Book of the Year Three Thousand
by Victor Grauer
Some Introductory Remarks by the Author
This work is rather unusual, a cross between an epic poem, an incantation and a barely discernable inscription on the wall of some ancient edifice. It does tell a story, though the nature of that story wasn't particularly clear as I was writing it. The first lines came to me while still a grad student in the Music Dept. of the University of Buffalo, probably around 1969, in the form of a fairly straightforward poem, which went something like this:
Thousands of Arabian horses
Each one mighty
On a great plain
Diving and spitting and foaming
And rearing and recovering,
Their white manes splashing
The riders riders riders,
Their flashy black hooves
Glimmering and stinging.
From astride, pouring sideways
And to the rear
Falling and being held
By combinations of forces
Momentarily momentarily momentarily
Each eye each muscle each hair each hoof
Fixed for miles
And collectively rising,
I I I sing.
I was never completely happy with that, it seemed to have a potential for doing more than just being a poem. And finally I realized I wanted to make into something more real, more dramatic, more powerful: an incantation.
I started really getting the hang of this in 1970, I think. I'd just sit at the typewriter, start out with a phrase that interested me and take it from there, just repeating the phrase, or parts of the phrase, looking for rhythms, fresh juxtapositions, wider meanings. I sort of put myself into a semi-trance state, just letting a flow develop and following along without much hesitation (usually). During the course of composing this work I explored all sorts of different variations on the process and, I think, made some very interesting discoveries -- about poetry, language, meaning -- and non-meaning.
Another aspect was my growing fascination with world literature, in the form of myth, epic poetry, shamanic incantations, the texts of blues, flamenco, folk songs, etc. Book of the Year Three Thousand is full of very specific references to such texts, many of its phrases drawn from them.
The most important influence was the huge Hindu epic, the Mahabharata, which I became aware of for the first time probably in 1970. I was fascinated with the role of repetition and variation in this enormous text, spanning something like 18 thick volumes in its English translation. Also, I had in mind the basic "story" of this epic, the great battle on the plain of Kurukshetra, in which almost the entire ancient world participates and is destroyed. I associated this in my mind with a more modern battle I'd been reading about, the greatest tank battle of World War II, between the Germans and the Soviets, which also took place on a great plain, called Kursk. This has been described as the greatest battle in history. ("Real" history, that is.) I was also interested in the similarity between the sounds "Kursk" and "Kurukshetra."
I suppose every epic is centered on a battle and this was very much in my mind as I typed away. It was only after some years, however, that the exact nature of this battle became clear to me. The realization came when I was working on a prose piece in which there were references to the army of the grass and the army of the wind. I then realized the whole Book of the Year Three Thousand can be understood as the story of a great battle between the wind and the grass. It's actually right there in several places in the text, but at the time I didn't notice.
This then, many years later, became the "theme" of my most ambitious musical work, a 40 minute orchestral "tone poem," entitled Great March Across the Plain. In this work, the wind gathers an army in the form of songs, also from all over the world, and then goes on to attack the grass, which has meanwhile gathered songs of its own. But I thought of it in another way as well: simply as a gust of wind blowing up over a farmer's field, then riding across the long grasses of his meadow, bending them as it goes. In the more dramatic version of the story, the battle leads to a great conflagration in which the grasses all burn and the wind dissipates. And then an epilogue, a funeral march, in which I discovered two important meanings. One, which I will not share, is very personal. The second is universal, and comes in the form of a quotation from Brahms' Requiem: "All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord bloweth upon it."
When I had completed 45 pages I decided it must be done. I had an idea for how I wanted it published, so I just went ahead on my own. I was able to rent a typewriter with a tiny typeface and hired someone to type the whole thing out for me using this machine. I then hired an art student to carefully mount all the pages on a large piece of cardboard. I took that to a local printer who was able to reduce it even more, photograph, and then print it, on some really nice butcher's paper. They did a great job. This was something I've never seen before or since: an entire book printed on a single page. The print is very small. You really should use a magnifying glass to read it. I like the idea of exploring this work as a surface, almost like a tomb inscription or something like that. Eventually it was reissued, using the same master photo, on a single page of the avant-garde music journal Source.
Shortly after the book was first printed, I went to New York, in December of 1972, with a friend, and the two of us took turns reading the entire work at the Kitchen, an institution devoted to installation and performance art. It took about three hours. A few months later this performance was the subject (in part) of an article in the Village Voice by music critic Tom Johnson. I was also inspired around the same time to make a rather ambitious film based on excerpts from this poem. This film, completed around 1973, is also called Book of the Year Three Thousand. A print is in the collection of the Carnegie Museum of Art here in Pittsburgh.
As time went on I found myself continuing with the same project. It just seems I was not really finished and, in fact, just getting started. Eventually Book Two of the work was to occupy another 41 pages. Among these pages is some of the best poetry I've ever written. But Book Two was never published. Until now.
One other thing. Around the time I was working on this poem, I made a short super 8 mm film entitled "Life in the Year Three Thousand." It was simply a film of someone swimming in a swimming pool in bright sunlight. Eventually that became the idea for the title of my poem. And the footage became a part of my longer film of the same name. As far as timing is concerned, you can think of these events as occuring in Three Thousand B.C. -- or A.D. -- or both.