Friday, July 30, 2010

Arthur Brown's Poems To Be Read by Lew Prince on August 2 at Duff's

Arthur Brown by John McVicker.

The next Chance Operations reading will be Monday, August 2, at Duff's in the Central West End. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Cover is $3.00. Music by Raven Wolf.

Lew Prince, co-owner of Vintage Vinyl, will be reading poems by Arthur Brown, who died of a heart attack on August 5, 1982, just a month short of his 35th birthday.

Other featured readers will be Prison Performing Arts board member Danny Kohl reading poems by Patricia Prewitt; Chance Operations co-founder Tony Renner reading Stephen Crane; and Richard Newman, editor of River Styx and James Weber reading their own work.

sly mongoose as a woman

because i want you from wichita
because i want you beneath house-leaping trees
in columbia missouri
because i want you chesterfield riverside
and tramline
because i want you suspended
in fits and hesitations because i want you
in every high place because i want you
mountainous at one sixteenth inch per year
because i want you jostled upstream
in slippery fish futures
because i want you darkling on lightyears’ memory
because i want you improvised in ebony and ivory
because i want you melisma in micro tones
from out of and back into from-out-of-nowhere
polymetric glissando uptempo dexterity
in cycles of fifths because
i want you come-out-of-the-blues because
i want you between a rock and a hard place
because i want you in sheets of rain
because i want you tear-drenched in smiles
because i want you famous muslim bean pie
because i want you pork chop and pork pie hat
because i want you in multiples of zucchini
and potassium rich
whole kernel cracked raw and clabbered
because i want you perishable because i want you
indigestible mummified and shelf-life improved because
i want you color-added red dye no. 3
caffeine crackerjack and empty calories with
a surprise inside
because i want you soul-omnivore refreshing spring
redemption center because i want you eagle stamp
chocolate and acne's prayer house
because i want you in your twenty-first step to heaven
because i want you newfound love and top of the harp
celestial equator earth bound bending eastward
to wake gonave
because i want you sacred and yellow-backed
just one necromancer from now
animated and bridled by ambiguous spirits
and a lathered syntax
because i want you tell my horse
because i want you ask my horse
because i want you
because i want you
new day lady day
and can't explain

-- Arthur Ray Brown

Arthur Brown's close friend, Pamela Gilbert-Snyder, who provided Chance Operations with this poem, writes:
I met Arthur in January of 1974 in a class he taught at then Webster College (now Webster University) entitled "Black American Literature and Jazz," a subject that was brand new, and one he was eminently qualified to teach. I often thought it was a pity, and to the everlasting detriment of us all, that that semester was the only time he offered it. No matter; he taught it through his poetry.

Along with "Trumpet in the Morning," "Sly Mongoose" was a favorite at poetry readings in the late 70s, not only because of the energy it transmits through the kaleidoscope of images whirling into and back out of it from Arthur’s daily life, esoteric experiences, and the literature and, of course, music, that he loved, but also because of his driving, breathless delivery of it.

There is no need to explain even the most obscure of these images; the poem stands on its own as an expression of love, joy, life.... for Arthur was so good at living. And loving. People, places, sights, sounds, every kind of art –- "Sly Mongoose" reveals Arthur's deep "soul omnivore" nature perhaps better than any other poem. It is also a unique kind of love poem, presenting an all-encompassing experience that is both constituted by and infuses even the most pedestrian details of one’s life.

No, there is no need to explain and, anyway, as the end of the poem emphatically states, really you can’t. But, because to a limited degree I can, I will shed some light on the origins of a few of the images, for those who may have always wondered.

The title itself refers not only to the song by Charlie Parker, but to a West Indian folk character, Sly Mongoose, who is selfish, greedy, and vain, but also cunning and slippery. Those who wish to escape the traps set by the Sly Mongoose must be equal to his intelligence.

"Wichita" is where I was born.

"House-leaping trees" refers to a tree in the front yard of a friend's house in Columbia, Missouri, which was very tall and leaned way over the roof of the house.

"Chesterfield" is where I grew up.

"Riverside" is a university town in southern California where Arthur and I lived for some months in 1975-76.

"Tramline" refers to the aerial tramway near Palm Springs, California, which can be taken, as it was by Arthur, to the top of San Jacinto Peak, only a 10 minute ride from the valley floor, but a huge shift in geology and climate.

"Mountainous at one sixteenth inch per year" refers to the approximate rate at which young mountain ranges continue to grow each year. The image results from conversations about plate tectonics, which I was studying.

"Multiples of zucchini" refers to the vegetable farm my family ran in the summers to supplement our income. We planted 10 acres of vegetables, including 3,000 zucchini plants.

"Whole kernel cracked raw and clabbered" are terms borrowed from a period of intense dedication to "whole foods."
Note: "sly mongoose as a woman" reprinted by kind permission of Fleeta Brown, niece of Arthur Brown.

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