Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Art of Setting Words to Music

Charles Simic, the Bulgarian-born poet whose verses can both confound and astonish the reader, has just finished his term as the 15th U.S, Poet Laureate. His poems are often rooted in his childhood, spent in Yugoslavia during World War II. His images can be stark, such as the excerpt below from "Clouds Gathering":

Some evenings, however, we found ourselves

Unsure of what comes next.

Like tragic actors in a a theater on fire,

With birds circling over our heads,

The dark pines strangely still,

Each rock we stepped on bloodied by the sunset.
(from "Hotel Insomnia", copyright 1992, Harcourt Brace Janovich)

His words about war can be shocking.

Millions were dead: everyone was innocent

I stayed in my room. The President

Spoke of war as a magic love potion.

My eyes were open in astonishment.

In a mirror my face appeared to me

Like a twice-canceled postage stamp.

I lived well but live was awful.

There were so many soldiers that day,

So many refugees crowding the roads.

Naturally, they all vanished

With a touch of the hand.

History licked the corners of its bloody mouth.
(an excerpt from "Paradise Motel", printed in "The Voice at 3 A.M.: Selected Late and New Poems", Harcourt 2003.)

Charles Simic will give a free reading at 7 p.m. Sunday September 14 in Wesleyan University's Memorial Chapel, next to South College on campus front. The second part of the program will be a performance of Hartt School of Music Professor Robert Carl's "Simic Songs", 15 madrigals using Simic's poems as lyrics. Professor Neely Bruce is the music director and the 4 vocal soloists are Penney Kimball (soprano), Martha Smith (alto), Toby Twining (tenor) and Mark Johnson (baritone.)

Though the piece was composed in 2005, this concert is the world premiere. And it's free. Click here to read more poems by Charles Simic.

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