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Garry Thomas Morse–The Beethoven Frieze

 

 

I should preface by stating that in terms of my work, I believe that the most dominant factors relating to my personal heritage, or the ones I would wish to lay claim to, are Celtic, Jewish, and Native. Jerome Rothenberg has pointed out that he doubts whether radical poetic practice can be thought of as “distinctly Jewish” although once in a while, I wonder if there is a particular intellectual tradition that makes this practice attractive to some exceptional poets of Jewish heritage. I can no more label “alienation literature” as “Jewish”, although there is a Germanic or Viennese schism that casts a long shadow through much of my writing. The Celtic is more a fantasy of being associated with a hyper-intellectual Swiftian gift of the Blarney, thinking of Oscar Wilde, James Joyce, Samuel Beckett, Flann O’Brien and Iris Murdoch, whose work has all informed my own.

The more I try to reconcile what I believe to be my Native character, most of all in the aesthetic sense, with any preconception of “Nation,” the more isolated I find myself, which is to say out of keeping with the national dialogue perpetually seeking to define and frame whatever it can define as “First Nations.” To use terms in the Kwak’wala language, I do believe there is a way of being in the world so that you can be lakhsa – showing the necessary rigour and willingness to be initiated into the ways of the main spirit of the hamatsa ritual. Generally, it is more common to be wikhsa, one of those who have only leaned against his walls. This is but one of a number of specific cultural ideas that have informed what I consider my own artistic principles. One is put in the position of being a West Coast Native trying to import what are deemed foreign beliefs into a Western framework. I am not seeking a parcel of land, rights to minerals, or pomp and ceremony. I am seeking this rigour of attention and cultivation that leads to deeper intimacy, engagement, and ultimately understanding. These days, that is a precious commodity.

As with other communities in relation to artistic pursuits, the concept of a First Nations community appears to be even more anachronistic—the term not only erases the unsavoury history of the Indian Act but also attempts to unite what are in themselves many disparate Nations with their own belief systems and rituals. To delve into any one particular of a people would only be to go against the grain of branding history as a hieratic totemic tchotchke of a souvenir. I use ‘souvenir’ deliberately to indicate a congealed form of memory in a gift shop, since the original form of the living document was in atavistic memory and through the oral tradition of Native peoples. To reduce this to treaties and bureaucratic quorums may not be shocking to some, and yet for many, it involves such a paradigmatic shift in terms of culture and in terms of consciousness that what is gained can only result in loss, and what is lost is that vital aesthetic sublimation that Western culture has more or less dismissed or neglected in favour of commercial interest.

Barbara Olins Alpert has suggested that a culture as accepting of syncretism as that of the “American Indian” has demonstrated a unique ability to express their own belief systems as well as those of interlopers in what appears to be a workable unity, and that “this ability to layer metaphor upon metaphor probably increases a symbol’s power and mystery.” I find that theses notions of syncretism and layering speak to my own methodology of late. When faced with overweening conceptual reductionism, minimalism, and mechanization, modes that are sometimes interesting but not applicable to my own expressionistic yearnings, I resort to a “primitive” instinct for exaggeration and a decadent mode of expression. It is the blazon in the caves that resonates with the blazing bright colours of my ancestors as their great canoes came into view.

Most of my work at present involves a type of deconstructivism that manifests itself in the form of fragmentary text-based superstructures, with their own verbal and linguistic resonances—in some ways, these are grotesqueries in continual correspondence via their hyperdecadent patois, resulting in poetry and prose that do not so much approach the condition of music but rather draw intricate analogies to particular histories and examples of music and opera, as with the poetic lyric voice voix à voix classical tonality as it approaches the continual threat of silence and incoherence. I refer to my intensive reworking of texts as my “Stravinskian method,” and I have reached the point where it feels necessary to communicate such a layered polyphony in visual form, one that establishes correlations through artistic paraphrases that exist well before or at least about the global interstices of domineering Nationhood.

Gustav Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze is the best existing model for my latest poetry project, which due to its absurdist ideals (attempting to find cultural reconciliation and aesthetic identity through “primitive” art and classical music instead of politics and in the process reaching for a conceptually driven expressionism that engages Paleolithic cave renderings, Native petroglyphs, modern art, and Canadian vispo) may also suffer accusations of “unclear ideas through unclear forms” and the poem in question is something of an off-kilter thesis and a transitional bridge in which the history of the symphonic shift from instruments to human vocalization forms an analogy with the poetic shift from lyric undulations to the visual exposition that awaits.

 

 

 

The Beethoven Frieze

(quasi una Fantasia)

 

where the poet no longer chooses the aesthetic Form but it is imposed by the inner vision of the Idea itself in the view of trichromate primates those Old World monkeys with three opsins & the hard eyes of Typheus although I was offended at this & explained that I did not play for money or lascivious Hostile Forces clinging to the edges of Klinger’s naked polychromy in the middle of signing a compound ‘potty-mouth’ Washoe the chimp shared the preference of Louise Bourgeois meaning RED upon concave effect to accent heartwarming plosives in the hollows akin to kettledrum scherzo in the wake of shamanistic representational theory—picture dots in trance states or red elemental lines or thick dactylograms meaning RED blowing through mouth & breathing life onto cave walls where the poet inclines toward the plastic artist with such Gestalten when hung up on Anschauung—that ‘thing in itself’ with symphonic phosphemes in exclusive aboriginal eyes warning: a graphic depicition of spiritual matters although Beethoven might die before I had earned a reputation by galops & potpourris turning over the leaves of this score utterly deaf to the immense applause when waging art not war with such Schreckensfanfaren that echo in the cacophonic lines & goldleaf travesties of Klimt aching for a hint of expressionism in the striate cortex where visual space is charted for the swells then he tore himself from me with such force that he left one of his coat-skirts in my hand fumbling to find in Music an Idea of the world a word or a sword for a haptic Mahler on his apocryphal quest to the very

verge

of tonality amid those ephemeral figures floating over the head of Poetry coddling her cithara like a Tondichter not a Tonsetzer for apes prefer these symmetrical apses to asymmetrical tritones & in the Hebrew adawah beneath the feet of supplicants tugging gifts to ochre mine custodians or to bronze paraphrase of the swells & hollows of the body according to Bernini these erotic paraphases like the heavy eyelids of Adele Bloch-Bauer in the paparazzi scuffle of Judith moved to the right by Alma when the superficial sensuousness of the Viennese seemed the fresh warmth of life the postilion blew his horn into the hidden walls of the wealthy turned inside-out as the sudden flash of RED is drawn out of light ratios just before the clusterfuck of hypothalamus hippocampus anterior cingulate amygdala & so on to the point that everything got awfully monochromatic & his gloomy repellent expression did not tend to allay my confusion & there was a decided feeling of awkwardness; no one spoke

—“Write; I cannot hear.”

—he could not hear!

back to the Black Frieze at Pech-Merle & its foveal mammoths & horses or any embossment that turns bison when the animal in us cocks its head to hear the music of the right hemisphere’s fusiform gyrus in recognitions over time that beckon stalagmos as Sappho says over drip holes for vulvas in Chauvet & petroglyphs for penises forming load-bearing enormity for cloud terraces elsewhere when not cinched about the waist of certain trickster figures before they were formerly institutionalized as Paleolithic aesthetics of accumulation piggyback tone bursts upon the world of waking as they come to see a poor musician as they would go tomorrow to look at some rare animal as they hear too much wretched stuff every day to be always in the mood to take an earnest interest in anything serious yes in the gentlest fluctuations of one ground-colour beneath the feet of bird-headed women hey genius what if that blazon were neither hoof-trap nor accounting system but instead an act of disassemblage where the implicit obliteration of the figurative through intensified non-figuration is paradoxically indicative of desired sanctity something like chucking out all of Rilke’s angels when not stalled in temporal-parietal-occipital junction due to cross-modal abstraction plaguing the wonky eye & long hypersensitive ears of that shamanic figure O let us slake our bright passions in the depths of sensuousness was not even muttered when Goethe & Beethoven avoided one another like bosses or when Wagner wrote galops to pay for his pilgrimage to see the latter in another apocryphal moment the torch passing of the human voice conducted by our Jewish knight to Viennese boos & hisses & the slow clap & growing booyah of a rubbish painter & future Führer in sore need of role models from the flying leap of a misunderstood horse to the Kwakwaka’wakw wolf with two tails that devours the world to the supernatural puppets dallying to the mosquito sparks that consume the chief cannibal spirit Baxbaxwalanuksiwe come winter to sacrificial stone that heralds spring on the West Coast according to Morse mythology if I should make an opera according to my own conception the people would absolutely flee from it with the liquefaction of boundaries touching a nerve in the academic body accusing Klimt of Verschwommene Gedanken durch verschwommene Formen & we certainly don’t want that blurring the expectations of our pretty young things not to mention the rats that rectify rectangles that mean food or Duchamp’s elaborate changes in order to bring out an idea implicit in the original coined as ‘rectified ready-made’ after the initial startle reflex over objets d’art akin to unrolling bog paper in the scherzo of the artistic milieu the rush of acetylcholine toning it down for swallows of song-line mnemonics about to enter distorted imagery adagio ma non troppo e molto espressivo the second Kandinsky finds a forgotten work upside-down & the whole non-objective thing begins to the spasmodic booms of those irresistible tympana or even the encouragement of that dusty basso continuo yes let those wild primal emotions that stretch out into the infinite that are represented by instruments be contrasted with the clear definite emotions of the human heart represented by the human voice in the early stages of anamorphism where the poet falls prey to neurons forever networking into metaphors like the three-note call of quail or two-note call of cuckoo in that dwindling eclogue between our ears pressed against the phallic breasts of Bourgeois or deep within the Venus of Willendorf with the red weathered away & beside that gaunt figure of gnawing grief Xeuxis tries to lift the painted curtain of Parrhasius & Cimabue tries to flick away the painted bug of his pupil & naked in bronze marble onyx ivory & other gewgaws Beethoven tries to drown out the elusive influence of Haydn where poetry must stand aside for words are too weak for this task in the final movement emerging as usual from the nethers in low rumbling murmurs & rising through an interrogative fog of deconstructed motives & this is a nervous break-

down of form as we know it O friends no more of these

sounds let us rouse ones more pleasant

& joyful

 

Freu – de              schö-ner                Göt-ter-fun-ken                   Toch-ter aus          E-

ly-si-um                wir be-tre-ten       feu-er-trun-ken                    Himm-li-sche        dein

Hei-lig-tum          Dei-ne                   Au-ber                                  bin-den                  wie-der

was die_______Mo-de                   streng ge-teilt                      al – le                    Men-schen

wer-den                Brü – der              wo dein                               sanf-ter                Flü-gel weilt


where the poet foolheartedly with feet in mouth

longs for such long unfoldings of ecstasy

this lovely celestial spark

this crazed kiss

for the whole freaking world

 

 

—————————————

Garry Thomas Morse is the author of four books of poetry, including Discovery Passages, the first book of poetry about his ancestral Kwakwaka’wakw First Nation, and finalist for the 2011 Governor General’s Award and the 2012 Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize. Along with his first collection of stories Death in Vancouver, his experimental speculative fiction series The Chaos! Quincunx comprises Minor Episodes / Major Ruckus, Rogue Cells / Carbon Harbour, and Minor Expectations (Fall 2014), all available from Talonbooks. Morse’s work is studied at various Canadian universities, including SFU and UBC, and he defiantly resides in Regina, Saskatchewan.

(tag: Louise Bourgeois)

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