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Betrayal and the Maligned Sound of the Cuckoo: A text/music Spin on Collaboration

- Frances Kruk

[This is a version of a talk I gave at the textmusictext symposium at Birkbeck College, 23 April, 2009. In it I discuss a work of poetry by Sean Bonney, which the two of us later developed into improvised musical performances, one of which was performed at The Horse Hospital on the evening following the symposium. The entirety of  The Commons is available as a PDF from Sean Bonney.]

 

A spin in every sense. The purpose is to drag you into the woods and leave you there, disoriented, probably covered with mud, and vulnerable to attacks by dole officers, Lockheed-Martin employees, faerie queenes, and zombies - all of whom want your body and soul. It is in this space that the cuckoo bird dwells, the soothsaying double-agent that oversees a landscape wrought with the "displacement, restlessness, [and] homelessness" (Marcus, 118), of the folk and their memories. This is the space in which Sean Bonney's poetic sequence The Commons1 has its roots, and where the sensations above are explored and amplified through a poetry of uncompromising savagery. I wish to introduce the poems by discussing broadly what I consider to be their themes and compositional techniques, and then the role these interpretations played in developing the musical aspect of my collaborative project with Bonney. Along this path I will touch briefly on the general relationship between text and music, and on the nature of collaboration as alluded to in the title of this spin.

I wish to make clear from the start that my interpretations of The Commons are subjective and have been developed independently from my collaborator. In spite of the fact that we share a living space, he provided me with no more clues to the text than he would any other reader, so, this forest is filled only with my breadcrumbs, dropped while I tried to chart it.  My advantage, if any, is the shared listening experience of many of the musical influences below, which was inevitably the vital base for our collaboration.

The Commons is a sequence of 140 fourteen-line poems split into three sections.2 The title might suggest medieval farmers' shared grazing areas, or the miniatured urban park spaces they have become. It might connote the British Parliament and the rabble therein, or the common (read: crass, uneducated, unruly) people outside of those moneyed walls. Perhaps it is the comfortable bourgeoisie or the parochial philistines of nice English towns. Or, as much as any of these, it might also nod to the universal bond between all who have, do, and will conspire against capitalism - internationally. In any case, it uses and reflects common language and common lies. The Commons connects and conflates the situation and struggle of the lower classes, its proclamations drawing heavily on lines and imagery pinched from European and American popular and traditional folk songs. These lines are frequently amputated and spliced with other poetic imagery, sounds, and political rhetoric, and their parts are scattered throughout the sequence, a practice of fragmentation and (re)compilation which is in itself typical of the folk tradition of adapting and re-working stories and melodies. The effect is that of a constant haunting: themes of ribbons, bones, hawks, hounds, strange women and suffering men repeat and recur by their own inertia for decades, for centuries. The Commons joins this tradition, but twists it and injects it with current issues and public figures, and a corresponding spite. For example, in the traditional song, "If I Had a Ribbon Bow", an impoverished woman feels the absence of her "own true love" is owing to her lack of the appropriate material beauty ornaments - the ribbons and fancy sashes of "city girls":

If I had a ribbon bow
To hide my hair
If I had a fancy sash
My own true love would find me fair

(Dalton, 1961).

In The Commons these plaints and images are twisted and reconfigured, pitching rage against London's City-worker bourgeoisie: "most fertile yuppie scum", Bonney writes (4), and "that thing, / queen elizabeth…practicing her derivative magic" (15). The rage is also directed at commodity culture itself - the nasty normality of cosmetics, fashion magazines, and prostitution (in all senses of the word). The poems admit, but also prepare, to retaliate against these normalities:

if I had a fancy sash
my own true love would
rent me out in earrings
but if I had a ribbon bow
in scratches & numbers
he'd read my mind, with hail
burning like a city's
frozen & vivid dead

(20).

The detournement of lines such as "if I had a fancy sash my own true love would find me fair", is the natural outcome of tearing and rearranging folk elements in The Commons. The song appears in fragments throughout the sequence, haunting it: the shoes come and go by themselves, the ribbon twists into a body's "pit", (19), pretty frocks and nice hair appear in shreds here and there. The ribbon is also conflated with the ribbon tied in the hair of Brecht and Weill's, "Pirate Jenny".3 Jenny scrubs floors in a hotel until the time comes to signal her secret armada to blow up the town from the harbour in which it waits; ultimately it is she, a working class woman, who decides the fate of the rich townspeople. Bonney then weaves this story with fragments taken from manifestos and bomb communiqués of the left-wing terrorist Angry Brigade in 1970s London, i.e., the proclaimed presence of Angry Brigade members in public as "the man or woman sitting beside you", a line Bonney then follows with "bitter & false & snapped / inside every nation"(19). The latter line suggests the possibilities of wider-spread terrorism among the "commons" of the world. Suffice it to say that the threads - or ribbons or sashes - are very long and tangled, not just in how they are woven within Bonney's poems, but in how they are woven throughout the history of folk music and the history of class struggle. This history is vast but the themes and their  language  are quickly adapted and tied into dense, strong plaits.

The Commons does not merely appropriate and modernize traditional folk songs and themes as these particular examples show, for this would oversimplify the work. They do not add another layer to an ordinary, sedimentary palimpsest. The poems are the shards and cracks in the palimpsest, reviving illegitimated histories and putting them under immense pressure, ready to burst out of hands hitherto trapped in hard labour and/or poverty. When the woman in "If I Had a Ribbon Bow" bemoans her lack of goods, her lack of a true love, her lack of the red shoes she wants to wear dancing, Bonney shreds this alienation, the sense of "displacement, restlessness, homelessness", and prepares it for conversion into weaponry. The Commons is a fragmented narrative of cultural and political class struggle, a patchwork of (privileged) words, of traditional songs, of leftover verbal scraps of the rich. The war is against bourgeois language and song, and, of course, against the wealth and power accumulated in the hands of the few who have "equated money with intelligence" (3). It is also the war against boredom. It is the war against parochial racist towns, tiny cerebra, false jazz, instant coffee, Carol Anne Duffy, second-hand poststructuralism, Guardian Lifestyle journalists, and all things porcine. A common call:

Of gorgeous magnetic fiends
even the memory is blocked:
history's shadow stalks us
call it the net of
the idea is simple
& permanently freakish:
to live outside of servitude
the confidence & cowardice
of those who force us
into fiction, difficult & locked.
But the scorn we feel
BANG
night of the living dead
all else is annoyance & avarice

(10).

The hero of this war, the image that Bonney referred to during our collaboration as 'a centre of gravity for the poems', is the cuckoo. The sparking point for Bonney's concept of The Commons was the cuckoo as featured in Clarence Ashley's song "The Coo Coo Bird" (1929), a mysterious patchwork of a song that moves from log cabins to spying to gambling at card games, and in the middle of it all, a cuckoo that "warbles as she flies". In nature as well as in the poems of The Commons, the cuckoo is loud, menacing, and maddeningly repetitive, the harbinger of information no one wants to hear. It breaks the celebration of lies, imposing ugly truth, whether poetic, political, cultural, or temporal. The bird is eccentric and ruthless, notorious for its nesting behaviour, i.e. about forty percent of cuckoos are brood parasites that drop their eggs into the nests of other birds, which, when hatched, kill the cushy inhabitants of the nest. In The Commons the bird arrives on the scene as a sort of armed vigilante hero of the poor and oppressed, prepared to pull a Robin Hood over the aristocrats of the forest.

It is quite fitting then, that Bonney once commented that the cuckoo 'is a gangsta'. The Commons opens with the line, "the cuckoo is a / BANG!" (3), and it arrives, as in nature - unannounced but not necessarily unwelcome. Taking care of things, so to speak. The cuckoo is an ugly sound, an interruption, a gun shot, and in Central European folklore it is said that if a person has money in his/her pocket when they hear it at the start of the season, that person will be loaded with bling for the whole year. Needless to say, in The Commons that person would then be subject to savage treatment.

Thus, The Commons is its own piece of folklore, albeit with an agenda - the violent reclaiming of bodies, lives, and dignity by and for those bogged down by the official normality of capitalist culture. The first two sets of The Commons demonstrate a version of this process, and while both sections are built on traceable folk references and textual and melodic sources, there is a progressive shift in focus as the sequence continues, from common ground down to - literally - common roots, ready to re-grow. Set I is laden with gnarled semi-pastoral scenes of the ragged poor - the cuckoo and its interruptions, with log cabins, rings and coins, ribbons in hair, flowers, soot, the black hair of true loves, thrushes, hares on mountains, the counting of heads, geese, witches and cauldrons and magic and heresy, sightless souls and wandering ghosts, lily-white hands, and walking around and meeting fair what/whoevers. And most notably, figures that I have not yet mentioned, the incarnated form of ghosts as taken from both Voodoo and modern Western sources. Zombies. Figures of modern-day cult classics, they are there in current popular mythology and, therefore, in The Commons. Lurching, they are not yet organized or capable of enacting their full functions, their potential to break out of the alienated and oppressed state they are in. In a sense, they are in a process of being created and controlled by (rather than resisting) "the police computer" (14), the lords, the banking world, the British National Party. The unorganized zombie underclass has yet to differentiate between the commons that are their living counterparts, and the corrupt Commons that are their overlords - at this point they will eat any living flesh they can get.

Almost in response, Set II keeps a traditional folk flavour of birds, dogs, beetles, flowers, pretty frocks, but shifts focus to the landscape of Hell that the zombies seem to be taking us to. Everything is "burnt": histories, words, rooms, numbers, speech, voices, frequencies, decibels, and people, all burnt or silent or "secret". The focus here is modern poverty and its consequences, particularly the experience of being on so-called Jobseekers Allowance, i.e. the humiliation of visiting the dole office that is at "the planet's rim" (32), or the general rage at the state's criminalization of the poor. Sulphur, christians, and screeching birds become the landscape that reflects the fascists and "fun people" comfortably above ground in their seaside towns and metropolitan mansions. The disgruntled "british anarchist movement" featured throughout Set I are, for the first time, explicitly replaced by communists; the cuckoo hovers in the shadows, perhaps having momentarily fulfilled its role; and the weather is getting bad as "the invisible" begin to be "amassed at the border"(29). The call in Set II is one that smacks of a coming apocalypse: Bonney writes, "get up now, dead man" (27). If the zombies of Set I were not yet ready to join forces against the living rich, then the zombies of Set II have gained the class consciousness that is needed for a class war. They just might be able to make a song of it now.

With this in consideration, what remains to cement The Commons as its own piece of folklore (for the gathering and patching together of fragments is not enough) is the strangeness that results from that patching, the inherent contradictions of the narrative. In The Commons, the snag is the sinister they that seems to both support and undermine the plight of the zombies. Why? The police computer, the lords, the banking world, the British National Party - all have the potential of zombiedom: the Commons as an inversion of the commons. They are present throughout poems, but it is particularly at moments when Bonney explicitly states that "we don't know / who 'they' are" (25), that we are starkly reminded of just how much smoke screens this landscape. The reference is clearly to J.H. Prynne's study of Shakespeare's Sonnets, 94, the latter beginning with the line, "They that haue powre to hurt". Prynne's immediate concern in his study is that "we do not know who they are" (3), the implication being that we know very well that they are not to be trusted, that they are a source of hurt. In the sonnet, Shakespeare writes that "[t]hey are the Lords and owners of their faces, / Others, but stewards of their excellence" (87), which in The Commons can be, for the most part, identified as members of the capitalist class. They are everywhere, from the boardroom of the munitions manufacturer, to the smug neighbour who smirks at your weeds while snorting the flamboyant lillies in his posh garden.4 They make the executive decisions about their expectations for the commons' identity and location:

anyway, its not like they're ill
when they speak / o 'you'
- cold & impersonal -
the cities were built for
wait a minute. no. not 'you'
- nice voice nice sun -
rim / fun / people
'pills' / audible persons ringing
bite them like a stranger
knotted, o functions shimmering,
use only the driest language
bursts like its interruptions
here is the gravity I vandalised
take it / recognises 'you'

(Bonney, 28).

Because they is unstable and not to be trusted here, so are I and you. This instability is a linguistic betrayal, a means of trickery that works to the advantage of the commons: they use the language of the enemy against itself. The obfuscation of pronouns in The Commons is not only a mischief of written poetry, but is another trope of many folk songs themselves. When not conflating stories and themes, lines are mismatched and speakers dis-identified. Greil Marcus theorizes that in "The Coo Coo Bird", the disparities within and between verses make a riddle of sorts. In the song, the speaker builds a log cabin to spy on someone's movements, then runs off on an international card-playing adventure, and warbles about a cuckoo in between. Marcus writes that "[t]he verse can communicate only as a secret everybody already knows or as an allusion to a body of knowledge the singer knows can never be recovered" (118). The Commons is full of secrets and secret knowledge that is, by turns, the secrets of they, and the secrets of the congregating commons. There are also the secrets of an elusive narrator who knows the language of the enemy they, the devastating and destructive games of capitalist speech.

The cuckoo is, after all, a deceitful and constitutionally unstable bird. Where it seems to Marcus to play a relatively random role in "The Coo Coo Bird", it could be seen as being associated with the card-player's gambling spree - the gangsta that flies around wherever money is to be had, after having invested in a nest (the log cabin) where it can store its valuables and kill enemies to all things non-cuckoo. This complicates operations in The Commons. If the cuckoo was meant to be, as Bonney mentioned to me, a centre of gravity for the poems, then we are spun out of this centre by the two-timing nature of the bird. The centre itself, like the police computer, is unstable, a bit of an old wives' tale. While we know that the cuckoo is notorious for telling the truth, for Daniel Defoe its greater notoriety is that the cuckoo tells the truth of whoever paid it to do so (54). Defoe's cuckoo is certainly a vigilante-style gangsta, picking and choosing when and what it speaks of, and for all we know, the cuckoo in The Commons is not only working for any number of potential they, but, when it chooses, is they itself.

This deceit, brings to mind the arms manufacturer Lockheed-Martin's business motto - "We never forget who we're working for". If "The cuckoo is a / BANG!" (3), who shot the gun, and which message or action was halted mid-flight? Perhaps this question is ultimately irrelevant, for the bird still fulfils its role as a herald, and its arrival is nevertheless the commons' call to arms.

*

It was in our own Walthamstow skunkworks5 that The Commons collaboration began. Sean Bonney and I began to form the project from the folk music sources and the interpretations I was making of the poems - with, of course, the inevitable discussions regarding which kinds of sounds to use, which particular elements of the poems to develop musically, etc. So, having discussed what I consider to be those particular elements in The Commons, I will now provide some notes on the development of the performative piece we made.

My initial reaction to the very notion of collaboration is often that I am not a team player, despite the fact that over the last ten years I have participated in all manner of collaborative art and social works. Collaboration in art is viewed as a utopian activity, one that is often seen as a guarantee of producing non-hierarchical, ego-free, communal artworks. This may be the outcome, but it does not mean that a stunning piece of work is necessarily produced. With that in mind, I took time to consider what it means to collaborate in other senses of the word, how collaboration can be yet another modus operandi of oppressive systems, scooped up from the commons - so to speak - and turned against them, whether they realise it or not.

To collaborate is to work with an individual or a group in order to make something - the interaction of text and music in performing The Commons, for example. To collaborate is also to work with an enemy, whether with the Nazis (or any occupying force, for that matter) in the Second World War, or with the ruling classes, or with/in the corporate world. In The Commons, the cuckoo itself is suspect, as mentioned earlier, for it is not only like Defoe's double agent providing its services to the highest bidder, but is also an emblem of Hera, who is known for her own extensive use of trickery (O'Brien, 179). Essentially, these are all collaborations for devious or otherwise fascist purposes, rather than for the liberating acts of artistic or political resistance. Each is simply a case of betrayal, and each time, before betraying others one must betray oneself. To make a very loose analogy, an artistic collaboration, despite being in the name of art, requires a self-betrayal in the sense of relaxing one's ego and compromising individual control in the making of a project. To refuse this is to betray the other artist in the project, meaning, obviously, that the collaboration has failed. With the evils of collaboration in mind, work on The Commons project actually became considerably more interesting, as betrayal is the central theme and technical structure of the sequence itself.

Sets I and II were performed one year apart as partially-scripted improvisations on the poems of The Commons. These performances were simple: Bonney gave a reading of his poems while I re-inserted the sung fragments of the actual folk music from which he had appropriated vocabularies and themes. Our intention was to partially reassemble the disassembled songs with the inclusion of noises and interruptions reflecting the kinds of textual interruptions that exist in the poems, i.e. the sudden changes in voices and speakers, or the fast flip of an old folk image to a current political figure or situation. In other words, snippets of melodies would emerge, haunting and ethereal, between the jolts of, for example, spoken words and amplifier feedback and scraping garden tools. We were interested in the model that Nathaniel Mackey uses to illustrate what poetry and music actually are and how they work together. Mackey describes the possibility of a "meta voice" (193), a "cultivation of another voice" (190) that speaks to you as much as, or alongside, the first voice you are listening to. Poetry and music are two complementary forms, alternate vocalities, and a goal of our collaboration was to not just be each other's meta voices, but "cultivate" yet another through our combination of music and poetry. Mackey writes (while speaking specifically of African-American music - blues, jazz, etc.):

One of the reasons [blues, jazz, etc.,] so often goes over into nonspeech - moaning, humming, shouts, nonsense lyrics, scat - is to say, among other things, that the realm of conventionally articulate speech is not sufficient for saying what needs to be said. We are often making the same assertion in poetry" (193).

The Commons makes this assertion within itself as a poetic text (i.e. it is not conventionally articulate speech), and the bringing of an equally inarticulate (because fragmented and improvised) music to it was an attempt to run multiple voices and narratives alongside and within each other.

Thus, The Commons doesn't so much steal fragments from folk sources, but rather reformulates the voices from that repertoire. My role in the performance, then, was to bring further voices back into the stride of the poems. Music reappeared in a form that reflecte - or mis-reflected - the structure and content of Bonney's poems, a complementarity of irrational forms that also alienates each form from the other. My voice was a quiet, slower aggression, in contrast to Bonney's active, loud spew of verbal bile as he read his sequence. The music (in Set I, performed on two occasions in 2008) was constructed of softer fragments of the original songs that the poems snatched text from. My set-up was simple: an amp, a microphone, a loop pedal - and a box of everyday items such as beads, coins, butter knives, trowels, and baking implements. A buzz or low note or bit of feedback typically initiated a sequence of sounds as Bonney began to read his poems. The feedback was soft or loud, lower or higher in pitch, depending on the intensity of each poem as it was delivered. The sounds achieved range from low rumbles, to string-like tones, to sharp squeals.  Like the cuckoo, they were loud, menacing, and maddeningly repetitive - or more often, quietly so. The loop function on the effects pedal was one of several settings, but the one that I used most often in order to capture and sediment layers of buzzing, gurgling, sustaining or repeating of shifting sung notes, etc. The playing of small objects such as pieces of jewellery was also sonically and symbolically significant, considering the themes addressed in The Commons - the literal jingling and rasping of the poems' rings and coins, the distorted sound of ribbons in hair brushed against the microphone. These loops served as a sonic base for sustained vocal sounds and, eventually, sung fragments of folk songs. All of these loops or drawn-out areas of sound were subject to change - sometimes with every few poems.

In the performances of Set I, I gradually introduced relevant folk song fragments to pre-haunt their appearance in the poems. In these performances the interjections of longer fragments of particular melodies were indicated in the poems; these bits of notation made the text function, somewhat, as a score, limiting the amount of improvisation. For example, the song "Black is the Color (of My True Love's Hair)", was marked, by prior agreement between us, to begin melodically developing several stanzas in advance of its first appearance in Bonney's text. I made variations on the first line or repetitions of broken parts of it ("Black is the color of my true love's hair / His face so soft and wondrous fair"), minding Nina Simone's treatment of the song (1966) and considering - albeit without screaming - Patty Waters' jagged chopping and droning of single words and/or syllables in her free-improvised version of the song of the same year. The text of The Commons modifies it, of course, with twists such as "black is the colour of my / gestural forthrightness" (11). I attempted to make improvised vocal sounds and phrases that sustained a sense of fragility and foreboding, perhaps a sort of sorrowful meta voice that runs beneath the poems' spiteful, violent foreground. This included moments where sudden silence seemed most appropriate, some of which was decided before the performance, and some decided on the spot. Bonney participated in a similar fashion, although for the most part his focus was on the performance of the poems themselves.

The first performance of Set II was in 2009. A major difference between the Sets is the reduced - or rather, more deeply mutated - amount of folk references in the poems of Set II. As a result there were fewer fragments of folk songs haunting the music, but there was extended usage of a particular song (discussed below) that was quite salient in the context of the Set II poems. As the narrative of the class war moved away from the land of the living and its mumbling, confused zombies, we approached the subterranean landscape of Hell (I think of Dante's; Bonney claims Milton's). In Set II, the zombies mobilise, with the first step being to recruit and re-animate the inmates of Hell against the fascism and "fun people" that frolic in the secret words and numbers and histories mentioned earlier: "get up now dead man" - and they do. Their bodies are "still here" (27). Because the poems of Set II focus on the social humiliation and criminalisation of poverty, I tried to make the music respond by reducing words and specific melodic references, descending into a comparatively speechless noise of brewing anger - a denser, cloudier music. The tinkle of Set I's jewellery was no longer a softly ironic element of the wistful woman seeking love and riches; in Set II it was attacked with the violent clatter of coins and the scraping of tools that "fun people" were about to get in the head. The intention was to build a growing sense of unease, of - in Bob Dylan's words - the feeling that "something's happening but you don't know what it is". Or, perhaps, it might be more accurate to say that we're actually getting a clearer idea of what it might be.

All that magic and heresy, the sightless souls and wandering ghosts, the burnt and silent and secret elements of The Commons began to bubble up with the prominence we placed on the song, "Nottanum Town". Cities, towns, ruins, and the obscene spaces between them are places under threat by something yet to be named but evoked in the eerie quiet of the music. In the poems, naturally, shards of the song's lyrics appear regularly. In the musical element, the tune surfaced throughout as hummed fragments, or parts of sung phrases, and finally as the slow, unaccompanied singing of the entire final verse (below) as a conclusion to the performance. A key meeting point between the poems and music is in this song, a zombie anti-anthem and a document of a disorienting journey among those dead zones of souls that won't look up or down, standing in the thousands, unmoving, staring:

In fair Nottamun town, not a soul would look up,
Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down,
Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down,
To show me the way to fair Nottamun town.

(…)

Sat down on a hard, hot cold frozen stone,
Ten thousand stood round me, and yet I's alone.
Took my hat in my hand for to keep my head warm,
Ten thousand got drownded that never was born.

(Dalton, 1961).

The growing malevolence of the zombies - the staring invisibles, the thousands of undead, the outcasts, and also the embodiment of the spectre haunting Europe - shows how they have developed (as in Romero's films), from a group of seemingly senseless ragamuffins into a class-conscious mass of organized proletariat. When the word "communism" is first mentioned in Set II, taking the place previously occupied by anarchists, the zombies' journey to Hell is to recall and embrace the communist spectre, defiantly bringing it back to the world the capitalists banned it from (which, ironically, might be more of a hell than Hell). During our work on the project, Bonney quipped that 'Nietzsche may have killed God but he didn't say anything about the Devil'. In other words, on this trip to Hell, the devil becomes an ally, albeit (like the cuckoo) temporarily. Thus, Skip James's line, "[I] would rather be the devil" (32) is enthusiastically taken up and pitched against the insipid young bourgeoisie, capitalism, the police and the law.

In light of this, the musical attempt in Set II was to play with the possibilities of how the zombies might sound now that most of their previously grounding folk laments have slipped and morphed. Typically (at least on-screen), zombies growl and drool as they emerge from the woods,  although my thought was that by now they would be more alert, listening more than uttering. Still displaced, restless, homeless, I thought they might - as in the poems - begin to develop a brewing noise (meaning, something only just emerging from silence), with their old melodies and  histories still present in the background. Some hissing, scratching, some always present long and discordant drones. The tools and instruments that might have been accustomed to digging in soft soil became, in the music, interruptions to that brewing noise: the occasional sudden BANG! or screech or scrape that Bonney and I considered to be important in the performance. The presence of some of these sounds was, like certain melodies mentioned earlier, scored into our copies of the text beforehand, while others emerged ad lib. As for the devil and the sounds of Hell, we never did decide whether those sounds would be closer to silence, or whether they would be raucous. We figured that once Set III was written that the real noise and excessive volume might begin, so we ended the performance on a soft note.

Because Set II is not the final part of The Commons, it didn't seem right at the time to make it into a cacophonic inundation, for the battle is yet to begin. The cuckoo, after all, has played its part in exposing all the truth it had at its disposal, and thereby roused the oppressed into preliminary action. The scant presence of the cuckoo in Set II indicates this, for it all but disappears at the end, having made way for "crows: not cuckoos, crows" (31). The cuckoo, then, was the warning, and the crow, a suspiciously they-like haruspex, prepares to inspect entrails as they are made available. The commons, meanwhile, are only just beginning their journey. The final exit at the border of the forest:

you have now reached
to put into practice
the knowledge you
you have acquired ghosts
in short, are ready
work / crime / magic
secret history number
the properties of ideas
put into ourselves
sorry, local residents
this is how you talk
the body's acoustics
structurally / tearing
your playhouse down

(36).

 

 

Notes

1 Sean Bonney, The Commons (unpublished manuscript, London 2010).

2 I will discuss only Sets I and II, as they were the only parts completed at the time of writing this (2009).

3 Originally sung by Lotte Lenya (1928); covered by Nina Simone (1964), with the addition of race politics to the overall class struggle the song addresses.

4 The closing couplet of Sonnets, 94: "For sweetest things turne sowrest by their deedes, / Lillies that fester, smell far worse than weeds", (Prynne, 87).

5 "Skonk Works" is the original name for Big Barnsmell's mysterious backwoods factory in the Li'l Apner comic. "Skunkworks" is Lockheed-Martin's grotesque adaptation of the comic operation into a trade-marked name for their secret innovations projects. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skunk_Works

 

References Cited / Bibliography

Angry Brigade. 1967 - 1984: Documents and Chronology (London: Elephant Editions, 1985).

Bonney, Sean. The Commons (unpublished manuscript, London, 2009). A PDF is available from Sean Bonney.

Brewer, E. Cobham, ed. A Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (London: Odhams Press, nd).

Defoe, Daniel. The fable of the cuckoo: or, The sentence on the ill bird that defiled its own nest. : Shewing, in a Dissenter's dream, some satyrical reflections on a late infamous libel, call'd, The True-Born Englishman (London: 1701).

Friedman, Alfred B. The Penguin Book of Folk Ballads of the English-Speaking World (Middlesex: Penguin, 1977).

Mackey, Nathaniel, "Cante Moro" in Mackey, Paracritical Hinge: Essays, Talks, Notes, Interviews (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), pp. 181-198.

Marcus, Greil. Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes (London: Picador, 1998).

O'Brien, Joan V. The Transformation of Hera: A Study of Ritual, Hero, and the Goddess in the Iliad (Langham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 1993).

Prynne, J.H. They that haue powre to hurt; A Specimen of a Commentary on Shake-spears Sonnets, 94 (Cambridge, 2001).

Seeger, Ruth Crawford. The Music of American Folk Song and Selected Other Writings on American Folk Music, ed. Larry Polansky and Judith Tick, fwds. Pete, Mike, and Peggy Seeger (Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2001).Ashley, Clarence. "The Coo-Coo Bird." Trad. Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music. Johnson City, 1929.

 

Dalton, Karen. "Nottamun Town." Trad. Green Rocky Road. New York, 1961.

-------- . "If I Had A Ribbon Bow." Trad. Green Rocky Road. New York, 1961.

Dylan, Bob. "Ballad Of A Thin Man". Highway 61 Revisited. New York, 1965.

James, Skip. "Devil Got My Woman." The Complete Legendary Session. Grafton, 1931.

Simone, Nina. "Pirate Jenny." By Kurt Weill. Nina Simone Live in Concert. New York, 1964.

 

PORES webjournal, Professor William Rowe,  email: w.rowe@bbk.ac.uk