MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

The No One’s Rose at Stanford

Here’s my preview of a remarkable collaboration between American Modern Opera Company and the Philharmonia Baroque, reshaped by the pandemic interruption:

After nearly a year of postponement, Stanford Live prepares to present the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale‘s collaboration with the American Modern Opera Company. The No One’s Rose, a project created in a moment of prevailing uncertainty about the identity of art, uses the poetry of Holocaust survivor Paul Celan as a framework to reflect on creating art as a community in the face of overwhelming loss and despair…

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Filed under: commissions, new music, poetry

RIP Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919-2021)

Poetry as an “insurgent art,” the poet as storyteller, as painter: the many-faceted artist Lawrence Ferlinghetti has died at the age of 101 in his beloved San Francisco.

As a young man freshly armed with a comparative literature doctorate from Paris, Ferlinghetti arrived in San Francisco in 1951. He resembled, in his words, “the last of the bohemians rather than the first of the Beats.” See the New York Times assessment here, which adds: “San Francisco remained close to his heart as well, especially North Beach, the traditionally Italian-American neighborhood where he lived for most of his adult life” — and where he joined with Peter Martin to open the City Lights Pocket Book Shop in 1953 (each invested just $500).

“City Lights quickly became the hangout of choice for the city’s radical intelligentsia, particularly Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso and the rest of the Beats,” writes Emma Brown in The Washington Post. “The doors stayed open until midnight weekdays and 2 a.m. weekends, and even then it was hard to close on time. From its earliest years, it stocked gay and lesbian publications.”

A brave opponent of censorship and a pioneer of independent publishing, Ferlinghetti sustained his credo about art’s potential to change our world (as quoted in NPR’s appreciation): “I really believe that art is capable of the total transformation of the world, and of life itself. And nothing less is really acceptable. So I mean if art is going to have any excuse for — beyond being a leisure-class plaything — it has to transform life itself.”

He also said: “Everyone is a poet at 16, but how many are poets at 50? Generally, people seem to get more conservative as they age, but in my case, I seem to have gotten more radical, Poetry must be capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this means sounding apocalyptic.”

Here’s a group of photos taken outside City Lights showing an impromptu memorial on Tuesday.

Filed under: poetry

Songs at the Confluence: Indigenous Poets on Place

Songs at the Confluence: Indigenous Poets on Place is a digital poetry event presented by the Adrian Brinkerhoff Poetry Foundation and Tippet Rise Art Center, in partnership with In-Na-Po (Indigenous Nations’ Poets). It is presented in conjunction with the recently published Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry, When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through, with curation by Kimberly Blaeser and Jake Skeets.

This video contains seven short films by emerging and celebrated Indigenous poets reading their own work, as well as other works from the anthology; a discussion between two of the anthology’s editors, LeAnne Howe and Jennifer Foerster; and video recordings of the inspiring landscape and music produced at Tippet Rise.

Poets included: Kimberly Blaeser (Anishinaabe), Sy Hoahwah (Yapaituka Comanche and Southern Arapaho), Brandy Nalani McDougall (Kanaka Maoli), and Jake Skeets (Diné) reading their own work, and anthology editors LeAnne Howe (Choctaw) and Jennifer Foerster (Mvskoke) in discussion. Also included: Jake Skeets reading a poem by Adrian Louis (Lovelock Paiute), Kimberly Blaeser reading a poem by b: william bearheart (Anishinaabe-St. Croix), and Jennifer Foerster reading a poem by Louis Little Coon Oliver (Mvskoke).

Filed under: poetry, Tippet Rise

Schubert Week: Poets of the Lieder

Pierre Boulez Saal in Berlin today is starting its festival devoted to the lieder of Franz Schubert, curated by Thomas Hampson. I wrote about Schubert and his poets for the program (p. 31ff).

Goethe provided the source for more Schubert songs than any other poet. A sample:

Nähe des Geliebten
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Ich denke dein, wenn mir der Sonne Schimmer
Vom Meere strahlt;
Ich denke dein, wenn sich des Mondes Flimmer
In Quellen malt.
Ich sehe dich, wenn auf dem fernen Wege
Der Staub sich hebt;
In tiefer Nacht, wenn auf dem schmalen Stege
Der Wandrer bebt.
Ich höre dich, wenn dort mit dumpfem Rauschen
Die Welle steigt.
Im stillen Hain da geh ich oft zu lauschen,
Wenn alles schweigt.
Ich bin bei dir, du seist auch noch so ferne.
Du bist mir nah!
Die Sonne sinkt, bald leuchten mir die Sterne.
O wärst du da!
Nearness of the Beloved

I think of you when sunlight
glints from the sea;
I think of you when the moon’s glimmer
is reflected in streams.
I see you when, on distant roads,
dust rises;
in the depths of night, when on the narrow bridge
the traveller trembles.
I hear you when, with a dull roar,
the waves surge up.
I often go to listen in the tranquil grove
when all is silent.
I am with you, however far away you are.
You are close to me!
The sun sets, soon the stars will shine for me.
Would that you were here!
[Translation © Richard Wigmore first published by Gollancz and reprinted in the Hyperion Schubert Song Edition]

Filed under: lieder, poetry, Schubert

Walt Whitman at 200

walt-whitman

I believe in you my soul, the other I am must not abase itself to you,
And you must not be abased to the other.
Loafe with me on the grass, loose the stop from your throat,
Not words, not music or rhyme I want, not custom or lecture, not even the best,
Only the lull I like, the hum of your valvèd voice.
I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning,
How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turn’d over upon me,
And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stript heart,
And reach’d till you felt my beard, and reach’d till you held my feet.
Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth,
And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love,
And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields,
And brown ants in the little wells beneath them,
And mossy scabs of the worm fence, heap’d stones, elder, mullein and poke-weed.

–Song of Myself, V

Born two hundred years ago in the town of West Hills on Long Island, Walt Whitman embodies a voice that Americans are in dire need of hearing and heeding again.

Mark Edmundson has written a perceptive reflection on Whitman’s legacy in this month’s Atlantic:
“Whitman speaks to our moment in many ways. One of them is quite simple: At a time when Americans hate one another across partisan lines as intensely perhaps as they have since the Civil War, Whitman’s message is that hate is not compatible with true democracy, spiritual democracy.”

His poetry has inspired a remarkable range of composers. Here’s a sampling of my favorites:

–George Walker, Lilacs

–Ralph Vaughan Williams, A Sea Symphony

–Frederick Delius, Sea Drift

–John Adams/The Wound-Dresser

–Paul Hindemith/When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d

Please share your own favorites!

Filed under: poetry, Walt Whitman

An Auden Birthday

Auden portrait

Today marks the 109th anniversary of Wystan Hugh’s birth. I managed to find a link to an early poem Auden wrote for his friend Christopher Isherwood’s birthday here [pdf, p. 7]:

TO A WRITER ON HIS BIRTHDAY

August for the people and their favourite islands.                                                                           Daily the steamers sidle up to meet                                                                                                           The effusive welcome of the pier…

And here’s an interview  Aidan Wasley (author of THE AGE OF AUDEN: Postwar Poetry and the American Scene) conducted with John Ashbery:

John Ashbery: I first met [Auden] when he gave a reading at Harvard, I think in the spring of ’47, perhaps … He said he preferred America, though he preferred the English countryside because it was much tidier looking… I was always a bit intimidated by him, as I think many people were.

 

 

 

Filed under: anniversary, Auden, poetry

Poem for the New Year

Filed under: poetry

Guten Rutsch!

For my non-German-speaking friends, here’s a quickie intro to this NYE idiom: “In English, the phrase would be ‘Happy New Year,’ but Guten Rutsch literally translates to ‘Good jump’ or ‘Good slide.'”

I suppose a leap of faith always is involved in trying to brush aside the bad memories of a year just passed and to greet the new one as a “blank slate.”

On the other hand, the nostalgic tendency to think about old friends, old times, is a quintessential part of the New Year’s experience. Here’s Matthew Iglesias on the connection between Robert Burns’s beloved “Auld Lang Syne” and NYE:

The speaker is asking whether old friends should be forgotten, as a way of stating that obviously one should not forget one’s old friends. The version of the song we sing today is based on a poem published by Robert Burns, which he attributed to “an old man’s singing,” noting that it was a traditional Scottish song

[…]

One reason a random Scottish folk song has come to be synonymous with the new year is that New Year’s celebrations (known as Hogmanay) loom unusually large in Scottish folk culture … Presbyterianism put down deeper roots in Scotland, leading Hogmanay to displace Christmas as the number one midwinter celebration.

[…]

An 18th-century Scottish ballad … became a midcentury American television ritual, and from there became a worldwide phenomenon — even though almost nobody understands the song.

 

 

Filed under: miscellaneous, poetry

Remembering Auden

W.H. Auden died on this day in 1973 in Vienna. And just in time to mark the great poet’s legacy: Edward Mendelson’s splendidly edited series of Auden’s complete prose writings has been completed with volumes V and VI.

“This is what scholarly publishing is meant to be,” writes the critic Michael Dirda. His review continues:

Over the years I’ve collected Auden’s books — both his own and the works he edited — and so I feel reasonably familiar with his writing. But there’s much here I’d never seen before. At the same time, these pages refresh our appreciation of, say, the poet’s introduction to Anne Fremantle’s “The Protestant Mystics” or to his own selection of Dryden’s verse by showing them as products of a busy professional life.

Moreover, Mendelson’s notes and appendices contribute illuminating, and sometimes amusing, extra-textual detail….

[E]verything [Auden] says about poetry is sharp and authoritative: “In judging a poem, one looks for two things: craftsmanship — it should be a well-made verbal object; and uniqueness of perspective — nobody but the author could have written it.”

Filed under: anniversary, Auden, poetry

Half Through the Year

half-veil

Today’s position in the annual calendar makes me think of Friedrich Hölderlin’s most-famous poem, Hälfte des Lebens. Here’s the original, followed by my inelegantly functional translation (in which I deliberately stick close to Hölderlin’s word order/syntax):

Hälfte des Lebens

Mit gelben Birnen hänget
Und voll mit wilden Rosen
Das Land in den See,
Ihr holden Schwäne,
Und trunken von Küssen
Tunkt ihr das Haupt
Ins heilignüchterne Wasser.

Weh mir, wo nehm’ ich, wenn
Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo
Den Sonnenschein,
Und Schatten der Erde?
Die Mauern stehn
Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde
Klirren die Fahnen.

Halfway Through Life

With its yellow pears
And laden with roses,
The shore hangs right into the lake,
O lovely swans,
And drunk with kisses
You dip your heads
Into the holy sobering water.

Alas, where shall I, come
Winter, [find] flowers, and where
The sunshine,
And shade of the earth?
The walls are standing
Speechless and cold, in the wind
The weathervanes rattle.

And Benjamin Britten’s setting:

Filed under: Hölderlin, poetry

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