Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sharpe chooses Gautier

Yolanda Sharpe in Krasnoyarsk
About Yolanda Sharpe

Yolanda Sharpe, originally from Detroit, Michigan, lives in upstate New York. She is a painter, whose mediums are oils, encaustic, and watercolor. Ms. Sharpe is a Professor of painting and drawing at the State University of New York – College at Oneonta. She is also a 2011 United States Fulbright Scholar for the Russian Federation. In early 2011, she traveled to Krasnoyarsk, Russia, a city in northern Siberia, to teach graduate students about various advanced processes for watercolor painting. During this time, Yolanda presented her drawings and encaustic paintings in two exhibition venues: Crazy, a group exhibit in the city, and Fragments, a solo exhibit at the Krasnoyarsk State Institute of Fine Arts gallery.

The Aerospace Academy of Krasnoyarsk invited Yolanda to present information about the topic, Art + Business to their students. This was a lecture and discussion format, and the topic focused on many practical skills for contemporary artists in that region to help them navigate the world of commerce, galleries, and art business via the Internet.

Yolanda Sharpe has exhibited national in the States, and will exhibit Urban Fragments, a solo presentation of encaustic paintings, at the Birmingham-Bloomfield Art Center, Birmingham, Michigan fall, 2012. Please visit her web site at: yolandasharpe.com.

Ms. Sharpe is also an accomplished vocalist (soprano) who performed in various solo concert venues. A recent performance was at the Music Hall in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. A forthcoming concert is April 2012, in Cooperstown, New York. It will be a benefit concert for the local Food Banks. Yolanda sang and performed supernumerary roles for Glimmerglass Opera several times, and also performed-in-training title roles, Aida, and Norma, several years ago in Binghamton, New York.

About the poems from Les Nuits d’Été – Villanelle, and Le Spectre de la Rose

The songs are a result of combined work between two notable 19th century artists:  Théophile Gautier (August 30, 1811 - October 23, 1872), a French poet, dramatist, novelist, journalist, art critic, and literary critic, and Hector Berlioz (December 11, 1803-March 8, 1869), a French Romantic composer. Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Été was written in 1856. Many of his songs were originally written for amateur singers, and were later adapted and orchestrated for professional concert performance.

Studying this background of this particular body of songs, I learned that Les Nuits d’Été, which I always thought of as a six-song cycle, was never intended for performance as a single work. Berlioz never did so. Thus I have selected to sing some songs from the entire collection this coming April. Performing only a sample from Gautier’s poems is no crime, indeed!

Villanelle is buoyant, evoking the colors and energy of early spring. It is the season for love, and I like the way the poem and music are blended to remind us that the detritus of winter and gray skies are dissolved into the various pictures and images that this piece conjures up. To sing it, one has to be ebullient, and focused on the gem-like mirth that comes from each note and word.

Le Spectre de la Rose is a gorgeous melody that is layered, rich, and luscious. For me the Rose becomes so many things. She is generous, loving, sad, resigned to her premature death, and yet triumphant. The Rose is content to be placed on the breast of the man who carries her everywhere. He is unaware of her love for him, and the fact that she lives forever. Because she returns to her original home in paradise, she has an aroma that is eternal. I think that I should sing clear legato lines for each word-phrase to convey the beauty of this glorious flower and her fate.

Rose I, encaustic on panel, 23 by 22.5 inches (2009)

by Théophile Gautier 

English translations by composer Edward Lein here


Quand viendra la saison nouvelle,
Quand auront disparu les froids,
Tous les deux nous irons, ma belle,
ur cueillir le muguet aux bois ;

Sous nos pieds égrenant les perles,
Que l'on voit au matin trembler,
Nous irons écouter les merles
Nous irons écouter les merles siffler.

Le printemps est, venu ma belle,
C'est le mois des amants béni,
Et l'oiseau, satinant son aile,
Dit des vers au rebord du nid.

Oh! viens, donc, sur ce banc de mousse
Pour parler de nos beaux amours,
Et dis-moi de ta voix si douce,
Et dis-moi de ta voix si douce : "Toujours".

loin, bien loin, égarant nos courses,
Faisant fuir le lapin caché,
Et le daim au miroir des sources
Admirant son grand bois penché ;
Puis chez nous, tout heureux, tout aises,
En panier enlaçant nos doigts,
Revenons rapportant des fraises
Revenons rapportant des fraises des bois.

Fragment from Yolanda's "Green and Still Moon" from the "Watercolor Revisited"
show at Wayne State University (2011). Photo by Gilda Snowden.


Soulève ta paupière close
Qu'effleure un songe virginal!
Je suis le spectre d'une rose
Que tu portais hier au bal.
Tu me prise encore emperlée
Des pleurs d'argent de l'arrosoir,
Et, parmi la fête etoilée,
Tu me promenas tout le soir.
O toi qui de ma mort fus cause,
Sans que tu puisses le chasser,
Toutes les nuits mon spectre rose
A ton chevet viendra danser.
Mai ne crains rien, je ne réclame
Ni messe ni De Profundis,
Ce léger parfum est mon âme,
Et j'arrive du paradis.
Mon destin fus digne d'envie,
Et pour avoir un sort si beau
Plus d'un aurait donné sa vie;
Car sur ton sein j'ai mon tombeau,
Et sur l'albâtre où je repose
Un poête avec un baiser
Ecrivit: "Ci-git une rose,
Que tous les rois vont jalouser."

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Next up--

Slight delay... I am waiting on a small but essential bit of information about the next piece. It is quite interesting, featuring the choice of painter (head of the SUNY-Oneonta art department for twelve years) and singer Yolanda Sharpe, so please come back for a look!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Farmer chooses Reece

Double portrait of Jonathan Farmer by Caroline Luther.

Jonathan Farmer

Jonathan Farmer is the Founder, Editor in Chief, and Poetry Editor of At Length. He lives in Durham, North Carolina, with his amazing wife and is a founding member of The Hinge Literary Center.

About the poem

There are two places where I’m most in love with this poem: the first two lines (“Those mornings I traveled north on I91,/passing below the basalt cliff of East Rock”) and the run of description that begins with “blue, spider-delicate in a nest of tubes.”) And then there’s one more that I love even more, but couldn’t love without those: “It is correct to love even at the wrong time.” Each one exemplifies a characteristic of Spencer Reece’s talent:

The first, his incredible ability create a metrical line so varied it sounds almost sculptural, a product of (I suspect) incredible patience that somehow stays in the lines even after that slow work is done.

In the second, his phenomenal talent for phrase-making, which is, I think, the aspect of his writing that is easiest to overlook, because it seems least consistent with his over-riding humility.

And finally: his ability to move, without warning, into these short, generalizing sentences that seem less to summarize than to articulate a need; they are, I think, the perceptive after-image of an intelligence that has taken Reece’s own advice from another poem: “We can never be with loss too long” (which also happens to be another of those generalizing lines.) I typically find these more consoling than convincing, a well-earned act of compassion extending, finally, even to his own compassion.

Which brings me to the mystery of this poem, for me: why am I so happy to have it, this piece of writing that seems to put Reece (Reece’s speaker) at the center of a story about the suffering of others? I usually hate that. It usually reeks of narcissism. But here it just breaks my heart (and, one of the oddities of art, heals it too—but more on the healing of hearts in a bit.)

I think the answer is only partly poetic. Or: I think the poetic part is dependent on something else. It’s risky to conflate biography and writing. But it’s also worth noting the obvious fact that writers are people, and that we write within the interplay of emotions, experiences, expectations and obligations &c. that add up to an identity. And while I wouldn’t love Reece’s poems without the virtues I mentioned above, I love them in large part because they are so kind—a word that (both ancestrally and actually) has a lot in common with kin.

And there is a profound sense of human kinship in Reece’s poems, a sense of the slow and patient work of such belonging—work that seems to have started long before the poem, back in the life the poem describes, and which stretches a person beyond the ease of being among his or her familiars. Reece the poet and Reece the speaker feel not just humble but humbled, so thoroughly that it does make sense, finally, to extend compassion to oneself, not because “I” matter more than anyone else, but precisely because “I” don’t. To explain it in another way (and then on to the poem, I promise), here are a few lines from a poem by Czeslaw Milosz that I turn to for consolation in my worst moments. I often think of them when I’m reading Reece:

Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
Without knowing it, from various ills….

 The poem


For A.J. Verdelle

Those mornings I traveled north on I91,
passing below the basalt cliff of East Rock
where the elms discussed their genealogies.
I was a chaplain at Hartford Hospital,
took the Myers-Briggs with Sister Margaret,
learned I was an I drawn to Es.
In small group I said, “I do not like it—
the way so many young black men die here
unrecognized, their gurneys stripped,
their belongings catalogued and unclaimed.”
On the neonatal ICU, newborns breathed,
blue, spider-delicate in a nest of tubes.
A Sunday of themselves, their tissue purpled,
their eyelids the film on old water in a well,
their faces resigned in their see-through attics,
their skin mottled mildewed wallpaper.
It is correct to love even at the wrong time.
On rounds, the newborns eyed me, each one
like Orpheus in his dark hallway, saying:
I knew I would find you, I knew I would lose you.

Poem used by permission of Spencer Reece.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Hicks-Jenkins chooses Youmans

Clive Hicks-Jenkins, "Journey's End," 1999

Clive Hicks-Jenkins earned the honor of being the first to turn in a piece for The Lydian Stones.  However, to publish it immediately meant that the very first post would be about the person behind the site, and that smacked of self-love to me.  So I have delayed it until now. However, I am quite pleased and honored that Clive wanted to write about a poem of mine, and the post is a good celebration of a friendship that began through encounters with words and pictures.  If you want more, be sure and visit him at his site, where you can see many a jeweled "story, wings, or saint" and visit the Artlog.  I should add that my upcoming collection of poems, The Foliate Head, will feature four foliate heads by Clive Hicks-Jenkins, one on the cover and three as division pages. 

About Clive Hicks-Jenkins

Clive Hicks-Jenkins is a painter living and working in the Ystwyth Valley in West Wales. 2011 marked his sixtieth birthday, an event celebrated with a career retrospective at the National Library of Wales, where over two hundred painting, prints, drawings and 'private press' books were assembled for the exhibition. He has produced two book covers for Marly Youmans, Val/Orson and The Throne of Psyche, with several more planned. Marly is one of six poets who produced works linked thematically to the artist's paintings, compiled as The Book of Ystwyth: six poets on the art of Clive Hicks-Jenkins and published earlier this year by Grey Mare Press.

About the poem

Perhaps it will be considered partisan to have selected a poem by a friend about one of my own paintings, but as the painting sprang from a significant event and the poem has assumed significance because of its beauty and insight, then so be it. Marly and I forged a friendship through the medium of e-mails. We had been forging away for some time when out of the blue tumbled five poems from her together with a dedication proclaiming them a celebration of my forthcoming sixtieth birthday. All five were extraordinary, stand alone works that didn't require the proximity of the paintings to validate them, though poems and paintings are reproduced together in The Book of Ystwyth. The Blue Marches takes its theme of loss from a painting made as a memento mori after my father's death. To this day I don't know how the poet captured so much that I was intending in paint that couldn't be conveyed, by me at any rate, in words. I can't recall sharing my feelings with her about my father's death. However Marly has an extraordinary intuition wedded to empathy, which in part must account for the illusion that she opened a secret door in the back of my head, stepped in and took a stroll around. That requires curiosity, tenderness, subtlety, and something that I can only describe as poetic genius. For me that's what Marly is, a poet of genius. I believe she will be discovered by those who love poetry. I believe she will be remembered.

The Poem


                  “. . . this early painterly approach to objects
                  can be seen in Journey’s End, the little still-life/landscape
                  painting of my dad’s tea mug standing in front
                  of Tretower Castle.”  –Clive Hicks-Jenkins

There’s nothing here bejeweled with twig and flower,
No wolfish fur that burns as if a kiln
Had been flung wide to let in sprays of salt,
And most of all, no story, wings, or saint.
Instead there is the seepage of a blue
Not twilight:  low, continual dim glow
Dispersed from borderlands beyond this world.

So here is landscape as the stillest life,
So here is still life hunkered in the grass,
Estranged from lamplit houses, grown outscale.
There’s nothing here but cup and keep and tree,
And tree resembles keep, and keep is tree
Truncated—cup is stump of leaning tree.

No teller yet, unless the tale be one
Older than the famed white book of Rhydderch,
Older than the red of Hergest, older
By far than these… Fetch me a magic fruit
So I can taste its glistening cells and gulp
The stubborn words that linger out of reach.

In blueing light, a father’s mug might be
The grail, might be Welsh cauldron, wombed with life,
Might over-brim with death-drink, colorless.
There’s nothing but a shadow in the cup!
Its clipper ship in sail is doldrum-glazed,
Forgets the fragrance of darjeeling seas.

The motte, a mound of good Welsh earth, was his,
As was the tower vacant to the sky,
The kingdom known as Powys long ago,
And all the rainy borderland of blue—
All things that flee and hide in borderlands
Between the earth and sky belonged to him.

But now he has passed through that realm of dreams
And left you wondering by hills of earth,
And long you’ll muse, and long you’ll meditate
And never understand the world you brushed
Across that sheet of paper:  world where tree
Is keep, and keep is tree, and cup can loom
As high as high Tretower or a tree.

                        Journey’s End, 1999

Reprinted by permission of the author.
Offered by a reader, following some posting confusion, and used with thanks: "Comments are most welcome. If you have no Google account (or AIM, etc.), choose 'Name/URL.'  It is not necessary to add the URL unless you have one and choose to do so."