NEA Literature Fellowships

Bruce Bond

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(2001 - Poetry)

Thelonious Sphere Monk

Take any solo session from the Riverside
years, those long trapped breaths of dissonance
like smoke, a holding back of fulfillment
that becomes just that, our glad and broken
contract; and you hear the great sad boulders

of chords thump into place, foundation stones
for later work, entire soaring tenements
of work. Difficult at times, the way he kept
everyone waiting, those hours he stumbled
through uncharted tunes, tape rolling, until

his stagger had a heart's precision to it,
a largesse of hands startled by choice.
Which is why, beyond the scarred edifice
of tone-clusters and uneven strides, each room's
waste of cups and ashes, beyond the nights

his strings soured in a New York basement,
there's a lightness here, a compulsion
to surprise. Less an end to silence
than a yielding to its wants, to the bloom
of poverty and water inside it:

sound as the hard fruit of deprivation.
And though you see him stab at the odd key,
his finger blunted like a cigarette,
it's not rage at a world slow to forgive
or understand, not merely; not the chronic

deafness of taxis and jail-clerks, the phony
drug charge that left him jobless; but more
a private joy working on its problem.
To raze and resurrect, to resurrect by razing.
There are moments he seems so thickly bound

in the black suns of his eyes, his face
bearded as a buffalo, mumbling in the shade
of a dark-felt hat. How better to inhabit
the pride of disappointment, to spark
against the corners, making a language

out of a failure to speak--though in time
failure became just that, a handful of days
he refused it all: the phone calls, his wife,
his health, his music. They block-and-tackled
his spinet through the high window of a cramped

apartment. Who was he to suffer fools,
let alone his own hands; and it came on
so swiftly: the thinning of his face
in the stream of silence. Soon his piano
too was a black chest of wire and dust.

And memory was small comfort. All his life
the giant spools of pleasure and tape flowed
in one direction: how he lived, he died,
the high gothic cathedral of his style
eroding, its stones condemned, windows boarded.

Real Audio"Thelonious Sphere Monk" read by the author

Bruce Bond's collections of poetry include The Throats of Narcissus (University of Arkansas Press, 2001), Radiography (Natalie Ornish Award, BOA Editions, 1997), The Anteroom of Paradise (Colladay Award, QRL, 1991), and Independence Days (R. Gross Award, Woodley Press, 1990). His poetry has appeared in The Yale Review, The Paris Review, The New Republic, The Threepenny Review, The Ohio Review, The Georgia Review, and other journals. In addition to his award from the National Endowment for the Arts, he has received fellowships from the Texas Commission on the Arts, Breadloaf Writers' Conference, Wesleyan Writers' Conference, MacDowell, Yaddo, Sewanee Writers' Conference, and other organizations. Presently he is Director of Creative Writing at the University of North Texas and Poetry Editor for American Literary Review.

Author's Statement

I have always been attracted to poems that listen as they speak, poems with an intensity that comes from a heightened vigilance, a speed of association, a soulful engagement in its chosen world, and a generosity of resonance. At a time when so much work suffers from an enervation of meaning either by way of too much unspoken or too little, I am attracted to work which achieves its evocative shimmer, its sense of multiplicity, urgency, and dynamism, from a memorable music and a rich layering of correspondences. Such work is particularly marvelous when deeply saturated in the unconscious, when it allows for more than mere reportage or thoughtless fragmentation, but favors the transfiguration of experience into something sculpted and essential, something surprisingly luminous, even disturbing, as if new and necessary being had somehow been brought into the world. In such poems it seems that language is determining itself at times, that it holds the torch, deepening our investments, opening up our range of thought and feeling, our sense of who we are and what we may become.