shostakovich liked shakespeare; jupe likes jamall may, yusef komunyakaa, and derek walcott


Shostakovich loved Shakespeare. He must have read him in translation but judging from his comments in Testimony many of his Russian colleagues loved Shakespeare as well. One Meyerhold (“director and actor, theorist of avant-garde theater, friend and patron of Shostakovich”), loved Hamlet. “He considered it the best play of any time and any country.”

Shostakovich and his friend, Meyerhold

Testimony goes on for pages about Shakespeare, noting productions of plays and dreamed of operas. Shostokovich observers, “Shakespeare’s tragedies are filled with music. It was Shakespeare who said that the man who doesn’t like music isn’t trustworthy. Such a man is capable of a base act or murder. Apparently Shakespeare himself loved music. I’m always taken with one scene in Lear, in which the sick Lear awakens to music.”

I have been reading King Lear in little bits for quite a while. I tend to read until someone makes a significant exit or is just about to make an entrance. This helps me keep my place in the play.

About Lear, Shostakovich writers “In King Lear, the important thing as I see it is the shattering of the miserable Lear’s illusions. No, not shattering. Shattering comes all at once, and it’s over; that wouldn’t make it tragedy. It wouldn’t be interesting. But watching his illusions slowly gradually crumbling—that’s another thing. That’s a painful, morbid process. Illusions die gradually…”

I have been reading Jamaal May’s book of poetry, Hum. It was given to me by Rhonda a while back. I think it was a selection from a poetry class she was taking. May is a Detroit “poet, editor, and filmmaker.”

As a poet, I think he knows what he’s doing. I quickly googled him and “How to Disappear Completely” popped up. If you’re curious you could read that. It’s a pretty good poem. I couldn’t help but think of Radiohead’s song of the same name from KIdA. A quick glance shows that May didn’t take any words from the song, but surely he recognized and appropriated the title.  Who knows?

Yesterday I picked up another random book of poetry, The Emperor of Waterclocks, by Jusef Komunyakaa. I choose random poetry books from the library new shelf by opening them and reading a bit of a poem. If I can stand it, I take it home for further reading. 

Komunyakaa also knows what he’s doing. Since stupid current events are weighing on me, I flipped to the poem “The Day I Saw Barack Obama reading Derek Walcotts  Collected Poems.”  I liked it. It’s a good poem. It also made me wonder about Walcott. I went to my shelf and pulled out In A Green Night by him.


Fun fact. I bought this worn paperback of Walcott’s first book of poetry in Grayling from “Mary’s Corner Bookshop” and apparently paid $2.95 for it.


Walcott pulled me in as well.

Here’s a poem in his book I liked:

As John to Patmos, among the rocks and the blue, live air, hounded
His heart to peace, as here surrounded
By the strewn-silver on waves, the wood’s crude hair, the rounded
Breasts of the milky bays, palms, flocks, the green and dead
Leaves, the sun’s brass coin on my cheek, where
Canoes brace the sun’s strength, as John, in that bleak air,
So am I welcomed richer by these blue scapes, Greek there,
So I shall voyage no more from home; may I speak here.
This island is heaven-away from the dustblown blood of cities;
See the curve of bay, watch the straggling flower, pretty is
The wing’d sound of trees, the sparse-powdered sky, when lit is
The night. For beauty has surrounded
Its black children, and freed them of homeless ditties.
As John to Patmos, in each love-leaping air,
O slave, soldier, worker under red trees sleeping, hear
What I swear now, as John did:
To praise lovelong, the living and the brown dead.

Unsurprisingly Walcott, the older man of this three poets, uses craft more obviously to me than the other two poets. Hell, I like them all, however.


2 thoughts on “shostakovich liked shakespeare; jupe likes jamall may, yusef komunyakaa, and derek walcott

  1. Jamal May was one of the poets at this year’s Chelsea Midwest Literary Walk. I heard some of what he had to say but, unfortunately, the room was large with a terrible acoustic that was only made worse by incredibly bad PA mixing and speaker placement. At one point, the klieg lights and the PA tripped a circuit breaker and, until they got it fixed, I was actually able to make out what the two featured poets were saying.

    I bought his latest book and got him to sign it afterward. We spoke briefly about Wayne State and ML Liebler, a mutual friend. I asked him if he would be willing to come and speak at our Writers’ Workshop and he said yes. Unfortunately, the person who does the scheduling, eschewed my efforts to give them a mutual email introduction so that she could set it up. In so many words, she said she didn’t need my help. And, of course, since he had no idea of who she is, she has so far been unable to get a response from him. Ah well. He seemed a really nice guy and said that he was willing to come be with us “for the love.” All of us from the Workshop who were there for the event (unfortunately, that didn’t include the person who handles scheduling authors) were really impressed with him. We actually would pay his mileage and a VERY modest stipend. Maybe next semester… And, in fairness to the scheduler, she has a pushcart prize “special mention” winner / Publishers’ Weekly “author to be watched” short story writer scheduled for the Fall. I’m looking forward to that…

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