dermatologist visit, rekindling old passions and, of course, a bit of Glenn Gould


Eileen drove me up to my 8 AM dermatologist appointment this morning. After going over my entire body (this is the procedure) he gave me a good bill of skin health. There is a spot on my back that he has asked Eileen to put the steroids on for the next three months (assuming it continues to itch a bit). If it’s still there at the next appointment he may remove it. He suspects it might be a basal cancer. That’s the more benign skin cancer. I think it’s the vestiges of that damn rash that start it all. At least that’s how it feels to me.

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As I am hurtling back toward my church job, I find my time is being taken up with some very familiar non-musical passions.

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My renewed interests in James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Homer, and Greek are giving me much pleasure during this time of vacation. I have been reading Joyce’s first attempt at a novel, Stephen Hero. 

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This text is very discontinuous, beginning abruptly in mid sentence due to the fact that is all we have of it and then weirdly continuing with a chapter marked XVI.

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But both Joyce and his character, Stephen Daedalus are very present in this book and I am enjoying it.

I’m also learning more about Ezra Pound and reading his Pisan Cantos.  In his introduction to his edition of these, the editor, Richard Sieburth tells the painful story of Pound’s detention in Italy beginning in 1945. It is during this period, Pound continues his huge work with the Pisan Cantos (74-84). These were written when Pound was incarcerated at a detention center near Pisa, Italy, thus the name.

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Pound doesn’t realize what a mess he has made by broadcasting rants supporting Mussolini during the war. He sees his own motives as pure and patriotic to the USA. But the State Department has had an eye on him and is not sure quite how to proceed. When the US forces contact them about what to do with Pound,  Washington directs them to put Pound in the Pisan detention center and not give him any special treatment.

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Unfortunately, the prison keepers interpret this to me that Pound should be kept in isolation in a small cage in the open.

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Pound survives three weeks there and begins working on the Pisan Cantos on a make shift desk a fellow prisoner has smuggled to him.  Pound suffers physically and mentally from this treatment and is eventually rescued by military medical staff who can clearly see that he is being harmed. He is transferred to the sick ward of the center, but the damage is done and Pound himself traces his own descent into confusion, amnesia, and mental illness from this experience.

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I continue to be very entranced with Homer and the translator, Emily Wilson.

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I have watched some of her lectures that she has given this year about her translation on YouTube as I do my daily morning exercising. The more I learn about her and Homer the more excited and interested I am. Apparently she is working on The Iliad now. I can’t wait to read that as well.

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I have upped my daily quote of Homer from two lines a day to four.  This not only promises to get me through it twice as fast (if I live that long), it also helps me understand the poem in a less fragmented fashion.

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I have also returned to the late Christopher Logue’s re-imagining of The Iliad in his unfinished work, War Music. After listening to Emily Wilson’s enthusiasm about how the Homeric poems are put together I appreciate Logue’s approach even more. He is quite good and cleverly captures  the Homeric beauty in an entirely updated and clear English. It’s not a translation, but he retells the story in startling poetry that makes me think a bit of Derek Walcott’s wonderful work in this area.

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In addition to watching Emily Wilson lecture on YouTube, I have been gradually working my way through the video, The Alchemist, which is a 1974 French documentary about Glenn Gould.

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I think it’s a beautiful movie. The director makes an interesting white set on which he places Gould performing and talking.

I was very excited when Gould began speaking about 16th century keyboard composers (people from my beloved Fitzwilliam Virginal book). As I have played this material it has come to my mind more than once that Gould would play the hell out of it on the piano.

After confessing that while Bach and Schoenberg were “master technicians,” Gould says that in terms of spirituality, his favorite composer is Orlando Gibbons (!).

He then proceeds to play the following piece. I think it’s amazing playing myself. I love the music and the player.

Then he describes Gibbons superiority to William Byrd (another favorite of mine). He disparages Byrd and then proceeds to sit down and play the hell out of a piece by Byrd.

I find this inspiring (even on vacation).



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