Monday, October 1, 2018

Deafening Music by Paul B. Roth

This is another installment of Poetry? I just don’t get it. A series where I post a poem or group of poems by one author, followed by anything the author wants to say about the work.

Today’s poem is "Deafening Music" by poet and publisher, Paul B. Roth.

Paul has been published widely in the United States and his work has been translated and appeared in journals from Japan, Peru, Israel, Bolivia, Ecuador, India, China, Mexico, Romania, Estonia and the UK.

He is the author of eight collections of poetry of which his four most current are Cadenzas by Needlelight (Cypress Books, 2009), Words the Interrupted Speak (March Street Press, 2011), Long Way Back to the End (Rain Mountain Press, 2014), and Owasco: Passage of Lake Poems (Finishing Line Press, 2018). He lives in Fayetteville, New York, where he’s served as editor and publisher of The Bitter Oleander Press since 1974.

What I like about the poem, and what I like about the poetry I find in The Bitter Oleander, the magazine Paul edits, is that there are numerous imaginative leaps throughout. The poem starts in one place and ends in another, moving in a spiral, like a vortex, a tornado, bringing more and more parts of the world into its field of gravity. And then there's the line "a salamander's slithering exit suctioned through a vertical flute's mouth-high octave…" Say it out loud. See which part of your brain lights up.

I first read this poem in Skidrow Penthouse .


Deafening Music

            Beethoven knew external music eluded him whenever meteor showers or burn victims from a nearby barn fire screamed at him from all directions without making a sound. A jellied hand, a cloven toe, a bandaged shoulder blade, or lightning's crack at the back of every headache should have been enough to make anyone curious, but he could not, beyond his own heartbeat, hear what was happening to him. He'd already given up listening for a katydid's tympanic legs scratching underneath August's dry leaves, a salamander's slithering exit suctioned through a vertical flute's mouth-high octaves, even a stone's subtle tumble after heavy flooding from torrential rains kept flipping and sliding it further and further downstream in a viola's dream. Those handclapped blackbirds bursting their sudden flight off his raised eyebrows finally got his attention. Not to mention pieces of his body crawling away in the night where he thought he heard their goodbyes without feeling any difference. Dreams separating from their colors with only the silhouettes of their effective sub-plots to guide him. Thoughts no longer tethered to a planet believing itself special because of its human habitation. Everything more sacred than him and him knowing it. More sacred than those who believe they do no wrong at the expense of every other living organism on the planet. Religions precluding them by forcing them to don ritualistic costumes that no moon, ring or methane crystal this side or that of the universe would ever recognize except as those messy bits of carbon smeared when swept up after all they've become.


On the Poem
“Deafening Music”

As with any of my poems, there’s no reason for this one to have been written. I may have been listening to one of Beethoven’s Razumovsky quartets at the time or maybe I wasn’t.  It really doesn’t matter since nothing I write, when I write, is ever planned. If it were, wouldn’t I only be repeating myself to myself; a scribe of my own words, of what I already know, rather than a poet seeking the gratification of the unknown through all of its possible and even improbable presentations? Isn’t that how one lets the poem lead him or her into the future without having to copy the past or what others have already written? It seems now that the only preconceived and formulated notion in this poem was his well-documented and unfortunate deafness. It couldn’t help but become the necessary background against which everything about to be written would hold the poem in place. Everything has a background, even absence and in this case, there happens to be the absence of hearing. Yet rather than try to write about the well-documented difficulties of the master composer’s deafness, it must have seemed better for me, at the time, to imagine all that he missed by coupling instruments with the natural world he loved and in which he found such great inspiration. Still, there had to have been low points I felt obliged to mention regarding his self-importance as a human being. Not to mention how religion, in those turbulent times, might have culled together his most painful and suspicious doubts. How even at his lowest moments, he might have felt that, after all he’d accomplished, after all he’d transformed, he might still be one of “those messy bits of carbon smeared when swept up after all they’ve become.”  And since it might have been nice to tell him otherwise, maybe in some way, through this paragraph poem, I was doing so.

Paul B. Roth 
Woodside Way

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