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Greetings : Double Issue 5/6

Walter Pater, the late 19th century critic who would unknowingly (and indeed, for Pater, distressingly) corrupt younger readers like Oscar Wilde into lives of debauchery, once wrote about the relationship between music and literature, placing the former in the role of the supreme art form, the form to which all other art should aspire. His comments, often misquoted and misattributed, are at the crux of the work presented in Greetings: Double Issue 5/6, ostensibly devoted to those poets who make "the word their life & their life the word". Pater's words, written in 1889, still ring true and are worth quoting here:

"If music be the ideal of all art whatever, precisely because in music it is impossible to distinguish the form from the substance or matter, the subject from the expression, then, literature, by finding its specific excellence in the absolute correspondence of the term to its import, will be but fulfilling the condition of all artistic quality in things everywhere, of all good art."

For Pater, finding the absolute correspondence of the term to its import is the role of the poet, who, working in an ultimately allusive genre, must summon forth a multiplicity of meanings and emotions from a minimum of words. Words, then, become the method for delivering the meaning(s) and should never get in the way of—should in fact be indistinguishable from—the message itself.

This is, at least, where the state of the relationship between poetry and music received its most profound definition, more than 100 years ago. As we all know, things have changed, and the word has become integral to the music, with hip-hop being only the most obvious example, just as the music has become integral to the word—as the emergence of spoken word attests to, with its performance aspects, rhythms, lilts, and tone derived directly from the world of the music.

Greetings enters this fray, in a somewhat schizophrenic role, proclaiming the supremacy of the word (eulogizing those who strive to make a living through the word), yet packaged with a CD with "backing" musical support from musicians who reign supreme in their own genre (and who in their own way struggle to make a living through the music): Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and Mat Maneri, among others.

Given Pater's notions about the relationship between the two artistic genres, the immediate question comes to mind: Is this collaboration, commingling, or simply a combination of two disparate art forms? The answer is not entirely clear.

Reading through the pages of Greetings one can't help but feel that Pater's notions about the need to find the absolute fit between the term and its import is still the measuring stick for meaningful, great poetry. Powerful pieces such as Marisol's two-line "Telegram"—"Rose is dying. Stop."—cut directly to the core far more effectively than all the attempts at Rimbaudian seasons in hell, odes to Ginsberg's angel-headed hipsters, or "exotic" travelogues. "The Patterson Silk Factory", by Erik La Prade, is a powerful scene at the crossroads of celebrated economic "progress" and the loss and catastrophe that goes on just on the other side of the fence. Susan Maurer's "To The Academy of American Poets", is a standout of compressed passion and righteous anger just as Angelo Verga's "Academic Issues" is erotic and playfully ridiculous.

But what about the music? If Pater is correct, and the word strives to music, then it would seem that the former were somehow seeking legitimatization through the inclusion of the latter. This does feel the case, often times, only because the music is more compelling than many of the words. "In the Music Room" is a moving, restrained piece by Matthew Shipp with a distracting poem by Steve Dalachinsky about the nature of the music room. Unfortunately, everything spoken is already implied through Shipp's piece, resulting in redundancy and heavy-handedness. "Co(s)mic" is a much more powerful performance from Dalachinsky, this time taken solo, allowing him to spread out a bit more. "Mary", again featuring Dalachinsky (with a rather uninteresting accompaniment by Thurston Moore and Tom Sturgal) contains one of the great lines of the entire collection: "Mary, your albums are so much like you/ in such bad shape/ and so scratchy/ and they skip and get stuck so much/ are so melancholic and morose and intangible and unintelligible and incomprehensible and misunderstood and complaining and frantic and romantic and pathetic and all pathos encompassing". Here, the word directly strains to reach the music, to striking effect. Ending with the most compelling combination of word and music, the Beefheart-meets-Godz-like "Roberto Alomar is No Crook", suggests no refinements to Pater's distinction but is in damn good fun.

Greetings is a solid read and an interesting attempt to blend two disparate worlds—disparate not so much because of delivery or import, but because of eons of accumulated notions of fit, purpose, and utility. At the end of the day, what one learns from Greetings is that the word is still alive, pulsating with invective and compassion, eroticism and death, sometimes fully realized, sometimes still striving toward the perfection of music. The CD companion in ways complicates the strength of the word, indicating that music still may be the quintessence of the fusion of form and function, subject and expression. While not entirely collaboration, Greetings is an interesting commingling of thought and feeling made bare: Clarity behind the veil of a too-often gauzed reality.