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Poem

…don’t worry, I haven’t written one. I had to write a journal entry in my English class about my favorite book, short story or poem; an easy assignment because of all the ones I love, I immediately knew which one I wanted to write about.

My favorite poem is The Barrel-Organ by Alfred Noyes. I first came across this poem in an English Lit textbook I bought at a garage sale (I snap up any old literature textbook I come across). It was written in 1958 and it is long – 135 lines. Its length is why I can never convince anybody else to read it. A poem that long requires a certain amount of commitment, even to a poetry lover. The first few lines, though, reveal an irresistible rhythm that pulls you through the rest of it. It’s easily the most musical poem I’ve ever read; it has an unusual rhyme scheme and the tempo changes several times when the focus shifts.

There’s a barrel-organ carolling across a golden street

In the City as the sun sinks low;

And the music’s not immortal; but the world has made it sweet

And fulfilled it with the sunset glow;

And it pulses through the pleasures of the City and the pain

That surround the singing organ like a large eternal light;

And they’ve given it a glory and a part to play again

In the Symphony that rules the day and night.

The poem is set in London and describes the inner lives of people on the street within hearing distance f the organ. It speaks of the influence of music on humans. It illustrates the timelessness and necessity of music – how it shapes our actions and then sings of them after they’re done. It bears witness to all of humanity’s triumphs and follies. It cheers us, comforts us, rocks us to sleep and jolts us awake. The Barrel-Organ is glittering, gritty and beautiful, just like the city in which it is set.

This thing makes me so happy that if I had the brain space to devote to it, I’d spend my life trying to memorize it. I absolutely adore it.

Take the epic-poem challenge. Read the bitch. If you like poetry even a little, you won’t regret it. http://www.bartleby.com/103/117.html

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I

…am a lucky bitch.  

That is all 


Thanks, Nick

On November 25, 1974, a voice went silent.  Few noticed – it had always been such a quiet voice.

English singer-songwriter Nick Drake was 26 years old when he died from an overdose of antidepressants.  Whether he intended to commit suicide has never been determined; he was a fragile person, suffering from clinical depression and possibly associated disorders.  His use of marijuana is well-documented, and there is speculation that he may have turned to harder drugs as his world darkened.  Whether this is true and to what extent it may have contributed to his death will never be known.

Not much about Nick Drake is knowable, not to his growing legions of fans now, not to his family and friends during his lifetime.  His father once remarked, after getting a report from an obviously perplexed schoolmaster, “All the way through with Nick – no one knew him very much.”

Nick knew Nick, though, and his small body of work reveals insight into his own mental and emotional brokenness that is breathtakingly honest and deceptively simple.  His music is as fragile as his psyche, his voice breathy and ethereal.  His lyrics, accompanied by his exquisite guitar picking, explore themes of loneliness, lost opportunity, the passage of time.  The music stirs listeners to melancholy without pulling them into depression.  Nick’s gift was introspection without indulgence, anguish without angst, honest emotion without a whiff of “emo.”

Nick was beloved by those who knew him; a cherished son and brother and a loyal friend who embodied the descriptor used over and over by those closest to him:  kind.   He felt deeply – perhaps too deeply for this world – and he hated taking the medications that stripped those feelings from him.  He took them anyway, apparently reaching out for help from any available avenue.  A study in contradictions, he sought recognition but shied from publicity.  He sang gently evocative songs but could also wail an authentic blues.  He was a star athlete who turned sickly, a drug enthusiast with a distaste for his prescriptions, a child of privilege who favored shabby, ill-fitting clothes.   On the subject of obtaining his college degree, he told his father that a safety net was “the one thing [he didn’t] want,” yet he was ultimately, tragically unable to survive on his own.

Nick recorded three albums in his short career:  1969’s Five Leaves Left was followed by Bryter Layter in 1970, and in 1972 came Pink Moon, the stark, stripped-bare acoustic album considered by fans and critics alike to be his masterwork.  Those three albums were supplemented posthumously by bootleg recordings and compilations, but even so, the sum total of his life’s work hovers at around 100 songs.

One hundred songs, and each one a jewel.  One hundred little windows into a beautiful, bedeviled soul; one hundred attempts by Nick to connect with something larger than himself, to impart a message to someone, to anyone who might have been listening.  Unfortunately, few were listening in 1974.

Sometime after midnight on November 25, after wandering downstairs to have a snack, Nick took more of his medicine than he was supposed to, collapsed across his narrow bed and never arose.  His death was ruled a suicide, but this ruling has been disputed.  Gabrielle Drake, however, has said that she prefers to think her younger brother committed suicide, “in the sense that I’d rather he died because he wanted to end it than it to be the result of a tragic mistake. That would seem to me to be terrible….”

However you left us, Nick, thank you for the beauty you left behind, and I hope you’ve found peace.  The prophecy in “Fruit Tree” has come to pass.

Fruit tree, fruit tree, no one knows you but the rain and the air

Don’t you worry, they’ll stand and stare when you’re gone 


Politics

I get my politics from my mother.  This is a great revelation to me, as I wasn’t really aware I had politics until recently.  Thinking back on it, though, I think I know when the seeds were planted.  Jimmy Carter was in office, so I wasn’t even 10 years old (Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, the year I turned 11).  I turned on the TV and instead of the program I wanted to see, there was ol’ Jimmy, holding forth on some boring thing or other.  I was a smart-aleck youngster, so I popped off some uncharitable comment which brought an entirely unexpected reaction from my mother.  “You don’t talk about him that way!  He’s a good man.”  I remember this so clearly because it was shocking; my mother is very laid-back and she almost never speaks sharply.  I must have asked her why.  “He tries to help ordinary people,” she said.  It stuck with me.

In due time, Reagan took office.  My mother was unimpressed; she knew him as an actor, and his economic policies did not sit well with her Depression-raised sensibility.  I, in my teenaged-know-it-all stage, heartily agreed.  I was a nightowl then as now; I would sit up late watching the new cable TV with the volume turned low and soon developed a fondness for Tip O’Neill, the Speaker of the House in those days.  His Irish bluster and small tolerance for fools appealed to me, but my scatter-shot attention span prevented me from following the issues and ordinary teenage-girl concerns eventually took over.

Years passed, and I married.  He was a Republican.  This dismaying fact didn’t diminish his appeal; he talked to me about his political ideology, I talked to him about mine, and we decided that the way to ensure a peaceful household would be to never talk politics.  Since neither of us were terribly politically-minded, it worked out well.  My mother had told me though the years about how her parents would drive to the polls together and knowingly cancel each other’s votes, so I reckoned we were carrying on a family tradition.   He shook his head bemusedly when I pulled the lever for Bill Clinton, and I probably said something snarky when he voted for George W. Bush, but we carried on amicably.  At some point, we realized that his actual values were much more akin to mine than those of the party he associated with.  He now enjoys debating politics from a leftward viewpoint on social media, whereas I largely keep my politics to myself and vote my conscience.  This policy has served me well, though I grow increasingly distressed with each major election.  I still see the Democratic party as the party of Jimmy Carter, that good man who tried to help the ordinary people, and it saddens me to see those ordinary people voting against their own interests.


“Least said is easiest mended”

That’s my mother’s favorite expression, and I was raised on it, or at least her interpretation of it.  Never argue.  Never confront.  Never have an opinion, or at least, never express it.  Non-confrontation was her MO and she passed it on to me; I’ve spent years in self-rehab for it.  Confrontation isn’t pleasant, but it’s necessary.  You can go through life without ever confronting anyone, but the flip side of that, too often, is never standing up for yourself.  My mistake was believing that assertiveness is synonymous with aggression, but it turns out you can possess a backbone without devolving into an ass.  Luckily, they’re not the same body part.  🙂

I still try to live by Mom’s motto, but with my own interpretation.  Speak your piece simply, and resist the temptation of embellishing it.  Say what you need to say and be prepared to own it.  The owning is easier if you consider your words before you say them.  (More politicians should try it, but that’s another post for another day.)


So this is a blog

First one, huh?  I’ve been meaning to start a blog for years – tried a couple of times, but nothing stuck.  Maybe this will.  Writers gonna write.