Author Archives: John S

About John S

I write poetry...mostly because it appeals to the music in my head.

wood would knot

It’s a reminder of dead branches in a tree trunk.
A natural thing. When processed and managed, it is a would-be imperfection that could be nice to look at, causing a waving grain, adjusted in directions exploited by purpose. It is decorative and agile in its language, but still a defect.

A flaw to the strength of wood, it leads to weakness for tensile and compression, especially when under perpendicular forces or being pulled in opposition. This would be structurally unsound to build upon. The knot can lead to cracks and would not be of benefit in building because of the warp, the check and the shakes.

Some who construct would know the impact.
In a dissonant chord, it is the note that sings loudest and rings a disjointed sound.
In a poem, it is the missing iamb of a sonnet, tripped and stumbled upon. In a house, it is in the failing wall or a cracking joist, unable to stand the weight of heavy burden.
In speaking-it is missing a word and rushing over – leaving a hole. Such work is helpless and unsound.

What remains would not be usable.

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Dispatching the Doldrums

It is time to clear the cobwebs and write about anything.  Blog writing for me is  a way for me to exercise my creative skills and (bravely) share what I’m writing.  Every now and again, I like to share what I’m thinking/doing/reading/listening to/watching.

Watching

A week ago, I just finished watching Band of Brothers on Amazon, which was based on the book of similar name by Stephen E. Ambrose.   I  know I’m a little behind ( it first aired on HBO in 2001).  But, I didn’t subscribe to HBO then, and never invested in DVDs of the miniseries.  Wow.  An incredibly well-done set of vignettes from the history of Easy Company of the 101st Airborne during WWII in Europe.  It was produced by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks – it has much the same feel as Saving Private Ryan.  Each episode centers around a different event and focuses on a different character’s perspective.  My favorite episode involved the Battle of Bastogne, and told the story from the perspective of Doc Roe, the company’s medic.  He displayed courage and a singular ability to keep going in bone chilling cold under relentless bombardment, while keeping the men is his company in fighting shape and providing care to the wounded.  The scenes are graphic and the emotion is raw.  The miniseries drives home the point, that in war- there is no rest.  Even when you think you may get a weekend leave, something happens to call the company back into the fray.  After battles, you move on to the next line.

Reading

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a slow reader and one who is prone to start multiple books to find one that captures my interest.  Right now, I think have five books in various stages of reading.  Most recently, I started reading Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, by Richard Grant. It is a true tale, a collection of tales actually, of a British travel writer (Grant) and his girlfriend after they decide to buy an old plantation home in heart of the Mississippi Delta.  Stories of Southern tradition, along with the tenuous combination of gentility, race and class, are told without judgement – but with a keen perception of the relationships involved.  This book is a great look into this forgotten region of the country.  Truth be told – I am related to people who grew up in this area of Mississippi, and am very familiar with the themes of this book.  The Delta is a both a wasteland and a land of riches.

Listening

I have eclectic music tastes.  I will listen to almost any genre, depending on my mood and as long as it is well done.  In recent years, I have become interested in Americana/folk styles.  I like the realness of it and how it can impact you emotionally.  With that in mind, I want to recommend music by a friend.  I met Mark Currey in high school, when we both attended a Gifted/Talented Summer Camp.  We were in the choral program, and were introduced to many different genres of music in the program.  We were encouraged to be creative in our free time, and it was obvious that Mark was a songwriter even then. I wrote in my journal in my free time- ain’t life funny.  We weren’t best friends, but we got along well. After that summer, we parted ways (like most everyone does), only to reconnect many years later via FaceBook.  I found out he had recorded an album, his first, in 2017.  The classic story of the Late Bloomer – I can relate.  His record, Tarrant County, is part Country, part Americana – and I encourage you to give it a listen. Mark has a very warm vocal style (he’s a tenor), and his lyrics are real storytelling.  You can download it at the either of the links above, or you can find it on streaming services.   There are some really nice musical moments, some thought provoking lyrics, but never overdone.  You might find something you like.

Thanks for reading.

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Symmetry

I spent the day pruning a tree,

its branches wild, a sprawling siege

that overtook my space of yard

and lorded all the plants, as liege.

And in this time reshaping a tree,

my thoughts, some bits of poesy.

Its limbs removed, the trunk is scarred,

and the lowest branches out of reach.

And after cutting this creeping tree,

now left with a perfect symmetry,

the sunlight’s glim now reaches far

with spacial perspicuity.

 

A Cappella Friday: Choose Something Like a Star

A cappella 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 a cappella music have. Lyrical phrasing, meter, rhyming, and onomatopoeia mean so much to a cappella music, because it relies so heavily on the human vocal element.
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Anyone that has followed me since my origins here with Taps and Ratamacues may recall this as a semiweekly feature for a while, but I haven’t written about specific music/poetry combinations in quite some time. Again, as in other entries, this is not an a cappella piece specifically, but the positive interaction of music with poetry is undeniable.

This entry came about as a result of phone conversation with my mother and father, both life-long musicians – now retired. They both have an impeccable memory for musical anecdotes.

We were discussing the word taciturn, as it described a friend of theirs going through rough time, to which my father said the only other place he ever recalled hearing that word was in a choral setting of Robert Frost’s poem, Choose Something Like a Star.

My curiosity was peaked, and I went searching.

Frost wrote the poem in 1916. It is a remarkable piece that addresses humankind’s need for reassurance from a greater being.  It contains elements of philosophy, religion, and science – the trifecta of sought meaning.  It is one of Frost’s more direct and driven poems.  We seek meaning in life, and can choose things to convey that meaning. We expect these icons to give us direction and explanation.  “To be wholly taciturn is not allowed.”

Frost’s point was that in choosing “something like a star”, something distant and far off, we can be comforted in the fact that it exists and “it burns” despite our desire for clear explanation.

Randall Thompson (1899-1994) wrote a collection of songs using Frost poems as lyrics, entitled Frostiana (Seven Country Songs). In 1959 Thompson was commissioned to write a piece commemorating the bicentennial of the town of Amherst, Massachusetts. It was decided that the piece should include lyrics comprised of Robert Frost’s poetry, as he had lived in Amherst for a number of years. The town originally lobbied for The Gift Outright, which Frost later recited at JFK’s inauguration.  Not believing that poem to be appropriate for this occasion, Thompson gained permission to select poems himself.  He eventually  chose seven texts – including the well-known poems The Road not Taken and Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.  Also chosen was the poem Choose Something Like a Star.

The vocal arrangement starts ethereally, with sopranos singing the ‘O star’ phrasing as if it is a far away object and the other voices of the choir building in the harmony – pushing outward to meet this fairest object in sight.  Thompson is masterful in his use of chord structure and phrasing with Frost’s poem.  There is tension in the unanswered questions, there is calm in the resolution.

Frost and Thompson knew each other and held great mutual respect for each man’s work.  Frost was in attendance at the premiere performance of Frostiana, and was so delighted by the performance that, at the conclusion of the piece, he stood up and shouted, “Sing that again!” In fact, he was so impressed by the composition that he banned any other composers from setting his poems to music.

We seek meaning in the universe, and often we can find it in the beauty and unexplainable mystery of existence itself.

Formula

Life gets ahold and it herds, when all told
the work of the poem is always tenfold.

The light from the sun flickers that shimmers in gold
amidst the shade in the summer, while on a stroll.

The pleasant refinement of daisies in view.
A maddening premise, a dove to include-

across the path, fluttering, wingspan askew-
a memory blossomed and wand’ring ensued.

A relief of a notion that somewhere around
is beauty awaiting, just to be found.

Daisies and doves, and trying abounds
the poem, tenfold or so, lingers in sound.  
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The creative process for me is never the same. It is often chaotic, and my writing can be brought about by several different elements. With all of the unhappiness in the world – I felt constrained by disappointment, resentment, and anger. I thought something simple would help me write something today, and this formula did.
 

Maybe

There is a secret around the corner
that the roses will be red instead of pink;

the sunset and sunrise will both illuminate
the dark moments – far more eloquently than any word.

There are remnants of language,
The laughter of loved ones and strangers
are beauty in a spattered world –
and strung-together notes of the discordant are melodious when unfurled.

There is a depth in every eyeful gathered from a window
and a coolness in the soil grasped by each hand.

You feel the heat that summer’s afternoon conceives,
and I hear the whiskers of October’s morning in the leaves.

There are shadows that crawl in the day
and charming smiles that ornament a night.

And this is truth’s impassioned plea to our humanity,
and affirms the secrets we sometimes cannot see –
perhaps, life is our communal way to share
and maybe, each one of us is rare.

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The events of this past week have weighed heavily on me – the loss of two very successful, highly creative individuals to suicide, and the realization that this type of hopelessness impacts far more people than we know/understand. There is such beauty and importance in life, and each one of every one of us has a rare gift to share with others. Remember this.
Wishing you all a wonderful week.