Wednesday, February 14, 2018



Guitar Tech by Mark Sonnenfeld
(Marymark Press, 2017)

We begin by locating, specifically and actively, the semic qualities of the cover: GUITAR, all caps, slanting slightly downwards towards the right, likely cut-and-pasted rather than typed; similar for TECH, again all caps, black background, cut-and-pasted, slightly less of a tilt to the right; a couple of spaces to the right, a closing parenthesis, not tilted, starting a couple of spaces down from GUITAR  and ending just barely below the bottom of TECH. GUITAR and TECH are almost, but not quite, centered, vertically and horizontally. Several spaces down from TECH is the phrase "by Mark Sonnenfeld". It begins near the left margin and slants downwards towards the right, at slightly more of an angle than GUITAR. It is a simple and elegant design, and it holds our attention for a moment.

We open the book and the poems begin immediately, on the inside cover. The first line -- this book consists of only one long poem -- on the first page is

       Things -

-- that's it. It could hardly be more complete (without becoming the first line in Creeley's Pieces):

       As real as thinking

-- which leaves us slightly shaken by our own destabilized attentiveness when faced with the uncompromising and uncompromisable facticity of this poetry. It persuades and/or permits us, as readers, to attend to every aspect of its presence on the page, and to stay on the page with it. If we stray from time to time, between the letters (where we are often given more than the normally necessary space), or while gliding, in slowed saccadic rhythms, along the tilt of a baseline, to allusions or associational extrapolations, we don't linger a way for long. The presence on the page of these poems calls our attention back to the fact of what is there, and that is finally what we want, specifically, from these particular poems, while also being what these poem require of us.

I first got in touch with Mark 25 years ago, either late in 1993 or early in 1994, and since then I have probably seen at least 200 of his chapbooks and give out sheets. I'm a longtime fan. In 2001 I wrote a couple of short essays on his work. This is from "Left To Die", published by the Muse Apprentice Guild in 2002 (and also in Rascible & Kempt Vol. 1, Luna Bisonte Prods, 2016):

                                                     when Mark Sonnenfeld says he's an
experimental writer, I believe him. This from an interview: 3) "you claim
the title 'experimental writer'. explain." "I experiment with thought and
with language. This I do in print and on audio. I am always seeking out new
methods and frequencies to write in. I like running tests. I feel there is
no failure in a test, only another door that is revealed. There is a great
deal one person can do if they so aspire. You need to unplug the television,
give up the money factor, tune-out the hype, tune-in to yourself & your
world and do your thing." If this is what an experimental writer does, I'm
all for it. If this is what experimental writing is all about, then the
avant-garde should give up being the avant-garde and become experimental.

In Mark Sonnenfeld's "Jewish Hair and Neptune" I wrote a page-long list describing some of the techniques and procedures he used in making/shaping, writing that chapbook. I could easily do something similar with Guitar Tech.

The top half of page 2 is taken up by an abstract lyric poem, and the bottom half is filled with a text/image graphic score. Instructions for tuning the tongue should neither be missed nor dismissed.

Here I quote in full the final section of page 3, for the musicality of its floating sememes, for the noisic lyricism of its oblique semantics, hopelessly adrift and taking us along on precisely that adventure:

   Sorry maid makes it weird in
   in a movement         ( imitates )
a! T  v  B  v  v  Vamp says
      Staccato's a blow
                          the M visibly so

On page 5 Sonnenfeld offers two passages of clear homeophonic transduction, English-to-English, associational improvisation as an "interrogation of the surface of the text" (to borrow an extremely useful phrase from Edmund Jabes). The first line on the page is:

       as suggestion writes or sank such

followed by

       guttural helmet
       guitar hermit

This is pure letteral wordplay, the 'g' and the 'u' and  the 't' retained in the shift from guttural to guitar, the 'h' the 'e' and the 'm' retained in the movement from helmet to hermit. The final line collapses (condenses) the words in the previous two lines, retaining the initial 'g' and the final 't' and preserving from everything between a single 'e'.

In the center of the page we find the following, which might remind us of Kerouac's spontaneous bop prosody:

O Got Go god got going gets the Hell Electric

Maybe, more precisely, it might remind us of what has been called Kerouac's babble flow. Here is Clark Coolidge talking about Kerouac at Naropa in 1991:

Here's a take I had on it at one point: Pressure off words so they pile and collide in and he hears them in mind as if spoken by another. Words, then, are fresh solids of the just heard. And a line by Kerouac: "infantile pile-up of scatalogical buildup." Increasing density turns the mind-ear away from impulse or remembered image toward sound as material for the making. Then Kerouac says, in Old Angel Midnight: "The total turning about & deep revival of world robe-flowing literature till it shd be something a man'd put his eyes on & continually read for the sake of reading & for the sake of the Tongue & not just these inspidid stories writ in insipid aridities & paranoias bloomin & why yet the image-let's hear the Sound of the Universe, son." So, here's a sample of Kerouac's Babble Flow.So, here's a sample of Kerouac's Babble Flow.

Aw rust rust rust rust die die die pipe pipe ash ash die die ding dong ding ding ding rust cob die pipe ass rust die words- I'd as rather be permiganted in Rusty's moonlight Rork as be perderated in this bile arta panataler where ack the orshy rosh crowshes my tired idiot hand 0 Lawd I is coming to you'd soon's you's ready's as can readies by Mazatlan heroes point out Mexicos & all ye rhythmic bay fishermen don't hang fish eye soppy in my Ramadam give--dgarette Sop of Arab Squat--the Berber types that hang fardels on their woman back wd aslief Erick some son with blady matter I guess as whup a mule in singsong pathetic mule-jump field by quiet fluff smoke North Carolina (near Weldon) (Railroad Bridge) Roanoke millionaire High-Ridge hi-party Hi-Fi million-dollar findriver skinfish Rod Tong Apple Finder John Sun Ford goodby Paw mule America Song-

I guess you either hear the music of that or you don't.

The next page in Guitar Tech begins:

       Doesn't want a Parental Advisory Rather

So, after 25 years of reading Mark Sonnenfeld, that's the message, that's what I've learned from looking at his pages, each of which is almost always a visual poem in itself, and from listening to his poems, each of which is almost always a score for a noisic sound poem:

1) he neither needs nor wants any "adult" supervision (he knows exactly what he's doing)
2) we can either see and hear what he's doing, or not; it's up to us.

Kick out the jams, Mark. I'm watching and listening, loving every minute of it.



Jim Leftwich is a poet who lives in Roanoke, Virginia. Recent publications include  Volumes 1 , 2  &  3  of  Rascible & Kempt (Luna Bisonte 2016, 2017, edited by John M. and C. Mehrl Bennett), Tres tresss trisss trieesss tril trilssss: Transmutations of César Vallejo (Luna Bisonte, 2018) and Sound Rituals, collaborative poems by jim leftwich & billy bob beamer (mOnocle-Lash, 2018, edited by Olchar Lindsann).