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Art and Poetry

Variations on Genius

by James Strecker

Strauss Sonata Opus 5
Bach: Two & Three Part Inventions
Byrd: First Pavane and Galliard
Schoenberg: Klavierstücke Opus 11 & Opus 23
Mozart Sonatas Reconsidered
The Art of the Fugue
After Hearing the Brahms Ballades
At the Grave of Glenn Gould

A cycle of poems inspired by the life and recordings of Glenn Gould, and commisioned by The International Glenn Gould Society for presentation at the Glenn Gould Festival in Groningen, The Netherlands, in October of 1992. They are reproduced here by permission of James Strecker.

Strauss Sonata Opus 5

It may be
some essential sadness
governed his heart;

and because his death
allowed no repartee,
he intended each note
a profound impiety

as he acted his life.

Music would prove
all he knew; music
would manipulate his
bones into other bones,

so he might renounce
so much of the world
and invent unworldly
order - was it love?

He seemed over-full
with life, seemed a
maker of sound

he already heard;
yet his thinking
took him out of reach

and his solitude,
though bliss,
reached everywhere
like destiny.

His art was not

and, to some, a
default of essence
was the making
of his pride.

Some conceded,
maybe feared, that
his guiding spirit
sang indivisible,

and some claimed
his will the root
of all our dreams,
though who knows

what is music and
what the human heart?
In his northern
solitude, made of

imagination and
passionate trees, he
allured the absolute

silence into music.
Yet silence that
passed through him,
that he shaped

with meticulous ease,
must remain as we live,
as we are cut down,
as everlasting music dies.

Bach: Two & Three Part Inventions

The gills of a fish
and the lungs of humankind
breathe concentric, musical
will, harmonious and divine.

A dog asleep knows tranquil
ecstasy, and cows, who
claim no reason, prove
their wisdom, soundlessly.

The birds invent a
gentle symmetry; who would
tamper with happiness to
imitate their song?

From the lake, shore to
shore, the stars all seem
predictable, yet clearly
some order is their will

and their companion. Thus
every human masterwork
is only a beginning, perhaps
the outset of timelessness, as

it pours invention upward
like apprentice to the dew.
Yet our music gives beauty
a name, while fish divide

deep darknesses and music
is what they are, but nothing
they desire. Today life is
music, the earth convinces me.

Byrd: First Pavane and Galliard

If darkness be light invisible,
or want of light that conspires
greater darkness, each notion
of art knows no love 's fibre.
The moon 's dark quarter becomes
another moon, and silences dream
one another among the living, among
the unreachable dead. Even the sentient
stars cannot heal this wound in the
universe; and even those who aspire
with love shall be neither water
nor sky but silence, veined of silence,
and perfect only because they die.

But in darkness every sound is
true, and imagination, willed or
made of will, flows like cosmic blood
where light is spent. Souls, whatever
they are, overlap on spirit, on the
crisscross dance of nothing and idea.
We are naked of purpose here, we
carve our meaning in sound, though
music makes no shadow, even in pure
light. Each sound dies superfluous to
silence, dies nothing before our brief
wisdom dies, perfectly this and
imperfectly that, perhaps eternal.

Schoenberg: Klavierstücke Opus 11 & Opus 23

Words would sleep,
if we let them,

and make no sound; they
would hear us cry the end
of isolation,
hear us dead and leave

no mark, no meaning.
would steal our secrets
and tell us none
of their own. So,

wordless, we must talk
of things we do not

know, touch
the earth verbatim

for music, for sound.
should we fingertip

each sound ungraciously,
the silences would rebel.

No doubt that art,
and we,
are nothing to

nature; who knows
if music
cares for us at all?

Mozart Sonatas Reconsidered

Was it art or hypothesis
he took music for? Was it
music intended or music found out
he played? Did he hear a clock
in the vein of a flower, or did
he discover order not his own?

To be creative is to be oneself.
This is not easy: one must
take doubt for certainty. And
rebellion, for reasons true or
profane, and rather than rote,
still betrays the earth with

vanity. We own no music; no
wonder he paused, confirmed,
before he made a sound. And sound
was his biography as he pointed
there, not here, and took on this
world. It was not logic nor

madness, the extremes were
available, and each moment offered
everything he knew. Each instant
he spoke his lifetime, yet
something that did not exist
before, something more.

We cannot assume the man
and music were one; the grasses
endure through seasons on his bones.
What music he reshaped remains
forever what it was, and, because
he tried it, forever not the same.

The Art of the Fugue

Knowledge that stays forever
when music subsides, not consensus,

touches each note into ecstasy,
and the everpresent tense of art
shows off, sublime, its genius:
sound that is question and answer,
sound one finds with only the heart.

What the tongue cannot speak, these
wondrous permutations do; where
flesh cannot walk, these sounds

touch on snow, and footsteps follow
these harmonies forever. In this place

he knows again what he hears, he
knows that he knows, he is maybe very
lonely. He lingers precisely, places

an atom of thinking to foreshadow
a sound; and each sound endures

this world as if unborn. He touches
vague perfection to make a sound,
perfection jealous of echo until

he makes another; no clarity more
is spoken, no nuance taken away. In

some way free of mortal intention, this
clarity gives him the ultimate joy,
surprise; it inspires him also to sing.

After Hearing the Brahms Ballades

Toronto makes awakening noise
on St. Clair West. The morning
coffee hangs contrapuntal scent
over chatter in restaurants.
In that building, like an actor,
he played every part: he played
himself. He was something more than
alive and, dead, he knows the great
void that no earth can fill, for
death is always keen to pluck a body
from thinking, from posture and idea.

He was not less wounded if he did
not speak his wounds. No doubt he was
always the age of his pain; and demons
around him lived their demon lives,
like all fickle things that torment
us unending. And dextrous of hand,
precise of mind, perhaps he was not
wise and somehow made himself die. Or
maybe he could not assume the good
of this world, as he could not deny
the beauty in it, and maybe this age,

so splendid of mediocrity, was heir to
his echoes of summer. Still, for some,
this world is happiness and what
bleeds is alive until it bleeds no more,
no matter the farce of perfection
because we speak all the sorrows and we
die. His life was a life no one could
foretell, like pure experience that
emerges through textures of lakeside
morning mist. And who knows why we pray,
why in our bliss every torment speaks?

At the Grave of Glenn Gould

It's an ordinary place,
for death is ordinary.
The grass is cut,
it's a tidy place.

The trees, too far apart,
cast no shadow on your name;
nearby, a squirrel, a robin,
and, at another grave, mourners
who mourn a death the first
time. Overhead, some Canada
Geese make petulant sounds.

The sun is unmerciful today,
and so is death. The whole
place seems to yawn as if,
for reasons beyond reason,
the dead are quite bored with us.

Were you ever bored, alive?
Did mastery make you weary?
Did you ever dare tread where
you might make mistakes? The

naysayers said no, and so
many made of water, fire, earth,
and air asked too humbly of the
stars what each day would be;
no wonder you and the world
went separate ways.

Still, I look for something
more on your grave. Was
perfection too painful where
no one might see your ecstasy?

You wouldn't be part
of the world unless you
had your way; you sang perfect
in much but not imperfection;

you doubted where music gave
over to dance and dance
to madness, disorder.
You marvelled at secrets,

wanted no secrets, and you
lived a secret life. You
seemed too cautious to weep
and defied emotion the best
you could, as if the heart
intended some clarity of brain.

But each life remains unlived,
unrealized; and as I leave,
I make only footsteps, only

a passing shadow. You
died at fifty, and I, at
forty-nine, like most of this
world, have not been true to
all that is true in me.

James Strecker, Echosystem Poems & Poem Cycles, (Hamilton: Mini Mocho Press, 1993), p. 84-94

Source: Echosystem : poems & poem cycles
James Strecker. -- Hamilton, Ont. : Mini Mocho Press, c1993. -- 94 p. ; 23 cm. -- ISBN 0921980116
© James Strecker. Reproduced with the permission of James Strecker, the Estate of Glenn Gould and Glenn Gould Limited.

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