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Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Perfect Lyric

My aesthetic is that of the perfect, self-contained lyric. Not in the "bad poetry," of course.  And it's something I've probably never achieved in poems trying to be good, either. I know many people advocate for the messy aesthetic, but I like the sharp image in the poetic form that seems to incarnate that image.

Sunday's motor-cars
jar the house.
When I'm away on work-days
hear the rose-breast.
Love the night, love the night
and if on waking it rains:
little drops of rest.


That will be the fourth poem in the Niedecker suite in Db.  I will have five piano segments framing the four songs, an intro, a conclusion, and three interludes.



Jonathan said...

I think I'll call it "Little Drops of Rest."

Vance Maverick said...

"Perfect" is a dangerous word. I think there are more fruitful alternatives that conceive of the same qualities more dynamically. If we feel that every part of a piece stands somehow in relation to other parts and the whole, that's a tension, or liveness, which it's possible to respond to, and add something to. Perfection is closed, and would silence Sunday's motor-cars rather than perceive them≥

For example, "Frost at Midnight" is too complex for "perfection" to be relevant. But everything in it speaks to something else and to the structure of the whole....with the exception of one phrase that annoys me every time I read it, and feels like the one bit of padding in 75 lines. ("...the poor man's only music...".)

Project sounds good! I'm interested to hear whether you find a way for piano and voice to talk to one another. (An ongoing problem for me, and acute for my current project, a song with clarinet.)

Jonathan said...

I'm going for something more finished than that, more gem-like. The Coleridge poem, while certainly accomplished, is not quite what I would have in mind. The rhythms are to awkward for me, the effort to get the words into the meter, and the phrase "extreme silentness" would not be my choice. Perfect for me means I would not change anything or second guess the poet in any way. I realize it sounds bad nowadays to use words like that.

Vance Maverick said...

Hard to trust intuitions about "would I write it that way" in a text over 200 years old. I hear those awkwardnesses, for sure, but relish most of them. (My example was of an unnecessary swerve of thought, adding an irrelevant ornament to a structure already elaborate.) This poem occurred to me because I did once react to the ending with the thought "wow, perfect", but realized, chewing it over, that (for me) perfection is an effect, not a fact. Even in little gems of 8 lines.

Jonathan said...

It's so reminiscent of "Tintern Abbey" that I think that is interfering with my reaction to it. I'll have to look up which poem came first.

Vance Maverick said...

Wikipedia says February 1798, while "Tintern Abbey" is July. Obviously both emerged from a shared idea of what poetry can do, a bit Picasso-Braque.

I once made a diagram of the layers of time in "Frost at Midnight", with the references forward and back -- there were seven or eight, as I recall.