Dennis Formento

Poet's Note

This book is called Looking For An Out Place. Nobody knows what this means. I just mean a place that isn't "in." Where you can do what you please. Be yourself without people judging you. And play weird music with poetry, “outside jazz,” a.k.a., free jazz or creative music. The kind Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane are credited with introducing. Music that also owes its existence to Sun Ra, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the Third Stream and other innovators in African American and European classical music.  Not to get away from poetry, but some of these musicians, Ra in particular, “the Black Blake,” I call him, inspired me more than any poet has over the last ten years. (Sun Ra wrote poetry too, by the way.)

I've performed some of the poems in the section, “Blow,” for instance, to music by Ra (“It's After the End of the World”) and the Art Ensemble (“Odwalla.”) “Blow” collects a few poems that I wrote in the months following the destruction of New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast by Katrina.  It also includes poems for a dear friend, Helen Hill, who was murdered for no reason by a man who was possibly escaping capture for an attempted robbery at a b & b in her neighborhood.  There are a number of poems for people who have touched me and who have passed, so that I sometimes feel I'm obsessed with death. But it's because these people have meant so much to me and I want to set that down as a tribute to them. And sometimes, like with the poem for Helen and her husband and son, who survived the attack, the poem is intended to communicate something to those who loved them-and Helen was much loved in New Orleans.

In the title section, “Looking for an Out Place,” pieces like “Similar in the Opposite Way/Desert Arabica” were written while listening to some of the folks in my band, performing in their own seminal creative ensemble, the Improvisational Arts Council (IAC.)  “Similar” namechecks Jeff Albert, who plays trombone with us, and his tune by that name.  It was a phrase I said that he keyed into his Blackberry and later wrote some music for. (It's also the title tune of that album.) Jeff loves to do that- take phrases his friends say and create tunes to fit them.  “For Dave Cappello” was written for our drummer, and attempts in a few words to communicate what I feel about the creative act of making poetry and the collective act of improvising music-that the center does hold despite one's weaving around some unexpressed idea or non-existent tonal center.  Creativity is a vortex through which ideas are constantly rushing, as Ezra Pound said. Poetry does go beyond ordinary speech- it begins and ends in speechlessness-although paradoxically it's always rooted in the “spoken word.”  Just as the improvisational music that the Zappatistas and IAC make is always, it seems to me, rooted in traditional modes, scales, and chord changes of music. But even the traditional jazz that is associated with New Orleans would not have existed if the players had strictly followed the traditions that were handed to them. Jazz sensibility involves innovation, from the start.

My own poetry, I feel, oddly enough, is not as “out” as the music. I write for both the page and the stage, and I'm really just sticking to a practice I've always followed-that the poem must sound good when delivered aloud and stand up to a hundred silent readings on the page.  That's probably as traditional as you can get without writing metrics. My own poetics was formed mostly by the Pound/Olson stream of projective verse, rooted in history and myth, as well by the beat sensibility of personal and pop-cultural reference, and political, spiritual, ecological feelings.

The last section of the book, “Wedding Poems,” includes poems written for my wife on the occasion of our wedding and in the ever-changing, inspiring aftermath.  She's taught me more about living and about myself than anyone ever did and I try to reflect some of that experience in the poems. Some are actually traditional sonnets, while others reflect the sonnet as written by Ted Berrigan.  So I'm working in forms that are canonical and others that are just forty years old, yet are not so “out” by contemporary standards as to be ground-breaking.  I'm not trying to break any new ground, I'm just trying to keep word and music together like the bards of old.

From the book:

from “Wedding Poems”

Raise the earth and fling it to the sky;
embrace the waters wide; reach for the horizon and
take it to your heart.
Let the kiss last the length of your breath
and then she`ll know you mean it,
that no other taste ever tasted like this.
No other feeling ever felt like this.
No other kiss has ever been like this.
What I once pretended is all wasted breath.
Moon-piercing breath, shadows of shadows,
shadow of wasting tides,
a great shout goes out across the ocean.
We gaze through our window at the howling wind
in the light of the exploding castle.

from “Blow”
when walking on earth is miracle itself

when walking on earth is miracle itself
when cities are heat islands
where will you be, ten years on?
if you know what's coming
can you hope?
can you say so, can you say so
if you know what's coming
and will anyone believe you?
can you say so?
if you don't know what's coming and you act anyway
is that hope? or the moment calling?

     maybe hope is
a work of many voices, all of them one voice
     the vision of many eyes, all of them one eye
when you see with one eye you see further
     “you live with your people as well as your ghosts.”

To keep your footing in the tidal wave,
     get used to the water,
take a ride down Carr Drive.

     Objects gathered on Carr Drive:  
a wooden pelican, a weedy shrub grown in a concrete crevice,
a child's life preserver,
a pair of pink goggles, a hard hat, and half a St. Joe brick.
a morning glory twined around a tall weed  
one nearly perfect pair of women's sandals.  

Bridge up, bridge down, the train approaching, the expanse of water growing wider,
the acceptance of change, and the readiness to move on,
     strategy for survival-

maybe hope is the quality of non-expectation radiating love
struggle as if every second counts, or the line goes slack, & you're lost,

doesn't the earth create and maintain the conditions of life?
doesn't the moon rise and counter the steady sun?

where will you be, ten years from now?
where are you now?

what act restores the asylum
when walking on earth is miracle enough?

Cities are heat islands
radiating deep into the night
I woke up early,
quit driving by ten,
the day bicycled under shade trees.

Is hope the desire
for the arrival of
the ideal state of things,
the better day, tomorrow?  

(for the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, 8-29-07,
and commissioned by the St. Tammany Parish Arts Association.)

Dennis Formento:  Participant in 90s explosion of New Orleans poetic arts at the Dragon's Den, Maple Leaf Bar, Sweet Lorraine's and numerous coffeehouses and galleries; published Mesechabe: the Journal of Surregionalism arcing Mississippi Watershed ecology with city culture, N.O. home brewed; recited poetry with free jazz Gilgamesh Orchestra, founded Frank Zappatistas free jazz/free verse band, 2001, inspired by music of Sun Ra; collaborated with dancers, visual artists in New Orleans Dramarama and other venues; joined nucleus of movement to stop David Duke's racist juggernaut; defended women's clinics and protested the “peaceful” atom; sweltered in N.O. humidity, drowned in dead-end jobs; escaped the flood of Katrina in '05; read at Venice Biennale, 2009 and at Locanda Hermann in Rome with a pilgrimage to my father's hometown in between; returned home to teaching and community art, raising okra, still in love with my wife, yogini-artist-teacher Patricia Hart.  “In harm's way-it is a good day to be alive.”

Looking For An Out Place is a 72 page hand-stitched paper book with spine $15.00

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