We now come to the top half of our count-down of the most listened to and liked pieces during the past three months. But what if you’re new here, and you wonder what this Parlando Project does?
In short, we take various words, mostly poetry, combine them with original music, and perform them. My intent at the start was not to do this the same way each time, to vary our approach as much as we could. We’ve been doing this for a couple of years, and there are now over 220 Parlando Project pieces available here if you search through our archives. From time to time, as I look at what we’ve done, I seem to notice a “style” developing, and while I have no objection to that arising organically from my predilections and limitations as a musician, performer or composer, when I hear that I usually ask myself “What can I try that’s different?”
The poems are not always the famous ones, I like to mix in some “deep cuts,” but it just so happens that these three recently popular ones are all pretty well-known, but maybe we can bring something new to them?
In position number four we have Emily Dickinson’s “We Grow Accustomed to the Dark.” Last time I talked about how I’m finding that Modernist poetry in English moved from a recognizable natural landscape freshly observed in it’s early poems to a more interior landscape, another darker country where new dialects of language and syntax seemed the natural tongue of that region. It may well be that WWI, with its unstoppable socially-accepted murders, was a cause for this change. The rise of Freud contributed too. But more than half-a-century before WWI, and decades before Freud published, Emily Dickinson, spurred by American Transcendentalism and her own individual genius, was exploring some of those same places.
When Dickinson gets furthest inside her own head and tries to use her mutation of mid-19th century language to describe it there, she can be inscrutable; but when she’s half-way there like in this little masterpiece, she’s exploring poetic areas that won’t be visited again until the 20th Century.
This is another of the pieces where I think my music works particularly well. Perhaps you’ll agree. Player below:
Funny how these count-downs seem to form a sequence. From Dickinson’s dark we move to the third place piece, by that little-known poet William Shakespeare, with one of his sonnets about The Dark Lady, “My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun.” When we wasn’t supplying titles for late 20th Century Sting CDs, or writing a play here and there, Shakespeare wrote a collection of sonnets that are full of ideas woven of memorable phrases.
Emilia Lanier, musician, poet and possibly Shakespeare’s Dark Lady.
I’ve always loved the sonnet, even shared a few of mine here. It just seems the perfect length for a lyric poem, long enough to develop two or three ideas costumed as images, but not so long that one will find them frayed and soiled at the cuffs before it’s done.
Hear my performance of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130, “My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like the Sun” with the player gadget below.
And now we’re up to the second-most popular piece this past quarter, Marianne Moore’s “Poetry.” Shakespeare’s poem in slot number three declares his love by saying the things his beloved isn’t. Poet Moore’s poem about poetry starts off famously by saying she “too dislikes it,” and goes on to tell us what she feels works an doesn’t work as poetry, including the poem’s other famous line about poetry’s goal, to show “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” I think here again of those early Imagist poems, with their unromantic and ordinary things made into central images: T. E. Hulme’s red-faced farmer standing for the moon or Aldington’s poplar tree as a young woman or F. S. Flint finding the moon taking on the terror of a WWI Zeppelin raid. Toads all, ordinary nature, not the battalions of classical gods or the obligations of sentiment.
This piece’s popularity on Spotify continues steadily, as with “Sky” from earlier in the count-down, I wonder if it’s the short, somewhat generic title that brings in curious listeners there.
My initial idea of the Parlando Project did not have my voice as the only reader, and the first voice you hear in this version of “Poetry” is Dave Moore who’s been the voice in a number of pieces over the past two years. The other voices in this performance are two fine poets who’ve spent a lifetime raising toads to see what works in their gardens: Kevin FitzPatrick and Ethna McKiernan. Hear them read Marianne Moore’s “Poetry” with the gadget below.
That leaves us only the number one to count-down, the most popular piece this past spring. It’s not a well-known poem, and it’s not by a well-known poet. See you back here soon for that.