Music ‘n poetry

Just received my brochure for the Wired Writing Studio which starts with the Banff Centre residency October 2-14, 2006. A wonderful thing is Wired. Robert Hilles and Marilyn Dumont will be excellent poetry resources. Fred Stenson runs a comradely ship, with the hilariously droll technical support stylings of Chris Fisher. The food’s not bad either, and there are some great deals on concerts for participants: I began my lifetime of fandom to the Jaybirds early in my stay, and also attended a bone-shaking appearance by Steve Earle and the Dukes (I prefer him acoustic, thanks, but good to have had the experience). And the Calgary/Banff Wordfest happens during the studio time as well. Geez, what am I waiting for??

Among the many musical offerings we noticed in Austin, the best ones all seemed scheduled to begin after we left. The rodeo, the SXSW conference, everyone but AWP seems to schedule music. (Actually that’s not fair: there was a boogie night at AWP that we were simply too whacked to attend.) Playing in town after we left: Eliza Gilkyson, Ruthie Foster, The Gourds, Bela Fleck & the Flecktones, Lucinda Williams, Rhonda Vincent. It’s not fair it’s not it’s not. But I have to think, on the other hand, why do I know about these people? Because I have seen them play way up here, at the Vancouver Island Music Festival in Courtenay/Comox, and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. All that is except Bela and he comes up here from time to time, so I live in hope. And except Lucinda, because you have to have some event to look forward to.

So I spent yesterday meditating on oulipo. It sounds like about as much fun as you can have with poetry, but I need more than that, or do I mean less, to move me in a poem, and I wonder at the wisdom of narrowing the readership of the already microscopic readership of poetry for the sake of intellectual gymnastics. Old fartism I suppose, and there are doubtless many fine, coherent examples out there I wouldn’t guess were oulipean. Christian Bok certainly made headlines with Eunoia a couple of years ago, each section consisting of poems made of words that use only one vowel. Damned clever it may be, but it’s not for me, except in small doses. There’s no getting around the fact you have to compromise the sense of a line when you’re performing that scale of legerdemain. Anyway, I found a charming interview by John Ashbery with Harry Mathews, the only American oulipoean, which was worth the journey.

So the point of all this was that we had to invent our own form and write a poem in it for last night’s class. I decided, since I was in sonnet mode, to mess with that. I took the end-rhymed words from an existing sonnet (arbitrarily chosen; I used Richard Wilbur’s Praise in Summer) and used them as the first word of each line of a new poem. To escalate the challenge, I decided to invert the metre into predominantly trochaic pentameter (which makes sense since the chosen words were stressed syllables from the end of iambic pentameter lines) and to rhyme as best I could the first word of the line with the last, so that the poem still rhymes (murderous rhyme scheme too: ababbcbccdcdaa), but it does so at both ends of the line, which pleased my symmetrical soul. Some of the rhymes had to be feminine rather than masculine, and a lot of them are very loose, but I did what I could. And I thought I should mirror, to some extent, the meaning of the source poem, so mine is a rant about winter. It took me so long to write it ended up being an imperfect first draft and I’m waiting for workshop feedback next week before I carry on working it, but I enjoyed the challenge.

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