Thursday, December 9, 2010

Songs without Music

Reading Nicholson Baker's Anthologist has given me the itch to read and listen to some poetry, not just any poetry, but rhyming poetry, what Baker calls poems with a four-beat meter. It made me think that these poems are just songs without the music, kind of the inverse of Mendelssohn's "Songs without Words".

I took a trip to Moe's in Berkeley looking for poetry by Louise Bogan, who I had never heard of before reading Baker's book. Moe's has about 50 feet of seven-foot tall shelves filled with poetry books, but not a single one by Louise Bogan. In the "B" section I did find the Collected Poems of Elizabeth Bishop, who is also praised quite a bit in the Anthologist. I read a few poems and decided to pick it up. I was carrying it around until I reached the "R"s. I put it down to pull Roethke: Collected Poems from the shelf. It was a first edition hardcover from 1966. The cover was a little frayed and torn, but still looked nice with a photographic image of an unsmiling Roethke on a blue monochromatic field, a crude likeness to the Blue Note album covers of that era.

I remembered that a high school teacher of mine gave me a book of Roethke poems as a graduation gift. I remembered that it was good, but it didn't really leave a strong impression. As I perused the Roethke volume at Moe's, I started to wonder what my former teacher saw in my 17-year-old unformed self that made her think of Roethke. Perhaps my more mature present self could find out. It seemed like an interesting bit of psychological sleuthing with a touch of nostalgia. As I was thinking about all this, I forgot about Elizabeth Bishop and left her behind. Don't worry, Liz, I'll be back for you.

The other thing I wanted to pick up was a record of a poet reading his or her own poetry. So I went across the street to Amoeba Records. Their poetry section turned out to be surpisingly skimpy. It seems like Nikki Giovanni was popular in the day people listened to poetry on records. There were several records of hers, some with a choir. Dylan Thomas records were also popular apparently. There was one of William Carlos Williams reading his poems. I like W.C.W., but he didn't write rhyming four-beat poems. I ended up picking up a Robert Frost record. It was recorded in 1957. I hope his voice was still strong when he recorded these poems. Frost isn't among my favorite poets, but it was the closest to the thing I was looking for and the thought of listening to the actual poet was still exciting

So, I'll be spending a few evenings reading Roethke, listening to Frost, and finding out if poetry unlocks any mysteries.

No comments:

Post a Comment