WHERE I AM RIGHT NOW
This past year has been crazy. I published different poems every month (sometimes 2 or more to the same or different journals); I brought out a book on the Holocaust (EVERY DAY I WILL REMEMBER), and did, among other things, a musical performance with it (no, I did NOT sing; I worked with two musicians playing guitar and keyboard); I wrote several blogs, and I wrote a ton of poems, including revising some more after they’d sat for a while: the total is roughly, since January, 160 pieces. I say “pieces” because some of them were single titles containing 5-6 poems. I started the year off slowly because of grief: on January 1, I found my friend Laura dead on her balcony; one of my best friends, and certainly my best writing buddies, Frank Rutledge, died unexpectedly two days later; and a mentor of mine lost her fight to cancer in February. I worked with her for forty-three years as a sounding board: Ruth Inglefield. She was not a writer, but a harpist; I was a musician and my poetry tends to be musical as well as strongly visual, so we worked well together. And I’m going to digress:
Ruth was my advisor in graduate school as I earned one of two masters in music. More specifically, I was doing a musicology study, and I started wondering about what it meant and how it worked when people said music was a language, and when composers spoke of their works as stories, or tone poems, and so on. I asked: spoken language I understand. If I say to you, hey, grab me a beer, there’s not much room or requirement for interpretation; what it means is pretty clear. But if I want to say hey, grab me a beer in music, and I’m not writing a song or opera, how do I do that? And even if I were writing a song or opera with those words in it, in performance there would—no matter how transparent those words seemed—be a need for close analysis and interpretation. Would it be sung dramatically, with angst? Or would it a love song, sung romantically? Or would it be full of anger? You get the point. But in music, and I’m thinking now of mainly instrumental music, from performer to performer, conductor to conductor, the same piece can be very different. And if you talk to those musicians, they will tell you what it means to them, what they’re trying to say. You can hear this if you compare different recordings of the same piece. I just recently had such an experience: I heard the Brahms Violin Concerto performed with the Grant Park (Chicago) Orchestra this summer, and I hated it. It didn’t seem rich in tone; the technical skills didn’t seem to measure up with the passion (there I go) of Brahms; it just seemed—for a soloist—squeaky. The next night, I heard Rachel Barton Pine’s recording of it, and it was totally different: rich, passionate, technically flawless (in fact, the virtuosic technical demands didn’t even show, it was that good); in short, it was wonderful. I don’t remember the name of the squeaky Grant Park soloist (probably just as well), but Rachel Barton Pine is one of my “go-to” performers for anything to do with the violin. Man, you should hear her play Paganini! I don’t count him as one of my favorite composers, but if Pine is playing, well…
So anyway, (still digressing), I started a study of linguistics: what is language, and how does it work? I just immersed myself. And that’s what I wanted to write my master’s musicology thesis on: the language of music. Well, that was kind of iffy, but I was also a poet, and Ruth ok’d the proposal and the finished thesis. I mention that I was also a poet (and still am): most of my compositions involved settings of poems, either in chamber works, or choral pieces. When I wasn’t setting words, my instrumental works had a kind of lyricism, dialogue, etc. to them. When I finished my two masters, I was tired of composing (I didn’t feel driven to do it; it began to seem a chore, unlike poetry—see the opening of this blog. So the next logical step in my career was to get a doctorate in musicology. But I couldn’t manage the thought of
I was an interdisciplinary thinker, and there was a fairly new doctoral program in the interdisciplinary arts at Ohio University. It was perfect for me. We know what symmetry is in a painting, or the façade of a building; what is symmetry in music, or a poem or a novel? We speak of styles in the arts, medieval, renaissance, classical, etc.; what are the markers and their particulars from art to art. I wrote my dissertation on the notion of monumentality in English art, focusing specifically on John Dryden’s 10-act play, The Conquest of Granada, and Blenheim Palace (architects John VanBrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor). I loved that degree work, although I’m generally not a fan of monumentality.
Anyway, it landed me the perfect job: teaching interdisciplinary English at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. And I could still keep writing and learning about poetry.
Well, that was a long digression. Sorry (not very) about that.
I was going to blog about all the different things that happened in this past year—health issues, trips, etc.—but what’s the point? I’m doing what I want to do, I have friends, and I want to try all different kinds of things with writing. I’m hoping to have a new collection of poetry out by the end of April, tentatively titled A Little Salt in the Water. It’ll be made up of 60-70 poems I wrote in 2019 (in other words, poems I wrote after my Holocaust book). I’ll keep you posted.
I’d like to dedicate this blog to the memory of Laura, Frank and Ruth. May your memories be ever blessed.
And I wish you all l’chaim and mazel tov as we enter 2020. So far, I’ve survived my life. I hope you do yours, too.