Category Archives: Audio

Neutral Tones

BY THOMAS HARDY

Neutral TonesWe stood by a pond that winter day,

And the sun was white, as though chidden of God,

And a few leaves lay on the starving sod;

– They had fallen from an ash, and were gray.
.

Your eyes on me were as eyes that rove

Over tedious riddles of years ago;

And some words played between us to and fro

On which lost the more by our love.
.

The smile on your mouth was the deadest thing

Alive enough to have strength to die;

And a grin of bitterness swept thereby

Like an ominous bird a-wing….
.

Since then, keen lessons that love deceives,

And wrings with wrong, have shaped to me

Your face, and the God curst sun, and a tree,

And a pond edged with grayish leaves.
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Listen to the London Review of Books podcast of Seamus Perry and Mark Ford discussing this poem and the life and work of Thomas Hardy.

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On Sylvia Plath and the Many Shades of Depression

GABRIELLE BELLOT CONSIDERS HOW A WRITER’S WORK IS MEASURED AGAINST HER DEATH

On Sylvia Plath and the Many Shades of Depression“I am only thirty,” the narrator of Sylvia Plath’s monumental 1962 poem, “Lady Lazarus,” announces early. “And like the cat I have nine times to die.” Like the biblical Lazarus, she has returned from the silent room from which one is never supposed to return; she also resembles Plath herself, who attempted suicide multiple times. Read in light of Plath’s history, her resurrections become the failures of both women’s suicidal attempts, a failure at once triumphant, in that she gets to live again, and tragic, for the same reason.
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In an introduction to the poem for the BBC in December of 1962, Plath described Lady Lazarus as “a woman who has the great and terrible gift of being reborn. The only trouble is, she has to die first. She is the phoenix, the libertarian spirit, what you will. She is also,” Plath added, “just a good, plain, very resourceful woman.”
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For some of us, Death offers her hand more than once for a dance in her ballroom. We may want her to, fed up as we are with life, or we may be swallowed up by the grey of depression, not even fully realizing we have taken Death’s dark-nailed fingers in ours. We sway, her blue curls brushing our cheeks, her soft scent become almost familiar after the second time around the floor under the pink-black lanterns, but we always find ourselves, with rage or relief, back beyond the dancefloor, breathing. We fail to die, try as we might.
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Read the complete article
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Listen to Sylvia Plath read “Lady Lazarus”
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Read also: “I’m an intelligence” by Joanna Biggs

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The Past is Present: Rereading the great modern Greek poet C.P. Cavafy

Cavafy in English accents

Listen to the podcast from The Poetry Foundation

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The Supremes

Mark Jarman

The SupremesIn Ball’s Market after surfing till noon,
We stand in wet trunks, shivering,
As icing dissolves off our sweet rolls
Inside the heat-blued counter oven,
When they appear on his portable TV,
Riding a float of chiffon as frothy
As the peeling curl of a wave.
The parade m. c. talks up their hits
And their new houses outside of Detroit,
And old Ball clicks his tongue.
Gloved up to their elbows, their hands raised
Toward us palm out, they sing,
“Stop! In the Name of Love,” and don’t stop,
But slip into the lower foreground.
.
Every day of a summer can turn,
From one moment, into a single day.
I saw Diana Ross in her first film
Play a brief scene by the Pacific–
And that was the summer it brought back.
Mornings we paddled out, the waves
Would be little more than embellishments–
Lathework and spun glass,
Gray-green with cold, but flawless.
When the sun burned through the light fog,
They would warm and swell,
Wind-scaled and ragged,
And radios up and down the beach
Would burst on with her voice.
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She must remember that summer
Somewhat differently.  And so must the two
Who sang with her in long matching gowns,
Standing a step back on her left and right,
As the camera tracked them
Into our eyes in Ball’s Market.
But what could we know, tanned white boys,
Wiping sugar and salt from our mouths,
And leaning forward to feel their song?
Not much, except to feel it
Ravel us up like a wave
In the silk of white water,
Simply, sweetly, repeatedly,
And just as quickly let go.
.
We didn’t stop either, which is how
We vanished, too, parting like spray–
Ball’s Market, my friends and I.
Dredgers ruined the waves,
Those continuous dawn perfections,
And Ball sold high to the high rises
Cresting over them.  His flight out of L.A.,
Heading for Vegas, would have banked
Above the wavering lines of surf.
He may have seen them.  I have,
Leaving again for points north and east,
Glancing down as the plane turns.
From that height they still look frail and frozen,
Full of simple sweetness and repetition.
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Listen to The Supremes sing “Stop In The Name Of Love” (Ready Steady Go – 1965)
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Please note that on June 28, we will read and discuss poetry inspired by music, or vice-versa. Please bring your own favourite example and, preferably, post it on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections to-date.

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Lost Fugue for Chet

Lynda Hull

Chet Baker, Amsterdam, 1988  

Lost Fugue for ChetA single spot slides the trumpet’s flare then stops
   at that face, the extraordinary ruins thumb-marked
with the hollows of heroin, the rest chiaroscuroed.
   Amsterdam, the final gig, canals & countless
.
stone bridges arc, glimmered in lamps. Later this week
    his Badlands face, handsome in a print from thirty
years ago, will follow me from the obituary page
    insistent as windblown papers by the black cathedral
.
of St. Nicholas standing closed today: pigeon shit
    & feathers, posters swathing tarnished doors, a litter
of syringes. Junkies cloud the gutted railway station blocks
    & dealers from doorways call coca, heroina, some throaty
.
foaming harmony. A measured inhalation, again
    the sweet embouchure, metallic, wet stem. Ghostly,
the horn’s improvisations purl & murmur
    the narrow strasses of Rosse Buurt, the district rife
.
with purse-snatchers, women alluring, desolate, poised
    in blue windows, Michelangelo boys, hair spilling
fluent running chords, mares’ tails in the sky green
    & violet. So easy to get lost, these cavernous
.
brown cafés. Amsterdam, & its spectral fogs, its
    bars & softly shifting tugboats. He builds once more
the dense harmonic structure, the gabled houses.
    Let’s get lost. Why court the brink & then step back?

After surviving, what arrives? So what’s the point
    when there are so many women, creamy callas with single
furled petals turning in & upon themselves
    like variation, nights when the horn’s coming
.
genius riffs, metal & spit, that rich consuming rush
    of good dope, a brief languor burnishing
the groin, better than any sex. Fuck Death.
    In the audience, there’s always this gaunt man, cigarette
.
in hand, black Maserati at the curb, waiting,
    the fast ride through mountain passes, descending with
no rails between asphalt & precipice. Inside, magnetic
    whispering take me there, take me. April, the lindens
.
& horse chestnuts flowering, cold white blossoms
    on the canal. He’s lost as he hears those inner voicings,
a slurred veneer of chords, molten, fingering
    articulate. His glance below Dutch headlines, the fall
.
“accidental” from a hotel sill. Too loaded. What do you do
    at the brink? Stepping back in time, I can only
imagine the last hit, lilies insinuating themselves
    up your arms, leaves around your face, one hand vanishing
.
sabled to shadow. The newsprint photo & I’m trying
    to recall names, songs, the sinuous figures, but facts
don’t matter, what counts is out of pained dissonance,
    the sick vivid green of backstage bathrooms, out of
.
broken rhythms—and I’ve never forgotten, never—
    this is the tied-off vein, this is 3 a.m. terror
thrumming, this is the carnation of blood clouding
    the syringe, you shaped summer rains across the quays
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of Paris, flame suffusing jade against a girl’s
    dark ear. From the trumpet, pawned, redeemed, pawned again
you formed one wrenching blue arrangement, a phrase endlessly
    complicated as that twilit dive through smoke, applause,
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the pale hunted rooms. Cold chestnuts flowering April
    & you’re falling from heaven in a shower of eighth notes
to the cobbled street below & foaming dappled horses
    plunge beneath the still green waters of the Grand Canal.
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Listen to Chet Baker play “My Funny Valentine” from his album “Last Great Concert: My Favorite Songs 1 & 2” (1988)
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On June 28 we will read and discuss poetry inspired by music, or vice-versa. Please bring your own favourite example and, preferably, post it on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections to-date.

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Charlie Parker (1950)

Campbell McGrath

Charlie Parker (1950)Bird is building a metropolis with his horn.

Here are the gates of Babylon, the walls of Jericho cast down.

Might die in Chicago, Kansas City’s where I was born.
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Snowflake in a blizzard, purple rose before the thorn.

Stone by stone, note by note, atom by atom, noun by noun,

Bird is building a metropolis with his horn.
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Uptown, downtown, following the river to its source,

Savoy, Three Deuces, Cotton Club, Lenox Lounge.

Might just die in Harlem, Kansas City’s where I was born.
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Bird is an abacus of possibility, Bird is riding the horse

of habit and augmented sevenths. King without a crown,

Bird is building a metropolis with his horn.
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Bred to the labor of it, built to claw an eye from the storm,

made for the lowdown, the countdown, the breakdown.

Might die in Los Angeles, Kansas City’s where I was born.
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Bridge by bridge, solo by solo, set by set, chord by chord,

woodshed to penthouse, blue to black to brown,

Charlie Parker is building a metropolis with his horn.

Might just die in Birdland, Kansas City’s where I was born.
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Listen to Charlie “Bird” Parker play Yardbird Suite

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On June 28 we will read and discuss poetry inspired by music, or vice-versa. Please bring your own favourite example and, preferably, post it on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections to-date.

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The Stolen Child

W. B. Yeats

The Stolen ChildWhere dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
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Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
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Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
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Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed:
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than he can understand.
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Listen to The Waterboys sing “The Stolen Child
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On June 28 we will read and discuss poetry inspired by music, or vice-versa. Please bring your own favourite example and, preferably, post it on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections to-date.

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On 52nd Street

Philip Levine, 1928 – 2015

On 52nd StreetDown sat Bud, raised his hands,
the Deuces silenced, the lights
lowered, and breath gathered
for the coming storm. Then nothing,
not a single note. Outside starlight
from heaven fell unseen, a quarter-
moon, promised, was no show,
ditto the rain. Late August of ‘50,
NYC, the long summer of abundance
and our new war. In the mirror behind
the bar, the spirits—imitating you—
stared at themselves. At the bar
the tenor player up from Philly, shut
his eyes and whispered to no one,
“Same thing last night.” Everyone
been coming all week long
to hear this. The big brown bass
sighed and slumped against
the piano, the cymbals held
their dry cheeks and stopped
chicking and chucking. You went
back to drinking and ignored
the unignorable. When the door
swung open it was Pettiford
in work clothes, midnight suit,
starched shirt, narrow black tie,
spit shined shoes, as ready
as he’d ever be. Eyebrows
raised, the Irish bartender
shook his head, so Pettiford eased
himself down at an empty table,
closed up his Herald Tribune,
and shook his head. Did the TV
come on, did the jukebox bring us
Dinah Washington, did the stars
keep their appointments, did the moon
show, quartered or full, sprinkling
its soft light down? The night’s
still there, just where it was, just
where it’ll always be without
its music. You’re still there too
holding your breath. Bud walked out.
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Listen to Bud Powell play the 52nd Street Theme

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On June 28 we will read and discuss poetry inspired by music, or vice-versa. Please bring your own favourite example and, preferably, post it on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections to-date.

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Villanelle with Violin

Marilyn Krysl

Villanelle with ViolinI was so small, so very much afraid.

I prayed my father might turn into light.

There was no price that I would not have paid
.
to pray the way the light knelt down and prayed.

I prayed that I might learn to be like light,

but I was small, and very much afraid,
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and he stayed silent. Was I badly made?

His violin made sound turn into light,

and there’s no price that I would not have paid
.
to hear him play Thais each night. He made

it sound as though the bow was made of light.

Still I was small, and very much afraid
.
when he got mad and broke the things he’d made.

He tried and tried so hard to do things right,  

and there’s no price that he would not have paid
.
to sit with me at dusk and watch light fade.

Both of us were made from that same light,

And there’s no price we two would not have paid—

we who were small and very much afraid.
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Listen to Itzhak Perlman play Massenet’s “Thais” Meditation

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On June 28 we will read and discuss poetry inspired by music, or vice-versa. Please bring your own favourite example and, preferably, post it on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections to-date.

 

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The Day Duke Raised: May 24th, 1974

Quincy Troupe

For Duke Ellington

The Day Duke Raised1.
that day began with a shower
of darkness, calling lightning rains
home to stone language
of thunderclaps, shattering, the high
blue, elegance, of space & time
where a broken-down, riderless, horse
with frayed wings
rode a sheer bone, sunbeam
road, down into the clouds

2.
spoke wheels of lightning jagged
around the hours, & spun high up
above those clouds, duke wheeled
his chariot of piano keys
his spirit, now, levitated from flesh
& hovering over the music of most high
spoke to the silence
of a griot-shaman-man
who knew the wisdom of God

3.
at high noon, the sun cracked
through the darkness, like a rifle shot
grew a beard of clouds on its livid, bald
face, hung down, noon, sky high
pivotal time of the flood-deep hours
as duke was pivotal, being a five in the nine
numbers of numerology
as his music was one of the crossroads
a cosmic mirror of rhythmic gri-gri

4.
so get on up & fly away duke, bebop
slant & fade on in, strut, dance swing, riff
& float & stroke those tickling, gri-gri keys
those satin ladies taking the A train  up
to harlem, those gri-gri keys
of birmingham, breakdown
sophisticated ladies, mood indigo
get on up & strut across, gri-gri
raise on up, your band’s waiting

5.
thunderclapping music, somersaulting
clouds, racing across the deep, blue wisdom
of God, listen, it is time for your intro, duke
into that other place, where the all-time great
band is waiting for your intro, duke
it is time for the Sacred Concert, duke
it is time to make the music of God, duke
we are listening for your intro, duke
so let the sacred music, begin.
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Listen to Duke Ellington play “Take the A Train”
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On June 28 we will read and discuss poetry inspired by music, or vice-versa. Please bring your own favourite example and, preferably, post it on the blog via the CONTACT US page, or email it to me directly. See the SCHEDULE PAGE for selections to-date.

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