23 April 2017

for Shakespeare's birthday

For Shakespeare's birthday: read a sonnet, or maybe go write one. This is one of my favorites. Since I have spent most of this month recovering from my second bout of flu this year, I don't have the time and energy to write an analysis, but I think it's pretty straightforward (insofar as these things can be straightforward; I guess I mean it's easy enough to get the gist of it). What's amazing is how clear and true the sentiments are, centuries after they were written.

Sonnet 29

When, in disgrace with Fortune and men's eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate,
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possessed,
Desiring this man's art, and that man's scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate;
For thy sweet love rememb'red such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

William Shakespeare

22 April 2017

20 April 2017

19 April 2017

18 April 2017

Haiku 2017/108

light wind through the leaves
shadows jump, shifting, dancing,
then resume stillness

17 April 2017

16 April 2017

15 April 2017

Haiku 2017/105

sun following rain:
the hills turn green and then glow
with golden poppies

13 April 2017

12 April 2017

11 April 2017

Haiku 2017/101

the gathering clouds
a skyward burst of black birds
a quick sweep of rain

10 April 2017

09 April 2017

08 April 2017

Haiku 2017/98

lying half awake
listening to the winds blow
restless through the night

06 April 2017

Haiku 2017/96

such foreboding skies,
such gloomy clouds, such darkness,
such a bright flower!

05 April 2017

04 April 2017

Haiku 2017/94

the sun is too bright
the sidewalk glares up at me
the leaves are too green

03 April 2017

Haiku 2017/93

I hear the waters
murmur, gurgle, glide, and splash . . .
what do the fish hear?

02 April 2017

01 April 2017

Haiku 2017/91

in the early hours
halfway in the land of dreams
a cry in the dark

a poem for #WhanthatAprilleDay17

The first day of April is Whan That Aprille Day, a day celebrating "alle langages that are yclept ‘old,’ or ‘middel,’ or ‘auncient,’ or ‘archaic,’ or, alas, even ‘dead’" in the words of the day's founder, Geoffrey Chaucer Himself. Ignore all other holidays alleged to take place on this day. You may find the 2014 poem here, which has some internal linkage to other Middle English posts; check here for 2015, and here for 2016. I've posted Middle English poems a few other times; you can click the poesy label and read through all the poems, and honestly there are worse ways you could be spending your time.

In a further tradition, the Google machine is apparently unable to cope with the sophisticated typesetting I had in mind, in which the lines of the original Middle English, set in green and roman, are interleaved with a crib, set in black and italic. Only the color thing didn't quite work out and my attempts to fix it disappear no matter how many times I save, so: apologies for the confusion, but the lines in italic are my version of the lines above in roman. If any scholar wishes to dispute my interpretation, I will accept the rebuke gratefully and gracefully, as a true student should.

When the nightegale singes,
When the nightingale sings,
The wodes waxen grene:
The woods grow green:
Lef and grass and blosme springes
Leaf and grass and blossom spring
In Averil, I wene,
In April, as I expect,
And love is to min herte gon
And love goes to my heart
With one spere so kene:
With a sharp spear:
Night and day my blod it drinkes;
Night and day it drinks my blood;
Min herte deth me tene.
My heart grieves me so.

Ich have loved all this yer
I have loved all this year
That I may love namore;
So much that I can't love any more;
Ich have siked mony sik,
I have sighed many sighs,
Lemmon, for thin ore.
Sweetheart [leman], for your favors.
Me nis love never the ner,
But love has not come any nearer,
And that me reweth sore.
Which grieves me sorely.
Swete lemmon, thench on me:
Sweet sweetheart, think on me:
Ich have loved thee yore.
I have loved you for so long.

Swete lemmon, I preye thee
Sweet lover, I beg you
Of love one speche.
For one word of love.
Whil I live in world so wide
While I live in this big old world
Other nulle I seche.
I will seek no other but you.
With thy love, my swete leof,
With your love, my sweetest love,
My bliss thou mightest eche:
You would increase my happiness:
A swete cos of thy mouth
A sweet kiss from your mouth
Mighte be my leche.
Would be my doctor [leech, meaning doctor, as applying leeches was a frequent medical maneuver]

Swete lemmon, I preye thee
My beloved, I beg you
Of a love-bene;
For this lover's boon:
If thou me lovest, as men says,
If you love me, as men say,
Lemmon, as I wene,
Darling, then I expect,
And if it thy wille be,
And if you desire it,
Thou loke that it be sene.
That you shall see that it happens.
So muchel I thenke upon thee
I think about you so much
That all I waxe grene.
That my whole self grows green.

Bitwene Lincolne and Lindeseye,
Between Lincoln and Lindsey,
Norhamptoun and Lounde,
Northhampton and Lound,
Ne wot I non so fair a may
I do not know of so fair a maiden
As I go fore ibounde.
As the one I am bound to.
Swete lemmon, I preye thee
Sweet sweetheart, I beg you
Thou lovie me a stounde.
To love me, at least for a moment.
     I wole mone my song
     I will moan my song
     On wham that it is on ilong.
     To the one who inspired it.

Anonymous, Harley 2253

The speaker goes right from the lovely springtime renewal of the natural world into his (or her; I don't want to rule out that possibility) world of love-pain, though he (or she – from here on I'll stick with the masculine adjective but feel free to supply any other one you want) cleverly brings the waxe grene back in the end, this time in reference to his whole self: does this mean that thinking about love renews him? or that it makes him jealous (was green already the color of envy at this time?)? or sick, with the greenish tinge of anemia, hence the term green-sickness? I am utterly charmed by the declaration that the beloved is the fairest maiden between Lincoln and Lindsey, Northhampton and Lound – so much more discreet, sensible, and provable than proclamations about your beloved being peerless in the world.

This poem is from the Harley Lyrics, a manuscript now in the British Library and dating from the middle of the fourteenth century containing poems in Middle English, Middle French, and Latin. You may read more about it here, and you may see some pages of the manuscript here.

The Middle English text is taken from Middle English Lyrics: A Norton Anthology, selected and edited by Maxwell S. Luria and Richard L. Hoffman.

31 March 2017

30 March 2017

29 March 2017

Haiku 2017/88

Those branches were bare.
When did they turn green again?
When did I grow old?

fun stuff I may or may not get to: April 2017

Once again I have to start one of these with a warning about BART: they are planning partial shutdowns over several weekends from April to July, as they need to rebuild the tracks between Fruitvale and Lake Merritt. The Lake Merritt station will be closed on those weekends. A free bus bridge will carry riders between the affected stations. The buses may add up to 40 minutes to your trip, so if you rely on BART keep that in mind when buying expensive tickets or planning an outing (and even if you don't use BART, of course this will affect Bay Area traffic in general).

And once again, in typical BART style, they have underpublicized what they're doing: I was at a station and happened to hear an announcement on their squawky speakers about the upcoming closure, but it wasn't until I checked their site later that I realized that weekend was just the first in a series.

Yes, I know they need to rebuild the tracks. I also know that they should have been doing maintenance all along. I know . . . well, I'll just stop here. After one more thing! Maybe the most frustrating thing to me about BART is not the high price or the poor quality of service, the filthy stations and the long waits for short trains, but that every anti-government-agency, anti-union slur you've ever heard – that they're inefficient, inept, unconcerned with the public benefit and only interested in their fat pensions – is true in the case of BART. That's a humbling thing for a stalwart leftist to admit to himself.

Currently, the closure is scheduled to take place 8 - 9 and 29 - 30 April, but experience has shown that BART may change these dates semi-arbitrarily and with little publicity, so check here for any updates they've snuck in.

Theatrical
San Francisco Playhouse presents Michael Frayn's beloved backstage farce Noises Off, directed by Susi Damilano, from 21 March to 13 May.

Custom Made Theatre presents Wendy McLeod's House of Yes from 30 March to 29 April.

The African-American Shakespeare Company presents August Wilson's Jitney, directed by and starring L. Peter Callender, from 1 to 16 April at the Marines' Memorial Theater.

42nd Street Moon has two shows coming to the Eureka Theater: New Girl in Town, with music and lyrics by Bob Merrill and book by George Abbot based on Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, directed by Daren A. C. Carollo with music direction by Dave Dobrusky, from 29 March to 16 April, and No, No, Nanette, lyrics by Irving Caesar and Otto Harbach with music by Vincent Youmans and book by Otto Harbach and Frank Mandel (revival book by Burt Shevelove), directed by Cindy Goldfield with music direction by Dave Dobrusky, and that's from 26 April to 14 May.

ACT has two shows coming to the Geary Theater: Needles and Opium, an exploration of Miles Davis in Europe and Jean Cocteau in New York, written and directed by Robert Lepage and produced by Ex Machina, running from 30 March to 23 April, and Battlefield, based on the Mahabharata and the play adapted from the epic by Jean-Claude Carrière, further adapted and also directed by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne, running from 26 April to 21 May.

Cutting Ball Theater presents Racine's Phèdre, translated by Rob Melrose and directed by Ariel Craft, from 20 April to 21 May.

Operatic
Cal Performances and Philharmonia Baroque team up to present Le temple de la Gloire, with music by Rameau to a libretto by Voltaire; these are the first productions of the first version of the score (recently rediscovered in the UC Berkeley libraries) since its premiere at Versailles in 1745. Performances will take place at Zellerbach Hall, which is not exactly Versailles or even Versailles-like but will have to do, on 28 - 30 April (the 30th is a matinee).

There are a couple of operatic double bills at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music: you can hear Puccini's Suor Angelica and Massenet's Le Portrait de Manon on 7 and 9 (matinee) April; later in the month (28 and 30 (matinee) April) you can hear Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Stravinsky's Mavra.

Opera Theater Unlimited is putting on a 48-hour Opera Festival, in which new short (ten to fifteen minute) operas will be put together in, you know, 48 hours. That will take place 28 - 30 April in San Francisco and there will be a public performance at the end. Sounds as if it could be a wild ride. Find out more here.

Orchestral
The San Francisco Symphony is mostly out this month touring the east coast, though they have cancelled their scheduled North Carolina appearances as a result of that state's idiotic new law regarding transgender people using public bathrooms, because that is apparently a very urgent issue, well worth public time and money. Seriously, how exactly are they planning to enforce such a law? Do they really expect people to have birth certificates to hand? Is this really what legislators need to be spending their time on, in a country so far behind comparably wealthy nations when it comes to health insurance, public transportation, supporting public education (not to mention the arts) . . . . Honestly, if your political / religious program consists of targeting people who already have been handed a rough deal by life and figuring out ways to make their lives even rougher, you need to sit down and examine whatever shriveled bit of soul you have left and then go change your life. This is all by way of mentioning a new addition to the Symphony's schedule: Symphony Pride, celebrating "the Bay Area's spirit of inclusion and diversity with a focus on the voices of the LGBTQ community" and including works by such great artists as Lou Harrison, Henry Cowell, Meredith Monk, and John Cage. Michael Tilson Thomas conducts and is joined as co-host by the always wonderful Audra McDonald. The concert will be 4 April and proceeds will benefit social service organizations providing support to LGBTQ people in the Bay Area.

Also at Davies Hall this month: Fabio Luisi leads the Danish National Orchestra in two programs: on 2 April you can hear Nielsen's Helios Overture, the Beethoven 3 (Eroica), and Wagner's Wesendonck Lieder with soprano Deborah Voigt as the soloist; and on 3 April, you can hear the Beethoven Violin Concerto with soloist Arabella Steinbacher, along with Richard Strauss's Don Juan and the Nielsen 6 (Sinfonia semplice).

The San Francisco Symphony returns to close out the month with the fabulous pianist Igor Levit in the Schumann concerto, conducted by Fabio Luisi; this program also includes Richard Strauss's Aus Italien and you can hear all that 27 - 29 April.

The Department of Music at UC-Berkeley presents the Fauré Requiem, Berlioz's Grande Symphonie Funèbre et Triomphale, along with pieces by Charpentier and de Lalande, performed by the University Chorus and Symphony and the Contra Costa Wind Symphony, on 7 April in Hertz Hall.

Vocalists
The next two Schwabacher Debut Recitals take place this month at the Taube Atrium: on 2 April baritone Sol Jin and pianist Kirill Kuzmin will perform Poulenc, Tosti, and Beethoven, and on 9 April mezzo-soprano Renée Rapier, bass Anthony Reed, and pianist John Churchwell will perform an all-American program including Rorem, Pasatieri, Bolcom, Thomson, Gershwin, Argento, Coleman, Porter, Sondheim, and others.

See also Deborah Voigt's appearance at Davies Hall with the Danish National Orchestra, listed above in Orchestral.

Piano / Violin (& Other Strings)
San Francisco Performances presents pianist Wei Luo performing Shostakovich, Beethoven, Albéniz, and Prokofiev on 2 April at Herbst Theater.

San Francisco Performances presents violinist Alina Ibragimova and pianist Cédric Tiberghien in a program of works by Bach, Berg, Brahms, Ysaÿe, and Schumann on 3 April at Herbst Theater.

San Francisco Performances presents guitarist Xuefei Yang on 8 April at Herbst Theater. The program has not yet been announced.

San Francisco Performances presents trumpeter Håkan Hardenberger and pianist Roland Pöntinen performing works by Antheil, Stenhammar, Gershwin, Newman, Thomson, and others, on 11 April at Herbst Theater. UPDATE: It was announced on 5 April that Hardenberger had to cancel this performance due to family reasons. If you already have tickets, contact SF Performances to arrange exchanging, donating, or receiving a refund for your ticket.

Cal Performances presents pianist Saleem Ashkar playing an all-Beethoven program on 21 April at Hertz Hall.

San Francisco Performances presents Leif Ove Andsnes and Marc-André Hamelin in a joint recital of music for four hands and two pianos by Mozart, Stravinsky, and Debussy; that's 25 April at Herbst Theater.

Also on 25 April is Murray Perahia playing a solo recital (though it's presented by the San Francisco Symphony) of Bach, Schubert, Mozart, and Beethoven at Davies Hall.

San Francisco Performances presents cellist Steven Isserlis and pianist Connie Shih performing Debussy, Chopin, Hahn, Fauré, and Adès in Herbst Theater on 27 April.

Cal Performances presents Yo-Yo Ma on cello, Edgar Meyer on double-bass, and Chris Thile on mandolin up at the Greek Theater on 30 April. We are warned that umbrellas are not allowed in this (outdoor) venue so substitute other rain gear if necessary – and if they're worried about heavy rain in late April, I guess the drought is now officially over.

Chamber Music
Old First Concerts presents the Friction Quartet, joined by violist Jodi Levitz and cellist Jennifer Culp, on 2 April in a program featuring Brahms, John Halle, and Schoenberg's glorious Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night).

Cal Performances presents the Takács Quartet in the final two concerts of their survey of the complete Beethoven string quartets; that's 8 - 9 April in Hertz Hall.

San Francisco Performances presents the Calder Quartet in an all-Adès program in Herbst Theater on 12 April.

Choral Music
Cal Performances presents Cappella SF, led by Ragnar Bohlin, in a program featuring Bach, Sven-David Sandström, Ola Gjeilo, Z. Randall Stroope, Arvo Pärt, and Frank Martin, on 22 April in Hertz Hall.

Robert Geary leads the San Francisco Choral Society in three Magnificats by three Bachs: JS, CPE, and JC; you can compare and contrast at Calvary Presbyterian in San Francisco on 29 April.

SF Jazz presents the women's chorus Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares in Grace Cathedral on 26 April.

Early / Baroque Music
Jeffrey Thomas leads the American Bach Soloists in Bach's Motets for Double Chorus; that's 31 March at St Stephen's in Belvedere, 1 April at First Presbyterian in Berkeley, 2 April at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco, and 3 April at the Davis Community Church in Davis.

Cal Performances presents the Tallis Scholars in works by Praetorius, Gibbons, Pärt, Sheppard, Tavener, Stravinsky, Palestrina, Holst, and others – yes, they are including post-Renaissance music this time – in Zellerbach Hall on 6 April.

San Francisco Performances presents Beatrice Rana playing the Goldberg Variations on 7 April at Herbst Theater.

Paul Flight leads the California Bach Society in an all-Charpentier concert, featuring the Litanie de la Vierge and the Missa Assumpta est Maria; you can hear them on 21 April at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco, 22 April at All Saints' Episcopal in Palo Alto, and 23 April at St Mark's Episcopal in Berkeley.

Modern / New Music
San Francisco Contemporary Music Players host a centenary celebration of Lou Harrison on 21 - 22 April at Z Space in San Francisco, where they will perform work by Harrison as well as some current composers; you can buy a pass and go to everything or tickets to individual concerts (see the whole schedule here).

Cinematic
The San Francisco International Film Festival runs from 5 to 19 April. Here are some things that jump out at me: the Kronos Quartet will perform Jacob Garchik's score for a new film by the great Guy Maddin, The Green Fog – A San Francisco Fantasia, and that's 16 April at the Castro Theater, on the closing night of the Festival. A few days earlier (13 April) you can catch that wild ride from the early days of Soviet cinema, Dziga Vertov's The Man with a Movie Camera, with live music by DeVotchKa. The Festival has a calendar on their site, but you have to click it day by day to find out what's playing, and frankly that's just too annoying. I was very glad to see Alex Ross complain recently about something I've also complained about, which is the gradual disappearance of helpful calendars from websites in favor of "smart"phone-friendly lists that go day by day. I fear this is another case of arts groups trying to do what they think is trendy, only to be mostly annoying (pop-ups! secret locations! general seating with drinks!) – I know that that's how many people think they want to live their lives, but that's not how we actually have to live our lives.

Jazz
SF Jazz presents Max Raabe & Palast Orchester on 6 April in Davies Hall.

Cal Performances presents Bill Charlap and singer Ann Hampton Callaway in a program called Jazz & Sondheim Side by Side, which pretty much sums it up, and you can hear the results on 13 April in Zellerbach Hall.

SF Jazz presents the Wayne Shorter Quartet from 27 to 30 April.

Dance
San Francisco Performances presents the Paul Taylor Dance Company in three different programs from 26 to 30 April at the Yerba Buena Center.

The San Francisco Ballet presents the final three programs of its season: Swan Lake, with choreography by Helgi Tomasson (with the Black Swan Pas de Deux and Act 2 by Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa) and music by, of course, Tchaikovsky, from 31 March to 12 April; Cinderella, with choreography by Christopher Wheeldon to Prokofiev's score, from 27 April to 7 May; and a mixed program featuring three works made for the company: Trio, with choreography by Helgi Tomasson to music by Tchaikovsky; the world premiere of Ghost in the Machine, choreography by Myles Thatcher to Michael Nyman's score; and Within the Golden Hour, choreography by Christopher Wheeldon to music by Ezio Bosso and Vivaldi, and that's from 5 to 18 April.

20 March 2017

Haiku 2017/79

I forgot the moon
until I glanced skyward, but
the moon did not care

Derek Walcott, 1930 - 2017

Derek Walcott died last week at the age of 87. Here is one of his poems:

Sea Canes

Half my friends are dead.
I will make you new ones, said earth.
No, give me them back, as they were, instead,
with faults and all, I cried.

Tonight I can snatch their talk
from the faint surf's drone
through the canes, but I cannot walk

on the moonlit leaves of ocean
down that white road alone,
or float with the dreaming motion

of owls leaving earth's load.
O earth, the number of friends you keep
exceeds those left to be loved.

The sea canes by the cliff flash green and silver;
they were the seraph lances of my faith,
but out of what is lost grows something stronger

that has the rational radiance of stone,
enduring moonlight, further than despair,
strong as the wind, that through dividing canes
brings those we love before us, as they were,
with faults and all, not nobler, just there.

Derek Walcott

from Collected Poems 1948 - 1984

a week (or so) of apricot blossoms: 2


19 March 2017

a week (or so) of apricot blossoms: 1


Last Saturday I took some photographs of the apricot tree in bloom in my backyard. The blossoms are already all gone, replaced by a haze of soft green leaves. I will post the blossom photos daily until there aren't any more (so that's a week or so).

Haiku 2017/78

smiling like a friend
from a spot we both know well:
the face of evil

18 March 2017

17 March 2017

Haiku 2017/76

waiting for the sun
to sink so that I can see
light from subtler stars

Friday photo 2017/11


from the San Leandro BART station, February 2017

(Truth Is Beauty, sculpture by Marco Cochrane)

16 March 2017

15 March 2017

14 March 2017

13 March 2017

Haiku 2017/72

down this crowded street
falling night will clear a path
for the lonely moon

12 March 2017

Haiku 2017/71

that distant birdcall
needs landscapes of lonely pines,
not this cityscape

11 March 2017

10 March 2017

Haiku 2017/69

while I was sleeping
the apricot trees blossomed
into spring's light snow

Friday photo 2017/10


oh what a beautiful day: sidewalk outside of the Aurora Theater, Berkeley California, February 2017

09 March 2017

Haiku 2017/68

see the moon shining
silver through the new spring leaves –
it's just so classic

08 March 2017

Haiku 2017/67

on a day like this –
so crisp, so cool, so refreshed –
we should be other

07 March 2017

06 March 2017

05 March 2017

Haiku 2017/64

stripped by the strong winds
the green spring growth lay fallen
with last year's dead leaves

04 March 2017

03 March 2017

02 March 2017

01 March 2017

28 February 2017

Haiku 2017/59

such intense music
from birds hidden by branches . . .
the trees are singing

27 February 2017

Haiku 2017/58

the garden I planned
has slowly been supplanted
by these unplanned plants

26 February 2017

fun stuff I may or may not get to: March 2017

I'm sure I've complained before about the tendency of some major arts groups to segregate their more adventurous offerings into separate programs held in special tiny and difficult venues at inconvenient times, thereby allowing these groups to fill their main stage with the same exhausted nineteenth-century warhorses they trot out each year, so here's a related complaint: the increasing number of these offbeat performances from major arts groups that are open seating, even in venues where it's easy enough to sell assigned seats. I'm sure there is some annoying little "theory" behind this trend, like generating "buzz" or something equally vague, but even movie theaters, traditional home of general admission, are starting to sell reserved seats (presented as part of a more luxurious and convenient experience, to lure people away from their home theaters) so it's extra-depressing to see the fine arts once again loping after an indifferent culture in last decade's direction. Presenters! You're selling something valuable: show some respect for your artists and your audience. I don't want to waste my time milling around a lobby so that when the doors open (which is always later than they're supposed to) I can bolt Oklahoma-land-rush-style to my preferred seat. Selling general admission tickets doesn't even make sense from the theater's box-office and financial planning point of view: if my seat is determined not by when I buy my ticket but by where I'm positioned near the doors on the day of performance, then why should I buy my ticket in advance? And it's one thing if you're paying $30 for a show in a blackbox theater in the Tenderloin (but even those theaters will reserve seats for subscribers and donors as an easy way to encourage people to subscribe or donate) but it's especially appalling when groups charge premium prices (looking at you, SF Opera Center) and then make us scramble for seats once they've grabbed our cash. I've been in some of these scrums and believe me, they are not pretty. Could presenters please stop being lazy and could we just roll back on the general admissions?

Theatrical
The New Conservatory Theatre Center presents the world premiere of Leaving the Blues, about Alberta Hunter, written by Jewelle Gomez and directed by Arturo Catricala; that's 3 March to 2 April.

Crowded Fire presents the Bay Area premiere of You for Me for You by Mia Chung, directed by M. Graham Smith, from 9 March to 1 April at the Potrero Stage (which used to be known as Thick House Theater).

The Aurora Theater presents Leni, about the Nazi film-maker, written by Sarah Greenman and directed by Jon Tracy, from 10 March to 23 April. The play is presented at their smaller upstairs space, not their main stage.

Shotgun Players opens its season with Nora, described as "a stage version of Ibsen's A Doll's House" – I'm not sure what the phrasing there means, as I thought A Doll's House was already the stage version of Ibsen's A Doll's House – written by Ingmar Bergman, translated and adapted by Frederick J. Marker and Lise-Lone Marker, and directed by Beth Wilmurt. The show runs from 16 March to 16 April at the Ashby Stage.

Cal Performances presents Britain's Filter Theater in Shakespeare's Twelfth Night, directed by Sean Holmes, from 22 to 26 March in Zellerbach Playhouse.

Early / Baroque Music
Philharmonia Baroque presents music and arias by Handel, Hasse, Zelenka, Arne, CPE Bach, and Gluck, featuring countertenor Iestyn Davies, with guest conductor Jonathan Cohen leading the band; Davies has a really wonderful sound (I heard him in a Cal Performances recital a few years ago) so I'm glad to see him back in this area. Performances are 1 March at Bing Concert Hall at Stanford, 3 March at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, 4 March at First Presbyterian in Berkeley, and 5 March at the Lafayette-Orinda Presbyterian Church in Lafayette.

The San Francisco Early Music Society presents Voices of Music in a program featuring Pergolesi's famous Stabat Mater along with works by Scarlatti and Vivaldi; that's 17 March at All Saints Episcopal in Palo Alto, 18 March at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco, and 19 March at St Mary Magdalen in Berkeley.

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music presents Handel's Atalanta on 11 March and 12 March (matinee). Both performances are free.

Ars Minerva presents company director mezzo-soprano Céline Ricci and harpsichordist Derek Tam in a salon evening of arias written for the sorceresses Armida, Medea, and Circe by Lully, Clérambault, Charpentier, Handel, and Pietro-Antonio Ziani, whose La Circe is being revived (an eagerly awaited Modern World premiere) by the group this coming September. That's 26 March at the Hotel Rex.

Cal Performances presents the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin playing Telemann, Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, and Rebel on 11 March at Hertz Hall.

Modern / Contemporary Music
The Hot Air Music Festival takes place at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on 5 March, with programs starting at 11:00 AM1:30 PM3:30 PM, and 7:00 PM.

There's a new group in town, Bard Music West, presumably related to the annual festival at Bard College in the Hudson Valley of New York, which focuses on single composers and their cultural milieux. Anyway they are presenting a two-day series built around György Ligeti and his world. That's 17 - 18 March in the Noe Valley Ministry (1021 Sanchez Street at 23rd) in San Francisco.

The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble presents Brahms through the Looking Glass, a program in which the great Johannes's Piano Trio in B Major Op. 8 inspires new works by Jennifer Jolley, Kenneth Lim, and Sam Nichols; you can hear the results on 18 March at the Berkeley Piano Club or 21 March at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Earplay presents music by Linda Bouchard, Peter Maxwell Davies, Jason Federmeyer, Toru Takemitsu, and Stephen Yip at the ODC Theater on 20 March.

And as always check out the various enticements at the Center for New Music.

Operatic
San Francisco Opera's Opera Lab presents Anna Caterina Antonacci in the Poulenc / Cocteau monodrama La Voix Humaine, along with Berlioz'a La mort d'Ophélie, Debussy's Chanson de Bilitis, and Poulenc's La fraîcheur et le feu (Coolness and fire) on 11, 14, and 17 March at the Taube Atrium Theater. Please note that tickets are $95 (exclusive of any fees) and the seating is general admission: two clauses that should never, ever be joined.

See also the Conservatory of Music's production of Handel's Atalanta under Early / Baroque Music.

Matthew Shilvock, General Director of the San Francisco Opera, will be speaking to the Wagner Society of Northern California on 18 March; that starts at 1:00 at the Jewish Community Center in San Francisco. I assume, given the audience, that his talk will focus on Wagner and SF Opera's 2018 Ring revival, but the talks at the Society are often wide-ranging and there's generally a Q-and-A afterwards in case you want to ask about local plans to stage Meyerbeer or someone like that.

Orchestral
On 11 March at Herbst Theater, Dawn Harms leads the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony in the Sibelius 5, along with Andrée's Concert-Overture in D, Paganini's Moses Fantasy for Bass and Orchestra, and Koussevitzky's Concerto for Bass, with soloist Gary Karr on double bass.

New Century Chamber Orchestra is reunited with the chorus guys of Chanticleer in a program called Americans in Paris, featuring works by Gershwin (of course!), Stravinsky, Fauré, Satie, Rorem, and songs associated with Edith Piaf and others. There is an open rehearsal at the Wilsey Center for Opera on the morning of 15 March and performances on 16 March at First Presbyterian in Berkeley, 17 March at the Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto, 18 March at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, and 19 March at the Osher Marin Jewish Community Center in San Rafael.

At the San Francisco Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas conducts an all-Russian program from 1 to 4 March, including the Tchaikovsky 6 (the Pathétique), Mikhail Gnesin's The Jewish Orchestra at the Ball of Nothingtown (which certainly has one of the more intriguing titles I've come across this month), and the Shostakovich Cello Concerto 1, with soloist Gautier Capuçon; Tilson Thomas returns on 23 - 24 March to conduct John Cage's The Seasons (with video), Robin Holloway's Europa and the Bull (a Symphony co-commission), and Bartók's Concerto for Orchestra; he conducts the same program on 25 - 26 March, except the Holloway is swapped for Bruch's Violin Concerto 1, with soloist Nicola Benedetti; and finally he closes out the month leading an all-Mahler program, featuring the Mahler 1 and the Adagio from the Mahler 10, and that's on 30 - 31 March and 1 - 2 April.

In between Tilson Thomas's concerts, you can hear Marek Janowski conduct the Brahms 4, along with Beethoven's Coriolan Overture and Hindemith's Violin Concerto with soloist Arabella Steinbacher, on 9 - 12 March; and Juraj Valčuha conduct the Beethoven 7, along with Schreker's Chamber Symphony and Barber's Violin Concerto with soloist Gil Shaham, on 16 - 18 March.

The San Francisco Symphony will present Yuri Temerkinov leading the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic in two concerts, one on 19 March featuring selections from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet and his Violin Concerto 2 (with soloist Sayaka Shoji) and Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe Suite 2, and another on 20 March featuring the Shostakovich 5 and the Brahms Piano Concerto 1 (with soloist Garrick Ohlsson).

Cal Performances presents the National Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine, conducted by Theodore Kuchar, in a program of Verdi (the Overture to La Forza del Destino), Prokofiev (the Piano Concerto #3, with soloist Alexei Grynyuk), and the Shostakovich 5; that's 26 March in Zellerbach Hall.

On 31 March at the Paramount Theater, Michael Morgan leads the Oakland Symphony in the Dvořák 9 (From the New World), along with Gabriela Frank's Concertino and Bruckner's Te Deum, with soloist Hope Briggs (soprano), Betany Coffland (mezzo-soprano), Amitai Pati (tenor), and Anthony Reed (bass), as well as the Oakland Symphony Chorus.

Chamber Music
Chamber Music San Francisco presents the Pavel Haas Quartet on 26 March in Herbst Theater, playing Martinu, Dvořák, and Smetana.

Strings / Keys
Cal Performances presents pianist Jeffrey Kahane playing works by Schubert, Chopin, Timo Andres, and his son Gabriel; that's 12 March at Hertz Hall.

San Francisco Performances and the San Francisco Symphony co-present pianist András Schiff in an all-Schubert program in Davies Hall on 13 March.

San Francisco Performances presents cellist Harriet Krijgh and pianist Magda Amara in a program of Mendelssohn, Schumann, and Rachmaninoff on 16 March at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

San Francisco Performances and the San Francisco Symphony co-present violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Lambert Orkis playing works by Sebastian Currier, Mozart, Respighi, and Saint-Saëns in Davies Hall on 26 March.

Vocalists
Cal Performances presents soprano Miah Persson, baritone Florian Boesch, and pianist Malcolm Martineau in an all-Schumann program on 19 March in Hertz Hall.

San Francisco Performances presents composer/pianist/vocalist Gabriel Kahane performing Schumann (Dichterliebe) and some of his own works, including Craigslistlieder. That's 5 March at the SF Jazz Center.

San Francisco Performances presents tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Jonathan Biss in an all-Schubert program on 17 March at Herbst Theater; this is the fourth and final installment of a series programmed by Biss exploring the concept of late style.

San Francisco Performances presents tenor Nicholas Phan with pianist Robert Mollicone, performing selections from Phan's latest CD, Gods & Monsterson 22 March as part of the series Salons at the Rex.

San Francisco Performances presents mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly with pianist Joseph Middleton in a program of Schumann, Mahler, Poulenc, Copland, and Richard Rodney Bennett on 23 March at Herbst Theater.

The San Francisco Opera Center and the Merola Opera Program present the first of this year's Schwabacher Debut Recitals on 26 March at the Taube Atrium Theater, when mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven and baritone Cody Quattlebaum will be accompanied by pianist Mark Morash in a not-yet-announced program.

Choral
Volti presents a concert they're calling Mantras, Miracles, Meditations, featuring one movement of Path of Miracles by Joby Talbot, an evening-length depiction for choreographed chorus and dancers of the famous Camino de Santiago pilgrimage across Spain (the entire work will be done by Volti next season), along with Lux Aeterna by György Ligeti, The Blue of Distance by Žibuoklé Martinaityté, Into Being by Ingrid Stölzel, and the world premiere of Caeli Enerrant by Robin Estrada; that's 3 March at St Mark's Episcopal in Berkeley or 4 March at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco.

Chora Nova performs Dvořák's Mass in D Major and Rheinberger's Stabat Mater on 17 March at St Perpetua in Lafayette and 18 March at First Presbyterian in Berkeley.

Lacuna Arts Chorale celebrate's Bach's birthday with works not only by Bach but later works bearing his influence by Mendelssohn, Herzogenberg, and Brahms; that's 17 March at 1111 O'Farrell Street in San Francisco and 18 March at 1661 15th Street in San Francisco.

Jazz
Cal Performances presents the Hot Sardines and Jason Moran: Fats Waller Dance Party on 11 March at the Paramount Theater in Oakland.

The SF Jazz Center has a show with the sort of cumbersome title Aaron Diehl presents Jelly & George featuring Adam Birnbaum & Cécile McLorin Salvant; "Jelly" is Jelly Roll Morton and "George" is George Gershwin. That's 16 - 19 March.

The SF Jazz Center presents Joshua Redman along with Ron Miles, Scott Colley, and Brian Blade, from 23 to 26 March.

Dance
Cal Performances presents the all-male ballet parody group Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo in a 40th anniversary celebration on 3 - 4 March in Zellerbach Hall.

Cal Performances presents the annual residency of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from 14 to 19 March in Zellerbach Hall.

San Francisco Ballet has two repertory programs this month: Program 4, from 7 to 18 March, which is an all-Balanchine program featuring Stravinsky Violin Concerto, Prodigal Son (music by Prokofiev), and Diamonds (music by Tchaikovsky); and Program 5, from 9 to 19 March, which is an all-contemporary program featuring Fusion (choreography by Yuri Possokhov, music by Graham Fitkin and Rahul Dev Burman), the world premiere of Salome (choreography by Arthur Pita, music by Frank Moon), and Fearful Symmetries (choreography by Liam Scarlett, music by John Adams).

Visual Arts
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art presents Matisse / Diebenkorn, which examines the influence of the French modernist on the Californian. This sounds very exciting, and it runs from 11 March to 29 May, so plan several visits.

And just like that, a third of this year has gone by. . . .

Haiku 2017/57

my heart wanted rain
so I woke to cloudless skies . . .
shine on, laughing light

25 February 2017

23 February 2017

22 February 2017

Haiku 2017/53

as the sun rises
bare branches sparkle with drops
from last night's downpour

21 February 2017

Haiku 2017/52

sudden bursts of rain
dash against the closed windows:
the cat stares ahead

20 February 2017

Haiku 2017/51

only the vast sky
windswept clear of clouds and birds
full of emptiness

19 February 2017

18 February 2017

Haiku 2017/49

last year's flowerbeds
spring to unexpected life
with strange volunteers

17 February 2017

16 February 2017

15 February 2017

Haiku 2017/46

floating down gutters
still filled with fall's fallen leaves:
spring's first pale petals

14 February 2017

13 February 2017

12 February 2017

Haiku 2017/43

cheerful Christmas wreath
still on the door while petals
flutter around it

11 February 2017

09 February 2017

Haiku 2017/40

willow branches wave –
not branches, solemn streamers
weeping in the rain

08 February 2017

07 February 2017

Haiku 2017/38

through heavy grey mist
a lighter mist of pale green:
spring is creeping in

06 February 2017

Haiku 2017/37

clutching her coffee
she dashes across the street
surprised by the rain

05 February 2017

04 February 2017

03 February 2017

02 February 2017

01 February 2017

31 January 2017

Haiku 2017/31

pale veil of grey mist
over the chilly valley . . .
the blur of street lamps

30 January 2017

Haiku 2017/30

on my left, sunrise;
my right, it's already day
train tracks run between

29 January 2017

28 January 2017

26 January 2017

25 January 2017

Haiku 2017/25

walking down one street
then walking down another
the wind went with me

24 January 2017

23 January 2017

fun stuff I may or may not get to: February 2017

The shortest month has a lot going on, particularly in new music: go listen to something where the ink is as wet as the winter sidewalks!

Theatrical
ACT presents Annie Baker's John, directed by Ken Rus Schmoll, at the Strand Theater from 22 February to 23 April.

Shotgun Players is filling the time between its two main seasons with the Blast Theater Festival, which they describe as "a month-long festival of new ideas, visions, and possibilities" – but I think that's what they try to do regularly, so who knows what that means. As with all performances, you have to go to find out; if you'd like to do so, check out the listings here.

Custom Made Theater presents Isaac's Eye by Lucas Hnath, directed by Oren Stevens. Isaac is Isaac Newton. The play runs from 16 February to 11 March, though it's difficult to find the dates on Custom Made's irritating new site. (Maybe I should point out that their new site is not more irritating than the other irritating new sites? And yes, I realize they are being designed for mobile devices that I do not use.)

You can see another play by Lucas Hnath at San Francisco Playhouse, which is presenting The Christians, directed by Bill English, from 24 January to 11 March.

Operatic
West Edge Opera presents the second concert in its new series, Snapshot, featuring excerpts from new operas-in-progress. As withe the January concert, this one features four excerpts: from One O'Clock, music and libretto by Carla Lucero; Howards End, America, music by Allen Shearer and libretto by Claudia Stevens; The House of Words, music by Linda Bouchard to a libretto she has compiled from Galeano's The Book of Embraces; and The Stranger the Better, music by Liam Wade and libretto by Vynnie Meli. There are two performances, 25 February at the David Brower Center in Berkeley and 26 February at the Bayview Opera House in San Francisco. Once again, the instrumentalists will be drawn from Earplay, the awesome local new-music ensemble, and led by Earplay Principal Conductor Mary Chun and West Edge Music Director Jonathan Khuner. The January performance was a lot of fun.

The Lamplighters present Gilbert & Sullivan's Patience; or, Bunthorne's Bride, directed by Barbara Heroux, on 3 - 5 February at the Yerba Buena Center in San Francisco, 10 - 12 February at the Lesher Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek, and 18 - 19 February at the Mountain View Performing Arts Center in Mountain View.

Opera Parallèle presents Jonathan Dove's Flight from 10 to 12 February at the Yerba Buena Center.

UPDATE: Thanks to Lisa Hirsch for reminding me (in the comments) that Opera San José is presenting the local premiere of Silent Night, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning opera by Kevin Puts; that's 11 - 26 February. (I'm a non-driver, so San Jose is pretty much off my radar; I do sometimes list things in Palo Alto, Davis, Mountain View, and places like that, but only if they have a Berkeley / San Francisco performance. But there's no reason to be too strict about this; after all, if I didn't list things that weren't public-transit friendly, I'd have to omit West Edge's entire summer season at the abandoned train station in Oakland.)

Orchestral
There's a lot going on at the San Francisco Symphony this month:

Herbert Blomstedt conducts the Beethoven 9 with soloists Kiera Duffy (soprano), Sara Couden (mezzo-soprano), Nicholas Phan (tenor), and Andrew Foster-Williams (bass-baritone) and of course the fabulous Symphony Chorus, led by Ragnar Bohlin; that's 1 - 3 and 5 (matinee) February;

Blomstedt returns 9 - 12 February to lead the Brahms 3 and the Beethoven Piano Concerto 4 with soloist Yefim Bronfman;

and John Adams's 70th birthday will be celebrated by the Symphony over two weeks, with two major concerts: first is The Gospel According to the Other Mary (that would be Mary Magdalene) on 16 - 18 February, with Grant Gershon leading soloists Kelley O'Connor (mezzo-soprano), Tamara Mumford (mezzo-soprano), Jay Hunter Morris (tenor), and Daniel Bubeck, Brian Cummings, and Nathan Medley (countertenors), along with the Symphony Chorus; then on 22 - 25 February Michael Tilson Thomas leads Scheherazade 2 with violin soloist Leila Josefowicz, for whom it was written, along with selections from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet.

Michael Morgan leads the Oakland Symphony at the Paramount Theater on 24 February in the Shostakovich 9, along with music and traditional dance from Native American peoples, featuring works by Jerod Impichchaachaaha' Tate and John Christopher Wineglass.

Conductorless chamber orchestra One Found Sound plays Ravel, Resphighi, and Debussy on 3 February at the Heron Arts building in San Francisco.

Modern / Contemporary Music
Cal Performances presents Cappella SF and the Bang on a Can All-Stars in Julia Wolfe's Anthracite Fields on 26 February in Zellerbach Hall.

San Francisco Opera's Opera Lab presents The Source by Ted Hearne, to a libretto by Mark Doten arranged from testimony, tweets, news reports, and other sources related to Chelsea Manning, the currently incarcerated Cassandra of the surveillance state. Performances are in the Taube Atrium Theater on 24 - 26 February and 1 - 3 March. (I am glad to report that President Obama commuted Mannings's sentence, though I wonder why he didn't do that earlier, since it was under his administration that she was imprisoned.)

The San Francisco Contemporary Music Players present Stravinsky's L'histoire du soldat along with improvised interpolations by trumpeter Peter Evans; that's 17 February at Herbst Theater in San Francisco.

Wild Rumpus New Music Collective presents the world premieres of their Commissioning Project winners, Carolyn Chen and William Dougherty, along with works by Alex Temple, Richard Reed Parry, Ted Hearne, and William Gardiner; that's 24 February at the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Francisco. (I don't see this concert on their website yet, but assume it will be there shortly; the information here comes from an e-mail they sent out.)

Other Minds presents a centennial tribute concert to the great Lou Harrison on 18 February at the Mission Dolores Basilica in San Francisco; Dennis Russell Davies will conduct music by Harrison and Isang Yun.

Old First Concerts presents the Wooden Fish Ensemble with special guests the Gyeonggi Kayageum Ensemble in a concert featuring several world or US premieres by Korean composer Hyo-shin Na, along with some arrangements of traditional Korean folk music; that's 12 February at Old First on Van Ness Avenue.

The Left Coast Chamber Ensemble presents House of the Beehives by Melody Eötvös, along with the world premiere of Ghost Dances by David Coll, Canticles for Two Guitars by Dusan Bogdanovic, Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Cello, and Sebastian Currier's Broken Consorts; that's 4 February at the Hillside Club in Berkeley and 6 February at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

The Kronos Quartet presents its annual festival of new music, this time featuring festival artist-in-residence Sahba Aminikia, along with many others, in six concerts in three days (2 - 4 February); you can experience them all at the lovely SF Jazz Center.

And as always, check out the calendar at the Center for New Music: some things that jump out at me this month are the Del Sol Quartet on 2 February, playing Ben Johnston quartets 3 and 4 (and they're doing what more new music groups should do, which is playing the pieces again after a pause) in collaboration with photographs by Elmore DeMott made in response to her mother's Alzheimer's; the welcome return on 3 February of I Sing Words: The Poetry Project, in which soprano Jill Morgan Brenner and pianist Paul Dab present settings of Janet Lewis, David Thomas Lloyd, David Hinton, and Cole Swenson by (respectively) Julie Barwick, Nicholas Lell Benavides, Mario Godoy, and Emily Shisko; an evening of new music by Kyle Hovatter on 10 February, featuring Danielle Sampson, Jessie Nucho, and Sophie Huet; but as mentioned earlier there's lots more that looks intriguing.

Jazz
Some things that look enticing on the SF Jazz calendar: Vijay Iyer is in residence from 8 to 12 February, with a variety of programs; the Paris Combo on 14 and 15 February; and Dianne Reeves sings love songs from 16 to 19 February.

Early / Baroque Music
American Bach Soloists presents a concert of French baroque music by Rameau, Corrette, Rebel, Mondonville, and Marais, on 10 February at St Stephens in Belvedere, 11 February at First Presbyterian in Berkeley, 12 February at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco, and 13 February at Davis Community Church in Davis.

The San Francisco Early Music Society presents Artek performing Monteverdi's Book 7 Madrigals on 17 February at First Presbyterian in Palo Alto, 18 February at St John's Presbyterian in Berkeley, and 19 February at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco.

The California Bach Society led by Paul Flight presents pre-Bach masters from North German (Buxtehude, Bruhns, Schop, Tunder, and Telemann) on 24 February at St Mark's Lutheran in San Francisco, 25 February at All Saints' Episcopal in Palo Alto, and 26 February at St Mark's Episcopal in Berkeley.

Piano / Organ / Violin
San Francisco Performances presents Alexander Melnikov in a program of Rachmaninoff and Debussy at Herbst Theater on 2 February.

San Francisco Performances presents Jonathan Biss in a program of Schuman, Kurtág, Chopin, and Brahms at Herbst Theater on 11 February.

Cal Performances presents the California debut of Lucas Debargue, in a program of Domenico Scarlatti, Chopin, Ravel, and Medtner, on 12 February at Hertz Hall.

San Francisco Performances presents Benjamin Beilman (violin) and Yekwon Sunwoo (piano) in a program of Ravel, Bartók, Saariaho, and Brahms at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music on 24 February.

The San Francisco Symphony presents Lang Lang at Davies Hall on 7 February, in a program featuring Liszt's Piano Sonata in B Minor along with works by Debussy, Albéniz, Granados, and Falla.

The San Francisco Symphony presents an organ recital by James O'Donnell of Westminster Abbey on 26 February, playing works by Bach, Franck, Messiaen, and Widor.

Chamber Music San Francisco presents pianist Olga Kern playing Scarlatti, Beethoven, Schumann, and Liszt on 12 February and violinist Pinchas Zukerman with pianist Angela Cheng playing Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms on 25 February; both concerts are at Herbst Theater.

Dance
Cal Peformances presents the Lucinda Childs Dance Company in a revival of the 1983 Available Light, with music by John Adams, choreography by Lucinda Childs, and a stage design by Frank Gehry; that's 3 - 4 February at Zellerbach Hall.

San Francisco Performances presents the Batsheva Dance Company in Last Work, choreographed by Ohad Naharin, from 15 to 17 February at the Yerba Buena Center.

San Francisco Ballet presents Frankenstein, a new evening-length work based on Mary Shelley's famous novel, with music by Lowell Liebermann and choreography by Liam Scarlett, from 17 to 26 February.

Visual Arts
Monet: The Early Years opens at the Legion of Honor on 25 February and runs through 29 May.

At the Asian Art Museum, Tomb Treasures: New Discoveries from China's Han Dynasty opens on 17 February and runs through 28 May.

Haiku 2017/23

sun instead of rain
I'm supposed to be happy
I glare at the sky

22 January 2017

21 January 2017

Haiku 2017/21

"Such dramatic storms!
Perfect rain, but the lightning . . .
perhaps it's de trop?"

19 January 2017

Haiku 2017/19

morning sky with moon
last night's leftovers served up
on dawn's silver tray

18 January 2017

Haiku 2017/18

one cloud in the sky
one bird crossing the one cloud
my eye joins them both

17 January 2017

Haiku 2017/17

one day I'll look up
these bare branches will be green
and filled with ripe fruit

16 January 2017

15 January 2017

14 January 2017

Haiku 2017/14

second glass of wine
like clockwork I cry for you
after all these years

12 January 2017

Haiku 2017/12

A vast silent sky.
Did your loves and hates matter?
The stars blink blankly.

11 January 2017

10 January 2017

09 January 2017

Haiku 2017/9

cars roll by, honking
trains rush past, whistles blowing
a bird sits, cheeping

08 January 2017

Poem of the Week 2016/30

The Smaller Orchid

Love is a climate
small things find safe
to grow in – not
(though I once supposed so)
the demanding cattleya
du côté du chez Swann,
glamor among the faubourgs,
hothouse overpowerings, blisses
and cruelties at teatime, but this
next-to-unidentifiable wildling,
hardly more than a
sprout, I've found
flourishing in the hollows
of a granite seashore –
a cheerful tousle, little,
white, down-to-earth orchid
declaring its authenticity,
if you hug the ground
close enough, in a powerful
outdoorsy-domestic
whiff of vanilla.

Amy Clampitt

(This is the Poem of the Week I was working on when the Great Computer Meltdown of 2016 occurred. I had been thinking of ending the series anyway, though I was planning to go through December, but technology decided I would end in late July. I thought I would go ahead and finish this one. After writing up and posting a poem every week since 2013, I felt it would be good to switch things up, particularly as my schedule has changed a bit this year and I seem to have even less free time than ever, and I wanted to spend more of it writing about the various performances and other cultural events I've experienced. I may resume the series at some point, on a regular or occasional basis. I hope any readers have enjoyed the poems and maybe found a new writer to love. If you've found anything here you've liked, please: follow the link (there's one in each entry) and buy the book!)

Clampitt opens with a sweeping assertion – love is a climate; that is, part of Nature, something omnipresent, something inextricably linked to our lives and the quality of our lives, but not something we are always conscious of, though it surrounds us – and then immediately draws it in: small things find safe / to grow in – moving from the broad encompassing sweep of climate to a safe space for small things, the little things among which we live, a place with room for growth, some nurture in the Nature.

She then qualifies the type of natural phenomenon love is, contrasting her early expectations of grand passion with what she has come to identify as true love. Significantly, her early expectations of Love are shaped by literature, in particular Proust's great novel, whose first volume (Du Côté du chez Swann / Swann's Way) she references: a cattleya is a type of orchid, and it plays a major role in Swann's love affair with Odette: pretending to adjust the flower she is wearing, he begins giving her the caresses she is pleased to receive, and do a cattleya becomes for them, in their private language of lovers, a way of saying to make love. The next few lines in Clampitt's poem give a quick summary of aspects of the early parts of Proust's novel, aspects that would strike a bookish adolescent wondering about love and the wider world as a thrilling glimpse of what Life must be like. It's all rather big, not just in size but in significance; this is not the everyday world, but one of glamour, hothouses and high society; not a place of ordinary visits or simple pleasures, or even regular happiness and sadness, but of bliss and cruelty, even at civilized, exotically European, ceremonies like teatime (and the bookish adolescent might think of the novels of James and Wharton as well as of Proust, or of Eliot's I have measured out my life with coffee spoons).

It's easy to get swept up in the heady perfumes. But Clampitt has begun by telling us that this is not what love is (and not is emphasized by appearing at the end of the short third line, right after a dash, which sets it apart, visually as well as grammatically). She slips us right into what she has discovered love is, starting with the contradictory but, without even a line break after teatime: but this  / next-to-unidentifiable wilding. . . . Though she is defining what she now feels love is, there is still a quality of mystery and strangeness here; love is like this a wild offshoot, it is next-to-unidentifiable, it is hardly more than sprout, it is small, and the somewhat odd use of tousle as a noun (indicating something tangled and disorderly; the unexpected appearance of the word as a noun rather than a verb helps maintain the sense of struggling towards a definition of something uncertain and unsettled) tells us not to get too cozy; there is still something messy and unruly in what might otherwise seem an overly domesticated – an overly old person's – definition of love. Clampitt devotes many lines to describing this little wild orchid that flourishes in the climate of love (or rather in making it clear that she is attempting to describe something difficult to describe, perhaps exactly because it not flashy like the hothouse cattleyas but small and cheerful, a random, easily overlooked woodland orchid), partly to balance the earlier lines dedicated to her youthful misconceptions of love but also to show that it is still not an easy thing to define. And her two conceptions are not worlds apart; both are flowers, and specifically orchids, a flower often linked, in its voluptuousness, to sexualities both male and female; in fact the word orchid derives via Latin from a Greek word for testicles. Underlying  this poem is a subtle insistence on the physical; the poet may start by declaring that love is a climate, but she immediately switches to describing it in terms of the organic and actual: first the cattleyas, as given to her by books (specifically Swann's Way), and then the little messy wilding, as given her by her life.

The granite seashore suggests something vast, hard, spiritually metaphorical about life; it is in this intransigent landscape, so briefly mentioned, and more exactly in a little hollow in it, that the love-plant is found – this is what has been discovered by her, among the hardness of the world. No matter how complicated this plant is to describe, it declares its authenticity, a forceful assertion of truthful authority in a deceptive world. How does it declare its authenticity? First you must bring yourself physically down to its small but commanding level; you must not only hug the ground (hug again reminds us of physical love), you must hug the ground close enough. You must bring yourself down to the level at which your senses can understand this at first insignificant-looking flower. And then you smell it, and that smell is its declaration of authenticity: in a powerful / outdoorsy-domestic / whiff of vanilla. The scent, like climate, is something we experience through our senses, though it is not a physical presence. It comes from a cheerful little white flower, and despite its unassuming-looking source it is powerful. It combines both the outdoors and the domestic. It has the whiff of vanilla. Vanilla is the flavoring par excellence of American desserts (my Portuguese grandmother used to complain that Americans put vanilla in all of their desserts), so it suggests something American as opposed to the European teatime, something domestic, sweet, and even wifely – yet vanilla is also produced from a type of orchid native to hot climates, like the cattleyas that must be grown in a hothouse, continuing and reinforcing the theme that there is something wild and exotic in what might seem a small, domestic and domesticated, love. Implicit even in the title is that her two visions of love are linked; though one is produced by people (in literature or hothouses) and one is found in Nature growing wild, the former are linked to and ultimately developed from the latter, and one does not preclude or reject the other. The poet's first, youthful, vision of love, so grandly expressed through someone else's dramatization, changes into her mature vision of love, with a kind of pleasure and even ecstasy expressed by close observation and physical experience of a small and intimate living thing.

This poem is from The Kingfisher: Poems by Amy Clampitt.