Well before I’ve clicked the audio file, the reading begins with the email invitation to (re)produce a “first reading” of a “spoken word” performance by Cecil Taylor. His name rings jazz bells, so I’m reading my mind, too. As a student of jazz vocals in Manhattan, I sat in with Reggie Workman, but didn’t feel free enough to accept the invitation to join his ensemble.
Here I attempt to transcribe my initial impressions after listening once to the full album of Cecil Taylor’s recorded poem, Chinampas,and repeatedly (for perhaps nine or ten hearings) to the penultimate track, #6.56. I was drawn to the editors’ invitation to show the “under the hood” work that precedes a smoothly running piece of writing, their interest in how we deal with poems that exist only as sound texts, and their curiosity about what a first reading/hearing looks like.
The “First Readings” series continues with five initial takes on Cecil Taylor’s poem “#6.56” from his album Chinampas (1987). Each entry in the series consists of five such short first readings; we have asked Michael Farrell, Gillian White, Tsitsi Jaji, Donato Mancini, and Jake Marmer to respond to the Taylor piece. First Readings coeditors Brian Reed, Al Filreis, and Craig Dworkin are pleased now to present short essays by Michael Farrell and Jake Marmer, with three others to follow.
The first thing I’m concerned with when hearing a poem read, especially if there’s no text in hand, which of course I can’t tell in this case, is the manner of the poet’s speaking: their pronunciation, phrasing, rhetorical emphasis, tone, accent, cadence, etc. Do they let their words speak, or do they tell us how meaningful each word is by their emphasis? Do they sound completely phony through trying to sound sincere? With a sound poem this is less of an issue; yet I’m still listening for cliché, something I’m less expert at perceiving, however, having heard less sound poetry than spoken word. I’m also more familiar with experimental improvised music than with (free) jazz as such, and I’m not even sure what their connection is. I couldn’t hear a lot of the words Taylor said at the beginning.