Erik Satie Watusies His Way Into Sound
by Jeff Alessandrelli
Ravenna Press, 2011
66 pages / $11.95 Buy from Ravenna Press
One of the first things readers of Jeff Alessandrelli’s Erik Satie Watusies His Way Into Sound will notice is the fact that the back cover contains biographical material for both the author and Erik Satie; upon opening the book, the front matter contains acknowledgments from both men as well. The collection’s copy and front matter signal, it would seem, a playful engagement with identity and proper nouns. Specifically, Alessandrelli conflates himself, the speaker of his poems, and Erik Satie in such a manner that all three personalities become intimately entwined. The book’s first iteration of the list poem “A Game of Numbers” twice addresses this melding:
ever year searching for a sleeker, more
impulsive version of ourselves. (5)
8. As an adult Eric Satie became Erik Satie
to highlight his Scandinavian lineage.
Or on a whim. (6)
What we garner from these two excerpts is that we constantly search for identities or “version[s] of ourselves” that we feel best fit who we want to be, and changing our name is one way to highlight a particular transformation or “lineage” we want to occupy. So, when Alessandrelli writes, “the musician— / dream-thin and wizened— / farms sounds near a ripening / at the back of his head” (3), these lines could refer to either Satie, Alessandrelli, or both. To this extent, Erik Satie Watusies His Way Into Sound acts as a meeting between two artists, similar to the meeting that occurs between two men in the first iteration of the poem “Erik Satie Watusies His Way Into Sound”:
represents the agreement reached
between them that afternoon,
explains why we know
the nothing about them
that we do.
Just that two men met one day
beneath the awning of an apple orchard,
and the dull smack of their lips
moving was the languageless sound
of their satisfaction with each other (9)
Indeed, Erik Satie Watusies His Way Into Sound is a meeting between two men: a “languageless sound” that is an “agreement reached / between them that… / explains why we know / the nothing about them // that we do” other than the fact that they are mutually satisfied with one another. Why after sixty-six pages of poems, prose, and staff ledger do we know nothing of these men? Because “Erik Satie did not exist except for some scattered lines around the peripheries” (19). And how are we to know anything of a man based upon a few scattered lines? And how are we to know anything of a man who bases himself on the image of another man who did not exist?
A lineage based upon nothingness is not unique to Alessandrelli and Satie. In fact, as the first iteration of the prose block “On Blast” mentions, lineages based upon nothing occur all the time and frequently become national and historic mythologies:
But due to the fact that neither Hercules nor Erik Satie existed, how does Alessandrelli, or anyone for that matter, create an identity or a sense of self based upon nothingness? The answer resides in the imagination. In the fourth and final iteration of the poem “A Simple Question,” the poet informs us of a “supreme maxim, // one wholly unassailable belief ” (42) that posits:
that can resist
it is only
that can withstand,
the imagination. (43)
The imagination, then, must be activated in order to create lineages from nothing, but it must also be activated in order to “withstand, / uphold, subvert // and resist / the imagination.” All this is to say that, yes, the imagination “upholds,” creates, and perpetuates lineages; but it contains the capacity to “subvert and resist” imaginary lineages others have created and preserved. To this extent, Alessandrelli’s imagination alters Satie to fit the “sleeker, more / impulsive version” of both Satie and himself, joining the two men in artistic communion.
To further explain the manner in which Alessandrelli’s Satie morphs into his ancestor who subverts and resists other versions of Satie, take the following excerpt from the author’s recent HTMLGIANT review of Adam Peterson’s book The Flasher:
Alessandrelli confesses that baths “compel me, they invigorate me, in some strange way they solidify my relationship to the greater world”; then, in the third iteration of “The Veiled History of Erik Satie,” tells us that:
Erik Satie often forgot to use a towel,
tried to put his shirt
on with his feet which is
the terrible and essential part
about genius: (56-57)
Alessandrelli overlays his penchant for bathing upon his Erik Satie. But that’s not all. In the his biographical statement and acknowledgments, the author informs us that he owns a Black Lab-Pit Bull mix named “Beckett Long Snout.” Later in his collection, the poet writes: “Erik Satie did not exist except for…a long protruding snout attached to a large black dog” (19). Not only does Alessandrelli’s Satie enjoy bathes, but he becomes part of Alessandrelli’s dog. This is not just a matter of the poet fashioning himself into the image of an late-19th-century composer, but the poet fashioning a late-19th-century composer into an image of himself.
In some regards, then, we can consider the identity manipulation in Erik Satie Watusies His Way Into Sound a love letter between two artists. Of course, “We love those best who we fleetingly / recognize and can just as quickly forget” (54), so it should come as no surprise that after recognizing Satie in himself and himself in Satie, Alessandrelli demands that we “Forget forget Erik Satie” (60). Once we forget him, he “is nowhere / to be found” (65), but we can take comfort in the fact that “Someone we can’t remember // once played such haunting music / on a broken piano // he dreamed was an” author writing poems about Erik Satie and what it means to be Jeff Alessandrelli.
Joshua Ware lives in Denver, Colorado. He is the author of Homage to Homage to Homage to Creelety, which won the 2010 Furniture Press Poetry Prize. Three of his chapbooks will be released in 2012: Imaginary Portraits (Greying Ghost Press), How We Remake the World: A Concise History of Everything (Slope Editions) co-written with Trey Moody and winner of the 1st Annual Slope Editions Chapbook Prize, and SDVIG (alice blue books) which he co-wrote with Natasha Kessler. Recent work has appeared in Barn Owl Review, Nano Fiction, esque, Hobart, and ILK.