Speaking of Philip K. Dick

Funny how everything good comes from some place else. One of the best scenes in John Carpenter’s Dark Star involves a conversation with the ship’s dead captain. Beyond being understandably groggy, he’s a bit put out that no one has talked to him for so long. Still, he offers good advice, that is, to teach the bomb phenomenology. I won’t explain. Apparently, Dick’s 1969 novel Ubik also features communication with the dead — with the same kind of crappy service and screw ups as it will have when Time Warner Cable offers it as a  part of its “cradle to the grave” bundle in 2037.

This has been another edition of blogging while delayed at LGA.

5 Replies to “Speaking of Philip K. Dick”

  1. Yes, I should have picked up on that. You do read non-fiction (NAM, notably), though perhaps not currently. And you’re careful to point it out when you do (The Mouse That Roared: A Novel.)

    A lot of that night-stand reading is likely fiction.

    But poetry — where is it? Where is Ken Babstock, whose words and thoughts are unbelievably good?

    This is a man who, when he contemplates a bootmat, sees Géricault’s “Raft of the Medusa.” (And that is a comparatively facile example, that is perilously easy to give — the poems are irreducible.)

    (Irreducible — really?)

    Man does not live by science/fiction alone. The ear needs poetry.

    Though it’s possible a musician may not; that music-making satisifies the need, and even forbids poetry. It’s possible that you cannot really harken to two distinct musical ways of being without eroding something, diluting or adulterating something.

    That within poetry you can respond to all different kinds; within music similarly; but that you cancel out the music of one sphere when you attend to the other.

    (Babstock, I should point out, is not a highly musical poet. You can read him with great pleasure — I suspect — without privileging the ear.)

    When you set poetry to music, it alters (subordinates) the music of the poetry. When you set music to poetry, I guess the same thing happens as well.

    Maybe you’re just preserving your ear.

    (I am attending to Dark Star. Just some place else.)

  2. Of course, in the first line I mean “fiction.”

    And it isn’t just the ear that needs poetry (or music), it’s whatever is rhythmic and cadenced in the body. And something in the mind as well.

  3. “When you set poetry to music, it alters (subordinates) the music of the poetry. When you set music to poetry, I guess the same thing happens as well.”

    As a musician, I once had a huge argument with a poet friend over this issue when I had used some Li Po poetry in a song. It almost ruined our relationship.

  4. If the poet accepts subordination of the poem (and even if not), there’s no reason I guess why a musician shouldn’t raid poetry to make music. If they can.

    Ken Babstock is on record somewhere as saying he’s delighted that musicians and not just poets are reading poetry, and has lent his poems for musical treatment. But then he’s an opportunist.

    Another good Toronto poet, Stuart Ross (Hey, Crumbling Balcony!) has this to say on http://www.bloggamooga.blogspot.com/:

    “Most excited about Ben Walker’s project around my old poems. He’s put 11 of them into song settings now, often with some radical rearranging and occasional rewriting of the lines. I love it. I’ve listened to the demos over and over and over. It’s like new life being injected into things I wrote, in some cases, two decades ago. It’s like the poems have a new home. We’re talking about making a CD for this fall. This excites me more than anything about my own writing at the moment.”

    But the poem has to become music in the end (its own music must be wrenched — or it could have been written virtually as song or pure sound to start with, some poems are — or it could be so far removed from the music of language that it might as well be made into the music of music, some poems are) — or an interlude in the music, or a foregrounding or a backgrounding, or some kind of montage-like clash.

    So I understand your friend. He wanted the poem (which had already been translated from one tongue to another, but still within the realm of language) to remain and be respected as a poem, perfect of its kind.

    The susceptibility to corrosion of the poet or musician (not in subsuming the other into itself but in attending to the other as itself) remains as a slightly different question.

    Can you be ambidextrous — can you simply switch worlds so completely? Or are you always interpreting that other distinct world through your practised ear?

  5. In short — does a poet succeed in evolving by being (comparatively) deaf to the music of music? Does a musician succeed in evolving by being (comparatively) deaf to the music of poetry?

    What exactly is that hybrid, the songwriter — not too far evolved in either direction? A genuine third dimension? Like one of those people who see colours when they hear words — someone for whom the music of music and the music of poetry are — simultaneous? superimposed? And there aren’t so many (real ones) of those?

    This doesn’t even touch on Nora’s territory, the distinction between poetry and prose.

    Back to your friend — he wanted to keep it true, might be a better way of putting it — true to its art and its readers and itself.

    Back to Babstock — he may live in Toronto, but I shouldn’t carelessly imply he’s a “Toronto poet” (though he is Canadian).

    And if you go to read a poem from “Days Into Flatspin” (where the bootmat poem is found), be sure to read an even better one a few pages on: “Thingymajig”.

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