SING ME ONE SONG OF EVOLUTION by VERNON FRAZERMARY JO MALO Reviews
Sing Me One Song of Evolution by Vernon Frazer
(Beneath the Underground Books, Conn, 1998)
An Unchained Melody
There was nobody to compose the song Vernon Frazer demanded to hear, so eventually he wrote it himself. Thirty-three years would pass before he finally decided which instruments to use.When he emerged from beneath the underground, Frazer held the keys of jazz and poetry. That was the moment he was unchained to freely express his genius and human longing.
What irony. A product of evolution skillfully arranges language into poetry which questions evolution, the process of which Charles Darwin contemplates, "What a book a Devil's Chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering low and horridly cruel works of nature." Richard Dawkins views natural selection as the blind watchmaker, blind because it doesn't see ahead, doesn't plan consequences, or have a purpose in view. There is no devil nor designer, intelligent or otherwise; and as for the metaphorical watch, let's simply say it adjusts and repairs itself until time runs out.
Sing Me One Song of Evolution is not merely an education about Tourette Syndrome, nor an argument for adaptation and survival through creative writing. It's an exposition on reciprocal altruism. Frazer's signature existential phenomenology of alterity and existence/essence is obvious. This collection of poems is also not a call to prayer nor qualifies as victim genre. It is a holy rant sanctified by the tears of the reader. I pause and reflect after each poem, and immersed in anger and sorrow, I read on. The melody and counterpoint are woven throughout his choice volcanic utterances; between the warp of his lines; at the unwelcome margins of his loom; and in the blessed relief of its empty spaces.
The book begins gently, quietly as Frazer relates to the characters in "The Boy With Green Hair." I'm reminded of Dylan Thomas' understanding of The force that through the green fuse drives the flower, Drives my green age; that blasts the roots of trees, Is my destroyer -and- Time held me green and dying, Though I sang in my chains like the sea. Some poets succumb to the sorrow, yet others fight on toward another destiny.
My earliest memory,
at three: crying after this movie
because I wanted green hair . . .
transformed my flicker of memory
into some small foreshadowing of destiny . . .
an afterthought wishing for
an Uncle Charlie while the kids
in school tore at the aura
my head fluttered and jerked . . .
(Please note that most poetry excerpts are not in Frazer's original format.)
Slowly and steadily, the anger and sarcasm simmer in the title poem, "Sing Me One Song of Evolution." It's the story of an Enrico Fermi (the Eagles) High School student, ostracized then punished, and Frazer's own memories:
For giving the unforgiving
Eagle the bird
Andy pays for his words
with a two-day suspension . . .
"He's always wanted to fit in, always
tried & found himself outside,"
I read his mother said to the press
Ah, yes! Thirty years of reflection
past my anguished introspection
& I still can't detect a change
but that the torturers
have turned teachers
& their kids wear their genes
The snarling ensues as he reflects on "The Sane, Nice People and An Afternoon Break":
. . . The sane
try their balanced
lives to balance
with which we eat
is the madness
we measure with
our attacks . . .
that starts them chattering so
how unsightly my
seems to them.
I'm surly? Surely.
like nice people
I'm strange to them
for wanting and finding them
for not wanting
to test the festering flesh
a life grip
the modest morsels they claim for themselves
like nice people
as they block
the way to my hunger . . .
and the nearly unbearable bring-your-kids-to-work day:
All morning the assholes
trotted in their kids. The office
oozed with oohs, ahs
& accolades just
for breeding. I snarled
The fools! Their fertile
clichés birthed from
barren lives make me puke . . .
I break away
when I can. Like today
when I watched
a schoolgirl hand
a dandelion to her crossing guard
& broke a grin.
Humor and anger fuel the outrageous "Machine-Made Madness At the Self-Service Pump" as he battles the faux communicator known as the computerized gas pump. This mock-u-mentary is hilarious stock dialogue also found in Frazer's works of fiction.
Few of us can do the "Demon Dance" like one who battles both a neurological disorder and Hodgkin’s Disease, who descends into chemo-hell and screams out jazz rhythms of the legendary John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders. This poem must be seen and heard entirely to grasp the pain it depicts.
Brief, temporary relief is in the poignant tale of "The Secret Life of Blondie L'amour."
Frazer’s joyful experience with jazz shapes the poem, "In Memory of John Coltrane, 1926-1967" with the way he spoke to the ears at the edge of seeing, the golden sound soaring:
before you can know it
you have to see
before you can show it
before you can go
sound becomes light
& night a roaring glow
of peaceful thunder
"Guidelines for Going Postal over Guidelines at the Post Office" rants about guidelines for poetry contests and federal aviation security. Funny when he wrote it, but now alarming because it lands you in prison. Forget the psych-ward of a hospital.
"Tourettic Possession Rant/Dance" is the central movement of the book. This, "Discoveries of the Damned" and "Ranting in the Mirror" (an interview/dialogue with the personified syndrome, variously disguised) which comprise the last half of the book and are the best poems. He informs us that he "uses the unique construction of people with Tourette Syndrome that documents the experience and uses structures rooted in the Tourettic mind to express the experience of living in isolation. Several poems offer biting commentaries on the injustices inflicted on people with Tourette. Others offer light-hearted glimpses of Tourettic mental and social lapses. Many poems in this collection use Tourettic symptoms such as echolalia an coprolalia as expressive devices. Several jazz poems employ repetitive Tourettic phrasing the way a jazz musician uses repetition to structure a solo's theme and variations." To appreciate how Frazer accomplishes this, you must see these poems.
the biochemical dance, neurons
entrancing my brain, rapture captured
in the Tourettic spin
serotonin & dopamine whirling
CHEMICAL ELECTRICITY !
I AM THE DANCE OF MY
supercharged cells, swelling synapses
motion & emotion merging,
urging the breakthrough to
THE PRIMAL LINK
beyond the containment
I AM THE DANCE OF
. . .
not by demons
but by its spin.
Some would call my energy sinful
& punish me for eclipsing
DAY WITH NIGHT
. . .
They say the bastards burned us at the stake
as witches (but just hung us in Salem). We know
they shun us, now as then, for shunning the proprieties
of the justly organized & God-fearing societies
from which they exclude us.
We intrude, ticcing lips sneering.
throats clearing to challenge
the verities given
by the pre-Ordained
the Forgiven, for giving
our faces bright
with the inner
light of possession.
Their faces bright with the inner
light of possession
"Discoveries of the Damned:" asks if he (or we) are the sum of our parts. Should anyone be medicated against their better judgment, only to become pleasant, slow and numb?
that added himself up in isolation
that survived situations of gratuitous cruelty
in the mysterious forest
of people, schools, playgrounds & jobs
that is more than the night of my mind.
in the light of my mind, if doctors looked, they would see
the cruelty even they inflict on me
when their rigorous analysis dismisses my humanity
as I try to explain how I came to the way
I AM, THE SUM OF
. . .
Disinhibition, with its raw fight or flight, spontaneous utterances, and involuntary movements have been speculated as a missing link in human evolution. Disinhibition is also how profound acts of love begin. Vernon Frazer's poetry is the careful and voluntary craft of his staying and fighting. This is the hero's quest, a monomyth begun with necessity and ending when the hero emerges with something of great value for the community of the other wounded. Sing Me One Song of Evolution takes me uncomfortably deeper inside myself and brings me out again with an inspired appreciation of our unique gifts for others. But it is also an important creative link to his newest works: Avenue Noir, Holiday Idylling, and IMPROVISATIONS.
Once desperate and driven, he now can create the song of his life through his work and vice-versa. It may have taken millions of years to create the singularity known as Vernon Frazer, but it was worth it. If only more would "write" for each another such honest "poems" as we find in this collection, we will have traveled to the end of our present trajectory, this level of evolution -- communication with Other. He never had the luxury of being inauthentic, and he certainly knew that others would act in bad faith. Simone de Beauvoir said that relationship dynamics require the ethics of ambiguity, a struggle of the immanent with the transcendent.
And so nearly like the tides, when my emotion ebbs, or when I'm exceptionally cynical or reclusive, I return and hear his melody. I need its intimate honesty and passion. It's important to remember that we're not alone in this adventure; or that perhaps we are, but we have the privilege of engagement from time to time.
Vernon Frazer can be contacted directly at: email@example.com. Jazz/ poetry readings of The Sane, Nice People, and Demon Dance are available on CD.
Mary Jo Malo describes herself as a continuing undergrad in the School of Hard Knocks. In a former life she worked as a sales, marketing, and advertising coordinator for a manufacturer of large electrical power apparatus. In 1993 she was disabled in an auto accident in the Rocky Mts. of Colorado. Never fully recovered and forced into early retirement, she’s had abundant time to pursue her favorite poetry and philosophy, cosmology and evolution. These days as novice to modern poetics, she’s been delighted to discover the Beat and post-Beat writers, among many others. She is host and moderator of the 'new and improved' Company of Poets, a poetics mailing list/discussion group. You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to subscribe.