Monday, July 31, 2017

Visiting Fallingwater

A house so beautiful that you almost burst into tears the first time you see it up close. I spent half a day yesterday at Falllingwater and it is everything they say it is, and more. The pity is that one cannot linger. We were on tour number 29 of the day and when we left, tour number 60 of the day was setting out. The walks and hikes in the woods are not hurried, however, so one can linger and enjoy the land, verdant with white rhododendron groves. I found a few native sassafras trees asserting themselves amid the pines and other tall trees. Photos inside the house were prohibited, so I cannot share the details of the house and its construction. You just have to go there. The best life of all is in a great city, with access to art and music and culture, but if one is to have second place amid the mountains, nothing on earth could be more joyous than this place. To awaken in a house like this is to arrive in a day in which great things are expected of you. Maybe some people could not deal with that, and for them, the trailer park, the cookie-cutter suburban ranch, the termite-nest apartment building.

Mini-Review: Japan's Longest Day

I was up till 2:30 last night watching "Japan's Longest Day," a 158-minute drama released in 1967 by Toho Films. I associate Toho with Godzilla movies and Samurai films, so this was a startling surprise -- a film that was not made with American viewers in mind. It covers the last 24 hours before Japan surrendered at the end of World War II. The isolated Emperor, absolute ruler -- the custom-bound bureaucrats and cabinet ministers -- and a group of crazed military officers who attempt a palace takeover to stop the Emperor from making a radio speech announcing the surrender. Hiroshima and Nagasaki are mentioned with some bleak wide-angle photos of the devastation and some horrific close-ups of charred corpses. But the government officials seem numb to the scale of the carnage, and the honor-crazed military men want to hold out for a land battle in Japan. To watch this in the present moment is signficant. We who lost a couple of buildings in 2001 and thousands of troops we send off like rent-a-cops to overseas war that have no purpose, do not know defeat, have not suffered the deaths of millions.
There is a lot to think about in this film as some leaders talk about what the future can be for the future innocent, and what it would be like to live in a country that vowed not to make war again -- against the madness of ideology and blind patriotism. Intriguingly, the power of the media is also at the center of the film, as all realize that the Emperor's radio address would make the surrender irrevocable. The most telling moment in the film is a crazed soldier holding a revolver to the head of a radio broadcaster, who sits defiantly with the threat of a bullet inches from his head. This will be a hard film to forget.

See Wikipedia Page on Japan's Longest Day

Adirondack Mountain Man

Hikers in the Adirondacks know Pieter Vanderbeck as the mountain-man artist, who spends about five months of each year doing conte crayon drawings and line drawings all around the region. Pieter is also a poet and novelist, and was my neighbor in Providence for many years. He and I co-authored a book together, Twilight of the Dictators, and Pieter illustrated my book, Poems from Providence. A while back I bought tripods and lamps and umbrellas so that I could photograph more than 100 of Pieter's drawings for a DVD he was making. I'm delighted to see these photos are now on Pieter's own website. Enjoy!

Visit the Pieter Vanderbeck Site

Jack Veasey's Poetry

A young poet named Jack Veasey was brought to my dooorstep in 1975 by poet Barbara A. Holland. Soon after, we published his first little poetry book, Handful of Hair. Jack left us in 2016, and here is the last book he gave us, and the world. A posthumous collection of sonnets is in the works. Now you can have the ebook for less than the price of a cup of coffee, and get enough mind-jolts to keep you awake for weeks. The cover art is the oldest-known image of a dancing male figure (the full painting is shown here, and I used the figure on the left.)

Purchase Veasey Ebook

Doctor Jones and Other Terrors

No poem cost me more to write than "Doctor Jones," a stark confrontation with a rural Pennsylvania horror: a demented country doctor who enjoyed cutting off the arms and legs of little boys. Was he real? Or only partially real? Or the imprint of unspeakable abuse? All I know is that writing it, hands shaking, was a trauma in itself, and a liberation. The second poem, "Torrance" explores, in narrative poem and in photographs, the Pennsylvania state hospital where ordinary mental patients were mixed with the criminally insane, an Arkham Asylum if ever there was one. It was a leap of imagination to place Doctor Jones on the staff of Torrance, where I made him "The Night Doctor." Meet Doctor Jones in ebook format.
Purchase Doctor Jones Ebook

August - The Silly Season, with Fascists Added

As August sets in, who wants to do any useful work? Here, "retired," it is all play (editing poetry books, creating music), but even so, I know that academic people and publishers to whom I have written and await word from, are likely at their beach or mountain houses, or traipsing through museums and sipping absinthe of an evening.
If the Republic were not in mortal peril, I could switch off and spend the "silly season" watching old movies and TV shows and drinking iced tea.
But I can't.
I don't know what's coming next, and if we don't watch out, people like me will find men in brown shirts cutting my internet cable and following me around. It will not be safe to walk past alleys.
I will have to resume plans to join the resistance, or to slip across the border, or find a commune somewhere in the deep woods.
I may have to re-learn how to build cannons.
I will have to know how many days I could live with the food in my pantry.
I will have to check in again with those people I know would hide me, and whom I would help if they were on the run and needed to establish a new identity.
I am far from the rising coastal waters, but not far from armies of Bible-waving fools.
"The silly season" is an old newspaper term to describe the nutcase stories that journalists used to use as fillers in August, when there was a shortage of hard news, and the thermometer seemed to provoke the crazies with conspiracy theories to come out from their basements. Higher temperatures also meant more crimes of passion. Plus a host of stories about people being eaten by sharks and alligators. Now the White House fills the Silly Season with endless headlines.
So, have your August fun, folks, but keep the computer on and pay attention.

Stalin and Shostakovich

What is it like to live in a country where the leader does not care for artists (except those that praise him) -- and where the leader can write your name on a piece of paper, and you will be killed? Composer Dimitri Shostakovich was just one of many who went through that hell, but he was one of the most famous Russians terorrized by Stalin. Here is the story, in a poem, from my book, Twilight of the Dictators:


It's three in the morning and snowing in Moscow.
The streets are dark--but here and there a light--
a solitary bulb throws out its beacon:
a yellow beam from Stalin's workroom,
steady when the Great Helmsman has an idea,
tilted downward as he studies his lists,
casting a shadow of his giant hand
as fountain pen
makes check marks next to offending names.

Tomorrow those names and their owners
will separate forever as People's Enemies
become "Former People."

The offices of Ministries are well lit, too--
memos to write, conspiracies to ferret out,
coffee to drain by the cup, by the gallon.
(If Comrade Stalin can work all night,
who dares to leave his tasks unfinished?)

At the Lubyanka Jail, one basement window
emits its light in slitted segments.
One could see--
if anyone dared to press his face there--
an arm with a truncheon--a mangled visage.
Dim slots of light--a doorway--come on and off.
Men in black coats are framed there.
Then slashing beams and feral tail lights
precede and follow the Black Marias.


The clock chimes four.
Another lamp is burning, too--
another hand makes nervous tick marks
as Shostakovich blocks out chords and melodies.
Even the vodka and cigarettes
are quite forgotten as the climax approaches.
Eyes blur with staves,
sharps dance like angry snowflakes.
He cannot concentrate.
Half his brain is listening.
Not to his inner Muses--
not tonight,
not any night this year--
listening for the Black Marias.
A car glides by--too slowly?
Someone is running at the end of the block--
why, at this hour?

An interval of silence--too long, too quiet.
A truck stops--how long until the doors swing wide
and heavy-footed steps
echo from the building fronts.

A street lamp winks out; across
the street a curtain parts,
a candle moves once
across a table--
is it nothing-- or a signal?

He cannot go to the window and look.
Watchers in raincoats
dislike being spied upon.
It's never wise to stand in a window, anyway:
rocks have been thrown
by zealous members of the Communist Youth
rocks with notes
What if one of them took a gun to a nearby rooftop--?
Open season on Formalist Anti-People Artists!

His hands make notes in jagged gesture.
Attaca subito-

Stalin condemned his last opera.
What will he think of this symphony --
its Mahleresque, giant orchestra,
its jarring, piled-on harmonies,
its bleak and withering quietudes?
Will this, too, be a "muddle instead of music?"
How can be help being himself? 

He writes not what he wants,
but what he has to.
He tries to be grand -- it comes out bombast.
Tries humor, only to ooze sarcasm.
He has no smile that convinces --
could a lobster smile
while dangling over the cooking pot?

He must put everything into this symphony.
It may be his last, anyway.
Ignoring the clock, he labors on.
This page: the whimper of the beaten.
There: the shriek of the victims' widows.
There: the whining voice of the apparatchik.
This horn sounds a denunciation.
This oboe betrays a friend for a dacha.
This violin divorces its partner,
disclosing her unacceptable class origins.
A clarinet warns of rootless cosmopolitans.
Let them guess what it's all about!
To hell with their need for uplift! 

Rub their faces in the ruin of Russia!
Let them try their dialectic on this one!

Stalin works on. He sees the name
of Shostakovich. A memo asks:
Arrest and interrogate?
"I like a tune," he says to himself,
"and now and then even a poem."
The chastised artists would come around.
They'd write their odes and symphonies
to Russia and Comrade Stalin.
They'd do it willingly.
They'd trample one another for the privilege.
No action at present, the dictator writes.

Done for the night, the weary composer
dons coat and shoes, tiptoes
out door to the unheated hall.
Suitcase beside him, he curls up there
between the elevator and the apartment door.
Tries to sleep, tries not to listen
to the spiderweb sounds of the dying night.
The suitcase is packed for a long journey--
a cold one.
Better to wait in the corridor, he thinks;
better not to wake his sleeping wife and son
if this is the night that makes his life
another unfinished symphony.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sunday Organ Madness

I just posted two new compositions on SoundCloud for your enjoyment. Curiously, the two pieces are based on the same score I created in Finale. The jaunty one is a fast Little Prelude in D major, which sounds a little like a Ragtime piece.

Then, perverse creature that I am, I took the same piece, slowed it down, shifted a few voices up an octave for clarity, added some staccato accents as needed, and, lo, a full-fledged Prelude in D Major for Organ emerged.

The Little Prelude in D Major for Piano: Listen to the Piano Prelude

The Organ Prelude in D Major:
Listen to the Organ Prelude

Friday, July 28, 2017

Rutherford's Gloomy Little Preludes

A work in progress, in that it is notated, but pedaling and dynamics are not really marked up yet. This was a Little Prelude from 1968 that I expanded into a brief Fantasy around 2003. Enjoy.
Listen to Prelude-Fantasy

And here is the Little Prelude in B-Flat Major, reposted in a louder MP3:
Listen to Prelude in B-Flat Major

And here is a gloomy Little Prelude in F Minor:
Listen to Little Prelude in F Minor

Finally, as evanescent as a firefly, the shortest and oldest of all my Preludes:
Listen to A Minor Prelude

The Piano Mystery

I am recovering my oldest piano music, entering it in Finale (a music notation program), and posting them on SoundCloud to share with friends. How I came to write this music is amusing, and surprising to me as much as to anyone else. I never learned to sight-read music, thanks to a spiteful second-grade teacher who refused to tell me what I had missed during a measles bout. Before my illness, we were happily singing in C Major. When I came back, everyone was singing in other keys with sharps and flats, and I was cast adrift. None of the itinerant music teachers I had in elementary school ever realized I was faking it, and that I could not read music.
My love for classical music began during the one term of high school I had in Connellsville, in the eighth grade. Miss Keller, who was not a certified music teacher, was a volunteer who loved music and who came to the schools to teach us. Music had bored me until them. She played the 1812 Overture on a record-player, and that was it. I was hooked. From there, to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, and on and on. When I started visiting Pittsburgh and had borrowing rights to classical LPs, the madness intensified. Yet I never played a musical instrument and had no access to one.
When I got to Edinboro State College, I found empty practice rooms, with pianos. One of them had a Knabe grand piano that I fell in love with. I found that one church never locked its doors, and that I could creep inside, turn on the pipe organ, and play (I limited myself to the quieter stops so that I would not disturb the neighbors or get arrested).
I sat down at a piano with Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, and Chopin's G Minor Ballade, two pieces I knew well enough to know what they should sound like. I knew where middle C was. I knew what sharps and flats were. I made up my own system of reading, using numbers for notes instead of letters, so that I could speedily analyze what I was looking at. I used + and b for sharps and flats.
Seeing that a run of arpeggios up the keyboard was 1 3 5 1 3 5 or 1+ 4+ 6+ 1+ 4+ 6+, or  5 1 3b 5 1 3b 5 1 3b made a lot more sense to me than C E G C E G or C# F# A# or G C Eb C G Eb.
So, without any knowledge of fingering and certainly little sense of rhythm, I muddle through the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata and the first page of the Chopin Ballade.
Then, mysteriously, my fingers began to find melodies, chords, moods. One thing followed another and I began to notate my improvisations. I enrolled in a Music Theory class and learned a lot in the first couple of weeks, but I had to drop it because I could not sight-read. I could play my own homework assignments, but I could not play something placed in front of me that I had not studied. So I just went my own way.
A year later, I played a full program of my piano music in front of a huge audience at an arts festival at Edinboro. Such is the arrogance of youth.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sarah Helen Whitman As Poet and Critic, Part 6 (Final)

Whitman As Literary Personality By the 1830s, Whitman had already settled into the eccentric style of dres...