13 may. 2011

Creeley on ...


To try to answer Vance's question a little better:

What I was trying to make clear was that jazz gave me a model for rhythmic patterns and possibilities finally more useful than what I was getting from the usual 1940s models of what was supposed to be good poetry. A lot of it was, in fact, terrific—[William Carlos] Williams, [Ezra] Pound, [Wallace] Stevens—but none, with the exception of Williams, came close to the way I’d say or write things.

It was the phrasing, the cadence, that most occupied me. Something as simple as a “backbeat” was curiously outside the usual concerns of poetry. Everyone was talking about “meaning,” or “figures of speech,” “ambiguity,” etc. I was interested, literally, in sound and rhythm, no matter what I then thought about it or even knew. I listened to the classic records of the period—all the stuff coming up to bebop and then the great initial releases circa 1945 of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, [big] bands like Tadd Dameron and Boyd Raeburn, singers like Sarah Vaughn. I’d track, not didactically, as with a ruler, but intuitively, “by ear,” as poet friend Charles Olson put it, all those shifts and changes, all built usually on the most simple of melodic lines. I wish some poet then had been doing with “Mary Had a Little Lamb” what Bird was doing with “I’ve Got Rhythm”!

9 comentarios:

Vance Maverick dijo...

Thanks, this is interesting, and certainly settles the question of whether there's a connection there for him. The "backbeat" comment seems flip -- I think the accent on beats two and four of the bar is genuinely, literally outside the concerns of poetry even now -- but the vaguer terms like "phrasing" and "cadence" are credible links. In both media, a sequence of sounds can "fall" toward closure, and be broken off when it's not "naturally" ready to close, etc.

John dijo...

Ira Gershwin wrote an essay explicating the lack of "'ve" in the title and lyric of his song, "I Got Rhythm," a song which has very little in common with "Mary Had a Little Lamb," just as Robert Creeley sounding out his poetry as he writes it has very little to do with Bud Powell improvising in virtuoso fashion on complex and extremely strict chord progressions. I like Creeley's poetry a lot, but these comments on music strike me as, to use jazz parlance, serious clams.

Vance Maverick dijo...

In pedantic fairness, John, the text of "I['ve] Got Rhythm" is not really relevant here. Rather, Creeley's comparing the "simple" text of the nursery rhyme with the "simple" tune and changes of the Gershwin standard, as source material.

The rarity of strict theme-and-variations in poetry does, to my mind, suggest there's a fundamental difference between the media in how variation works. (What would a text be like that handled variation as reservedly as the slow movement of the "Emperor" quartet?)

John dijo...

Parker's improvised melodies over a George Gershwin chord progression can, as a musical procedure, be called "variations," but, you're right, there is no equivalent in language, because there's no equivalent to harmony. That was part of the point that I was trying to make. (And I do appreciate your scare quotes around "simple.")

Ira Gershwin used "got" as the colloquial (American language) substitute for "have" -- "the one going back to my childhood," he wrote, "e.g., 'I got a toothache' didn't mean 'I had a toothache,' but only 'I have one.' Thumbing through many authorities on usage, style, and dialect, I find no discussion of 'got' as a complete substitute for 'have.' This is somewhat surprising when one considers, say, how often and for how many years the spiritual 'All o' God's Chillun Got Shoes' ('I got shoes, you got shoes') has been heard."

Gershwin continued: "P.S. Obviously, I've got nothing against 'I've got' since the verse ends with 'Look at what I've got.' The reason in this instance is that the musically less assertive and regularly rhymed verse [the a-strophic introduction, often in a different tempo than the 'chorus' or main body of the song, common in songs of his era but in most cases rarely performed, especially not by jazz musicians] seems to require the more conventional phrasing."

My point in quoting this is to show how bonkers it is to treat "I Got Rhythm" as an unselfconscious bit of found art, to demonstrate the thoughtfulness, sophistication, and sensitivity that went into its composition. I think it's fair to include the mis-title as an example of a Creeley clam, though, you're right, not as important a clam as his generally poor articulation of the relationship between music and language. Perhaps I'm being too harsh, but American poets of Creeley's generation riffing on jazz almost always embarrasses me -- similar to Jonathan's irritation at ill-informed poetic invocations of the duende (an irritation I share!).

Re variations in poetry: I love Zukofsky's "Julia's Wild," variations on lines from "Two Gentlemen of Verona," from Z's "Bottom: On Shakespeare."


Rachel Blau DuPlessis's montage of translations of Dante's Rime 78 (the "Stone" sestina) might be another variation form, although variations in the form of a collage -- whatever it is, I love that too.

Jonathan dijo...

Mabye I'm overthinking it, and maybe Creeley was not being articulate, but I took him to be saying that poets were not even working the changes on simple material, like Mary Had a Little Lamb--let alone something more complex like I Got Rhythm. Of course we don't know if he really misspoke and said "I've Got Rhythm" or whether that was a transcription mistake by the interviewer. I've made worse errors in casual speech or email. Of course his response merges rhythm, form, harmony, and melody into a conceptual mess if we want to subject it to that strict a scrutiny. He was inspired by jazz in very specific, literal ways, but it is hard for him to get the analogies right in metaphorical terms. It's hard for me too so I can't come down too hard on him.

Flo dijo...

I get the Sinatra influence -- they're both very mannered, subtle, distinctive, and seductive stylists, specifically in their phrasing.

Improvisation brings another element of conceptual complexity to the hash.

I have to respect Creeley at least for not portraying jazz as strictly passionate and . . . "primitive"? Unlike some of his peers. Which is what makes Amiri Baraka's jazz writing so refreshing, in this context: He hammers home how sophisticated and highly educated its masters were. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that Creeley makes a similar case elsewhere.

Flo dijo...

Whoops -- I'm logged in under my wife's name again. This is John.

Herb Levy dijo...

I wrote a long post here earlier this week that for some reason never showed up. The gist of it was that, to me, Creeley (& many others who namecheck jazz as a poetic influence) seem to be relating as much to the fact that one of the most distinctive aspects of improvisors within a scene, whether jazz, rock, raga, or whatever, is the individual sound and approach of each player.

This manifests in the literal sound/timbre of each player, but also in other features of a player's approach, notably time-feel. Where different players place their accents within a measure and within the field of a beat, are at least as recognizable to dedicated listeners as their literal sound.

The distinct time-feels of various players may be much more relevant to Creeley's (& that of others) poetics than other aspects of their "sound".

Jonathan dijo...

Definitely. Like Sonny Rollins very "wide" beat. Tha'ts something I've been interested for a very long time.