Friday, April 10, 2009

Gerry Mulligan

“Fair-handed Spring unbosoms every grace,
Throws out the snowdrop and the crocus first . . .”


Routine unremarkable deaths and the light step of a girl trailing a jump-
Rope through the filigree’d red catkins knock’d down by the late
Snows. St. Augustine calls memory a vast immeasurable sanctuary,
And unplumb’d, and reasons that the mind is too narrow to contain
Itself entirely.
So the greedy world spouts its dying ones directly
Back into itself like a Klein bottle or a Möbius strip, all surface, the outer
Façade penetrated by its own façade,
if one credits Beckett crediting
Gide, dead both. So too the wild artesian self, narrow, spouting,
Uncontainable, with nothing beyond itself, pencil-
Traces lapping endlessly along its pure indelible surface, every
Mark excess and absorb’d. Memory ministers its own occasions—
Its sudden fits and splurges out of nothing—with radical untoward
Disparagements reneged, and absence made unmanageably
Present. Tutto il corpo participates in the act and the world—with its cat-
Tails full of Phoenician-talking red-wing’d blackbirds just come north, its
Intrepid sedge wrens wrangling a niche with chip and ratchet call—trails behind,


Gerry Mulligan, Number Zero, edited by Ben Tripp (41 West Market St. #1, Red Hook, New York 12571)

Contributors: Tom Savage, Emily Greenley, Andre Schiavelli, Elizabeth McDaniel, Samuel Greenberg, Ted Greenwald, John Weiners, Wade Savitt, Columbina Zamponi, Sylvia Gorelick, Clark Coolidge, Roger Van Voorhees, Lydia Davis, Gerad Argeros, Bill Berkson, Robert Elstein, David Perry, Charles North, Trevor Winkfield, Anselm Hollo, Aaron Simon, Maria Tananyan, Andrew Dieck, Duncan McNaughton, Marcella Durand, Ange Mlinko, Kit Robinson, April Koester, Elizabeth Bryant, Omar Husain, Jennifer Kietzman, Laura Hunt, Ann Stephenson, Florence Kindel, Alex Hampshire, Cassandra Pantuso, and Thomas Lovell Beddoes.

Triggering a short inconclusive brouhaha to curdle up in the brainbox regarding the naming of magazines: what is it about this particular moment that sees the arrival of Lana Turner and Abraham Lincoln and Gerry Mulligan? (Trying to think of others, I do recall a Roy Rogers some years ago—and a Frank and a Marilyn and there’s Arshile still, presumably.) Is it—worst scenario—the insidious People-magazinification (gulp) of la poésie norteamericano, the nipping besottednesses of fatuous celebrity culture invading? Possibly. Is it tenth-round camp pitching its tent? Longing for the Birth of the Cool era, post-WWII undoubt’d, self-satisfy’d, affluent imperium-ship against the present global cooldown, back-off, and ongoing endless “niggling” regional wars? (And why, biking in today, did I rewrite Dylan’s “All the Tired Horses”—I sing and ride—into a perfect statement of that kind of impingement all us sanctify’d and privileged artists points West’re secretly liable to sing: “All the bloody corpses in the sun, / How’m I supposed to get any writing done.”) As I say, inconclusive, bubbling.

The magazine itself: side-stapled and direct, just the facts, ma’am, big format, white. (The only décor: Trevor Winkfield’s fine hard-lined black and white rendering, half geometric, half “organic”—that is, leaf-shaped: one thinks Brancusi’s Bird in Space emerging out of its plinth, one thinks, too, rocketry, shark, there’s a sense of coyly-lash’d eye evident. Examinably pliant for all the “hard” technique.)

Of newcomers (“first publish’d poem”) I like enormously Omar Husain’s mischievous “Vocabulary Lesson,” its series of link’d one-liners:

Memory is habit forming.


Gerry Cooney had a glass jaw.


Glass has always been progressive.


One shoe is no help.


The other shoe drops.


Carl Lewis could really book.


There’s no room in my room for another book, man.


I only feel guilty about staring if I’m thinking of sex.
“Use it in a sentence.” The old pedagogical command combined with (maybe) a sidelong glance at Gertrude Stein. I like how the context keeps shifting, one’s toss’d back continuously. Boxer Gerry Cooney’s glass jaw, that peculiar vulnerability to getting suddenly KO’d, moving effortlessly to the glass of, presumably, Philip Glass, “progressive” (though that word recalls, too, how unstable glass is, how some older glass flow’d, so that a vertical pane’d be—progressively—thicker at the bottom)—and back to a question that points to the arbitrary fling of language (and its acquisition): why is “Gerry Cooney” an item of vocabulary?

Of the old-timers (gulp) Clark Coolidge—in a sizeable selection out of a piece call’d “Closer and Darker” (Beckettian title)—appears to be batting at the conventions of memoir, with high humor:
I first met Bill Burroughs behind that uptown chain link education at the hour frequency of word change was discussed. I first met Tank Gorin at Roy Davis’s cave the night of the cicadas down from the trees. I first met the Whisperer in Darkness behind the high school bedlam pole wishing I had a smoother cancellation. Now I wonder how people think about me. I mostly don’t but that’s what one says in this sort of backtalk, the hum of memoir. I must’ve been born on a long leash.

So when I met Burroughs he seemed itchy. His suit was out. He was worn, untalkative, somewhere baffled, something wrong within the installation. So was I. On the not quite white subway where the shirts pull out we hung from those straps until the door and she shocked him with an exit kiss. Was this all a plant? From Gerrymander Town the man of invisible syllables. Couldn’t I have followed him across the planet? They say you first meet yourself. I don’t think so. Perhaps at the last?

But he wanted to be a Conrad and be read by the money and doubted his own flicker genius. What else did he have? I tried to tell him but must’ve lacked the proper jack? How many more Vermonts till that song rings down the highway’s nodes? I will hire a farm in the middle of the Vineyard and forget. Perhaps when the walls come in he will listen. Like, just try to stop thinking.
Mock-memoir, and a mocking of memoir, the genre. “Now I wonder how people think about me. I mostly don’t but that’s what one says in this sort of backtalk, the hum of memoir. I must’ve been born on a long leash.” Isn’t that getting to the sorry crux of the matter: how one unsung sour truth of the raison d’être of memoir is to intervene precisely in order to sway and control and affect “how people think about me”? “My story.” It’s largely a gig of insecurity. (I think of Dylan’s easy pertinence in “Brownsville Girl”: “I don’t have any regrets, they can talk about me plenty when I’m gone.” And the disbelieving candy-ass chorus goes “Oh yeah?” as if to say they’ve got some tales to tell.) Is Clark Coolidge responding off-handedly to the nervous-earnest over-compensatory jack of the Grand Piano project? (That terrific line out of The Sun Also Rises curdles un-ignorably up: “Yes,” I said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Gerry Mulligan, 1927-1996