March 26, 2014

Dear March – Composers, poems, sponsors

Benjamin C. S. Boyle  set a poem by Edith Wharton.March_commisssion_composers

Boyle’s commission is supported by a gift from Dr. Christina Stasiuk and George Farion.

Patience                      by Edith Wharton (1862 – 1937)

PATIENCE and I have traveled hand in hand
So many days that I have grown to trace
The lines of sad, sweet beauty in her face,
And all its veiled depths to understand.

Not beautiful is she to eyes profane;
Silent and unrevealed her holy charms;
But, like a mother’s, her serene, strong arms
Uphold my footsteps on the path of pain.

I long to cry, — her soft voice whispers, ‘Nay!’
I seek to fly, but she restrains my feet;
In wisdom stern, yet in compassion sweet,
She guides my helpless wanderings, day by day.

O my Beloved, life’s golden visions fade,
And one by one life’s phantom joys depart;
They leave a sudden darkness in the heart,
And patience fills their empty place instead.

– Setting by Benjamin C.S. Boyle

Edith Wharton was a poet as well as a novelist. She had the distinction of being the first woman to earn the Pulitzer Prize for literature (for The Age of Innocence.) Wharton came from a privileged New York aristocratic background… the saying “Keeping up with the Jones” is said to have come from her father’s family. Privilege did not keep her from her share of misfortune however, much of it incurred when she met and married Philadelphia gentleman, Edmond Wharton.

“Patience” was published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1880, making her a published poet at age 18.

Douglas Cuomo  set a poem by Amanda Nadleberg.

Cuomo’s commission was supported by a gift from John and Sandra Stouffer.

Our Vision for the Future  by Amanda Nadelberg

We come here to understand
especially little things.

Two birds are dancing.
Can you hear their
wings brushing on the
hallway floor? It is like
tiny imaginary sweetness.
Like the part of a shadow
intended only for sound.
Look look look look
look look look,
you can see it!

The quiet acts of trying.

France is grand today. 1986
was just like this: giving our
grapefruits little sun tans.
These days young people
don’t give a damn. Yarrow?
What does that even mean?
Family commitments?
Like a tub? I’m a metropolitan
woman! A woman who buys
a lamp because it suits her.
Maybe I’m ordinary,
huffed against a fence post.
I’d like to be both of us
at the same time. You
looking here at you.    – Setting by Douglas Cuomo

“Our Vision for the Future” is from Amanda Nadelberg’s second book of poems, Bright Brave Phenomena, published in 2012. (You should buy it.) In a recent interview she talked a bit about constructing her poems, “I had been collecting these little lines and scraps in a shoebox. And at a certain point I realized it was time to try to put some of them together, so the act of writing a poem became almost an editing in and of itself, a sewing together of disparate pieces over a connected period of time that all somehow felt more connected because of a floating feeling, an emotional floating… So, really the poems are disparate pieces that were sewed back into chronological or emotional line-neighbors.”

Michael Djupstrom set a poem by Gwendolyn Brooks.

Djupstrom’s commission is supported by a gift from Allan Schimmel.

Infirm                          by Gwendolyn Brooks (1917 – 2000)

Everbody here
is infirm.
Everybody here is infirm.
Oh. Mend me. Mend me. Lord.
Today I
say to them
say to them
say to them, Lord:
look! I am beautiful, beautiful with
my wing that is wounded
my eye that is bonded
or my ear not funded
or my walk all a-wobble.
I’m enough to be beautiful.

You are
beautiful too.

– Setting by Michael Djupstrom

Poet Gwendolyn Brooks had portfolio of published poems by the age of 16.  When her first book of poetry, published by Harper and Row, was critically acclaimed, she received a Guggenheim Fellowship and was soon recognized as the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1950).  Brooks held up the inner city poor in her poetry. She was asked by President Kennedy to read at the Library of Congress Poetry Festival in 1962 and taught at Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago State University, Elmhurst College and Columbia University.

Daron Hagen set four poems by Emily Dickinson.

Hagen’s commission is supported by a gift from Lauren and Craig Meyer.

Of all the Souls that stand create –
I have elected – One –
When Sense from Spirit – files away –
And Subterfuge – is done –
When that which is – and that which was –
Apart – intrinsic – stand –
And this brief Drama in the flesh –
Is shifted – like a Sand –
When Figures show their royal Front –
And Mists – are carved away,
Behold the Atom – I preferred –
To all the lists of Clay!

I’ve seen a Dying Eye
Run round and round a Room –
In search of Something – as it seemed –
Then Cloudier become –
And then – obscure with Fog –
And then – be soldered down
Without disclosing what it be
‘Twere blessed to have seen –

If you were coming in the Fall,
I’d brush the Summer by
With half a smile, and half a spurn,
As Housewives do, a Fly.
If I could see you in a year,
I’d wind the months in balls –
And put them each in separate Drawers,
For fear the numbers fuse –

If only Centuries, delayed,
I’d count them on my Hand,
Subtracting, till my fingers dropped
Into Van Dieman’s Land.

If certain, when this life was out –
That your and mine, should be
I’d toss it yonder, like a Rind,
And take Eternity –

But, now, uncertain of the length
Of this, that is between,
It goads me, like the Goblin Bee –
That will not state – its sting.

Wild Nights – Wild Nights!
Were I with thee
Wild Nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile – the Winds –
To a Heart in port –
Done with the Compass –
Done with the Chart!

Rowing in Eden –
Ah, the Sea!
Might I but moor – Tonight –
In Thee!

– Settings by Daron Hagen

Emily Dickinson may not have died with her “poems still in her,” (as the saying goes) but she did die with them locked in box, 1,800 of them, the vast majority unknown to the world until her death. They were written in notebooks and on cards, scribbled on torn pieces of paper and on envelopes with their glue seams pressed open. Her scrawl and scrutable observations came together on flimsy as a pieces of throwaway paper, which she organized in her later years, and then locked away.  In due course the poems would became known – and enter the public domain – making her at this point, the second most frequently set poet in the English language, with 700 musical settings and counting… just behind Shakespeare.

James Primosch set a poem by Susan Scott Thompson

Waltzing the Spheres    by Susan Scott Thompson (1946-2007)

We pulled each other closer in the turn
around a center that we could not see –
This holding on was what I had to learn.

The sun can hold the planets, earth the moon,
but we had to create our gravity
by always pulling closer in the turn.

Each revolution caused my head to whirl
so dizzily I wanted to break free,
but holding on was what I had to learn.

I fixed my eyes on something out there firm,
and then our orbit steadied so that we
could pull each other closer in the turn.

The joy that circles with us round the curve
is joy that passes surely as a peace,
and holding on is what we have to learn.

And if our feet should briefly leave the earth,
no matter, earth was made for us to leave,
and arms for pulling closer in the turn –
This holding on is what we have to learn.                  – Setting by James Primosch

Susan Scott Thompson wrote poetry throughout her life. She did this while pursuing other careers, including being a teacher of English Literature and Poetry, a social worker and counselor. Shortly after the 9-11 disaster, when the nation turned to poetry to help cope with the tragic events, her poem “Waltzing the Spheres,”  written years before, was recited on Bill Moyer’s program for PBS on September 12, while footage of the rescue efforts was shown. This poem garnered national attention.

Maurice Wright set a poem of Virgina Robinson

Hold my hands, lover    by Virginia Robinson  (Dates unknown)

Hold my hands, lover,
Hold them tightly, never let them go
For in dark death, lover,
I shall remember you held them so.

Here are my dreams, lover,
Clasp them warmly, show them to the moon
And in death I shall rest, lover,
Knowing you keep their timid tune.

Here are my hands, lover,
Hold them tightly, never let them go
For in dark death a heart, lover,
Is cold as snow.              -Setting by Maurice Wright

Program Note from Maurice Wright:  In the summer of 2012 I visited the West Virginia Archives and History Library in search of first person accounts of the civil unrest in the coalfields that took place in the early part of the 20th century. Before traveling to the archives, I searched its online catalogue for poems and plays dating to that time, and was intrigued by this entry:

Poems, Virginia Robinson?, ca. 1930s.
Content: Poems brought by young Negro girl into WPA office.
Donor: u.d. [unknown donor]

If she was a “young girl,” she was somewhere between ages 10 and 20 in 1930, which puts her date of birth at 1910-1920. Given this date, she might have been the daughter of a mine family. Many black laborers were drawn to southern West Virginia during the coal boom that accompanied World War I, but that prosperity had waned by the time of the Great Depression. So, there is some possibility that she was a prodigiously bright young black woman who heard that the WPA was paying artists for their work. We can assume she lived somewhere in West Virginia or Virginia, near a WV WPA office, although there were surely multiple WPA offices. I’m not sure her name was Virginia Robinson. She may have been from Robinson, Virginia, for example.

What is certain, however, is the sweep of the poet’s imagination. This poem treats the ideas of love and death, evokes images of snow and the moon, and implores the reader to hold the hands and dreams of the poet, which I have tried to do with my setting.

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