Thursday, July 28, 2011

Does Anyone Still Compose a Waltz?

The Danube is not blue, as Karl Isador Beck calls it in the lines which suggested to Strauss the fetching, mendacious title to his waltz.
Claudio Magris 

On television not long ago, a fellow leered out at me, a violin propped under his chin.  The cameras pulled back on grand buildings and lawns, all bathed in lurid blue light.  The print onscreen announced we were about to hear the Blue Danube Waltz by Johann Strauss II.  The creator of this catastrophe was AndrĂ© Rieu, who’s made it his business to conduct an orchestra that plays nothing but The Waltz.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Searching for Birds in the Adirondacks

—for Jan & Ann

While at magnificent Elk Lake in the Adirondacks this year, I had cause to think of John, that consummate birder, over at Hedgeland Tales.  I was thinking particularly of a post about butterflies he’d written when “birds were scarce” at Nene Washes (which looks to be a wonderful nature reserve in Cambridgeshire, England).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Alice in Ashberyland

His basic attitude toward language is joy.  It amazes me how many people have a problem with that.
—Mark Kerstetter

The poet John Ashbery is considered impenetrable by many.  Yet if the first poem a reader encounters is The Instruction Manual, that’s hard to understand.  The poem begins
As I sit looking out of a window of the building
I wish I did not have to write the instruction manual on the uses
  of a new metal.
Who among us has not had a wish like this?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Doing the Watusi with Rimbaud

I put my hand inside his cranium, oh we had such a brainiac-amour
But no more, no more, I gotta move from my mind to the area
(go Rimbaud go Rimbaud go Rimbaud)
And go Johnny go and do the watusi,
Yeah do the watusi, do the watusi ...
—Patti Smith, Land

I had hoped, when I picked up John Ashbery’s translation of Arthur Rimbaud’s Illuminations, that I’d find a way into it without need of the commentary that swirls about Rimbaud and his work.  I figured, since I’d not read a line of Rimbaud and didn’t know a thing about him, I could come at Illuminations “fresh.”
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