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.”
I took the pleasure recently of re-reading nearly everything published in the first 17 issues of Jacket magazine. Then I went back through quickly, identifying eight poet/critic-on-poet profiles that I found most impressive and memorable. Many of these I recalled from the first time I’d read them in the magazine. For what it's worth, here are — to me — the eight best essay-profiles published in the first five years of the magazine:
1. Eliot Weinberger on James Laughlin (#2; 1998) 2. Rob Wilson on Jack Spicer (#7; 1999) 3. Lytle Shaw on Frank O’Hara (#10; 1999) 4. Stephen Vincent on Joanne Kyger (#11; 2000) 5. Tom Orange on Clark Coolidge (#13; 2001) 6. Brian Kim Stefans on Ian Hamilton Finlay (#15, 2001) 7. Ann Waldman on Kenneth Koch (#15; 2001) 8. Catherine Daly on Marjorie Allen Seiffert (#17; 2002)
In March 17, 2007, reading in the Segue Series at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York, Will Alexander read four poems: “Exercise is Particle Neutrino,” “Coping Prana,” “Compound Hibernation,” and “Above the Human Nerve Domain.” An audio recording of the complete reading (17:59) is available on Will Alexander’s PennSound author page, as are segmented audio for each poem. Here I’m pleased to feature “Compound Hibernation” [MP3; 2:22]. The text of the poem was published in Zen Monster.
In 1978, Tom Leonard recorded “Three Texts for Tape” at his home in Glasgow using his Teac A-3340S tape recorder. One of these three “texts for tape” was a performance piece, a chanting of another poet’s verses — a multiple reading of a half canto of Percy Shelley’s “The Revolt of Islam” in many voices. Here is that recording (with thanks to the Archive of the Now): MP3 (4:37).