Another piece built on repetition, structure, & conflicting sensations – ‘abrasive’ ‘finely’. Echoes with no source or resolution. Verses start simple then stumble into complex syllables, allusions & confusing images so that ‘simplicity’ becomes ‘complexity’ so rapidly one never fully grasps the simple – it gets yanked out of your hands.
I was, still am, fascinating by the Egypt of the Kush. I watch endless documentaries on royal tombs, mummies, lost cities. On the east coast I read books on the Egyptian pantheon of god & goddesses. The story of Osiris was as compelling as the Christian beliefs that over-turned them. Sobek is the crocodile god, while Apis is the bull god. Why I put them together is lost to my memory 🙂
The chorus is a return to the simple. ‘catacomb’ contrasts with ‘plain folks homes.’ Also the realization that mummies, regardless of who they were, how old they were, how desiccated they were, they are still skin & bones. The same skin & bones we have today. The human body hasn’t undone any major structural change in the recorded history of mankind.
The second section steps away from simple to embrace busy images that flow in a dream like logic – blistered ears, to forest fires. Music has always played a big part in my life – I can remember coming back from hearing a live band with sound-blistered ears. As a drunk I sometimes suffered from telephonites – calling friends to maintain, create some contact, context – that I may have found but never really felt. In the end I was doing the best I could to feel at home in my own skin & bones.
This is one of the earliest pieces in the collection & as such is the most revealing of young-man excess & emotional melodrama. Nicely over-written with more force than I possibly felt at the time. It’s difficult for me to see any specific influence beyond nameless prog-rock lyricists. It makes me think of the dance pose of reaching out to some imagined horizon for the unobtainable. Sound & fury signifying the need to impress readers with the use of language 🙂
I wanted to write a poem that would make someone fall in love with me. I wrote many variations with this subtext in mind, which knowing it was an impossibility. Language can lead to connection but isn’t a magic spell.
It is another of my imposed structure pieces ‘our noun verb noun etc’ that gives each verse a pattern of theme & variation. The theme being the search for something or someone & the inner obstacles that have to be dealt with to find it. Reading it now I cannot say what the object was then – other than sounding deep & philosophic about the plight of the love lorn. Another of the closet subtext pieces where gender is avoided.
It reflects my fears of ‘no one’ because at that time there was no person who was the focus of my affections. I had lusts, longings for some but the urge was physical not emotional. Then I still believed a relationship was the way to fulfillment. Today I know relationships can be fulfilling but real fulfillment is a spiritual journey 🙂
fast snatches of night, feeling the wind on my face,
hearing the tumbling leaves
prepare of the shock of rain
I almost called your name;
me alone there in the night
calling to unhearing ears
instead of being home safe
out of the impending storm
it never rained;
I waited, longing for it,
but, well, it never rain;
which was why
at five-thirty in the wind
I found myself asleep
with your name in my dreams
flashing in a torrent downstream
with a mile or so ahead
to leave your name behind
humming as blue
as the red morning air
Ah the pain of the dream of unrequited love. I had crushes but no real emotional involvements on the East Coast so perhaps the ‘you’ I was thinking of in this piece was not a person but the opportunity to be fully out. An opportunity like the impending storm that never materialized.
I enjoy the deliberate play of words that reflects struggle: gripping, clutching, tumbling, torrent. Clutching also implying ‘clutching at straws’ – the striving for unsubstantial, unattainable goals. The moon is always out of reach 🙂
A wind harp (an Aeolian harp) is a real instrument. Often on top of a hill where it can be played by the wind. Sometimes a natural phenomenon created by trees growing in the right spot. Often man-made out of metal of different thickness, set at different angles to carve notes out of the wind. Ethereal. Great fun in cemeteries 🙂 I have a recording of Jan Garabek using a wind harp as part of a sonic texture.
I like the ambiguity near the end – ‘found myself asleep’ – is the poem a dream of that windy hill or did I fall asleep on that windy hill waiting for rain that never came? I’ve also learned to ‘nail the landing’ by this point as that ending is perfect – unexpected & satisfying. The hum of the wind harp bounces the colours into a strange harmony.
Over time I’ve come to see this as one of the ‘better’ pieces in the chapbook. It reveals more about growing up Cape Breton than any of the others. Even with the abstract moments it is a good snap shot of my sense of displacement as I search for a sense of safe haven.
It opens with any array of African clichés – a distant place I knew very little about & much of that thanks to Tarzan & similar safari movies populated with fully dressed white dudes & a panoply of half-naked black men. It is a dream retreat in this first section.
It is not so dreamy in the second part with my list of realistic drawbacks. I’m also caught by the distance of that Paris escape, another place far from me, from my artistic longings. Like birds caged so long the freedom of Africa would kill me? The closest I ever got to that wild was already in cages.
The third section drops us into Cape Breton with another list of cliches with a decent dash of Gaelic. The economy there was becoming unstable with long-time major industries struggling in the world market. Tourism was always strong there & was to become even more important so the twisting Cabot Trail was no longer for the locals 🙂 There was an exodus of generations who had family ties & nostalgic roots that kept pulling them back.
Four takes me back to Africa where like Cape Breton tourist dollars, exploiters needs were controlling the continent. The ancient history seemed to be confined to Egypt as seeing though colonist exploiter’s eyes. Even today I see documentaries where talking heads are astonished that such primitive tribe could produce such fine artifacts -ahem – maybe they weren’t so primitive.
I had seen on TV around that time, early 70’s, that I Love Lucy reruns were the most popular TV show in the world, that she was watched in every country. They showed glimpses of her being watch by natives in huts in Africa. I was watching Lucy in Cape Breton – she represented an American culture that was not mine or theirs. So where does our cultural sense of self come from, when what is under our feet gets co-opted by a materialistic monolith without us even being aware of it.
In the end I am left with a wistful nostalgia for Cape Breton – which isn’t where I was born, but Manitoba where I was born has no resonance. I was a man searching for more than a sense of heritage, more than the concept of home but for a sense of safe haven.
I remember writing this piece during one of the summer workshops at the University of New Brunswick. It was after the first night there & having met the other writers for drinks, chit-chat & introductions outside of the classroom setting. I think it was around a bonfire or perhaps in the common room of the residence.
Once the usual get-to-know-you information was exchanged – hometown, writing experience etc we moved to more personal stuff mainly bad experiences. Surgeries that went wrong, partners who betrayed etc. I didn’t really have much to contribute about tribulations & as the tribulations escalated it became a contest of who suffered & survived the worst. You had a ovarian cyst , well I had cancer of the brain – top that!
It’s like The Dance of the Seven Veils where we are selective about what gets revealed & never reveal how many veils there actually are. People bonded over shared, similar, unpleasant experiences. At that time I had had no major surgeries, no criminal assaults, no car accidents, no relationships, no children – I was not all that interesting until the workshop really got going & my insightful, no-holds-barred self was revealed.
This shared-disaster pattern is one I’ve seen repeated often over the years I’ve taken workshops, participated in consumer panels, participated in pharmaceutical drug research studies. Strangers quickly bond over shared experiences & if you don’t share you are left on your own, most of the time. Which allows me to focus on why I am there in the first – which isn’t to be liked but to learn.
You can credit T. S. Eliot for my love of long, meandering, numbered section poems. Here the section numbers included the degree sign after each but WP editing suite finds that difficult to render & I’m too lazy to figure how to make it obey. Such is life. Such is the march of time too, so with some of these pieces, from nearly 50 years ago my memory is unclear.
I have a vague recollection of writing this as a single piece over the space of about a week. It, unlike some of my writing then, isn’t stitched together with various scraps. I can’t say if I wrote it in the order it appears here – though it does have definite progression. It deliberately references other poems in the book – for example ‘nightmare strangulation’ is a nod to the hangman; ‘straw in my pocket’ to Waltz.
I also play with cliché ‘flying of the handle’ ‘give & take’ ‘the damage done’ – recasting them in ironic contexts or leading them to unexpected conclusions. ‘pagan dancers’ is a reference to my paintings of the time (link) – also the dancer on the cover of the chapbook.
Reading this now I see it as another poem about coming out, about the confines of cultural butcher-boy definitions of gender, creativity, productivity. At the time I wrote this I wasn’t aware that ‘the seed’ was those various elements. Many lgbtq people create themselves from parts of the world around them – our sense of self is the result of our inner Dr. Frankenstein creating from fresh. Not that heterosexuals don’t have to do some of this but they have clearer role-models to work with. It was like being give ten model kits of various planes cars boats that had been opened up & dumped into one pile without instructions.
What parts of me have to be cut out to get to the core? I also sense this use of violence, of bloody butchery as a way to appear more masculine. Being a teenage poet is not as butch as being a teenage football star.
It also alludes to the fact that I was a cutter. Wounds that no one could see but myself. A self who also had an awareness of his suicidal thinking, which was buried in this piece. I don’t recall anyone, who read this piece or who heard me perform it, ever asking me if I was serious. I guess they thought it was a part of the poet’s pose. Artifice as opposed to a serious mental issue.
The last lines echo a favorite song if mine – ‘How can I be sure, in a world that constantly changes?’ Today I’m not afraid of being unsure – that’s one of the things that makes me human.
I wanted this piece to be stuck in the middle of the collection. It’s another one with a strong narrative line, easy to understand even without the subtext of being trapped under the ice of a life one didn’t expect to be frozen into. It’s also another piece of testosterone driven masculinity. The return of ‘the muscle-rippled holder of that chainsaw’ only now he’s dealing with the results of his labours.
No, I have never been a lumberjack – nor have I moved logs down stream. I didn’t do any research on log jams for this, nor did I study things trapped in the ice. So I’m not writing about what I know in an experiential sense. But no one has said ‘you got this all wrong.’ I was deliberately working with Canadiana forest tropes as a way of chasing loose the abstract content of the other pieces.
I enjoy how the story unfolds with the hard work of ice-bound logs, how the number of men increases, the sound of chipping increases, the harness of the ice, the persistence of the loggers as they overcome the jam. The foreshadowing of water being like ‘blood/fresh gashes.’ Then the cost of industry when one of them falls under. There is no rescue attempt.
There is also the movement in the two repeated verses, almost like a song chorus, that changes from ‘sun’ to ‘corpse.’ It is a great piece to perform, as is ‘Woodsman’, & would usual pair them.
I do have a limited number of the original Distant Music chapbook for sale for $25.00 each (includes surface mail postage). Send via paypal along with where to send it. paypal.me/TOpoet
I love the way this piece doubles in on itself – a spiral that rewrites what you have read by the time to get to the end. I had been reading books on Zen by this time. Partly to step out of the culture I felt trapped in & partly to seem more intellectual than I really was. I’m not sure how much I understood of them at the time but they sure looked good on my book shelf.
It’s another poem to a non-existent ‘you.’ The shadow was perhaps the fear of coming out? There’s also a realization that we often stand in our own way & until we learn to get over ourselves there is no progress. Maybe getting older was the shadow because as we age we can only remember but never get back.
I hear carousel music
when I want a lullaby
a dreamy hand to cover
this melody I can’t control –
who will I kill today?
Persephone danced for Gauguin;
Medusa carved for Rodin;
ears bled for Van Gogh;
children laughed for clowns;
who will we kill today?
let’s hang the clown,
railroad the circus out of town;
leave him sway till he rots;
who will we kill today –
ha, let’s hang all the clowns
I am a fan of Gauguin. I had prints of his painting hanging on my walls. The adventure of his life, the escape to the Pacific, were ideal fantasy fodder for me. If I had gone to French Polynesia it certainly would have been the native men I would have fallen for. I read & reread a biography I had of him. I had the Time-Life art series ‘The World of …’ so I was familiar with the works of Rodin; Van Gogh. They were thwarted geniuses – just like I was 🙂
I’m not sure how this poem segues from verse to verse – dance music painting sculpture – all fine arts, I suppose, but the connecting tissue is lacking. I’m also not sure where this penchant for hanging, or for clowns came from either. Maybe the face painters present to the world is a painting hung on a wall – like clowns presenting their painted faces to the world?
I came across this CJCB Dave-a-go-go-Fab-Forty list in my social isolation covid cleaning frenzy. Although it is from April – many of these were songs of the summer. Daydream; Nowhere Man; California Dreamin’; These Boots. Going through the list I was surprised at how many of these songs I could hear in my head. Some of them I can’t get out of my head either 😉
Some I have no recollection of – He Wore The Green Beret? Listening to Leslie on YouTube I have no recollection of this song – it is, as expected an answer record to Sgt. Barry Sadler’s hit. This is also the only song with a political agenda. Eddie Rambeau?
I had many of these 45’s & lps. Now I have many of them at mp3s. Even those one-hit wonders – Elusive Butterfly; Magic Town. As expected the hits are all very pop with a few unexpected r’n’b, soul tracks there: Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett. First hint of psychedelic is the Yardbirds Shapes Of Things.
I remember the radio dominated by the Beatles, Herman’s Hermits but this chart is mostly USA top 40 fodder – no CanCan as far as I can tell.
A bit of research tells me that the Liverpool Set were Canadian but they only released three singles.
I can remember turning some of these songs up (19th Nervous Breakdown) & others down (Young Love) on my radio as I did my homework. I was always eager for my favourites to get played & I phoned in my votes to keep some things up there in the top ten. My music collection includes lps, singles by at least 30 of the bands/performers on this list! My retro collection is so full of good memories but trust me it has stayed relatively contemporary. It was tracks by the likes of Ramsey Lewis that open the doors to jazz for me. As Jim Morrison sang, at one time ‘music was your only friend.’ That wasn’t fully true but music is one of the only friends I have from high-school.
Welcome to alliteration 🙂 All those d’s, c’s, m’s are perfect for waking you up in the morning. Looking back now I see how this piece reflects some of the anti-materialist hippie counterculture of the early 70’s. People fed up with working hard for nothing – employee of the month with no real sense of satisfaction. Hearing songs about that by pop stars who became millionaires.
I was/am not a particularly pugnacious guy so all this boxing/fighting imagery seems more like masculine bravado. There was some inner turmoil often both fuelled by & hidden by alcohol: “another shadow-boxing affair/ reflected from bottles.” The turmoil was creative: what can I write to make me rich; it was also sexual – the fight to express myself & not be judged.
This piece moves with a looping of repeated images that eave in & around each other, the hangman, the sun, melting, fighting in different combinations as it literally fights to find cohesion & meaning. I see it now as the struggle for identity – to find one in the world around me.
‘your early morning suddenness’ seems to hint of a romantic involvement that didn’t exist at that time. Fear kept me emotionally frozen, this is what was to be melted so I could enter the world with the cold mask of creativity to protect me.
All these rhetorical questions spring from the hippie search for self – where you going Billy? How many roads must a man walk down? The hangman makes a return here but in a less playful way. Then in that last verse we get rhyme! Something that I generally avoided then (& now).
The piece is stitched together from various pieces as the dates at the end indicate. I had them in note books & felt they resonated with each other. The ’74 take was when I pulled them together. ’76 was the final edit for the chapbook & I resequenced them for flow & to create the illusion of depth.