Our Poet Illaureate
By Gary Singh
WHEN MUSIC professors talk about medieval music, they often tend to downplay the role of the Goliard poets, those vagrant, wandering scholars of the 12th century who, for one reason or another, gave up their training and priesthood in favor of a nomadic lifestyle. They roamed from university to university, gathering their acolytes and singing praises of the flesh and the drink. Deprecated by the church, they were relegated to social outcasts and rambunctious pests.
The Goliards were a diverse bunch at first, ranging from ambitious youths with a lust for learning to stout-hearted men with unsophisticated but crusading hymns. However, as time wore on, an increasing faction of these wandering scholars found the practice of parody more invigorating than mere song. By heisting the Latin staves of the vernacular and changing the words to create songs that celebrated every vice imaginable, their tactics offended the pious in unprecedented degrees. This increased almost exponentially. What began as harmless parody quickly blossomed into vile, blasphemous tactics, designed to bastardize anything ecclesiastic and completely ridicule the authors of all such material. "God Be With You" became "Fraud Be With You." Original texts from sacred masses became springboards for ritualized celebrations of drinking, whores or anything that mocked the liturgical ceremony. These nomadic scholars appropriated the material inflicted upon them and utilized it in a gorgeously unnerving fashion. They gradually became the singing advocates for all that irritated and disrupted the pious.
The Goliard Poets eventually ceased operations and disappeared sometime during the 13th century, gradually being written off as petty trifles and foul-mouthed babblers. If you actually study classical music in college, most history textbooks devote about a paragraph to them at the most; however, their laudable tactics of bashing their ultimate adversary of "righteousness" have continuously resurfaced in a million different arenas.
And speaking of that, I decided to hook up with one of San Jose's own favorite local Goliardesque poets, Roberto Tinoco Duran, since he has a new book out, Dark Spark, which is chock-filled with his definitively short, quick poems that viscerally explore everything about life in San Jose, Calif.: the Chicano experience, race, ethnic and social divisions, the police department, the "10th largest city," Silicon Valley, Ron Gonzales and more.
Duran is a combustible dude—not someone you invite to parties for pleasant chit-chat. To steal a phrase from Trevanian, he's wilder than a cat crapping razor blades and this book proves it. If anyone should be San Jose's poet illaureate, it's him. In one particular nugget, he says that his mind belongs on death row but his body isn't willing to go yet. And consider this little gem:
When I'm abrasive
It just means
I'm fine sanding
That's the whole epic and that's the kind of stuff he does. His poems are like quick sound bites that smack you in the face. Here's another one, a blast that I really wish I had written:
Read that again 100 times. What else could one possibly add to that? Duran elicits the Goliard in us all and San Jose needs more people like him.