How Many Degrees Are You From King James?
I had to laugh when, as part of the prep for Monday's (trumpet flourish) MFA EXAM, I pecked out my rough poetic lineage. That's one of the questions we'll have to field - how do you fit in with your forebears and contemporaries? (Or, What would an anthology have to say about you?) And I came up with in chronological order
o The Bible
o Donneo Milton
o Williams (C.K.)
and seeing my name at the bottom of a list that began with the ever-loving BIBLE (the Psalms, I was thinking) made me just bust up. To ask a poet to fit themselves in a canon might be an inspiring question - but also it can inspire absurd mirth and hopefully after that humility.
So who's in YOUR poetic family tree?
The Decemberists, "Picaresque"
On their third full-length LP The Decemberists present eleven more tales of anguished love and precious woe; rendered visually, each track would be an 18th-Century woodcut. A brief roll of the narrators nasally given voice by frontman Colin Meloy: a royal toady who heralds the elephant-borne arrival of a young regent in “The Infanta”; a Nabokovian man of elegance who warbles to his love in a My Fair Lady-like tale of social ascension; a mourner for “Eli, The Barrow Boy,” whose toilsome lot in life comes straight out of Dickens. Meloy’s linguistic brashness remains unmatched: few lyricists would risk rhyming “parapets” and “coronets”, let alone “baroness” and “largess.” (Well, maybe Elvis Costello.) Which isn’t to say that Picaresque doesn’t open up the throttle; it’s a more driving affair than their standout Her Majesty. Several songs swing for the fences: “The Bagman’s Gambit” plays like a parody of the generic “quiet-LOUD-quiet” rock formula as it details an affair set against the skulduggery of international espionage; “The Mariner’s Revenge Song” spins a salty nine-minute yarn in an accordion-driven 2/2 beat which builds to a frenzy of guitar and fiddle. But what keeps these songs grounded is their impeccable if unpredictable use of instrumention and melody. Witness the stately chorus of “The Engine Driver” (“And if you don’t love me, let me go”) or the horn-based pseudo-ska of “The Sporting Life.” Tuneful and accessible, yet given to melodic invention, these melodies constantly swerve into surprising territory that doesn’t confuse but rather enriches each narrative. Best of all, Meloy and Co. have only improved at matching the music to the meaning; what might have been delievered with a coy wink instead sounds affecting and real. Only “16 Military Wives” falters—the album’s blatant call for attention from the MTV demographic—but it’s the sole exception in an otherwise profound milieu of cannon fire, corduroy, and angels. Like the best fairy tales, Picaresque imparts feeling from the unlikeliest, strangest places.
Fine recent products
o The Decemberists, Picaresque. Review coming soon. Dammit, J, stop playing "The Mariner's Revenge Song" I don't care how fast Petra Haden plays her violin!
o John Coltrane, Live at the Village Vanguard. Not recent but fine, especially fine, and so it makes the list.
o Washington Square Winter 2005. A spiffy cover and even better on the inside. A great poem called "While the Driver I Loved Spoke to God" by one Seth Abramson. Subscribe here. And here, a poem of his called "Red Line."
o Emails Kristin Taylor writes.
o Geek Squad's 512MB USB flash drive. Just in time to back up my files before the Exam.
o John Coltrane, Live at the Village Vanguard. As the album proceeds, the more spots it wins on this list.
Curse you, Will Shortz!
Today's New York Times crossword - a Tuesday, of which I have in the past made short work - is just rife with Stephen Sondheim musicals and songs from musicals. This fact has so far prevented me from finishing the puzzle, and that makes for a very poor birthday crossword indeed, Will Shortz.
Yes, it's my birthday, and it's gotten off well. I wrote a poem about bugs being analogs for air or the ether between everything - specifically, ants with wings. It's better than it sounds.
Liz proposes that I deliberately swear off work for the day. No notes, no editing poems. I wonder if to do so is within my power, but I'll try.
Poetry Daily connects with a winner
Check it out - a nice one. I esteem the Poetry Daily folks, although Poetry Dailier is shall we say a rising star.
I heart the Internet
Just saw this Adidas commercial by Spike Jonze on TV tonight and faster than you can say hypertext, the Internet provides. Let's hear it for Spike, eh? This version's audio sounds a little spotty compared to the TV spot; the melody here seems minor, but in the original I seem to remember it being major. There's a heavy Eternal Sunshine debt or homage here, from which Jonze is a mere one degree of separation (Charlie Kaufman), but there's not one thing wrong with that, I'd say. Anyway, no real analysis to offer at the present time - just admiration and a profound sense of received whimsy. And a question - this has what to do with shoes? Oh, I don't care.
!!!Earth shattering confession!!!
My name is actually Wil - Wilson is a nom de blogosphere. So if on blogroll or elsewhere you find cause or desire to refer to me, Wil Lobko is the designation you want.
Now to the Lyrical Ballads. There are a ton more pressing poetry matters I wish I could attend to first, not to mention certain brilliant pieces of advertising that need semiological analysis, but no. Lyrical Ballads first.