John Taggart

Shadow memory shadows music

Contextualized notes on John Taggart’s prosody

Part 1: Contexts for John Taggart’s prosody

Approaching Taggart chapel

Ritual, Rothko, and poetic form

Detail from the cover of a French translation of Taggart’s ‘Le Poèm de la Chapelle Rothko’ (Editions Royaumont, 1990).

We in the West, Lou Reed once complained, are denied our ritual, a complaint which is itself a kind of ritual, within art culture and perhaps more broadly, that has been practiced with dramatic results throughout the recent history of poetry and art in the West. Admittedly, the ritual Reed mourned the lack of was a particular one, that of hari-kari, so spectacularly performed, in what was then recent memory, by the Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima, having just addressed members of his private army from a banner-draped balustrade.

That Taggart

'Grey Scale/Zukofsky'

That Taggart pursues meditative stamina in words approximating a drone for the verbal field is well known. That he has made sacramental use of the performed word is also acknowledged. There Are Birds does something else, however, even as it again realizes Taggart’s Objectivist scruple.

On John Taggart's 'There Are Birds'

In Pastorelles, John Taggart built an imaginary woodland garden for his poetry from features of the actual landscape around his house outside of Newburg, Pennsylvania.[1] He made the imaginary landscape into a field of activity and information where he speculated about music, art, and poetry as song. The whole volume makes up a long serial poem of diverse meditations on the processes of poetry. The poems in There Are Birds expand the poetic territories surveyed in Pastorelles.

'Surroundings answer questions'

Experimental pastoralisms in O’Brien and Taggart

At the beginning of William Empson’s 1935 landmark study Some Versions of Pastoral, he declares: “It is hard for an Englishman to talk definitely about proletarian art, because in England it has never been a genre with settled principles, and such as there is of it, that I have seen, is bad … my suspicion, as I shall try to make clear, is that it is liable to a false limitation.”[1] Three things are interesting to me in this passage: first, that the pastoral is suggested as an historically unsettled term, a term potential of contingency and resistance; second, that the pastoral is identified as, or can be seen to have evolved into a proletarian literature, or vice versa — “I think good proletarian art is usually Covert Pastoral,” says Empson (6) — and third, that this evolution is prone to a “false limit” that can be used well or poorly.

Sonic thresholds

Transitions and transformations

Image by Noah Saterstrom.

This post’s playlist presents recordings from the PennSound archive that explore the continuum between language, music, and other types of sound.

I want to begin with a few related recordings of Nathaniel Mackey and his ongoing serial poem Song of the Andoumboulou. In Mackey’s introduction to a 1997 KWH reading he discusses the poem’s relationship to the Dogon funeral song of the same name, recorded by Francois Di Dio in 1974. Listen to Mackey’s poem Song of the Andoumboulou: 18. I am always struck by this moment  when, near the end of the Dogon recording, as the pitch from the horn wavers up and down, I hear an ambiguity between what could be perceived as a human shout and the sound of a musical instrument. It’s this type of threshold point that has been in the back of my mind when I listen to poetry recordings lately.

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