Monday, March 11, 2013

Ronald Johnson / Erik Satie

Erik Satie, “La Pêche,” 1914

Put, Sunday, air in the bicycle tires, worked the incipient rust out of the chain with some squirts of oil, swabbed it all down with a rag. Hence the morning’s cambered bolt through drizzle in, refusing to cancel the shakedown. Hence the rain-occluded thrusting through streets, repeating: “The Spectre is the Reasoning Power in Man; & when separated / From Imagination and closing itself as in steel, in a Ratio / Of the Things of Memory. It thence frames Laws & Moralities / To destroy Imagination, the Divine Body, by Martyrdoms & Wars . . .” Allowing the impetuous sensory its tactility and wash. Exerting the body to rouse its slumbering vestigia dei.

Ronald Johnson, out of Sports and Divertissments (Wild Hawthorn Press, 1965):


A fish,

A fisher
a line.

Being a re-working of Erik Satie’s incidental (and rather perfunctorily deposited) verbal notes accompanying the tiny composition “La Pêche” (out of the 1925 portfolio Sports et Divertissements):
Murmures de l’eau dans un lit de rivière.
Venue d’un poisson, d’un autre, de deux autres.
—Qu’y a-t-il?
—C’est un pêcheur, un pauvre pêcheur.
Chacun retourne chez soi, même le pêcheur.
Murmures de l’eau dans un lit de rivière.
Roughly: “Murmurs of water in a riverbed. Arrival of a fish, of another, of two others. —What’s up? —It’s a fisherman, a poor fisherman. —Thanks. Everyone goes home, even the fisherman. Murmurs of water in a riverbed.” Against the minor comedy of alarm Satie’s music is marked “Calme”—“Calmly.” Johnson eshews the whimsy and Disneyesquerie of talking fish (too, he avoids the watery music of “murmures”), and offers in its lieu a tiny ode to incident and continuity, natural and human worlds each interchangeably removed, remote. The occurrence of a non-occurrence there in the “lit de rivière” (the anthropomorphic “bed,” it, too, repressed by Johnson).

Johnson, in the Vort interview (conducted 13 August 1974), asked if he regards Sports and Divertissments “a collaboration with Erik Satie”:
It’s more an elaboration of Satie. When I was young I played Satie but didn’t pay attention to words till I found an English translation of them Jonathan Williams had . . . a carbon copy of the notes to Sports and Divertissements. Suddenly I realized that they could be poems. I’d already a sense of Poundian translations and tried to make a music of them on the page.
Asked if he considers the pieces “found poetry”: “The spirit was found, the forms were invented.”

Satie’s “Préface” to Sports et Divertissements:
      Cette publication est constituée de deux éléments artistiques: dessin, musique.
      La partie dessin est figurée par des traits—des traits d’esprit; la partie musicale est representée par des points—des points noirs. Ces deux parties réunies—en un seul volume—forment un tout: un album. Je conseille de feuilleter, ce livre, d’un doigt amiable & souriant ; car c’est ici une œuvre de fantaisie. Que l’on n’y voie pas autre chose.
      Pour les “Recoquevillés” & les “Abêtis”, j’ai écrit un choral grave & convenable. Ce choral est une sorte de préambule amer, une manière d’introduction austère & infivole.
      J’y ai mis tout ce que je connais sur l’Ennui.
      Je dédie ce choral à ceux qui ne m’aiment pas.
      Je me retire.
Roughly (out of the Dover edition of Erik Satie’s Sports et Divertissements called Twenty Short Pieces for Piano, with a few changes):
      This publication consists of two artistic elements: drawing, music.
      The drawing part is composed of lines—witty lines [a pun: trait d’esprit = “witty remark”]; the musical part is represented by dots—black dots [another pun: points noirs = “blackheads”]. These two parts combined—in a single volume—form a whole: an album. My advice is to leaf through this book with a kindly & smiling finger, for it is a work of imagination. Don’t look for anything else in it.
      For the “Shriveled Up” & the “Stupefied” I have written a serious & proper chorale. This chorale is a sort of bitter preamble, a kind of austere & unfrivolous introduction.
      I have put into it all I know about Boredom.
      I dedicate this chorale to those who don’t like me.
      I withdraw.
Thence several measures of chorale—labeled “Choral inappétissant”—with a tiny onslaught of musical directions: “Grave . . . rébarbatif & hargneux . . . hypocritement . . . ralentir . . .” Dated 15 Mai 1914.

Another of Johnson’s pieces:
The Hunt

Rabbits warble
& nightingales burrow,

        the owlet’s at nurse
        at a suckling

                              boar’s wedding!

over I’m shooting

off a tree.
La Chasse

Entendez-vous le lapin qui chante?
Quelle voix!
Le rossignol est dans son terrier.
Le hibou allaite ses enfants.
Le marcassin va se marier.
Moi, j’abats des noix à coups de fusil.
Roughly: “Do you hear the rabbit singing? What a voice! The nightingale is in its burrow. The owl is nursing its young. The wild boar is going to get married. And me, I’m knocking down nuts with rifle shots.” Fleeter, and somewhat odder in Johnson’s rendering (the overreaching “warble” determining the tone). Is Johnson’s excellent “suckling boar”—for marcassin, precisely, a young wild boar—a presentiment of the subsequent cookbooks?