Attempts #2: The Poet, The Phonometrician, and the Dead

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post that wasn’t explicitly polemical or a review of something for the first time in many years. I thought to myself, I used to be non-fiction writer as well as a poet and not an internet pugilist. In truth, I have been a teacher for the past decade–both in the classroom sense, and in the popularizer of obscure theory, anthropology, and history on various podcasts. This a mission that I am increasingly embracing. I am also working with other authors on projects intellectual–Professor Michael Rectenwald and I working on a long interview book on the development of secularism and its strange relationship to socialism. Increasingly, Rectenwald contents in his already published work, Nineteenth-Century British Secularism: Science, Religion and Literature, that the truly agnostic career of British secularism as been ignored for the French laicism or Soviet positivism anti-theism, and this trend has led to a shallow understanding of the relationship between religion and economics/culture on the left, both Marxist and liberal. The interview book we are working on will make more comparisons like this as such and also talk about political theology, thus popularizing but also deepening his scholarly work.


That is as close to politics that I want to go as I understand where the 1990s “post-political” rhetoric bubbled up from now that I am well and truly burnt out. This is a meandering way to talk about something else on my mind: Erik Satie. This, however, is harder than it seems.

For one, it amazes that I started my “writing career” for ‘zines and blogs in the late 1990s under nom de plumes like slaveboy, which was a BDSM joke of the 14-year-old unfunny variety primarily for teenage girlfriend who used to leave me yellow bruises, and “D.” writing mostly punk and noise-rock music review and concert reports.  I say that this is ironic as the more I know about music, the more I find it impossible to write about.  I have some knowledge of tonal scales, beat counts, and the history of music.  This actually helps me a great a deal as a poet, but not as music critic.

I could can write Michael Gira or David Bowie’s effect on my childhood and teen years. I stubbled on my first Swans album around the release the Great Annihilator, or the girlfriend who introduced to Bowie/Brian Eno soundscape. I could talk about the experience of musical textures by experiential analogy or by technical precision, but the qualia of music is nearly outside of vocabulary.   Poetry is similar but its rootedness in the verbal makes its explication and technical prosody easy to talk about in a way where the vocabulary is not as alien as in music.

Yet I find myself moved by a particular recording and modification of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No.1, a piece of music that I already love, but overlays tons of recordings over each other and time corrects them so that slight dissonance and over-lingering of cords bring out the disturbing elements of ennui that one hears in the lackadaisical-seeming composition.  Satie’s music was both dadaist and surrealist at points, but Gymnopédie does not seem obviously avant-garde.  Satie called himself a phonometrician, and may be similar in my thinking about sound. 

This layering is something I often try to do in poetry, but with repetition and shifting the syllable counts in lines subtly. There are formal elements to my poetry that I deliberately try to obscure–I like Tennis without the ‘Net, but even handball has rules.  The musical instrument I understand the most is drums, and so the persuasive effects my writing as much as my dyslexia complicates editing it.

Now this movies to my love of genres like trip-hop, dark wave, and post-rock –whose late 1990s, early aughts pretensions in naming conventions almost make embarrassing to write in a serious essay. This has led to Chelsea Wolfe’s Abyss, which is darkening and layered textures over and over again.

Still the loss of several musicians whom there has been much ink spilled in the last month leads to me to write about poet who helped me with my own phonometry. C. D. Wright was probably one of the biggest influences of my poetry of a living poet: well, living until this week, when she also, like said rockstars, died in late 60s.  There is something haunting about these deaths of younger boomer artists who often, like Wright, hit strides in late life.  Wright wrote about Deepstep, a community close to where I was born, and oft ignored even by Southerner and Georgia writers–she also was a master at layering and variance twinges with both sadness and complicated eroticism.  I will leave our “Attempt” with a verse from her poem, Everything Good between Men and Women,

Bless it. We have so little time
to learn, so much… The river
courses dirty and deep. Cover the lettuce.
Call it a night. O soul. Flow on. Instead.

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