Excerpts from 'Short History of the Saxophone'

Victor Bockris: Why do you think so many young poets are writing short poems now?

Tom Weatherly: Imitating God.

Victor Bockris: Well, if we’re imitating God, why did poets used to write longer poems? 

Weatherly: God in his old age is more succinct. 
Weatherly interviewed by Victor Bockris in 1974

Note: Having published fairly widely during the 1970s, Tom Weatherly would not put out another volume of poetry until the next century. Short History of the Saxophone was published in 2006 by Rosanne Wassermann and Eugene Richie’s Groundwater Press. (The book is still in print.) Poems from this book, as well as Weatherly’s illustrated “reading copy,” are reproduced as part of this Jacket2 feature along with a review of the volume by Chris Martin. The poems are short — sometimes as short as one line. Yet, despite the brevity of the poems, the book collected material on which Weatherly had been working for a decade or more — for instance, poems that were published in Andrei Codrescu’s anthology Up Late, and some which date back in their original form to the 1970s. Through the use of puns, letter and sound patterning, and such invented forms as the “glory” and the “double glory,” Weatherly sought to hone his technique in a manner that blended the twin influences of African American music and modernist poetry: his biography for the book lists as equal influences Jimmy Rogers, Sippie Wallace, H.D., and Wallace Stevens. He was by now developing a conception of poetry in which an entire poem could operate on a punning or punlike structure. As Burt Kimmelman notes in his essay for this feature, Weatherly seems to be attempting “to make a poem in its entirety that has the unitary force of some ur-word.” This mode of concision and compression has similarities to minimalist poetry, but is suffused with the raucous, irreverent blues spirit that characterized all of Weatherly’s work. These poems are lean, sometimes obscene, seriously playful, and never austere. Selected poems from Short History of the Saxophone are reproduced below, from the “bojangled” villanelle “moonshine” to the sequence which closes the book, “wally,” dedicated to Wallace Stevens. — David Grundy

CONTENTS

musick
elias built
labor day 1975
meteorite
open
pisss
six
times
to make poems
triage
wally
 

musick

bluesy subtle bluest
thence beauty blooms
sunlit bluets center
whence brutal musics
humans vent as blues 
 

elias built 

elias built
model poems 

skies unlit
hotly vocal 

labor day 1975 

we don’t let the water
fall and not write something in
to honor the occasion
we work in as a language 

our politics science ethics
with which we harness powers
like falls paterson fall foul 

we get up read poems
each ripple the great noise 

meteorite 

the violence comes quickly within
the brilliant darkness in cracker’s mind
the polite way he walks the dead moon 

the lady he leaves loves full moonlight
the dark way in fact he travels through it
the modern experience of rocket flight 

the children they rear in the family love
the mundane gravity in which they live
the dark and old experience alive 

the violence comes quickly without
the darker brilliance in nigger’s brain
the polite way he talks to dead moon
 

moonshine

when you bojangle 
talk that talk     moonlight
tangle a spell more than will 

john the conqueror root oil
talk that talk     moonlight
when you bojangle villanelle 

owl eyes lily white helen
talk that talk     moonlight
tangle a spell more than will 

lead kindly light spell
talk that talk     moonlight
when you bojangle villanelle 

sickle soul sickle soul
talk that talk     moonlight
tangle a spell more than will 

shitface on moonseed ale
talk that talk     moonlight
when you bojangle villanelle
tangle a spell more than will 

open 

o p e n
p a g e
e g o s
n e s t 

pisss 

pisss
steam
ahhhh 

six

ezra pound
redbone
hound posse
close behind
 

times

truly alone muley
knows truce death music
never muted heart
knows moody brute hurts
human blows sound blues 

to make poems

never write alone
never write poems
never moans about
these means to it
meant 

triage 

suffering makes us special
o hear the darkies croon
from hills of alabama
to mountains of the moon 

some seed of abraham
hebrew christian muslim
dream to grow up nazi
suffering makes us special 

one genus one species
one specific genius
suffering makes us special
suffering makes us special 

wally 

never muted heart
never muted heart
eclectic blues guitar 

brutes reward wild west
art invention the fools
meant to true the heart 

invent improvement arts
martyrs choose a heaven
meant to true the heart 

in death brute’s reward
an artful western music
meant to true the heart 

tulip petal larvae
tulip petal larvae
eclectic blues guitar 

never muted heart
eclectic blues guitar
artsy belly tunes
ablutions western art
hoodoo bard from heaven 

eclectic blues guitar
eclectic blues guitar
never muted heart 

— 

never muted heart
eclectic blues guitar
hardon belly groove
move your heady arse
hoodoo bard from heaven 

levee music darky
levee music darky
eclectic blues guitar 

every movie darky
every movie darky
eclectic blues guitar 

Notes and dedications: “musick” — for Rosanne Wassermann (071204). “elias built” — for Sam Abrams (012389). “labour day 1975” — for Bill Higginson. Originally published in vindicator (Hofstra). “meteorite” also published in vindicator. “moonshine” — for Yvonne Dolores Weatherly. “open” — for Joe Richie. “pisss” — for the Lion’s Head. [Earlier versions of “moonshine” and “pisss” appear in Lip no. 1 (1971).] “times” — for Regina Renita Weatherly Nicholson. “to make poems” — for Megan Buckley (052604). “triage” — for Regina Renita Weatherly Nicholson. “wally” — for Thomas Elias Weatherly, Regina Renita Weatherly Nicholson, Thomas Elias Weatherly III, and Wallace Stevens.