Barbaric Yawp 4: No Artist is an Island

In a weekend of music and poetry (and large dogs), I hosted Books and Brews with Laura Vosika yesterday which included listening to and playing Irish music, got mauled with affection by a large dog, attended a fantastic concert of medieval music by the Rose Ensemble, which included a theorbo (think lute on steroids), got loved half to death by a large dog, scratched a large dog's head and chin while playing piano (believe me, when a 100 pound dog is determined to be loved and you're determined to play piano, you do figure out how to do both), took a large dog for a long walk (well, for us, medium--about 2-1/2 miles), and tonight attended Barbaric Yawp, the monthly poetry open mic at Underground Music Café.

It was a small group tonight, in contrast to last month's extremely large turnout.  Among other pieces were Alan's very poignant piece about a father's funeral, Mike's performance piece of Mr. Himmler's Neighborhood, Cassie's series of poems about the very distinct personalities of the chickens she once had out in the Northwest, and Eric Tu's very entertaining poem about modern dating--with a girl and her phone.  Among standout lines: I want to espresso my feelings to you...I like you a latte!

I read two of my own pieces.  One was an exercise I wrote in anapestic meter which is (to my musician's mind) an anti-waltz: weak weak STRONG weak weak STRONG.  (Do not confuse this with week week strong, which is a very different thing.)  The other was a triolet, a form I enjoy and that, for some reason I find easy to write.  It is, in simplest terms, a form of AB a A ab AB.  In other words, there are only two rhyme schemes, the first line is repeated in the middle of the poem and the first two lines are repeated at the end of the poem.

Being in a medieval and Irish frame of mind this weekend, I also read a W.B. Yeats poem and a short medieval poem.

No Second Troy
W.B. Yeats


WHY should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?



This poem, like many he wrote, refers to Maude Gonne.  This one in particular refers to her revolutionary activities.  Despite his love--obsession?--for her, this particular piece does not cast her in an entirely favorable light.  I wrote briefly about Yeats and Maude a couple of days ago.  That piece doesn't even scratch the surface.  It's a subject I'll talk about in more depth another time

In a subject I'll also get into more in another post, this piece is an example of the way the arts intertwine and weave in and out with other artists, other pieces.  Poems, movies, myths, stories, statues, songs, art, dance, opera, and more, reference one another and play off one another and use one another as inspiration, as we each see in another's work something that inspires us.

My own Blue Bells Chronicles was inspired partially by Margaret J. Anderson's In the Keep of Time, partially by the old folk song Blue Bells of Scotland, partially by my own life as a trombonist and in orchestral music, and partially just by that mysterious unknown quantity of inspiration, of a flash of an image that came from who knows where, of a man so arrogant as to gamble his livelihood--in this case his trombone.

In turn, my neighbors grew beautiful wild flowers in their stretch of yard right where I always walk above-mentioned large dog which inspired me to take a photograph, which inspired my friend Cara Pabst Moran to paint a picture based off my photograph.  She also painted a castle, presumably somewhat inspired by my books, which she sent to me and which now hangs in my living room. 

Just in case you're wondering if the dog is totally superfluous to this post or if she inspires art, too--yes, she inspired a poem I read several times on the Vehicle of Expression, which I call my Larger Than Average Triolet for a Larger than Average Friend.

In Pictures at an Exhibition, Mussorgsky was influenced by...well, by pictures...pictures at an exhibition!  From the drawings and paintings, came a fantastic piece of music.  (I may have mentioned that Shawn likes the Russian composers--they write the best trombone parts!)

So, too, with No Second Troy.  Yeats's poem itself references Helen and Troy, and in turn, the poem was referenced years later by Sinead O' Connor in Troy--although, just as my photograph was my own take on my neighbor's garden, and Cara's painting was her own take on my photograph, Sinead's song is a very far from Yeats's poem which is hardly the original story of Troy. 

This is the beauty and fun of art and interacting with artists--and why it's so important for us not to be isolated artists in ivory towers.


I also read a poem that dates back to the early 14th century.  The original is:

Miri it is while sumer i-last
With foulës song;
Oc now neghëth windës blast
And weder strong.
Ei, ei, what this night is long,
And Ich with wel michel wrong
Sorwe and murne and fast


(Oh, my poor spell check is going crazy with that!  I think I need to give it a glass of wine.  A very large one.  Or a Prozac.)

And it is not just a poem, as I found it in my research, but also a piece of music:



I did not subject my audience to my efforts at pronouncing middle English, but hunted down a version tweaked into modern English:

Merry it is while summer lasts,
With birds in song;
But now there threaten windy blasts
And tempests strong.
Ah, but the night is long,
And I, being done such wrong,
Sorrow and mourn and fast


It is fascinating to watch this play between arts and artists, and a testament to why we should not let ourselves become isolated artists in ivory towers, but get out there and meet others and exchange ideas, melodies, forms, styles.  Brendan Carrol's book Tempo Rubato: Stolen Time talks about this--as we watch Mozart, pulled into our present time, experience jazz, and see how quickly his style changes as he listens to, loves, and is influenced by, others.

Circling back to previous thoughts, because I mentioned the relation of the Yeats poem to Maude Gonne, I ended up chatting with Greg after the open mic.  Someone who own a three inch thick book on Maude Gonne!  We had a very interesting conversation as a result and I learned about his association with a group that focuses on poetry as therapy and healing, and many other things.  I learned how his own poetry has influenced and been influenced--and so the cycle continues.  And I will likely learn and be influenced by the doors that conversation opened--which stemmed from Yeats writing a poem--which stemmed from Maude's activities and personality and charm and from an ancient story of Helen of Troy.

In The Blue Bells Chronicles, Shawn is heavily influenced by knowing Niall and Christina.  They are in turn influenced by him.

We are not islands--not as artists, not as people.  I learn from and am inspired by those at open mics and in my writers group.


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