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The American Duende of the Blues March 7, 2015

Posted by The Typist in Duende, music, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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El Taranto

Dame venemo
Si me quieres dimelo
Y si no dame venemo
Y sal a la calle y si
Yo mate a mi dulce dueno
Con vememo que le di

Give me poison
If you love me, tell it to me
And if not, give me poison
And go out on the street and say
I killed my sweet master
With the poison I gave him

— Traditional cante jondo

I love Irene, God knows I do,
I’ll love her till the seas run dry
But if Irene should turn me down,
I’d take the morphine and die

— Variant verse of “Good Night Irene” by Leadbelly

The continuous glissando of the cantaor’s vocal cords and the bending of notes upon the guitar with hard calloused Black finger or the glide of a bottle neck slide.

What you must search for and find is the black torso of the Pharaoh.
— Andalusian cantaor Manual Torre, to Federico Garcia Lorca, explaining the duende–the “soul” if you will, of cante jondo or deep song; paraphrased from Greg Simon’s introduction to Ralph Angel’s translation of Lorca’s Poem of the Deep Song

Song born of pain, of longing, and of pride. Simon continues:

The apex of Moorish culture, which is represented for eternity by the Alhambra, was hallowed out from below by the brutal, secular incursions of the crusaders and brought to an abrupt end by the reconquest…By the time of the destruction of the Spanish Armada…Andalusia had splintered…and soon sank like a breached caravel from the sight of the world. I’m convinced that Andalusia’s Gypsy cantaores…began to be called upon for the consolation inherent in their art.

‘We are a sad, static people,” Lorca wrote of his fellow Andalusians, ‘people [who] cross their arms in prayer, look at the stars, and wait uselessly for a sign of salvation.’ ‘Static,’ Lorca’s description of the Andalusian…invokes the idea of the power of the force of life, potential energy waiting to be called upon by those who must have it to survive.

The further I go into the cante jondo and Lorca, in search of clues to the duende, a possible explanation for my own familiar demons that express themselves sometime in poetry, it seems impossible not to link the deep song, the cante jondo, to the blues. And if you listen for it, it lurks in the portamento of the fiddles in the saddest low waltzes of the Acadians, America’s closest native-born analog of the Gypsies.

“The black torso of the Pharaoh,” the common link in the Gypsy’s origin myth out of Egypt, out of Africa; the marginalization and suffering of a people who lived in caves above the city, and the Black American experience of their own harsh marginalization (the three fifths), the profound combination of sadness and hope, the constant portamento of the cantaor and the blues player, speaks to me of the universality of the duende. There is a force of unknown origin, the soul, the collective consciousness, or as Lorca relates (quoted from Archer) “…the words of an ancient guitar player who told him the duende pressed up through the crust of the earth and into him through the soles of his feet.”

I stood more than once in a tai chi class and felt myself rooted to the earth, the energy rising up through my own soles to the tips of my extended fingers and continuing by a tenuous but palpable thread to the sky.

As I read Archer’s translation, familiar poems in new clothes, the overwhelming presence of the earth, of the Guadalquivir and other rivers of Andalusia, of the olive grove and the flower, I hear echoes of haiku and the poetry of Asia generally. I am carried back to Ezra Pound’s free translations from the Chinese, in particular to the “Lament of the Frontier Guard” and the “Song of the Bowmen of Shu:”

When we set out, the willows were drooping with spring,
We come back in the snow,
We go slowly, we are hungry and thirsty,
Our mind is full of sorrow, who will know of our grief?
— from “Song of the Bowmen of Shu”

(Wind and dust
Fashion prows of silver.
— Lorca’s “Clamor”)

Lorca, in his published lectures and essays, and in his poetry, speaks often of the cave dwellings of the Gypsies of Andalusia, as do his commentators. Caves, openings into the earth, the place closest to the spirits of the earth. As Lorca himself explains, the duende is not the angel or Greek muse born of heaven, but closer to a demon, a spirit of the earth. The duende follows the ley lines beneath the rock and flowers, circles the earth and–when conjured by by stout hearts with the scent of sorrow–comes forth in the voices and fingers of the poet, the player and the singer.

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That is no country March 15, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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You need one more drop of poison and you’ll dream of foreign lands
— Shane MacGowan’s Sick Bed of Cuchulainn

Somehow sitting on the porch drinking after the St. Patrick’s parade ends up with the Pogues on the stereo, and the song Lorca’s Novena comes up and I find myself dreaming of the intersection of Eire and Andalusia, of politics and poetry, of blood and beauty. I am but 1/16 Irish with not a drop of Spanish blood but this creole mongrel holds no allegiance to any country which does not place its poets above all else.

The Gypsy and the Wind
By Federico García Lorca

Playing her parchment moon
Precosia comes
along a watery path of laurels and crystal lights.
The starless silence, fleeing
from her rhythmic tambourine,
falls where the sea whips and sings,
his night filled with silvery swarms.
High atop the mountain peaks
the sentinels are weeping;
they guard the tall white towers
of the English consulate.
And gypsies of the water
for their pleasure erect
little castles of conch shells
and arbors of greening pine.

Playing her parchment moon
Precosia comes.
The wind sees her and rises,
the wind that never slumbers.
Naked Saint Christopher swells,
watching the girl as he plays
with tongues of celestial bells
on an invisible bagpipe.

Gypsy, let me lift your skirt
and have a look at you.
Open in my ancient fingers
the blue rose of your womb.

Precosia throws the tambourine
and runs away in terror.
But the virile wind pursues her
with his breathing and burning sword.

The sea darkens and roars,
while the olive trees turn pale.
The flutes of darkness sound,
and a muted gong of the snow.

Precosia, run, Precosia!
Or the green wind will catch you!
Precosia, run, Precosia!
And look how fast he comes!
A satyr of low-born stars
with their long and glistening tongues.

Precosia, filled with fear,
now makes her way to that house
beyond the tall green pines
where the English consul lives.

Alarmed by the anguished cries,
three riflemen come running,
their black capes tightly drawn,
and berets down over their brow.

The Englishman gives the gypsy
a glass of tepid milk
and a shot of Holland gin
which Precosia does not drink.

And while she tells them, weeping,
of her strange adventure,
the wind furiously gnashes
against the slate roof tiles.

This is not hell, this is the street. October 13, 2008

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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I was lucky enough to see with my own eyes the recent stock-market crash, where they lost several million dollars, a rabble of dead money that went sliding off into the sea. Never as then, amid suicides, hysteria, and groups of fainting people, have I felt the sensation of real death, death without hope, death that is nothing but rottenness, for the spectacle was terrifying but devoid of greatness… I felt something like a divine urge to bombard that whole canyon of shadow, where ambulances collected suicides whose hands were full of rings.”

— Federico Garcia Lorca

New York (Office and Denunciation)

Under the multiplications,
a drop of duck’s blood;
under the divisions,
a drop of a sailor’s blood;
under the additions, a river of tender blood.
A river that sings and flows
past bedrooms in the boroughs-
and it’s money, cement or wind
in New York’s counterfeit dawn.
I know the mountains do exist.
And without wisdom’s eyeglasses,
too. But I didn’t come to see the sky.
I’m here to see the clouded blood,
the blood that sweeps machines over waterfalls
and the soul toward the cobra’s tongue.
Every day in New York, they slaughter,
four million ducks,
five million hogs,
two thousand pigeons to accommodate the tastes of the dying,
one million cows,
one million roosters
that smash the skies into pieces.

It’s better to sob while honing the blade
or kill dogs on the delirious hunts
than to resist at dawn
the endless milk trains,
the endless blood trains
and the trains of roses, manacled
by the dealers in perfume.
The ducks and the pigeons,
and the hogs and the lambs
lay their drops of blood
under the multiplications,
and the terrified bellowing of the cows wrung dry
fills the valley with sorrow
where the Hudson gets drunk on oil.

I denounce all those
who never think of the other half,
the irredeemable half,
who raise their mountains of concrete
where the hearts of little
forgotten animals beat
and where all of us will fall
in the final fiesta of jackhammers.
I spit in your faces.
That other half hears me,
eating, pissing, flying in their purity,
like the supers’ children
who take their flimsy palettes
to the holes in spaces where
insects’ antennas are rusting.
This is not hell, this is the street.
That is not death. That is the fruit stand.
There are broken rivers and distances just out of reach
in the cat’s paw smashed by a car,
and I hear the song of the worm
in the hearts of many young girls.
Rust, fermentation, earth tremors.
You yourself are earth drifting among numbers in the office
What am I going to do, put the landscapes in their right
places?
Put in good order the loves that soon turn into photographs,
that soon become pieces of wood and mouthfuls of blood?
No, no: I denounce,
I denounce the conspiracy of these deserted offices
which erase the plans of the forest,
and I offer myself as food for the cows milked empty
when their bellowings fill the valley
where the Hudson becomes drunk with oil.

Federico García Lorca, 1929-1930

(translation of the first half of the poem by Greg Simon and Steven F. White)

(translation of the second half of the poem by Galway Kinnell)