Friday, October 14, 2016

From order to chaos -- "Fig Tree Rag"

     Robert Dawson, a mathematician and poet from Halifax, Nova Scotia, is wide-ranging in the mathematics that he includes in poetry.  Here is a link to my posting of his "Statistical Lament."  Still others may be found with a SEARCH using the poet's name.
     Dawson's poem below is motivated by chaos and period doublings -- and their patterns -- a complicated system that, under certain conditions approaches a number called Feigenbaum's constant.  (Mitchell Feigenbaum is a mathematical physicist who did pioneering work in chaos theory.   "Feigenbaum" is a German surname meaning "Fig Tree" -- hence the title of the poem.)  Probably you will want to read the poem aloud to get a feel for the rhythmic patterns -- and chaos -- that Dawson has designed for us. 

Fig Tree Rag    (after Scott Joplin)   by Robert Dawson

The music drifts across the room:
from clarinet and saxophone
a sliding stream of melody,
piano chords beneath it, and
upon the cymbal and the snare
the drummer paints a lazy beat
with wire brushes, regular
and cool and uninflected as
a music teacher’s metronome.
The energy builds gradually,
an almost undetected change,
subtle accent shifts arise.
The tomtom and the kick drum's thud
divide beat from offbeat while strange
new rhythms grow within the old;
one bar questions and the next replies,
lengthening the phrase twofold.
Conversations falter, captivated
fingers tap along on table;
by ones and twos, dancers rise from their chairs,
stepping out onto the floor.
The rhythm grows intricate and syncopated
again becomes unstable,
redoubles to a four-bar riff
that is heard once, one time more,
explodes into chaos. Twenty strobes
flicker like chain lightning and the drumsticks fly,
triangle, brake drum, sizzle cymbal, cowbell
now the joint’s jumping everybody’s
on their feet on their feet on their feet
ultraviolet lasers shatter off a mirrorball
slashing smokemachine fog electric blue
notes like white doves fly     out of the
funhousemirror bell            of the
sax     o     phone
somebody howls like a wolf
smashes a glass in the fireplace
the drummer raves on
in tumbling imploding diamond fragments
all the crazyass chaotic rhythms in the universe

"Fig Tree Rag" first appeared in Imaginaire (March 2013).

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