Friday, January 12, 2018

Arlene Corwin writes

The Time When There Was Nothing To Say
Or, Content Is All

In ’49, repressed and mute,
She made her instinct-driven debut.
Isolated, no one’s neighbor,
Still teenage and merely cute,
She had nothing much to say,
No expressive skills of note;
And the urge to break away
Had crept in through the sex, not throat.
But there inside the head was ear,
And the gene to play with rhythm,
And a thriving drive to clear
Out something that lay hidden.
Locked inside was need to play,
And a key, a means, a way:
Written sound, syllabic sound
That could make the clear come ‘round.
Substitute a year, or any
Pronoun in its trail.
Gender, time are never prime
In the grammar of detail.
No, there was not much to say;
Not when no grownup had ever
Held a single conversation
And un-tethered something clever.
Oh, how play-less, plaintive, painful,
Joyless, doleful, plain-drained-brain-dull!

Then one noon, one exited cocoon,
Came a place to break the rules,
Use those under-conscious tools,
Break away, begin the play,
“Swing and sway with Sammy Kaye”.
Came a day to play the fool,
Let the psyche problem solve,
Use the spelling as a tool,
Love the discipline involved.
Came a self to manifest;
The sleeping self express its best,
Awakening in loosely fitted,
Tightly worked niveaus that knitted
Eye and sound into a compound.
Things to say, that just appeared
(Though there has been year upon year
When impulse dryly stayed away
And one had not a word to say).

But then it’s here - as now its been, year after year.
One feels that forever’s scene
Is on the tongue and in the eye,
And sky’s the limit.
Then it’s time to dim the wit,
Get inside the ground ideas,
Put a bit upon the babble,
End what’s writ, put stop to scribble,
Set the switch on dimly-lit,
Become god’s modest dimwit gabble,
Wait a week, then take a peek,
Re-check the beats, re-read and polish –
Know exactly what you’ve got.
If the goulash is too rich
Start off by killing the conjunction;
Re-arrange the line, all hinges,
Put a clamp on verbal binges,
Keep the article on hold,
Then re-vamp the preposition,
(Those that won’t do as they’re told).
Even commas make it holy.
Emphasis means sweating, crying,
Praying over semi-colons.
The kinetic part of trying
Means betraying semi-colons.
There’s not one thing not of value
In this universe of symbol
(For that’s all it is, is symbol)
Pointing inwards towards a One;
And the language and the rhythm
And the syntax are the fun,
Sometimes stunning, never cunning –
Or vice versa.
Don’t dismiss the depth of fun.
After all is said and done
It’s essentially technique
For the use of those that seek,
Meaning us, the strong, the weak.
If you look at it that way,
There are always things to say;
And the saying and the said,
And the one who is the reader,
Or the writer, written, read:
Each is teacher, subject, leader.
All the rules are jumbled up.
Writer finds himself the learner
From a mind-begotten textbook:
Time the spent, himself the earner,
Written for himself and reader
Who’s become the literal leader.

There was a time when there was nothing to say.
With no criteria to weigh
The thing, the outlet was romantic song:
Corny, un-experienced the texts;
Songs be-witnessing a longing
And an instinct to express
The milk potential in the breast.
Unformed milk in unformed quest
Conforming to the ABA:
Grist-for-mill of things to say.

Let a word suggest a theme,
As the rhyme refines the cream
Let a phrase release the phase,
And the phase release the phrase
Of those bio-rhythmic days
When the urgent surges forth;
Giving birth to means and ways.
Though the line defines the girth,
It stands and falls on what it says.
Content is all.

 Woman Writing -- Valerie Hardy


  1. Samuel Zarnocay, Jr., became famous as Sammy Kaye. Under the motto "Swing and sway with Sammy Kaye" he was the leader of one of the most popular "sweet" bands of the 1930s and 1940s. (The sweet bands were dance bands, distinguished from the more frantic swing bands.) His sound was satirized by Charlie Barnet and Billy May in the 1929 song, "The Wrong Idea (Swing and Sweat with Charlie Barnet)" and more nostalgically remembered by Lee Adams and Charles Strouse in the 1960 stage musical "Bye Bye Birdie" (a satirical commentary on the Elvis Presley phenomenon) in the song "Kids" -- "Why can't they dance like we did? / What's wrong with Sammy Kaye?" At the time Kaye had just completed a decade hosting musical television shows.

    "ABA" is a a musical form that indicates a theme, a release (a middle part), and the theme again. Most 32-bar popular songs use this format.

    "Niveau" is a level or plateau in a progression.

  2. The first accolade goes to Duane for publishing and finding just the right illustration. Also finding with exactitude, the referential sources. Whadda man! The second, natch, to the author - moi! One re-reading, it's a great poem (said she without a blink).

  3. Forgot to mention, I (the author) worked playing piano opposite Charles Strouse in a dumpy pub. He was already writing summer shows with Lee Adams. But it was long before Bye Bye Birdie and Annie. I was 17. Had a terrific crush.


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