Perambulating the Bounds

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Cecil Taylor and Charles Olson

Stumbled across this interview with Cecil Taylor done in 1994, focusing on his poems and his engagement with poetry (and other art forms). It’s on the SUNY Buffalo Electronic Poetry Center website. As a student of Charles Olson and someone increasingly fixated on Cecil Taylor, I was so happy to find the following passage. Chris Funkhauser did the interview.


Taylor: I would say that it is difficult. Do you know Creeley's book The Island? Well, I read that. The thing-- Olson, Charles Olson might be easier to talk about, or Bob Kaufman, but the thing that allows me to enter into what they do is the feeling that I get. It's the way they use words. It's the phraseology that they use, much the way the defining characteristic of men like Charlie Parker or Johnny Hodges is the phraseology. And in the phraseology would be the horizontal as well as the vertical. In other words, the harmony and the melodic. Well, I also see that in word structures. One of the things I've found maybe odd about Quincy Troupe was that--and you used the phrase before, the tensions were always the same, the ideation was always bracketed in a particular kind of language with no abatement. Always the same kind of thing. And I find that true in a lot of rap that I hear. But then again I don't even want to talk about that kind of necessarily--I mean that's something else.

I'm very moved by the Kabuki theatre, and the usage of the voice there, and the movement there. And, of course, the Butoh dancing comes, is the modern development perhaps of the Kabuki.

Yeah, Olson, and particularly Duncan and Creeley--their syntactical structure was the thing that got, that I really liked. And I hear--Roi at a certain point had that too, had that. His of course was different. Ishmael [Reed] had it at a certain point but I wasn't too interested in it with him. In other words, what I'm talking about is the music, the music, the language. Like Genet has a language that is fascinating because it is so multi-faceted. It's real but it's not unreal, and what is unreal to us is real to him, and what is real to us is unreal to him. And yet when you really follow what Edmund White [Genet's biographer] is talking about, he's like making this man come alive by in a way not denuding of his magic, but making his magic more accesible to others. It's a dense book. It's also history of Cocteau, and of course that Sartre, and [Simone] de Beauvoir. And there was an Algerian poet who wrote a very small book about Genet, about a hundred pages, and that book was fascinating. When I asked Allen [Ginsberg] about this Genet book, he said, "Well, yes, I looked at it." He said, "Burroughs read it." He said he looked in it to see if his name was mentioned. Indeed. [Laughs] No, he would not be mentioned. As a matter of fact, Genet was asked by this Algerian, what did he think of Tennessee Williams? And he said, "I never think of Tennessee Williams."

Funkhouser: There was one place where Baraka wrote about your music as having "an emphasis on total area...giving it means to evolve, to move as an intelligently shaped musical concept" which is an idea seemingly relates to Olson's concept of...

Taylor: Projective Verse? Hmm...

Funkhouser: A movement towards form via activity--or activity via form--whichever way it works, though it's probably form through activity...

Taylor: Form through activity, or, the function determines the form, or is it the form that determines the function? I think it's the function that determines the form. So, yeah, through activity, yes.

Funkhouser: And total area. Olson used the page, and there's more to that connection when I think of your writing. The way that historical concepts, those "distant valleys," and mythology, your present--present moment, past moment and future projected. It seems like since you know Duncan and Olson that maybe...

Taylor: Oh, certainly they had an influence on me, sure. Also Mike McClure.

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