Opera Bufa: Bold Format

 

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Opera Bufa was American poet Adam Fieled's first full-length print book, released by Otoliths in 2007. This edition is bold-formatted for easy reading.

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Opera Bufa (expanded edition/bold format) By Adam Fieled

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Preface An opera bufa (or “opera buffa”) is a comic opera. It’s a term and a genre which Mary Harju introduced me to. The idea of writing the poetry equivalent of an opera bufa is one that occurred to me as viable for a number of reasons, in the mid-Aughts. The first reason was practical— it was time to start writing books, rather than just writing poems in a scattershot manner. It was also difficult not to notice that avant-garde/experimental poets in my age group were having a more than reasonable amount of success with book-length manuscripts of interlocking prose poems. When a group of younger poets who had all done their MFAs at U of Mass Amherst (Mary Harju had also done undergrad time there) descended on Center City Philly in the midAughts (Eric Baus, Nick Moudry, Laura Solomon, Juliette Lee, Dorothea “Dottie” Lasky), they brought with them this bias and sensibility. Eric Baus, particularly, though he only spent a year at Temple (’06-’07), managed to impress on me the many advantages of approaching book-length manuscripts this way. I decided, however, that if I was going to bow to a trend and do what Baus had done, I was going to do it my way— with a strong narrative voice and backbone, and with thematics in general not neglected. The idea of writing a comic opera appealed to me, because it is an unlikely juxtaposition (avant-garde poetry with comic opera) and because it would allow me to explore the interrelationship between music, language, and performance. “Opera Bufa” was my first full-length print book. It was released almost precisely co-terminously with the Blazevox e-book “Beams” in the early autumn of ’07. When I visited Chicago again in early ’08, I managed to place a few copies at Myopic Books in Wicker Park, where I had read in December ’06. Through an interesting collusion of events, it was picked up by Chicago poetess Laura Goldstein to teach at Loyola University Chicago; and when I visited Chicago in the summer of ’08, I lectured to one of Laura’s classes at Loyola behind “Opera Bufa.” It was included on their syllabus. Goldstein herself wrote a perceptive review of the book for the Chicago e-zine moria which is included here. Of all of my books, “Opera Bufa” is the one which was born most squarely from the context of contemporary avant-garde poetry— though bits of Wordsworth and Eliot are woven into the text, it has the stamp of the mid-Aughts Amer-Po zeitgeist on it. It is still more continental than was common for that niche, which I designed it to be. One disadvantage which “Opera Bufa” has is that the book is more than the sum of its pieces; but when the pieces have been isolated and published apart from

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the ur-text, they cannot be representative. The book needs to be read as a whole, or not at all. It is also a book which has spawned some imitations. The narrative voice here is light and whimsical (as befits an opera bufa), and not too fraught with multiple meanings or philosophical quiddities. In other words, and like “Chimes” (though for different reasons), it is a book Americans can accept. As such, it has been taught with some frequency in America (especially in the Chicago area), and embraced. Still, I would like to hope that the lightness and breeziness of the text carry some serious undercurrents— that literature, like opera, is a kind of performance; and that the performative nature of texts make them active, rather than passive, agents in the world. The text also argues for a frank approach to sex and sexuality; rather than the coy evasiveness then more common. That texts can and should be seductive is something Roland Barthes used to discuss; and Barthes and France are an influence here. In fact, “Opera Bufa” is one of the few things I’ve written without a substantial strain of classicist Englishness running right through it. Adam Fieled, 2013

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#1 Losing is the lugubriousness of Chopin. What’s lost might be a sea shell or a tea cup or the bloody scalp of an Indian; it hardly matters. When you are lost, the heart recedes from exterior currents, too much in sync with itself, its groove vicissitudes. Each encounter, rather than revealing new rhythms, is experienced as a clangorous din, a pounding. The effect of this pounding is to push the heart deeper and deeper into pitiless darkness. The darkness is pitiless because it has no clear ending. The rhythms are pitiless because we do not know how they began. We find pity and it betrays us with a stray fondle. We squirm within ourselves to the sound of the Devil’s opera bufa. 1

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#2 You may stride streets like Oskar with tin drum, cracking glass with a solid shriek, taking Madonnas hostage, assaulting exhausted nurses lying prone on shag carpets. There are nurses and nurses; some have carnations. You want to serve; your hands are still masterful. 2

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#3 Pluto sets Orpheus on your ass. Plucking out a minor-seventh bridge, he holds you in legato thrall. Rhythms become streams of possible shoe-lace, slugs of 3 a.m. Scotch, lust after thy neighbor’s daughter, mooning on the lawn. 3

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#4 The principle of sufficient reason has pinned you to a mattress and is coming inside you. You are a plantation officer after the lost war. Your cache of black carnations marks out a no-fly zone, bloody scalps of third wheels. You see how richly layered you are, but frosting is visible. 4

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#5 It’s not funny, that you’ve left a body count. You’re up in stiff urban trees, you’ve known unrest. Not that you don’t harmonize with concrete; just that you mix concretely. There is recalcitrance in your Wellington boots, a blatant sell-out in your dancing; China girls approach you in dank basements. 5

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#6 Am I daft to see imbecility in mercy? Three men, one gesturing, address perfumes of Venus. Yes, I affirm certain deadness in disturbances of black jackets. No, I do not believe a blue sports jersey is a treasure. I have made up a song to go with the song of this chanteuse. What silly trills, love of languor, appreciation of origins of apples. The core is not to be ditched. The apple is not to be pulled. 6

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#7 If you were a yellow balloon in tall leaning trees, I’d be a girl in purple impaled between pillars. If you were a cup of finished ice cream, I’d be a brown-eyed moon-goddess. Is the human heart a Parisian kitchen? Are lamb-chops better than avarice? Are you churned like butter from Dantescan depths? Am I warm and willful as a shop-girl’s thighs, stuck with grasses to a farmer’s boots? Lunatics hover on branches, pushing me down into sleep; swans at the window, watching hail fall in diagonal darts. Your railings border me,yet toss my words up into gleaming squares. Priests look back and forth, veiny hands. Shadows strike the angels from their perch. Somewhere inside is a reference. 7

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#8 This is all a bridge between a verse and chorus. That’s how the sky exudes its musk, right before breaking down and buying a ranch. You find my earrings glamorous, and they were left by my bed by a lover who learned from porn. She was always crabby. 8

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#9 It’s always brown-hewn burglars sending drain-you vibes through Ethernet. Not that one can internalize mind-scabs, but that the brownminded must spread shit. What kind of tumescence gets consummated via these kinks? What ribald ruby-red jumps live from these booby traps? Nothing but antiquated horse-corsets passing murals, gun-slung brothers sprung from Rite Aid, orange vodka-eaters. I fit into this like a mentholated ciggy in a Presbyterian church, which is to say, the city has heroes ducking under awnings, semen smells in tightly packed alleys, particularities. 9

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#10 What does he say, the porridge-hearted victor, as troops rub ermine on his thighs? He is not only hermaphroditic, he complains of being too much like Cleopatra. He is only a bruised pear, yet words come out of him, tunes replay in his head like flies on ice cream. I am him as a fish is a bicycle but a fish on a bicycle would be too much, like Henna-dyed Shakespearean joust-a-bouts. 10

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#11 All minor chords are dreadful when prolonged by Valium. Not that I condescend to be anything but minor. Not that I’d give myself an A. Actually, I would, but then not every poem I like begins Roses are red, Violets are blue. I understand newness. I understand membranes. I understand that a bald pate does not signify superior understanding. I can’t give you anything, and vice versa. Go back to the opening. 11

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#12 It is simply bereavement that leads us here, to these images. It is a matter of fucking upstairs, getting the maids wet. What you see is what you see, cadavers in copses, perfectly good mushrooms, a tent to shelter red-heads. Don’t accuse yourself of blasphemy for marching sideways, crab-like, towards Exit signs. Any kind of soft-shoe swagger remains inappropriate. Stay where shadows press themselves in upon you. Stay with the purple riders and their sage buttons. Stay safe within danger. 12

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