This week’s poems and music:
“August,” by Naila Moreira
“Summertime” sung by Janis Joplin
“Love Poem at the Beginning of Summer,” by Jack Wiler (American, 1951-2009)
“Summer in the City” performed by the Lovin’ Spoonful
“Temporale Estivo/Summer Lightning Storm,” by Federigo Tozzi
Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto No. 2 ‘Summer’ in G Minor
I hope you and your loved ones are safe, healthy, and in good spirits.
This week I’m taking a break from the Iliad in order to pay some attention to summer. Honestly, my internal clock seems to be stuck in mid-March, which is right when the pandemic shifted life into a different temporal dimension. I hardly remember to turn the pages on our usually-filled-with-appointments-and-reminders desk calendar because it has been full of blank days for the past five months.
What made me realize that the season is nearly over? Well, I received Naila Moreira’s, “scraps and oddments,” her recent newsletter in which she shared some poems, including one of her own, and lyrics about summer.
Because I’ll be talking about place-specific soundscapes in these poems, I’ve paired them with music that creates, to my ear, a similar one. Again, I suggest that you read the poems out loud to experience the full force of their sonic effects. (And maybe dance around the room to experience the full force of the music.)
After reading Naila’s poem, “August,” I started thinking about how the soundscapes of summer differ greatly from place to place. For example, in this poem a hush blankets the night world. Listen to how she builds a languid sonic environment with verbs: creep, exhale, rustle, sleep, and drowns. Listen to how the last two lines are a part of the hush and yet apart from it in that they move into a just-as-languid thought. Oddly enough, I feel that the hush, and therefore the poem, continues, maybe “spreads” a better word, into the white space after its final period. Because of the poem’s unhurried pace, I paired it with Joplin’s rendition of “Summertime.” Doesn’t the opening create a similar landscape?
But in my decades of Hudson County life, summer nights were noisy: car radios blasting out of open windows, loud laughter on stoops, sirens near and far, basketballs thumping on backboards, barking dogs, raised voices spilling from bars. There would be short bursts of silence (not the same as a hush) but pretty much it was noisy until long after midnight. Thus, I’m very familiar with the “loud” soundscape in Jack Wiler’s “Love Poem at the Beginning of Summer.” Jack recreates the ebb and flow of a city street soundscape. Of course, being Jack, he doesn’t stop there: look at the intricate weaving of noise and quiet, of inside and outside, that follows how the speaker’s thoughts shift back and forth between the absence and the presence of his lover. I’ve read this poem dozens of times yet the last line always surprises me, always takes my breath away: “Everything in the world is asking about you.”
Whew! Had to take a minute to recover from that line. Anyway, I paired Jack’s poem with the original version of “Summer in the City,” performed by the Lovin’ Spoonful. I can’t think of another song that better recreates the soundscape of a city, especially NYC, in the summer.
I was hard pressed to come up with a poem that fit my current summer soundscape … until I found “Temporale Estivo/Summer Lightning Storm.” You see, here in Sarasota, most July/August afternoons feature thunderstorms. I happen to love the “thuds” and “rumbles” of thunder and the “pelting” rain on our roof and windows. This poem does a great job of building to the moment when “the thunder bursts.” Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto No. 2 ‘Summer’ in G Minor felt like the perfect match for this poem.