Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

poetry alive!

February 2, 2011

April is National Poetry Month.

Why am I talking about that now, on the snowiest Groundhog Day many folks have seen in decades (if ever)? The submission deadline for this year’s event was yesterday. I sent in three poems, and I know of several other friends who also did. It’s always a fun thing to do, as Montpelier Alive Association and the Kellogg-Hubbard Library create poetry installations that are displayed throughout the whole capital city. This year’s theme is: “Vermont: Past, Present, and Future”

Here’s the rundown of activities  for last year’s events. This year’s isn’t posted yet, when it is you can look for it here. Good luck to everyone who sent in poems!

bilingual +

April 30, 2009

One of the most meaningful concert experiences I’ve ever had was a few years ago with the LA Opera: a rare staging of Arnold Schoenberg’s unfinished operatic masterpiece, Moses und Aron. Austere and deeply stirring in its musicality, it relies primarily on text from Exodus to tell the story of the two brothers whose sacrifices and symbolic identities (of ‘righteousness’ and ‘peace’, respectively) lie at the foundation of Judaism.

"more than bilingual" exhibit brochure

"more than bilingual" exhibit brochure

The opera’s backstory is just as interesting. It’s the work of a displaced German Jew who returned to his faith in 1933 just after he finished work on the opera, even as the drums crescendoed with the advance of the second World War. It’s thought that Moses und Aron represented Schoenberg’s attempt to work out the problems of a Jew in the modern world*.

Today I visited Burlington’s Fleming Museum for “more than bilingual“, the new collaboration between poet Major Jackson and Peruvian visual artist William Cordova. There is a natural affinity in their work, and I found it to have the same kinds of dynamics at work as those in Moses und Aron. The obvious comparison here would be the juxtaposition of Major Jackson’s spoken words with William Cordova’s visual narrative, much as Moses’ spoken role in the opera is offset and complemented by the fluid artistry of Aron’s singing tenor.

But the comparison also works on another level, and that’s with the common underlying themes of cultural memory and disenfranchisement, societal labels, and racial identity.

One panel of Cordova’s 25-piece grid Sangarara is covered by the repeated single word “Landó”, the West African music/dance form that came to South America with slaves in the 1800s. The piece is paired with Major Jackson‘ s poem ‘Toro Mata‘, itself named after the classic (landó) Peruvian folksong, and referencing the makeshift instruments the slaves created to disguise their music in the face Spanish prohibition. Can’t use drums, because they’re too resonant of the African music from home? Alright then, how about a Spanish shipping crate rigged to work as a drum? Enter the cajón, the box drum that’s now a staple of the Afro-Peruvian sound.

Literature and music, words and art. Whether it’s Moses und Aron or poetry paired with paintings, there are infinite connections to be made – and found – in the name of artistic pursuit.

More than Bilingual runs through May 10th at Burlington’s Fleming Museum.


* Aaron Tugendhaft, Schoenberg’s Moses und Aron

For listening:

Novalima: Coba Coba – Cumbancha, 2009

Peru Negro: Sangre de un Don – World Connection, 1999  *includes “Toro Mata”

Schoenberg: Moses und Aron – Chicago Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Georg Solti/Decca 00994102

Engels in the architecture

March 12, 2009

Might seem like an easy question: ‘what do Tom Waits, Louis Armstrong and Vivaldi have in common?’ – well, music. Very good music. Yes.

3/11/09-statuary at St. Michael's College

3/11/09-statuary at St. Michael's College

These are also artists whose seeming creative  disparities are bridged by the common attribute of having inspired writing by poets John Engels, and David Huddle.

Last night’s memorial for Engels at  St. Michael’s College brought together images of these artists and a lot more, in thoughtful  readings by Engels’ daughter and his longtime friend and collaborator Huddle.

The event’s introduction came from a man who knew them both: Dr. William Marquess, from the St. Michael’s English Department. With insight telling of his own art, he described Huddle as a poet of “hard vision” and “unobtrusive craft”.

For a night when no actual music was played, the occasion was filled with it.

Huddle prefaced the opening selection (the seasonally mud-melancholy “Spring Prophecy”) with the reminder of Engels’ characterization of Vivaldi (from another poem, “Vivaldi in Early Fall”), as being “on the verge of thunderously sad”. Huddle made the important distinction between being at the rim of of that precipice,  and falling in – he smiled, and acknowledged that he would not be there to share Engels’ poetry with the audience if it were of the latter kind.

Huddle’s gently Virginia-tinged readings unfolded over the next hour to reveal a deep mutual respect and tender friendship between the two men on topics as wide-ranging as Alzheimer’s disease, fly fishing, an encounter with migrating songbirds, dog walking, and finally a rich poem in which Huddle describes his own arrival (long in coming!) in appreciating Louis Armstrong’s music.

Huddle and Engels often traded music recommendations, it turns out, and though Armstrong had been a favorite of Engels it was a recommendation that Huddles had steadfastly resisted for reasons that didn’t really need to be made clear. Music’s just that way, I guess. You either get it or you don’t. And sometimes it just takes some time.

Huddle describes the Armstrong piece that finally did it for him in the resulting poem “Search This World Over” – the title is a phrase from that Armstrong cornerstone, “St. James Infirmary”.

Most memorable line from the evening? In an hour filled with readings from two of the region’s top poets, you can imagine there were many. But as I left St. Michaels it was Huddle’s Louis Armstrong quote that stuck with me: “if you ain’t got it in you, you can’t blow it out.”

And there was surely no lack of inner source material last night…”on the verge of thunderously sad”, and otherwise.

[ David Huddle’s newest poetry collection is “Glory River” (2008, Louisiana State University Press) ]

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