June 22, 2007KR BlogWriting

On Jandek, Susan Howe

This post is the work of Sean Casey.–TM

On June 8, the Texan music recluse Jandek performed at the new Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.

Jandek–the music and the mystery–is well worth a sniff. The curious should locate the documentary, Jandek On Corwood. Also, Seth Tisue maintains a comprehensive site.

In Boston, Jandek played fretless bass and was joined by a horn section of Greg Kelley (trumpet) and Jorrit Dijsktra (saxophonist, lyricon), and the aggressive drumming of Eli Keszler. The accompaniment, like a persistant storm cloud, circled Jandek, who sang and strummed crude, relentless bass lines.

Jandek’s lyrics often communicate a concentrated despair. Listening can be a near surgical procedure, operating on parts of one’s psyche better left untouched. On the page the words can be pretty awful, but live, sung, and accompanied, they were anything but. One potential dud,“One day at a time,” easily transcended its clich??. “One day at a time,” like Gertrude Stein’s rose, accrued meanings that frivolous use deprived it. No one could doubt it: a day in the life of Jandek is a long time.

Throughout the two hour set, Jandek read lyrics from a notebook and only turned pages a handful of times. It became clear that, song to song, phrases were reused and reconfigured. Jandek’s lyric sheet functioned more as a rough score than a polished manuscript.

The performance brought to mind a February ???07 reading by Susan Howe at the University of Massachusetts. Howe read “Thorow,” a poem from her book Singularities. Near the end of the poem, text scatters across the page. When she came to those pages, instead of turning the book in her hands to reach each word, she read selections. She left certain words silent, sounded others.

For poetry whose logic permits jumps in meaning, this open mode of composition and performance by Jandek and Howe seems particularly useful. A poem opens to improvisation, to a distinct performance each reading.

I don’t know who else performs their work in this fashion–do you?

Sean Casey lives in Southampton, Ma. His fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s and Fence, and his poetry has recently appeared in Vanitas and Origin. He’s publisher of The Chuckwagon, a small press, and blogs at valleyarts.blogspot.com

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