My old friend Mark Sampson has also included CLM in his ten favourite books of 2014. Thanks, Mark!
Wednesday, December 31, 2014
I'm not a big fan of book-biz year-end best-of lists in general, but there are better ways it can be done. Brian Palmu has listed his favourite books of 2014, but, refreshingly, these are books he read this year, rather than books published this year. He also doesn't stop after he's reached an arbitrary number of "best books." And, pleasingly to this household, he has included my book of essays and Rachel's Cottonopolis.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 5:31 AM
Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Welcome to your turnkey cul-de-sac,
where faux Tudors and ersatz cedar-sided
colonials sprawl cheek by jowl, and back
on a hemlock-shaded ravine: your own private
wilderness oasis and buffer against the berm-
baffled traffic beyond. This ticky-tacky
facsimile is the acme of blandeur:
gauche rooflines, cultured stone and off-the-rack
opulencies galore—all the doo-dads
and knick-knacks the status anxiety
of your executive lifestyle demands,
and priced to move fast. This high society
dream could be yours, but it won't last.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 7:38 AM
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Our poems are conversations in every meaningful sense. They are an exchange between ourselves and those parts of ourselves that belong to other people. Intimate whisperings, productive tensions. They challenge and tease us, lead us to say things that we have not thought to say. They gives the courage to have a self and to lose it too, which is surely the most we can ask of any conversation.
We are made up of voice and we are the relations between voices, inside and out. They are our judgement and our redemption, our ipseity and our selflessness, our origin and our promise. Perhaps their revelation is possible in real conversation. It may be, after all, what we live for. As Yeats says, "what do we know but that we face / one another in this place?" I suppose there will always be something ethereal and unreal about conversations as long as I feel as anxious about them as I do. But in every ghostly encounter--the ones we have with friends at Tim Hortons and the ones we listen for when we write--we recognize the voices we love and think: it is good of them to come back the way they do and share a part of themselves with us, good to hear them again. And our hearts warm to a quiet tryst of living voices, ones that, if we are lucky, will choir among themselves long afterward.
--Jeffery Donaldson, "Ghostly Conversations," from Echo Soundings: Essays on Poetry and Poetics
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 5:45 PM
Saturday, November 1, 2014
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 1:50 PM
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Over on the Biblioasis blog, Amanda Jernigan has contributed a few words in praise of my book Track & Trace. It's nice to hear anyone appreciate my work, but it means an awful lot coming from Amanda, who is a superb poet in her own right and one the very best readers of poetry I've ever met. Nice also to hear her appreciating Seth's contribution to the book. I still can hardly believe I published a book designed by him. I'm a lucky fella.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 5:52 PM
Friday, October 24, 2014
I've just finished reading, as it happens, a book that is very useful in shedding light on the popularity of a poet versus that of his or her peers. In The Drunkard's Walk, mathematician Leonard Mlodinow helps to account for variations in subjective evaluations. He explains, for instance, why a $60 bottle of Bordeaux might be rated more highly by experts than a bargain-bin screwtop that beats the highbrow vintage in blind taste tests:
Expectations also affect your perception of taste. In 1963 three researchers secretly added a bit of red food colour to white wine to give it the blush of a rosé. They then asked a group of experts to rate its sweetness in comparison with the untinted wine. The experts perceived the fake rosé as sweeter than the white, according to their expectation. Another group of researchers gave a group of oenology students two wine samples. Both samples contained the same white wine, but to one was added a tasteless grape anthocyanin dye that made it appear to be red wine. The students also perceived differences between the red and the white according to their expectations. And in a 2008 study a group of volunteers asked to rate five wines rated a bottle labeled $90 higher than another bottle labeled $10, even though the sneaky researchers had filled both bottles with the same wine.It isn't hard to translate these results into poetry world terms; it's no stretch to imagine showing a group of Canadian poetry lovers the latest "Don McKay" poem (actually written by someone else) and then to watch them finding six ways from Sunday to praise its virtuosity. Or, conversely, to imagine McKay sending his own new poems off to magazines under a pseudonym and getting most of them back with polite rejection notes. We don't have to imagine it, because similar sociological experiments have been performed. In a later section of his book, Mlodinow writes of an experiment with pop music:
The popularity of individual songs varied widely among the different worlds [the experiment involved dividing 14,341 participants into nine "worlds," each of which was given different popularity data for a selection of forty-eight songs by bands unknown to the participants; the ninth group received no popularity data at all], and different songs of similar intrinsic quality [as defined by the ninth world's rankings of the songs] also varied widely in their popularity. For example, a song called "Lockdown" by a band called 52metro ranked twenty-six out of forty-eight in intrinsic quality but was the number-1 song in one world and the number-40 song in another. In this experiment, as one song or another by chance got an early edge in downloads, its seeming popularity influenced the shoppers. It's a phenomenon that is well-known in the movie industry: moviegoers will report liking a movie more when they hear beforehand how good it is. In this example, small chance influences created a snowball effect and made a huge difference in the future of the song.
I see all kinds of evidence for this kind of social dynamics in the popularity of McKay. Just the other day, this idolatrous blog post came up on my Facebook feed. I sent the link in an email to a few critic colleagues under the subject heading "Sociology." One wrote back "That reads like the missive of someone who has found meaning through a cult." Which is hyperbolic, but the post certainly is evidence of how social capital accrues, compounds and ramifies in the rarefied atmosphere of the poetry business. In other words, a significant reason that people love Don McKay is that people love Don McKay. Humans, however much they may be aware of the arbitrariness of prestige and wealth, still defer to prestige and wealth, another point elaborated by Mlodinow:
I was watching late-night television recently when another star ... appeared for an interview. His name is Bill Gates. Though the interviewer is known for his sarcastic approach, toward Gates he seemed unusually deferential. Even the audience seemed to ogle Gates. The reason, of course, is that for thirteen years straight Gates was named the richest man in the world by Forbes magazine. In fact, since founding Microsoft, Gates has earned more than $100 a second. And so when he was asked about his vision for interactive television, everyone waited with great anticipation to hear what he had to say. But his answer was ordinary, no more creative, ingenious, or insightful than anything I've heard from a dozen other computer professionals. Which brings us to this question: does Gates earn $100 per second because he is godlike, or is he godlike because he earns $100 per second?
Mlodinow then goes on to show that the development of DOS and Gates' subsequent meteoric rise hinged on seemingly insignificant, chance events. Such random events, combined with charisma, explain why McKay is rated so much more highly than a host of contemporaries who are at least as good at writing poems as he is. Lista is bang-on that it's no "sinister plot or top-down conspiracy." It's far more banal than that.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 10:52 AM
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
After missing the last couple of years, I was back at UNB's annual Poetry Weekend this year and brought my digital recorder with me. I was there with Rachel and our son, so part of the weekend had to be dedicated to kid-friendly activities (as Kaleb said to me when I suggested he might listen to my reading, "But daddy, that would be BORING!"), so we missed the first set of readings on Saturday. I've uploaded the other five recordings to Internet Archive.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 6:18 AM
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:39 AM
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Jailbreaks: 99 Canadian Sonnets is one of the best anthologies of poetry I know, and in my top five contemporary poetry books ever. Zach Wells selects sonnets from across the country, across generations, and across styles. For those who think sonnets all look the same, there is much to learn here about the range of poetic possibility within a single set of formal constraints. Among other clever things, Wells's introduction argues that the fourteen lines of the Petrarchan and Shakespearean sonnet forms are poetry's finest vehicle for introducing, developing, and concluding a well-formed thought. These poems are thus phenomenological jailbreaks, consciousness busting out -- in good order -- from the buzzing prison-yard of our jumbled minds. A book to dip into or read cover to cover, with delight on every page.
[I pasted the text of Mark's commentary because the link doesn't work anymore.]
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 5:48 PM
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:47 AM
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Finding in 'primitive' languages a dearth of words for moral ideas, many people assumed these ideas did not exist. But the concepts of 'good' or 'beautiful', so essential to Western thought, are meaningless unless they are rooted to things. The first speakers of language took the raw material of their surroundings and pressed it into metaphor to suggest abstract ideas. The Yaghan tongue--and by inference all language--proceeds as a system of navigation. Named things are fixed points, aligned or compared, which allow the speaker to plot the next move. Had [Thomas] Bridges uncovered the range of Yaghan metaphor, his work would never have come to completion. Yet sufficient survives for us to resurrect the clarity of their intellect.
What shall we think of a people who defined 'monotony' as 'an absence of male friends?' Or, for 'depression', used the word that described the vulnerable phase in a crab's seasonal cycle, when it has sloughed off its old shell and waits for another to grow? Or who derived 'lazy' from the Jackass Penguin? Or 'adulterous' from the hobby, a small hawk that flits here and there, hovering motionless over its next victim?
The layers of metaphorical associations that made up their mental soil shackled the Indians to their homeland with ties that could not be broken. A tribe's territory, however uncomfortable, was always a paradise that could never be improved on. By contrast the outside world was Hell and its inhabitants no better than beasts.
--Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 11:45 AM
My poem "We Are More or Less," recently reprinted by Geist magazine, is now up on their website and making the rounds on social media. It's not a bad time for this to be posted, with the rupture of the under-built Mount Polley tailings pond and Canadapologist Shane Koyczan poised to go on tour with David Suzuki et al. Yup, we are more.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 10:52 AM
Sunday, July 20, 2014
My spoken-word poem/op-ed rant "We Are More or Less," which was originally published in Vancouver Review, has been reprinted (with a slightly modified title) from Career Limiting Moves by Geist magazine in their latest issue.
You can also hear me deliver the piece:
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 10:49 AM
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 8:35 AM
Regular readers of this blog (if there are any left) will recall that I went to Mexico a couple of years ago to take part in the Linares International Literary Festival, organized by Irish-Canadian expat Colin Carberry. With the help of a crowd funding campaign, I hired a translator, Lidia Valencia Fourcans, to convert ten of my poems into Spanish. After I came back from Mexico, my publisher asked me if Lidia and I could write something for Biblioasis' translation blog. We did, and sent it on, but in the midst of much other busyness at the press, the blog went into hibernation before my piece was posted. One of the things Jesse Eckerlin has done since joining team Biblioasis is reanimate the translation blog. Then I remembered that I still had this piece. And now, at last, it's up on the blog, for your reading pleasure.
And I still have some copies of the translation chapbook, if anyone wants to buy one.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 8:04 AM
Monday, July 7, 2014
Anne Kingston has done a nice job writing up the rather dreary "feud" between two novelists who talk a lot of shit. She highlights my response to a particularly smelly piece of Andre Alexis bullshit in her piece, but seems to think the title of my book is meant more unironically than it is.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 7:58 PM
Sunday, June 29, 2014
It seems to me that, when we lost our aesthetic pleasure in the human presence as a thing to be looked at and contemplated, at the same time we ceased to enjoy human act and gesture, which civilzation has always before found to be beautiful even when it was also grievous or terrible, as the epics and tragedies and the grandest novels testify. Now when we read history, increasingly we read it as a record of cynicism and manipulation. We assume that nothing is what it appears to be, that it is less and worse, insofar as it might once have seemed worthy of respectful interest. We routinely disqualify testimony that would plead for extenuation. That is, we are so persuaded of the rightness of our judgment as to invalidate evidence that does not confirm us in it. Nothing that deserves to be called truth could ever be arrived at by such means. If truth in this sense is essentially inaccessible in any case, that should only confirm us in humility and awe.
I have a lot of time for what Robinson says here. Unfortunately, she follows this paragraph, the last in the introductory essay of her collection, with an essay so thoroughly tendentious in its arguments (broadly, against what she calls "Darwinism"), so selectively blind to extenuating testimony, that it could have been the target of the quotation above. In the first essay, she castigates writers on Calvinism for having no works by Calvin in their bibliographies. I got so irked reading caricatures of various philosophers and scientists in the second essay that I flipped to the back to check out her bibliography. There was none. It's pretty shocking that she seems to have been deaf to these ironies.
Here is an excellent response to Robinson's essay.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 3:27 PM
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
My old friend Mark Sampson (who I've known since we lived in the same dorm at the University of King's College in 1995-96) has posted a review of Career Limiting Moves on his blog. I'm especially glad that he highlighted my review of Souvankham Thammavongsa's Found, as it's a piece I'm particularly proud of. (I was also glad to hear recently that Thammavongsa's wonderful follow-up collection, Light, has been shortlisted for Ontario's Trillium Prize.)
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 6:47 PM
Saturday, May 24, 2014
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 10:53 AM
Monday, April 21, 2014
The fact that I persist despite the futile
nature of this brutal quest is no
proof that I want reason. If bloated
bait lingers on my line and I hammer stakes
three fingers deeper into carbonized
humus, you mustn't see me as apostle
to St. Anthony, follower of fool's
errands or keeper of extinguished flames.
Ceteris paribus et mutatis mutandis,
if I don't brake or bail, it's because I can't
go on, but, like Sisyphus who is,
of course, just like the rest of us, I must.
Now is no time to reckon or cut loss—
now is when I must honour my sunk costs.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 6:14 PM
Wednesday, April 16, 2014
I've been reading Don Paterson's commentary on Shakespeare's sonnets in desultory fashion for many months (its home during that time has been on top of my toilet's water tank). The book is often brilliant and funny, occasionally sloppy and maddening. One of the things I love about it is Paterson's engagement with earlier exegeses of the sonnets, but perhaps my favourite parts are the digressive excursions he makes from time to time, commenting on poetry and criticism more generally.
In his commentary on Sonnet 148, he talks about Helen Vendler's "kabbalistic tour de force that uncovers many buried correspondences, DEFECTIVE KEY WORDS, chiastic and structural patterns--absolutely none of which, I suspect, WS was either aware of or had intended." He continues:
By now, you may be getting the impression that I don't think Vendler's is the way to do criticism. Yes and no: HV is often brilliantly illuminating, but her commentary on the Sonnets suffers from a double-whammy of misperceptions.
Firstly, too much stuff is described as deliberately planned effect that I'm certain arose from nothing more than human feeling and instinctive decision-making, driven through the local compositional exigencies of the sonnet form. Secondly, and more sinisterly, HV seem sot assume that the poem actually has a deep essence, pattern or structure which we can usefully abstract and codify in this way. It doesn't; the game of poetry is to keep those things in play, and to fix and codify them is to misrepresent their protean nature, and their total dependency on the dynamic process of subjective reading; otherwise you're conferring a reality they don't possess. This is the theistic fallacy in another guise. I think many of the deep patters and symbolic underpinnings that HV diagnoses are not integral to the poem itself, but only back-formed from her sometimes too-careful reading; which is to say they're here, and not Shakespeare's. If they do really exist, they must be in the hands of some remote third party, who at some point will confirm the accuracy of the brilliant exegesis. But there's just you, me, and this wee poem. That's an open game. However HV too often plays a closed one, poring over the Sonnets as if they were a holy book--as if it actually possessed rather than generated some meaning, and finds nothing more or less than the richness of her own mind. A relief that it's so rich, since one invariably learns so much from its company. But the Sonnets were the work of a brilliant and fallible human, and they shouldn't be interrogated like the Book of Thoth.
Everyone composes in a roughly similar way. Frost's notebooks are pretty much like mine and like those of my friends, the difference lying only in the genius of the results. There are both a thousand ways to write a poem, and precisely one: messy procedure. The poem may take on a crystalline and even algebraic appearance in the end, but for all its ferocious technique, that final poem was reached through a dynamic process with feeling and instinct at its heart--and was not guided by the kind of structural blueprint and organizational intelligence that critics like HV divine at every turn. You see the problem: it looks like a subtle distinction, but there's actually a massive difference between suggestion that the structure is somehow anterior to the poem, as opposed to merely an emergent feature of its final form, with which its pattern of feeling and lyric is not properly separable.
Poets want us to lose ourselves in the surface our their language, not its hidden machinery--not least because that machinery is often hidden from the poets themselves. Not that we should always honour that desire: as you'll have noticed, I'm all for putting the poem into dry dock, so we can see what's going on beneath the surface, find what keeps it afloat, and marvel at its construction. But to talk as if that's where the deeper or larger truth of the poem might reside is wrong. To find that, we need to set it back in the water. The truth of a poem is in the cut of its jib, the breath in its sails, the clever route it charts to its new poet, and the skill and speed and grace with which it moves.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:16 AM
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Jesse Eckerlin has posted my review of Goran Simić's From Sarajevo, with Sorrow on the Biblioasis International Translation blog. The review, originally published (2005) in the now-defunct Books in Canada, predates my involvement with Biblioasis and my friendship with Goran, whose subsequent poetry collection, Sunrise in the Eyes of the Snowman, I had the pleasure and honour of editing for the press. Funny routes one winds up taking in this game.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 3:41 PM
Sunday, April 13, 2014
Michael Bryson has just posted a thoughtful and penetrating review of Career Limiting Moves on his blog. Since Michael and I go way back, as he makes plain from the get-go, it's a personally-inflected piece, but he also manages to say some things about my work that strike me as true, but which I hadn't thought of in precisely such terms before. Which is none too common in reviews--but most welcome.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 5:33 PM
Saturday, April 5, 2014
The Puritan proves that not all bloggers are created equal, with Ryan Pratt's concise, thoughtful and accurate response to the recent panel in the Hammer. (Scroll down for my audio recording of the panel.) What's not touched on much in this piece is the pretty great Q&A with the audience. Amanda Jernigan did a masterful job, as Pratt acknowledges, of mediating the discussion. Overall, I'd say it was the most successful of the four events.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 2:12 PM
Wednesday, April 2, 2014
A rather sloppy, tendentious response to the Toronto panel has been posted on The Puritan's blog. If nothing else, it demonstrates that the blogosphere's earnest contributors need to work harder if they want to meet basic journalistic standards. They could at least listen to the posted audio instead of relying on scribbled notes to cobble things haphazardly together again from memory.
UPDATE: Phoebe Wang of The Puritan has posted a defence (consisting mainly of excuses) of Tracy Kyncl's post. Oddly, the fact that Ms. Kyncl possesses an MA and is the editor of a magazine actually makes the sloppiness of her post seem more egregious; I had assumed previously she was an undergrad. I've responded to Ms. Wang with an elaboration on my objections above. And that's as much time as I'm prepared to waste on this.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 6:08 PM
Sunday, March 30, 2014
Monday, March 24, 2014
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Posted by Zachariah Wells at 2:17 PM
I realize belatedly that, although I sent out all kinds of invitations via social media and email, I've been neglectful in posting here about my four-day, four-city promotional tour for Career Limiting Moves, the book. I'm home now from a blitz of Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton and Windsor, accompanied by Jason Guriel (who recently published his own prose collection, The Pigheaded Soul) and Anita Lahey, whose prose collection The Mystery Shopping Cart is still warm off the press. They're both excellent books and their authors are great company, so it was a hyper-stimulating pleasure to do these events with them. The tour was the brain child of my publisher, Biblioasis, proving once again that they're one of the best.
Below is the audio from the Montreal event, hosted by Adrian King-Edward of The Word and moderated by Carmine Starnino, who edited both Jason and Anita's books and who, of course, has been a colleague and friend of mine for years.
I'll be posting audio from the others shortly.
Here, also, is an article written in advance of the Montreal panel.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 9:16 AM
Monday, February 24, 2014
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 8:57 AM
My copy of Arc Poetry Magazine 73 just arrived, and in it is my brief review of Dan O'Brien's collection War Reporter. It's a book that's received a fair bit of attention and praise, but I had problems with it. You'll have to track down a copy of Arc 73 to see what they are.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 8:27 AM
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Saturday, February 8, 2014
UPDATE: The Kneeraiser reached its target within three days and is now in quest of a stretch goal to get the best possible microprocessor knee for Christa. One of my books has been claimed, but there are four there yet to be snagged and more perks popping up every day.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 4:09 AM
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Hey, look what knocked on my door Friday afternoon. The official publication date was last November, but like so many of the pieces it contains, my book of critical writings came in a bit past deadline. But now, patient readers, Career Limiting Moves the book can be purchased from better booksellers everywhere, be they brick and mortar or virtual.
If you're going to order online, why not go straight to the publisher?
I have to say, it's strange to have published a book with such a thick spine after putting out a bunch of skinny poetry books. Despite its girth, however, the book is right handsome, thanks to the top-notch design work of Kate Hargreaves.
Launch events TBA.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 2:15 PM
Friday, January 17, 2014
A French critic named Olivier Brunel has written a review of the Paris recital. He is unfortunately--and I don't think very fairly, but I am neither impartial in this case nor well-educated in such matters generally--harsh on Phillip Addis' vocal stylings, but impressed by Emily Hamper's work on piano. Pleasantly for yours truly, however, Brunel reserves his highest praise for the "Waypoints" cycle:
Il est rare aussi de bénéficier au cours d’un récital d’une création comme ce fut le cas avec celle de Waypoints(«Points de repère») commande des deux protagonistes pour leur tournée de récitals au compositeur canadien Erik Ross (né en 1972) sur des textes de l’écrivain et poète canadien Zachariah Wells (présent dans la salle pour cette création française). Ce superbe cycle de trois chansons de facture assez classique et tonale a été le moment le plus fort de ce concert.
Something missing from the review is an acknowledgment of how well the audience received the performance, a fact that doesn't necessarily negate Brunel's criticisms, but would help significantly to contextualize them. He does not, for example, mention that the Ralph Vaughn Williams song that closed the evening was performed in response to quite palpable popular demand. Hélas.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 10:31 AM
Sunday, January 12, 2014
After tramping around all day--from our flat in the 2e Arrondissement through the courtyard of the Louvre and the Tuileries, through part of the Champs Elysées, then across the Seine to the spectacular Musée d'Orsay (where we lunched and took in a couple of the permanent exhibits, including Van Gogh and Gauguin)--my mother and I hit Ile de la Cité and strolled along the river to Ile St. Louis, where we strolled some more before having an early supper at one of the few restaurants that serves such a meal (most of the other patrons had small children with them).
After supper, we made our way to the Opéra Bastille, the somewhat controversial modern opera house built in the late '80s. After I picked up our comp tickets, we headed downstairs to the Amphithéâtre, the intimate open-seating venue for Phillip Addis' and Emily Hamper's performance. We were among the first people there, so we managed to snag front row seats, just right of centre stage.
I'd be surprised if a single one of them was disappointed. Phillip and Emily started off with Hugo Wolf's "Abendbilder," a short song cycle, with German text by Nikolaus Lenau. I'm a complete ingénue when it comes to music, but I thought it was very fine. Phillip and Emily headed offstage to warm applause and returned to deliver Benjamin Britten's settings of "Songs and Proverbs of William Blake." An ambitious selection of fourteen of Blake's most famous short poems, this was where both pianist and singer soared. And when they finished, the crowd showed their appreciation, going into a rhythmic clap that cues a curtain call. (After the show, Emily said that a curtain call at the intermission is very rare, since people are generally keener to hit the bar or the WC than to stay in their seats any longer.)
Je sais le sort de la lumière
J'en ai assez pour jouer son éclat
Pour me parfaire au dos de mes paupières
Pour que rien ne vive sans moi.
Its final word made for a perfect segue into "I."
Before that would happen, however, Phillip and Emily, having taken their post-Poulenc bows, disappeared backstage to refresh themselves and my heart started beating hard. When they came back out, Phillip produced a slip of paper from his pocket and read some prepared remarks in French about the genesis of the "Waypoints" cycle. He finished by saying that Erik Ross was unfortunately unable to attend, but that I was here from Halifax. He gestured to me and I walked to the edge of the stage (which was level with the front row) and bowed to the applauding audience.
My heartbeat cranked up another notch or two as I returned to my seat. What followed I can't adequately describe, both because my knowledge of music is rudimentary and because the performance hit me on such an emotional, pre-verbal level. I write with the spoken voice in mind. I write my poems not just to be read, but to be heard. I have a pretty good idea when I've made a poem sound right (or as right as I can), but never have I imagined them sounding so transcendently gorgeous. The range of tone was staggering; on a couple of occasions, as my mother pointed out, Phillip turned red in the face while singing, which didn't happen during any of the other cycles. I was enraptured for the duration of the performance, chills running up and down my spine. The score, the performance, the setting--the whole thing blew me away.
The audience response was enormous. Phillip bowed, then gestured to Emily (as he did following each cycle), who bowed, then he looked over at me and pointed at the floor beside him. In a daze, I walked onto the stage, embraced Phillip and Emily (both of whom I was meeting in person for the first time), turned to face the audience, and bowed. The crowd kept clapping and Phillip nodded at me to bow again; then the three of us joined hands and bowed together. I half-staggered back to my seat while Phillip and Emily strode off-stage. My mother said afterwards that she wished someone had been taking photographs--house rules prohibited pictures--so I could see the expression on my face when I was taking my bows. Phlegmatic fellow that I am, it's rare that I radiate joy, but I'm sure I did last night.
Phillip and Emily returned to perform two songs by Eric Wolfgang Korngold, with lyrics by Elisabeth Honold and Josef von Eichendorff, respectively. Appropriately, the second song ends "Singe, sing nur mimer zu!" (Sing, sing without stopping!) The audience was clearly in sympathy with that thought. Phillip and Emily's bows were followed by more rhythmic clapping, along with shouts of Bravo! and Encore! They came out for a curtain call, went backstage, then came out again, to play a song by Ralph Von Williams, with a text taken from Henry V.
Thus ended the magic, but the night wasn't over. My mother and I went backstage, along with Opera staff and friends of Phillip and Emily's. We had champagne (the real McCoy, natch) and chatted for a while before a group of us headed to a restaurant next door for drinks and food and a lot of great conversation. I can't express how incredibly lucky I am, not only to have had my work given such royal treatment, but to have it done by collaborators who are also charming, lovely people. The only things that would have made this evening more memorable yet would have been the presence of Erik Ross (whom I got to meet and hang out with in Toronto a couple of months back, at least) and Rachel, who has been with me for most of my writing life and without whom it's hard to say where I'd be in life and literature today.
Posted by Zachariah Wells at 2:45 PM