Monthly Archives: August 2016

Flashcuts out of Chaos

book-review-flashcutsI bought this book when it first came out because I know the poet (more about that in a minute), but I put it on my stack of books I’ll read and read instead the top book on that stack (I forget what book that was now). At the end of spring semester I collected things in my office to bring home for summer reading and whatever. Flashcuts came home with that stack but went on the read-it-this-summer stack. Classes got underway this week and I prepared to move the remnants of the summer stack from home to office and picked up Flashcuts again. I read a poem. I read another poem. I read every poem in the book. And I’m reading every poem again before I go to bed. I started out marking poems I like with brightly colored tabs but the top of the book began to look like crazy hair on a troll doll so I stopped. This is the best poetry I’ve read in a long time. I teach poetry and I read marvelous poetry alot, so let me repeat – this is the best I’ve read in a long long time.

Okay, full disclosure. Charlie Brice – the Charles W. on the cover and I don’ know if people call him Charlie now – and I were in different high schools in Cheyenne Wyoming in the mid sixties. He was in the Catholic one; I was in one of the secular two – the one that had no black people in it. More relevantly, we played in rival local bands. People would call them ‘garage bands’ now, but we didn’t see anything garage about what we were doing, though the one I was in practiced in a garage and (I presume) the SPIRITS (I think their banner read ‘THEM SPIRITS’) did too. My band mates and I made a competing banner that read ‘THEM JAGUARS,’ but that’s water long under the bridge.

Charlie played drums. I played guitar. Setting Up Soul, (page 37) describes Charlie’s perspective on setting up his drums in that era. I was probably in the audience that night – we surveilled the rival bands. I remember my friend (though I don’t remember which friend now) saying, “his rim shots sound like police breaking down the door,” and I thought how the hell does he know what that sounds like and, a minute later, yes, just like that. Police breaking down the door.

A few years later Charlie and I played in a band together. We’d rented a derelict bowling alley in downtown Cheyenne with a view to running a dance hall and making buckets of money. We played off-nights and openings and brought in BIG NAMES (i.e. from Colorado and Nebraska) to headline. We lost our shirts but kept our pants. In the heady flurry of entrepreneurial creativity, we rented a portable public address system from a former guitar teacher of mine (a country-western guy, very gauche), which we strapped to the top of my Ford van and paraded through the many parking lots of the Frontier Days Carnival promoting our bowling-alley-turned-night-club. Well promoted, but poorly attended. Unfortunately, the speakers slid off the roof of the Ford in an exuberant corner turn, and hit the Wyoming pavement, so they were damaged a bit. Also unfortunately, we kept them past the return date and had no idea what the rent might be after that. (Who read the contract? Who has the contract?”) For some reasons I no longer remember, Charlie and I were the ones elected to return the goods. I knew where the owner lived (took guitar lessons there years before), and Charlie was the getaway driver; I don’t remember why. What I remember (I think) is he drew a cigarette from the visor of his classic Toyota Land Cruiser and explained, “so I can think.”

Back to his poetry. Flashcuts out of Chaos is bristling with decades of wit and wisdom stretched tight over a lifetime of life. Well, most of a lifetime; we have a few years left. Some of the poems brought me to tears; most brought a sigh or bit lip (a bit of bit lip). This is wonderful, sensitive, stuff-of-life poetry. This is the poetry that makes you want to read poetry. If you buy one poetry book this year, buy this one. Okay, I’m done writing about it and eager to read again, so I’ll end this little review, but let me re-emphasize. Charlie Brice’s poetry is the police breaking down the door. Open the door.

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Words in their own words

Here’s another way to look at it — from the point of view of the Words themselves.

We are organisms living in colonies in the brains of human hosts. We reproduce asexually by inducing our hosts to makes sounds that resonate in the ears of other potential hosts. The resonance moves through the audio nerves to the brain where it recreates itself as a pattern in the neurons. As this pattern establishes in the new brain, it becomes the reproduced word. Sometimes the process is flawed slightly, something in the pattern is different, the word changes, but mostly the reproduction process works well enough. We can follow the genealogy of an individual back to the parent, the parent’s parent, and so on. A vigorous word can spread itself through humans, indeed through all humanity, like a benign virus.

The relationship, words to brains, is symbiosis of the mutualism variety – both organisms benefit. Without words human brains are unable to lift their attention to the level of cogitation; they are a gardens with nothing planted. Without brains, words are dormant seeds, frozen, ultimately meaningless. It’s fortunate we found each other, I suppose.

The process of reproduction for words is sometimes simple propagation, cell division of the mitosis variety, asexual and producing ultimately an exact duplicate of the original. Sometimes, though, two words mate to produce a third. Portmanteau is one form. This is common among Germans and for them the mating is often casual and temporary. In English the process has produced many long-standing words. Smog[i], and motel are examples made necessary by circumstances of the 20th century. Brunch and liger as well. Sometimes the coupling involves a foreigner, as, for example, Velcro, a word made by sticking the French velours to the English crochet. With these sexual reproductions the result resembles both parents, and one presumes there was some foreplay involved before coitus was achieved. Which parent will appear first in the offspring? Smog might just as easily come out foke and motel might have been hotor. Shakespeare is renowned for creating new words, sometimes from parts of old ones. There was no hobnob before Twelfth Night, Act III Scene IV, no courtship before Love’s Labour’s Lost, Act V Scene II.

[i] smog (n.) 1905, blend of smoke and fog, formed “after Lewis Carrol’s example.” Reputedly coined in reference to London, and first attested there in a paper read by Dr. H.A. des Voeux, treasurer of the Coal Smoke Abatement Society, though he seems not to have claimed credit for coining it.

At a recent health congress in London, a member used a new term to indicate a frequent London condition, the black fog, which is not unknown in other large cities and which has been the cause of a great deal of bad language in the past. The word thus coined is a contraction of smoke fog “smog” — and its introduction was received with applause as being eminently expressive and appropriate. It is not exactly a pretty word, but it fits very well the thing it represents, and it has only to become known to be popular. [“Journal of the American Medical Association,” Aug. 26, 1905]

Footnote is from The Online Entymology Dictionary by Douglas Harper, an excellent resource.

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