Sunday, October 17, 2021

Another very wet night. So many leaves have come down in these two rainstorms; even in this dim morning light I can see that the view from my windows is on the way to becoming to its winter version--a flattened sky, flash of a passing train, stark cutout of a steeple.

I spent yesterday morning reading contest manuscripts and the Iliad, and then Tom and I drove into town to watch Todd Haynes's documentary on the Velvet Underground, which was being screened at the Portland Museum of Art. I liked it quite a lot, especially the interviews with John Cale explaining how he had come to add the viola drones underneath songs like "Heroin" and "Black Angel Death Song" . . . talking about the way in which overtones work and their effect on listeners--all of which made perfect sense to me.

I first heard the Velvet Underground in college, in the 80s, well after they'd disbanded. At that time I had very little understanding of pop music or rock-and-roll. I'd been classically trained as a violinist, and I wasn't allowed to play pop radio in the house, so the only contemporary music I heard was ambient. But my college boys took me on as project, pouring on everything they thought I should know. Much of it I found, at first, impossible to hear. My ear could not even comprehend a twelve-bar blues riff: that's how untrained it was, in that realm. But gradually I began to sort out what I was being offered, and the Velvets became something of an obsession. Perhaps, somehow, I was hearing that Cale, too, had entered this door via the classical world. I never thought of that then; I was drawn to the lyrics, and the hypnotic way in which the music enacted them. I was not a poet at this time, nor did I imagine becoming a poet. But I suspect my poet brain was at work, trying to absorb the both-and elements of sound and sense that enwrapped these songs.

Today I'm going to an afternoon party of poets in far-southern Maine, so I need to finish up this letter soon and go start the bread I'm baking for the occasion--an Italian herb bread that I discovered earlier this week, a very pretty, simple twist, with the surprising taste of coriander seed mixed among the rosemary and thyme. The rain should clear out, and the sun is supposed to shine, and I'm looking forward to sitting by the river and being sociable.

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