Sunday, May 10, 2009

A prostitute, a poet, a name that pain will answer to

Given that the first three long poems we scored are about hitchhiking, a boy prostitute's coming of age, and the psychic dissonance of the atomic bomb, you wouldn't expect Poetry Scores to have a feel-good Mothers Day message, and we really don't, at least not one drawn from our work.

But poets and the musicians who score them have responsibilities that depart from the vocation of the holiday card scribe. We are also here to catalogue the pain. Sometimes, things don't work out the way we might have wished - mothers don't love, mothers don't nurture, mothers develop cancer, mothers die - and these experiences need to be confronted, whether we like it or not.

Taking it from the mother's perspective, on the other hand, there is plenty of pain and terror to accompany the love and caretaking, as these panels by the great Julie Doucet express. They are excerpted from her story "Monkey and the Living Dead," reprinted in Dirty Plotte Number One (still in print, God bless them, with Drawn & Quarterly).

With Julie's permission and for a tiny fee, we used different panels from "Monkey and the Living Dead" to illustrate the CD of our Blind Cat Black poetry score. It's not just that Julie had drawn a black street cat with enormous, vacant eyes that look blind, though that enough would have merited using her work. Her drawings also conjure the stark, scary mood of the imagery of Ece Ayhan's poem, as translated from the Turkish by Murat Nemet-Nejat.

Here is the title poem, where the titular image of the poem appears:

A Blind Cat Black

An absent-minded tightrope walker comes. From the sea of late hours. Blows out a lamp. Lies down next to my weeping side, for the sake of the prophet. A blind woman downstairs. Family. She raves in a language I don't know. On her chest a heavy butterfly, broken drawers in it. My Aunt Sadness drinks alcohol in the attic, embroiders. Expelled from many schools. A blind cat passes in the black street. In its sack a child just dead. His wings don't fit, too big. The Old Hawker cries. A pirate
ship. Has entered the port.

- By Ece Ayhan's poem
- Translated by Murat Nemet-Nejat

It's one (literally) passing image - "A blind cat passes in the black street. In its sack a child just dead." - in a seasick prose poem that starts with an absent-minded tightrope walker and ends with a pirate ship pulling into town, no doubt, to drink and destroy. But it's an image that captures the sense of abandonment and futility that can turn someone into a prostitute.

Or a poet.

I would go so far as to offer this image as a limit case for the condition of futility and abandonment: a blind black street cat carrying in its womb a dead kitten fetus. I know, I know, happy mother's day, right?, but painful conditions exists - unimaginable pain and desolation - and it is one of the responsibilities of the poet to confront those conditions.

I won't say confront and tame those conditions, although the Ece Ayhan's feral cat imagery begs for it. I would say confront and name those conditions.

When we scored this part of Blind Cat Black, I asked Stefene Russell to read the text. Her voice has a coolness, a coldness, that I thought would work, and it did work. In addition to a talented actor, Stefene is a genius of a poet. In fact, we followed up our score to Blind Cat Black (2006) with a score of her atomic bomb poem Go South for Animal Index (2007).

Stefene wrote a profoundly insightful essay about her poem that we used as a preface. As its title, "Naming the Monsters," suggests, this essay touches upon the poet's responsibility to confront what terrifies us. She writes beautifully about "how the Navajos deal with monsters: they call them by their names."

That is also how poets deal with pain. In a certain mood, I would even say that is what poetry mostly is: the endless, restless search for the words to name pain. "A blind cat passes in the black street. In its sack a child just dead." The pain of motherhood and childhood, of burden and abandonment: that is its name, or one of them: certainly, it's a name that pain would answer to. Though it doesn't come when its called. It's a stray. It runs away.

Free mp3

"A blind cat black"
Steve Allain, Stefene Russell
From Blind Cat Black

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