Friday, March 30, 2012

true artistry

A poem should be implicitly aware that reality is not canny. It is background-irradiated with a mystery as terrible and as beautiful and as sad as a De Quincey laudanum dream.

That's why Tomas Tranströmer is special. He doesn't have to write about the Uncanny, but he's aesthetically refined and sensitive enough that it is a conditioning factor. It's in the voice, or behind the voice. True artistry.

Writing on the surface of things, so to speak, is merely a fine blathering and a rather dull business. That's all I have to say, and it doesn't matter anyway.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Monday, March 26, 2012

a song of Phoenicia

The bracing wind after oar sweat!
The lift of prow over sea swell!
The sight of purple unfurling!
The bronze laugh of our captain!

I have seen the doves of Byblus
daring drafts over Nahr Ibrahim…
but we are brothers of the eagle
whose flight is beyond all others!

We soar with a straining square sail,
with two men at the longblade stern.
Torsos twisting, teeth gnashing
to keep away from deadly rocks.
Jether and Zophah have godly arms.

Who else knows of these things?
Who else would throw care to wind?
Do lovers of land think they'll live forever?

No words are worthy to sing of hull splash,
salt spray, and the pure joy of speed!
One must live through the experience.
Running, the moment lasts forever.
Gull cry above is the way that we feel.

A PAIR OF SHOES (after Van Gogh)

Somewhere a bandoneon is sighing
where ivy runs and clings to porticos.
Twilight will bring a violin for duetting.
On a back terrace, two are conversing
beneath the jagged flight of a lone bat
echoing its memory of Dutch waterways
and vast fields of tulip colors in bloom.

And in the greater city, a flurry of spirits
going and coming, and touchng money.


Tonight something else will happen
silently in Amsterdam after hours,
in the modern Van Gogh Museum.

A monochrome of delving shades
come through the brushing eye
of one too seeing for distraction.
A pair of shoes still coming here
in the day and especially midnight
when no one is looking. Not shoes
nor any gesture for interpetation.

But a moment uncrusting layers
of mere paint, halting the dance
that jerks limbs, opening rumors
of what dreamed our Puppeteer.

Once and only once the world
or the hole that opens beneath
has come to hang over and over.
On a wall in modern Amsterdam.

Music coaxes away the silence.
But a presence of deeper drama
plunges and plunges back into it.

Van Gogh's "shoes" hold traces.

A Pair of Shoes
Vincent Van Gogh
oils, 1886

Helmer Alexandersson -- Symphony No. 2


Right there a desert,
prickling nerves in a spring light ~
forget peyote!

Photo courtesy of Jen Pezzo

Saturday, March 24, 2012

coming upon a large meadow

I've simply appeared here, as if music-taken.
Maybe it was on a long moment of Sibelius.

Coming upon a large meadow
in the dimming of late afternoon.
So wide and plunging to distance,
and bordered by thick tall pines.
I think it must be mid-summer
now in this happening or opening --
vague little flowers, lilac-hued,
the turning grass, brooding pines.

This scene is familiar, where I am.
Was it some idle vision in Arkansas
long ago, carved out of a lost day
when wandering the wild alone...
and then later blended into a pause
formed of odd hope and foreboding?

I might have been here before or not.

Feelings hide here in planes of mood,
in texture become a weave of pale time.
A fugue of memory that looks like silence.
This swath opened just here, and I see it.

The black and wan yellow butterflies have flown.
I stand (perhaps) before dusk brings dragonflies.
It's not warm, it's not cool. It's a volume of looking.
Sunlight behind the far left stand of pensive conifers.
It bleaches out toward a horizon closed off to me.

No birds sing, and no sedge crickets chitter.
I will wait here and hope nothing happens.
This could be a delusion of music forgotten.

The meadow tells me night is coming sooner than later.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sibelius -- KULLERVO

This music video production is outstanding. The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra is remarkable here. The other parts are available.

The premiere of Sibelius's op. 7 took place in 1892, and then he withdrew the score. It wasn't published during the composer's lifetime. It is an astonishing work, based on a Finnish legend. This is a darkly beautiful tale unfolding in music. It matches up with my mood today.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Van Cliburn is remarkable!

This concerto is spellbinding to me. And consider Van Cliburn -- his finger strength, quality of tone, and deep commitment to this score!

an amazing version

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Great Depression

Another one of my country twangers.

Words & Music -- Tim Buck
All parts -- also me

The Great Depression

Well, I'd been scratchin' out an existence
in the middle of a big nowhere,
when that dust came out of the west,
bringing tears and black despair.

I was sittin' there in a stupor,
pickin' my guitar on the porch,
when that wind came suddenly on me,
sounding like a million crows.

That storm picked me off my feet.
I hovered and I breathed it in.
Then it knocked me down to earth.
I lost my peace and I gained chagrin.

Now I'm going away empty handed.
Standing in the breadline waiting for a crumb to fall.
I'm going away empty empty handed.
This ain't no recession, it feels like the great depression.

Maybe I will join that sad caravan
of lovers who have lost their way.
Who just stumble aimlessly onward,
hoping for a new deal day.

But something tells me this is forever.
Might as well hop a hobo train.
Might as well cry as I remember
her wind through my heart strings.

I was lifted fer a moment.
I even thought that I could fly.
But I misunderstood the physics.
That zephyr was just passing by.

Now I'm going away empty handed.
The grapes of wrath would taste sweet by comparison.
I'm going away empty handed.
Just a simple question – how do you get through a great depression?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

These five guys!!

These guys are getting it done. To me, most Bluegrass performers are too Bluegrassy -- too pretentious and too earnest in their mountain balladry. These guys are just knocking the hell out this song. And they're probably barbers or dirt haulers on the side.

yes, another painting I painted

"Neptune's Hall, from Book III of Keats's ENDYMION" -- acrylics on paper, 1983

I did a series of four paintings for Keats's epic -- one for each "Book".

Far as the mariner on highest mast
Can see all round upon the calmed vast,
So wide was Neptune's hall: and as the blue
Doth vault the waters, so the waters drew
Their doming curtains, high, magnificent,
Aw'd from the throne aloof;--and when storm-rent
Disclos'd the thunder-gloomings in Jove's air;
But sooth'd as now, flash'd sudden everywhere,
Noiseless, sub-marine cloudlets, glittering
Death to a human eye: for there did spring
From natural west, and east, and south, and north,
A light as of four sunsets, blazing forth
A gold-green zenith 'bove the Sea-God's head.
Of lucid depth the floor, and far outspread
As breezeless lake, on which the slim canoe
Of feather'd Indian darts about, as through
The delicatest air: air verily,
But for the portraiture of clouds and sky:
This palace floor breath-air,--but for the amaze
Of deep-seen wonders motionless,--and blaze
Of the dome pomp, reflected in extremes,
Globing a golden sphere.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

yet another painting I painted

Dragonflies -- acrylics on paper, 1983
(an attempt at something semi-abstract)

another painting I painted

Watercolors -- watercolors on paper, about 15 years ago

a painting I painted

Young Wordsworth on a Frozen Pond -- ink & acrylics on paper, 1982

"The Poet"

I no longer wish to experience
blockbusters from Hollywood
or movies about cool thugs
or war things or love things
or dazzling, hectic animation.

I only wish to experience one film,
but it hasn't been nor will it be made.
I want to watch it once every month.
And it should be in black-and-white.

The life and so many still moments
of Tomas Tranströmer looking around
and into Nordic scenes' beautiful grays
and watching the art things that come
leaping from behind seascape or forest
or dripping with an odd numinous dew
from the secret rims of island flowers
to flow as figures of speech magically.

There must be very little action or dialog.
This film will carry my eyes with his eyes.
I will breathe as if my lungs were filling
with an atmosphere of rugged mountains --
metaphors of surge and the haunting of solids.

No one will make a film about long days and years
of gathering eyefuls and then transforming substance
into such quiet lines tracing the form of a hidden god.

That poet must sometimes smile at the situation.
He has wrought such special effects and few care.

Not a documentary, this film would be the highest pitch of drama.

Image from LA Times

3 lines

While I try to read,
spring feathers dogwood branches ~
that strange broken flute!

Brahms Double Concerto


Structure contains information. Lack of structure -- toward entropy, say -- is dearth of data, a collapse of intrinsic mathematical or any kind of relations.

Galaxies are distributed as great, seemingly random, structures. Their situatedness denotes a series of relations (one galaxy to another in particular thereness and syntax of distance), hence of mathematical, logical information.

What can we make of the info? Not much. But that the distribution of galaxies and of all things forms a context of structure points to an ur-language or cosmological semantics...or a moan of substances and processes into desperate, groping shapes. Of an originary, now time-lost impulse to "speak" via data-rich arrays. Speak about what?

That's too much for me to think about. I'll stop thinking about that stuff now. Except for this last flourish:

there is an implicitly symbolic aspect to Worldness, thus a mystical aspect. Wittgenstein said as much.


An indispensable tool for the writer in all confessional forms -- memoir, essay, poem -- is the fun-house mirror of self-irony.

Looking at oneself slightly askance or in a painfully winking manner has the benefits of staunching pathos, of moderating over-earnestness, of subduing ego, of preempting the tendency to be naturally boring.

That way, the reader isn't horrified or made unreasonably queasy. Self-irony is a tool for turning dubious material and uncalled-for impulse into a semblance of art.

~ TB

"Forget About Love"

My friend Karla -- who knows what's what when it comes to songs in all genres -- brought this to my attention. I dig it.

"If I Were a Carpenter"

An old song with a lasting melody.

Janacek- String Quartet No. 2

The curious case of old Leoš Janáček pouring his unrequited feelings into this "Intimate Letters" string quartet. Feelings for a married woman 38 years younger than he. Silly man!

To translate deep, raw emotions into musical sound -- that's a kind of magic. How is it done? I like Janacek's unusual music. Gosh, I like so much different classical music. It would be much more efficient and manageable to obsess over two or three composers. Or just one era. But I get so much from so many different composers. Sometimes, it's dizzying and almost crazy.

Vincent d'Indy - Jour d'été à la montagne

Not to be confused with his SYMPHONY ON A FRENCH MOUNTAIN AIR.

a memory

I just remembered something, and I'm dang glad that I did. I remembered 1961, when Dad would take my brother and me fishing. Twenty miles east of El Dorado, Arkansas. Over to Moro Bay -- a branch of the Ouachita River (wash-e-taw).

We get out of the car, and there is the water! And those wonderful, ordinary flat-bottom boats for rent. But here on the ground, I look around: the terrain is completely flat, with pecan trees every-freaking-where. The ground is covered in a gray litter of old leaves and rumors of peculiar squirrels. Fantastic in its lack of color, here on the ground.

And then the resonant sound of tackle boxes, fishing poles, cricket cage, paddles, and ice chest being stashed on the floor of the boat. We shove off, to the purring of that old, small, light-blue Mercury outboard motor.

And then it happens. I catch the intoxicating perfume of carbon monoxide exhaust from our motor as it intermingles with the fishy smell of this river backwash! Ah...contentedness.

Maybe I will catch a large fish. Maybe I will catch many small fishes. Maybe I will just scoot or float along on this strange water all day long. And smell stuff while looking around.

Bashmet & Richter -- Hindemith

Hadelich -- Schumann

The spotlight here, obviously, is on Hadelich. Very good playing indeed.

But listen to that piano accompaniment! It contributes equally to the expressive texture of this piece. And the piano is so Schumannesque (well, of course): plaintive, energetic, restless, Romantic. Brahms, assuredly, leaned in close to this music, absorbing some piano licks and stuff.

Violin Sonata No. 1

Bronfman -- Prokofiev

Pollini -- Mozart

I've never been a fan of Pollini. Can't put my finger on exactly why -- a kind of detachment, maybe? Although years ago, I heard him on the radio playing Beethoven's "Hammerklavier" Sonata and thought it was remarkable. Anyway, I stumbled across this. I think it is so very good.


A certain thing happened, and it was of such a form, substance, tenor, and scale that it outstrips language. Words always sound odd -- an inappropriate vehicle of semantics -- to look at what happened. Not even music can touch its darkness and harsh texture. But we live in language and in music. So if what happened can't be spoken or composed, it can't be held in memory. It fades, and our present moves ahead in a mist of cheap amnesia.

But if we could speak of it, hence remember it, what would that mean or how would it affect anything in our present or future?

For one thing, our poetry and hours would carry implicit echoes of horror and dimensions of loss. Even our dancing and laughter would be faintly haunted by a memorial penumbra.

And we would know, with no equivocation and as if space itself were wounded, this thing:

Gaza rockets into Israel is an evil and a psychosis to make the sun shudder.

Carl Nielsen -- "Chanconne"

Piano music by Carl Nielsen? Who knew? And hey, it's quite good!

A Pabst concerto!

A fresh and enjoyable late Romantic concerto!

Pavel Pabst (1854-1897).

And Marshev's playing is so committed to this piece. Makes it come alive with such spirit!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

an opera that reached and touched me

I'm not sophisticated enough to be an opera aficionado.

But several years ago, I read a CD review of an opera by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928 - ). It's titled The House of the Sun, and something in that review attracted me. I bought the CD.

The booklet introduction, written by the composer, is titled "The House of the Sun and the mystery of time." Based on actual events, this opera is about a pair of Russian sisters, who lived in the same house in Finland from 1917 to 1987. The Russian Revolution had displaced the family, and after their father's, brother's, and sister's suicides, as well as their mother's natural death, the twin sisters secluded themselves in Solgårten (House of the Sun). Sustained by mutual childhood memories more real than the impossible reality of their situation, they luxuriate in wafts of Russian melancholy, which forms into visions for that wounded pair.

The libretto recounts attempts at more grounded visitation by hopeful suitors and others. All to no avail. The sisters could not be released from the magnetic grip of a utopian past, either through an act of their own wills or by the influence of outsiders. I found the performances riveting and the music beautifully sad.

The denouement especially haunts me and will be with me for the rest of my life. The ghosts of two old suitors appear and, together, prepare the sisters for their approaching apotheosis:

"When it is time, when the time comes,
Understand this: in your most important moment
A bird stops and looks at you, at the moment when you understand
The pond reflects the entire world,
And the brook says: now it is time, here, now and always
A red leaf floats on the stream,
Carried by the water into oblivion."

At the very end, reality is thoroughly overtaken by dream and fantasy…by the promptings of familiar ghosts, who lead the twins, finally, outside the House of the Sun:

One after another, they dance
through the open garden door into the moonlight.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Kris Saknussemm's REVEREND AMERICA

I enjoyed the heck out of this radio interview -- Kris Saknussemm, author of the new novel REVEREND AMERICA.

KNPR interview with Kris Saknussemm

a Morton Feldman piece

I would subtitle this as "The Inscrutable Thoughts of Mice."

on craft

Joseph Brodsky said that a poem consists of exposition, argument, denouement. I suppose by "argument" he means engagement or struggle with the elements that have been uncovered during exposition. And I sort of view that part of the process as the "turn," or where a shift in perspective begins or a a deepening occurs. And I like what Mike Finley has said about the denouement -- it's where something new appears in the poet's consciousness, some insight the poet has achieved after exposition and engagement.

I like what Brodsky and Finley think about this stuff. It emphasizes the idea of craft in poetry. Like in music, where sonata form is a structure on which to hang invention. Of course, there must be freedom and spontaneity. But craft is a way of saying: "Poetry is a form of art and should be shaped according to implicit standards."

I'm still learning the ropes.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

a late quartet

JWN Sullivan, in his 1927 book Beethoven: His Spiritual Development, said the last quartets express a "higher degree of consciousness, probably, than is manifested anywhere else in art."

I agree.

And the Takács is one of my favorite ensembles. Their large sound, beautiful timbres, and natural artistry stand out for me. I was floored many years ago when I heard them on the radio, performing Haydn's Op. 76 Quartet No. 1. I'll never forget it.

Louis Vierne's FANTOMES (organ)


Periwinkles grew in the crease
between February and March.
Out here in this awkward place --
rustic acre of no formal flowers.

There is too much to put off doing
and too much to think about for hours
to make this yard over into a garden.
A wonderful garden remains possible.

So it is surprising and appreciated
when periwinkles gather in greenery
to celebrate with lavender an early sun.

They are a colorful contrast
to surrounding fallow fields,
morose stalks on the ditch bank,
and gray factories off to the west.

The periwinkle vinca crowds
around the abandoned planter –
an 8' x 8' area for ostensible roses
now overgrown with long sadness --
out in the endurance of my back yard.

The periwinkles are slowly dancing
on the new March wind in openness,
like faces of choristers about to sing.

Who knows why there is such color
coming all by itself into those faces?
And how did they appear in a crease
between the ticks of a silent clock,
beneath a winter sun's warming?

I don't understand this paradox
of hope blooming as I still grieve.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Ribisi...and Bob !!

a quote I like a lot

"The Dream is a second life. Never can I pass without a shudder through those gates of ivory or horn which separate us from the invisible world."

Gérard de Nerval -- AURÉLIA

Glazunov Piano Concerto No.2

What a delightful, lyrical thing!

Schoenberg Violin Concerto

Ms. Hahn is brilliant in this brilliant score.

Bruckner -- Symphony No. 9

Bruckner. His Symphony No. 4 is distinctive -- an extended idyll or pastoral, with woodwinds more present than in later works. Then, Symphonies 5, 6, 7, and 8 -- who can describe or explain those vast stratocumulus clouds of sound, sunlit and mystically tinged? Finally, the 9th -- a numinous statement from the heart of world, yet the human heart is also woven into the musical dream.