Saturday, April 30, 2016

Symphony Saturday

Bruckner's Eighth Symphony (in C minor) is an enormous work, comprising nearly ninety minutes of music. The work is scored for enormous orchestra:

The 1887 version requires an instrumentation of three each of the following woodwind: flutes (the third doubling as piccolo), oboes, clarinets, bassoons (the third doubling as contrabassoon) – the triple woodwinds, however, only enter in the Finale (with double woodwind for the earlier movements) – in addition to eight horns, three trumpets, three trombones, a quartet of Wagner tubas, which double as Horns 5–8 in the Finale, and a single contrabass tuba, along with timpani, cymbals, triangle, three harps, and strings.

We've come a long way from the Mozart orchestra where you might not even have trumpets or timpani, haven't we?

The Eighth is the last symphony Bruckner completed (he left behind an unfinished Ninth), and as such, this work represents the apex of his symphonic powers. If you're attuned to Bruckner and his cathedral-like approach to orchestral sound in his gigantic symphonies, this is music of the highest order. (If not, well, I can't help you.) Unlike the Fourth, which is rather radiant throughout, Bruckner is grappling with real issues of darkness in the Eighth, which gives the work a lot of its epic feel.

Here is Bruckner's Symphony No. 8 in C minor. Go on its journey!

Next week: a retreat, of sorts.

Friday, April 29, 2016

National Poetry Month, day 29

If poetry is dead, as they say, why do so many people still write poetry? Why is there so much poetry in social media outlets like Tumblr and Instagram?

I'm guessing it's because poetry isn't dead.

Like many readers, I discovered the poetry of Lang Leav through Tumblr, where she posts her own work. She's not just a Tumblr poet, but rather an artist who has been honing her craft for years, but it's amazing how much of her audience -- for poetry, one of the oldest art forms -- comes from so recent a development as Tumblr.

Poetry absolutely abounds online. Is it all good? Of course not. But much of it is intended as poetry has always often been intended: a snapshot, through words, of the thoughts and feelings of a certain soul.

it is a terrible thing
to love the unreachable;

i found this out
on a friday night
where in a whole room of people
the world starts and ends
on your lips and
i knew i was staring at
the dusting of your freckles
but couldn’t resist

it is a terrible thing to love
your friends

i am burning alive
for it.


at the tender age of 23
i received the Nobel Prize
for daydreaming
and everyone applauded
a standing ovation
and then i woke up
standing in the kitchen in my underwear
in front of an open refrigerator
with one hand on the door
and the other loosely in my side
as if i was just looking for some midnight snack
i looked down
at my body
in the pale refrigerator light
didn’t remember how I got here
must have been sleepwalking again
didn’t even know
for how long i was standing there
but my body felt
intensely cold


*toying #rambles #light and love ☺️

A photo posted by Christopher Poindexter (@christopherpoindexter) on


A photo posted by All of my bullshit truths. 🔪 (@j.r.rogue) on

Hell no, poetry ain't dead.

Bad Joke Friday

Thursday, April 28, 2016

National Poetry Month, day twenty-eight

My favorite author, Guy Gavriel Kay, has a new novel coming out next month!

One reason I love Kay's writing is his luminous prose, which is greatly informed and shaped by his love of poetry and verse. Some years ago, Kay (or GGK as his fans call him) released a collection of his own poems, Beyond This Dark House, and below is a selection from that collection.

Wow...Poetry Month is almost over....

And Diving
by Guy Gavriel Kay

Late night
in a cold bed,
far away.

Yesterday I dreamed
that you had died,

arcing from a bridge
to black water.

I arrived too late
and diving,

could only bring
your body back to be
whitened by moonlight.

I was crying, holding
your still hands.

Late night,
cold bed, telling myself
I do not love you,

remembering your voice,
your hands in my hair.

Something for Thursday

In the "Wow, that is a Weird Cover!" department, we have...and I have video proof below that I am not making this up...the depressing song "Leader of the Pack" (in which the bad boy from the wrong side of town gets mad when his girlfriend is forced by her parents to dump him so he goes driving off angrily and gets killed in a wreck), covered by Twisted Sister. Ayup.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

National Poetry Month, day twenty-seven

Are song lyrics also poetry?

This isn't quite as easy a question as it seems up front. Here's an interesting article on the subject, and a key point is this:

Words in a poem take place against the context of silence (or maybe an espresso maker, depending on the reading series), whereas, as musicians like Will Oldham and David Byrne have recently pointed out, lyrics take place in the context of a lot of deliberate musical information: melody, rhythm, instrumentation, the quality of the singer’'s voice, other qualities of the recording, etc. Without all that musical information, lyrics usually do not function as well, precisely because they were intentionally designed that way.

Song lyrics, then, should not be assessed as a whole outside of their intended musical context, at least according to this particular view. I'm somewhat sympathetic to this, but I also think that it's too easy to undervalue lyrics as well. I've been guilty of this in the past, to the point that many times, I've completely ignored lyrics in songs, in favor of the musical elements.

Lyrics, though, almost always use the same literary devices that poetry uses. Lyrics employ rhyme schemes; they can make use of literary allusion; they have rhythm -- in fact, they really must have rhythm (or meter). So...are song lyrics poetry? I'll say this: I think it's far easier to make the case that they are than it is that they are not.

Here are some that I like. These are taken from musicals, but I think the point can stand for any musical genre.

The Sadder by Wiser Girl For Me,
from The Music Man,
by Meredith Willson (YouTube)

No sweet and pure, angelic lass or me.
That kinda gal can spin a web you see
She trades on wholesome innocence galore.
But it's my independence that she's trading for
The only affirmative she will file
Refers to marching down the aisle.
No golden, glorious, gleaming pristine goddess--
No sir!
For no Diana do I play faun.
I can tell you that right now.
I snarl, I hiss: How can ignorance be compared to bliss?
I spark, I fizz for the lady who knows what time it is.
I cheer, I rave for the virtue I'm too late to save
The sadder-but-wiser girl for me.
No bright-eyed, blushing, breathless baby-doll baby
No sir.
That kinda child ties knots no sailor ever knew.
I prefer to take a chance on a more adult romance.
No dewy young miss
Who keeps resisting all the time she keeps insisting!
No wide-eyed, wholesome innocent female.
Why, she's the fisherman, I'm the fish you see?
I flinch, I shy, when the lass with the delicate air goes by
I smile, I grin, when the gal with a touch of sin walks in.
I hope, and I pray, for Hester to win just one more "A"
The sadder-but-wiser girl for me.
No giggling ice cream soda drinker out to hook you line and sinker
No honey brooded beaconing siren
I plug me ears and I grab my horns and I flee
I cheer and I boo at the puritan hearted aun jeune
I yearn, I long for the women who's pa says what went wrong
I root and I clap for the dame in the gown less evening strap
The sadder-but-wiser girl's the girl for me.
The sadder-but-wiser girl for me.

C'est Moi
from Camelot
by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe (YouTube)

Camelot! Camelot!
In far-off France I heard your call.
Camelot! Camelot!
And here am I to give my all.
I know in my soul what you expect of me,
And all that and more I shall be.

A knight of the Table Round should be invincible,
Suceed where a less fantastic man would fail.
Climb a wall no one else can climb,
Cleave a dragon in record time,
Swim a moat in a coat of heavy iron mail.
No matter the pain, he ought to be unwinceable,
Impossible deeds should be his daily fare.
But where in the world
Is there in the world
A man so *extraordinaire*?

C'est moi! C'est moi, I'm forced to admit.
'Tis I, I humbly reply.
That mortal who
These marvels can do,
C'est moi, c'est moi, 'tis I.
I've never lost
In battle or game;
I'm simply the best by far.
When swords are crossed
'Tis always the same:
One blow and au revoir!
C'est moi! C'est moi! So adm'rably fit!
A French Prometheus unbound.
And here I stand, with valour untold,
Exeption'ly brave, amazingly bold,
To serve at the Table Round!

The soul of a knight should be a thing remarkable,
His heart and his mind as pure as morning dew.
With a will and a self-restraint
That's the envy of ev'ry saint
He could easily work a miracle or two.
To love and desire he ought to be unsparkable,
The ways of the flesh should offer no allure.
But where in the world
Is there in the world
A man so untouched and pure?
(C'est moi!)

C'est moi! C'est moi, I blush to disclose.
I'm far too noble to lie.
That man in whom
These qualities bloom,
C'est moi, c'est moi, 'tis I.
I've never strayed
From all I believe;
I'm blessed with an iron will.
Had I been made
The partner of Eve,
We'd be in Eden still.
C'est moi! C'est moi! The angels have chose
To fight their battles below,
And here I stand, as pure as a pray'r,
Incredibly clean, with virtue to spare,
The godliest man I know!
C'est moi!

The Last Night of the World
from Miss Saigon
by Claude-Michel Schoenberg and Alain Boublil (YouTube)

In a place that won't let us feel
In a life where nothing seems real
I have found youI have found you

In a world that's moving too fast
In a world where nothing can last
I will hold you
I will hold you

Our lives will change, when tomorrow comes

Tonight our hearts drown the distant drums

And we have music, all right
Tearing the night

A song
Played on a solo saxophone
A crazy sound
A lonely sound
A cry that tells us
Love goes on and on
Played on a solo saxophone
It's telling me
To hold you tight
And dance
Like it's the last night
Of the world

On the other side of the earth
There's a place where life still has worth
I will take you

I'll go with you

You won't believe all the tings you'll see
I know 'cause you'll see them all with me

If we're together, that's when
We'll hear it again
A song
Played on a solo saxophone
A crazy sound
A lonely sound
A cry that tells us
Love goes on and on
Played on a solo saxophone
It's telling me
To hold you tight
And dance
Like it's the last night
Of the world

Dreams were all I ever knew

Dreams you won't need when I'm through

Anywhere we may be
I will sing with you
A song

So stay with me
And hold me tight
And dance
Like it's the last night of the world

Alexander Hamilton
from Hamilton
by Lin-Manuel Miranda (YouTube)

How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a
Forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence
Impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?

The ten-dollar founding father without a father
Got a lot farther by working a lot harder
By being a lot smarter
By being a self-starter
By fourteen, they placed him in charge of a
Trading charter

And every day while slaves were being slaughtered and carted
Away across the waves, he struggled and kept his guard up
Inside, he was longing for something to be a part of
The brother was ready to beg, steal, borrow, or barter

Then a hurricane came, and devastation reigned
Our man saw his future drip, dripping down the drain
Put a pencil to his temple, connected it to his brain
And he wrote his first refrain, a testament to his pain

Well, the word got around, they said, “This kid is insane, man”
Took up a collection just to send him to the mainland
“Get your education, don’t forget from whence you came, and
The world is gonna know your name. What’s your name, man?”

Alexander Hamilton
My name is Alexander Hamilton
And there’s a million things I haven’t done
But just you wait, just you wait...

When he was ten his father split, full of it, debt-ridden
Two years later, see Alex and his mother bed-ridden
Half-dead sittin' in their own sick, the scent thick

And Alex got better but his mother went quick

Moved in with a cousin, the cousin committed suicide
Left him with nothin’ but ruined pride, something new inside
A voice saying

“You gotta fend for yourself.” [COMPANY]
“Alex, you gotta fend for yourself.”
He started retreatin’ and readin’ every treatise on the shelf

There would have been nothin’ left to do
For someone less astute
He woulda been dead or destitute
Without a cent of restitution
Started workin’, clerkin’ for his late mother’s landlord
Tradin’ sugar cane and rum and all the things he can’t afford
Scammin’ for every book he can get his hands on
Plannin’ for the future see him now as he stands on
The bow of a ship headed for a new land
In New York you can be a new man

In New York you can
Be a new man—
In New York you can
Be a new man—



Just you wait!

Just you wait!

In New York you can be a new man—

In New York—

New York—

Just you wait!

Alexander Hamilton

We are waiting in the wings for you

You could never back down
You never learned to take your time!

Oh, Alexander Hamilton

When America sings for you
Will they know what you overcame?
Will they know you rewrote the game?
The world will never be the same, oh

The ship is in the harbor now
See if you can spot him

Another immigrant
Comin’ up from the bottom

His enemies destroyed his rep
America forgot him [COMPANY]
Alexander Hamilton

Waiting in the wings for you

You never learned to take your time!

Oh, Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton…
America sings for you
Will they know what you overcame?
Will they know you rewrote the game?
The world will never be the same, oh

Just you wait

Just you wait

We fought with him

Me? I died for him

Me? I trusted him

Me? I loved him

And me? I’m the damn fool that shot him

There’s a million things I haven’t done
But just you wait!

What’s your name, man?

Alexander Hamilton!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

National Poetry Day, day twenty-six

If love has a rival for the most frequent theme in poetry, I suppose it's likely death. Poets have been grappling with the mystery of death for as long as they've been grappling with the mystery of love, and there are times when they meditate on both subjects in the same poem.

Walt Whitman seems to think of death as the ultimate journey, and that only upon death can a soul enter its truest nature:

Darest thou now O soul
by Walt Whitman

Darest thou now O soul,
Walk out with me toward the unknown region,
Where neither ground is for the feet nor any path to follow?
No map there, nor guide,
Nor voice sounding, nor touch of human hand,
Nor face with blooming flesh, nor lips, nor eyes, are in that land.

I know it not O soul,
Nor dost thou, all is a blank before us,
All waits undream'd of in that region, that inaccessible land.

Till when the ties loosen,
All but the ties eternal, Time and Space,
Nor darkness, gravitation, sense, nor any bounds bounding us.

Then we burst forth, we float,
In Time and Space O soul, prepared for them,
Equal, equipt at last, (O joy! O fruit of all!) them to fulfil O soul.

Another view of death can be found in this amazing poem by Christina Rossetti. She describes death as a destination to which we all come, and she frames it as a comfort: an inn at the end of a long day's journey, an inn that cannot be missed by the side of the road. She doesn't describe the inn in specific terms -- I suppose it could be something rather like the Bates Motel -- but I always picture Rossetti's inn as a brightly lit place where warm welcomes are given to those who arrive.

by Christina Rossetti

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
    Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
    From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
    A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
    You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
    Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
    They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
    Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
    Yea, beds for all who come.

A far, far bleaker view of death can be found in this 11th century Chinese poem:

by Mei Yao-ch'en (1002-1060)

Heaven took my wife. Now it
Has also taken my son.
My eyes are not allowed a
Dry season. It is too much
For my heart. I long for death.
When the rain falls and enters
The earth, when a pearl drops into
The depth of the sea, you can
Dive in the sea and find the
Peal, you can dig in the earth
And find the water. But no one
Has ever come back from the
Underground Springs. Once gone, life
Is over for good. My chest
Tightens against me. I have
No one to turn to. Nothing.
Not even a shadow in a mirror.

(translated by Kenneth Rexroth, from the collection World Poetry

I am currently reading an amazing poetic exploration of death, Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology. The book is a collection of free-form verse epitaphs for the denizens of a small town called Spoon River. In each epitaph we learn why each person died, and many other things as well, as death -- the ultimate leveler in status, since everyone from the Mayor to the town drunk will die -- allows people to tell the truth, or at least their version of it. Some characters' deaths are attributable to the callous actions of others, but then we read the others' own epitaphs and get a different side of the story. Or, in the case of Minerva Jones, we get this:

Minerva Jones
from Spoon River Anthology

I AM Minerva, the village poetess,
Hooted at, jeered at by the Yahoos of the street
For my heavy body, cock-eye, and rolling walk,
And all the more when "Butch" Weldy
Captured me after a brutal hunt.
He left me to my fate with Doctor Meyers;
And I sank into death, growing numb from the feet up,
Like one stepping deeper and deeper into a stream of ice.
Will some one go to the village newspaper,
And gather into a book the verses I wrote?—
I thirsted so for love
I hungered so for life!

Now, this seems pretty clear that Minerva Jones died after being violently assaulted, perhaps raped, by Butch Weldy. But what does Butch Weldy have to say about his own demise?

Butch Weldy
from Spoon River Anthology

AFTER I got religion and steadied down
They gave me a job in the canning works,
And every morning I had to fill
The tank in the yard with gasoline,
That fed the blow-fires in the sheds
To heat the soldering irons.
And I mounted a rickety ladder to do it,
Carrying buckets full of the stuff.
One morning, as I stood there pouring,
The air grew still and seemed to heave,
And I shot up as the tank exploded,
And down I came with both legs broken,
And my eyes burned crisp as a couple of eggs.
For someone left a blow—fire going,
And something sucked the flame in the tank.
The Circuit Judge said whoever did it
Was a fellow-servant of mine, and so
Old Rhodes' son didn't have to pay me.
And I sat on the witness stand as blind
As lack the Fiddler, saying over and over,
"I didn't know him at all."

That's not how Weldy goes, but anyway, it might be karma, or it might not. But it's telling that Weldy has absolutely nothing to say about Minerva Jones. He starts right off with "after he got religion," which might imply that he's managed to forgive himself for whatever he did to Minerva. That's pretty convenient, as she's dead.

Finally, one of my favorite poems, no matter that it's about death. A.E. Housman's famous poem is a testament to the fleeting nature of achievement in the face of eternal death, and the fact that very few of us get to die when our lives are spent and when we are truly going to rest.

To an Athlete Dying Young
by A.E. Housman

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.

Monday, April 25, 2016

National Poetry Month, day twenty-five

John Keats wrote this wonderful sonnet, not about Homer, but about reading a specific translation of Homer. This fascinates me. The poem is also a powerful statement on how a great work of art can transform our perceptions, even of something we have seen many times before.

On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer
by John Keats

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Banning plastic bags?!

Before we get into banning plastic bags, here's what happens to reusable paper bags in Casa Jaquandor!

DIE EVIL PAPER BAG! DIE DIE DIE!!! #Cane #DogsOfInstagram #greyhound


Sunday, April 24, 2016

National Poetry Month, day twenty-four

We're down to the last seven days of National Poetry Month, so why not a bit of the Bard?

From Much Ado About Nothing
by William Shakespeare

Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more.
     Men were deceivers ever,
One foot in sea, and one on shore,
     To one thing constant never.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
     And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
     Into hey nonny, nonny.

Sing no more ditties, sing no more
     Of dumps so dull and heavy.
The fraud of men was ever so
     Since summer first was leafy.
Then sigh not so, but let them go,
     And be you blithe and bonny,
Converting all your sounds of woe
     Into hey, nonny, nonny.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

National Poetry Month, day twenty-three

Here's a lovely poem about a train. Or is it?

Still Life
by Carl Sandburg

Cool your heels on the rail of an observation car.
Let the engineer open her up for ninety miles an hour.
Take in the prairie right and left, rolling land and new hay crops,
    swaths of new hay laid in the sun.
A gray village flecks by and the horses hitched in front of the
    post-office never blink an eye.
A barnyard and fifteen Holstein cows, dabs of white on a black
    wall map, never blink an eye.
A signalman in a tower, the outpost of Kansas City, keeps his
    place at a window with the serenity of a bronze statue on a
    dark night when lovers pass whispering.


Symphony Saturday

Another work by Anton Bruckner, this time his Symphony No. 7 in E major. After the 4th, the 7th might be the most familiar of Bruckner's symphonies. It is the most Wagnerian in sound, right down to his use of four Wagner tubas in the Adagio movement. (The Wagner tuba is an instrument specifically designed by Wagner himself, who thought nothing of inventing instruments to achieve the sounds he wanted.) In fact, Bruckner himself indicated that the theme from that movement came to him in a dream after a sudden realization that Wagner was soon to die (which Wagner did indeed do, less than a month later). Bruckner's writing in this symphony is typically organ-like, and the work reflects his deep faith and his pastoral background.

As with other Bruckner works, what sounds noble and profound to one ear might well sound trite, repetitive, and pompous to another. I tend toward the former category, myself; I find that Bruckner wrote the kind of music inside which one can easily get lost for a while.

Next week, we'll wrap up Bruckner with his most massive work.

Friday, April 22, 2016

National Poetry Month, day twenty-two

Wow, we're coming into the home stretch.

I wonder just what percentage of poetry can be accurately classified as "love poetry". I assume it's a pretty large percent, but who knows. It would be an impossible task to identify every love poem in the world, obviously, and there would be many that some would consider love poems and that some would not. But love is one of the great human themes, and it stands to reason that it would be also one of the great themes found in poetry. Just look at your local bookstore's poetry section, and depending on the size of the store, you will almost certainly see a good portion of the selection devoted to collections of love poems. (And yes, I own several myself.)

Here is one of my favorite love poems, written by the great National Poet of Scotland, Robert Burns. Burns is always a delight to read, with his use of Scottish dialect and his unerring sense of poetic rhythm. The third stanza here amazes me each time I read this poem, because it suddenly elevates what seems, at first, like a fairly simple little rhyming love poem. "While the sands o' life shall run" is a gorgeous, gorgeous line, ripe with wonderful metaphor.

A Red, Red Rose
by Robert Burns

O my Luve is like a red, red rose
   That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
   That’s sweetly played in tune.

So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
   So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
   Till a’ the seas gang dry.

Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
   And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
I will love thee still, my dear,
   While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve!
   And fare thee weel awhile!
And I will come again, my luve,
   Though it were ten thousand mile.

The in-between spaces (on the passing of Prince)

One of the stranger parts of having been the kid in high school with very different interests from most everybody else is that whenever a prominent musician dies now, I can almost never join in the chorus of those who claim that musician as a big part of the soundtrack of their lives. It’s very strange, this curious sense of not really being a part of the larger culture that surrounds me.

I had nothing against Prince. I liked some of his music a great deal, and I could leave other stuff of his on the table. I know very little about his output beyond Purple Rain and whatever else he did over the next few years back then. This is not meant as an indictment of Prince in any way at all; it’s just an observation of what was important to me at the time and what remained so. In my teenage years I was not a huge rock or pop listener. At that time, I was going deeply into classical music, and the thing about classical is…well, most of the big ones are already dead. Classical music doesn’t break your heart quite the way I suppose pop music does. I mean, classical music does break your heart, but it’s not the same.

Likewise, when people pass away who are a part of the fabric of my cultural life, there’s a certain loneliness involved. I don’t set out to not really be a part of my own culture, but the heart loves what it loves and really, that’s about all there is to it.

Anyway, farewell, Prince. I kind of wish I’d known you better. And who knows…maybe I will.

(crossposted from Tumblr)

Bad Joke Friday

Lynn shared this with me on Facebook. It originates from here.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

National Poetry Day, day twenty-one

This poem seems to be about one thing...but when you reflect on when it was written (April, 1919), you realize that it's actually very much about something else.

Everyone Sang
by Siegfried Sassoon

Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on - on - and out of sight.

Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away ... O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.

A Moonlight Triptych

Taken in my backyard.

A study in moonlight I #moon

A study in moonlight II #moon

A study in moonlight III #moon

Something for Thursday

I heard this delightfully, pompously British piece on the radio yesterday and promptly fell in love with it. Here's the London Suite by Eric Coates, in a live performance.

(Oddly, the applause at the end of the piece sounds tepid, but I'm guessing that's the microphoning and not really a good gauge of the audience's actual reaction to the work, because they soon shift into rhythmic applause, which is right up there with the standing ovation.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

National Poetry Month, day twenty

Poetry can be many things. It can even be political, as can be seen in this poem by Charles Bukowski.

the con job
by Charles Bukowski

the ground war began today
at dawn
in a desert land
far from here.
the U.S. ground troops were
made up of
Blacks, Mexicans and poor
most of whom had joined
the military
because it was the only job
they could find.

the ground war began today
at dawn
in a desert land
far from here
and the Blacks, Mexicans
and poor whites
were sent there
to fight and win
as on tv
and on the radio
the fat white rich newscasters
first told us all about
and then the fat rich white
told us
and again
and again
on almost every
tv and radio station
almost every minute
day and night
the Blacks, Mexicans
and poor whites
were sent there
to fight and win
at dawn
in a desert land
far enough away from

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

National Poetry Month, day nineteen

Anything can be a subject of a poem! Why not food?

The Health-Food Diner
by Maya Angelou

No sprouted wheat and soya shoots
And Brussels in a cake,
Carrot straw and spinach raw,
(Today, I need a steak).

Not thick brown rice and rice pilaw
Or mushrooms creamed on toast,
Turnips mashed and parsnips hashed,
(I'm dreaming of a roast).

Health-food folks around the world
Are thinned by anxious zeal,
They look for help in seafood kelp
(I count on breaded veal).

No smoking signs, raw mustard greens,
Zucchini by the ton,
Uncooked kale and bodies frail
Are sure to make me run


Loins of pork and chicken thighs
And standing rib, so prime,
Pork chops brown and fresh ground round
(I crave them all the time).

Irish stews and boiled corned beef
and hot dogs by the scores,
or any place that saves a space
For smoking carnivores.


A motto I saw:

Reposted from @jillcoxbooks! 😊

A conversation I'm surprised I haven't had:

I'm surprised that this conversation doesn't happen more often.... #pieintheface

A snippet of my own writing that I rather like:

There are times when I *really* like my own writing. #amwriting

A sunset:

Not FIVE MINUTES after I took the previous photo, this happened in the WESTERN sky.... #sky #clouds

A cat in my chair:

I guess it's time for my alternate writing location.... #amwriting

A kick-off to my current vacation:

Yes, I am on vacation now, so LET THE WILD RUMPUS BEGIN!!! #Ahhhh #rum #candyisdandybutliquorisquicker #overalls

And on it goes!

Monday, April 18, 2016

National Poetry Month, day eighteen

All the world writes poetry, so it makes sense that one should read poems from all the world. Doing so is yet another way to remind oneself that no matter where humans live, no matter which gods they worship or what challenges they face by virtue of their geography, they are still often confronted by the same issues, and they wrestle with the same problems, and their poets and artists grapple with the same themes.

Here is a Persian poem, written by Hafiz, and translated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Clearly it is best to read poetry in its original language, but I don't believe that we should fail to read poetry originally written in other languages if translation is our only recourse. Even if one can't get the complete sense of the poem, because of the missing connotations and the emotional heft of the cultural references, we can still find our way to the common area of humanity that underlies all art and all poetry.

I said to heaven that glowed above,
O hide yon sun-filled zone,
Hide all the stars you boast;
For, in the world of love
And estimation true,
The heaped-up harvest of the moon
Is worth one barley-corn at most,
The Pleiads' sheaf but two.

If my darling should depart,
And search the skies for prouder friends,
God forbid my angry heart
In other love should seek amends.

When the blue horizon's hoop
Me a little pinches here,
Instant to my grave I stoop,
And go find thee in the sphere.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

National Poetry Month, day seventeen

A longer poem today, but the poet who may be my favorite of all time: Alfred, Lord Tennyson. His work often has a mystical, fantastic tone that appeals to me, and his language is old enough to feel like I'm entering a different poetic world when I read him, but his concerns are universal enough that I don't feel a lack of relevance. Tennyson appeals to my sense of language even more than Shakespeare does, and he always seems to describe the world in terms that reflect its sadness and its beauty.

The Lady of Shalott
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Part I
On either side the river lie
Long fields of barley and of rye,
That clothe the wold and meet the sky;
And thro' the field the road runs by
     To many-tower'd Camelot;
And up and down the people go,
Gazing where the lilies blow
Round an island there below,
     The island of Shalott.

Willows whiten, aspens quiver,
Little breezes dusk and shiver
Thro' the wave that runs for ever
By the island in the river
      Flowing down to Camelot.
Four gray walls, and four gray towers,
Overlook a space of flowers,
And the silent isle imbowers
      The Lady of Shalott.

By the margin, willow veil'd,
Slide the heavy barges trail'd
By slow horses; and unhail'd
The shallop flitteth silken-sail'd
      Skimming down to Camelot:
But who hath seen her wave her hand?
Or at the casement seen her stand?
Or is she known in all the land,
      The Lady of Shalott?

Only reapers, reaping early
In among the bearded barley,
Hear a song that echoes cheerly
From the river winding clearly,
      Down to tower'd Camelot:
And by the moon the reaper weary,
Piling sheaves in uplands airy,
Listening, whispers " 'Tis the fairy
      Lady of Shalott."

Part II
There she weaves by night and day
A magic web with colours gay.
She has heard a whisper say,
A curse is on her if she stay
      To look down to Camelot.
She knows not what the curse may be,
And so she weaveth steadily,
And little other care hath she,
      The Lady of Shalott.

And moving thro' a mirror clear
That hangs before her all the year,
Shadows of the world appear.
There she sees the highway near
      Winding down to Camelot:
There the river eddy whirls,
And there the surly village-churls,
And the red cloaks of market girls,
      Pass onward from Shalott.

Sometimes a troop of damsels glad,
An abbot on an ambling pad,
Sometimes a curly shepherd-lad,
Or long-hair'd page in crimson clad,
      Goes by to tower'd Camelot;
And sometimes thro' the mirror blue
The knights come riding two and two:
She hath no loyal knight and true,
      The Lady of Shalott.

But in her web she still delights
To weave the mirror's magic sights,
For often thro' the silent nights
A funeral, with plumes and lights
      And music, went to Camelot:
Or when the moon was overhead,
Came two young lovers lately wed:
"I am half sick of shadows," said
      The Lady of Shalott.

Part III
A bow-shot from her bower-eaves,
He rode between the barley-sheaves,
The sun came dazzling thro' the leaves,
And flamed upon the brazen greaves
      Of bold Sir Lancelot.
A red-cross knight for ever kneel'd
To a lady in his shield,
That sparkled on the yellow field,
      Beside remote Shalott.

The gemmy bridle glitter'd free,
Like to some branch of stars we see
Hung in the golden Galaxy.
The bridle bells rang merrily
      As he rode down to Camelot:
And from his blazon'd baldric slung
A mighty silver bugle hung,
And as he rode his armour rung,
      Beside remote Shalott.

All in the blue unclouded weather
Thick-jewell'd shone the saddle-leather,
The helmet and the helmet-feather
Burn'd like one burning flame together,
      As he rode down to Camelot.
As often thro' the purple night,
Below the starry clusters bright,
Some bearded meteor, trailing light,
      Moves over still Shalott.

His broad clear brow in sunlight glow'd;
On burnish'd hooves his war-horse trode;
From underneath his helmet flow'd
His coal-black curls as on he rode,
      As he rode down to Camelot.
From the bank and from the river
He flash'd into the crystal mirror,
"Tirra lirra," by the river
      Sang Sir Lancelot.

She left the web, she left the loom,
She made three paces thro' the room,
She saw the water-lily bloom,
She saw the helmet and the plume,
      She look'd down to Camelot.
Out flew the web and floated wide;
The mirror crack'd from side to side;
"The curse is come upon me," cried
      The Lady of Shalott.

Part IV
In the stormy east-wind straining,
The pale yellow woods were waning,
The broad stream in his banks complaining,
Heavily the low sky raining
      Over tower'd Camelot;
Down she came and found a boat
Beneath a willow left afloat,
And round about the prow she wrote
      The Lady of Shalott.

And down the river's dim expanse
Like some bold seër in a trance,
Seeing all his own mischance—
With a glassy countenance
      Did she look to Camelot.
And at the closing of the day
She loosed the chain, and down she lay;
The broad stream bore her far away,
      The Lady of Shalott.

Lying, robed in snowy white
That loosely flew to left and right—
The leaves upon her falling light—
Thro' the noises of the night
      She floated down to Camelot:
And as the boat-head wound along
The willowy hills and fields among,
They heard her singing her last song,
      The Lady of Shalott.

Heard a carol, mournful, holy,
Chanted loudly, chanted lowly,
Till her blood was frozen slowly,
And her eyes were darken'd wholly,
     Turn'd to tower'd Camelot.
For ere she reach'd upon the tide
The first house by the water-side,
Singing in her song she died,
      The Lady of Shalott.

Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
Dead-pale between the houses high,
      Silent into Camelot.
Out upon the wharfs they came,
Knight and burgher, lord and dame,
And round the prow they read her name,
      The Lady of Shalott.

Who is this? and what is here?
And in the lighted palace near
Died the sound of royal cheer;
And they cross'd themselves for fear,
      All the knights at Camelot:
But Lancelot mused a little space;
He said, "She has a lovely face;
God in his mercy lend her grace,
      The Lady of Shalott."

Saturday, April 16, 2016

National Poetry Month, day sixteen

Wow, we're now on the back half of the month! So a brief post today about that wonderful form, usually used to comic (and sometimes bawdy) effect, the limerick.

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
Into space that is quite economical.
But the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.


The limerick’s an art form complex
Whose contents run chiefly to sex;
It’s famous for virgins
And masculine urgin’s
And vulgar erotic effects.

When I was in junior high, I suspect that all my male classmates had committed to memory a limerick beginning with "There once was a man from Nantucket".

Here's just one that I found that made me happy:

There once was a young lady named bright
Whose speed was much faster than light
She set out one day
In a relative way
And returned on the previous night.

A nerdy limerick! I find this pleasing on multiple levels.

I wonder: has any limerick ever been composed that was also a truly great work of poetry?

Symphony Saturday

You know how sometimes you want to listen to a piece of music that is light and airy, that flits around like the will o' the wisp, that is imbued with bright charm and delicate wit?

Well, forget all that, because now we're meeting Anton Bruckner!

Bruckner, in my experience, is one of those "love him or hate him" composers...or maybe that's not quite fair. Maybe it's not "hate", but I've definitely encountered listeners for whom Bruckner is amazing, and for whom Bruckner is just someone they don't really care if they ever hear again. His symphonies are long and, at times, repetitive; he thinks nothing of writing a five-minute exposition and then putting in a repeat. His orchestrations are, at times, very heavy and dense, and if Bruckner himself wasn't quite a Wagnerian, there is at least a part of Wagner in the scope of his works and their weighty nature.

Unlike Wagner, Bruckner was a man of very deep faith, and I find it impossible to listen to Bruckner without feeling some of that spiritual nature coming through. He writes for the orchestra, at times, as though it were an organ, and his music seems almost designed to fill the cavernous spaces of enormous cathedrals, with long fugal passages and gigantic chorales and a general sense of vastness that is leading the way to Mahler.

Bruckner does not seem to have been the most self-confident of composers, which makes his works problematic for musicologists as he was constantly revising earlier works and muddying the waters as far as determining which versions are definitive. Look at the list of known revisions for today's work, and you'll see the problem.

This symphony, the Fourth in E-flat major, is often cited as the best starting point for Bruckner, and I tend to agree. The symphony does have one of the most magical openings to any symphony ever written, with the shimmering strings and then the high horn calls that seem to beckon from a distance. For the listener willing to go where Bruckner is leading, he draws you in, slowly and gently, so that when it all opens up in glory, there's simply no question that this is where he was going all along.

I actually have not heard a lot of Bruckner, but what I have heard, I love. Here is Bruckner's Symphony No. 4, the "Romantic".

Next week: another Bruckner. We'll be doing three of these altogether, so if Bruckner's not your thing, well, I'll see you in May!

Friday, April 15, 2016

National Poetry Month, day 15

For me, poetry is usually about the beauty of the language and the skill with which it evokes emotion, but there are also times when a skilled poet uses words to convey a visual sense so keen that I feel like I'm there. This is another great reason why writers should read poetry.

I read this poem for the first time this morning, after I literally opened a collection and flipped through it to come to a random And this poem hit me between the eyes, so incredibly vivid are the details the poet uses to create his word-picture. This is just amazing.

Working in the Rain
by Robert Morgan

My father loved more than anything to
work outside in wet weather. Beginning
at daylight he'd go out in dripping brush
to mow or pull weeds for hog and chickens.
First his shoulders got damp and the drops from
his hat ran down his back. When even his
armpits were soaked he came in to dry out
by the fire, making coffee, read a little.
But if the rain continued he'd soon be
restless, and go out to sharpen tools in
the shed or carry wood from the pile,
then open up a puddle to the drain,
working by steps back into the downpour.
I thought he sought the privacy of rain,
the one time no one was likely to be
out and he was left to the intimacy
of drops touching every leaf and tree in
the woods and the easy mutterings of
drip and runoff, the shine of pools behind
grass dams. He could not resist the long
ritual, the companionship and freedom
of falling weather, or even the cold
drenching, the heavy soak and chill of clothes
and sobbing of fingers and sacrifice
of shoes that earned a baking by the fire
and washed fatigue after the wandering
and loneliness in the country of rain.

On the poet.

Bad Joke Friday

Thursday, April 14, 2016

National Poetry Month, day fourteen

After a really long cold spell, we're finally getting some spring-like weather here in WNY. Who knows how long it will last...but as long as it's here, this poem seems appropriate.

Spring, the sweet spring
Thomas Nashe

pring, the sweet spring, is the year’s pleasant king,
Then blooms each thing, then maids dance in a ring,
Cold doth not sting, the pretty birds do sing:
    Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The palm and may make country houses gay,
Lambs frisk and play, the shepherds pipe all day,
And we hear aye birds tune this merry lay:
    Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

The fields breathe sweet, the daisies kiss our feet,
Young lovers meet, old wives a-sunning sit,
In every street these tunes our ears do greet:
    Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to witta-woo!
        Spring, the sweet spring!

Something for Thursday

When you're writing a swashbuckler of a novel with young lads first learning to use a blade and pistol as your hero and dastardly men on black horses with eye-patches and a big red feather in their black hats as villains, you need to listen to some swashbuckling music to get in the mood. Erich Wolfgang Korngold is my go-to composer when there's some swash to be buckled, so here's a suite from his score to the Errol Flynn historical adventure film, The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

National Poetry Month, day 13

Not all poetry is about positive things. Poetry can be angry and visceral, as in this poem by Wilfred Owen. Owen is known as one of the great poets to write during World War I, and he was actually killed in action on November 4, 1918 -- just a week before the armistice ending the war was signed.

The Latin phrase at the end of the poem means: "It is sweet and noble to die for one's country."

Dulce et Decorum est
by Wilfred Owen

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

ROGUE ONE and other thoughts on the state of STAR WARS

So, the first trailer for ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY dropped last week, and...well, it looks good. How good? I won't hazard a guess, but it does look like a Star Wars movie. Felicity Jones as the heroine looks fine, although the trope of the good guys having to trust everything to a rogue whose methods or motivations are questionable isn't the freshest thing in the universe. Also, I'm a little turned off by the apparent gritty tone of the film, which looks to me like Star Wars melded with Battlestar Galatica. Maybe it's not full-on grimdark, but the film's producers have noted in past interviews that their story isn't as morally unambiguous as the main-line Star Wars story, which isn't something I'm thrilled about. There's a place for morally ambiguous stories of war in science fiction, but Star Wars to me is about mythic storytelling, so I'm not sure how the tone will fit.

More troublesome to me is that we're going to the Death Star well again, this time to tell the story of how the Rebellion got the "complete technical readouts of that battlestation" in the first place. I'm not sure this is a story I've ever really cared about hearing, especially since this will be the fourth movie in the Star Wars universe where a big spherical planet-destroying space station is a major plot point. This, coupled with the derivative story in The Force Awakens, and with the coming films centering on young Han Solo and young Boba Fett, seems to indicate that Star Wars is heading into a period of self-referential self-milking. And it's not just the movies: we've had numerous novels and comics over the years that told versions of what happened in between the movies, and Disney's first act of business upon acquiring Star Wars was to strike all that from the record and then...immediately start producing more novels and comics that tell versions of what happened in between the movies.

Frankly, I'm starting to get a sense of Lather, rinse, repeat from Star Wars. It's the feeling I had during the second season of Star Trek: Voyager, when it became clear that we weren't going to see exciting new stories but just more TNG-flavored tales told on a new ship with a blander crew. Maybe I'm wrong and these movies will be great, but I want new stories, not constant revisitings of the old ones. I'm not interested in Star Wars as ritualistic theater where the same stories are told all the time.

::  Something crystalized for me a few days ago, via a post on Tumblr, regarding the approach Disney is taking to Star Wars as a whole, and the misgivings I had about the characterizations in The Force Awakens. Someone wrote this:

There are posts about Finn that come across my dash frequently that really concern me.

It’s not that I don’t think musings about what a sweet innocent soul he is and imagining what his humble life must’ve been like are coming from a loving place, but Finn’s character has already been filled in via a canon source, and it was not humble.

Read the novel “Before the Awakening,” where you will learn that while FN-2187 may have pulled shifts as a janitor just like any military trainee has to work some shit jobs, he was actually the absolute rock star of his elite band of Stormtroopers. He was the natural leader, the best of them all, the highest scores in every possible measure, someone Phasma and Hux were well aware of as the shining example of what their pet Stormtrooper program could accomplish. He was everything they’d worked for for years.

The only problem was, he cared too much about his fellow Stormtroopers, even though they didn’t return the feeling, due to indoctrination and some envy of his superiority. It is pretty obvious, reading BtA, that Finn is Force sensitive. It is that Force sensitivity that set him apart, and made him the one who could overcome a lifetime of indoctrination and get out.

I know it’s the fault of the film for sketching him so lightly, but guys, it is crucial that we start acknowledging who Finn is, and his strengths. Which, canonically, are leadership, strategy, all the skills a commander must have. I worry that there is too much PRECIOUS PURE CINNAMON ROLL going on and not enough shared knowledge of his *canon character background and gifts*.

Please spread the word about Finn. This sort of thing shortchanges him horribly. When the FO lost FN-2187, they lost more than just another Stormtrooper. They lost a future general, and the Resistance picked one up.

There are so many ways this makes me crazy (none of which are the poster's fault), but at the crux of it is this:


And I'm not exaggerating here. There is not ONE thing in the movie that supports any of this. The Tumblr poster says that the movie "sketches Finn lightly", but I think that's drastically understating things. The film strongly suggests that Finn is a space-janitor who is seeing his first space action. There's no other reasonable reading of what we see in the film: the way Finn is stunned by the single death of a single stormtrooper, the way Finn lowers his weapon when he's supposed to be killing innocents, the way he just stands there slackly as Kylo Ren wanders through, the way he has to rip off his helmet to try and regain his composure...sure, Finn's training comes through at times, just by virtue of his knowing stuff ("Fly low! It'll screw up their scanners!"), but mostly, there isn't one thing in The Force Awakens that establishes Finn as "the absolute rock star of an elite band of stormtroopers". There really isn't one thing that clearly establishes him as being Force-sensitive. There isn't one thing that establishes that Finn is held in any particular esteem by Hux and Phasma (who are still awful, terrible characters). As far as the movie is concerned, Finn is just some random stormtrooper who inexplicably develops a conscience one day. Nothing of his background is established in the movie, no context is given at all for his change of heart, and to be told "Well, you gotta read this other novel to get it" is incredibly weak tea.

And that's what makes me crazy about how Disney is approaching Star Wars now.

First of all, it's simply not reasonable to expect people to be up on the minutiae of every single thing out there that has been declared to be "Star Wars canon". I'm not planning to read any of these novels; at most I'll read some of the comics. Most people who see the films will do even less than that, but now we're leaving crucial bits of information out of the films entirely. That bit about Maz saying "That's a story for another time!" when she's asked how she got Luke's original lightsaber? Well, there's no doubt in my mind we'll get that tale in some other media format, and that's a ridiculously cynical approach to storytelling. "We'll just leave crucial stuff out, so people who want a coherent tale will be forced to indulge all this other stuff!" Ugh.

The movies have to be coherent, and if they're not going to be, then I have a problem. I'm not going to sit back and enjoy Daisy Ridley and John Boyega and the others if the story they're wandering through is leaving out key details as a selling point for books, comics, and video games. In truth, I'm going to find it hard to care. If the movies can't tell the entire story -- and that means playing fair with the characterizations and explaining the presence of major items like Luke Skywalker's first damn lightsaber -- then the movies are at best lazy and at worst they are reduced to marketing devices. And wouldn't that be an irony? To see Star Wars movies reduced to pushing other media tie-in stuff so that fans can learn what the hell is going on? Years after people were busily accusing George Lucas of selling out and using his creation to sell stuff, we'll cheerfully look the other way because now Disney is doing it.

So yeah, I call bullshit -- utter, complete bullshit -- on the idea that if I didn't read some novel, I don't really understand Finn as a character. That is the job of the movies, and if they're actually not going to do it, well then, I for one will pine for the days of George Lucas being in charge.

National Poetry Month, day 12

For being "dead" as poetry is always said to be, I sure have met a lot of poets online. I sure have met a lot of folks who still practice this "dead" art form and who are still invested in its future. I sure have met a lot of people who are knowledgeable about poetry and who still insist that there are new things to say, or new ways to say old things, or new ways to say new things, using the tropes and mechanisms of poetry.

When I go to bookstores, I always see people browsing the poetry section, and I see lots of new poetry books adorning the shelves. I even buy some myself, on occasion. I've bought several poetry chapbooks for my Kindle.

Poetry is dead? Well, if it is, there sure seems to be large number of people who never got the memo.

Natasha Head is a poet I first met on Instagram, and then on Tumblr and Twitter as well. She's active on Facebook, and what's more, she's very active in the Canadian poetry community, and she has appeared on podcasts to read her work and she's been printed in Canadian journals and she has published several collections of her own work. She's quite a wonderful poet who has become an essential voice in my own writing world.

Poetry is dead? I'd tell you not to tell her, but really? I don't think she gives a shit. She's too busy writing poems.

Losers Like Us
by Natasha Head

I had the car and the notebook
You had the weed and the beer
We both had the urge for leaving
Get up and get out of here

We made it as far as the sidewalk
Never knew that at one point it ends
Never knew where the concrete would take us
Never knew that we'd never again

Hid the car in the lot at the old rink
Took the path beaten on the forest floor
Took the notebook the weed and the beer
Took again and then took some more

The camp wasn't much to look at
There really wasn't much to see
Just me with my little notebook
And you with your bag of weed

The bench was hard and splintered
But to us it was good as a throne
The smoke was heavy and skunky
If it wasn't, we would have stayed home

The soundtrack was a walkman
With blaster speakers doctored by you
Suicidal Tendencies, Social Distortion
Back then, the balls and chains were few.

You let me tell you stories
I let you read what I had wrote
I let you sing my simple words
Even then it was poetry you spoke

All we knew for certain
Was that we couldn't be caught
Losers like us have a way of evasion
We slip away with barely a thought.


Monday, April 11, 2016

National Poetry Month, day eleven

I've occasionally seen comment that JRR Tolkien's poetry in The Lord of the Rings is generally weak, but from my perspective, it's one of my favorite aspects of the book, and I find myself enjoying the verse in LOTR more each time I read it. My favorite poem in the book is almost certainly the "walking song" that is quoted a number of times throughout, and each time has a variation to reflect the events surrounding it and everything that has happened.

It begins like this, at the end of The Hobbit:

Roads go ever ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
Eyes that fire and sword have seen
And horror in the halls of stone
Look at last on meadows green
And trees and hills they long have known.

This is when Bilbo is about to return home to his beloved Shire, but he is forever changed by the things he has seen beyond his home's borders. The next time we encounter a version of this poem, Bilbo is striking out again, after giving up the Ring and heading for Rivendell:

The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

Much later we hear it again spoken by Bilbo, when he is starting to age quickly and after the entire adventure and the War of the Ring have ended. Bilbo is old and tired, and the walking song's symbolism here is obvious:

The Road goes ever on and on
Out from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
Let others follow it who can!
Let them a journey new begin,
But I at last with weary feet
Will turn towards the lighted inn,
My evening-rest and sleep to meet.

Finally there is a haunting variant that Frodo sings, not long before he boards the ship that will bear him, along with the last of the Elves, to the faraway land:

Still round the corner there may wait
A new road or a secret gate,
And though I oft have passed them by,
A day will come at last when I
Shall take the hidden paths that run
West of the Moon, East of the Sun.

Is Tolkien a great poet? I don't know, and I'm prepared to allow the experts to have their say, but it does seem to me that there's something to be said for the fact that his verse is still being read, recited, and set to music this many decades after it was written.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

National Poetry Month, day ten

I always loved it when Bill Watterson interjected a bit of verse into Calvin and Hobbes, and this one might be my favorite.

Saturday, April 09, 2016

National Poetry Month, day nine

The intersection of music and poetry is a fascinating one. There are song lyrics, which are almost always poetry, and then there's the way in which poetry and music both can sometimes reflect the world in similar ways. There is often a mystery at the heart of both poetry and music, in that the poets and the composers have things to say about the world that really can't be said in any other way.

This is a poem about music. Someone said something once to the effect that "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture," which is clever and pithy and...well, a little wrong. Words can never quite express what music does, but that doesn't mean that words can't point the way or capture something of the emotion we feel about a work of music. This poem does something else, though: it expresses gratitude that music even exists.

There is a story here, of course. When Sergei Rachmaninov premiered his Symphony No. 1, the work's reception was so disastrous that it sent the young composer into a depression that lasted several years, until he finally received therapy that helped him recover enough confidence to finish his Piano Concerto #2, which is merely one of the greatest concertos of all time. Rachmaninov went on to a long life of composition, and lovers of his work -- amongst whom I count myself -- are indebted to Nikolai Dahl, the physician who conducted Rachmaninov's therapy.

This poem, by Diane Ackerman, expresses that very gratitude. I read it in a book called The Music Lover's Poetry Anthology, which I bought whilst in New York City last November. Nikolai Dahl is a curious footnote in music history, but what a footnote!

Rachmaninoff's Psychiatrist
by Diane Ackerman

I'm listening to Rachmaninoff's
Piano Concerto No. 2,
which he dedicated to Dr. Dahl,
the psychiatrist who guided him
through the straights of fever,
not long after Sergei had heard
his own first symphony played.
Horrified by its many defects
which seemed a sewage of noise,
he had fled the hall, ashamed,
a quagmire of self-doubt.

We cannot know all the sounds
Dahl and he exchanged,
but rubbing one word against another,
Dahl gradually restored
Sergei's confidence. History tells
that Dahl used affirmations
and auto-suggestion:
"You will compose again."
"You will write a piano concerto."
"You will write with great facility."
Repeated until the words saturated
His gift from head to fingers.

In truth, nothing can kill a gift,
but it may become anemic
from great shock or stress-
a sprain of the emotions will do,
or a traffic accident of the heart,
or a failure dire as a clanging bell.

For two years, Dahl worked
on Sergei's shattered will.
at last he collected up his senses
in a burst of blood fury
and composed his triumphant
2nd Piano Concerto,
full of tenderness and yearning,
beguiling melodies, raging passion,
and long sensuous preludes
to explosive climaxes,
frenzy followed by strains
of mysticism and trance.

Loaded with starry melodies,
it was a map of his sensibility,
and a wilderness rarely known
-the intense life of an artist
seen in miniature, with rapture expressed
as all-embracing sound.

Will you tell me if you know,
how Dahl might have received
such a gift? I cannot imagine it.
With hugs and shared enthusiasm?
With an austere thank you?
In his private moments, did he weep
at the privilege allowed him?
For a time he held the exposed heart
of a great artist, cupped his hands
around it like a flame, blew gently,
patiently, until it flared again.

For that, he earned the blessings
of history, and soothed millions
of hungry souls he would never meet.
Listening to Rachmaninoff's
concerto today, intoxicated by its fever,
I want to kiss the hands of Dahl,
but he is beyond my touch or game.
Allow me to thank you in his name.

Symphony Saturday

A symphony today by an American woman.

In the late 19th century, the American musical tradition was pretty much an extension of the European musical tradition, which is generally why American composers of that period aren't generally held in the highest regard; American concert music was still maturing, and the first real American musical forms -- rooted in the emergence of jazz -- had yet to fully emerge. But there was still good music being written, and it's really Eurocentrism that keeps a lot of it from being heard more.

A good example is this fine symphony by Amy Beach, who lived from 1867 to 1944. She was a prodigy and a gifted performer who received great acclaim as she took the stage in her late teens, but then she married a man who decided that she shouldn't perform much and that she shouldn't study composition with a teacher, so while she continued making music, I must inevitably wonder what art was stifled by our society's sexist idiocy of the day. During her lifetime, her compositions were actually credited to "Mrs. H.H.A. Beach." The mind, hopefully, reels.

Beach's Gaelic Symphony is reminiscent of Dvorak (who was a heavy influence upon her) in its orchestration, and she used a number of Irish songs in the symphony's melodic material, creating a work that is fascinating to hear. Beach wrote this symphony early in her musical life, before she embraced native musical material, but it is still a fine and invigorating listen. In her later life, Beach would live for 34 years as a widow, composing and teaching. She never wrote another symphony, unfortunately.

Here is the Gaelic Symphony by Amy Beach.

Friday, April 08, 2016

National Poetry Month, day eight

A short poem today, short but powerful. One of the band directors at the music camp which featured in yesterday's post actually wrote a piece for symphonic winds based on this poem, which packs tremendous imagery and emotional power into just four lines. The Western wind has many connotations, few of them bad, and in this case, the speaker is praying for its return so that the "small rain" can return, bringing cleansing and healing. And then, the wish for a return to a familiar warm bed and the arms of a beloved. This is a very old poem, and nothing is known of its writer; in fact, it may be just a fragment of a larger work that is lost to us now. If so, and if the remaining work is as good as this quatrain that has survived to our time, what a loss that must be!

Western wind, when will thou blow,
The small rain down can rain?
Christ! If my love were in my arms,
And I in my bed again!

Nothin' good comes from a can.... (An experiment involving whipped cream)

Pie-in-the-face weirdness below the break....

Bad Joke Friday

I saw this on Tumblr:

Bwwaaaa hahahahaha!!!

Thursday, April 07, 2016

National Poetry Day, day seven

OK, story time. In high school, I attended a summer music camp several times, and then in college, I served there as a camp counselor. This was almost your canonical summer camp, with cabins in the woods and campfires and singalongs and all that stuff, but for music students.

When I was heading into my senior year, I developed a big crush on a bassoon player there, and I tried flirting, which failed badly because I'm terrible at flirting. She was pretty and she had this hippie thing going on that I liked enormously, though, and when I actually conversed with her about stuff, we became pretty good friends, and we exchanged letters during the next couple of school years. All in all, typical. The first letter in the chain came from her, and she was the type to put pretty doodles and jot down poems on the outside of her envelopes, the first of which was the first stanza of this poem by Thoreau.

For that reason, I've loved this poem ever since.

Like any writing, poetry should have a personal dimension to it. I can trace many of my favorite books to times and places that are dear to me, for one reason or another; why shouldn't it be so with poetry?

To the Maiden in the East,
by Henry David Thoreau

Low in the eastern sky
Is set thy glancing eye;
And though its gracious light
Ne'er riseth to my sight,
Yet every star that climbs
Above the gnarled limbs
    Of yonder hill,
Conveys thy gentle will.

Believe I knew thy thought,
And that the zephyrs brought
Thy kindest wishes through,
As mine they bear to you,
That some attentive cloud
Did pause amid the crowd
     Over my head,
While gentle things were said.

Believe the thrushes sung,
And that the flower-bells rung,
That herbs exhaled their scent,
And beasts knew what was meant,
The trees a welcome waved,
And lakes their margins laved,
     When thy free mind
To my retreat did wind.

It was a summer eve,
The air did gently heave
While yet a low-hung cloud
Thy eastern skies did shroud;
The lightning's silent gleam,
Startling my drowsy dream,
     Seemed like the flash
Under thy dark eyelash.

Still will I strive to be
As if thou wert with me;
Whatever path I take,
It shall be for thy sake,
Of gentle slope and wide,
As thou wert by my side,
     Without a root
To trip thy gentle foot.

I 'll walk with gentle pace,
And choose the smoothest place
And careful dip the oar,
And shun the winding shore,
And gently steer my boat
Where water-lilies float,
     And cardinal flowers
Stand in their sylvan bowers.

(Oh, and that girl? The bassoon player? We're friends on Facebook and she's still really cool; she works in ecology. And as luck would have it, I still ended up spending my life with a double-reed player.)