Monday, May 23, 2005

Electronic Fantasies

I have this insatiable urge to knee hop around Europe as a vagabond musician of the electronic ilk. Instead of a case carrying my acoustic guitar, three doobers in my pocket; I am a sheik, young, straggly haired Netherlander with a record satchel, one pair of black jeans, half a pack of Dunhill lights, and a t-shirt sporting a picture of headphones on the chest area. This is vital: every up and coming youth euro-trashy DJ needs a shirt with headphones on the chest. And the Dunhill’s.

And I’m fabulous; the girls from Spain flock around my booth after my set becomes a dereliction of the past, relegated to the realm of DJ history. Those Andalusian’s, their black hair and midmorning blue eyes. It is a pity my Castilian is imperfect (no pun intended: seya, seyas seya, seyemos, seyais, seyan. Repeta en esponol ninitos…) because I would spout off Llorca to these club bunnies and seal the deal. But alas, my records get around better than I do. A mud stuck needle spin, a beat and an on/off switch.

I meet this girl in a hostel in Amsterdam; her hair green and paisley –don’t ask- and she sings when she speaks. I told her I didn’t speak sing, and she just laughed, a singy laugh. We ate cornbread at a small bakery and smoked hashish at Lobo’s on Avenue 10th. The cornbread was too sweet, nothing like a Tallahassee mother’s dry loaf, grit knit, with the ham hock juice pre soaked into the griddle. Her name was Martha, she belted in Dm7. I didn’t know that chord, so I fled to Austria.

…Where I find out that the Love Parade is cancelled. What good is it being a Bohemian DJ youth in Europe, when you can’t attend the one million+ person rave, held street side, day/night/repeat. Those damn Prussian descendants, they certainly know how to make a stiff beat. The only thing anal about the German DJ’s are their boyfriends…

And then to Istanbul, to catch a standing room only set by the illustrious, world traveled Sasha, who at this very moment sported a T-shirt with a picture of a young John Digweed on it. They were separated at spin, and the process is one that often finds backsliding record-envy lusting. But my electro-wanderlust takes me through the gate to the Middle East, onto the heart of Zion, Israel.

My gentile heart beats three BPM’s faster in the land where sand can be sold to outsiders for serious sheckles. If the dirt is holy, you should hear the beats. Never have I seen so many red heads, outside my 8 months in Ireland. But this is different, Irish wield bottles, these chosen few yield holy headcovers.

I hightail it through the Mediterranean, slowing my roll long enough to get lost in the Balearic region, making a pit stop on Ibiza. Cut to Spanish girls, this time thans-clothes, con-drugath, and with a true affinity for euro-y Bohemian type DJ’s. I pull out my subtle sultry set, Spanish Guitars, Savath, Savalas, so sweet. Sandy skin, soda bread sliced waist, saddle lips and sad eyes; their gate with the pain of the last Moorish king- expelled. Nonetheless, they wield a madruga de passion, temblaban con anticipation, un kilometro de pleasure. Drug use is on the rise for youth’s age 19 to 25 in Europe? Tonight it might.

But nothing can shake from me still the simple pleasure of conversing with those sweet young folk in Brixton, England, who like cadaver’s wait coldly in the mire while I infuse bloodwarmth into their blue veins; my beats the antibody to rigor mortis. A castle and a glade wait anciently behind my cigarette laden mouth, the pondering spirits of royalty toying with eternity, all while a breakbeat collapses into a tireless breakdown, only to build itself back again, and again. I see mile high turrets flanking my heavenly high view, and meadows filling in the gaps of vision. OH GREEN! Fields of hallow nature stock, untouched by the meaninglessness of the universe.

And then I travel home, to that Nether land beyond the spirit’s realm. Home of nether kindred and sole soul’s. I think of king’s and divest thoughts of snowy northlands to Ibiza heat Emblazoned on my mind. But I find a Nether Kindred, by the name of Inga, who speaks my Nether Language, and sees where the needle has pierced my vinyl. She asks me questions about my journeys to heathen lands, to Zion, and to the foreverandeverness of the tomorrow lands. She says to me “I want to be a firefly to real passion. What is some random night of excitement you crave?”

And to her I simply reply “To spin the vinyl; an accord to passion, forever for a moment, in the sound’s groove- the wake of deep blue waters, the color of Southern Sun, the contemplation of perfection in a moment, the dream of true connection, the infinity of green pastures, flanked by castles and turrets, leaving a sight of the heavens narrowly emblazoned in the center of my view.
And the track plays the words out- the narcotic drumbeat and Elysium synthesizers destined to fade back into the finite marrow of the world limbs.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Sean Singer: The Best Poet You’ve Never Read

If the world were run by Philosopher Kings, I would nominate Singer.
Sean Singer peaks his head into Sal’s, a Bleaker Street Italian food restaurant, no larger than the men’s room in Madison Square Garden. He’s wearing a stylish Ben Smith shirt with a Union Jack color scheme, though the shirt’s plaid in no way resembles the Union Jack.

He’s smaller than I imagined, based off the 2x2 photo on the back of his first book of poetry: Discography. Sipping my cappuccino I raise my hand up to call him over. We have never met, and I vaguely described myself as ‘the big guy in black.’ He smiled, moved across the threshold quickly and sat down. What had intended on being an interview for my NPR Affiliate radio show quickly turned into the most revealing and disconcerting conversation about poetry from the best contemporary poet I’ve read.

Technical Difficulties
My lack of experience with interviews showed off quickly. I think it began when my lapel clip microphone had no clip, and I was looking for something to affix it to Singer’s shirt with. He obliged to help and pulled out a paper organizer clip (the one that looks like a miniature ladies purse if you fold back the arms). My flustering and antithetical smoothness was juxtaposed by his perfect calm. The man sat with a deep and comfortable quiet.

After the waitress, a lovely and well-built Italian women took our orders, Singer and I began to talk. Since I barely knew what I was doing, there was no formal question/answer session, and we seemed to melt right into a conversation about his book.

“I had the whole book completed before I could get it published,” Singer began. His collection of poetry was selected down to the cover. “I knew exactly the picture I wanted to use for the cover. The question was shopping around for a publisher.”

After months of searching, Singer found a publisher eager to publish his work. His patience paid off, because the publisher was no less than Yale Publications. After being selected by W. S. Merwin for the Yale Series of Younger Poets contest, the entirety of Singers work was thrust into publication all at once.

On Singers work, Merwin says:
Sean Singers restless, roving demands upon his language, the quick-changes of his invention in search of some provisional rightness, convey through all their metamorphoses an insistent ring of authenticity that seizes the attentions and may remind us the true sense of the word “original” has to do with the origins of a work and of the talent that produced it: with those sources and impulses that are at once individual and universal, unsounded, irreducible and undeniable. (Forward, W.S. Merwin, Discography)

While Singer’s words are bold and demand authority, Singer himself comes across as unassuming and quiet. This is before I get him talking.

Blues Clues
Sean Singer orders a Caesar salad and nibbles away at it sheepishly. His well selected outfit and thick stylish black glasses counterpoint his well-gelled hair and thoughtful eyes. When he speaks, his body articulates what his slight and raspy voice does not.

“Much of the first half of my book comes from my love of Jazz and Blues. The first poem, The Old Record is indicative of that style of music. The black vinyl coming out of the record lathe is a sort a kind of invocation to the poetry that follows.” Singer says shyly but with astute knowledge of his work.

And it is truly an invocation not only of the work that follows, but the style and subject of that work. The words flood the page in an eccentric pattern.

“The shape of the poem itself is intended to mimic the vinyl coming out of the Scully Automated Lathe.”

But aside from the concrete word creation, the poem gives the reader a glimpse into the esoteric, yet hauntingly familiar scenes created throughout the book. Old Record finishes with the record being removed from the production, after “jazz dust” is removed, and ends in the song’s fruitful verse:

… Resting in a red scissor over
the lumps of steel,
then rising
jazz dust,
rumbly with the Blues,
the old rumormonger taking us
to the juke,
(the Bambara word that is
bouncing resin polymer lost to the racy sough
of “Baby she got a phonograph,
and it won’t say a lonesome word
Baby she got a phonograph
and it won’t say a lonesome word
what evil have I done
What evil has the poor girl heard?” (From "Old Record" Discography)

A Sinesthetic History Lesson
Much of the first half of Singer’s book is a unique chronicling of Jazz and Blues musicians, but also includes Singer’s own poetic glimpse at artists and other musicians. Photo of John Coltrane, 1963 weaves a tale of the Jazz legend through a musical interpretation.

“I often use the concepts and shapes of music to create my poetry. For instance in Photo of John Coltrane, 1963, I’ve broken up the sections of the poem the way sheet music might read.”

Singer goes onto explain how in the poem Ellingtonia he riffs on Duke Ellington’s name in the poem, much the way Ellington would riff on a melodic phrase:

Daffdowndilly Ebullience Daibutsu Ear Dameself Ectogenesis
Dardanekkes Edge Darksome Eidertown Demonax Ellipse
Desirous Empire Doughbelly Eohippus Dovetail Espalier (From Ellingtonia, Discography)

What strikes me as magical about Singer’s poetry is his way of interpret sound through his words. Sinesthesia, the phenomena where people meld senses together (Seeing numbers in colors, hearing light etc..) is best expressed for the non-sinesthetic in Singers work. His ability to manipulate language to create images and sounds simultaneously is the most unique and exquisite example I’ve seen (or heard).

He could peel the marks off his arms.

Blowzèd russet drippingly down.

The shack habitués saw the stand-bys.

His nod-offs. He was out with Moose the Mooche trying to score

He took his shoes off and put his feet on top of them.

Brown suede. Goof Snuff. Yen Pox. Varèse and Wolpe

Klactoveedsedstene. Klaunstance.

He blew an echoic mad-bad flight.

A girl screamed. A water spilled scotch on someone’s lap. (From "Musical shape is the memory of movement" Discography)

Po’ Biz
The high of listening to Singer discuss his worked was only equaled by the abysmal low I felt listening to him discuss problems that existed in the poetry industry itself.

“We call it PO Biz, because there’s no money to make in it. Some poets are successful in making a living on publishing their collections of poetry, or editing other collections of poetry, but for the most part its rough getting by.” Singer said as he slung about the last bits of croutons of his salad through puddles of Caesar dressing.

It is truly difficult for young poets to sustain their writing lifestyle when the simple fact is that sales for books of poetry rank among the lowest for revenue. And when a book of poetry sells well, often times the author is a cross-over artist who is using their celebrity status to sell their poetry (Think Jewel). And while demand for poetry is waning with the increasing popularity of mainstream media and heavily advertised literature, the number of students of poetry is on the rise.

“What is making it more difficult is the sheer number of schools now offering [Masters in Fine Arts] Degrees. Compared to just ten years ago, you’ve got dozens more school specializing in poetry MFA’s. There are too many poets.”

Singer continued, his tone becoming a bit reticent and his posture slumping about around his empty plate of salad dressing.

“I’ve held other jobs to support myself while writing, like right now I’m teaching part time at Hunter College. It’s not that I don’t like teaching, it’s just I want to be able to write full time. Plus, most writing programs only pay adjunct teachers a couple thousand dollars for a semester of work, and offer very few full time positions.

Singer brings into focus the life for many young writers- especially poets. While the need for writing continued to proliferate with larger markets, more media outlets, the desire for literature continues to wane.

“The money is in jobs like grant writing, or technical writing for digital cameras and cell phones. I don’t want to do that.”

Sean Singer Walks Fast
Opting for a fuller meal of pasta and garlic bread, my legs felt somewhat gelatinous as I tried to keep up with Sean Singer as we walked north to Audrey’s, where he will read in less than 17 minutes.

“Sorry we have to rush, I lost track of time, and we have to walk a few blocks.” He said barely looking back I was trying not to pull a quadriceps while keeping his pace.

After a rushed walk twelve blocks to the northeast, we arrived to a packed crowd, eagerly anticipating a reading from five young poets. Singer offers me a handshake and asks me if there is a poem of his he’d like me to read. I said Old Record, because I loved its musical quality.

I sat down with my pint and listened to the poets who preceded Singer, all demonstrating exactly why I love poetry; its originality and beauty. No two are alike, and each one creates a brand new universe within your head.

Purchase Discography By Sean Singer from More of Singer’s work can be read @

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Portrait of a window, through which a young artist gazes at clouds.

My soul terror is looking through wordless windowsills, empty horizons of widows and windows; winnowing in the grass outer space of that Sunday afternoon front yard. A sound free canopy of stillness.

It’s the waiting for nothing, smelling liquorish on your hands; a desire for longevity, enabling this suffering to go on well into eternity. You, a musical god who has not synthesized the first Adam.

When that light in the kitchen above the small and antiqued-before-its-time breakfast nook goes dark and dead, you wait long damp moments, dearth of light, sitting until your eyes tell you to solve the problem. You, in the dark quiet, alone.

Discontent isn’t the right word, but it’s the first thing that comes to mind.

Its all happening in Greece or L.A. right now, all of it; and you are not there to witness it. The people, the parties, the youth in the clubs like low hanging, silvery night time clouds that smell blue with their fullness of rain.

The music. Oh god the music. F*ck me, you say, the music. It is all in some Mediterranean Island, waiting for a bronzed Ibizan to flick her cigarette while standing topless on the beach at night; looking so Balearic all the while. You are still sitting in darkness.

The music. God the music. It comes in beat packages of four over four, with a kick drum thud, made of earth and clay, dropped from sonic airplanes into the sweaty frenetic club waiting below.

You are not frenetic.

Underwear in hand you change the blown light bulb after waiting in a long, self loathing darkness.

And the music goes on while some young Finish boys dance with some young Danish girls to a stuttering synthesizer, flashes of light highlight the glistening blonde hair, a pale yellow forehead that is now green with club color.

It’s the build up.

You know the song. You can’t make your mind make it over that hump where the track bursts into a preponderance of funk and cool and loud and flow. The song; It’s stuck somewhere in a quiet Sunday room, windows and underwear, a drumbeat eternally looping a shade before fruition.

A sonic holding pattern.

You are doing this on purpose, you say to yourself, maybe out loud to the silvery clouds outside.

You know things. Music things. More than the rich children of Europe know. A lot more, you say to the cloud that now looks like a 12” vinyl record, broken in half by the cobalt blue sky. You float up into the cloud, with the things you know. A moog can sound like someone dying. A hihat like a paper tearing against the grain. A pan is a slow burst of melodic texture, often spanning dozens of beats, bringing the track to the next chapter every time it crescendos.

A woman’s voice always sounds sexier after she finds her sorrow.

You know you like to spin tracks in the club at 128 beats per minute; that is the speed of your heart. In front of those people, young and glistening ebullience, naivety, jocundity, tired feet and absorbent bloodstreams. A crash cymbal, if properly synthesized, sounds like rain hitting palm fronds, then cascading to a mud laden jungle floor.

Brown slippers on brown carpet. Underwear still in hand, now hot from the blown bulbs dying heat. You are not in a cloud, or a club- rather you are sitting, listening to your mind. Its syncopated thoughts, its flanged receptors, gated synapse lapses. All so in time- all so precise. The windowsill, the time to percolate your feelings, clouds with their rain stored for the impending shower.

You, the talent borne upon nothing.

You, a musical savior to no one. You; a rash of funk you will let loose like a plague; melodies will set in like locusts; your beats will kill all the first born…

…And suddenly your windowsill is a stereophonic horizon; a budding birth of hope in tempo, opening a portal to forever and ever. Your mind is organic and electric, both a lattice of activity, of thought, of pans and flange, borne now a heard vision. Sound and silence.
You who creates, are eternal.


Exit: Solitary Confinement

Listen for Caligraphy in the sounds of your day. A beautiful pattern will emerge from the din.

Sleeping Pills. I'm frantically taxing all doctor friends for a legal and friendly dosage of the pills that will slip me into Morpheus' sweet sleep. I've got a bit of traveling to do and I am in no way prepared.


I've been in self confinement for two years now. If American life were a living body, I would be living in a capilary somewhere near the left small toe.

I am at the end of America.

Welcome to Saipan. Closer to Moscow than Washington, Saipan is the smallest and farthest U.S. Commonwealth, lying just off the mouth of the Marianas trench (When you reach the bottom, look up seven miles and you'll find Saipan. Good luck with the swim back). Think Pacific, blue, tropical. Azure. Think second (and a half) world.

Song playing through this thought process: Where Is My Mind, Placebo.

Two years. Detached from the Jugular of my New York upbringing, I've found answers to questions I'd never ask.

See also: Naivety.

Like Santeria is an amalgamation of Contemporary Catholicism and Ancient Carribean polytheism, life in Saipan is an unbalanced equation of many different cultures.

Here I've been moved to the margin of consumerism: You can get what you need, and occasionally, what you want. I've adapted and refined my tastes around availability. But here, standing on the edge of the island, dead coral rock under my feet and sands surrounding my body, I look over the edge of dry land, where I see ocean. I am coming home for the first time in two years, to a New York that evolved without me. I have realigned my perception of the world based off living on the margin, and I am afraid what I will feel reentering my former life.

I have totally adapted to my surroundings. But I am starting to get the bittersweet bipolar longings for my home in NY, as I research all the things I want to do. And while I've all but shed my Urban lifestyle, it still flutters around me in a demure reflection of sunlight I see while standing on Kilili beach just after sunset. Yet my laptop, my cable modem, are my mainlines back into cultural oblivion. I receive large overdoses of thought, images, sounds and silence through those cables. They are keeping me in tune with the outside.

Though culture for me has been a mediation for two years: thing I see and hear are through a medium, or a filter. Life outside of this 5 mile x 14 mile island is encoded into a series of digital 1's and 0's. My perspective is filtered much like a camera interprets an image. I know what has been selected for knowing.

Song playing through this thought process: Caring is Creepy, The Shins.

And within the next two weeks, I will be witness to two of the largest centers of culture in the world; Tokyo and New York City. I will spend 3 days in Tokyo en route back to the United States. My island: Population 63,000, to the Island of Japan and Manhattan: Population many million.

I am aware that on a given day in Manhattan, I will see more people than exist on the island of Saipan. Will there be culture shock?

My thoughts at this point are like William Burroughs’s cut-ups. Cohesive thoughts written in cohesive ways, chopped into fragments and then reorganized to create perspective anew.

In the coming weeks I will organize my journal on the road into cohesive postings that trace the history of Saipan, and follow my footsteps from the Smallest U.S. Island to one of the largest (NYC).

As a musician and DJ, music will follow me wherever I go, even into my writing. I will be a paradox. I will remix thought as I remix break beats; rearrange words like creating dissonance out of melody.

Sounds + Silence. The black of serif letters and the white emptiness that surrounds. The outline of thoughts, the reflections of sunsets on mountains.

I will provoke thought as I am provoked by the thoughts of others.

Barko Hepplewhite