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Monday, April 7, 2014

"Gymnopédies No. 1" - Adrian Matejka

That was the week
          it didn't stop snowing.

That was the week
          five-fingered trees fell

          on houses & power lines
          broke like somebody waiting

for payday in a snowstorm.
That snow week, my daughter

& I trudged over the broken branches
           fidgeting through snow
 
           like hungry fingers through
           an empty pocket.

Over the termite-hollowed stump
as squat as a flat tire.

            Over the hollow
            the foxes dive into
when we open the back door at night.

That was the week of snow
           & it glittered like every
            Christmas card we could
             remember while my daughter

poked around for the best place
to stand a snowman.  One

with a pinecone nose.
              One with thumb-pressed

         eyes to see the whole
picture once things warm up.


I really enjoy the imagery of this poem, of a father-daughter trip across snow, after a full week of storms, to build a snowman, something somewhat hopeful to look towards the eventual coming of spring.  I particularly like the image of someone "fidgeting through snow like hungry fingers through an empty pocket," a sort of plaintive, fitful, unclear walk.

What I do not understand is why the poem is given the title of Gymnopédies No. 1.  Arguably Erik Satie's most famous piece, it's a beautiful piece, but I never got a sense of winter out of it.  Listening to it while writing this, I can hear some of the ideas, like a wide, barren, featureless landscape.  The small dissonances in the piece, characterized by 7ths, are not jarring, but rather, they enrich the fullness of the sound.  The light, delicate modal melody could certainly characterize snowfall, but I have trouble reading that into the piece.

I think more than anything, the association with Satie's piece drags this poem down a bit.  It saddles it with expectations to which I'm not convinced the poem can live up.  I like the poem quite a bit, I think the imagery is lovely, and that it's very evocative, but I think the title is preventing me from embracing it on its own terms.  I forget where I heard it (I think it may be Billy Collins), but the transition from the title of a poem to the body of the text is like disembarking from a boat; anything can go wrong.  I think something has here, because I can only compare this poem to the piece of music, and I think that's a shame.

Here is the piece.  I'll let you be the judge of if the textual content of the poem is a match for the musical content of the piece.  I hope that my interpretation has not colored your hearing of the music too much!



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