Saturday, January 31, 2009

A. E. Stallings on rhyme

Here's an energetic manifesto about rhyme
by a favorite poet of mine!

(A. E. Stallings, that is.)

The best bit:

"Translators who translate poems that rhyme into poems that don’t rhyme solely because they claim keeping the rhyme is impossible without doing violence to the poem have done violence to the poem. They are also lazy."

I would not say they are lazy, but it would just bore me to translate rhymed verse as unrhymed verse.

Song & Dance

John Fuller's previous book, The Space of Joy, triggered a lengthy post from me back in 2007. I don't have as much to say about his new book, Song & Dance, but then I don't think he expects one to have a lot to say about it: it's a collection of light verse and occasional poetry, something read for the pure pleasure of his humor and his technical skill.

So I especially enjoyed "Florio's Drinking Song," with its verses all ending with similes with wine, for example, "the wine like a widow remembers the grape."

"Song of Absence" describes what it's like to miss somebody, concluding with the worst time of all when it comes to missing somebody:

But worst is the stillness of night-time,
For ever a quarter-past-two
When dwelling on shapes in the darkness
Is no nearer to sleeping, or you.

"Rights," the first of "Two Secular Hymns," concludes with a punch:

And the silence of the wretched
Drowns the drivel of the damned.

"How Far?," with its opening line (repeated throughout), "How far is it to Carcassonne?", made me laugh because of the game Carcassonne. (An excellent game.)

The couplets of "At a Distance" spin out a response to an epigraph from André Maurois ("We owe to the Middle Ages the two worst inventions of humanity—gunpowder, and romantic love"). It includes a couplet about couplets:

Couplets were shelved with a Romantic curse
In favour of blank, free, Projective verse.

(You can find the whole poem in this PDF.)

"Variation on Shapcott" is a sexy version of the Fall from Eve's perspective. I googled it to see if it was on-line somewhere, and it was once posted on a Guardian blog, but now it's been removed from there!

"A Dozen Victorian Autograms" are sort of like anagrams: each of the poems is written in the style of a particular poet using only the letters in that poet's name. I recognized Emily Brontë, Walt Whitman, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and a hilarious Oscar Wilde.

"Laurel-Crowned Deceptions" responds to a Czeslaw Milosz poem in which he envisions finding himself in the encyclopedia "Next to a hundred Millers and Mickey Mouse." (Strange alphabetization there.) Fuller teases Milosz for apparently complaining about being famous and concludes:

But Czeslaw, pause before those pearly gates:
St. Peter keeps two keys. The first is God's key.
The second (help!) belongs to Joseph Brodsky.

Finally, I also really enjoyed the sinister "The Captain's Galop," a poem in the voice of a sea captain who first seems to be celebrating the passengers' dancing and later seems to be forcing them to dance:

Keep the dancing line unbroken, dance together, never stop.
Dance the Captain's dance. The bouncing, hectic, thunderous Galop!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Bernstein on poetry

I've sometimes wondered whether poetry's closest relative is stand-up comedy. Here, in sixty seconds, Charles Bernstein seems to agree (hat tip to Al Filreis):

The Beauty of the Husband and poetry's "layered elusiveness"

To say Beauty is Truth and stop.
Rather than to eat it.

But even if beauty is truth, the beautiful person—here, in Anne Carson's The Beauty of the Husband, "the husband"—may still be a liar, even a compulsive liar. "All parts are liars," Carson quotes the ancient Greeks:

And from the true lies of poetry
trickled out a question.

What really connects words and things?

But it is not the lies of poets that are the issue here, but the lies of the husband:

My husband lied about everything.

And the horror of the compulsive liar is that he cannot recognize his lies as lies (as reported to the narrator by her husband's friend Ray):

Ray please I never lied to her. When need arose I may have used words that lied.

The lie is not in the speaker, then, but in the words, according to this theory. From this perspective, the poet's lies are in the words, too, not in the poet. But this way madness lies, or at least the abyss of irony:

Poets (be generous) prefer to conceal the truth beneath strata of irony
because this is the look of truth: layered and elusive.

Or beneath the strata of figurative language:

Waiting coils inside her and licks and licks its paws.

Or this:

A cold ship

moves out of harbor
somewhere way inside the wife
and slides off toward the flat gray horizon,

not a bird not a breath in sight.

Or this:

But words

are a strange docile wheat are they not, they bend
to the ground.

Carson's Autobiography of Red is a masterpiece of similes; here, the comparisons are rarer, and metaphor abounds—the poet's "lies" to counteract the husband's, each apparently compulsive, the latter's surely more damaging, as more truly lies. "No doubt you think this a harmless document," the narrator says of the (now ex-)husband's brief letter accompanying Ray's obituary: "Why does it melt my lungs with rage?"

*

One of the passages quoted above deserves some further consideration:

Poets (be generous) prefer to conceal the truth beneath strata of irony
because this is the look of truth: layered and elusive.

Or to abbreviate the claim in a perhaps oversimplifying way: "Poets prefer to be layered and elusive." This might provide a tool for understanding differences between poets about what poetry's aims should be.

All poets with any kind of ambition (from Ted Kooser to Ron Silliman, say) want to produce work with several "layers," work that "eludes" the reader in some way ("resists the intelligence almost successfully," as Wallace Stevens put it, though I might be misquoting the phrase). One important difference between poets lies right on the surface: how "elusive" is the immediate sense of the words?

Many poets (and I number myself among them) want the top "layer" of the poems they write to be relatively transparent; their ideal is to create the "elusiveness" of poetry by allowing for further "layers" in the poem that can be explored further on the basis of that initial transparency.

Many other poets (and Dieter M. Gräf, whose work I translate, is surely among them) produce a top "layer" that is in itself elusive. Instead of producing a transparent surface that can be seen through in elusive ways, they produce an opaque surface whose meanings are immediately elusive.

For me, the key issue with the poets whose top "layer" is transparent is whether or not the poem generates any elusive "depth" at all. If all there is to it is the immediate meaning of the words, without any "strata" (whether of irony or of something else), then the poem is a banal failure.

In contrast, for me, the key issue with the poets whose top "layer" is itself elusive is whether or not that immediate "layer" provides any sort of compensation for the absence of such immediacy of meaning, be it musical (metrical energy, alliteration, rhyming), paradoxical (counterintuitive moments, for example), allusive (distorted but recognizable variations on cliches or quotations, say), or formal in the most general sense (Ernst Jandl's "ottos mops," say, whose only vowel is "o").

In either case, if the poem does not offer some kind of immediacy to me, then it cannot draw me into its layers; it cannot lead me to chase down what eludes me. It is not enough for the surface to promise depth; the surface itself needs to make me interested in pursuing whatever depth is there.

That's why—to choose a poet famous for his "obscurity," and one of my favorite poets—I love the poetry of Paul Celan: the surface meaning of a Celan poem may not be immediately apparent, but his poems always offer some sort of immediacy to the reader, as in the opening of "Corona" (with Michael Hamburger's translation):

Aus der Hand frißt der Herbst mir sein Blatt: wir sind Freunde.
Wir schälen die Zeit aus den Nüssen und lehren sie gehn:
die Zeit kehrt zurück in die Schale.

Autumn eats its leaf out of my hand: we are friends.
From the nuts we shell time and we teach it to walk:
then time returns to the shell.

The immediate "meaning" of the lines may, in a narrow sense, be obscure, but the poem offers so much to the reader at an immediate level: the vivid, powerful image of "autumn" seen as an animal eating from the speaker's hand; the alliteration of "frißt" and "Freunde", of "Hand" und "Herbst"; the assonance of "lehren" and "kehrt"; the cyclical quality of the image doubling the cyclical implication of any reference to seasons. I may not immediately know what Celan is talking about, but I am immediately drawn into the poem, and I want to pursue what initially eludes me.

Or to put it another way, I feel something when I read the poem, and the feeling derives from its "immediacies," and the feeling is what makes me want to understand the poem with my intelligence. But as a reader, it's often enough to just be able to feel it, to sense that the poem promises more without necessarily actually pinning down what that more is. And since responses to poems are grounded in feelings (which includes the feelings one has when using one's reason), the "layered elusiveness" of any given poem rarely opens up for all its readers. "From the nuts, we shell time": before we shell a poem, it has to make us want to shell it, and all readers choose different poems to shell. And the best poems of all are like Celan's "time": after we have "taught them to walk," they "return to the shell."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

John Martyn

My friend Dave turned me on to John Martyn's "Live at Leeds" CD ten years or so ago. And Sarah just told me he died and posted him doing "May You Never," which I did not realize was one of his (I only knew the Clapton version before). Check that one out, with his beautiful solo-guitar work and sad, mumbling singing, by going to Sarah's post on Martyn's death.

Then check out this one, "Solid Air," which I cannot embed here because Youtube says "embedding disabled by request." The tune is on "Live at Leeds," too, with Danny Thompson on bass there, too. I did not know he had written it for Nick Drake!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Out of the Blue

Up until now, the best poems I have read about September 11, 2001, have been Martin Espada's "Alabanza" and Glyn Maxwell's verse novel The Sugar Mile. But now I can add a third item to that list: Simon Armitage's "Out of the Blue."

In a 24-page sequence, Armitage puts himself into the head of an English trader who works at the World Trade Center. In section 4, he presents a catalogue reminiscent of Günter Eich's "Inventory":

Arranged on the desk
among rubber bands and bulldog clips:

here is a rock from Brighton beach,
here is a beer-mat, here is the leaf

of an oak, pressed and dried, papery thin.
Here is a Liquorice Allsorts tin.

A map of the Underground pinned to the wall.
The flag of St. George. A cricket ball.

Here is calendar, counting the days.
Here is a photograph snug in its frame:

this is my wife on our wedding day,
here is a twist of her English hair.

Here is a picture in purple paint:
two powder-paint towers, heading for space,

plus rockets and stars and the Milky Way,
plus helicopters and aeroplanes.

Jelly-copters and fairy-planes.
In a spidery hand, underneath it, it says:

'If I stand on my toes can you see me wave?'

Section 7 is a prose poem of the responses of the World Trade Center workers after the planes hit the buildings. Shortly before I got to the end of it, I realized that it reads the same backwards as forwards, trapping the people in the poem, as it were, along the lines of how they were trapped in the doomed building.

The sequence's timing is excellent—it is just long enough to make you forget section four, so when you get to the list of things found in the rubble in the final section, the return of the items from section four is all the more powerful.

And then the sequence concludes (reminding me, as I typed it in, of this):

Five years on
what false alarm can be trusted again,
what case or bag can be left unclaimed,
what flight can be sure to steer its course,
what building can claim to own its form,
what column can vow to stand up straight,
what floor can agree to bear its weight,
what tower can vouch to retain its height,
what peace can be said to be water-tight,
what truth can be said to be bullet-proof,
can anything swear to be built to last,
can anything pledge to be hard and fast,
what system can promise to stay in place,
what structure can promise to hold its shape,
what future can promise to keep its faith?

Everything changed. Nothing is safe.

More Dieter M. Gräf on Lyrikline

I have three more translations of poems by Dieter M. Gräf up at lyrikline:

Vézelay Jihad
The Naked Ginsberg
Zuni NY

I especially like "The Naked Ginsberg"!

Two Readings

I'll be reading in Edinburgh on February 8 as part of the Poetry at the Great Grog series organized by Rob Mackenzie. Rob has posted a poem of mine on the Poetry at the Great Grog blog. He's also put together a Facebook event page for the reading if you want to tell us in advance that you can come! Also reading that night are Tim Turnbull, Jane McKie, and Alan Gay (see the Poetry at the Great Grog blog page for links to their work).

I'll also be reading at the Literaturzoll in Basel on February 22. My reading will be in English (mostly); the other readers will be reading in German. The event is hosted by Guy Krneta, Katrin Eckert, Martin Zingg, and Andreas Mauz; the other readers are Daniel Berner, Martin Gelzer, and Regula Schröter.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Comments on blogs

Arnold Zwicky on Language Log:

I resent the idea that Language Log should not only be expected to provide blogging space to everyone who wants to write — if you enable comments, then the space belongs to the commenters, not to you, as any number of people have explained to me now, contemptuously — but should also allow commenters to conceal their identity, even from the bloggers.

I fully agree with Arnold here: the comments on my blog are part of my blog, of which I am the editor, and I decide which comments I accept and which ones I delete.

I am lucky, I guess, in that I have never had to deal with offensive comments, but if I ever get any, they won't make it onto my blog!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Alexander on Colbert

This is truly wonderful, but I have one question: why couldn't Elizabeth Alexander have read her poem the way she talks here? She talks so beautifully, so fluently, so smoothly, with wit and charm, but she read the poem so flatly. In my previous post, I talked about the lack of oratory in her presentation, and I suspected that few contemporary American poets would be able to be "oratorical" in the way Obama and Lowery were. But EA's speaking on the Colbert show suggests that she could well have presented her poem in an oratorically more satisfying way!

On Elizabeth Alexander's reading of her poem

Reb Livingston has once again thrown water on the fire of pettiness that burns through contemporary American poetry, this time in connection with criticisms of Elizabeth Alexander's poem for the inauguration and her reading of it. I recommend her post highly.

Here was my comment:

Thanks, Reb, for pointing out the absurdity of the criticisms of EA and her poem. I enjoyed the poem, myself, both as she read it and when I saw it with its correct lineation on Mark Doty's blog.

As you correctly point out, contemporary poets don't stand a chance when reading their work before or after politicians or preachers. But I also noticed that both Obama and Lowery are not shy of being *orators*, while EA (like just about any contemporary poet who might have accepted the gig) completely avoids anything "oratorical" in her presentation.

It made me wonder how the poem might have sounded if read by someone experienced in public oratory. I think it would have held its ground much better then.

That's not EA's fault, of course; the miniscule audience for contemporary poetry is quite shy of oratory.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Silliman takes his terms too far

The other day, Ron Silliman suggested that what the "School of Quietude" (as he dubs it) needs is someone who will "take on the responsibility for describing with much greater accuracy its mand sub-tendencies and internal points of contention."

Fair enough. But he later goes on to say that this "conservative tradition ... extends back not to Dickinson & Whitman, but to Jones Very, James Russell Lowell, Sidney Lanier & their peers. One of the great questions for the School of Quietude is why does it let its history languish so?"

This is nonsense. The poets Silliman derides as quietists did not grow up reading Very, Lowell, and Lanier. Among American predecessors, they read Poe, Whitman, and Dickinson, as well as the same Modernist poets that Silliman presumably read. In fact, the Modernists themselves were the last generation of poets to grow up reading Very, Lowell, and Lanier; the success of the Modernist overthrow of such poets was so great that both "the School of Quietude" and "the Post-Avant" (or as Bill Knott puts it, "the School of Noisiness") derive from the Modernists.

It's not completely persuasive to argue that there are two fundamentally opposed strains of work in contemporary American poetry; it is utterly ahistorical to project that opposition back onto the history of American poetry.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Whisky, by Ciaran Carson

Sometimes literature can make you thirsty. The late fifties and early sixties novels of Marguerite Duras (such as Les petits chevaux de Tarquinia) all made me want to get drunk on whatever the characters were drinking, even before I found out Duras was an alcoholic.

I don't recall ever reading something that made me want to get stoned or do other illegal counterfactuals. (Not that I was unable to find other reasons ...)

This one from Ciaran Carson's 1996 collection Opera Et Cetera made me want to drink some whisky, among other things (it also made me want to try to interpret it, but I'll leave it at typing it again to see how the lines feel under my fingers):

Whisky

Of how the life of water is distilled to liquid gold; how the water of
The Liffey becomes Guinness; how explosive cocktails take the name of Molotov;

How the wild mountain thyme blows around the blooming heather, and the perfumed smoke
Of poteen rises high into the azure sky; how turf is the conducive agent, and not coke;

How coke is crack, not heroin, nor smack; how marijuana is La Cucaracha,
Maryjane, or blow; how many States of mind there are in Appalachia;

How you turn into an insect overnight, or after-hours, from eating
Magic mushrooms; how the psilocybin got your brain and led to some 'Strange Meeting';

How the tongue gets twisted, how 'barbarian' is everyone who is not Greek;
How things are named by any other name except themselves, thereof I meant to speak.

While I was typing, the associations began to flow:

The wild mountain thyme brought to mind Penelope Houston, whose punky folk I loved so much in the early to mid nineties (shortly before I read this book for the first time, in September 96): she did a burning cover of that song.

Poteen made me think of Brian Friel's Translations, which I played a small part in and co-directed in Saarbrücken in 1994.

Turf made me thirsty for Laphroaig.

The Appalachian States of mind made me think of Brad Mehldau playing "New York State of Mind" as solo jazz piano. Far-fetched? I don't care!

Turning into an insect overnight? You know what I thought when I read that; you thought the same thing after all.

But after-hours made me think of the movie "After Hours", whose basic idea I would like to steal for my long unwritten tale "The Clerk," which started being pondered in the main Basel Post Office years ago.

For me, Strange Meeting is a tune by Bill Frisell I once began to write some words for.

barbarian is everyone who is not Greek: this idea always reminds me of Adorno's claim about lyric poetry after Auschwitz being "barbaric"—"not Greek"?

Perhaps this is all free association; perhaps this is "naming things by any other name except themselves."

Turned in Time live at Parterre

Turned in Time


Here's a tune from my Human Shields duo gig at the Open Mic at Parterre in Basel on January 14.

This one was written by my friend Markus Bachmann. He wrote it in Basel German, then recorded it with me in High German on our CD "Noch und noch." I did the English version two or three years ago.

(Added later for easier surfing: a video of "Rumpus," another song from the same gig, is here.)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Rumpus live at Parterre

Rumpus


Here's a tune from my Human Shields duo gig at the Open Mic at Parterre in Basel on January 14. (Without our bassist, unfortunately. You just have to imagine the contrabass ...)

This tune is a survivor: I wrote it for my band Petting Zoo at Stanford in about 1985!

(Added later for easier surfing: a video of "Turned in Time," another song from the same gig, is here.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lieder gegen die Kälte

[Click on the image for a larger version.]

Human Shields at Parterre Open Mic, January 14, 2009

Two-thirds of Human Shields played at the Parterre Open Mic last night (January 14, 2009). The setlist:

Raining (With the Sun in the Sky)
Turned in Time
Third Base
Better Never Than Late
Rumpus

More photos here (of the other groups as well).

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Toss of a Lemon 3

So Hanumarathnam has laboured to create a middle ground: a detailed map of the holdings for Sivakami to walk through with her eyes and mind. Hanumarathnam has accurately portrayed those properties: real and perceived distances, sizes, and productive capacity of each plot. It is not simply a matter of drawing a map to scale; one must choose what sort of scale: physical? psychological? This map has to show how a property relates to its owners, to itself, to tenants, to the community. This is business—not geography, not math.

(Padma Viswanathan, The Toss of a Lemon)

As in my previous post about The Toss of a Lemon, the context is astrological: Hanumarathnam's horoscope has predicted his death, and he is preparing his wife Sivakami for her widowhood.

The "detailed map of the holdings" described here is for someone who will never see the land described by the map: at the time when the novel begins (around 1900) a respectable Brahmin widow remained in total seclusion from the public eye, so Sivakami could not walk the lands to inspect them.

The reader of a novel is not forbidden by custom to inspect the landscape a novel describes, but the novelist is no less involved in an "accurate portrayal" of the "real and perceived" and the relationship between them than Hanumarathnam is. The novelist may not do so for "business" purposes, but here, the novelist is closer to the businessman than to the geographer or the mathematician.

There are echoes here of the starting point of my last post on this novel: "He finds knowledge more interesting than ignorance." But I'll just let them remain echoes for now.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Carter, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Obama

This picture was in the International Herald Tribune this morning and it almost made me cry. There's Obama, and he's really going to be President in 12 days. It was the first time since election night that the full impact of that fact hit home again. I felt like Jesse Jackson, moved by the whole thing once again.

There's Probably No God


This was in the New York Times today (I read it in the International Herald Tribune, with a different photograph). I like the idea that a comedian came up with the idea for the campaign, after seeing something like this:

My take on athletes who thank Jesus is here; my own militant Darwinist convictions are here. Full disclosure: I'm an atheist who had his kids baptized!

The truth about teens and sex

That's the title of this article by Ellen Goodman, whose narrow focus is the effect (or lack thereof) of abstinence pledges on the sexual activity of teenagers, but whose broader point is that politically-motivated programs that are demonstrably ineffective should be discontinued!

I also like the amusing way she connects New Year's resolutions and abstinence pledges by pointing out that the latter are about as likely to be successful as the former.

She also mentions that Sarah Palin is for abstinence pledges—which did not keep her daughter from getting pregnant, of course.

All this reminds me of this article from a recent New Yorker, "Blue Sex, Red Sex," which develops similar points in greater depth. One point I had meant to quote from the article but forgot to is this:

Symbolic commitment to the institution of marriage remains strong there, and politically motivating—hence the drive to outlaw gay marriage—but the actual practice of it is scattershot.

A Grateful Dead Analysis

Deadheads will enjoy this statistical analysis of the relationship between the Grateful Dead's performance of songs and the fans' listening habits. (Thanks to Ron Silliman for the link.)

One thing I noted in my comment on Silliman's blog is that the most-played songs are all Weir tunes, but the most popular tunes are largely Garcia tunes. This might not be statistically significant, though, since Garcia simply had more tunes in the repertoire, so he did not have to repeat songs as often as Weir did.

The Toss of a Lemon 2

He finds knowledge more interesting than ignorance.

I posted this as my Facebook status while reading The Toss of a Lemon, by Padma Viswanathan, because I could identify with this, too (as with the moment of identification I already commented on).

The context: the Brahmin Hanumarathnam, a man who is both a healer and an aristocrat with lands to manage, has read in his horoscope (and that of his wife) that he will die soon. He has found a boy in his village, Muchami, to train as an overseer of his lands after his death.

Knowledge is more interesting than ignorance: the immediate point of the statement is that both Hanumarathnam and Muchami enjoy the work of keeping track of the goings on on Hanumarathnam's lands—all the information about their tenants, who they are, how they work, what they are growing, which plots should be fallow, and so on.

But a further nuance of this for Hanumarathnam is that he prefers to know that he is going to die, because then he can prepare things for his wife and children. This nuance is ironized for the contemporary reader, however, by the fact that Hanumarathnam's knowledge of his forthcoming death comes from astrology; that is, his knowledge is based on superstition, which we now consider ignorance.

That irony is further ironized by the fact that he does die at the predicted time! So his knowledge may have been based on ignorance, but because he knew he was going to die, he was able to prepare the administration of his wealth for his family.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Hindsight

I don't remember where I came across this the other day, and I was unable to find out who put the image together (sorry, whoever you are), but I laughed out loud about it:


Phil Lesh on the Grateful Dead

"All we did was steal what jazz musicians did and apply it to rock 'n' roll. If we didn't do it, someone else would have," he says.

That's Phil Lesh from this interview about the Dead's forthcoming tour. His comment reminded me of the reaction of Deadheads when Branford Marsalis first sat in with them on March 29, 1990.

The Deadheads were blown away by Branford's brilliance, and by the fact that he seemed to play along so well, even though he openly stated that he had never heard the Dead's music before.

And all I could say was, "Duh!" Of course Branford fit in with the Dead; any jazz musician would have, because the Dead applied jazz methods to rock and roll, which is admittedly harmonically and rhythmically simpler than jazz, and thus a piece of cake for jazzers!

The Toss of a Lemon

Today, I finished two novels. This afternoon, I finished was my friend Padma Viswanathan's The Toss of a Lemon, and this evening I finished Christoph Ransmayr's Der fliegende Berg. I had started the Ransmayr first, back in December, because it is one of four books I'm teaching in my verse novels course next semester, but I put it aside over Christmas and New Year's because I had been planning to read Padma's novel "between the years" since she sent it to me in September.

There is a great deal of say about the excellent Toss of a Lemon, but let me begin with one small, very personal response:

Rukmini ... is tall, with broad shoulders, and an exceptionally good cook, which her in-laws appreciate, though they're more likely to tell others this than tell her.

That was the first thing I marked in the book, right near the beginning, a description of one of the novel's minor characters (the neighbor of the main character, Sivakami). The phrase that struck me was the last bit I quoted; it reminded me of my father's tendency to never praise his children directly, but only indirectly, by praising them to others. My mother (my father's second wife) is not like that; she praises openly—but apparently, my dad's first wife is just like him, and over the years I heard at least one story about her praising her children and concluding by explicitly asking that the praise not be passed on to the children in question.



Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Human Shields, Parterre Open Mic, January 14, Basel

My band Human Shields (well, part of it, singer Dany Demuth and I will be performing as a duo, without our bassist Christoph Meneghetti, as the Open Mic is only for duos or solo performers) will be playing at the Open Mic at Parterre in Basel on Wednesday, January 14, along with several other performers:

Phil Dolby
Evelyne Péquignot & Raphael Neubauer
Julia Grütter
Angel
Blauson
Kelly and Micha

The concert is free and starts at 8:30 p.m., with the order of the acts to be determined shortly before the show starts.

Parterre is at Klybeckstr. 1b in Kleinbasel!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Virgil's Sixth Eclogue

One theme in Horace's poetry is that he does not want to write epics, but only his poems of everyday life. Since I read Virgil backwards (first the Aeneid, then the Eclogues and Georgics), I found it especially amusing to come across Virgil making the same claim in the Sixth Eclogue:

When I began to write, my Muse did not
Disdain to play Sicilian games nor did
She blush to live in the woods, and when I thought
Of singing of kings and battles, the god Apollo
Tweaked my ear and said to me, "A shepherd
Should feed fat sheep and sing a slender song."
So now—since there are plenty to sing your praise
And plenty to celebrate grim deeds of war—
I'll study how to play the pastoral reed
And win the favor of the country Muse.
I'll will not sing what I'm not supposed to sing.

But of course Virgil went on to write a great epic of praise of the Muses and the "grim deeds of war," so this is probably more a matter of "sing what you want to sing now and don't force yourself to sing things that aren't really what you want to sing now just because you think you ought to." :-)

David Ferry's translation again.

Top 5 songs of 2008

Once I factor out the Grateful Dead tunes, here are my top five tracks from my last.fm charts for 2008:

Greg Brown, Canned Goods
World Saxophone Quartet, Hattie Wall
Miles Davis, Bitches Brew
Greg Brown, If I Had Known
Greg Brown, Cold and Dark and Wet

The next highest one that is not by one of those guys/bands is Dylan's "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again," followed by Chris Smither's "Leave the Light On."

An old Deadhead who loves jazz and folk, that's me. :-)

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Virgil's Third Eclogue

One of my posts last summer about Virgil's Aeneid was about trash talking, and his Third Eclogue begins with a vigorous exchange of insults between Damoetas and Menalcas, before concluding with their singing competition, which their judge, Palaemon, ends up calling a draw. Here's a nice example of the trash, from Damoetas:

Maybe it was the day, right here, near these beeches,
When you broke Daphnis' bow and his arrows, too,
Because you couldn't stand the idea, you prick,
That that boy was given them as a song prize.
You were dying to get back at him.

As for me, I vote for Damoetas as the winner (which will of course lead Menalcas to shower me with insults), for this couplet:

Pollio loves my songs, however clumsy;
Muses, offer a calf to placate readers.

All this in David Ferry's translation, by the way.

Dead people voting

This cartoon from the New Yorker in November made me wonder how many people who voted early were dead by Election Day. Shouldn't the Republicans have been up in arms about that? Did Obama's grandmother vote for him before she died the day before the election?

*

Some people are disappointed by Obama already, and he's not even in office yet! I'd rather be disappointed by Obama than surprised by McCain any day.