Did I mention in my post about Lera Auerbach that my friend Jim Stubenrauch heard in her music echoes of Olivier Messiaen? Yes I did. Well, I wanted to know more so I e-mailed Jim the next day and here's his response:
The piece I mentioned is Quartet for the End of Time by Olivier Messiaen (shown right, while imprisoned -- sdh) which was written and premiered in a prisoner of war camp during WWII. Messiaen wrote the piece for the instruments that were available: piano, violin, cello, and clarinet—an unusual combination.
Peter Serkin formed the quartet Tashi in the 70s to perform this piece, so I’m sure you could find a recording by them, tho others have done it since. Georgia and I saw the re-formed Tashi perform it last summer at Tanglewood, in honor of Messiaen’s centenary. It was really one of the most moving performances I’ve ever heard. It’s incredible music in any setting, but if you imagine it being written and performed for the first time in the dead of winter for an audience of several thousand prisoners and guards in a POW camp… it’s just one of those things that seem impossibly bizarre and really beyond belief.
Messiaen was quite a character. You would enjoy reading up on him. He was a devout Roman Catholic, though with a deep mystical bent, and worked as a church organist for many years and wrote gargantuan pieces for pipe organ. He had a lot of strange and interesting ideas about harmony and rhythm, and also experienced synaesthesia, so some of his music is based on the chromatic harmonies that different tones evoked for him. He was also something of an ornithologist, and is famous for writing lots of pieces based on his transcriptions of birdsong(!). Probably the best-known big piano piece in this mode is Catalogue of Birds (Catalogue d’oiseaux), which is a beauty.
Nearly a week has passed since my friend Jim Stubenrauch and I attended Lera Auerbach’s private recital and in the musical equivalent of what dance critic Arlene Croce called “after-images” I am still hearing snippets of her compositions. I'd hoped to post about the evening sooner, but life’s obligations intervened, and this is my first chance to do so. Lera (left) arranged this performance at the last minute as a run-through before a concert in Boston where she and her accompanists Philippe Quint (violin) and Nicholas Altstaedt (cello) would perform two sonatas and a piano trio. In describing her music, Lera explains that she is driven by twin obsessions of memory and time: “Memories are the one thing we have that cannot be taken away from us,” she says, and “we are always trying to stop time, escape time, be free from time.” Auerbrach is a brilliant composer and pianist (and poet and translator too). Those of you who are unfamiliar with her work should check it out here and in the many videos that have popped up on YouTube. Right now I’m listening to a CD of 24 Preludes for Violin and Piano. It’s haunting but also filled with flashes of humor; a folk melody creeps in, hints of passages from iconic pieces by other composers. When we played a selection for John Ashbery a few months ago, he was reminded of Shostakovich; my friend Jim, a musician himself, was reminded of Olivier Messiaen. This is not to say that Auerbach’s compositions aren’t uniquely her own, just that the musically-trained ear will pick up the conversations that composers have with each other across generations, just as poets do with poems.
A few words about the setting: Picture a palatial mid-town apartment high above Manhattan with views of Central Park out of one set of floor-to-ceiling windows on one side and views of the Hudson River out of the other. A dining area with wine and hors d’ouevres on offer. A living room arranged for a concert with rows of folding chairs and a sofa facing the Bösendorfer grand piano – an instrument that Jim tells me he’s never seen outside of a concert hall. Our host is a medical doctor and music lover. The roughly 30 guests are friendly and range in age from twenty-somethings to sixties and beyond. To my delight, the American Ballet Theater’s prima ballerina Diana Vishneva (pronounced Dee-ana) walks in and I nearly fall over myself to tell her how much I loved her Giselle in the summer of '05. (Afterimages, indeed).
It's on to the music, which is exciting, physically demanding on the musicians, complicated in parts, sweetly melodic in others, especially in the lovely encore (Postlude for violin and piano, available on the CD, above). But don’t take my word for it. Listen for yourselves here.
Shout out to the world. Lera is embarking on a multi-city world tour. Catch her if you can.
So, the academic year is over, the grades are in, the galleys are in, and though there is still lots to do, there's time for a bit of relaxation. David surprises me with reservations at La Grenouille, a venerable mid-town restaurant. We rarely dine out, in part because I love to cook and we have crazy schedules but also because we both watch our weight and because in this town even a casual meal in a local spot can be expensive.
The dining room is elegant, the patrons are attractive and smartly dressed; the recession seems not to have reached this oasis. We are well cared for by the attentive but not overbearing staff. The food is spectacular (duck breast with rhubarb sauce for me, halibut with olive oil and artichokes for him and ouef a la neige for dessert (a classic French dessert that I haven't had since I bicycled through France a gazillion years ago). A glass of Pinot Noir for me, Sancerre for him. Not to mention a glass of Pol Roger champagne to accompany our appetizers: sweetbreads for one of us, "choix des hors d'oeuvres" for the other. Divine.
As we took our seats on the banquette, we noticed the table of three to my left. The gentleman had before him a large roasted chicken with a side of asparagus. "Why order chicken in a place like this?" we wondered. Well if you're a regular, sometimes you want the chicken. Besides, a perfectly roasted chicken is no small accomplishment. Soon, our fellow diner had reduced his chicken to a pile of bones. The plate was whisked away and replaced by a entree sized serving of two plump juicy rare tournedos of beef with more asparagus. There was bread. There was wine. He tucked into his beef and polished it off with dispatch. He signals the waiter. Away goes the plate. Moments later, another serving of the beef is placed before him. He makes fast work of that too and signals the waiter. Time for dessert. Let's see, what'll it be? Ahh, more beef! In the span of an hour (we had barely finished our appetizers) he'd eaten a chicken and three servings of filet mignon! Where did it go? He was a slender man, mid-forties? nicely dressed and coiffed and in the company of two attractive women who picked at their meals. He paid the check. (I should hope so!)
My dad landed on Normandy beach, not as part of the first wave, thank god, or I probably wouldn't be here, but later, to clean up. He went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge and to liberate a concentration camp. Like so many others, he enlisted, a tough street kid from the Bronx, the child of Eastern European immigrants. During boot camp, he was court-martialed for striking an officer who called him a dirty kike. Though he was acquitted, he got shipped out soon after without having completed his training.
I don't know much about his service, not because he was particularly reticent but because he died suddenly at 50, before I was mature enough to imagine my parents had lives worth learning about. How I regret that I never asked him about those years. Anyone who has tried to get WWII military records knows that a fire destroyed many of them. Thus, all I have are the things he carried, a French-English dictionary, a guide to Europe, and, oddly, a copy of Don Quixote, in Spanish. Several years ago, I gathered these mementos together and along with a few photographs asked Star Black, the brilliant poet, photographer, and collage artist to make something of them. A few weeks later she presented me with three collages, one of which is shown here. That's my dad in the middle, looking handsome, and so young! In the upper left is a page from his guidebook in which he wrote a list of the places he fought his way through, ending with "and a funeral in some god-forsaken place."
One of the more moving accounts of life as an infantryman during WWII can be found in Roll Me Over, by Raymond Gantter. Ganttner was a teacher who decided to turn down his third deferment. He was unfit for officer status so he joined the infantry as a private. His service was almost identical to that of my father's. Here's a passage:
My morning subway commute takes roughly ten minutes, too brief for me to read anything absorbing. I usually look around at my fellow travelers. In addition to the newspaper (mostly The Daily News with an occasional Wall Street Journal) here's what those in my immediate surroundings were reading today:
Knit Two, by Kate Jacobs. Jacobs stitches together another winning tale of the New York City knitting circle, more a sisterhood than a hobby group (the irascible Darwin Chiu can't even really knit) -- Publishers Weekly.
Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, Ruth Reichl Reichl is an absolute marvel when it comes to writing about food--she can describe a dish in such satisfying detail that it becomes unnecessary for readers to eat. (Amazon.com review)
Hot, Flat, and Crowded (Why We Need A Green Revolution - And How It Can Renew America), Thomas L. Friedman In Hot, Flat, and Crowded, [Friedman's] taking on one of Earth's most pressing problems - the climate crisis and arguing that in saving the world, America can also save itself. (Amazon)
The Official Guide for GMAT Review - The only book on the market written by the creators of the GMAT exam. Inside you’ll find more than 800 actual GMAT questions from previous tests with answers and detailed explanations.(Amazon)
Laura Orem's post yesterday reminded me of this poem, a favorite, by James Tate:
The Definition of Gardening
Jim just loves to garden, yes he does.
He likes nothing better than to put on
his little overalls and his straw hat.
He says, "Let's go get those tools, Jim."
But then doubt begins to set in.
He says, "What is a garden, anyway?"
And thoughts about a "modernistic" garden
begin to trouble him, eat away at his resolve.
He stands in the driveway a long time.
"Horticulture is a groping in the dark
into the obscure and unfamiliar,
kneeling before a disinterested secret,
slapping it, punching it like a Chinese puzzle,
birdbrained, babbling gibberish, dig and
destroy, pull out and apply salt,
hoe and spray, before it spreads, burn roots,
where not desired, with gloved hands, poisonous,
the self-sacrifice of it, the self-love,
into the interior, thunderclap, excruciating,
through the nose, the earsplitting necrology
of it, the withering, shriveling,
the handy hose holder and Persian insect powder
and smut fungi, the enemies of the iris,
wireworms are worse than their parents,
there is no way out, flowers as big as heads,
pock-marked, disfigured, blinking insolently
at me, the me who so loves to garden
because it prevents the heaving of the ground
and the untimely death of porch furniture,
and dark, murky days in a large city
and the dream home under a permanent storm
is also a factor to keep in mind."
"The Definition of Gardening" from Shroud of the Gnome by James Tate (Ecco / HarperCollins,1997)
Just last Tuesday we got the call that David's mother had taken a turn and that she was being moved from home hospice care to the hospice wing of her local hospital. I knew it was likely that we would have to drop everything and rush to Florida to be at her side. On the heels of this news, snippets of Sharon Olds' "The Race" kept running through my mind. (Listen to the recording if you can. Or read it here.) This had happened once before -- the recollection of Olds' poem -- when David and I rushed home from Copenhagen, having arrived there just two days earlier, to be with Anne during a medical crisis in August 2001.
Later last Tuesday, David St. John posted about how often strangers, after a loss, have asked for his help in finding a poem from their past, because they know it will help them through a difficult time. St. John's post made me think, first, how lucky the callers were to reach by chance such a generous and knowledgeable poet, and second, how lucky I am to have poems available to me just when I need them most.
Today is Anne Lehman's funeral. And as I make the preparations for the post-funeral shiva I find myself returning to this poem by A. R. Ammons:
In View of the Fact
The people of my time are passing away: my
wife is baking for a funeral, a 60-year-old who
died suddenly, when the phone rings, and it's
Ruth we care so much about in intensive care:
it was once weddings that came so thick and
fast, and then, first babies, such a hullabaloo:
now, it's this that and the other and somebody
else gone or on the brink: well, we never
thought we would live forever (although we did)
and now it looks like we won't: some of us
are losing a leg to diabetes, some don't know
what they went downstairs for, some know that
a hired watchful person is around, some like
to touch the cane tip into something steady,
so nice: we have already lost so many,
brushed the loss of ourselves ourselves: our
address books for so long a slow scramble now
are palimpsests, scribbles and scratches: our
index cards for Christmases, birthdays,
Halloweens drop clean away into sympathies:
at the same time we are getting used to so
many leaving, we are hanging on with a grip
to the ones left: we are not giving up on the
congestive heart failure or brain tumors, on
the nice old men left in empty houses or on
the widows who decide to travel a lot: we
think the sun may shine someday when we'll
drink wine together and think of what used to
be: until we die we will remember every
single thing, recall every word, love every
loss: then we will, as we must, leave it to
others to love, love that can grow brighter
and deeper till the very end, gaining strength
and getting more precious all the way. . . .
by A. R. Ammons
first appeared in Epoch
(reprinted in The Best American Poetry 2005)
Even though I am feeling the loss of David's mother today, my thoughts are also with Craig Arnold's family and loved ones. We have been standing vigil over Anne, whose death, though sad, was as it should be; she was 94, had a remarkable life, and was surrounded by those who loved her deeply, I grieve for her.
I didn't know Craig Arnold, but David did, and spoke admiringly of him as a poet with enormous talent and as a delightful individual. I came across this post on Katy Evans-Bush's Baroque in Hackney blog, which captures in a way I can't right now so much of what I'm thinking.
by Jane Kenyon
The hen flings a single pebble aside
with her yellow, reptilian foot.
Never in eternity the same sound --
a small stone falling on a red leaf.
The juncture of twig and branch,
scarred with lichen, is a gate
we might enter, singing.
The mouse pulls batting
from a hundred-year-old quilt.
She chewed a hole in a blue star
to get it, and now she thrives....
Now is her time to thrive.
Things: simply lasting, then
failing to last: water, a blue heron's
eye, and the light passing
between them; into light all things
must fall, glad at last to have fallen.
Many years ago, a colleague of mine and long-time employee of the agency where I worked jumped to his death from the 13th floor of our office building. It was mid-day. The office complex straddled a highway; there was traffic below and office workers coming and going on the sidewalks. The impact of his body was so powerful that the people working in the lower floors could feel it, and every bone in Bob’s body was shattered. A man with the build of a longshoreman, Bob was flattened like road kill.
At the time I was, in addition to being a policy analyst, a volunteer employee assistance coordinator. As such, I was trained to give confidential guidance to coworkers in need of help. I did not counsel them; I helped them find the resources they needed.
During the weeks following Bob’s suicide, I helped arrange grief counseling sessions for my fellow workers. Trained crisis counselors from a nearby hospital trauma unit led the sessions, during which those close to Bob and those who had witnessed his death were encouraged to talk about how the experience affected them. Bob’s closest friends and colleagues were plagued with nightmares, unable to silence their frightening thoughts, and consumed with guilt about what they might have done to help or save him. At the crisis sessions these otherwise reticent men -- buttoned-up lawyers, accountants, engineers -- sobbed openly, confessed to their feelings of inadequacy, and struggled to come to terms with what they believed to be their lapse in responsibility because they were unable to help Bob. At the same time, by hearing each other share stories of their recent contacts with Bob, we all learned that many knew that he was suffering, that his closest friends had begged him to get help, and that he had promised that he would but didn’t. One especially loyal friend had researched psychotherapists and coached Bob while he made an appointment, one that he failed to keep. He was determined to carry out his plan and to succeed.
His plan: He had a plan. As I later learned during more in-depth training on suicide prevention, the sirens should go off when someone reveals that he or she has a plan and the means to carry it out. When someone shares this information, even if they beg that it be kept confidential, do not keep it confidential. Sadly, many suicides are so determined that they will keep their plan to themselves. They’ve made up their mind, their mood lightens as one’s mood tends to upon making a big decision, and all that remains for them to do is to wait for preparation to meet opportunity.
The other day, after David and I learned of Deborah Digges suicide, we counted on our fingers the number of writer-suicides in recent years. David asked on Facebook why so many poets are taking their lives. Someone responded that poets are no more likely to commit suicide than firefighters or Finns. While that may be true, it shouldn’t stop the discussion of this tragedy among poets, for those are our friends and colleagues and the life of the poet is what we know. Maybe we owe it to ourselves and our loved ones to learn more about suicide, just as we learn about heart disease and alcoholism. How do we observe each other with compassion and express our concern when someone close seems to be in a downward spiral?
Many of you who read this blog are teachers as well. What should you tell your students? Is this a conversation for the classroom? What should we do?
Last Saturday night, at photographer/filmmaker Bill Hayward’s Flatiron studio, the performance duo of Billy Blanken and Jordan Marinov explored in twenty-two minutes of dance the inevitable push-pull of lovers as they struggle to overcome overwhelming feelings of vulnerability. Intimacies 2 is part of an ongoing collaboration between Marinov Dance and Red Dress Films, producer of the Hayward and Anna Elman film “Asphalt, Muscle, and Bone.” Those of you who have been following this space know we have been watching eagerly the progress of this daring project.
The audience of roughly twenty bordered the stage, created against a makeshift backdrop of photographer’s canvas to which Hayward pinned a dramatic abstract painting of Marilyn Monroe. As the performance begins, Blanken is alone. He reclines bare-chested on the floor, one knee bent and arms outstretched, in a languid pose reminiscent of the young Edward Villella in the opening of Jerome Robbins’ “Afternoon of a Faun,” a ballet about a fleeting encounter between a man and woman. The similarity ends there, however. In the Robbins piece, the young man is absorbed by his reflection; the encounter with the woman is a momentary interruption of his narcissistic reverie. In Intimacies 2, there are no mirrors. The would-be lovers can only look inward or at each other. Blanken’s movements are tight and controlled and the space he inhabits seems claustrophobic, the space of one too long alone with one’s own thoughts. When he is joined by Marinov -- who choreographed the piece -- their pas de deux of approach-avoidance begins in earnest. Here they dance a stiff waltz, barely touching, he gazing at her while she looks away, frightened. There they collide in a passionate embrace, her impossibly long legs in full extension. When they are fully engaged, it seems that the tiny space will not contain them. Marinov is an especially compelling artist, with sharp features, raven hair, and lithe body dressed in a simple sheath. Together, the dancing is energetic, at times bordering on violent. At other times the duo expresses an animal tenderness. In a striking fluid move, Marinov rolls backward over Blanken’s torso. The audience, seated so close to the action, can see and hear the dancers working, their quickening breath, their glistening bodies.
The soundtrack combined original music by Collin Couvillion, poems by Mary Ruefle (Concerning Essential Existence and The Refrigerator), and fragments from Virginia Woolf’s Waves. In an especially inspired moment, the crackling sounds of a police radio intrude during a sustained sequence of particularly intense and concentrated dance. I found myself struggling to stay present and focused on the lovers before me, a reminder that the quotidian threatens during life’s most sublime experiences.
Does anyone out there have a copy of Dog Man Stories by Mitch Sisskind? If yes, let's talk. After listening to Michael Silverblatt's 1993 interview of Mitch on his popular Bookworm radio show, I'm determined to read his book. Mitch tells me he doesn't have a single copy. You can listen to the interview here.
God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose. Take which you please,-- you can never have both. Between these as a pendulum man oscillates. He in whom the love of repose predominates will accept the first creed, the first philosophy, the first political party he meets, most likely his father's. He gets rest, commodity, and reputation but he shuts the door of truth. He in whom the love of truth predominates will keep himself aloof from all moorings, and afloat. He will abstain from dogmatism and recognize all the opposite negations between which, as walls, his being is swung. He submits to the inconvenience of suspense and imperfect opinion but he is a candidate for truth, as the other is not, and respects the highest law of his being.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, first series
BAP fan and blogger Bill Cohen is looking for submissions from tattooed poets! Bill wants to post an image of a poet's tattoo on his blog Tattoosday every day this April, National Poetry Month. Bill tells us that your tattoo doesn't have to be literary in nature to qualify. If your tattoo gets featured, Bill hopes to give a little history of your tattoo, some background about you and your poetry, and he'll include links to your own website, books, and poems. With your permission, he'll even post a poem on his companion blog, BillyBlog. Contact Bill at email@example.com.
(Bill's tattoo, left)
She #1 (on cellphone): Hey. Mom. It's me. You'll never believe what happened to me last night . . . Last night . . . Yeah. Kiefer Sutherland, like, totally hit on me . . . Kie-fer Su-ther-land. From that TV show? . . . Yeah, 24. Anyway, I was in a club with Gretchen . . . You're kidding, right? He was, like, totally shit-faced. Totally . . . He's really hot though. . . . You know what he said? . . . He said I was an angel and that Gretch was evil . . . No,(laughing) I told you, he was shit-faced . . . He's really hot . . . He was with some other guy from the show . . .Yes, but I doubt he'll call . . . OK. Here's our cab. Love you.
She #2: What'd she say?
She #1: I told her nothing happened.
This week we welcome Laurence Goldstein as our first guest blogger of the new year. Goldstein is Professor of English at the University of Michigan, where he has edited the fine Michigan Quarterly Review since 1977. His most recent book of poems is A Room in California (Northwestern University Press, 2005). He is also the author of The American Poet at the Movies. Find out more about Larry Goldstein here. Welcome, Larry.
He #1: So where did you go to law school?
He #1: That’s awesome. You must be really smart.
He #2: Yeah. Like us. We only work construction to pay off our loans.
She(laughs): Well. I don’t think I’ll be a lawyer for the rest of my life.
He #1: You could work with us.
She: Sure. Sounds good. Ok. My stop. Bye.
He #1: Later.
He #1: Nice ass.
He #2: Forget it.
I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark
from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman
THE RULE OF THUMB
Ringfinger was nervous
when they learned
that Hand might succumb
to the rule of Thumb.