Saturday, March 22, 2008

Sunrise Service

Tomorrow, the High Woods Reformed Church will once again be holding their Easter Sunrise Service at Opus 40. All are invited.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Battle of the Decades

Beck swept the field last time, with one vote for Pat Benatar from Caitlin, and Mike Kaufman entering the game because I finally got his e-mail address right, and he immediately disgraced himself with a vote for Georgia Gibbs. Well, a student of mine wrote a brilliant paper a couple of semesters ago, comparing the LaVern Baker and Georgia Gibbs versions of "Tweedle Dee" and finding much to admire in Her Nibs.

Here's the new one, and I can predict two votes: Charis for the Kinks and Alex for Hootie.

THE 40s
Charlie Barnet

THE 50s
The Chantels
He's Gone

THE 60s
The Kinks
You Really Got Me

THE 70s
The Bee Gees
How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?

THE 80s
Hall & Oates
You Make My Dreams

THE 90s
Hootie & The Blowfish

I'll eliminate Hall and Oates first. They were there, they made hit records, they were terminally boring.

The Chantels were one of the first and one of the best girl groups, and if this were "Maybe" they'd rate higher with me -- and this is almost as good. The BeeGees in their disco days were the kings of disco, but you can't say much else for them. This was pre-disco, when they were still heavily Beatles influenced, and actually very good, and this is from that era, although no "Massachusetts" or "New York Mining Disaster 1941" (was there a New York mining disaster in 1941?) And hoots though I may get for this, I'll put Hootie in the same list of songs you'd like to listen to but not actually vote for.

We haven't had a contender from the 40s for a while, but Charlie Barnet was one of the good ones, and "Skyliner" is one of his best -- not as good as "Cherokee," which became a jazz standard and the basis for Bird's "Koko." Barnet was a rarity among jazz musicians, a rarity to the point that he may well be the only one, in that his parents were millionaires. He was also one of the first jazzmen to integrate his band, although not the group he had for this video. It's nice reading the comments on the YouTube video -- one from the son of Barnet's trumpet soloist and one from the grandson of one of the other trumpet players.

And the Kinks. Ray Davies is one of the three British rock songwriters I use when I teach my British lit survey course (Lennon/McCarney and Strummer/Jones are the others). "You Really Got Me" is one of his good ones (well, they were all good). If this were "Superman" or "A Well Respected Man" or "Young Conservatives" or especially "Lola" I'd vote for the Kinks in a second. On the other hand, if it were "Cherokee" or one of the Charlie Barnet numbers with a scat-singing telegram from Bunny Briggs, I'd tip that way.

As it is...oh, I dunno...the Kinks. Or maybe...but no, I've made my choice. But watch this anyway.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Poetry, Issue 1, Continued

If the Whistler poem isn't Pound st his apex, more credit to Harriet Monroe for recognizing tha incredible talent that was emerging. Modernism, at this juncture, is definitely an iffy proposition, and Poetry is hedging its bets. There's nothing modernist about Emilia Stuart Lorimer, next up on page 9 (did I say page 11 for Pound? That was wrong -- he's 7 and 8) with "Fish of the Flood," a poem swaddled in language that looked backward to a poetic diction that might have seemed a little archaic to Keats, full of thees and dosts and needeths,

Harold Monro, no relation to Harriet but important during the same era, in London, for introducing new poets, said of Lorimer that her poems "may seem almost ingenious through the sheer force of[their] sincerity (quote taken from A New Matrix for Modernism: A Study of the Lives, by Nelljean McConeghey).

I'm ttrying to decide whether I agree that the sheer force of sincerity can ever produce ingeniousness, or whether I see that in "Fish of the Flood." I don't automatically take archaic language as evidence of forceful sincerity.

Fish of the flood, on the banked billow
Thou layest thy head in dreams;
Sliding as slides thy shifting pillow,
One with the streams
Of the sea is thy spirit.

I like the sound of "fish of the flood," and almost like the shifting pillow. See no reason but rhyme for the enjambment on "streams," the only one in the poem, and don't know what the streams of the sea signify -- there are things like the Gulf Stream, but i don't think she's being that precise. I have to say that if this weren't the first issue of Poetry, I wouldn't linger over this -- and again, I like the Georgians, and I very much like some of the sentimental poetry of the 19th Century.

Next up, Helen Dudley, who as near as I can figure out is best known for having had a discreditable episode with Bertrand Russell, when she may or may not have been 16. From Paul Johnson, quoted by Edward Babinski:

Then in 1914 followed a discreditable episode with a young girl in Chicago. Helen Dudley was one of four sisters, the daughters of a leading gynaecologist, with whom Russell stayed while lecturing. According to Russell's account, 'I spent two nights under her parents' roof, and the second I spent with her. Her three sisters mounted guard to give warnings if either of the parents approached.' Russell arranged that she should come to England that summer and live with him openly, pending a divorce. He wrote to Lady Ottoline [his then-mistress] telling her what had occurred.
Babinsky says he doubts that the young lady was really 16, and if she's the same Helen Dudley (seems like yes), she probably was older, because otherwise she'd have been 12 when she appeared in the first issue of Poetry.

There is a schoolgirl quality to the poem,

I have seen the proudest stars
That wander on through space,
Even the sun and moon,
But not your face.

I have heard the violin,
The winds and waves rejoice
In endless minstrelsy,
Yet not your voice.

And it's kind of appealing. I especially like the third stanza:

I have touched the trillium,
Pale flower of the land,
Coral, anemone,
And not your hand.

But it's not the voice of the future, in any measure except Helen's youth.

More anon.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Poetry: The First Ten Years

This is a real online treasure trove, facsimile editions, page by page, of the first ten years of Harriet Monroe's Poetry Magazine. I'm going to try and work my way through a play-by-play, issue by issue, which may take a while, and is certainly a quixotic endeavor. Still, a journey of a thousand poems starts with a single metaphor, so let's look at Issue 1, from October 1912, priced at 15c, and beginning, not with a manifesto (although there is a statement of purpose at the end), but with a poem -- a tw0-sonnet sequence by Arthur Davison Ficke. best remembered now for being Witter Bynner's co-conspirator in the Spectrist Hoax of a few years later.

How forward-looking was Poetry? Well, we know how forward-looking it was -- the epicenter of Modernism, champion of Pound. But you wouldn't prove it by Ficke, who looked more toward the mid-Victorian uplift of a poet like William Ernest Henley. I don't demand that poetry reflect today's tastes -- in fact, I rather prefer it not to -- but I'm hard pressed to find much in Ficke's homilies about poetry, that "little isle amid bleak seas."

Curiously, it contains a typo -- Harriet Monroe must have agonized over that after it was off the presses -- a typo in the very first poem of the very first issue.

Ficke goes on to compare poetry to a holy war, which makes it a manifesto of sorts. He's followed by William Vaughn Moody, the late William Vaughn Moody at this point -- he died young, of brain cancer, in 1910, leaving behind

one play, yet so full of promise was The Great Divide, so American in the best sense, that his early death cannot but be the source of the deepest regret.
His posthumous entry here is mid-Victorian, too, but it looks back toward a more promising model, Robert Browning. He has some of Browning's pomposity, and some of his gift for characterization -- the woman of Moody's "I am the Woman" is more archetypal than Browning's finely tuned individuals, but at least she doesn't roar or bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. Moody gives us some nice metrical variations between iambs and anapests, and some nice rhetorical flourishes, like this chiasmus:

I comfort and feed the slayer, feed and comfort the slain.
He remains readable.

Then, on page 11, we get to what we've been waiting for -- the leap into the future, with Ezra Pound. He leads off with an homage to Whistler that reads too much like most homages and most poems about art. He singles out Whistler and Abe Lincoln from the "mass of dolts" that populate and have populated America.

Then "Middle Aged: A Study in Emotion" takes from romping tourists down into the sarcophagus of a long-dead king, but Pound's snobbery gets subsumed in the sudden brilliance of insight and imagery, and here we are, moving into the 20th Century.

As the fine dust, in the hid cell beneath
Their transitory step and merriment,
Drifts through the air, and the sarcophagus
Gains yet another crust
Of useless riches for the occupant

And back next time with more.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Realist

Have I posted this this before? There's a new website devoted to scanning and uploading -- eventually -- every issue of The Realist. So far, they've put up one of the issues with me in it -- my very first Realist appearance.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

THE 40s
Four Voices
The One I Love

THE 50s
Georgia Gibbs
Seven Lonely Days (1953)

THE 60s
Secret Agent
Johnny Rivers

THE 70s
Donny & Marie Osmond
Deep Purple

THE 80s
Pat Benatar

THE 90s

"Get a Job" waltzes off with the honors for last time, since Tony deFranco wasn't in the running.

I started one a few days ago, and it would have been interesting -- the two top contenders were The Spencer Davis Group doing "Gimme Some Lovin'" from 60s, and Salt-n-Pepa doing "Let's Talk About Sex" from the 90s, and I was probably going to go for Salt-n-Pepa, in spite of considerable affection for "Gimme Some Lovin,'" but realizing "Let's Talk About Sex" was probably the better song...but my computer froze and I lost the list.

So here's yet another, and...guess what? It's like I never left home.

I'm hoping not even Charis will go for Donny and Marie. I'm fairly certain the 40s and 50s will get left at the gate.

Pat Benatar was OK, but it would take an awfully weak set of competitors to make me vote for her.

So we come down to the 60s and 90s again, with a 60s song that I have even more affection for, and 90s song I know I have to vote for. Beck's an original, an elite talent. So although I am in fact a man who lives a life of danger..