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  • Scott Williamson

30/30 Saariaho Counterpoint

Below is my "Day 17" poem for this month, where I'm writing 30 poems in 30 days, thanks to Tupelo Press. They are publishing the work of several other poets I'm honored to be numbered among in December. We are also trying to generate support for the craft we love, and the art we do by helping

Tupelo. Click here to help a small, independent - and like Opera Roanoke, another nonprofit 501(c)3 organization - meet its fund-raising needs by the end of 2016.

Thank you for reading and supporting our work, and the work of artists of every genre, from poetry to opera, and every other charitable organization in-between. Independent, locally owned and operated businesses are much-touted these days. I find many folks forge that many non-profit arts organizations are small businesses. We couldn't be here without your support, and we wouldn't want to.

Susanna Phillips as Clémence at the MET

The Troubadour’s complaint (or, counterpoint with Saariaho)

the right word has been suspended in the sky for all eternity, awaiting its place

(from L’amour de Loin, by Kaija Saariaho, libretto by Amin Maalouf)

At first it seemed easy

finding rhymes

aping ballads

playing old songs

like the latest hits

your roots

tentacles of meanings


like alchemical secrets


To be initiated

into the singer’s


Like the Troubadour

To wrestle with

a single word

‘le mot juste’

each night of the moon

until it drops

like ripened fruit

into your hands

shaping the perfect cadence


II. ‘Le mot juste’

Jauffré spends

his life onstage

pining over

“the right word”

At his death,

he follows Tristan

dying in Isolde’s

fay-powered arms


Our heroine is

no troped medieval princess


is defiant has

nothing to do with this

Wagnerian Liebestod

She vents her

fury at God

and us

the Greek


taking away

her perfect love

in the instant

it blooms

She refuses consolation

Like Moses, the word

has failed her


(This is an image from the Met's stunning new production of the opera.

N.B. This draft – perhaps the seeds of a longer, polyphonic poem – is inspired by Kaaija Saariaho’s opera, L’amour de loin (“Love from afar”), which had its Metropolitan Opera premiere this month. Saariaho’s spectral musical drama reimagines the historical 12th century Provençal troubadour, Jauffré Rudel, and his “love from afar” affair with the Countess of Tripoli. The MET premiere is one of the best new productions I've seen in over 20 years visiting the house. The three American singers in the leading roles, Eric Owens, Susanna Phillips, and Tamara Mumford all give career-defining interpretations.

(December 2016 | NYC – R)

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