chez RT, the muses have been on self-ordered R&R, the Dragons of Grammar have only been occasionally sighted over distant ocean horizons, and RT himself has been attending to such nitty-gritties as the extermination of bed-bugs (victory seems imminent) and the rearrangement of household furniture after knock-down, drag-out fights with the insect world.
Whew! No wonder RT has recently immersed himself in the world of YouTube, listening to old favs and checking out the impressive poetry offerings to be found on that site. But as always, discovery awaits the explorer.
Now for the details: RT has long been a fan of the pop group Toto, a phenom of the 70s and 80s best known for its ballad-style lyrics and dramatic musical arrangements. Love and corn have been the bailiwick of this group, and more power to them: where would poetry be without love and corn?
As a result of this surfing, RT has discovered the field of musical covers, that is, versions of well-known songs performed by musicians other than those who originally created the song. Is the cover better than the original? You the listener decide. The process can’t help but remind RT of literary translations from language to language (and in particular, poetry translations), and so he has decided to volunteer his critical two cents.
Surely, covers as an endeavor are more precise and accurate than poetry translations. Music is the international language, its notation standardized (for the most part) centuries ago. Western staff notation, as it is known, tells the performer the pitch, speed, meter, and individual rhythms of a particular musical work. To balance out this precision in European classical music, improvisation, the practice of creating spontaneous music during a performance, has developed. Together with musical ornamentation, improvisation allows the musician(s) performing a piece to add his, her, or their individual interpretations, greatly enriching the musical possibilities of a particular performance.
Needless to say, poetry has a far less precise muse, yet produces its own beauty. What is the difference between poetry translation and musical interpretation? RT has suggested several times that poetry exists in the tension between meaning and music, between the thought and beauty; it grows out of the roots of the spoken word. He will now suggest that music has a similar set of roots, not in speech, but in movement. To take the argument further, RT thinks that movement is a primary means of remaining connected to the external world; spatial coordination, overseen by sight, is music’s basic mental function. On the other hand, speech is deeply internal, arising out of inner silence, the silence that human meaning comes from. Speech may be rooted in some kind of conflict.
Does tension between movement and music exist? As far as RT can see, the opposite is the case: movement and motion reinforce each other.
So we are looking at what may be two very different ways of creating beauty.
Take it on home, RT! A few nights ago, YouTube introduced RT to Perpetuum Jazille‘s cover of Toto’s hit, Africa. RT was impressed by the degree to which PJ reproduced Africa using an entirely different orchestration. RT will venture that PJ’s approach to the song resembles a pointillist painting. He encourages readers to watch the YouTube videos of Toto’s and PJ’s versions of the song (the links to YouTube are below) and asks his readers to pay attention to the very different motions (and number of musicians) associated with each version. Though the two versions are meant to sound the same, do they? Which approach to the musical notation is better?
1) Toto Africa Link:
2) Perpetuum Jazzile Africa Link:
In his early twenties, RT ordered a Quality Paperback Club set of four Latin American novels, which included One Hundred Years of Solitude. Now, RT won’t claim that reading 100 Years was a breakthrough experience for him, but this epic novel did set certain memories in motion, memories of amazing landscapes spied in Costa Rica and Trinidad. The survival of many native peoples in Latin America, moreover, gives the cultures of Latin nations a richness and beauty that can scarcely go unnoticed. GGM’s novels convey a good deal of the magic and vitality to be found in Central and South America. RT was affected to the point of finishing 100 Years and the other novels in the QPB set and reading several novels by the Brazilian Jorge Amado. Now the memory of reading them reminds him of his unfulfilled desire to return at least briefly to the places of his birth and childhood, a poet in a land of great writers.
Thank you, Gabriel Garcia Marquez! RT
Who was Nancy Blair? RT can tell you from his genealogy research, finding information on women before WWII is the veritable search for a needle in a haystack. The fine image of NB above, along with its accompanying information, gives the question a certain urgency: Nancy Blair was the state supervisor of South Carolina’s WPA Library Project. As such, she was involved in literacy efforts (aimed at improving one of those perennially underperforming statistics in the United States).
Photo: Nancy Blair, state supervisor of the South Carolina WPA Library Project, inspecting a model of a bookmobile. Author: WPA, South Carolina. Source: South Carolina State Library, South Carolina Public Library History, 1930 – 1945 collection. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Photograph: A Monarch Butterfly on a Purple Coneflower (2007). Author: Derek Ramsey (Ram-Man). WikiCmns; License: GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 only. This image was selected as picture of the day on English Wikipedia, August 27, 2008.
As difficult as it is, each of us has to confront the reality of death in the most painful way: the loss of a family member, confidante, or other intimate friend. They are gone, suddenly or not, and we confront a gaping hole in our life. A year was the typical period of mourning dictated in more traditional times, and the process can take longer, depending on the strength of the bond with the person who has died.
Recently, one of RT’s friends lost her mother. To encourage the healing process for her and her family, RT made bold to write the following poem; he hopes it helps them in their grieving:
The dead like gods
watch us, concerned,
listen to our pain,
confer, render judgment.
Visit our dreams, we ask,
with your warnings and memories.
Earth and heaven are one,
they reply, the path to
the shining souls rooted
in the sun’s deep night cradle.
The steps are sapphire, they say:
climb with us, like angels–
******************************soar and glide
******************************in the lapis and gold Heavens;
******************************climb down and
******************************wake in the
their words humming and
*****singing in the dead
*****dust of seed and
******************************flower scattered far in
******************************inthe privilege of winds.
Photo: Angel of Grief (1894); William Wetmore Story, sculptor. Protestant Cemetary in Rome. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
A local friend turned RT onto Charles De Lint several years ago; he read De Lint’s short story collection Dreams Underfoot, and after finishing that book, bought a second-hand copy of another De Lint collection, Moonlight and Vines. He has been making his way through M&V at a leisurely pace.
RT, on a tight schedule with his domestic and literary obligations, doesn’t keep too many fiction works on his nightstand. Why has he made an exception for the writing of De Lint, whose work falls into the “urban fantasy” genre?
Part of the answer lies in the world that De Lint has created: the imaginary city of Newford, which lies, presumably, in the Great Lakes/southern Canada region. Newford, as far as RT has been able to ascertain, is not a mapped-out region, along the lines of Middle Earth, for instance. It is a modern city that offers layers of mythological history and a rather long list of mythological and fantastical creatures. On its human surface, it sounds rather like any other metropolis of the 199o’s, with businesses, nightlife, newspapers, bookstores, mental institutions, universities, and the like. If the population tend to be on the young side and have a bohemian feel, blame the 90′s. If various fictive creatures show up at least once in a story, well, they at least serve the story’s purposes (and are interesting as characters). After all, what is really important in De Lint’s world is the way that all Newford’s inhabitants help each other. If you want a less-than-50-word description of Newford’s atmosphere, imagine the opposite of an H.P. Lovecraft story, where everything, the people and their surroundings, is not just going to hell, but went there centuries ago without anyone realizing it. (And RT is not saying that HPL is anything less than a great fantasy writer.)
RT could take out his technical toolbox and give a scene-by-scene account of De Lint’s writing chops, which are plain impressive. But he will only note that CDL’s nuts and bolts are solid, thoughtfully crafted, and remain scrupulously behind the scenes, where technical underpinnings belong.
These stories are accessible, comfortable, and, on a regular basis, brilliant. In particular, RT will single out “The Big Sky,” which takes the reader over the great divide and into the land of the dead. The afterlife in this story is as dusty as it is often reputed to be, but there is hope arising from, of all sources, Buddhist teaching. RT will also point out that the story’s setting is an excellent description of the horrors of Major Melancholy, a demon by no means to be dismissed in our own waking world. And if you want sheer talent, in “Passing” CDL takes us into the world of Gracie Street’s girlbars to experience the difficulties and satisfactions of love seen in the Goddess’s mirror (and through the story of Excalibur).
In a literary culture that often focuses on the horrors of history (and the last century’s in particular), CDL gives his readers healing: happy endings, but maybe not of the old-fashioned sort. There are benign spirits at work here, God, gods, mermaids, nameless sweet fates, and the subtler therapies of music and poetry. It’s not that Newford never heard of the Atom Bomb, not that there is no pain or darkness, but rather that the city’s denizens are resolutely and convincingly working to put the Bomb and other, vaguer, terrors back in the Nameless Box they came from. De Lint has sifted the debris of contemporary despair to find a tender, surprising, and romantic world. RT
Painting: View of the Colesseum by Night (c. 1830). Carl Gustav Carus. WikiCmns; Public Domain.
Of late, and perhaps out of sheer frustration, RT has been speculating that Martinsburg, WV, might be a world navel. How this might be true has offered our mind-boggled writer a means of escaping certain unenviable realities of the moment.
To wit: RT and his mom are facing an infestation of insects–not the biblical locust, but the altogether more quotidian and infuriating bed-bug. M’burg has apparently already endured one wave of these creepy crawlies, and now they are paying RT’s life a visit.
Give credit where credit is due: bed-bugs are tough, and the duplex is now undergoing the first of several treatments to get rid of the pest. Everything is a mess in the apartment, and the BBs have given both RT and his mom a case of the screaming meemees. But this too shall pass…
In the meantime, and by way of further escape, RT has been assiduously reading Karen Armstrong’s The Great Transformation. TGT follows the spiritual development of four major cultures–Greece, Israel, India, and China from early times through the development of an Axial Age culture, Axial here meaning societies that encourage moral behavior in their members. RT singles out the book’s clear language and logical organization as it reports and reflects on the historical and moral development of the greater part of the ancient world. He also notes the sidelining of Assyria and Mesopotamia as, he assumes, a dead culture that serves to establish the baseline for Axial development. Bye bye, Gilgamesh!
Which is not to say that KA has a tin ear for mythological development–her reporting of certain Ancient Greek festivals has RT convinced that some parts of the Exodus story have links to Greek myth. Which brings to mind the ever elusive Elohist, one of the several projects awaiting further development in RT’s distracted mind. On the other hand, mom’s memoir continues apace.
In the meanwhile, there’s always the Martinsburg library to escape to when the bugs get too biblical. Which returns us to RT’s initial speculation about world navels… (happy spring equinox!) RT
Photo: A locust cloud over Juncus maritimus at Imililik, Western Sahara (April, 1944). Author: Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. Source: Eugenio Morales Agacino’s Photographic Archive. Via Eugenio Morales Agacino’s Virtual Exhibition. WikiCmns; CC 3.0 Attribution/Share Alike Spain.