An artist named Linnea Hadaway made a book earlier this year. It had no words in it. She said it had no words because it was about listening.
Today is International Women’s Day, an arbitrary thing like all special days, months and years. I can hear some grumbling off in the distance as some read this: “Another one of those special-interest things. I go to poetry and music to get away from that faddish nonsense.” There’s consistency in that opinion: if one is upset at “identity politics,” dividing the world in halves is just as deplorable as dividing it into tenths or smaller.
Are there dangers in division? There certainly are. But I don’t see these sorts of things as division, but as requesting attention—and attention is what art, and this Parlando Project is about. You see, life is incarcerated in the ultimate special interest group, the ultimate identity, political and otherwise: our own selves. Breaking the cellular barrier to spill our selves, or enticing us into opening a tiny pore to stare across at the skin holding another self inside another world, the still unexplored world we share, is the whole of art.
There is no apportionment so small as to be smaller than that. There is no way out but the way of art, to pay attention. Our ears cannot see, they can only listen.
No planning in this, but the next three audio pieces in our Top 10 count-down of the most liked and listened to pieces this past winter use words written by women.
Surrealist Leonora Carrington captures the Parlando Project recording another audio piece
7. We Grow Accustomed to the Dark
I think I’ve used more Emily Dickinson pieces for words here than any other writer. I didn’t plan it that way. I’m not sure that Dickinson planned it that way either. Obviously, she meant what she did, assiduously creating and collating the more than a thousand short and engagingly enigmatic poems that we now see as a cornerstone of American poetry.
But as a careerist she’s a mess. She showed some of her work to friends and family, but like most friends and family they probably saw them as artifacts of the ordinary Emily, that stubborn particular. Perhaps they understood or didn’t understand her poems better than we do; but we, her current readers, believe it’s the later.
She had a lucky break with Thomas Wentworth Higginson, the critic and social activist who answered her letter and saw something there. Even in the intellectual ferment of Transcendentalist New England, how many would have? The posthumous publication he shepherded, made possible the Dickinson we have today. But did he understand her art? We, as posterity, think otherwise.
So, like the woman in “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark” Dickinson pressed on, walking, almost straight, and like the bravest, aware that the comedy of striding face-first into a tree was possible.
I was there! What a concert! The music was good too.
6. A Certain Slant of Light
I didn’t think about this while writing the music for and performing “A Certain Slant of Light” and “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark,” but these two Emily Dickinson poems are companion pieces. The Dark poem is more clear, even comedic, the Light poem more mysterious.
In my original post I decided to not talk about what I think the poem means. In some ways, I think that’s true to the poem’s “Where the Meanings, are.” I had fun with the mock psychedelic rock poster I created to illustrate it, but I think the core experience of the poem is the same that some were seduced into having by ingesting drugs, the insight that the universe’s meaning may be unknowable and its substitute only available by fiat.
Cure the cod-sitar sounds, and stereotyped sparkle-eyed hippie whooshing “Oh, Wow!” Of course, we must laugh. This is an insight available even to the young that can apparently be induced by mere intoxication.
But it’s true. It may be easier to see the borders of truth if one comes upon it without chemical aids; but even true, it’s an insight that’s hard to integrate into an active life and compassion. Dickinson integrated it with these little packets of poems. “None may teach it,” she says, but I can let you see my experience of it.
5. In the Bleak Midwinter
And one slot higher in the countdown, a woman who isn’t Dickinson, but is roughly her contemporary, English poet Christina Rossetti. Her’s is a Christmas and Christian poem, faith is her fiat; and a shaped and received story is her poems plot.
As this post talks about division, opposites—and how, if one distrusts them, one must cross them, sometimes listening, rather than shouting at them to come down—“In the Bleak Midwinter” is all about divisions and opposites, and where they fail to hold.
In the moment of Rossetti’s beautiful song, even if earth is iron and water stone, heaven cannot contain God, nor can the earth sustain winter or meagre poverty.
I remember someone asking one of the earnest folk-singers of my generation (alas, I can’t remember who) if a song could change the world. Their reply was something like, “Of course not, but during the time the song is being sung the world is changed.” Perhaps an argument for longer songs, better memories, or us slowly learning how to integrate the experience of art into the rest of our lives.
I plan to return tomorrow with the next three in our Top 10 count-down of the most popular pieces over the past Winter.