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Reaching Into The Unknown, 1964-2009 by Poetry by Steve Dalachinsky and photography by Jacques Bisceglia

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“not seeing the isn’t is inevitable

not being the isn’t is unthinkable.”

from “the lake,” 2005, page 402

Crossover among art disciplines happens frequently. Crossing over means “borrowing” from another place—by stepping over the category fence and cultivating what is picked. No practice could prevail more than in how musical improvisation sometimes is a mixed bag of standard tunes and outlandishly fluid arpeggios and impulsively abstract split tones. No practice could prevail more than in how classical/gospel/world/rock music and jazz rhythms and riffs are integrated into one product. No practice could prevail more than in how the languages of poetry, prose and visual imagery mix within ever-shifting contexts and exhibition.

It is not a difficult task to detect how one discipline affects another. Yes, ‘affects’ rather than ‘influences.’ ‘Influences’ is a dirty word, conjuring up the concept of some deficiency in the creative act. Everyone, who is creative, is affected by his own experience within disciplines. Putting the matter of influence to rest resembles moving a mountain. Because that is how people see; they have to see in terms of the language of status quo in order to understand what is not known. The ‘not known’ is scary and discomforting. But those, who have vision, jump fearlessly into the not known and, once having made the jump, incorporate what was once not known into the lexicon of the knowable.

The RogueArt publication, Reaching Into The Unknown, 1964-2009, a book of poetry by Steve Dalachinsky and black & white photographs by Jacques Bisceglia, fits, eponymously nonetheless, both crossover and visionary qualifications. To connect literally the words and pictures is perhaps a futile task. The mere Zen presence of both is perceptual fulfillment enough.

Delving into this thick, heavy, cleanly and beautifully printed book expands and contracts the mind. There is no Table of Contents. There is no order to the way in which the poetry or photos are laid out. Most of the single poems are juxtaposed to a photo, which acts either as a means to illustrate the musician(s) about whom or whose music the words are written; or as a self-sufficient well-delineated image, floating on the surface of the page, an intimate portrait of the spirit, tension and aura of commitment, looming from the faces of those represented, alone or in groups. Bisceglia, whose penchant for photography began after a military stint in Algeria, adopted the art of photographing jazz musicians as his own. Many of the musicians have died, which fact gives their photos an obviously haunting quality. From Albert Ayler to Peter Brötzmann, from Joseph Jarman to Billy Bang, from Jackie McLean and Coltrane to Coleman and McPhee, from Monk and Powell to Shipp and Tyner, Mingus and Garrison to Leandre and Parker, the images pass by page after page in a flickering parade that throws sparks of memory into a folio of the present tense. The musicians pictured, in bouts of contemplation, conversational gesticulation or the dignity of performance, spring into existence, simultaneously in print and in the music that rings out from Dalachinsky’s intuitively spun strings of words.

Written over the span of forty-five years, the changes in Dalachinsky’s poetry are easy to discern, but the changes do not remain exclusive to one, dated or not, ‘period’ of writing. One poem from 1976 is as valid or telling as one from 2005: verbal riffs… weighed in, by the page or by the line… easily integrate. The early poetry flows without being broken, not even with commas and periods, as might be expected in ‘proper’ formalized poetry writing. The lines are visually more even; the tempo more structured; the repetitions more salient, as would be heard in the music, perhaps going on contemporaneously with the movement of Dalachinsky’s pen on paper.

The later poetry is ornamented. Dalachinsky infuses it with capital letters, decorated letters, spaces between the words, punctuation marks between the letters of the words, extra (but not nonsensical) letters added to words, so that the latter cannot really be read out loud. Those words are only visual, but in their specific context completely comprehensible. Periods at the ends of the poems also appear. The bridge between the early and late poetry is so subtly built that it is undetectable. Just as in a time-lapse photographic series, there is movement, change and resultantly a new form that possesses the cogency and essence of the old.

That Dalachinsky’s life blood streams onto the page is evident. The subject matter of the poetry moves freely with time; it is replete with expression of emotion, the will to communicate clearly and philosophical patterns of thought. The words conjure up where the poet is sitting, how he is feeling, how he is hearing, how he is viewing the music; he associates with the music viscerally; he refers to the names of songs or statements for which musicians are remembered; and he speculates on the thoughts, often colloquially denoted, of the musicians as they play or wait to play. His inimitable voice, though hard-bitten, remains gentle, loving, irrepressibly honest and reflects his own sometimes frustrated make-up, but always reconfigures his hunger for the sound of jazz music, its revelations, and its survey of the “moments,” whose trail is endless.

Dalachinsky’s utter inner focus refuses to wane. His words come out of him just like sounds wend their way through the length of a hornpipe when it is blown; or arise as a drumstick meets the skin of a tom or snare, or vibrate when a string is plucked or bowed.

The hesitations of his hand, the alterations of direction of thought and possibly the erasures are invisible on the printed page. His muse is his mindfulness, a multi-dimensional sensitivity to the multi-dimensional, a place where improvisation and lack of premeditated destination reign.

As a non-conformist, historically off-center retrospective of improvised music for nearly the last half-century, Reaching Into The Unknown, 1964-2009 is a compelling presentation and testament to life in the simplest of terms. Words and images are powerful tools; they have existed for millennia as distinctly human vehicles for translating the irretrievable chemical energy that the mind expends into viable forms; forms that have everything to do with evolution, not only of the greater world population, but also of the individuals who create them. That Steve Dalachinsky and Jacques Bisceglia have spanned the ocean back and forth between the United States and France to incite the furtherance of cultural evolution is a blessing. The secrets imparted in this book whisper to sacred internal hiding places, which are revisited for the safety they offer, over and over again.

Originally Published