Sunday, April 4, 2010

Readings/Writings: Conjunctions


Anybody who has stopped by Rodak Riffs in the past couple of weeks is aware that I’ve been reading the poetry of Kay Ryan. What I haven’t mentioned recently is that during this period I’ve also still been deep into Robin D. G. Kelley’s detailed and rather wonderful biography of jazz great, Thelonious Monk.

A couple of days ago, after putting down the Monk bio, I picked up Kay Ryan’s collection, Elephant Rocks, and read the following poem:

Les Petites Confitures

(The Little Jams)

These three pieces
in Satie’s elegant notation
were just discovered
at the Métro station
where he rolled them
in a Figaro of April twenty-second,
nineteen twenty-seven,
and put them in a pipe
two inches in diameter, the type
then commonly used for banisters.
They are three sticky pieces
for piano or banjo—
each instrument to be played
so as to sound like the other.
That is really the hub
Of the amustement. Each piece
Lasts about a minute.

When they were first tried
after being in the pipe,
they kept rolling back up.
Really, keeping them flat
was half the banjo-piano
man’s work.

Nice poem. Not my favorite of hers, but nice. The thing that struck me about it, though, was that it speaks of French composer, Erik Satie (like Monk, a pianist) hiding his musical scores—a bizarre kind of notion, perhaps based on fact?

Anyway, what this brought to mind was a passage from a short story that I wrote years ago, which story includes a dream sequence in which Thelonious Monk is featured, and in which Erik Satie hides sheet music. Here is that passage:

In another world, Erik Satie slept. In a dream, Satie saw Thelonious Monk kneel to remove a ring of gold from the toe of a reclining blonde, who was Jean Harlow. Monk cut the ring with a steel blade and slipped it through the black lobe of his right ear. When Satie awoke, he crossed to his piano and composed new music of duned snow and spun gold. He gave his piece but one perfect note per measure. Invisible birds looped in crimson frenzy between those vibrant jewels of sound. When he had finished, Satie removed the soiled sheets from his bed, stuffing them between the wall and the back of his battered upright piano, where he concealed from prying eyes the best of his compositions.

Yet, another synchronicitous correspondence manifested in my reading life.

The passage is from a story entitled “The Kid.” The theme of the story is the vulnerability of art and the artistic life to the encroachments of the larger world. If interested, you can read the whole thing here.