Monday, August 15, 2016

The Lyricist As Poet

DC Christmas Market

In past blogs, I have mentioned some well-known musicians like Paul Simon, Leonard Cohen,and Bob Dylan whose lyrics are strongly poetic.  

In a recent blog, I did fleetingly refer to a woman, Frand Landesman, who was a lyricist and a poet.  She began her career by putting words to jazz music in the fifties and sixties. She has been labeled “the godmother of hip.”  

Landesman’s lyrics are dark, cynical and strangely compelling.  She put her signature twist on T.S. Eliot’s line “April is the cruelest month” in her lyrics for “Spring Can Really Hang You Up The Most”, one of her best-known songs.  “The Ballad of the Sad Young Men” is another hit song featuring her haunting lyrics.  N.Y. Times critic Stephen Hollen compared her to “a cranky,  jazz-steeped Dorothy Parker.”   It was reported that movies star Bette Davis liked Landesman’s poetry and memorized her poem “Life is a Bitch.”  Fran Landesman (1927-2011) spent the last ten years of her life in London and New York City performing her poetry (from five published volumes), singing her songs and talking about her life.

In contrast, let me turn the spotlight on Mary Chapman Carpenter, one of our contemporary lyricist-poets.  She writes many of her own lyrics, which are also a reflection of her life experiences.  They can be sad, but are often filled with hope, determination and as she matures, a peaceful acceptance of life.  Let me show and not tell, by sharing her lyrics with you.

                                                We press our faces to the glass
                                               And see our little lives go past
                                                Wave to shadows that we cast
                                                On the longest night of the year.

                                           Make a vow when the Solstice comes
                                                   To find the light in everyone
                                                Keep the faith and bang the drum
                                                 On the longest night of the year. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most

Photo by Kathleen Tyler Conklin

Spring in the environs of Washington D.C. ranks high on the list of the world’s most beautiful.

It seems especially so this spring, in part perhaps in contrast to the ugliness of the political antics happening, being reported on and endlessly discussed here.  The contrast is poignant, but not only caused by political chaos.  Exquisite beauty can often stir up feelings of longing and sadness…a sickness of heart, sometimes referred to as spring fever.  Bipolar we become…knocked out by the loveliness of nature…but unsettled because we realize our human nature is so far from the perfection we find there.  We can’t quite capture it in our works of art.  We hope others will be able to feel  the beauty we felt, but know it will be fleeting and somehow changed forever.  We are left with a feeling of not quite getting there, a feeling of loss, a restlessness of spirit.

Shakespeare’s sonnets surely speak to the beauty of nature, but also to that feeling of never quite arriving home.  T.S. Elliot reminds us in his poem “The Wasteland” that “April can be the cruelest month”.  The jazz rendition of those words found in the song “Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most “(lyrics by Fran Landesman) expresses so well the ache found in the sweetness of spring.  Listen to Ella Fitzgerald sing these words and feel better.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Poet’s House

New York City - Central Park by Kathleen Tyler Conklin

If someone told me to imagine 65,000 volumes of poetry books in a library, I would probably picture the yellowed, cracking pages of dusty tomes on shelves. But not so at Poet’s House, which sits at the tip of Manhattan overlooking the Hudson River.  It is a light filled building, buzzing with activity,  As well as housing those 65,000 poetry books published in the last two decades, it offers work space, readings, art exhibitions, classes, films and even a Children’s  Room for events and parties.

Poets House, founded in 1985 by poet Stanley Kunitz and poetry advocate Elizabeth Kray has become “a national library and literary center that invites poets and the public to step into the living tradition of poetry.” It has the largest poetry collection available to the public in open stacks and welcomes chapbooks, literary journals and multimedia.
Aspirational poets can come there to write, use reference materials, photocopying equipment or attend a workshop. 

Everyone is invited to read, listen to tapes, watch videos, view art exhibits or attend a poetry reading. The professional staff is there Tuesday  through Saturday to help keep poetry alive and well.

Bill Murray, the well known comedian is also a poet and supporter of the non-profit Poets House.  He gives a yearly benefit reading to help support all of the free programs Poets House offers to the public. Far from being dusty and stagnant, Poets House is a well spring that nurtures and celebrates the vital pulse of poetry.