Thursday, April 20, 2006
Cross n' Mix: Michael Cross among his Bachelors (Intro)*
It is circa 1974-76. Birth of Hip-Hop in South Bronx, NY. Young Blacks, Whites and Latinos are taking their parents’ Soul & Disco records and mixing them together to create what we might now call “sound collages” -- mixes, *bricolage*. The DJ and MC are still one function: bachelor machines opening and closing among their records, turntables, mixers, microphones, wires (those valves of communal sound systems). They will not split into separate functions for a few years. These origins two or so years before mine or Cross’s.
Primordial Hip-Hop and its continuous innovations into our present rely on shock effect. Torque or the tactics of surprising. We may say something similar of the three art forms that constitute Hip-Hop as an aesthetic - rapping, breakdancing, and aerosol art; that their effectiveness is in a perceptive lag-time. Recognitions come astonishingly, enjoyably, to those made to wait. In “Wild Style” graffiti, arrows lead the viewer’s eyes along tropes from legible tags. As in the three-card-monty, invisibilities -- visual losses which can lead to economic ones –- return us to presences: the nut under the shell, leitmotif cards. Likewise, in popping & locking, bodily expressions point away from events that may or may not occur; time flows in multiple directions. Favorite rap songs are ones that leave us in aural-syntactical gaps. Syntax presents and absents semantic values.
While much has been written about the connection between Jazz & Modern/New American Poetry, little has been said relating "innovative" poetry since the 70’s and Hip-Hop aesthetics (nor those of Post-Punk or Techno). With this acknowledged I would admit into the record that before Cross read, wrote, edited & printed poetry, he was of course well on his way to becoming a rapper – an MC not just in initials. This turn to poetry, so he has told me, was made so as to improve his rapping.
In his introduction to *Involuntary Vision*, a collection of poems written by various poets after Akira Kurosawa’s film, *Dreams*, Cross writes: “To a certain extent, these poems are examples of our most popular contemporary art form – the remix; they rework and distill Kurosawa’s originals so that certain elements are amplified, while others distort.” Like rap music and DJ culture, Cross’s *New Brutalism* may find tuition in radical remixings of language imagined and found. New Brutalists are for Cross similar geniuses of torqued reappropriation.
As I have approached it in our [unpublished] Rust Talk (epc.buffalo.edu/ezines/rust), perhaps Michael’s affinities with re-mix artists accounts for the title of his short collection of poems after Kurosawa’s film, *gamut – for l.z.*. The “gamut” Cross’ title alludes to is of course that last poem L(ouis)Z(ukofsky) wrote for publication after his book of poems, *80 Flowers*, and that was to be first in his never completed (however projected0 collection, *90 Trees*. The title “Gamut” may be crucial as it would seem to reflect on the form of *80 Flowers*, and LZ’s late-poetics in general. As scholar Michelle Legott writes of the word gamut in the conclusion of her book, *Reading Louis Zukofsky’s 80 Flowers*:
A marriage of partners produces – a zygote; which, says the Century, is the same as a zygospore, from zygon (yoke) and spora (seed). Z-yoked gametes, in Zukofsky parlance? Did he see also the definition of a zygospore: “in botany, a spore formed in the process of reproduction in some algae and fungae by the union or conjugation of two similar gamates.” “Gamut,” encompassing the musical gamma-ut and the gamut of years which will take it into the twenty first century and the seventh millenium, may conceivably make the first step of that trajectory by alluding to gametes that find each other (they “meet” for a “gam” – endless talk?) in order then to “marry” and make of themselves a “z” yoke, a zygote, a zygosphere; the seed of things to come. Perhaps even a book of trees.
*80 Flowers*, along with *“A – 22”* and *“A – 23”* (the last two movements of *“A”* completed by Zukofsky), is considered by many to be the poet’s attainment of a linguistic-textual limit insofar as there inheres in the poems a maximum of sounded intellectual-torque between individual words and textual units. Where to go if a limit has been reached? Questions of limits lead me into the ways Cross may be interpreting the late Zukofsky thru his own *gamut*. Aren’t he and Zuk both acting as textual geneticists? In both poets, words and phrases are spliced not towards presupposed organic actualities, but for an eschatology revealing transcendent "natural" forms in cultural products. The 70’s Zuk. & Cross may both be Duchampian bachelor machines of language. Cyborgs of detritus and language shipwrecked by empire, decussated or molded to their ecstatic standstills. [Cross's debts to the "molds" of Matthew Barney, Peter Eisenman, and Rachael Whiteread should be the object of another essay].
I am to be innocent food
where there cant
runs to the things
The Desolation Ruins
a kind of weepy brush
and so lurking
some embarrassed by
the martial life
I’m sorry for the nuclear
made night hurts
of a single horn.
--from "gamut -- for l.z."
During Barrett Watten’s talk on “Negativity” this past Fall, Michael was sitting beside me in the audience and at one point I glanced at his notebook. On the open page he had written: “Oakland – Detroit – Bflo: a connection?" Indeed a connection between these Second World American urban scapes, these places of ruined conveyance. And after a connection, what? A break, an arrow, a splice, a suture, a cut. An event.
*Given as an introduction to Cross's Spring 2004 reading, Another Reading series, Buffalo (curated by Barbara Cole, Gordon Hadfield, and Sasha Steensen).