“art is nice but the question is how are you
making money are you for sale”
I’m working my way through Morgan Parker’s There are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé. This morning I read this poem and was struck by the couplet above. I have spent my life as someone who doesn’t sell well. I am deluded enough to think that I make good music and even occasionally (rarely in a life time of attempts) good poems or prose. But it’s always been just enough off kilter to not fit nicely into the markets where I have submitted them. My problem is that my heart I was never into selling myself. So first I compromised with playing top 40 in bars when I needed a gig in between wives. Then I sneaked back into church and did music there for money.
I think I knew I wasn’t great at church music at first when I took my little Episcopalian job in Oscoda, MI in the 70s.
There was an elderly Welch lady there who kept bugging me to get lessons. Mrs. Swetka (sp?) would probably be gratified with my pursuit of actually learning my craft.
In the last year I have experienced a bit of a flowering of ability under the tutelage of the new Pasi organ at work. But I still see that I am out of step in the same way that I was never successful commercially with my compositions, my poetry, and even my occasional prose piece (I recently submitted what I thought was a pretty well written article about our new organ to the local paper. They didn’t even respond with a rejection.)
Speaking of being out of step, my morning Anne Stevenson poem is one that reviewers tend to quote from her Stone Milk. I can’t find it online to link but here are some lines from it. It begins:
“‘I-pod’ is a hideous word,
while mobile phone, although euphonious
Chirps from its ambulant next like a digital bird…”
It is a bit of a rant from one old person to another, dedicated as “‘a fully interactive poetry experience’ for John Lucas at 70.” (Stevenson is 85.)
‘To be honest’ and speak my mind,
Dear John, my guess is that ‘at this point in time’
English is leaving you and me behind.
Do you know how t teach a sound to bite?
Do I go surfing through a net all night?
Lacking ‘promotional strategies,’ I’m afraid
We’ll hardly make the canon’s hit parade.
Still, appearing ‘live’ at seventy has
a tingling, clear, unsponsored compensation.
Like fugue motifs in Bach, like flowering jazz,
Those plummet lines of language, free of fashion,
Reach to your deepest layer and won’t let go.
There, ever minute tells you lightly, gently,
The still sad music of humanity
Is all we know, and all we need to know.
from “Listen to the Words” in Stone Milk by Anne Stevenson
By now, you can probably see why I like Stevenson. I couldn’t stop typing out her poem once I had started. Stevenson is the daughter of a U of M prof who began life as a musician who went deaf and ended up living most of her life in England.
My problem may be that I can still hear well enough to keep my church gig and don’t need to quit music in public yet. And I do still enjoy what I do.
Today I began my day with Haydn and my new book about his compositional logic by my former prof Ethan Haimo. I am deep into chapter two about Symphony 1 and Haimo’s insights and reference to the scholarly literature on his subject are as salient and fascinating as I remember them!