Let’s launch the Parlando Project’s celebration of National Poetry Month with one more poem about march, about spring, and about joy. And oh, could I use some joy in this uncertain pandemic plagued spring! You too?
I’ve chosen to use this poem, “Written In March,” by British poet William Wordsworth today. National Poetry Month is a U.S. thing—but that’s OK, because I’m going to make him an American for the day by combining his original English rural scene with some American music: the blues.
Lots of folks will think of ways to celebrate poetry this April. The Parlando Project has been doing our odd part for several years now.
This is not so wild a thought as you might think. While Wordsworth is not the kind of early 20th century Modernist that I often feature here, a century before them he helped make a statement for plainer speaking and broader subject matter in his landmark Preface to the Lyrical Ballads in 1801. He famously stated there that poetry is simply “Emotion recollected in tranquility.” Among the things that he and his fellow English Romantic movement poets looked to for influences were folk music and ballads.
American blues was created by the uncrowned Afro-American Modernists of the early 20th century. Since there was very little authentically American “serious music” in 1900, and what there was they weren’t exactly welcomed in it, they created a Modernist form of their own device. We could call it a folk music, but then Louis Armstrong was fairly sure “All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.” Musically it used all kinds of things, some of it was from African nations their forebears had been abducted from, some of it was from native American soil, some of it was from other immigrants, some too may have been from indigenous Americans, and some of it had to have been the creation of their own minds, needs, and creativity. Musically it has many descendants, and its core is the greater part of what makes something musical distinctly recognized as American around the world.
That this form could be called “The Blues” was a problematic branding, because the term then and now can be confused with a long-existing synonym for sadness or depression. While there are sad and pitiful blues songs, the typical stance of a blues to trouble is to say that it’s wise to the situation, that even if the singer is beaten down by something, that they’re still here. And many Blues songs are also perfectly happy to be joyous, and that’s the mode I went for today.
So, I maintain that this is a reasonably natural combination. Wordsworth wants to tell us a rural tale of winter’s end arriving, of fields and livestock thriving, of an outdoors that welcomes us again with open arms. In this year’s troubled spring we may not have a full measure of spring’s blessings, but we are still given a portion. Let’s devour the portion we’re given all the more joyously even if the serving may be smaller this year.
I played acoustic slide guitar for this one, using a favorite guitar variety used by early American blues musicians: the resonator guitar invented by Slovakian immigrant John Dopyera. It’s essentially a big pie-plate-sized metal speaker cone driven by the strings of an otherwise more-or-less conventional guitar that houses it. The guitar is retuned to a non-standard tuning that many blues players called “Spanish” and some think may have been learned from Mexican laborers that crossed paths with the Afro-Americans in the southern U.S. I wear a ceramic tube on a finger of my fretting hand to stop the notes, and this sliding tube on top of the strings gives legato note transitions and microtones. Many players can use this slide guitar technique fluidly, giving the guitar a smooth legato note envelope as the only artifact of using the slide, but I also enjoy letting other possible artifacts stand out more, putting a mic near to the fretboard so I can hear the heavy slide strike against the strings or even slap the fretboard wood at times.
The player gadget to hear William Wordsworth’s “Written In August” played as a slide guitar blues is below. To read the full text of Wordsworth’s original poem, it’s here.
Join us over April’s National Poetry Month to see what else we can come up with to surprise you with. If you want to sample the range of different things we do immediately, our archives here have over 400 other examples of words (mostly poetry) combined with original music.
3 thoughts on “Wordsworth’s March”
I love this idea of overlayering traditions. And I know Brothers Water well: a beautiful peaceful little lake between Ullswater and the spectacular Kirkstone Pass. I’d love to hear your slide guitar blues version Frank, but I see no link in my Reader – is this a mistake at my end or yours?
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I just took a look at some pictures of Brothers Water and surrounding landscape in the “Lake District” which William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy hiked about and famously wrote from. Even now it seems to have a considerable ruralness to it, though I don’t know if it’s plowboys are still whooping in spring.
I suspect you’re reading the blog post on an Apple IOS device like an iPad or iPhone. For some reason, the WordPress reader there will not show the player gadget that shows up fine on other platforms. If you read the blog in the Safari app (or quite likely any other web browser such as Chrome etc) you’ll see the player to hear my musical performance. The URL is frankhudson.org for that.
Just the audio pieces are also available as a podcast too, which is handy for playing a playlist of them.
One of the most popular musical pieces here over the years is another rural England slide guitar piece (in a smoother, electric guitar, style that time) performing Edward Thomas’ “Adelstrop.” https://frankhudson.org/2017/06/09/adlestrop/
For others reading this. Chris has a blog discussing his relationship to poetry at https://woodbeepoet.com and his most recent post there is his honest attempt to come to grips with poetry race, racism, and art.
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Fewer plowboys and rather more tourists these days (of which I’m usually one of course!).
You’re right about my using an iPhone, I’ll have a look at your website for the working gadget.
Thanks for that, and for the plug!
Best wishes, Chris