Izibongo Zamakhosi…

baraka_youngThroughout the poesphere this week there has been the unfortunate buzz regarding Amiri Baraka being hospitalized and, thankfully, recovering fully from an innominate illness.

When the news presented itself I braced for the worst; I have an unfortunate, and extensive, familiarity with the loss of those who were very close to me and consequentially anticipate dreadful plans of reality to unfurl. We all poem and pray for the best now Amiri; to your health and continued words I raise my glass to you.

When I’d read that he was in good health and released from the hospital my thoughts drifted apart and away from concerns related to Baraka. Instead I strayed to the concept of post-death homage, eulogies, funeral poems and memorializing of the deceased; a form of memorializing that is exceptionally relevant to the world of poetry and certainly profound in its respect of the dead – but it is as well also imperative to maintain our own well being. Nevertheless, I pressed further into this idea of homage and wondered what it is that drives us to create in this medium in the first place.

Robert Pirsig, I believe, in the afterword of Zenaddresses this question succinctly; when considering what it was about the death of his son, Chris, that impacted him so deeply…

What had to be seen was that the Chris I missed so badly was not an object but a pattern, [and while] the larger pattern remained, a huge hole had been torn out of the center of it, and that was what caused all the heartache. The pattern was looking for something to attach to and couldn’t find anything. That’s probably why grieving people feel such attachment to cemetery headstones and any material property or representation of the deceased. The pattern is trying to hang on to its own existence by finding some new material thing to center itself upon.

The reverence of the deceased through poetry is a way of filling that human-shaped hole in the pattern as we understand it. We have an image of, an idea of, a concept of, a pattern representing someone whom we have lost and when that concept grows a distortion or has a boot-heal-shaped hole where the heart was – then for our sanity and for the memory of those lost – we must fill it.

I wondered to Donne‘s Holy Sonnets and mumbled through a cigarette butt, “death, be not proud, though some have called thee / mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so…”

I considered myself with Carl Solomon in Rockland.

I puzzled over who would, “bear the whips and scorns of time / [when] he himself might his quietus make / with a bare bodkin,” instead.

Although the answer is entirely dependent upon subjective taste and preference – what poetry, what word, what eulogistic writing is suited well for the praise of our dead?

I found myself, lastly, with the Ndebele praise poetry known as the, “Izibongo Zamakhosi.”

In brief, this poetry form is a historical preservationist’s narration regarding the successes and achievements of a clan or clan member; and accordingly, the words Izibongo Zamakhosi translate to, King’s Praises. In length, however, a page I’d found and now consider to be the sine qua non source of explanation and teaching of the Izibongo Zamakhosi can be found Matebeleland.com’s blog on the history of the culture and poetry of the Ndebele people.

At the age of 19 I plunged into the world of poetry via the French Quarter in New Orleans, meeting and learning from scores of brilliant writers. I learned, specifically, about the poetic form Izibongo from poet David Rowe who quickly shared with me his examples which were, astonishing, king’s praises of a more modernized caliber.

The first Izibongos he shared with me were his, “Walt Whitman Izibongo,” and his, “Jack Kerouac Izibongo,” and explained to me that the Izibongo was a “chanting form of praise poetry read when a warrior was going off to battle or has died.

“Brilliant!” I’d thought, “to commemorate our favorite poets through chanting praises at them as if they were kings and warriors!

It wasn’t until much later, roughly 6 or 7 years later, that I began to write Izibongo’s of my own and felt that they truly were the path upon which I could appropriately exalt not only my poetic idols passed but also my loved ones who deserved my praise in words.

Letterpress broadside “Walt Whitman Izibongo” by David Rowe on sale at Etsy.

Listen to David Rowe reading, “Walt Whitman Izibongo,” here.

David’s book, “Unsolicited Poems,” is one of the more inspirational books of poems I’ve read, I recommend purchasing it or borrowing it from me soon.

What I consider my best Izibongo to date…

Hermann Hesse Izibongo…
(for David Rowe who has to take it)

Hermann Hesse!
The man who dreams of a boxed leg, a bitten scorpion tipping the tip dribble of Goethe’s magic markered on moustache and never coming up for eternity’s heir!

Hermann Hesse!
Whose bleat is wisdom bellowed by the gruff in a Billy Goat’s Bah-ah-ah, and who holding high Narcissus flowers is himself a bouquet of finite clopping hooves upon the Steppe Mountains!

Hermann Hesse!
Who never knew the treeless, never lain claws nor teeth to the vastless, nor scowered the cliffsides of southeast Europe, or Asia, and yet – left them, all the same, absorbed into human forms, as this sheep in wolves clothing.

Hermann Hesse!
Hermann Hesse!
Who I say knew my dreams, knew my rivers, and knew my Phoenix more than I!

Who knew Berlioz by the backwash in a spittoon.

Who knew Mozart from the saints who could not dance, but danced the same in “victory’s forgotten underwear!”

Who knew Matthisson, Beethoven, and Jean-Paul Sartre by names only their Mommies could call them!

Who in ’46 was noble enough for a prize.
And who in ’62 was prized as a noble by “The Eternals” in some heaven for Madmen Only, some heaven that he never had a need to believe in!

Who could know folk by their lore and whose reliquary is full of bronzed tails he plucked from the back end of fairies!
Hermann Hesse!
Citizen of Switzerland!

Hermann Hesse!
Spoiled “Fuck-All” of Germany!

Hermann Hesse!
Whose very name speaks of love!
Of some vague her!
Of Thomas Mann
Of the very Hesse towns of your ex country!

Hermann Hesse!
Whose very spine IS the fulcrum of all of literature’s twirling world!

 

Advertisements

Dylan Thomas, “A Few Words of a Kind,” follow up post.

On October 16th I posted my transcript of Dylan Thomas’, “A Few Words of a Kind,” and now I am compelled to write a follow up post regarding what has come my way as a result of that post.

Firstly, the post was hyperlinked in the November 2013 News Round-Up & Forthcoming Events newsletter at DylanThomasNews.Com. I was sincerely elated to see this notification appear in my inbox the day that it went up.

Secondly, as I made friends and acquaintances with Dylan Thomas aficionados around the web I encountered a new emotion that I’d never felt before… As a result of having my tweets retweeted and favorited by Twitter users such as The Dylan Thomas Center Swansea (@DTCSwansea) and Dylan Thomas News (@DylanThomasNews) and also, now, being followed by them I felt a great sense of the emotion, “fiero,” which is a kind of pride inspired by great accomplishment done by oneself. I’d never encountered this outside of stage performances or passing difficult exams as an interpreter. I certainly never thought I’d encounter it by viewing my twitter feed.

I believe, then, it was the fellow at Dylan Thomas News who informed me about the Dylan Thomas 100 celebration where fans recorded Vine videos of single lines of Thomas’ poetry and they were then pieced together to create Youtube videos of the entire poem.

I was pretty excited to have had been chosen as the closing line to Thomas’ poem, “The Hunchback in the Park.”

And then there was, lastly, the comment I received from a Dylan Thomas fan after he’d found the transcript that I had done…

Jason- Over 45 years ago, before the advent of the new technology, I put the Caedmon recording of “A Few Words of a Kind” on my turntable, and tried over and over to copy down the transcription of this marvelous introduction to Dylan Thomas’s poetry. I finally gave up, knowing I would never be able to get it exactly. A few years later, I was doing research at our local library, and found the complete transcription of his remarks in an issue of “Mademoiselle” magazine. I do not have the exact date of the magazine, but I do have a copy of the transcription in its entirety with complete accuracy. You did a wonderful job with your transcription, but it occurred to me that you might want a copy of the remarks as Dylan gave them . If you would like me to mail you a copy, I would be glad to do so. Just email me back and let me know. It is gratifying to know that there are other people out there who also love and appreciate Dylan Thomas. The irony is, in my opinion, due in part to the infusion and reliance on technology, that we have lost the beautiful expression of language that made Dylan Thomas memorable. Namaste
Weiss

I promptly sent Weiss my mailing address and less than one week later the transcript as Dylan wrote it arrived in my mail. I read it thoroughly and found that I had only made one or two minor mistakes. Mistakes which, for the sake of making the easiest of the Copy & Paste option, I’ve gone back and corrected.

DTAFWOAK 1

DTAFWOAK 2

DTAFWOAK 3

DTAFWOAK 4

While I am certain I’ll eventually discover the issue of Mademoiselle that this article was posted in; thus far no results have come my way…

And, lastly, one of the more amusing things that I cranked out while enjoying this venture was when I was submitting a vine for the Dylan Thomas 100 Poem and wasn’t actually aware of which poems they wanted. The line, “daft with a drug that’s smoking in a girl / and curling round the bud that forks her eye,” as presented by my pug, Watson, and myself…

Reading poetry in reverse…

In the spring of 2001 while participating in a weekly class at the New Orleans School for the Imagination, at the Goldmine Saloon, I learned many creative ways of approaching and improving upon my poetic form.

The class was taught by New Orleans poet David Brinks and included random appearances and guest lecturings by, then, LSU professor Andrei Codrescu

These techniques I still employ – they are timeless in their ability to produce something interesting from our craft. One technique Brinks often asked us to experiment with while reading our poems aloud was one that he learned while, “watching Bernadette Mayer talk to poets after they’d finished reading at a performance,” she’d tell them, “read your poem backwards now, line for line.”

About a month ago I attended the Literary Arts Boom [LAB] reading at the East End Book Exchange where I found brewmaster Brandon McCarthy getting ready to, nervously, read his small but distinct poem in the night’s lineup.

His poem read:

The city shines out across the water
like promise itself,
a flaming white love letter to
work-worn hands,
a cannon-fired kiss aimed at young dreamers,
and I say to it, “I love you too, Pittsburgh.”

His nervousness was a result of having not been on stage in quite a while and so I suggested, instead of just reading his lines, he reads them in reverse. With slight modification to word order and choice he produced, instead, a different and still impacting meaning:

And I say to it, “I love you too, Pittsburgh,”
a cannon-fired kiss aimed at young dreamers,
and work-worn hands,
a flaming white love letter to
promise itself,
to shine out across the water.

Today I was thinking of this encounter and remembered, in 2011, I attempted to convey lessons of poetry via Youtube videos. This one in particular expounds on poetry in reverse by reading and reversing Yusef Komunyakaa.

I implore you to try it with your own poetry and the poetry of those whom you admire. You will find something new and beautiful almost instantly that you couldn’t have discovered another way.

For example – after watching this video I found a great, new appreciation for having lost those 40 pounds… Look at that face… And that chin…

Thinking inside the box…

John Lambert and I continue to have conversations based around the suspended in a leap of creative faith concept and were discussing, recently, why structure in poetry, why form is important to learn.
His response email is lesson worthy of exposure.  —
J, we had discussed the question of 
‘why create in villanelle?’
and answered that with ‘because employing forms
teaches you to be more creative within a structure’.
 
i wished to add this found thought:
 
…structure exists because
we expect cohesion from thoughts,
and structure is the framework for reason to exist
functioning as unseen as bones and beams
but necessary, unless you want to live in mud huts
as floopy things.
 
any sort of structure will do, from the pre-packaged
to the found art creation.  invent, restore, whatever.
but if, as a creator, you ignore the need for structure
good luck to you keeping a roof on the shape of your art.