John Clare's vowelless letter (performed)
Plus Partch, Reznikoff, Mother Goose, Khlebnikov, & Joe Hill
My reading of Clare's vowelless letter at the launch for Barbaric Vast & Wild: Poems for the Millennium Vol. V, edited by Jerome Rothenberg and John Bloomberg-Rissman, at The Poetry Project, Oct. 14, 2015.
In 1849, John Clare wrote a coded letter to a possible lover while he was incarcerated in an insane asylum. (It is not known whether the letter was ever sent.)
M Drst Mr Cllngwd
M nrl wrn t & wnt t hr frm Nbd wll wn M r hv m t n prc & wht hv dn D knw wht r n m Dbt — kss’s fr tn yrs & lngr stll & Ingr thn tht whn ppl mk sch mstks s t cll m Gds bstrd & whrs p m b shttng m p frm Gds ppl t f th w f cmmn snse & thn tk m hd ff bcs th cnt fnd m t t hrds hrd
Drst Mr r fthfll r d thnk f m knw wht w sd tgthr — dd vst m n hll sm tm bck bt dnt cm hr gn fr t s ntrs bd plc wrs nd wrs nd w r ll Frnchmn flsh ppl tll m hv gt n hm n ths wrld nd s dnt believe n th thr nrt t mk mslf hvn wth m drst Mr nd sbscrb mslf rs fr vr & vr
Clare systematically removed the vowels and the letter y except for the y in yrs and one word -- believe.
My Dearest Mary Collingwood
Am nearly worn out & want to hear from Nobody will own Me or have me at any price & what have done Do you know what you are in my Debt — kisses for ten years & longer still and longer than that when people make such mistakes as to call me God’s bastard and whores pay me by shutting me up from God’s people out of the way of common sense and then take my head off because they can’t find me it out-Herods Herod.
Dearest Mary are faithful or do you think of me know what we said together – did visit me in hell some time back but don’t come here again for it is a notorious bad place worse and worse and we are all Frenchmen foolish people tell me have got no home in this world and as don’t believe in the other NRT [?] to make myself heaven with my dearest Mary and subscribe myself yours for ever and ever
Source: John Clare: A Biography by Jonathan Bate (New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), pp. 498-499
The reading was part of the lauch for Barbaric Vast and Wild. I read several poems:
1. Joe Hill, from "Preacher and the Slave" (1:48): MP3
2. "Old Chairs to Mend" (Mother Goose) (:36): MP3
3. "Amelia" by Charles Reznikoff (1:31): MP3
4. Harry Partch, from Barstow (part 1): (1:11) MP3
5. John Clare: (2:54): MP3
6. Khlebnikov, "Incantation by Laughter" (:28) MP3
7. Variations on "Incantation by Laughter" (:28): MP3
NOTE: I performed the first section of Partch's "Barstow - Eight Hitchhiker Inscriptions from a Highway Railing at Barstow, California" (1968). Partch's composition is one of the signal works of found/appropriated/documentary language, connecting it to poems of Reznikoff and Rukeyser as well as the audio collections of Harry Smith and John Lomax. My version, of course, eliminates the microtonal musical accompaniment for the setting for the second part; Partch intended the first part to be recited without musical accompanimen
Full recordings of the launch at PennSound.