Friday, August 10, 2007

AM/TRAK by Amiri Baraka and Species Means Guilt by Bruce Andrews

What is this?

Journal # 4 – “AM/TRAK” by Amiri Baraka and “Species Means Guilt” by Bruce Andrews

It really pays to read AM/TRAK by Amiri Baraka while listening to jazz. I dug through my music collection and—SACRILEGE! —I couldn’t locate any John Coltrane. Fortunately I was swimming in music by fellow saxophonists’ Charlie Parker (who influenced Coltrane) and Dexter Gordon (who lived long enough to both influence and to be influenced by Trane—no small feat in a scene in which heroin addiction and alcoholism claimed the lives of many of the jazz greats much too early). Although I am far from being an aficionado, I have a deep appreciation for jazz and have spent time with Coltrane in the past—unfortunately my time was spent with the substandard sounds coming from the blown speaker in my Subaru Forester while Baraka’s time with Coltrane was a tad more intimate. Baraka achieves no small feat in AM/TRAK—he captures, on paper, the sound of jazz. He somehow manages to reproduce the syncopated rhythms and improvisation for the reader (or even more ideally, the listener), but he manages to do even more—he recreates a 60s free jazz scene loaded with raucous music (bahhhhhhh – heeeeeeee 5,38), hip characters (too cool to be a genius 4, 35), and endless nights of partying and excess (Alcohol we submit to thee/ 3x’s consume our lives/ our livers quiver under yr poison hits/ eyes roll back in stupidness 2, 13-16). AM/TRAK is not only an homage to one of the greatest jazz musicians of all-time, it is an homage to an era. Baraka’s recreation is so profane, so vivid, and so honest that I think I need to take an aspirin and download some Trane.

Oh Bruce Andrews, why do you taunt me? I found myself far more interested in how he created Species Means Guilt than in the actual content. Not that the content isn’t interesting—I mean, I was right there with “philosophical smiling kotex reconstruction” (22), but something was bugging me about the poem… I felt myself bouncing off of the surface of the method without really ever getting to immerse myself in the message*. Perhaps, for me, the sources themselves (boy, I’m really gonna feel dumb if he didn’t use sources) were too interesting to be bastardized. I love the line “I was castrated for seducing the local tax collector’s wife” (42). It makes me want to locate and read the original text—out of context, however, it seemed to be drawing too much attention to itself. I felt the same way with “impatience is not an achievement” (21) and, the final line, “Squirrels/ are happy without our help” (thank goodness!) (65-66). Even though these lines were likely pasted together by Andrews, they (and a few others) seem like they could exist outside of the poem and didn’t belong alongside the equally interesting, but more obscure “Well, don’t malice/ shown; only the bold choose liver, ass what gender” (13-14). And maybe that’s my frustration with the poem—there seems to be two separate (and equally interesting) poems going on in Species Means Guilt. But, I guess, as Andrews says in another of his poems, Bomb Then, Bomb Now, “If you want content, you have to pay extra” (28).

* maybe I am looking for something that doesn’t exist and was never intended to.

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