at Length

Delusion’s Enclosure: on Harry Partch (1901-1974)

—Stephen Motika

We recommend viewing the PDF version of this poem. To do so, click here.

“This is my trinity: sound-magic, visual beauty, experience-ritual.”–Harry Partch


a gist (of origin) to say born Oaklandia on 6.24.01

laterchild of deserts

“the dying gasps of the old West”

til in Tucson

Benson (three hundred people and eleven saloons)

&   @     Albuquerque

in nights, long freight trains passingantiphonal thensteam whistle 60 miles yonder

small garden : Phoenix : rising, then falling

books in Mandarin(parents who lost their missionary zeal)

trips to Kansas City & musical studies & jobs as porters

but at 14, he knew that it was                    SOUND


what early music?

Chinese lullabies
Yaqui Indian puberty rituals
Hebrew chants
Edison cylinder records
Okie songs
(working the vineyards)

took a trashing from proper musical lessons in Los Angeles but


mother struck dead by a streetcar

father dead a couple of yrs

age 20 / alone from there on and ever

this young metropolis and trips to Philharmonic hall

triumphant       lovea roll/hay roll withlost Ramon Novarro(murdered by two hustlers four decades later)

always a love for the body


with parts


study : history of tone

fifty-three tone system proposed          by the Chinese in the first centuryby Nicolas Mercator in the 17th

- microtonal mishaps in the west -

as if to say

just-intonational scales

then to New Orleans and New York and London and Malta

a return to

Li Po verse

on adapted viola

where do you live?

off a city street and ten thousand houses among drooping willows

1930-1947 singing Biblical passages, hitch-hiker transcripts.

Why all the trouble?


“a language in itself”


Greek &




dramas containing music, dance, mime, shouting, whistling, and slapstick

so early (to have known) so late (to have been discovered to have known)


back from San Joaquin

(keeping music in hobo bundle)

at Big Surcoast work campmet Jean Varda

an understanding, as if to say we’re in    synchronysynchromyfor painters

always loving, loving, loving, loving(men)


- alpha -

convict camps, coast of magnificentdescend-ings


black mountain to coast(line)every starrywhiten


coast road
in moves northand east

return south to

-  beta -

warm (to) sleeping bagPablo’s soup in handwillowed sandsriver’sideentihillion stars

“Why wander?”

gone away for-everin the eternity of infinity

& thumb my nose at tomorrow

- gamma -

Slate’s hot springs

long sincedead

an ownership                         a Bright Angel leads to the baths

on board to Big Creek (wink, wink)

evening campfire, San Simonat Cone Peak

- delta -

at Ojai dry leaved pepper tree bodyriddled white snaked waterin the blacknessan inky o-high oaka beauty of hands stroke


August beach, ocean breath

Mount Diablo
sinking beneath the horizon

stay & move

to pass peak

with men

food and flops and “well-made chaps”

yes yesall thisbrazen talk

by creeks and woodsheds and more along side the highway


to make:

“U.S. Highball,” hobo trip with music

going East mister? (plucked)

Freeze another night tonight

Stay out of Denver

It moves back and forth

Is that blanket big enough for two?

Chicago, Chicago, Chicago

end at Sparks division yards


in                 red-wood

groves of


after several durations at Ithaca and Madison

for isolation, interview

founded his instrument workshop

“a philosophical man seduced into carpentry”

river camperwoodworker

“an acoustical ardor and a conceptual fervor”

tuning: total gambit of dissonance and consonance


Orchestra at Gualala:

a. zymo-xyl“exercise in hither and thither aesthesia”with kettletop, oak block, on hubcap, wine and booze bottles

b. Gourd Tree Gongtwelve bells (exotic fruit) on eucalypt bar& piece of aircraft bomber

c. Mazda Marimbagod of light sounds like the percolations of a coffee pot

d. Spoils of Warsseven brass artillery casings hanging here “instead ofshredding young men’s bodies on the battle field”

e. Cloud-Chamber Bowlschemical-solution jars from the university’s radiation lab


activation of investigation and interventions with Yeats

and enticement

HP: “I have read his prefaces—I love his prefaces, incidentally.”

WBY: “A California musician called a few days ago and is coming
again tomorrow. He is working on the relation between words and
music…. He speaks to this instrument.”

HP: “The minute I brought out my viola and sang, Yeats just loved it.
He’s not one for theory.”

the taking of Oedipus an opera written.

happily written here, the land of no there there.


compelled by kithara

Partch built a great lyre of 72 strings.

Orpheus’s lyre had three stings.

Timotheus (446-357 BC), who dared to expand the scale on the Kithara by
adding four strings to the eight approved of by Pythagoras was driven out of
Sparta forever.

“These days, when someone does something different, they ignore him to death.”


intoned dialogue god, then help us assemble

by way of chorus

Oh— Oh— Oh— Ah— Ah— Ah—

in way of supplicant’s branches

with such cries of sorrow

good news of lights, curtains

suffering in homeless sea, thunder, lightning, lost to

as “death himself is dead”

Tiresias, presented by spokesman,regales Creon

anger of mattering, basest of men,a fillingthis rageagainstevidence  ofproof?

a tumult of iron, prophets forgotten

Oh- Oh-                      Lo-       Oh-      Lo- Oh-

where is Bold Oedipus?

(quick sketches by Lebrun, Baskin, Kolwitz)

appointed end, free from                     pain




in scene six from 1956

baroque leaps

“Anyone can dream of bringing control to a Sausalito love affair.”

but only the witch can accomplish it.


back from Urbana:

Ancient Chorus in “Revelation in the Courthouse Park”

this palacealights to be seen by



(Dionysus, Pentheus, Agave, Cadmus,Tiresias, Guard, Herdsmen, and Chorus)

Greek melodrama arrived inrural Illinois

kithara & instruments

here, on the seventh day,


fell on


in voiceless score


west Los Angeles boulevard:

chromelodean, counts six 2/1 harmonium

collapseda monophony: the might of the HUMAN e-a-r

the breeze as perceived by Marin Mersenne, on the throat.

equivocation of the klang

in components of tone

in ratios,cyclesin intervals,immediacyin frequenciessystemsin procedures,limits

tasks to Pasadena Museum

All to be tasked by “Delusions’ Fury,” chance dramas on stage.

HP:   I would choose to be anonymous. Who cares who wrote it? Who cares what the name was?


The Dreamer that Remains

Viet’s time

soul’s chance, five decades apart, was Stephen Pouliot

“turn left on Orpheus Drive, left on Sunset”in this small town

Pacific, a sexy beach

where, to find


stairway’s chant

volcanic Harry: looking down, laughing

Etruscan touchstone


how to see him, on film, all too late

kimono purplePartch seesa loss of rose petal jama harmonic convergence

in this study for loving (underwritten by Betty Freeman):

in red/yellow/pale blue tank tops & jeans

a set of constructions to hold beautiful boysin floating atmosphere of whiteat San Diego State

“tongue must couple with the cavity or there’s no resonant tone. yes, this is sexy.”


and with Lou Harrison

stackside, found each other in the SF public library

clearing house for books, for s-x years

to speak to each other.mentorship. of generosity. and. of knowing.

teased about inflexibility of his “systems”

hosted in redwood park


1974: back again: Genesis of Music springs from the Dreamers creation.

“Note: the widely current practice of using the word note to indicate amusical sound, or pitch, is not followed in this work.”

final interview after interview, lost road, the sign ever propped before

generation of youth


pied piper

red-lamped night

shaded Socrates

looking out, a letter to the world, in this enclosure.

“I went outside. I’m still going outside.”

Stephen Motika is the editor of Tiresias: The Collected Poems of Leland Hickman (2009) and the author of the poetry chapbooks Arrival and At Mono (2007) and In the Madrones (2011). His first book, Western Practice, is forthcoming from Alice James Books in 2012. Recent work has appeared in The Brooklyn Review, Eleven Eleven, The Boog City Reader 4, and The Poetry Project Newsletter. A 2010-2011 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace Resident, he is the program director at Poets House and the publisher of Nightboat Books.