Let me start out by saying I think that today’s poem is a fine piece of writing capable of making its listener think anew. “The Wall Around Heaven” is satire. Satire has two dangers: that one will take its audaciousness as a literal program or doctrine, or that one will laugh simply at the outrageousness without thought. Satire often believes laughter can be the germ of thought even if you laugh before you know what that thought could be.
This project’s usual thing is to present poetry old enough to be freely reused, and then performing it with original music. If one was to note that the poetry wasn’t meant to be performed with music, or that there is a danger that our understanding of the poet’s intent is incomplete, I reply that’s part the point. We want to think anew about the works, some of which are revered poems, some of which are poems that are lesser-known or rated.
In this case we have the poet themselves performing the piece, longtime Parlando contributor Dave Moore. When I asked Dave if he wanted to add some background on “The Wall Around Heaven’s” intent, here’s what he wrote:
At this point I don’t even remember when Larry died. As you know he lived right around the corner from you, drove a cab, and identified as a folk poet. Not to mention, tho I’m sure you will, sharing a name with a musician. He also vocally retired from poetry, tho a lot I heard from him seemed spontaneous (I’m missing a word here). When I wrote this of course I was thinking about Trump’s cruel & ridiculous buzzpoint (missing another word, must be too early in the day for me).
Anyway I was thinking in Larry’s voice when I drafted the piece.”
Who’s that Larry Williams that Dave speaks of? Nope, not that guy. Our Larry was also someone who attended the Lake Street Writer’s Group along with Dave and myself, and the two poets who died this winter that we’ve been introducing you to: Ethna McKiernan and Kevin FitzPatrick. So, in that way, Dave’s poem inspired by our Larry Williams is of a piece with those matters, even if it uses different tactics than the poems by Ethna or Kevin.
I don’t want to say a lot about Dave’s “The Wall Around Heaven.” I think it’s best encountered as one listens to its satiric fable, its parable, without my commentary. I’ll add only this: this month I went the long way around to see the roadshow production of the folk opera Hadestown. Hadestown’s first act closes with what may be the most heard song from this opera, a rousing act-closer “Why We Build the Wall.” I think that song was written nearly 10 years ago, but by the time Hadestown evolved into its current staged version, the song was seen — as Dave also recalls about the genesis of his own piece — as commentary on a certain U.S. presidential campaign’s idée fixe: an impenetrable border-long wall on the country’s southern border.
The set for the production of the folk-opera Hadestown I saw last week.
To this listener “The Wall Around Heaven” is something much more than that. In some part it’s a satire on a long-time Christian theological question. But what if you’re not a Christian? Well, one doesn’t need to be an acolyte of classic Greek polytheism to enjoy Hadestown.* The Larry Williams I knew would often speak, poetically or otherwise, about social injustice and elite indifference. I suspect that the muses were whispering those shades into Dave’s ear as he wrote this — but the concept of a wall around paradise and the capricious human understanding of the rules to gain entry is broader and richer than even that.
This one is a bit longer than many pieces here, but it’s well worth a listen. The player gadget is below for many of you. Can’t gain entry to that? This highlighted link is the other way to hear it.
*Here’s my summary review of Hadestown: I enjoyed, appreciated, and was moved by it. Having heard a few of the songs by the original Broadway cast, and having a modest grasp of some of the mythological tales, I was still glad that I encountered it as a discrete story-telling experience whole for the first time. I discovered, as with Dave’s parable, Hadestown adds an undercurrent of social inequality to its mythopoetic story. External to Hadestown itself, the story’s impact was amplified by sitting next to someone just out of hospitalization for suicidal ideation during this performance. Orpheus in Hadestown makes a point that he entered the underworld of the dead “the long way.”
That’s the way I wish for you to get to heaven or hell — the long way.