Note: I have long been interested in Andrew Levy’s poetry. He and I have corresponded, and in recent years have read and performed together in New York, so we are familiar with one another’s approaches.
In my copy of Nothing Is in Here, on page one, a mark shaped like an upright rectangle with the top left corner shorn off at a steep angle sits between the words in the phrase “vanilla middle.” It looks as though it could be an inkblot. I found myself wondering if this stray mark had meaning, sitting as it did in the middle of the phrase “vanilla middle.” But why would the “vanilla” middle be black?
I made a mental note to return to the mark once I’d finished the book.
Below is a short essay written by Andrew Levy about improvisation, first published published in W Magazine at the Kootenay School of Writing some years ago (which we here gratefully acknowledge: W #12 “ALL MUSIC,” 2007). He revived the old note after having read Jake Marmer’s piece made available recently in Jacket2 in this commentary: “Improvised poetry: palimpsest of drafts.” Levy’s original note had been inspired by something Anthony Braxton had said: the idea that some people believe jazz improvisers are simply making it all up in the moment, that they are somehow tuned in via a form of trance or something, that it’s an expression of their personal genius. He dismissed that notion of spontaneity. For him improv is a form of hearing and thinking. It is making measure in the familiarity of one’s attention. “If I were to revise my essay today,” Andrew wrote me recently, “I might search for a different word than ‘constructivist’ with which to counter the notion of spontaneity. It has an art historical resonance that might be unnecessary.”