Monday, March 28, 2011

Jerome Rothenberg "Old Man Beaver's Blessing Song" [L1]

Rothenberg, Jerome. “Old Man Beaver’s Blessing Song.” PennSound. Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing at the University of Pennsylvania, 2004-2010. MP3. [L1]

Rothenberg infuses his reiterative performance of this short poem with a Native American-Dadaist strain. These two influences, I think, have had tremendous influence on his performance style—at least they're the influences he seems to be most associated with. Seven times in this rendition he repeats the line, "All I want's a good five-cent cigar," followed by a short chant: "Hee hee ho ho, hee hee ho ho, hee hee ho ho." If I were to lineate the base-poem—the text Rothenberg begins with then revises with each reiteration—based on his performance, I'd do it like this:

All I want's
a good

Hee hee ho ho
Hee hee ho ho
Hee hee ho ho
—where each line break represents a short pause (probably about half-a-second, though I haven't measured) and the stanza break represents a slightly longer pause, which signals a change in the discursive action—the movement from language to, shall I call it?, something pre-language.

Like a jazz musician improvising variations on a chord or musical phrase (Jazz might be another influence on Rothenberg's poetics), Rothenberg takes this base-poem and, with each repetition, shifts the tonal emphasis, the stress given to each syllable, etc. Words meld into other words and become something different, perhaps something more. The only thing that doesn't seem to change with each reiteration is the chant, which I categorize as pre-linguistic utterance. Rothenberg's breaking down of the poem's words begins to lean toward this primality, defamiliarizing language until it nears the inutterability of the body's desires. And this fits nicely with Old Man Beaver's addiction, his reiterative wanting of that good five-cent cigar.


Image source; PennSound