Taking its name from a poem by American surrealist Ted Joans, Rubber Orchestras is an energetic, sensuous and intriguing collection of poems, written over a period of four years with an (as yet) undisclosed method of composition the writer calls Liminalism.
This is an experimental collection but only in the sense that poetry should always be a means of searching out the gaps and crevices of language. Each reader will have a different experience of these poems.
The book is divided into three sections: Precious and Impossible — a selection of poems influenced in subject and style by calypso and Jazz. The Colony of Light — poems concerning Caribbean history and society. And Grotesquerie, in which there are darker, more obscure poems.
Apart from the influence of Ted Joans’s surrealism, the resonance of Bob Kaufman, Will Alexander, Ira Cohen, and Caribbean poets such as Derek Walcott and Kamau Brathwaite can be felt throughout. It contains all the trademarks which have informed Joseph’s work for the past decade; the blending of syncopated caribbean rhythms with surrealism and the sensual, painstaking attention to each phrase. With this volume Joseph returns to the exciting experimentalism of his landmark collection Teragaton.
This is a unique text, suggesting a new way of writing but perhaps also, a new way of reading.
This is the fourth collection from Anthony Joseph after Desafinado in 1994, Teragaton in 1997 and Bird Head Son, 2009.
These four collections range inventively across time and place, evoking media, myth and history. The Trinidadian Anthony Joseph is by far the most formally experimental, his poems composed, the inlay tells us, using the as yet undefined technique of “liminalism”, related (one assumes) to the state of liminality in which fixed identities dissolve in favour of openness and indeterminacy. ‘A Ditch of Knives’ begins “To be national, liberty is impossible”, announcing Joseph’s counter-position, to resist confinement through the criss-crossing of spatial and temporal borders.
Rubber Orchestras is the poet and musician’s fourth collection, its name taken from a phrase coined by the Surrealist artist Ted Joans. Indeed, the surrealist mode of these poems will be a challenge to some readers, but I enjoyed their psychedelic aesthetic and the bravado of Joseph’s writing in which multiple cultures are collided, the narrator journeying across and within poems from African civilisations to the Harlem of the Jazz Age to the past and present day Caribbean. The phrase “I came from” and its variations serve as testimony and refrain, embedding the narrator as witness and agent.
At the heart of the book is calypso, a symbol of the cultural mestizaje of Europe and Africa in the Caribbean, thus ‘Dimanche Gras’ travels between San Fernando, Guyana and Brooklyn, witnessing “Europe kissing calypsonians on the neck” and stressing Europe’s defining tendencies, the narrator, a Calypsonian himself, tells us “I go down there again, got married twice, / got written down” while in ‘In Vibrant Oases’ the musicians “went up river/to get our names back”. Poems such as ‘Blue Hues’ structurally embody musical idioms and linguistically evoke the often licentious worlds of jazz musicians. In ‘Riff for Morton’ the narrator celebrates the infamy of the pioneering jazz pianist Jelly Roll Morton:
Jelly you rascal you minstrel you lover you
bone meat of the creole Caribbean
– vicious semen, Jelly,
bake ’em brown and break a banjo across their backs.
Jelly you blues talker you, the voodoo of your laughter,
stepping lean in stove pipe suits, down
to the very end.
Hannah Lowe (Poetry Review)
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for Keziah Jones
Symbolic of the fruit of creation
whose impure sound
is the sound of universal culture,
of vocal music of black Africa,
blown into the mouthpiece with
of transverse ivory trumpets.
Not to mention
which everyone can play.
The bow is a curved stick,
the bowed fiddle, earth bow
and the diffusion of pitch and pluck
is like the buzzing comb
seated in the python’s womb.
Release. From bondage of god and beauty
to the sky rhythm
of superhuman choreography
and the intonation of syllables
within skinned instruments
and the vernacular languages of the Nile Delta.
Oh harp, the epic string,
the Griot’s art is in listening.
The drum stick strikes the voice with memory
like the legendary horns in the orchestras of Gabon,
in the operas of vertical Nigeria
where the slit-drum speaks its prayer of timbres
each echo is a receptacle of traditional sound,
earth-bow, calabash, crocodile,
The five stringed harp is stretched to encircle
the ear and the flesh of air
and the jingling bells
worn around the neck
and the mouth-box of the Griot
with its riddles and spells.
The bata drum is virtually a heel,
magnetic tape cannot hold you
: sky god
of stone and sonorous wood.
for Sascha Akhtar
she bent down
to geographical maps and cybernetic machines.
In a liturgical envelope
she came to rest: rhinoceros,
slate tiles (hypercubicas)
with the insoluble ugliness of atavistic simulacra.
Coccyx and the inner ear, precise as oxidised silver.
Precise as Karl Marx on Huntington Hartford Bridge.
Hyper-almond or the nymph (that stalks) Joan Miró.
Visceral, like surrealist dream-death in Paris,
or revolutionary dramas that ran back and forth
with mathematical focus between
the liturgical and ascetic. She is irrational and clings
to my mouth (my mouth) in geometric rhythm,
swollen and intransigent, sensual but meticulous
and undoes the nuclear mystic.
Each function of spiral, of neck, of infinite and original
is marvelous, savage, terrestrial and supremely beautyfull.
Inlaid with ivory and paranoid rocks of the Mediterranean.
I am looking for its bronze teeth
in the mouth of the jungle, beneath
oblique precipes and hill tracks.
(as opposed to abstract)
A Ditch Of Knives
To be national, liberty is impossible.
Nothing but the rotting rape of the aboriginal circle.
The struggle is self saddled with spiritual poverty
and the chief dignitaries are incapable of fiction or charity.
Idyllic in the slight camp with the vigorous style of militant men
deep in the cult of Africa.
The vultures raid the muscle
to a harvest of meat.
This is the woman who rebels.
This is her strength, her air and agony.
She explodes in the countryside – fetish of her private regions,
minerals of her cunt, her energies and grip on fact.
She may be a desert nation, the living expression
of terrifying fruit. But hell is the hostile world of hard men,
perverse and colonial like a ditch of knives.