Here we go with our quarterly run down of the most liked and listened to audio pieces over the past season. We’ll be counting up to the most listened to piece over the next few days as we approach winter solstice. Who’ll chart? The most famous poets with their best-loved words? The literary poets’ poets? The poems of the now largely forgotten figures I like to dig up sometimes?
10. “Seventeen Almost to Ohio,” words by Paul Blackburn arranged by me. Where does Paul Blackburn fit now? Probably in the poets’ poet bin, though he’s also verging on forgotten. He doesn’t seem to have benefited from connections to a poetic movement, though he had them in overplus. He’s sometimes associated with the Black Mountain School, though he himself says he wasn’t really. He visited Ezra Pound and shared Pound’s interest in imaginative translation and the old French Provencal poets, and he is there connected to the original English language Modernist movement. He was based in New York coincident with the New York School of poets though he’s never mentioned as one in any summary roundup I’ve read. The Beats touched edges with the New York School—and with Blackburn, and again there are similarities in their approaches. Perhaps the most significant connection is that Blackburn was a leading NYC-based encourager of spoken and recorded poetry, including being the original organizer of the St. Marks poetry readings, a spoken word radio host, and a recordist of many other poets reading.
“Seventeen Almost to Ohio” comes from an aside Blackburn made while recording Mina Loy in 1960, where he (apparently) spontaneously recalls an event from his own youth while asking Loy about hers at the dawn of Modernism. I lightly edited and arranged his anecdote and then composed the music.
Paul “Does Jeff Tweedy look like me when he looks in the mirror” Blackburn
9. “Fog”, words by Carl Sandburg. Early Modernists were fascinated by extreme compression and very short poems, and anthologists since then so often include Pound’s “A Station in the Metro,” Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow,” and this 21-word Sandburg poem. And because it so baldly displays its central metaphor of fog and cat, the poem is often used to introduce grade-school children to metaphor.
In writing about “Fog” this fall I wondered if there’s anything we’ve overlooked for over a century in this short poem, and came up with this question: Might it matter what kind of cat it is?
Marilyn: Carl, Carl, you simply must tell me what kind of cat it was!
Carl: In good time, my dear—but first I need to finish inspiring Sonny Bono’s Sixties look.
8. “The Temple of Summer,” words by Frank Hudson. Well, I’m almost as short-winded as the Sandburg of “Fog” in this 31-word Mellotron drenched goodbye to summer. Longtime readers here will already know of my devotion to the sound of this primitive attempt at a sampling instrument used memorably in many late 60s and 70s British Prog-Rock recordings. The real thing is finicky, bulky, and hard-to-find and maintain, but the Mellotron’s sampling of real instruments to strips of recording tapes, whose notes can then be played by a keyboard press, is an easy trick for the computer-hosted Virtual Instruments that the Mellotron inspired and I use.
Robert Fripp, on the right with King Crimson, declared after dealing with voltage issues on tour: “Tuning a Mellotron, doesn’t”
Want to nerd out on things Mellotron? This site looks very complete, and for the dabblers, they have just a listing of all the English Top 30 singles that used a Mellotron, which might refresh your memory on where you’ve heard that sound before.