Saturday, March 31, 2007

in retreat

Nearly two years ago, I spent a month in Scotland 'in retreat' at Hawthornden Castle...except that every morning three or four of us would drive down to the village.

I bought a couple of lambswool sweaters at the second hand shop just off the main drag, surprised by the coolness of the mornings (and also of the early afternoons, even in June).

I bought cider at the grocery store across the street for the fridge in the lounge, where we gathered for pre-dinner drinks, for those days when I couldn't face drinking sherry again.

The others browsed for cigarettes, Red Bull (and Red Bull derivatives), and beer.

But mostly, we made the trip to Bonnyrigg for the six computers with internet access in the library, because none of us could afford (figuratively and financially) to let go of the world, even for a month.

It was at one of these computers that I learned that David Raphael Scott was commissioning a poem from me for his commissioned choral music piece.

I spent the next few months working on that poem, agonizing over the difference, to me, between lyrics and lines of poetry.

Scott had requested five stanzas of approximately four lines each. I wound up giving him a piece that sprawled across three pages but also the page - and told him he should take from it what he could.

The result was Tranquility and Order (listen to it here), which had its world premiere at the 2006 Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra's New Music Festival.

I was able to attend several rehearsals of the piece, with Scott and alone, and sat in the third row for the performance.

And so, entering this piece, from the Guardian Unlimited (oh how I love the Guardian Unlimited!), was almost exactly like walking into that small village library with a Russian translator to one side and a Romanian poet to the other.

Here's an excerpt:
For a poet, nothing quite matches the complex feelings on hearing one's words set to music: delight or disappointment, furtive rage, swelling pride, open horror, a sense of being completely misunderstood or wildly undervalued - or perhaps some kaleidoscopic mix of all these elements.


Al said...

Hi there -- I was going to post a thought on lyrics to your rhyming post, but this one fits even better. By the way, I enjoyed both the article and the musical interpretation of your poem. My thought is this: we know that musical lyrics generally can't stand alone without the music (exceptions that come to mind are Cockburn and Cohen, and I sure there are many others), and so it seems to me that poetry must 'generate' it's own music, by its rhyme and its rhythm. Perhaps that's not a new thought, but it hit me profoundly today -- it got me thinking of how I use internal rhyme in my own work, how poetry generally has one foot in the visual camp and the other one in the oral, and how, when I'm working intently with a poem, can 'feel' or 'hear' the beats (but couldn't scan a poem's metre if my life depended on it), and know exactly (on a good day) how many syllables a word should have, how it should sound and where its accent should land. This thought explains for me Pound's use of 'melopoeia' , which Reginald Shepherd describes in his blog as 'the use of the range of verbal music' aimed at producing an effect on the reader. Any thoughts on this?


Ariel Gordon said...

Re-reading this comment, it strikes me how much poetry is responsible for - the sound of the words, the meanings and nuance of individual words, the images the words create, the experience/idea/philosophy the poem as a whole describes.

How the best poems work on the page (in terms of their use of the page as a canvas instead of only a vehicle or vector for the poems), work from a podium, and work in the solitude of a reader's brain.

Does that make poetry the eldest sibling of the literary arts?

Regarding my experience of writing for wasn't until I set aside the needs of the composer (or the music) that I was able to write a poem that was satisfying to me and that I think works as art.

In a way, listening for another artist's music muted my own...

That said, I'm greatly looking forward to my next opportunity to collaborate with another artist...