First Stirring(s) Happen in my Ear Before the Razor of "Dragontooth Children Blues"

 Click here to read “Dragontooth Children Blues” by John Sullivan.

… first stirring(s) of a poem usually happen in my ear: a beat, or a more complex rhythmic pattern, a phrase, the quirky interplay of slurred inflections, a clip of conversation in search of a context, maybe even the shadow of an actual lyric …

… from that point of emergence the sound loops back on itself, passes through changes in pattern and pitch, and warms up its chops like an actor, backstage, before s(h)e hits the boards …

… these shifts and rhythmic stutter-steps attract content by association, layering on images, statements, questions-questions-questions in an impasto-like texture. Connections develop, or not. It’s a coruscating process, shedding sparks but retaining their heat.

Dragontooth Children Blues (DTCB) began as a very basic shuffle blues with a more or less standard turnaround. (Think Mississippi John Hurt’s “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” as a lyric pattern: though DTCB isn’t nearly as sweet as John Hurt’s voice.)

The second phase jazzes up the sound-scape with rhythmic variation (rubato) and repeating sound / statement / beat / image motifs (ostinato). Elements collide and probe for openings to stitch themselves together. Like neuronal receptors: they embrace their agonists OR struggle, as antagonists, for authority to voice.

The last phase splays the poem spatially and conceptually with glosses, amendments, contradictions, mirror echoes and asides (like in a playscript). The touchstone here is Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s statement on free jazz and its core intent: “the more it works, the more you gotta’ fight the groove.” The relationship of rhythmic patterns and repetitions is recontextualized. The ostinato effect gains significance as a homing beacon straight from the heart of the original deep-blues structure. Ideally, the sound / image-scape expands as images and concepts (and their specific gravity) are enhanced. This part doesn’t always happen as hoped for but, then again, an ultimate groove should never be the object of desire. If all the elements align, this is where the piece discovers its intention to really be a poem.


The core of Dragontooth Children Blues is personally indelible: past threaded deeply into present, always clear and available. We’re doing a theatre workshop inside the Pima County Jail (Tucson AZ) – in a pod for “adjudicated juvenile offenders” waiting to turn 18 so they can legally be sent to a state prison to serve their stretch as adults. We use some old-school prompts for ideas and scene-building: ancient Greek story-myths with an emphasis on action. Cadmus and the Dragon’s Teeth makes quite an impact, especially the finale where warriors spring up from the planted field and fight each other to the death for a beautiful jewel. Everyone’s quiet at the end, and then a single voice pipes up: “That’s about us,” and all these wary eyes turn his way, sizing each other up like boxers at the beginning of a match where they stare fear me into each other’s eyes, and then bump gloves. “Yeah,” said another, “we’re in that movie.”

(With due respect and tribute to the major source codes informing my polyphonic experiments: John Berryman, Juan Felipe Herrera, Rodrigo Toscano and Kathy Acker.)


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