Spontaneous Poetics (Ballads) – Helen Adam – 5

“Sir Patrick Spens” (Child Ballad 58) sung and performed by Fairport Convention (lead vocal – Sandy Denny)

AG: Okay, “Sir Patrick Spens”. It’s one of the most famous…

HA: Yes

AG: There was one other thing that you said, which was that they..jumped?..or what did you say? What was that? What was the phrase for that?

Student: “Jump cut”.

AG: Jump cut. A jump cut is from what?

Student: Film

AG: Film.

HA: Uh-huh.

AG: In ballad, there’s a lot of jump cut, that is, a fast switch from one situation and image to something that is connected but you wouldn’t  know it unless you were there in your mind, so it’s almost like there is a haiku aspect of it, that you go from one image to another..

HA: Uh-huh.

AG: ..with a big gap.. in between. “Jump cut” – That’s the first time I heard that, today. It’s an interesting poetics terminology.

Student: Juxtaposition

AG: Well, you (know) “Juxtaposition”, but for modern kids to understand, “Jump cut” makes a lot more sense

HA: I guess it does. I think it sounds good. But, another thing..

AG: I (just) heard it today. It came out of his mouth today. I was just astounded that.. (and) he was applying it to (Ezra) Pound, wasn’t it? Is that where you got it from?

Student: (From the) blues.

AG: Blues and Pound. Jump cuts in blues and jump cuts in Pound. I want to illustrate that, because I’m a blues writer. Jump cut in blues. [to Helen Adam] – Can I interrupt?

HA: Yes, of course

AG: Add my two cents, from a song, as a jump cut. It’s a Christmas blues, ending.. I’ll sing the first..  It’s a Christmas blues, but it was a jump cut that I was interested in (as a characteristic of both blues and ballads), that totally irrational jump (altho’ it has a secret…)

HA: The “Come Back Christmas”

AG: Yeah, I’m just going to do the first stanza and the last two…[Allen sings, accompanying himself with his harmonium] – “Christmas, come back/ New York City died last year/ New Year come back/ Big city died last year/ Dead on her big stone feet/ No light bulb shed one tear/ Merry Christmas/ Don’t take too much hard dope/ Happy New Year/ Don’t hang yourself with a rope/ Manahatta reborn/ After we gave up all hope/ Radiator cockroach/ Waving your horns at the wall/ What’ll I Feed You/ I don’t eat meat at all/ Go tell Mr. Bedbug/ He better stay out in the hall”

HA: Oh, that’s marvelous!

AG: The point of that was.

HA: That’s divine.

AG: The reason I dug what you said about “jump-cut”, was that I found this characteristic of the blues (particularly in Richard “Rabbit” Brown’s text for “James Alley Blues” which is to be found in a very great book called The Blues Line, published by Grossman Company. If you’re taking notes, you can take advantage of whatever information there is – (It’s) by Eric Sackheim – “James Alley Blues” – Richard “Rabbit” Brown – the singing of which you can hear on Folkways Records [now Smithsonian] collected by Harry Smith.

Student: There’s a little bookstore in the mall, and they have it there, because I’ve seen it.

AG: (In Boulder?) . Up near the Brillig Works (bookstore). Up there. Okay.

Student: No..it’s more out in the suburbs.. 28thand Arapahoe.

AG: Okay. Can somebody pick it up and bring it in? I’ll pay you back. Yeah, pick it up and bring it in. Is it paperback?..Yeah, we want it for the library

Student: Who’s the editor again

AG: Eric Sackheim

HA: Why don’t you do “Broken Bone Blues”

AG: There’s one I’d rather do that you haven’t heard. I want to do one more

HA: Well do one I haven’t heard then. I don’t  believe it’ll be “Broken Bone Blues”

AG: No, it’ll be something that you haven’t heard. Parallel to your form, using your form.

HA: Oh, oh, I see

AG: Same form as you’ve used A-A-B-B

HA; Ah<

AG: A-A-B-B and duh-dah, duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah, duh-duh-dah, duh-da, duh-duh-dah.

HA: Oh yes, I did hear it. The one with the marvelous green frog and..

AG: Oh yes (then) you have heard it. Is it alright to do this?

HA: Sure, of course, Allen, whatever,

AG: Because it’s the same form.

HA: Yes. But on the other hand, “Broken Bone Blues” is straight out of the ballad feeling, even if it’s not the..

AG: Is it the ballad form? I think it’s a blues

HA: No, it isn’t really a ballad form, that’s true.

AG: See, I wanted to deal with ballads

HA: Alright, alright, alright. Don’t let me stop you but “Broken Bones Blues” is my favorite

AG: That’s more ballad sound, huh?

HA: It seems to me out of the supernatural ballad world

AG: Okay. Well, then (I’ll) try that.

HA: Because the bones and everything, they’re alive.

AG: Okay, the bone thing.. [Allen proceeds to give a rendition of “Broken Bone Blues” – “Broken bone bone bone/ All over the ground/ Broken bone bone bone/ Everywhere the sound/ of broken bone bone bone/ Everyone brought down/ Everyone brought down..”]  – I want to get back to the ballad form.
Student: Who wrote that?

HA: Allen!

AG: It was mine.

Student: What book is that (in)?

AG: It’s in a book called First Blues – Rags, Ballads and Harmonium Songs . I wanted to get to…

HA: Oh, it’s gorgeous!

AG: …before we get back to (the) ancient ballads in Europe. This is the last time.. I want to do another form, but..

HA (holding up the sheet music): Allen, should I hold it up like that? Is it easier for you to see it if I hold it up?

AG: The purpose of this particular ballad, “Bus Ride Ballad Road to Suva” (which is a town in Fiji) is, it’s written on a bus going around (so, in that sense, spontaneous or unrevised, because the original transcription, or original draft, is, I would say, 90% accurate to the final text). The point that I was trying to do here was to combine (the tradition of the ballad with) the tradition of William Carlos Williams direct observation of fact, detail, “No ideas but in things” – the eye hitting an object and registering it in a literalistic form, the opposite of what (Robert) Duncan was talking about in (his) poetics course yesterday – “No ideas but in things” – Objective fact, detail, specific detail, concrete detail in the ballad form which is sometimes a bit generalized (though, in the great classical forms, there’s, as you can hear in the traditional ballads we were reading, there’s a lot of really clear observed detail. So it’s sticking to detail, but 100% crowded with detail (except for the refrain-type part, “oh-ho”, or whatever). Where does “O ho” come from? That’s sea shanties isn’t it?

HA: I guess so, yes

AG: So this is an island. So this (a) sea shanty. [ Allen proceeds to sing, accompanied by the harmonium, his song-ballad “Bus Ride Ballad Rode to Suva” – “ O ho for the bus that rolls down the dirt road/ O ho for the green sunlight that holds the dust cloud/ O ho for the thin-mustached boy with his wound/ O ho for the banana trees crowding the ground…”]  – The point there , in doing ballad, or in doing rhymed poetry of that kind, is, is it possible to do it without inversions, that is, without syntactical inversions, so you still have an American speech, or you still have your own speech? Is it possible to do it with observed detail so that you actually do have your own eyeball, and your own ear, and your brain, and your senses, there present in the poem, instead of the imitation abstraction of a (Bob) Dylan song, which is (itself) an abstraction and imitation of “Where you goin’, Edward, Edward?” ?. In other words, you’ve got the forms, and maybe you’ve got some echoes, but is it possible for you to look out of your own eyes and write your own modern, your own mod-ren, ballads, with your own details? The only way you can do it is (by) paying attention to your senses. (William) Wordsworth was really observant in that way, perfect detail, and I’ve quoted or paraphrased a line of Wordsworth, I think, in “Intimations of Immortality”– there is a line about houses in the pastoral valley where the grass is green to the very door. With doorsteps grass green. Because it was something that I observed in Fiji. Doorsteps grass green – which really tells you a lot about the entire civilization – that one detail. You’ve got people that step that carefully that their doorsteps (are) grass green – or the fields are green to the very doors of the houses. With that one observed detail you’ve got a whole culture.
Student:  (It’s actually in) “Tintern Abbey” [“these pastoral farms, /Green to the very door..”]

AG:  (Okay) “Tintern Abbey”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *