302 Pages / Poetry
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Improviso is a text, like Kerouac’s scroll, pulled out of the Olivetti not as spontaneous bop prosody but improvised epic poetry. Imbued with drive and muscular speed, this book-length narrative is an explosion of poetry in the tradition of American Expressionism. As voiced by Whitman, Kerouac, Ginsberg, and especially Berrigan—whose work Improviso mirrors—Thilleman’s tale of young love in the big apple is told in a personal, as opposed to an impersonal heroic voice. His saga of the transformative powers of art and sex through a spontaneous expulsion of lyric breath illuminates the environment of New York City in the late 70’s/early 80’s—its subways, museums, music, artists, tenements and cafés—when creators gathered in numbers to do everything necessary to feed the unbridled imagination that gives birth to the new.
Through fragments that assemble at the scene of remembrance into labyrinthine wanderings through a variety of enclosures, be they the haunts of actual buildings as in the lower regions and endless corridors of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thilleman engages us in his blur of a landscape with all the thrill and disorientation that was life in NYC during the 1980s. Like steam-pipes bursting out of the corner of one’s eye into wisps of romance, or comic scene partially understood, each frame opening wider in a way that remakes a remembering, all with an exquisite ear for the toss of words upon a page to make beat and breath crystallize into something alive and singular.
Eye scans, voice scats, akin to jazz, free form, improvised language played in sonic abbreviations, cool and hot, brainy and heartfelt, word snippets and scraps of memory over a day, a month, a year of a soul traveling through parks and clubs and beds and bars, a scrappy life of jobs and art and sexy love, the quotidian juggled with the eternal, ephemeral alongside the indelible, a documentation of poetry readings, music gigs, menace, social upheaval, a beautiful messy recounting of a young man’s struggle to live, create, survive in the unforgiving city of the mid-1980s. And it works, unpretentiously works as “a beginningless dream of reality.” I recommend you surrender and let Improviso sweep you into its own margins.
The Buddhist saint would say, as Cassady suggested to Kerouac, a poem exists when attention gathers a moment into being. How many can happen in a day, in an hour, in a second of noticings? Scores, dozens, countless theologically, though Buddhism has no such thing. What we have here has a strong resemblance to that principle, however. Madness is the risk of it, but also the prize ending of an escape from anxieties of the self.
Nothing is free, in which case, everything is free. Take this ‘free’ verse. What price did T Thilleman pay to make this book, and these poems, free? His soul, his life, his sanity. Everything is poured into the poems, the important and the ordinary, the complex and the simple. This is a major symphony, not by Mahler or Beethoven, but Thilleman. Remember that name. People will be playing this music hundreds of years from now.
M. G. Stephens
Song’s Grail quest. Catch a buzz in the middle of a city where bees seldom frequent. Where populates of parks jabber juggernauts into existence. Where ochre pots of plants are broken on porches in an effort to kick off boots at midnight during a drunken sleep. At least I walked home safe. “Maybe, I thought, sleep is really just fate, all fates.”
I picked up Improviso yesterday and could not put it down. What a marvelous feat! Fantastic the way thilleman excised, isolated images & impressions that link together with virtually no syntax whatsoever yet manage to create a compelling narrative. It has that same kind of forward-spinning propulsion Thomas Wolfe and Kerouac were so good at. When I finally put it down I felt like I had just come out of a movie theater after a very gripping, moving film. Totally captivating. It’s about so many things: New York and art and writing and music and creativity and “coming of age” and, last but not least, it’s a love story with a somewhat tragic spin.
Erudite yet pithy, t thilleman’s odyssey of freewheeling youth gives us a “BUZZ! BUZZ! BUZZ!” An elevator operator shares his ups and downs both at work and in pursuit of a dream destiny to become an “anti-folk” star. He hooks up with a posh goddess and scribes epic vibes, burning up his Olivetti with toot-fueled lines of lyric bravado. He nails it one tiny, exhilarating “chapter” at a time in poetry cum novella. Desperate ambition touches the heart—a pilgrim’s guide to auto-glide. Marvelous work. Epic!
Jeffrey Cyphers Wright
thilleman’s Improviso is an intimate story blooming from inside language, a story told otherwise. Phrases cascade over each other in luminous angles pushing your mind to find alternative meanings while the streets of Manhattan provide the theater where fractured lives unravel, where love is made and lost. The expressive melodic arrangements in this work transcend the boundaries of narrative and of thought processes themselves…
Evocation of New York City lived more than described. Without blowing trumpets and ringing bells, t thilleman created a real feel for poet-artist NY existence: the drawing classes, performances, lousy jobs, weird types, nocturnal fun and danger, humiliation, tiny triumphs, it’s all here. One of the real strengths is the ongoing narrative, the forward thrust of clear characters and tight scenes, and the sense, novelistically speaking, of what’s gonna happen next? The last chapter is a pitch perfect ending, bitter sweet yet not sentimental or overdone, permeated with true tenderness. Bravo!
An amazing and addictive longpoem. The core relationship and struggle of being artists in Brooklyn, in love/or just free enough to enjoy each other’s body (& mind). Insights into songwriting and performance via experimentation … as well as poems and fragments in the tat tat tat of an Olivetti—embedded diamonds in the text itself. Guffaws at open mics in bars and squats and the lively, crazed characters. A jam-packed preservation of a period, providing vibrant gestalt for NYC and the birth of a poet / artist grappling with the daily dilemma of earning enough money to survive … yet never wavering from the scene.
Each poem like a vertical moment, the length of a breath. Reminds of what they say about the average ability to stay focused on the present, under 12 seconds, before we move on. The poems accommodate in this way. The shapes are also vertical, like an elevator, so the view the speaker gives seems to last the length of an elevator ride. The poem’s movement duplicates the activity of the poem’s voice: its employment is the poem’s employment. Some zoom in on a few seconds of real time, others fold into backstory of a compacted space.
The compressed noun-verb thing here reminds me of Kerouac (Mex City Blues) and Ginsberg (Howl era), the movement fast, jittery on down the line. The moves, so subtle, sure, deft, as quick in the final meditative essay as in the poetry, brings us to the ending / beginning of Luce’s story, in transit, in memoriam. A tough and toughened look through battered NYC lenses.