Archives for posts with tag: riley tench

listen ill tell ya about th chicken wing
what is see     say
yuv found ths chickn wing in th street
yu pick it up start playn with it
yur showin off fr yr frends
thrown it aroun walkin fancy swing it like a cane
fly wthit jump upanddown eat it beat it
wile thsis goin on yr frends
ar gettn in th car     ther goin away
yuv cum out to say gud by rite?
an yuv found ths chikn wng
wich binow is limp an grey
an as yu stand ther wavn gudby wth the chikn wing
(standn alon in th street wavn gudby wth the chikn wing)
yu kno wat it is
th bone u th chikn wng mvs loos wthin th skin now
fat an muscl hang whn yu shake it
its like yuv stopd on citystreetcornr
tu stand ther in th roar you kno sumthngs goin on
yu see th sky yu feel muvment wthin ya like th wing  chiknwng
© 2014, Riley Tench

Unless you were among the loosely connected — often divided — little community known 20 years ago as “The Peterborough Poets,” most likely you’ve never heard of ”wing 2” by Riley Tench. But every time I read it, I can feel the excitement of its first performance when Riley “found” the discarded chicken wing in the street, when he leaned back on his left foot, his right leg extended like Chaplin while he mimed himself with the twirling wing, “walkin fancy swing it like a cane.” I can still see the wan look of a man pretending, or perhaps remembering, how it was to look down the road long after his friends have departed and the joke is over. It seemed to me then that Riley’s performance of the poem actually got to the point where it peeled aside the urban skin and actually looked at that “muvment,” that “sumthng” that’s always “goin on” to which our words seem only able to point and never name.

When I got to the words on the page, I had the poem in my ear spelled and punctuated in the familiar Essay English of my education. With the exception of my daughter’s infant speech, I’ve never been a writer for whom the spelling of the word itself is a field of experiment. But it’s only a narrow (and yet prevalent) view of appreciation that says one can only enjoy something of the same kind as one’s own work. Rather, like all poems you should love, this one, in its very difference from my work, has only taught me more over time about poetry as a whole.

Content is first. I don’t just mean that in the philosophical sense that if form is an extension of content, the content must be logically prior to form, but in the practical artistic sense that content inspires form. Only certain contents make certain forms possible; every change of form is the expression of a new content also.

The central image of this poem starts as one of civilization’s waste products; it becomes the material for play, then for art, then for vision. A chicken wing is resurrected from the gutter — brought alive again — only to pull the body of its savior back down to the grave. And yet the man, through the wing, glimpses the unnamable both outside and inside himself. Look at the line by line changes in the words “chicken wing”:

1. chicken wing
3. chickn wing
11. chickn wng
13. chikn wing
14. chikn wing
16. chikn wng
20. chiknwng

From lines 1 to 11, the chicken wing decays in language, the way it’s rotting in life, the soft tissue of vowels vanishing. But suddenly, at line 13, when human memory recalls the object, the vowel returns, life resuscitated by art (though not fully; art immortalizes but it cannot give life). Then the wing decays again until the difference between its parts, between it and the rest of the world — the space between “chicken” and “wing” collapses. All of this is happening in the context of the phonetic spelling the poem inherits from cummings to bissett to nichol. That spelling ”system” reminds us of the newness of words. Yet this poem doesn’t just spell the old word in one new way. It spells the word in such a way that the spelling recapitulates the object’s discovery, decay, revitalization by art and the decay again which takes the artist with it. The form of the word recapitulates the content of the poem itself, makes both world and the eyes with which I view it new again.

This is a poem that doesn’t just see the universe in a grain of sand I ignore; it sees it in what repulses me. Not only that, in making the content of the poem teach me how to read its form, it refreshes a spelling device that I had become used to. And thus the poem also renews my wonder at words, the instruments of poetic insight. It’s a truism that all real poetry explores the world and the word at once. It’s one thing to know that, another to feel it, to have a poem that I can always go to to find that feeling again.

The Daily

Let us romanticize shit. Yesterday’s dinner, diaper curled away from
pelvis like petals of a tiger lily, examined shit, yes, today
everything is working thank you. Speaking from the gut, we are
successful parents; let us say the new diaper is a fresh page. It will
hold the questions posed by a magnificent poem, say the whole half-
truth of literature itself—surely the analogy is at hand, though it
comes far removed from the body worshipped by the brooding
bachelors of Academy and Romance. But consider how a good firm
shit is a sign this past resembled the past before it, the future will be
good, the gods smiled and we loved well when sent the invitation
of a fertile egg. So far our daughter has nothing to regret which is
why we mourn every stage that brings her closer to us; at the same
time we mark up one more without trauma (so we say), her
inimitable smell seizing consciousness through the nose and writing
in big letters on the brain, You must change your kid.
© 2014, Richard Harrison
reprinted from the New Quarterly, 1999.

There will never be a ceasefire.
The struggle is armed.

The stutter of the gun
mocks your charming attempt

at speech.  Your words
fall like iron in the sudden

silence of the battle.
Snow in the trenches.

sunlight in columns
torture beauty from

broken metal, from
rags your comrades wear.

Beer and bad food,
warmth for your feet;

you march, you march. You
hear the drum, the staccato

command, the siren and the horn.

Rage, you rage.

The lark still sings
the drum   the drum   the drum

© Riley Tench 1980/ 2014

It is fascinating — I planned to post this poem tonight — yesterday our Parliament was violated — I’m not sure it was attacked because he was ill if you ask me — and he has paid for his folly. And a wonderful man has paid for it — that is the cruelty.
I hope his savage act causes the opposite of what he intended. We are not a nation riven — we are more united — I never would have believed the Prime Minister would cross the floor, and hug each of the leaders of the opposing parties, but he did — strange times. Perhaps it is not too late to heal.
Riley understood we live in strange times. He reveled in it — he feared it — he prophesied it. He danced upon the brink not to say what a pleasure — but to say — think of the treasure — what can be lost if we stumble but a moment.
This is another poem Riley wrote for Theatr Kathartik. It reflects the Verfremdungseffekt of Brecht — I think perfectly.
Riley may have seemed random … but he was not.

let us walk through
the ruins of beirut   my love
come   your skin is glowing
and your teeth shine
in the light of the fires

we hear our desire in the siren
our passion in the sound of gunfire
flares hang like stars in our eyes
and explosions fill our heads

shouts and cries    running feet
the drum of marching is our music
they’re playing our song and we are
in love  we dance on clouds
we are walking with the bombs

shall we lie down my love
in the strewn pieces of the city
soft stone will be our bed
the quiet witness of moonlight
our coverlet

© Riley Tench 1980/ 2014

<riley wrote this poem for Theatr Kathartic, which John Tench and I both performed in 34 odd years ago. seems not much has changed sadly. wm>

He guarded me. Laughed with me and made me laugh.
He hugged me, inspired me, awed me and made me proud.
Stood up for us, looked up for us, made us look down and explore the ground as well as the skies around.
He carried us across many a river. Drove cars for us, got lost with us and then helped us find our way. He taught me how to read a compass, orient my way and find edible wilds. To jar jams and brew interesting concoctions, teas and drinks and pickled watermelon sugars.
He showed me where the North Star hung always motionless never changing in its crowded domain there just off the Bear, which we call the Dipper. He philosophized with me and then laughed with me to not take is so seriously with a wink and a glint and a kiss and a smile.
He led the way down steep winter hills on skis and told me it was okay to be afraid. Led me down forest paths, with bear bells and rose hips for tea. Up roads and cross countries, hikes thru fields and times on the lakes and down south and across historic Seas.
He taught me things each day about poetry, music, art and we laughed at my attempts at Comedy and he cried at my Drama which he always loved and I think of him when I see these familiars and dwell in the thoughts of his poetry and the distant memories. Brother, confidante, consigliere, Poet, actor, singer songster, Son and Father, gone now but always remembered cause he left us all with something strong.

© John Tench, 2014

Riley is dead.
I remember a time when no one would come to our poetry readings, and Riley, all black bursting curls of how else would you describe it but poetic hair? said to me “Fuck them all! We will go where they are!”
I knew exactly what he was thinking and where he was thinking of going. So, I said “Then we are going to have to be awfully fucking good – or they will kill us.”
“Exactly,” Riley replied, simultaneously wild-eyed and sensible.
So it came that we walked coolly, coldly, because it was a Canadian winter night and it was fucking cold and that was good because we were hot and aware of what we were planning, and we walked into the Hangman’s bar and we ordered beers and stood around smoking joints for awhile with anyone that knew us, and we were only starting to be afraid, so we smoked and drank some more, and then Riley said “it’s time.”
I sat down with the loudest, hecklingest bastards in the room, and Riley calmly climbed onto a table and addressed the crowd who by this point were momentarily silent, perhaps stunned:
“No one wants to hear my poetry —
So fuck my poetry – who needs poetry!”
(Except you kind of have to hear it, this is a wild eyed
black haired flaming man of inordinate handsomeness and heat,
exceptionally loud, and he stressed the word fuck so lustfully
it was as if he caressed it in front of us—
and the room falls dead silent.)
Then he hollers like Jimmy Swaggart North
Fuck poetry – who needs poetry
fuck this shirt – who needs this shirt?”
and he begins to tear that t-shirt from his body.
He rips it off, not slowly, lovingly,
but fighting the material every inch,
the damn fucking thing is not tearing
nothing is going as planned because
we didn’t plan a goddamned thing—
and so far Riley is succeeding beyond our wildest dreams.
“Yeah! tell us about your goddamn poetry,” I shout.
And Riley shouts back “What the fuck do YOU know about poetry?”
I turn to these tattooed mustachioed bastards beside me and we all shout,
“Go ahead you fucking asshole — tell us a poem,”
as if we planned it that way,
as if Riley just happened to be standing on a table ripping his shirt off
waiting to be asked to recite a poem.
So he chants, he declaims, he spouts impossibilities
that make people laugh and clap and shout back.
Now I get up on the table (one of the first table dancers of Ontario —remember, it was illegal back then) pouting poesy at the bikers I played euchre with every Tuesday, shouting, declaiming, spouting such profound pro bono implausibilities that I invent an unforgettable poem ON THE SPOT (which will not be repeated here), until everyone in the room was shouting with me and at me, and Riley is back up on his table shouting me, and every one else, down with another blast of words that takes them by storm, and it is a revival meeting of voice and poem and chant and a wild-eyed black haired sprout leading them all, Dionysos belting it out one more time and all the Maenads go wild … .
And so it begins.
The Ex-TEMP-or-ANEOUS Peterborough Poets Riley calls us. The poets come to us, because they want in on the occasion, to rise to the occasion, to BE the occasion, and it is wild and wooly, naïve and invulnerable, obsessive and artistic – and that is just one of us – imagine a room full (it would seem that way though there might be 6, or 4, or 8 of us – the numbers were fluid, it was the nature of the thing) and when it got too much for us, we would road-trip to Ottawa, or Toronto and go to a bar and jump on the tables to prove to ourselves we weren’t just local, until we spilled into our city, our country, radio and television to find others just like us, get another toehold into a place we could invade with our words, as if we could consume the entire world in one perfect moment, one perfect phrase.
And Ian David Arlett came, with poems even better than ours, and delivery better than ours, and we were sore afraid, and gave him room on the table;
And Michael Dennis, who simply had no fear, could read a poem that would cause such opposition and anger that he would fan it into a flame that would become a flash fire that lit everyone’s candle as surely as he left them slightly singed;
Richard Harrison, who would stand on a table after all this, and recite poems – POEMS! — barefaced, bald in your face, POEMS and everyone would just … shut up and listen, and none of us could ever figure out how he did it, so we never told him “don’t”;
and Dennis Tourbin who was older and an adult and a painter and some kind of poet/ artist who came from Port Dalhousie, whose paintings were full of words and poems full of paint – and he wanted in, so we said “Grab a table,” and he did —
and we were a Hit – a Smash – we were lit with flames and we knew it and liked it and wanted more.

And we got more – we all did – in our own way. Tourbin painted and poemed and travelled the globe to artistic events where he was acclaimed as artist and poet; Richard has books and publications and was nominated for the Governor General’s Award; Michael has more books than all of us combined, both published and self-published;
and me – I rocked and I rhymed, lived as Rilke advised, started a business that flew high and then died – started a family, and then one of us died — and I was struck dumb for 7 years and my heart turned to stone – but now I must try to apply old alchemy, to remember, to make ode, to sing elegy.

Because Riley is dead.
Because I want my brother back.
Now that you have heard,
stop …
wait for the shirt to tear –
listen, Listen! With All Your Heart,
all anyone needs written plain to see —
this beautiful man stands on a table before you and demands,

© Ward Maxwell. 2014

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