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Category: poetry

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

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“Medea” – Euripides

medea-1898-jpglarge

       Medea (1898) 

       Alphonse Mucha

          ____________

catching up on my Greek tragedies 
for a course I’m following online, I
happened upon this marvel

Medea, by Euripides, was written 
in 431 BCE, the next significant 
playwright in world history was
Shakespeare, the Dark Ages had
been “Dark” indeed, it took a 
Renaissance, in fact a new 
flowering of Greek and Roman
arts and institutions to get us 
moving forward again, you’ll 
notice how much of Euripides 
there is in Shakespearenot to 
mention in the French Classicists, 
Racine and Corneille

none of these, incidentally, have 
yet been equalled, never mind 
surpassed, except by maybe 
Anton Checkov, the superb 
Russian playwright

Zoe Caldwell won the 1982 Tony 
Award for best actress for her
incarnation of Medea, she was 
up against Katharine Hepburn 
and Geraldine Pageno less, 
among other distinguished 
luminaries, this is, in other 
words, no ordinary performance, 
watch her turn a mere script, 
however incandescent, into 
set of spoken arias worthy of 
the most celebrated divas

everyone else in the play is also
strong, excellent, impeccable

note the application of the three 
unities, of time, place, and action,
there is no set change, everything 
takes place within 24 hours,
according to the dictates of the 
very plot, the action surrounds 
the expulsion from Corinth of 
Medea and her two, and Jason’s, 
sons, the restrictions of the form 
put the tension, the drama, utterly 
in the hands of the poet, the 
success of the work depends not
on stunts, special effects, but on
words, poetry

Aristotle says in his Poetics“, 
section I, part VI, “The Spectacle has, indeed, an
emotional attraction of its own, but, of all the parts,
it is the least artistic, and connected least with the
art of poetry. … Besides, the production of
spectacular effects depends more on the art
of the stage machinist than on that of the poet.”  

the three unities have no room,
therefore, for Spectacle“, their 
product must be reflections of 
the poet’s humanity, heart, 
straight through, if s/he can, 
to ours

Richard

what is poetry

the-poetess

     “The Poetess (1940)

           Joan Miró

                 _____

when Aristotle proceeds to declare the 
parameters of “Poetry” for the ages“, his
definitions of the various poetic 
manner[s] or mode[s] of imitation” 
have already been established, his 
categorizations are not unlike Darwin’s 
categorizations of the species during
a much later age, Aristotle was a natural 
scientist much more than he was our 
notion of an abstract philosopher, he 
traded in facts rather than in the 
esoteric musings that Platofor 
instance, pursued, Virtue, Justice, 
the Good, his conclusions were more 
verifiable

Kant, incidentally, is also famous for 
following a similar form of investigation
as he attempted, nearly, for most, 
inscrutably, to categorize the elements 
of our faculty of understanding

a side story

Kant had stated that at birth we already 
have within our perceptual framework 
implicit understanding of space and 
time, these are not learned through 
experience but are already 
incorporated within us, he said

many years ago, coming out of a 
week-long coma, not knowing where
I was but alone, at that point even
just my consciousness, cause my 
body, were it there, would’ve been 
under the immaculate white sheets 
I could see that would’ve been 
shielding my legs

I looked around, could gather motes 
upon rays of light that were entering 
from what appeared to be a window 
on the right, behind sheer white 
curtains stirred by a soft breeze,  
whirling the shimmering particles 
alive in the light before me like 
miniature spinning galaxies moving 
at the pace of their own infinity

there was no sound

white walls around me stood utterly
still in the purview of my perception,
a door, also white, stood opposite 
me on the opposite wall

where am I, I wondered, could this 
be heaven, an afterlife, I might’ve 
died, I thought, marvelling, no fear, 
regret, nothing other than curiosity, 
absorption, fascination

I tried to answer my question, where 
am I, two dimensions, I figured
after having watched Terence Stamp 
exiled by Marlon Brando to a flat 
intergalactic window pane in 
Superman“, I hadn’t excluded this 
eventualityhowever ingloriously 
transcendental, as a possible 
outcome, I might be in a world with 
only two dimensions, height and 
width, no depth yet without more 
investigation, experience 

ergo, Kant, I concluded, was wrong, 
our knowledge of space is not inborn 
but a product of time and thought like 
everything else 

later, the white door on the far wall
opened, and a nurse walked in, also, 
incidentally, in incandescent white,  
and understood I was alive

Aristotle suggested that our original 
double instincts towards poetry were 
our propensity to imitate, children 
imitating their parents’ even 
idiosyncratic mannerisms, for
instance

and rhythm, repetition, preludes to 
order, coherence

those two

poetry, I read, is expression
reflecting the heartbeat, essentially,
in all its myriad representations

Richard  

“To One Who Loved Not Poetry” – Sappho

in-the-days-of-sappho-1904-jpgpinterestsmall

  “In The Days Of Sappho (1904) 

        John William Godward

                    _________

if I digressed towards “Tragedy” in my
most recent chat about poetry, I perhaps
blurred the fact that there were several 
kinds of poetry Aristotle was speaking   
about, but that all had the essential 
elements of both rhythm and 
representation, the idea that a poem 
was a reproduction of something 
that was not itself, a retelling

some of these rhythmic utterances 
were tragedies“, others were mere,  
indeed, verses without much of an 
agenda other than being the replication 
of something with rhythm the poet
wanted to promote

o, what a beautiful morning, two dactyls
and a trochee, for instance, the poetic 
meters that describe – ta da da, ta da da, 
dah dah – the natural music of that 
exclamation

and that can be a poem

here’s one of Sappho‘s, who lived 
sometime between 630 and 612 BCE
to around 570 of the same, of course,
era, famous for being from the island  
of Lesbos, yes, Lesbos 

it is To One Who Loved Not Poetry

    Thou liest dead, and there will be no memory left behind
     Of thee or thine in all the earth, for never didst thou bind
     The roses of Pierian streams upon thy brow; thy doom
     Is now to flit with unknown ghosts in cold and nameless gloom.”

so there, she says, I think, and all in iambic 
octameter, eight times ta dah

I preferred not to use one of her more
flirtatious, therefore controversial,
utterances, for fear of skewing to  
another, however compelling,
discussion

maybe next time

Richard

psst: the Pierian Spring was a spring in 
          Macedonia sacred to the Muses,
          the source of inspiration for 
          science, then, as well as the arts

Aristotle on poetry

aristotle-jpglarge

      Aristotle” (1653)

        Luca Giordano

          ___________

so what’s a poem

in an attempt to get a clearer picture 
of what a poem should be, rather 
than trust only my own, however 
informed perhaps, opinion – though 
it must be added that we all bring 
something to that word’s definition, 
mine no less worthy than yours, 
yours no less worthy than mine – 
thought I’d go back to authoritative 
sources to see what they might 
have said

and it doesn’t get any earlier and 
authoritative than Aristotlewriting 
in 350 B.C.E., at the height of 
Ancient Greek preeminence, 
dissecting the term in his 
penetrating and perspicacious, 
ahem, Poetics” 

I propose to treat of Poetry in itself and of its various kinds,
noting the essential quality of each, to inquire into the
structure of the plot as requisite to a good poem; into the
number and nature of the parts of which a poem is
composed; and similarly into whatever else falls within
the same inquiry.“, he says in Part 1 of his 
magisterial treatise

and proceeds to declare the parameters 
of “Poetry” for the ages  

Poetry in general seems to have sprung from two causes“, 
he proceeds, imitation and rhythm 

by imitation I think it best to think of 
representation, which is another way, 
anyway, of saying imitation, but 
much more evocative in this instance,
more attuned to our sense of his word 

a poem is a representation then, a 
reproduction of something other than 
itself 

while its rhythm is what George
Gershwin‘s got, and by extension, as  
you can see from this videoGene Kelly

and yes, that means that “Epic poetry and Tragedy, Comedy also
and Dithyrambic poetry, and the music of the flute and of the lyre in
most of their forms, are all in their general conception modes of
imitation.” 

so, according to Aristotle, is dance 

all, therefore, poems

an interesting elaboration about “Tragedy” 
states that it should have the three unities 
that I grew up with during my French 
Canadian upbringing, the unity of time, of
space, and of action the famous French 
Classical dramatists, Racine and Corneille,
applied under the aegis of Louis XlV

not to mention Tragedy’s use of iambic 
pentameter, Shakespeare’s ubiquitous 
beat, a beat that persevered into the very 
Nineteenth Century, in France with 
Rostand‘s Cyrano de Bergerac“, for 
instance, and into the Twentieth Century 
with Eliot‘s Murder in the Cathedral“, 
about the assassination of Archbishop
Thomas Becket at Canterbury in 1170 
under Henry the Second‘s own aegis,
all written as poetry 

the most famous play to follow the 
three unities in the modern era is 
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?“,
the play which I think defines the 
Twentieth Century, which takes 
place overnight somewhere in 
New England college town, mid-
century, at George and Martha’s 

though followed closely by O’Neill‘s 
Long Day’s Journey int Night“, 
which transpires from morning, one 
day in August, 1912, till midnight, at 
the home ofunity of space, note, 
the dysfunctional Tyrones

so it appears not much has changed
about poetry, Aristotle got a lot of 
mileage out of his early definition, 
nearly 2500 years 

makes you wonder  why so much 
attention was paid instead to 
Platohis contemporary, the 
mystic, who would’ve banned
poetry, he thought it was 
subversive
 
Richard

psst: for a modern day application
          of the three unities, watch 
          In Treatment“, a television
          series, which takes place 
          in a psychotherapist’s office,
          each episode a session,  
   

what is a poet

flowers-in-aa-brown-vase.jpg!Large.jpg

                            Flowers In a Brown Vase (1904)

                                            Odilon Redon

                                                 _______

if I imagine myself to be a poetwhat 
is a poet, I have to ask, or, more 
accurately, what do I imagine a poet 
to be

cause this is a two-way street, I am
defined by the word I inhabit, but I 
define the word as well, redefining 
it, essentially, to fit my etymological 
purpose   

my moral purpose I leave to myself,
in a completely other ideological
dimension

if I can

a poet then is one who writes, paints,
composes, manifests, in a word, 
creates, poems

what is a poem

a poem is where beauty and truth 
combine to create harmony, 
coalescence, to the point of one’s
admiration, enchantment, wonder, 
enlightenment, in incremental steps 
leading to very transcendence, the 
feeling that something has moved 
in your heart

just a bouquet of flowers will do it,
for instance

that’s what I think

Richard

on truth

truth-unveiled-by-time3-jpglarge

               “Truth Unveiled By Time (1645-1652)

                               Gian Lorenzo Bernini

                                           _______

a cousin once said to me about 
his father, that he was as honest 
as the day is long

though I didn’t say a word, this 
was emphatically not my opinion

but I concluded nevertheless that, 
once again, truth is in the eye of 
the beholder, not, of course, truth 
truth, the one we all would like to 
believe must exist, but the one 
which is the only one that we can 
work with, our own 

but what is true

no one knows but for personal 
intimations, truth must be, in other 
words, our individual constructions, 
a kind of existential prosetry,  
consistent story we tell ourselves, 
a walking shadowa tale / told by 
an idiotaccording to Macbethfull 
of sound and fury, / signifying 
nothing 

I imagine I am a poet

imagine 

Richard

psst: prosetry is poetry written in prose,
          see “up my idiosyncracies – a bio

up my idiosyncrasies – Albertine‏

wing-seller-2006.jpg!Large

            Wing Seller (2006)

               Stefan Caltia

 

                        _______ 

 
what are you doing, a friend of mine
asked when he called 
 
I’m reading my Proust, I answered,
comfy enough with my textafter 
years waking up side by side, to 
use the possessive adjective 
 
what’s going on, he inquired
 
Albertine is lying on his bed, 
recounted, asleep, she’s been there 
for the past ten pages, and she’s 
just now turned onto her stomach
 
 
there is not so much story as 
paintings, in Proustdetailed 
descriptions applied like strokes of 
colour to a canvas, that of recovered 
time, colours that are specific to a 
place and a period, like photographs 
showing in their very fabric their 
ancestry, their lineage
 
but in the elucidation of what he 
sees, or, more accurately, of what
he remembers, Proust delivers 
a work of the very highest art, a 
mixture of poetry and philosophy,
Beethoven did as much, see his
 
 
Proust’s French is essentially 
immaculate, his tone, however 
intimate, always erudite, aristocratic, 
perspicacious, wise, penetrating,
embracing, which is to say, French,
though German can be also
incidentally, pretty cerebral, English 
is narrative, just the facts, please, 
though often, I think, hilarious
 
 
Albertine had been one of the “young
girls in bloom” he’d met at Balbec, a 
seaside resort, with whom he’d 
undertaken an illicit affair, but 
whose faithfulness he doubted
 
as she lay on his bed at his Paris
apartmenthe replays all the 
speculations his imagination could 
provide, an endless set of variations
on his anguish, which is to say, his
jealousy, worthy of a very Othello
 
for ten pages he paints a picture of 
infidelities completely of his making,
which, of course, becomes the world 
he will respond to
 
it is all in our little heads, I surmise, 
however informed, intelligent, that 
we create our little realities, they 
have never been nearly enough, 
though, indeed, our lives depend 
on themhowever dutifully
considered, however unconsciously,
and ever convincingly, contrived   
 
make them, I submit, good ones
  
I imagine myself a poet, for instance,
how’s that for a shot in the improbable 
dark
 
 
Richard

up my idiosyncrasies – Marcel Proust‏

holy-man.jpg!Large

    “Holy Man (1989)
 
       Eric Fischl
 
          ______
 
 
Marcel Proust is not an easy read, 
of literature it is surely its Everest,
not an easy climb, but from its peak
the world takes on an entirely other
order
 
an English-speaking friend has 
suggested he might try to read it 
again, but not in French this time,
I countered that that way he’d miss
the many crevices and crags, the
slippery slopes and lethal ledges, 
that give shape to the mountain, 
which the French grammar would
apply in all its intricate 
manifestations
 
part of the pleasure in reading 
Proust is the poetry, where style 
and substance coexist to create 
magic, and inspiration  
 
the sentences are long, they wind 
on for often pages, you need to be 
able to tell the subject from the verb
despite sometimes extended
intervening distances
 
but the grammar is sound throughout, 
except for in a couple of isolated
instances, grammar that would test
even a Frenchman
 
indeed Proust is where, I profess, I 
truly learned to speak French
 
there’s another mountain
 
 
the conceit is that someone rings 
the bell at their Combray cottage,
and after 3300 pages someone 
rings at the same door again
 
in between the years have passed,
they are the fruit of Proust’s 
“recherche”, search, investigation,
quest, a term that can’t be fully 
expressed as such in English, 
which doesn’t express the 
confluence of cold science and 
candle-lit spirituality expressed 
in the French word
 
in dissecting the very entrails of a 
flower, a tea cup, a crumpet, an eye, 
a brow, a lip, a gesture, a frown, a 
smile, a gait, Proust describes his 
own world, concocts it, minutely, 
meticulously, until you realize this 
can be only his perception, that 
therefore all of our interpretations 
are but our individual perceptions, 
our myriad unique worlds
 
from which one can begin to 
shape one’s own
 
later with Wittgenstein, the 
philosopher, this became known 
as phenomenology, the idea that 
we are confined for knowledge to 
our private views of the world,
wherein language plays, manifestly, 
a crucial part
 
in the beginning, if you’ll remember, 
was the word
 
curiously, in French, it is the verb, in
the beginning, implicitly suggesting 
a word of action 
 
 
Proust had been prescient as Freud
uncovering an inner world we’d always 
believed was outside us
 
at the top of his priorities Proust
chose art, personal expression,
it’s all that we can return to the 
world
 
and what else could be our purpose
 
 
Richard
 
psst: bonne lecture, Kurt

a reader writes‏

"November" - Eugène Leroy

November (1988)

Eugène Leroy

_________

a reader writes about Coming to
New York – John Updike
“,
my last
weblog entry

kurtnemes
October 30, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Nice post. Yours is a[s] poetic as Updike’s. Do you live there now? My wife and I spend June of 2013 in the Village and June of 2015 in Beacon, NY. When in NYC I always feel more alive, and it’s because of the frying bacon cheek-by-jowl with the Flat Iron Bldg, the Whitney, Union Square, Grand Central Station.

when my reply to him became too long,
and a paean to Vancouver, I thought I’d
make my tribute more formal, include it
in my main text, I hope you enjoy it

while I lived in Toronto, Kurt, ’68 – ’82, New York was my playground, Toronto, the Good, was still coming out of its WASP insularity, fun was a dirty word – when I moved to Vancouver, the only thing I missed, I used to always say, was civilization, or, interchangeably, New York

Vancouver has grown, of course, since then, but it still isn’t New York, we have no theatre to speak of, no competing orchestras, a modest art scene, thanks to, especially, significant art exhibitions on occasion, and here and there an errant, inspired, flower – the recital society, however, has been impressive, with a catalogue of international names visiting often

for Vancouver is indeed beautiful, breathtakingly so, right now the autumn colours are bold, bright, infinitely remarkable, enough to make you believe in God/dess

also the mountains make a splendid backdrop

thanks for the likeness to John Updike, a shot in the arm for someone who thinks he might be a poet

Richard

psst: Kurt has a blog with noteworthy
information about, esoteric even,
Classical music – check him out

thanks Kurt