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THE THING ABOUT JOE SULLIVAN (poem) - Roy Fisher - United Kingdom - Poetry International
 
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The Thing about Joe Sullivan
The pianist Joe Sullivan,
jamming sound against idea
 
hard as it can go
florid and dangerous
 
slams at the beat, or hovers,
drumming, along its spikes;
 
in his time almost the only
one of them to ignore
 
the chance of easing down,
walking it leisurely,
 
he’ll strut, with gambling shapes,
underpinning by James P.,
 
amble, and stride over
gulfs of his own leaving, perilously
 
toppling octaves down to where
the chords grow fat again
 
and ride hard-edged, most lucidly
voiced, and in good inversions even when
 
the piano seems at risk of being
hammered the next second into scrap.
 
For all that, he won’t swing
like all the others;
 
disregards mere continuity,
the snakecharming business,
 
the ‘masturbator’s rhythm’
under the long variations:
 
Sullivan can gut a sequence
in one chorus—
 
—approach, development, climax, discard—
and sound magnanimous.
 
The mannerism of intensity
often with him seems true,
 
too much to be said, the mood
pressing in right at the start, then
 
running among stock forms
that could play themselves
 
and moving there with such
quickness of intellect
 
that shapes flaw and fuse,
altering without much sign,
 
concentration
so wrapped up in thoroughness
 
it can sound bluff, bustling,
just big-handed stuff—
 
belied by what drives him in
to make rigid, display,
 
shout and abscond, rather
than just let it come, let it go—
 
And that thing is his mood:
a feeling violent and ordinary
 
that runs in among standard forms so
wrapped up in clarity
 
that fingers following his
through figures that sound obvious
 
find corners everywhere,
marks of invention, wakefulness;
 
the rapid and perverse
tracks that ordinary feelings
 
make when they get driven
hard enough against time.