For readers hoping to turn a daily commute into moments of magic, or to convert a wait in a long line into a lyrical delight, hereâ€™s a suggestion: Try putting some poetry in your pocket.Â
More specifically, find a copy of Musicâ€™s Spell: Poems About Music and Musicians edited by Emily Fragos. It is the newest installment in a series of pocket-sized poetry anthologies published in classy (on fine paper and festooned with a ribbon bookmark), bargain-priced, hardcover editions by Everymanâ€™s Library Pocket Poets series.
This is a collection of 162 poems by both the famous and obscure about the power of music and musicians, and youâ€™ll likely find several dozen of these works are capable of setting your pulse racing and mind happily meandering.
The poems in â€śMusicâ€™s Spellâ€ť are slotted into categories (such as â€śPop and Rock,â€ť â€śJazz and Blues,â€ť â€śClassical Composers,â€ť â€śPractice,â€ť â€śMusic and Loveâ€ť), but donâ€™t take these divides too seriously. This tiny, winsome collection invites random sampling.
But the surprises are particular delights. The Caribbean poet Kamau Brathwaite, better known for reggae poetry from his former homeland, Jamaica, offers a heartbreaking homage to the jazz great John Coltrane (â€śhe leans and wishes he could burn/ his memories to ashes like some old notorious emperorâ€ť).
Joyce Carol Oates, better known for her fiction than poetry, shines in a poem written from the viewpoint of a dinner waitress serving Elvis (â€śarenâ€™t you feeling my face burn but/ he was the kind of boy even meanness turned sweet in/ his mouthâ€ť).
And the Chinese poet Chang-Wou-Kien in â€śThe Pavilion of Musicâ€ť requires only 23 words to compare the fading notes of musicians to lilacs that bend in the rich silence that follows a stellar performance.
Discovering the music of poetry requires that poems be read aloud, and a number of these poems invite exactly that. Note the impact of word choice and punctuation in Whitmanâ€™s â€śBeat! Beat! Drums!â€ť:
Beat! beat! drums! â€“ blow!Â bugles!Â blow!
Through the windows â€“ through doors â€“ burst like a ruthless force,
This sets up a percussive cadence much like conga drummers jamming in a park on a summerâ€™s day. And note how Allen Ginsbergâ€™s â€śFirst Party at Ken Keseyâ€™s With Hellâ€™s Angelsâ€ť explodes with the crackling, rolling, roiling energy of rock â€™nâ€™ roll:
In the huge
wooden house, a yellowÂ chandelier
at 3 a.m. the blast of loudspeakers
hi-fi Rolling Stones Ray Charles Beatles
Jumping Joe Jackson and twenty youths
dancing to the vibration thru the floor.
Poet, be seated at the piano.
Play the present, its hoo-hoo-hoo,
Its shoo-shoo-shoo, its ric-a-nic,
Its envious cachinnation
This bookâ€™s only competitor, â€śThe Music Loverâ€™s Anthologyâ€ť edited by Helen Handley Houghton and Maureen M. Draper, doesnâ€™t fit in a pocket, costs twice as much, and omits Shakespeare. But it does include Jack Kerouac and Pablo Neruda. Poetry lovers will want both.
Norman Weinstein is a contributor to the Monitorâ€™s Culture section.