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"Just A talk about exCept"
a mesostic poem composed and performed by Marc Thorman

All the words in this poem come from Jack Kerouac's great American road trip novel, On The Road. The poem was composed following a method invented by composer, writer, and artist John Cage. He called it "writing through" a source text. I located words corresponding to each letter in the author's name, beginning on page one and continuing to the end of the novel. For example, the first two stanzas contain all eleven letters of Kerouac's name, capitalized and positioned to run down the center of the page. This is a form Cage called a "mesostic."

J
ust
A
 talk about
ex
C
ept
and never ta
K
ing off
|
K
ing who'd shown
m
E
w
R
itten
in new mexic
O
beca
U
se
n
A
ively
nietzs
C
he

The poem's overall shape follows Kerouac's five parts and many chapter divisions, while condensing the book into seventy-two reiterations of his name. The writing-through process also intensifies the earthy flavor and bebop rhythms of the original prose.

Cage's own writing-through of Finnegans Wake provided the basis of what he referred to as a "musicircus." He first recorded his own recitation of the poem and then added a mix of recordings of sounds and locations mentioned in Joyce's book, placing each in the mix at a point corresponding to the poem. On top of it all, he added live performances of Irish folk music and Merce Cunningham's Irish-inspired choreography, each element proceeding independently and all of them happening simultaneously, like a three-ring circus.

My own realization of Cage's "musicircus" composition is titled On The Road: A Beat Musicircus and includes specific jazz recordings and movies mentioned by title, Lindy Hop dancers, folksingers, a bop trio, and other optional live performers. Part I will premiere this Spring at the 2009 Biannual International Electroacoustic Music Festival in New York City.

*       *       *        *       *        *       *        *        *

Marc Thorman is a composer and performer residing in New York City. He currently teaches theory and history at the Conservatory of Music at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. His doctoral dissertation is the first comprehensive analysis of the use of text and speech in compositions by John Cage. Thorman has composed works for solo piano, electronic media, and acoustical instruments, including an opera for children through a commission from Meet the Composer. He worked as an improvisational pianist for The Boston Ballet, and led a Boston punk rock band that produced several independent releases. He is currently composing and producing "Baseball Portraits," a video-sound installation, and recording an album of original music for piano and phonograph records.

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