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Category: dramatic monologues

Puccini on poets

cigarette-la-boheme-1879

                   “Cigarette La Bohême (1879) 

                             Théophile Steinlen

                                        ______

with a friend today over lunch I told 
her that we’d watched, my mom and 
I and a mutual friend, La Bohème“,  
an Australian production of it, Baz 
Luhrmann directing, a man we both 
knew, at my place last Sunday, we 
were all wowed by it, I extrapolated 

the only opera I’ve ever seen, she 
said, was La Bohème

where did you see it, I asked, and 
when  

with my first husband, she replied,
in Vienna 

was it wonderful, I inquired  

it was, she answered, I had on a 
long dress, my husband was in 
coat and, essentially, tails, we 
walked up a very long staircase, 
I  remember

coincidentally, the first time I’d 
seen “La Bohème was also in 
Vienna, I can’t remember the 
staircase, couldn’t remember what  
I wore, can’t even remember where 
I was sitting, what I remember, as
though through a telescope, darkly,  
was Mimi and Rodolphe looking for   
the key she’d lost, on their knees   
on the floor, in the dark cause her  
candle ‘d gone out, he’d put his out
surreptitiously too to  join her 

your little hand is so cold, he sings,
when he, unforgettably, finds it 

in this production, Rodolphe has  
found the key but conceals it 
from Mimi until she sees it in his 
eyes, he pretends to return it but 
instead manages to hold her 
hand 

your little hand is so cold, he 
sings, again unforgettably

there’s nothing to fear, he 
continues, the moon is out, let’s
get to know each other

who am I, he asks, to start the 
conversation, I am a poet, he 
declares, and proceeds to tell 
us what it is to be a poet 

you’ll be utterly enchanted

tell me about a world, I ask,  
without poets, tell me about  
a world without poetry 

where would we be without 
dreamers, I wonder, where would 
we be without dreams

watch here, and wonder

Richard

“Hank Williams: The Show He Never Gave”

hank-williams-1

                        Hank Williams

                              _______

halfway through The Last Picture Show
recently, a celebrated movie from the early 
Seventies I was watching, about the early
Fifties, I was sidetracked by the Hank  
Williams soundtrack till I was out and out 
stopped by its fervent Cold, Cold Heart 

I put the film on pause 

another love before my time, I warbled,
made your heart sad and blue, and so 
my heart is paying now, I wallowed, for 
things didn’t do, in anger unkind words
were said, I rued, that made the teardrops 
start, why can’t I free, your doubtful mind, 
I fretted, and melt your cold, cold heart 

but I wanted to hear Hank Williams do
it too, live if I could, and lo and behold 
got it

but listed as an option among other 
options nearby was also a longer  
feature purporting to be a 
representation of a concert he 
never  gave the night, December 31, 
1952, he died, the movie is called,
not inappropriately, Hank Williams:
The Show He Never Gave

the actor who plays Williams steps
right into his shoes, he’ll break your 
heart, you’ll need a lot of Kleenex

one of he best film biographies I’ve 
ever seen 

watch it

Hank Williams died of a heart attack
on the night of December 31, 1952

he was 29

may he rest in everlasting peace

Richard

up my idiosyncrasies – a bio

marcel-proust.jpg!Large

      “Marcel Proust” 
 
       Richard Lindner
 
          ___________
 
 
for a bio with which I’ve been asked 
to provide an online poetry magazine 
I’ve been encouraged to apply to, I’m 
submitting the following text
 
I thought you might enjoy it
 
 
Richard
 
           ______________
 
 
my name is Richard Bisson, from
which you’ll intuit my French 
Canadian background, though I 
write mostly in English, with no 
trouble however in French, my 
mother tongue is le français  
 
I am thus imbued, undoubtedly,
with that sensibility, my peers 
have been HugoFlaubert, and
most of all Marcel Proust, whom 
I imbibed for 33 years, in French,
page by page, reading each out 
loud as though it were my own, I 
cannot but be replicating now his 
rhythms, his aesthetic, his view 
of the world
 
it didn’t take me as long to read 
Homer, in the thunderous Robert  
Fitzgerald translation, – a mighty
roar resounding still from the 
ninth century before the Christian 
Era – from him I learned to speak 
from the heart, it’s not one’s style  
one has to master, but one’s 
humanity
 
Robert Browning gave me the 
dramatic monologue as a poetic
device, a gift he’d received from
 
Shakespeare himself, of course,
the unbridled freedom of his own 
literary imagination
 
Carl Sandburg‘s Chicago taught 
me to talk about every wo/man, 
about things even my own folks 
were doing
 
Collapsed showed me that even 
apparently inconsequential acts
can be poetry, poetry in the 
apparently humdrum 
 
Mary Oliver is a strong present 
influence
 
the cadence is entirely Beethoven,
with some help, I must admit, from 
the atonalists, SchoenbergBerg,
and Weberncommas are my bar 
lines
 
 
I call what I do prosetry, a word so 
new my computer won’t even let 
me write it, I’m a prosetrist, this 
word either
 
I want to link everyday experience 
with poetry, make poetry in the eye 
of the beholder, where truth and 
beauty lie
 
if people can see what I see, they 
can see that way themselves, it’s 
something one learns, and it’s all 
in the way one entrenches words 
and ideas
 
I eliminated the word “if” from my 
vocabulary once, for being then
too speculative, it changed my life, 
I’ve replaced it since with the word 
“miracle”, that has also changed 
my life
 
I am 67 years old
 
I live in Vancouver, Canada
 
I consider myself to be, at this 
point in my life, bibliosexual, I
sleep with my books, and we’re
all still getting along just fine 
 
may you be so blessed
 
 
Richard
 
psst: also Anaïs Nin, for the 
          intimacy of her diaries
 
          o, and Woody Allen, for
          giving up before his  
          nihilism and just 
          laughing

December, 2015‏

"December" - Theodor Severin Kittelsen

December (1890)

Theodor Severin Kittelsen

__________

for Susan

several years ago, a friend of mine
invited me to a concert, Sir Edward
Elgar
‘s The Dream of Gerontius“,
to my mind, a double mountain to
cross, both English and ceremonial,
this is not music you can dance to,
nor even dream on, but music that
demands your allegiance, as well
as your attention

to my mind English music, nearly
an oxymoron, remained stagnant
from Purcell, 1659 to 1695, to the
Beatles
, 1960 to 1970, with very
few exceptions, never managing,
mostly, to hold, even, a tune

ceremonial music suffered much
from its rigid partisan bent,
whether political or religious, try
singing La Marseillaise or
The Stars and Stripes if you’re
not of those nations, you are
instantly sidelined, a mere
spectator, try How Great Thou
Art
at a party, however
inspirational

but the ticket was free, my friend
couldn’t think of anyone else she
could invite who’d enjoy the show,
she’d received the tickets in a
bundle

Gerontius, an old man – you’ll note
the Greek root, geron, as in
gerontology” – is dying, fears the
other side, friends comfort him and,
in particular, a priest sends him on
his way, that’s act one

act two, he’s on the other side,
wherein the dream of being on the
other side, should he still be alive,
or the actuality of being on the
other side, confront him, have I
died, he wonders

I could tell you something about
that

an angel appears to lead him to,
the programme boasted, no less
than God eventually, in a burst,
for the occasion, of musical
pyrotechnics

well, I wondered, let’s see what
they’re going to do with that

it was unforgettable, though my
friend was somewhat more
equivocal, perhaps not as intent,
quite yet, as I was, about meeting
her divine

in search of something lately to
commemorate the several recent
worldwide atrocities, I quickly
settled on the only work I could
think of, apart from anything,
of course, by Bruckner, to mourn
appropriately

I found this extraordinary production
from no less than London’s St Paul’s

though not an oratorio, according
to the composer’s strict intentions,
Elgar‘s The Dream of Gerontius“, a
concert piece, is played here in a
church, an Anglican, indeed,
cathedral, despite the flagrantly
Catholic story being told, Elgar had
converted to Catholicism, the piece
transcends, however, religions

an oratorio, incidentally – not to be
confused with Ontario, the Canadian
province – is an opera conceived
without sets or costumes, usually
associated with significant religious
occasions

the text of “Gerontius” is taken
from a poem of Cardinal John
Henry Newman
, 1801 to 1890,
a Catholic convert himself, only
recently beatified, as a matter
of fact, not yet, however, for
insufficiency of miracles, it
would appear, canonized

The Dream of Gerontius is
Cardinal Newman‘s retelling of
Dante‘s Divine Comedy“, our
original tour guide through
Purgatory, Heaven and Hell,
Newman‘s take on it is
particularly poignant, Elgar‘s
musical accompaniment not
any less

the conjunction of divine,
composer, sacred venue and
superior performers is an
extraordinary occasion,
despite, not least, a
scratchy recording, the
experience here is
profound

bring your solemnity

Richard

by the way: December is the end of
the year, 2016 is already act two, are
you ready to meet your own God/dess

“The Raven” – Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

_________

only a few days ago, of an otherwise
uneventful afternoon, “there came a
tapping, as if someone gently rapping,
rapping at my”
[laptop] door”

“Tis some visitor”, I muttered, “tapping
at my [laptop] door – Only this and
nothing more.”

but to my surprise, to my delight, to my,
lo, roused and rustled up excitement,
for I hadn’t read this poem in countless
years, “in there stepped”, serendipitously,
uninvited, [the] stately Raven of the
saintly days of yore”

thanks, David

Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven“, after
several perhaps of Shakespeare’s, is the
most famous of dramatic monologues,
certainly the most haunting

though it is set in “bleak December”,
there is no more apt poem to herald,
I think, the feast of Hallowe’en

here Vincent Price channels the epochal
work
, magisterially, unforgettably

watch

Richard

psst:

The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore—
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door—
Only this and nothing more.”

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken, sad, uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me—filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
“’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door—
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door;—
This it is and nothing more.”

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
“Sir,” said I, “or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you”—here I opened wide the door;—
Darkness there and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before;
But the silence was unbroken, and the stillness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, “Lenore?”
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, “Lenore!”—
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
“Surely,” said I, “surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore—
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore;—
’Tis the wind and nothing more!”

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas * just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
“Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,” I said, “art sure no craven,
Ghastly grim and ancient Raven wandering from the Nightly shore—
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian ** shore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning—little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door—
Bird or beast upon the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as “Nevermore.”

But the Raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing farther then he uttered—not a feather then he fluttered—
Till I scarcely more than muttered “Other friends have flown before—
On the morrow he will leave me, as my Hopes have flown before.”
Then the bird said “Nevermore.”

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
“Doubtless,” said I, “what it utters is its only stock and store
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful Disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore—
Till the dirges of his Hope that melancholy burden bore
Of ‘Never—nevermore’.”

But the Raven still beguiling all my fancy into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird, and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore—
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking “Nevermore.”

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet-violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer ***
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
“Wretch,” I cried, “thy God hath lent thee—by these angels he hath sent thee
Respite—respite and nepenthe **** from thy memories of Lenore;
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe **** and forget this lost Lenore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!—
Whether Tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted—
On this home by Horror haunted—tell me truly, I implore—
Is there—is there balm in Gilead? ***** —tell me—tell me, I implore!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Prophet!” said I, “thing of evil!—prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us—by that God we both adore—
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn, ******
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore.”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

“Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!” I shrieked, upstarting—
“Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian ** shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken!—quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!”
Quoth the Raven “Nevermore.”

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas * just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted—nevermore!

Edgar Allan Poe

* Pallas Athene, Greek goddess of wisdom,
courage, justice, the arts, patroness of
Athens

** Pluto, Greek god of the Underworld

*** censer, a vessel for burning incense

**** nepenthe, a drug which induces
forgetfulness

***** balm of Gilead, a rare perfume of Gilead,
a region east of the River Jordan, reputed to
have been a universal cure

****** Aidenn, paradise

“King John” – Shakespeare‏

"The King" - Max Beckmann

The King ( 1934 – 1937)

Max Beckmann

_________

King John, 1166 to 1216, was the brother
of Richard the First, “the Lionheart”, and
of Geoffrey, both sons, as well as John,
of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry the
Second

you might remember them all from the
classic The Lion in Winter from the
Sixties

in Shakespeare’s story, John has become
king, both Geoffrey and Richard have
already perished, but Geoffrey has left an
heir, Arthur, Constance’s son, and since
Geoffrey had been the eldest, his own son,
it is contested, should be the rightful heir
to the English throne

John is not in agreement, nor is Eleanor,
his mom, but Constance is backed by the
Duke of Austria and the King of France,
who will go to war to unseat John

meanwhile Arthur is too young to be
anything but ineffectual, innocent

they all meet before Angiers, a town
now in France, but ruled then by
England, where a delightful
confrontation occurs at its gates,
the town representative will let in
the King of England but only when
he knows who, of either, He is

war is however averted when a
marriage is suggested between the
two courts, a niece of John, Blanche
of Castille, will marry the Dauphin,
Louis, son of Philip of France,
joining, however improbably, the
two sparring factions

but thereby Arthur’s claim is lost,
and Constance is fully aware of
the inevitable, and treacherous,
consequences

a legate from the Pope, Cardinal
Pandolf, also steps into the fray,
to stir the political pot, pompously,
predictably, punctiliously and
perniciously, not to mention,
perfidiously, in the end, of course

the language is Shakespeare’s, to
be sure, therefore unavoidably
wrought, but with garlands of
irrepressible poetry that is ever
utterly, and irresistibly, enchanting

“I am not mad:”, says Constance to
Pandolf, who’s accused her of being
in such a state

“Lady, you utter madness, and not sorrow.”

Constance replies

“I am not mad: this hair I pull is mine
My name is Constance; I was Geoffrey’s wife;
Young Arthur is my son, and he is lost:
I am not mad: I would to heaven I were!
For then, ’tis like I should forget myself:
O, if I could, what grief should I forget!
Preach some philosophy to make me mad,
And thou shalt be canonized, cardinal;
For being not mad but sensible of grief,
My reasonable part produces reason
How I may be deliver’d of these woes,
And teaches me to kill or hang myself:
If I were mad, I should forget my son,
Or madly think a babe of clouts were he:
I am not mad; too well, too well I feel
The different plague of each calamity.”

act lll, scene lV

has there ever been such a telling
evocation of agony

Stratford’s version is superb, extraordinary,
unforgettable, don’t miss it, just click

Richard

“Tru”‏

"Truman Capote" - Gloria Vanderbilt

Truman Capote

Gloria Vanderbilt

____________

Truman Capote, a towering XXth-Century
figure, might be remembered much more
for his personality than his considerable
literary output, In Cold Blood remains
a turning point in the history of literature,
not to mention an extraordinary read

three major works have been produced
about Capote since at least 1992, when
Robert Morse won a Tony for Tru, my
favourite rendition, with a nod to the
superb Infamous, before even the
dire, Oscar-winning, Capote, however
deserving Philip Seymour Hoffman
might’ve been of his own award for his
brilliant work

watch Tru in coordinated instalments,
no fuss, no muss, only the suspicion
you’ve missed an irretrievable and
perhaps crucial nugget in the clip
change

chill, Tru, however apportioned here,
is seamless, and captivating, hilarious
and, all at once, profound, not to be
ever forgotten, much as I never have

Richard

 

“A Year’s Carols” – Algernon Charles Swinburne


"February Forest with Sheep" - Diana Harrison

February Forest with Sheep

Diana Harrison

__________

happy poems about February are not
easy to find, nor are poems by any
poet written for each month of the
year

but here are Algernon Charles
Swinburne
‘s “January” and “February”
from his A Year’s Carols

January

Hail, January, that bearest here
On snowbright breasts the babe-faced year
That weeps and trembles to be born.
Hail, maid and mother, strong and bright,
Hooded and cloaked and shod with white,
Whose eyes are stars that match the morn.
Thy forehead braves the storm’s bent bow,
Thy feet enkindle stars of snow.

February

Wan February with weeping cheer,
Whose cold hand guides the youngling year
Down misty roads of mire and rime,
Before thy pale and fitful face
The shrill wind shifts the clouds apace
Through skies the morning scarce may climb.
Thine eyes are thick with heavy tears,
But lit with hopes that light the year’s.

Algernon Charles Swinburne

March’ll have to wait

most of us have never even heard of
Swinburne, I actually thought he was
German, he’s not, he was English,
and decadent, apparently, like his
compatriots then, Dante Gabriel
Rossetti
and Oscar Wilde, who
thought Swinburne, however, was
a sham

though he never received a Nobel prize,
he was nominated for one in literature
each year from 1903 to 1907, then
again in 1909

to Swinburne

Richard

“The Poet’s Calendar” (February) – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‏

 "Facsimile of February: Farmyard Scene with Peasants" -  Limbourg brothers

Facsimile of February:
Farmyard Scene with Peasants

the Limbourg brothers

___________

if there are paintings about February,
there must be poems about February,
I thought, hence the following entry,
though preceded by a belated January,
or Janus, as it turns out, held back by
nothing other, surely, than the “fields
with snow”, the “frosts”, and the
fowl-filled “frozen fen”

both are from a very calendar of
poems by Henry Wadsworth
Longfellow
, whom I’ve always
imagined tall, however
inappropriate, kind of like thinking
that because my name is Richard
I’m rich

it’s called, appropriately enough,
The Poet’s Calendar, just click

January

Janus am I; oldest of potentates;
Forward I look, and backward, and below
I count, as god of avenues and gates,
The years that through my portals come and go.
I block the roads, and drift the fields with snow;
I chase the wild-fowl from the frozen fen;
My frosts congeal the rivers in their flow,
My fires light up the hearths and hearts of men.

February

I am lustration, and the sea is mine!
I wash the sands and headlands with my tide;
My brow is crowned with branches of the pine;
Before my chariot-wheels the fishes glide.
By me all things unclean are purified,
By me the souls of men washed white again;
E’en the unlovely tombs of those who died
Without a dirge, I cleanse from every stain.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

March will have to wait

Richard

psst: lustration is a purification, Janus, the
god with two faces, who can see
backwards and forwards, fen,
marshland

“Macbeth” – William Shakespeare‏

Henry Fuseli - "'Macbeth', Act I, Scene 3, the Weird Sisters"

‘Macbeth’, Act I, Scene 3, the Weird Sisters (1783)

Henry Fuseli

_______

Judy Dench is Lady Macbeth, Ian McKellen
her consort, in this superb production by
Trevor Nunn

also great witches

watch

Richard