Density crawled

draping
the boughs of
a wintered tree

accrued
and angel-cared,
one two three,

yet subtraction
agreed,
with a
disappearance
forseen -

the implosion grown
abridged,
dripping

and small.

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one of those little verse items that creep into your brain and don’t let go until you formulate a poem.

Thoughts for the 31st of October

I have a lot of random crap in my head today, so indulge me…

Music sets a great mood for holidays. I turned on the cable holiday music channel yesterday, and to my delight, it was Halloween-focused. Great favorites like Monster Mash, (It’s a) Monster’s Holiday by Buck Owens, Rick Scott’s Halloween Hoodoo, and The Guess Who’s Clap for the Wolfman to more contemporary adult fare like The Eagles Witchy Woman, Cliff Richard’s Devil Woman, and the ubiquitous Thriller and well known movie soundtrack clips.

Some others were a bit of a stretch…just because devil is in the lyric, it doesn’t make it an automatic Halloween song, does it? Cases in point…(She’s got the) Devil in her heart by The Beatles, Sympathy for the Devil by the Rolling Stones, The Devil went down to Georgia by the Charlie Daniels Band. All great songs in their genres, but not on my go-to list for Halloween mood music.

I’ve also been singing Grim, Grinning Ghosts to myself since yesterday… Thank you Thurl Ravenscroft.

Movies have also been a source of enjoyment for me this Halloween season. I am particularly thankful that some stations broadcast the older, more gothic-than-slasher, creepy movies. I’ve seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween and Friday the 13th and most of their sequels over the years, and I’m not as big a fan of revisiting those movies as some are. I really enjoy the classic horror tales and anthologies. Some that I’ve seen this year are Twice-Told Tales* with Vincent Price, The Legend of Hell House with Roddy McDowell, and House of Wax with Vincent Price. I caught a moment of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter last night and just couldn’t force myself to watch it. But, if I catch Bela Lugosi’s Dracula on tonight, I will be watching.

Cooking
I tried a leftover casserole recipe on Tuesday. If you have leftover chili or taco meat, or taco soup, this is a good thing to try. In a small baking dish (8 by 8), spread out the leftover chili/soup/taco meat about an inch or two deep, then cover with a layer of sharp cheddar cheese. On top of that add one mixed box of corn bread (Jiffy brand works well). I added a handful of cheese and half a jalapeno pepper to the cornbread mix. Cook according to the cornbread instructions. You get a nice layered casserole dish. Quick and easy.

Writing
Well..you know how it is, sometimes you write a lot, sometimes a little, and sometimes none. I’m in a little-to-none mode right now – at least in the poetry realm. I recently had a poem selected for an online publication in January 2015, so I’ll be sure to highlight that when it happens.

Have a safe and happy Halloween.

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*I am now intrigued by the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, particularly his short stories, such as Rappaccini’s Daughter and Dr Heidegger’s Experiment. Both stories use a plot foundation of chemical dosing (one as intentional poisoning/conditioning and and the other as a discovery of a potential fountain of youth) to influence or change the character’s situation. Events unfold as a result of their desire to manipulate people and impacts the lives of his characters, ultimately leading to retribution and judgement on them for their actions. Dark romanticism, indeed.

A cappella Friday: Bars and Feathers

em>Acappella music (without instrumental accompaniment) is particularly enjoyable for me to listen to. As a poet (and an avocational musician), I am drawn to the similarities that poems and acappella music have. Lyrical phrasing, meter, rhyming, assonance, and consonance mean so much to acappella music, because it relies so heavily on the human vocal element.

**********************************

It has been a while since I did one of these.

Partly because I hadn’t heard any new inspiring songs recently, neither was I particularly inspired to seek out any songs.

Until today.

I was wondering whether anyone had done an arrangement of Emily Dickinson poems for acappella chorus. Google. What a time waster saver. I found quite a few. And it should come as no surprise, as Ms. Dickinson is arguably the most prolific of American Poets and one of the more emotive poets (and also – to her credit – concise). These characteristics make her writing great fodder for choral literature.

The first one I noticed (and I think that I’ve sung it once) was Let down the Bars, O Death, composed by Samuel Barber, who was responsible for another haunting poem/choral selection that I discussed a while back, Louise Bogan’s To Be Sung on the Water. He wrote this piece during the same summer (1936)** as the string quartet that would eventually become Adagio for Strings.

Let down the Bars, O Death*
Emily Dickinson
Music by Samuel Barber

Let down the Bars, O Death —
The tired Flocks come in
Whose bleating ceases to repeat
Whose wandering is done —

Thine is the stillest night
Thine the securest Fold
Too near Thou art for seeking Thee
Too tender, to be told.

This setting is a simple chorale, with none of Barber’s usual complex counterpoint, but it is effective  at letting Dickinson’s text carry  the load.  Given her gift for emotionally charging phrases, it definitely works with his gift for musical conflict and resolution.  The opening of the piece sounds like a call, an invocation that begins hushed, and crescendos to the conclusion, where the opening lines are repeated/declared with emphasis.

The next piece was a bit of a surprise.  I have a soft spot for poetry that is light and hopeful (something that is not necessarily plentiful in Dickinson’s canon of writing), so when I happened upon “Hope” is the thing with feathers, I was hooked.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers*

Emily Dickinson
Music by Kenny Potter

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all -

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

There are several different choral arrangements of this poem, but in my opinion, none of them capture the intention of the words like this arrangement by Dr. Kenny Potter of Wingate University. Recently composed in 2011***, this piece allows the underlying message to drive the song, with the opening lines carried through as heartbeat. A carefree melody, which breaks slightly to express the seriousness of the last line (much like Barber in the effective use of chorale style), but then returns to the patter of the “thing with feathers, and sings the tune without the words – and never stops – at all” fading to the end.

I believe he created an earworm.

The video I selected is a combined performance of several pieces. The first one is “Hope” is the thing with feathers. Have a listen. You will be humming this the next day.

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*The Poems of Emily Dickinson Edited by R. W. Franklin (Harvard University Press, 1999)
**G. Schirmer, Octavo 8907
***Published by Santa Barbara Music Publishing (SB.SBMP-1017) 2011

A Passage

All of my most
compelling photographs
have roads in them:

The lonely stretch of highway
to the left of a bittersweet sunset.
after the leaves have
all blown away.

The S-curve in a raceway,
-empty-
then full of revving vehicles
vying for the sweet spot in the turns,
to accelerate into the straightaway
that continues out of view.

The picturesque motorway,
that aligns directly with
an imposing palisade of rock and ice,
only to veer sharply
and begin mounting the range,
passing through the crags
to some apex.

The city’s avenue at dusk after
a spring shower, streetlights
glow off the pavement,
and tail lights pierce the
somberness
as if to punctuate
my transitory presence
in a moment.

A reminder
that I was there and moved on.

Berlin1.jpg