30 October 2015

Friday photo 2015/44

a street in San Francisco, September 2015

I can't remember the name of this street. I'm pretty sure it's one of the small streets named after trees that branch off of Van Ness Avenue. I was walking down to the Civic Center BART from St Mark's Lutheran on O'Farrell & Franklin when the late afternoon sun made me stop and take a few pictures. I used to think I was bad with street names because I don't drive. Then I realized I'm just bad with street names.

26 October 2015

Poem of the Week 2015/43

The only Ghost I ever saw
Was dressed in Mechlin – so –
He wore no sandal on his foot –
And stepped like flakes of snow –

His Gait – was soundless, like the Bird –
But rapid – like the Roe –
His fashions, quaint, Mosaic –
Or haply, Mistletoe –

His conversation – seldom –
His laughter, like the Breeze –
That dies away in Dimples
Among the pensive Trees –

Our interview – was transient –
Of me, himself was shy –
And God forbid I look behind –
Since that appalling Day!

Emily Dickinson

What is the Mechlin that this ghost is dressed in? It is a type of lace that originated in Mechelen in Flanders. Most definitions single out its delicacy, and at least one specifies that it is generally used in women's clothing (though the article goes on to mention its occasional use in cravats, at least among the British royal family in a period predating Dickinson). But the speaker here merely says the ghost is dressed in Mechlin, which suggests more than a cravat or cuff. The lacy garb may be a reference to the traditionally filmy nature of ghosts. But it's also the first reference in a pattern in which this ghost, specified as male, is described in and surrounded by traditionally feminine terms and comparisons.

He's dressed in lace. His step is light, like a snowflake, even soundless. His walk is compared to a bird's, or to a roe's (a roe is a small deer). The comparison is not to traditionally martial and manly birds like the eagle, but to a little one, soundless on the snow; and not to a stag, much less a bear or lion, but to a small deer, of the sort that is easily startled and rapid when it runs away. He speaks little, and his laughter is compared to a dying breeze gently rustling through the leaves. [T]hat dies away in dimples is a brilliant evocation of how leaves turn and flutter as a gentle, failing wind ripples through them, but it also associates this male ghost with dimples, and pensiveness. His fashions are quaint. He is shy. None of this suggests anything traditionally masculine.

Much attention is paid to the ghost's "fashions". The edition I use (for which see below) capitalizes Mosaic, suggesting a connection to Moses: perhaps the clothes are old-fashioned, even ancient like nomadic draperies, or associated in some way with religious regulations. But other editions have the word as mosaic, suggesting something patched out of small pieces. And capital-M Mosaic doesn't preclude this suggestion, since Dickinson also capitalizes (among other words not usually capitalized) Mistletoe, Breeze, Dimples, and Trees. Mistletoe can play into both interpretations. It is a plant that grows parasitically on certain trees and shrubs, which suggests something connected but disconnected, something partial which can also take over its space, which might be in tune with mosaic. But it is also associated with Christmas (as well as ancient Druidic religious rituals), which might be in tune with the religious implications of Mosaic. The poet mentions sandals rather than the shoes you might expect when the next line brings in snow – do sandals perhaps have a Biblical resonance here, furthering (along with Mosaic and mistletoe) an association between the ghost and traditional religions? When she says, near the end of the poem, God forbid I look behind, is God forbid just an everyday phrase, or does she mean it to sound like a more strictly religious injunction? (Remember that Lot's wife was turned to a pillar of salt through disobeying the divine command not to look back when fleeing Sodom.)

As ghosts go, this one sounds quite mild-mannered and attractive: he is associated with gentle, even pretty things, and delightful natural phenomena, rather than with moaning torments, hell-fire, and sulfurous damnation. He speaks little, the encounter is fleeting, and he is shy around the poet. So it's a surprise to find the strength of horror present in the last two lines. As discussed above, there is a Biblical intensity underlying what might seem the everyday exaggeration of God forbid I look behind. And she increases the emotion by calling not just the encounter but the entire day of the encounter that appalling Day (complete with exclamation point). The rhymes help mark this break in the emotions we might expect from what seems a gentle ghost. In the earlier quatrains, we have had very regular and complete rhymes on each second and fourth line: so / snow, Roe / Mistletoe, Breeze / Trees. In the final quatrain, we have shy / Day. There's a bit of a visual rhyme there (both are three-letter words ending with a y) and the words chime together. But the lack of the exact rhyme the poem has led us to expect is contextually jarring and marks an emotional disruption.

Appalling is an interesting word here. It conveys something terrible, but with the connotation that this thing has left you sort of stunned and emotionally drained. As the pall in there might tell you, the word derives (via Old French and Latin) from one that means to grow or to make pale. In other words: if you are appalled, you grow as pale as a ghost. Is there a suggestion here that encountering this epicene apparition has not only shocked the poet but made her resemble it in some way? People are, generally, disturbed on an irrational level by variations on gender norms and assumptions: is that what is appalling the poet and making her possibly resemble the ghost? Do his androgynous qualities connect to or startle something in her? Or is her strong reaction owing to the religious implications of the poem: does this strange presence from another world show a connection with or a deviation from the traditional theologies suggested by some of the language?

There are many questions, and no definite answers. Like many of Dickinson's poems, this one hovers between the domestic and the apocalyptic. It seems like a charming ghost story suitable for a chilly autumn evening, but the closer we look, the more deeply disturbing and perplexing it becomes. We may end up feeling as if we too have had an encounter with an appealing but unsettling spirit. The poem creates in us a version of the experience it describes.

(As an amusing sidelight on the poem's play with both gender and religion: when I typed epicene above the word-processing system flagged it and suggested only one other alternative as the word I must have intended: Nicene, as in the Nicene Creed. Perhaps Dickinson's deep knowledge anticipated the poetic links made by spellcheck.)

This is from the Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by Thomas H. Johnson.

23 October 2015

Friday photo 2015/43

outside wall of Edwards Field at the University of California - Berkeley, September 2015

19 October 2015

Poem of the Week 2015/42

The Town Witch

Crab-faced, crab-tongued, with deep-set eyes that glared,
Unfriendly and unfriended lived the crone
Upon the common in her hut, alone,
Past which but seldom any visitor fared.
Some said she was a witch and rode, wild-haired,
To devils' revels: on her hearth's rough stone
A fiend sat ever with gaunt eyes that shone –
A shaggy hound whose fangs at all were bared.
So one day, when a neighbor's cow had died
And some one's infant sickened, good men shut
The crone in prison: dragged to court and tried:
Then hung her for a witch and burnt her hut. –
Days after, on her grave, all skin and bones
They found the dog, and him they killed with stones.

Madison Cawein

Sonnets are often associated with love poetry, and in a way that's what we have here: an unacknowledged and disrespected love between two unlovely creatures, a crabbed old woman and her belligerent dog. The form is a classic Italian or Spenserian sonnet: fourteen lines of iambic pentameter, divided into an octave and a sestet, rhyming abbaabba / cdcdee.

The octave sets the scene and presents the characters: an old woman with glaring eyes, unfriendly and also unfriended – she does not seek out her neighbors, and they avoid her. (I wonder if there's a pun in "past witch [witch] but seldom any visitor fared.") She lives in a "hut" upon the common, which is, as the name implies, open space for public use, but since the townsfolk avoid her shabby dwelling, she seems to be a squatter there, taking up public land. We are not specifically told anything about the town – the time and place are not specified – but its inhabitants are also major players here. The ambiguity of time and place gives the story a fairly general application and a fable-like aura, though the belief in witches and devils' revels, and a hut upon the commons, and the hanging of a witch and the stoning of her dog are all going to suggest Puritan New England, in particular the witch trials in Salem, Massachusetts. (Cawein himself, though American, is not a New England poet; he lived in Louisville, Kentucky, around the turn of the twentieth century.)

But there really isn't anything here specific to Salem, or even America; this could be in any number of small towns in the United States or Europe during any earlier times that believed in witchcraft as an evil force (in fact, we still sometimes hear about accused witches being killed by fellow villagers in rural areas of Russia or Africa). The situation here lines up with historical studies that have shown that many of those accused of and killed for witchcraft were odd, alienated, outsider women, like our subject here. We are not given her name or history; we see her only as an old woman, and only in connection with her surroundings (the title emphasizes this: she's the Town Witch, as if she filled a certain role in this town, and is trapped within her town's perception of her). It's interesting how many compound adjectives are used to describe her: crab-faced, crab-tongued, deep-set (eyes), wild-haired. Perhaps this is meant to evoke early Anglo-Saxon poetry, adding to the sense of a certain timeless quality in the poem.

The first half of the octave gives us this isolated, cantankerous old woman; the second half gives us the townsfolk's view of her: Some said she was a witch and rode, wild-haired, / To devils' revels. . . . Hair is often deeply sexualized; think of how some religions require women to cover their hair, or the way long hair on men became a controversial social issue in the United States in the 1960s (the "hippies" were almost invariably described with the Homeric epithet long-haired, suggesting that you could not tell hippie men and women apart, and that this was a strange and dangerous thing). The devils' revels (nice little internal rhyme there, also) were usually thought of as orgies. So it's interesting that the "wild hair" of this solitary and aged woman is specifically mentioned in the descriptions of her as a witch, bringing in an aura of loose, threatening sexuality, despite her age and isolation.

As we continue with this outside view of the old woman, we see she has a "fiend" always with her – and witches were always accompanied by a "familiar," a demon who attends them, often in the form of an animal. But in this case, it is gradually revealed that this fiend, this demonic familiar, is just a dog. The townsfolk are legitimately frightened, though, of this hostile, menacing animal. There are some dogs that are aggressive towards anyone besides their owner – or perhaps this dog picked up on his owner's attitude and was following along. In either case a dog's bared fangs are another good reason to distrust the old woman and her hut.

In the sestet, we get the action of the poem: there's the usual run of bad luck (a cow dies, a child falls sick), and it gets pinned on "the witch." She is rapidly disposed of and her hut (encroaching on the commons) is burnt by the God-fearing and orderly. I do think that the italicization of good to emphasize the irony is a bit heavy-handed, but it's also true that I grew up in a society in which the God-fearing and law-abiding officials were almost automatically assumed to be self-serving hypocrites, and that was not necessarily the assumption in turn-of-the-twentieth-century America. And I wouldn't be too dismissive of the townspeople, or too sentimental about the old woman: she is nasty, and her dog is potentially dangerous.

Up until the final couplet, we've seen the old woman and her dog from the villagers' point of view. We don't necessarily share it, but their perspective is the one given to us: she's hostile, isolated, strange, most likely a witch; her dog is aggressive and vicious and most likely a devil. In the concluding lines, we are given a glimpse of the so-called witch's inner life. She has no friends, and there is no mention of any husband or children either living or dead. What emotional connection, what love, has ever entered this woman's life? The horrible dog, now starving ("all skin and bones") without his mistress to feed him, lingers by her grave, faithfully, It's a touching image, suggesting a deep bond between the two isolated and unloved creatures. The good folks of the town kill him with the resonantly Biblical punishment of stoning. Nothing has changed their perspective; ours diverges even further from theirs.

This poem is from Monster Verse: Poems Human and Inhuman, a new anthology edited by Tony Barnstone and Michelle Mitchell-Foust for the Everyman's Library Pocket Poetry series. The cover has a beautiful painting of a sea-serpent, which is enough to sell me on a book.

12 October 2015

Poem of the Week 2015/41

The Parklands

(originally entitled Pour Envoyer à Sir Oliver Lodge)

Through the Parklands, through the Parklands
Of the wild and misty north,
Walked a babe of seven summers
In a maze of infant wrath.

And I wondered and I murmured
And I stayed his restless pace
With a courteous eye I held him
In that unfrequented place.

Questioning I drew him to me
Touched him not but with an eye
Full of awful adult power
Challenged every infant sigh.

"Of what race and of what lineage,"
Questioning I held him there,
"Art thou, boy?" He answered nothing
Only stood in icy stare.

Blue his eyes, his hair a flaxen
White fell gently on the breeze,
White his hair as straw and blue
His eyes as distant summer seas.

Steadfastly I gazed upon him
Gazed upon that infant face
Till the parted lips gave utterance
And he spake in measured pace:

"All abandoned are my father's
Parklands, and my mother's room
Houses but the subtle spider
Busy at her spinning loom.

"Dead my father, dead my mother,
Dead their son, their only child."
"How is this when thou art living
Foolish boy, in wrath beguiled?"

"Ask me not," he said, and moving
Passed into the distance dim.
High the sun stood in the heavens,
But no shadow followed him.

Stevie Smith

Pour envoyer à Sir Oliver Lodge means to be sent to Sir Oliver Lodge, who was an English physicist and also President for several years of the Society for Psychical Research. He lived from 1851 to 1940. He saw no contradiction between his scientific studies and his interest in Spiritualism; in fact it was his work on electro-magnetic radiation that bolstered his belief that a spirit world existed in a light-related ether that filled the universe (this theory on the nature of light and the universe was undermined by twentieth-century developments in physics). Lodge was drawn to Spiritualism even before his son was killed in World War I, though after the war such deaths led many parents and grieving friends to try contacting the dead through seances.

Sir Oliver Lodge is one of those fascinating odd characters whose fame gradually vanishes with time, so I enjoyed looking up information on him, but I also wish Smith had deleted the reference. It tips her hand on what's really going on in this odd encounter; beneath the spooky trappings there is a weirdly comic clash between an assertive and cluelessly rational adult and a mysterious child.

The spooky trappings I mentioned start with the poem's form: it's a ballad, a form associated with ancient, often anonymous, tales, frequently dealing with murder and the uncanny. Ballads are typically quatrains with a 4-3-4-3 beat, rhyming abcb, which is what we find in this poem. Smith furthers the association by using archaic language, though some of these terms might also be dialect current in the rural north: thee and thou, babe of seven summers, stay meaning to halt, and race and lineage to mean parentage. North itself is a direction traditionally associated with witches and Satan, and the poet emphasizes the connection with the supernatural by calling it the wild and misty North. Parklands is a fairly common English name for fields and woods surrounding an aristocratic estate, lending a touch of Gothic romance to the setting of this poem. Ballads often use repetitive language, and Smith starts us off with Through the Parklands, through the Parklands and later gives us Questioning I drew him to me and Questioning I held him there as well as I gazed upon him / Gazed upon that infant face and also Dead my father, dead my mother, / Dead their son among other examples.

The first stanza immediately sets the stage and introduces the strange child: only seven, but wandering alone through the neglected parklands, in a maze of infant wrath – that's such a great line! Anyone who's spent any time with children will have seen such outwardly inexplicable, inwardly revolving anger – I remember being in such states myself. There's something a bit comic about this child stalking about, stewing in his own juices, in the way babies have of sometimes looking like Winston Churchill, but there is also something deeply touching in the image of this troubled child; maze suggests that he is trapped inside what seems like an endless series of false starts and wrong turns; maze might also bring to mind the Labyrinth (though there are technical distinctions between the two types of traps), which might suggest a monster lurking at the center.

The fifth stanza, the description of the boy, is one of those pauses in the action that intensifies suspense. It also heightens the oddness of the child, as even the resolutely forthright and down-to-earth speaker is struck by something strange in his appearance. His hair is pale as straw or flax, his eyes as intensely blue as "distant summer [and therefore presumably cloudless and clear] seas". These comparisons link him to the vast natural world, rather than to any human setting. Even his stare is icy (another reminder of the wild and misty north). The language here, too, uses the repetition characteristic of ballads.

The narrator is amusingly full of herself, feeling free to stop the child because she wonders at his restless pace, conscious of her courteous eye despite her awful [in the sense of awe-inspiring] adult power, which allows her to challenge a total stranger merely because he is a child whose behavior she finds peculiar. She is aware enough of the proprieties, however, so that she does not touch him (and of course, touching him would reveal his corporeal state). The boy, too, has been brought up in a certain way, and responds to her questions in measured pace (perhaps contrasted to the restless pace of his walk). She gazes upon him steadfastly until she receives an answer, which she will promptly reject as nonsensical. You feel that steadfast gazing at people is pretty much how she manages her social relations.

He tells her that his father's estate is abandoned, and his mother's rooms are empty except for the spiders that move in when housekeeping lags (the spider busy at her spinning loom nicely evokes a world of fairy tales, and the mysterious enchantments that often involve spinning wheels). Then, perhaps understanding the type to whom he is speaking, he spells out the situation explicitly: Dead my father, dead my mother / Dead their son, their only child. Yet our narrator persists in her comically dense mode: How is this when thou art living / Foolish boy, in wrath beguiled? She refers back to the infant wrath that led her to stop him in the first place. Beguiled suggests that he has been charmed or enchanted by wrath – and perhaps he has been, though not in the way she means. She suggests that his anger has led him to state something foolish and wrong. But perhaps his wrath is what moved his spirit to walk his father's abandoned lands (we are given no information on how, when, or why the family perished, which increases the aura of mystery around the spectral boy).

The imperious child refuses to enlighten her further (and what more can he say than what he's already said?). He passes into the distance dim, a nicely alliterative way of suggesting a ghostly vanishing. At the very end comes the kicker: the sun is high in the sky, but the boy casts no shadow. The poem ends with a spectral chill in the bright sunlight: is this enough to make even our narrator realize what she has been speaking to?

This is from the Collected Poems of Stevie Smith. I first heard of Smith when I went to see Stevie, an interesting movie about the poet, which I was drawn to mostly because Glenda Jackson was the star. It was released in 1978 , seven years after the writer's death. Unfortunately it seems to be currently unavailable. One of my minor goals with this series has been to post something by Smith that is not Not Waving But Drowning, easily her most famous poem, so I can cross that one off the list.

07 October 2015

the glory of the Glory of Spring

Last Sunday night I was in Berkeley's First Congregational Church for the first performance in centuries of Alessandro Scarlatti's La Gloria di Primavera, written in 1716 to celebrate the birth of a male heir to Charles VI, the Holy Roman Emperor. The boy (the little baby Archduke Leopold) died a few months later and the serenata was shelved. Scarlatti died nine years later, Charles VI died twenty-three years later, the Holy Roman Empire expired ninety years later, and the manuscript lay there through it all, waiting for Professor Benedikt Poensgen to rediscover it and Philharmonia Baroque to bring it back to life.

Little Leopold was born in spring, which was the inspiration (though that is probably not the right word for the adequate and overlong libretto) by Abbate Nicolo Giovo. The seasons gather to debate which of them deserves the most credit for helping in the production of the Hero-baby, because now that he is born war will give way to peace. (This part is not entirely hyperbole; there had been several wars related to the Hapsburg claims to various thrones, and the hope was that Leopold's birth would prevent another one. As it happened, his early death meant that another war of succession had to be fought to place his sister Maria Theresa on the throne, an historical fact that gave the libretto an occasional depth of poignant irony unearned by its intentions.) Anyway Jove shows up in the second half and eventually (spoiler alert!) gives the palm to Spring as the season of actual birth.

The piece itself is like one of those baroque ceilings that are officially about The Apotheosis of X or the Triumph of Something Good Over Something Not As Good; what really makes you spend hours straining your neck staring up is not the official program but the mad extravagance of ornament, the swirling lights and shades, the glowing draperies, the fruits and flowers, insects and birds crammed in just for the pleasure of their company, the heedless and generous magnificence of the whole thing. Scarlatti's music is like that, cloaking the libretto's sycophantic conceits in a sumptuous flow of varied invention. Most of the music is at a high level of liveliness – a trumpets-sounding sort of thing – and as such it certainly plays to the jaunty strengths of conductor Nicolas McGegan and his band.

The singers were also consistently strong. It would be difficult to single out a favorite from among Nicholas Phan's virile tenor, the mellifluous self-satisfaction of baritone Douglas Williams's Jove, the limpid countertenor of Clint van der Linde, or the glowing harmonies of mezzo-soprano Diana Moore and soprano Suzana Ograjenšek.

As you may have gathered, I was not a big fan of the libretto, which doesn't really rise above its praise-of-the-ruling-caste genre. For us it's little more than an excuse for the orchestra and singers to do their thing, from imitating the Danube's flow to praising peace. I'm all in favor of peace, and flowing rivers: so does the libretto actually matter in any significant way? There is one thing: it goes on too long. Scarlatti's inventiveness never lags, and neither did the performers' energies, but the audience's might have. The concert lasted nearly three hours (though that does include an absurdly long intermission), which is not unusual for a big vocal work from the baroque period but is maybe not what any of us were expecting (even PBO; the program book said the run-time was "about two hours" and I assume they would have had the sense to start earlier than 7:30 if they had known the length of the piece; of course there is no performance history for them to go by). When it got to be 10:00 several people just got up and left (there was no libretto in the program, so there was no way of knowing how much longer it would last). It's too bad, since there was so much pleasure to be had from the performance. But I'll admit – though I'm abashed at how bourgie and Philistine it makes me feel, and sound –  that my spirits sank a bit when I realized how little sleep I was going to get before the alarm clock went off for Monday morning. It's just another argument for more rational start times that better fit the way we have to live now. Aristocrats in Naples didn't have these problems.

There are still some performances left (7 October at Stanford, 9 October at Herbst Theater in San Francisco, and 10 October back in First Congregational in Berkeley) so if you are able to get to one you will have a splendid time and hear something old yet new. (Tickets are available here.) Even better news is that PBO is recording the piece and will release it a few months from now on their house label. The weakness of the libretto and the unexpected length of the concert don't really matter when it comes to a recording; this is definitely one to be on the lookout for. I assume they'll have to patch together the different concerts, since  despite numerous reminders that a live recording was going on, there were a few eruptions of hacking coughs, and a brief period of unexpected laughter when the houselights suddenly dimmed and then went back up during the performance. I don't actually know why that was considered funny, but a lot of people laughed. McGegan shrugged insouciantly and kept on. I would have preferred having the houselights down the whole time, anyway. It looked intensely dramatic and concentrated attention. And we did not need to look at the words in our programs because they used supertitles. I assume that was to reduce page-turning and paper-rustling during the recording but it was a welcome innovation no matter what the reason.

05 October 2015

Poem of the Week 2015/40

A Mood Apart

Once down on my knees to growing plants
I prodded the earth with a lazy tool
In time with a medley of sotto chants;
But becoming aware of some boys from school
Who had stopped outside the fence to spy,
I stopped my song and almost heart,
For any eye is an evil eye
That looks in on to a mood apart.

Robert Frost

In his beginning lines the poet intimates a sacred atmosphere. The slightly odd phrasing of the first line (down on his knees to the plants, rather than among or alongside) implies that he is kneeling down before the growing plants as one would kneel to God in a church (that is, with a feeling of reverence as before a greater power, not merely kneeling because it's a position that makes gardening easier). He is singing under his breath; more specifically, he is chanting, a vocal form usually associated with monasteries and medieval monks. Anyone who has ever tended to plants from seedlings to harvest must have felt this holy sense of kinship with mysteries – the miracle of natural growth.

Is it a symptom of our over-sexualized sense of language that I find sexual hints in "prodded the earth with a lazy tool"? It might simply be a way of saying that he is proceeding in a dreamy directionless way, rather than in the energetic and organized way you would need for regular work. In either case – erotic undercurrent or daydream, or both together – an essentially private and personal atmosphere is created, which joins with the sanctified hints to recreate the "mood apart" of the speaker.

But the mood lasts only a few lines before the outside world intrudes in the form of "some boys from school" who have stopped to spy. They are probably just curious about the strange sounds they hear, but we are seeing things from the speaker's point of view, and spy is his angry verdict on their motivation. When gender roles were more clearly divided than they are today, men were expected to be engaged in the outer world, the non-domestic (and often harsh and uncomprehending) world, in a way that women, at least women of a certain social standing, were not. (This is actually still true for men, but now this engagement is more likely to be expected from women, too.) For many boys, the entry into school marks the beginning of masking their wayward and unusual side, their dreamy separateness, to protect it from the coarse judgments of the harsh new society they will be forced to grapple with for the rest of their lives. Hence the appearance here of the spying schoolboys; they represent this world, casually but continually monitoring behavior for any signs of strangeness.

The poem begins Once, implying that we are hearing a recollection, an adult looking back on his younger days. The phrasing some boys from school suggests that the speaker knows them, that he is a classmate of the spies (perhaps, under different circumstances, a friend). As such, he is particularly vulnerable to the on-going ridicule that might result from this encounter.  As soon as he realizes he is being observed, he stops his song, and also his heart (almost) stops – there is a suggestion of fatality there, the stopping of a heart, but more strongly of fear, and the suspension or hiding of something personal and sacred. His lovely moment has been violated. But we aren't told how the boys actually reacted – did they mock him, did some defend him, did they find the whole scene boring? – because under these circumstances any eye is an evil eye: that is, any outside look or judgment is a fatal intrusion. What's important to him now is not how the boys reacted then, but his reaction to what he sees as their spying – his heart-stopping knowledge of potential exposure and, despite it all, his continued retention in memory of his broken mood.

In the last line, the sort of odd and clunky chain of prepositions ("looks in on to a mood apart") helps create an almost physical sense of the separation between the group looking and the individual boy's mood – you feel the prepositions stretch like treacherously slippery stones between two river banks. Looks in on suggests a more intrusive regard than you would get from such possibly more benign phrasing as looks upon. The boys might have said plenty of things, or nothing at all, but the speaker is indifferent to all that – any intrusion is unwelcome. Moods are by definition temporary things. This special one was shattered. Nonetheless, he keeps the memory of it, away from the others; hence his ability to recreate it in poetry.

This seemed like a good poem for the beginning of autumn, a time when we tend to draw inward (which is probably one of the reasons it is my favorite season). The poem is from the Library of America edition of the Collected Poems, Prose, & Plays of Robert Frost.

04 October 2015

an October update: Volti open rehearsal

Fabulous new-music choral group Volti is having an open rehearsal this Wednesday, 7 October, from 7:00 to 9:00 PM at the First Unitarian Church in San Francisco (1187 Franklin Street, right up from Van Ness Avenue, across from St Mark's Lutheran and near the Cathedral). The group and composer Tonia Ko will be working on a piece based on Virginia Woolf's short story Monday and Tuesday. Ko is Volti's Choral Arts Laboratory composer for this season (this is a program which gives a young composer the chance to develop choral-writing skills by developing a piece with the group).

The event is free but reservations are recommended and you can make one here.

02 October 2015

Friday photo 2015/40

Another one of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from May 20013, right before it closed for a three-year renovation. This is looking up from the main lobby.