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Amy Allara
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Well said, Michelle. Thanks!
Thank you, Michelle!
My week as guest author has come to a close, and it seems quite fitting to take my leave after leaving you with David Lehman's poem "Radio" to read and listen to. For such a short poem it accomplishes quite a lot. Its brief lines read with ease and clarity and as an invitation of sorts---and somehow you end up right alongside the author as he enters a space filled with music and memory and perhaps a hint of something beyond the reach of language. When I asked David about the poem and how it came to be he said: I wrote it on a day in late May 2002 upon returning home from an outing to a book sale. I had left the radio on and the notes floated out of the darkness of the bedroom as I entered it. Key to the poem: title of the song: "After You've Gone." Great song from the 1920s. . . And the self-imposed limitation of three words per line. Radio 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 And to listen to: Continue reading
Posted Jun 25, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
“Coming events cast their shadows before” wrote the English poet Thomas Campbell—and according to Alfred Lindsay Morgan in his March 1949 Etude article “Winter’s End Radio Programs At Their Height”, “Radio belies the frequently quoted be sure coming events are anticipated, but the best are strengthened by what has gone before. We remember a program enjoyed and chalk it down in our memory. How strong a part memory plays in the turning of the dials is proved by changing program ratings. When remembered pleasures are not consistently substantiated in repetition of favorite broadcasts, disappointment is manifest.” Disappointment is manifest. It seems fitting that by chance I grabbed this particular issue and flipped through the pages landing on this article—given my previous posts which evoke a looking back of sorts, questioning whether we have forfeited more than we have profited from so-called progress. But in truth, the first thing that came to mind when reading Morgan’s article was, and please don’t laugh (or please do), NETFLIX. Even in 1949 people were complaining about programming and demanding that their favorite shows be restored and put back on the air. I imagine no matter the date or time or century, there has been a practice of recalling how it was done before, resurrecting memories of the good old days. When it was better, easier, simpler. For some reason I immediately thought of House of Cards—a show I watched and looked forward to seeing again, and admittedly sooner rather than later. But what I am recalling (vaguely) is one of its season's release dates had people up in arms and demanding it be released even sooner. A few characters shy of a social movement, it seemed. Also, there is now another wonderful word to add to what I called in a previous post our “somewhat collective lexicon”—a showhole. Amazon created an ad that explains the term with the visual of a woman curled up, wrapped in a blanket on her couch in a state of clinical despair as the final credits roll on her favorite show. Then it cuts to her shoveling dirt on top of her TV, as in why bother having one if you can no longer watch your favorite series ad infinitum? Though perhaps a troubling commentary on present day existence, it is actually very funny. Here it is: But back to 1949 and Alfred Lindsay Morgan who was quite up in arms himself about how radio programming was going down the tubes. In that first paragraph he writes, “One poor program can greatly alter audience appeal. So, to paraphrase the poet’s line, in radio “Events that have cast their shadows before” are most eagerly awaited. For him, he laments the “now defunct broadcasts of the Philadelphia, Boston and Cleveland Orchestras, and that inimitable Columbia musical offering of the past—“Invitation to Music.” He continues: “The lack of sponsors has removed too many fine programs…There is just reason for critic Virgil Thomson’s recent assertion in the New York Herald Tribune... Continue reading
Posted Jun 24, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
The next two posts pick up where I left off during a prior week as guest author. I once again dug out my old Etude magazines and once again was not disappointed. The language found in these older magazines is at once a quick and easy source of amusement but also fairly decent cultural food for thought in 2016, almost a century later. “Why Not Give An Etude Radio Recital” read the title of an article in the January 1934 issue of The Etude music magazine. Why not indeed? Frankly, I became intrigued to read on just after seeing the words radio and recital in the piece’s title. I am so often on some kind of unproductive tear about the shortage of letter writing, or any kind of writing by hand, and the sinking feeling that we are collectively being swallowed up by devices made of plastic, chips and batteries—that the idea of listening to a recital on the radio sounded novel and exciting. I realize the radio was a device of its own and a precursor to those that envelop us now, but the kind we are talking of here were not yet pocket-sized. Not yet, anyway. In many homes, during its Golden Age, the radio was the apparatus that connected listeners to the world-at-large whether through the broadcasting of news, musical programs, radio plays, poetry reading, talent shows, or the great wide world of sports. The author of this piece, Theon La Marr, certainly does his very (though hardly subtle) best to convey just how exciting, enlightening, educational, practical, rewarding, essential, captivating and fun these radio recitals can be, for music teachers and pupils alike. It seems he also feels all of mankind should be tuning in. Apparently, The Etude was offering regular programs on the radio, one of which La Marr describes in a section called “What Makes Radio Valuable”: “Ladies and gentlemen of the radio audience. We shall have the pleasure during the next period of listening to a recital of compositions taken from the Music Section of THE ETUDE MUSIC MAGAZINE for July, 1933, and played by pupils of Theon La Marr, who is making this announcement. You who are listening over this marvel of marvels must realize that, if it were not for music, the charms of the radio would be reduced about ninety per cent. The radio needs music just as much as the earth needs sunshine and rain. It is difficult to imagine the radio without music.” The article reveals that part of the program included the Album Leaf by Debussy, followed by more zealous commentary from La Marr. “A happy frame of mind is a priceless possession and music possibly more than anything else tends to promote this condition. Therefore, music and industry, music and life, should always go hand in hand. Thousands have acclaimed THE ETUDE MUSIC MAGAZINE invaluable to them in helping to preserve this condition. Are you among those who cannot get along without this magazine? If you... Continue reading
Posted Jun 23, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
October 6, 1960 I have an awful lot to tell you, I think, and yet actually no news except the first item. Bishop writes this line to Lowell in 1960 in a letter that is unfinished and later picked up again. It is a funny line in that it is a near-perfect characterization of their style of discourse. Revealing news of the day and in the next sentence one’s deepest regret in life. There is news, and then there is other material. Many of Bishop’s letters wander from place to place, not unlike her physical self. She starts off with an item of news then enters into a discussion of Baudelaire’s translations, and a few paragraphs later reveals to Lowell when mentioning his daughter Harriet that: …and that is my worst regret in life, although I would have been such a nervous, over-devoted mother probably. The next paragraph begins immediately and with “Well----…” introducing a new subject entirely, a world away from the revelation of regretting not being a mother and the speculation that she likely would have made a bad one anyway. Bishop tries to hide herself well, even after blurting out her deepest fears, regrets, and dreams, but masterfully brushes them off with self-effacing humor and abrupt shifting of topic. Back to the newsroom I suppose. Another remarkable element I recognize in her exchanges with Lowell is that despite her tireless and witty dismissal of self and abilities as a writer and thinker and artist her work continues, perhaps at a slower pace (and with a much smaller output) than others, particularly Lowell. Not only did it persist but it was printed and read and eventually the world was able to witness her talent as her dear friend did. It isn’t hard to understand how Lowell could be so charmed by Bishop. It is hard, however, to believe that he would have been drawn to one more puffed up writer mailing letters filled with self-exaltations and news of their latest achievement. No letters would exist if she wasn’t exactly who she was and he wasn’t exactly who he was. Perhaps their candor with one another from the start was key. And the rapport that formed so swiftly between the two brings to mind a line from Woody Allen’s Matchpoint. His character Chloe strolls through Tate Modern with a friend who tells her of the dumb luck their mutual friends had after meeting during a traffic accident saying, “All their neuroses intertwine so perfectly, and it just works like a charm.” Which brings me to humor. This is a fundamental part of their letters’ architecture. A former teacher of mine once spoke of this subject in a poetry workshop. He said something along the lines of: Look everyone, don’t be afraid to be funny. It’s okay to be funny. I’m not sure if this was a reaction to our small group bringing in poems lined with gloom and doom and sturm und drang. I’m also not sure if everyone... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Please never stop writing me letters―they always manage to make me feel like my higher self (I've been re-reading Emerson) for several days. Bishop writes this to Lowell in 1960 after corresponding with him for over a dozen years and declares the value of their resolute letter-writing to one another. It also reveals Bishop’s vulnerability, the kind we are all predisposed to have to varying degrees, appearing and disappearing throughout our lives. Vulnerable in the sense of questioning who we are, what our purpose is, our worth, the caliber of our work, and so on. So hoping that we do, indeed, possess a higher self, and that there is someone out there somewhere who trusts in this notion. There is urgency in her words. Please never stop writing me letters… Bishop was no stranger to the fine art of self-deprecation, and in a post I wrote about her a few years ago, I highlighted this skill in an excerpt from a letter written to another friend. In reference to her paintings, she says, “They are Not Art, NOT AT ALL.” Of course many of her friends who were recipients of her “NOT ART” had different ideas about her paintings. As do many others. Lowell, too, was no stranger to this practice and had his own style of self-reproach. In one of his first letters to Bishop he writes from Yaddo in August of 1947: “P.S. Thanks for all the pleasant undeserved things you said in your letter.” In reading many of her letters to Lowell, you witness a person who very easily slides into self-negating commentary, but also a poet and thinker who engages quite vigorously with another poet and thinker. The act of writing and exchanging these letters was an affirming one—for both parties. Lowell may have had more conventional success in comparison to Bishop (including a Pulitzer the same year they met) but he had his very own set of vulnerabilities, and during his lifelong struggle with bipolar disorder it is hard to imagine that the constancy of their friendship sustained by their words in air did not serve to ballast him during his more troubled and tenuous times. After a particular manic episode in late April of 1959 Lowell was hospitalized and finally writes to Bishop in July saying: Dearest Elizabeth: I feel rather creepy and paltry writing now to announce that I am all healed and stable again. So it is. Five attacks in ten years make you feel rather a basket-case and it’s excruciating having Brazil snatched out of my gloating jaws… The sun comes in the window. We are really very happy and companionable. I still click but can’t believe it…Let me get this scrappy, whistling little letter into the afternoon mail. I want to write you something with a little thought soon, but this is just to relieve your mind, and cheer your mind towards thoughts of that long-promised return trip to North America. All our love, Cal These lines introduce something of... Continue reading
Posted Jun 21, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
Back in 2010 I wrote “The Perils of Modern Correspondence” which in large part was a lamentation of the world’s decreasing population of letters—bona fide letters assembled with paragraphs and substantive content, and yes, even on occasion, those styled by one’s very own hand. The post began: “Once upon a time, and in a time that predates the invention of the microprocessor, the telephone, and even the telegraph, people had the option of either addressing one another in person or via letter. And when reading the biographies of various painters, writers, and musicians of the past few centuries one is immediately aware of, and can scarcely ignore, the significance of letter-writing—a vital part of remaining in touch with those close to us, and too a vital component of the progression of one’s particular craft.” At its conclusion: “There are so many extraordinary books out there written about the correspondences of the past, some of which include: Words in Air, The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh, Letters on Cézanne, Flaubert—Sand, One Art, and of course, Chopin’s Letters. But I am left wondering; fifty years from now, will there even be enough letters to produce this kind of book about those who have lived and worked in this new era of correspondence? The day of the letter, of graciousness—is it gone?” A few years later, these questions still stand; but in an era where our somewhat collective lexicon continues to include items such as #, thx, omg, lol, btw, brb, lmao and so on, it would be fair to say I remain dubious. Still, I’d like to believe there is hope for the poor, ailing letter—and imagine, at the very least, messages of weight and consequence are still being written and read even if rarely on paper and mostly on screens of varying shapes and sizes. So rather than lamenting once again, I chose to dive into (or get quite lost in) the extraordinary and voluminous correspondence between poets Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, one that spanned 30 years and yielded hundreds of letters and has been wonderfully documented and edited in the book Words in Air. (Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2008) Lowell and Bishop met for the first time in 1947 in New York at a dinner party hosted by poet and critic Randall Jarrell and what followed was aptly described in the book’s introduction: “Bishop and Lowell were poets preoccupied with loss and with the curious, indistinct borderline between public and private, fiction and fact. In studying each other’s lives and art while following their own “so different natures and destinies” each learned to expand his or her artistic reach across their common ground. Their poetry would very likely have been different, if they had not met.” And speaking of that which is dissimilar, their poetry was as dissimilar as could be. In William Logan’s review in the New York Times he writes of their divergent styles, “His heavy-handed youthful verse, solemnly influenced by Allen Tate, laid down a metrical... Continue reading
Posted Jun 20, 2016 at The Best American Poetry
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Jun 15, 2016