compared his Forties to the sonnets, but he did write 154 of them, perhaps leaving a subtle message for the readers of the future.

New York, 2012

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