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  #1  
Unread 05-15-2022, 12:21 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Default Unified Field

Continuum


I’ve just been listening to the endless rain
of notes that fall in Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier.
As it happens, it’s raining now, and all our trash
on the sidewalk is doubtless soaked. As I took out
the garbage bag, gnats rose from the coffee grounds
and other organic waste that made rich pickings
for their small appetites, and now they drift
across my field of vision, tiny particles
of consciousness that I will not snuff out.

It’s been a long day. Hay fever kept me up
much of the night and then work brought its usual
demands on time and energy. One client asked
whether to sever all contact with her brother –
not a decision I feel inclined to make.
Meanwhile, Bach slowly reduced my mind to peace.
I was captured in the beauty of this music,
which played as evening came on, and the sun slipped
toward the wet horizon, and daylight ebbed.


And the Bach: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPoMHwkV39I


Edits: title, Unified Field
S1L2, chords that constitute; counterpoint in
S2 LL7-8: in the version of Sviatoslav Richter. I cannot / find words

Last edited by John Isbell; 05-20-2022 at 09:31 AM.
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  #2  
Unread 05-15-2022, 03:44 PM
Roger Slater Roger Slater is offline
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In my opinion, a poem that says "I cannot find words to express..." simply sends me off in search of other poets who can. The poem as a whole seems to me one in which the poet is congratulating himself for his own sensitivity and discernment, rather than engaging with the music itself.

The strategy seems to be to share details that are dreary and routine and unmusical in the extreme, and then to state that, despite it all, Bach was able to work his inexpressible magic on our speaker in some inexpressible way. But for me, the dreary details take up much too much space. I didn't feel engaged hearing about the speaker's hay fever, wet trash, coffee grounds, organic waste, or clients, especially since the "cure" for all this dreariness seems to be unavailable to the reader given that the speaker "cannot find words to express" it.
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  #3  
Unread 05-15-2022, 06:23 PM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is online now
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Iíve been trying to figure out why I like this poem, because I do. Does it aspire to say anything profound about music or life? I'm not sure it does, except maybe that Bach and hay fever and wet trash are all part of the same unified field of existence. (Hah! Thatís me trying to be profound!) This poem is the voice of a friend on the telephone telling me how his day went. I like the naturalness and immediacy of that. If he rambles a bit or is preoccupied with the minutiae of his own life, friends are like that sometimes. Mine are.

I also learned something about meter from this poem. I meant to complain about some of the irregularities (especially S1L2), but I remembered being told as a kid to forget about meter and read poetry naturally as if it were ordinary speech. Iíve always resisted that advice, but once I stopped reciting iambic pentameter and just read the words, everything fell into place. Nice.
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  #4  
Unread 05-15-2022, 07:14 PM
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F.F. Teague F.F. Teague is offline
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Hi John,

Just a brief visit before bed here. I really like this poem and I'm just wondering whether it might have greater impact as a sonnet. You could start in the midst of the trash and maybe make it extra trashy before catching a snatch of the WTC on a radio and coming over all peaceful at the end. I'd be tempted to start with messed-up metre and tidy up for the sestet, as I did with the maggots and my mother, for example

Best wishes,
Fliss
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Unread 05-15-2022, 07:15 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Roger, hi Carl,

And thank you both for stopping by.

Roger: Sorry this poem doesn't work for you. I'm unclear though where you find the poet here congratulating himself on his own sensitivity. Could it be not killing the gnats? But that's a simple Buddhist precept, which I'm sure is not news to you. Could it be not telling the client whether to sever all contact with her brother? In that case, you're a bolder man than I. By the same token, if the poet had taken the trash out sooner, perhaps he wouldn't have the gnats. Perhaps this is a poem of self-laceration then? In any case, sure another poem might go on about the music instead of the poet's day, and you might well prefer to read that one. What I am interested in doing, since music is famously inexpressible in words, is instead to spend some time showing, not telling: showing how Bach transformed what might indeed appear to be a dreary, routine day into a thing of beauty. It's a reader-response poem if you like. Baudelaire talks often about this alchemy: Tu m'as donne ta boue et j'en ai fait de l'or, you gave me your mud and I made gold of it.

Carl: I'm glad you like this poem - thank you! I don't much like justifying my poems on the page, but if you'd like a sense of my objectives, such as they are, I've laid them out to Roger above. You neatly mention a chat on the phone as an analogy. I'll add then that when Bloom in Ulysses goes to the toilet, it's maybe the first time in Western literature since Pantagruel in Rabelais four centuries earlier. Literature involves choices, and choices by their nature involve a narrowing of reality. Poems about roses are not in short supply, but I am happy to have added one to the pile of poems about gnats and organic waste. I like to think I found beauty in them, and if so, that came about in two ways: via Bach, who is magnificent, of course, and via my meter. As you note, it's certainly not regular. But I'm glad you heard what I hear in it, a natural pacing of the breath. I hesitated about posting this in Metrical, but I believe a case can be made for IP here, and certainly that informs the poem's beat.

I guess that's about it. Thank you both for making me think. oh - on unified field theory, see here: https://www.britannica.com/science/unified-field-theory

Cheers,
John

Update: Fliss, we cross-posted. I'll really have to think about your sonnet suggestion, which I find quite thought-provoking. Give me a mo! I'm glad you like this too. Of course, in a sonnet, I'd have to rhyme it.... but a volta might be interesting as a way to describe this day.

Last edited by John Isbell; 05-15-2022 at 07:23 PM. Reason: link
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Unread 05-16-2022, 01:53 AM
Brian Allgar Brian Allgar is offline
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John, just a quick comment on the opening.

"I’ve just been listening to the endless rain
of chords that constitute Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier."

I have to say that "chords" is the last word that I would choose to describe this work, since half the pieces are fugues, which are not chordal but contrapuntal, and some of the preludes are also contrapuntal, while others (like the first prelude) are arpeggiated rather than chordal. I can't think offhand of an alternative apart from "notes" or "themes", but "chords" definitely jars with me.

I'm sorry to make so big a quibble for such a small point!
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Unread 05-16-2022, 02:25 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Not at all a small point, Brian - if it's not chords, I shouldn't say it is! Thinking about why I wrote chords, I'm listening to the opening, where the left hand plays sustained notes and the right lays out a melody. I'm not a musician, so I ask in ignorance: would it be wrong to describe that as a sequence of chords? Now in the second fugue, the right and left hands are interacting, as you say contrapuntally. Can we not call what they produce chords, much as a gospel chorus produces chords in their harmony vocals? And fugue three sounds chordal to me....

This especially interests me because I like the word chords there, for alliteration to begin with.

Cheers,
John
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Unread 05-16-2022, 03:56 AM
Carl Copeland Carl Copeland is online now
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John, good thing you didn’t post this in Non-Metrical for two reasons: 1) You might have been reprimanded; the Sphere Police are vigilant, and this poem is IP; 2) I might not have seen it.

Last edited by Carl Copeland; 05-16-2022 at 10:19 AM.
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  #9  
Unread 05-16-2022, 07:31 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Carl,

Welcome back! And thank you for confirming my gut feeling that this works as IP. I think you're right, Non-Met would have been an improper home for it. And I'm glad you had a chance to see it and comment!

Fliss, I am still thinking about the sonnet option. I like what I have, but I do see the appeal of a shift or volta midway. For now, I think i want to let that steep.

Cheers, thank you both,
John
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  #10  
Unread 05-16-2022, 09:24 AM
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Sarah-Jane Crowson Sarah-Jane Crowson is offline
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Hi John,

For me, this reads a bit like a prose poem, which isnít to say that I donít like your line breaks, more that it works as a vignette - a snapshot story based on a moment.

I like the analogy of the music to rain. Although I donít wholly agree with Roger, I do think thereís a reading of this where the poet is hero-ing themselves for being cultured (the appreciation of classical music, the appreciation of the specific version). Would we care beyond a workshop how the narrator felt? Would we care enough, without context, to draw us in? Or do we need a stronger opening? Or the cutting out of the 'version' so that the poem has slightly less of that 'I am a cultured narrator' tang to it. Or would that weaken it? I donít know.

Anyway, I find this reading balanced by the more mundane details of the hay fever/ gnats. Either way, I read it as being Ďaboutí the narrator and their sense of self, I think, more than it is about the music or their surroundings.

On a word/phrase level I love the Ďwet horizoní and the ebb of daylight, reflecting a kind of loose sea-scape thread (the rain, the rain). The end draws me in, whether or not itís a workshop environment, I think - as does the snatch of reflection about the client and their brother. Little stories hinted at.

Going back to form the prose-poemy-ness of this makes it feel form-less and quite meandering, in a way. This does work with the content, I think - but I wonder if itís worthwhile presenting this in various forms, with various word-level edits - variations on a theme. So, one could be a sonnet, one could be a long-linear freeform stream of consciousness, one couplets, one bringing out the alliteration.

And in each, weíd read (particularly if there were more than one version presented) a difference. A bit of a practice-as-research project. Many rainy days, all with repeated actions and thoughts, but all looking slightly different.

I strongly suspect that you wonít want to do this to your poem (poor poem) but crikey, itíd be interesting.

I wonder what itíd be like in third person, too.



Sarah-Jane
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