Scott M Williamson
Playlists for Patrick...
Updated: Apr 18, 2020
(Dr. Patrick Shaw Cable at the Taubman Museum of Art, in "Pop Power" one of his last exhibits.)
Memorial Poems and a Mixtape for Patrick
Responding to a request for some poems to celebrate the life of beloved friend and curator, Dr Patrick Shaw Cable, here is an unabridged version of what I sent colleagues at the Taubman Museum of Art, where Patrick was the popular, brilliant, erudite and witty Deputy Curator.
The feature article in the Roanoke Times movingly quotes a pair of the artists and collectors whose vibrant works Patrick curated so well in recent/current local exhibits at the Taubman. Their sincere appreciation for his work and vision, and his support of their (and new) work in general deepens our already sincere appreciation for the gift Patrick was to our community.
He was one of those friends you feel you’ve had forever, even though he only joined our Roanoke arts community in the fall of 2018. He and I collaborated on several different occasions over those 18 months, and I’m grateful the last time we worked together we shared not only a lot of great content, but also recognized the ease and joy of a friendship which formed instantly and required little effort.
(And since I first typed "18 moths" instead of "months," here's a link to Birtwistle's fascinating, utterly original memorial, the Moth Requiem, for female voices, flutes and harps, on texts by Robin Blaser).
We shared ideas and current projects, and found the other’s passions inspiring and genuinely interesting; we simply enjoyed working together. I’m trying to share the following poems and musical works through Patrick’s curatorial eyes as much as my own. I wish he were here to gently and wittily “update” some of my ideas, teasing out more connections, and illustrating details everyone else in the room missed.
Memorial by Audre Lorde is a tender, lyric elegy from one of the most vital female voices of color in the 20th c. It was the first poem which came to mind, and one I’ve turned to repeatedly since I first encountered it in the nineties, when my family and I lost a beloved cousin (in the early years of AIDS, when the virus and its related illnesses meant a stigmatized life, with a death-sentence attached).
If you come as softly As the wind within the trees You may hear what I hear See what sorrow sees. If you come as lightly As threading dew I will take you gladly Nor ask more of you. You may sit beside me Silent as a breath Only those who stay dead Shall remember death. And if you come I will be silent Nor speak harsh words to you. I will not ask you why now. Or how, or what you do. We shall sit here, softly Beneath two different years And the rich between us Shall drink our tears.
George Herbert’s Love Bade Me Welcome is justly famous on several levels. It was one of the last poems from the short life of this 17th c. devotional poet, par excellence ;)
Though Patrick and I never discussed this particular poem, I did consider including a musical setting of it for one of our last collaborations, when Collective Euphonia (CE) held its debut Sept. 2019 residency in programs inspired by the sensual love songs of the “Song of Songs.”
(Roanoke artist and CE member Eric Fitzpatrick sketching other CE members ahead of our TMA debut, Sept. 2019)
The poem was set by Ralph Vaughan Williams as the third of his Five Mystical Songs for Baritone solo and chorus, on Herbert’s lyrical sacred verses. The reference is also appropriate for this particular season of the Pagan and Christian liturgical years (the first song is the rapturous hymn, “Easter” in a well-sung version here by esteemed colleague Andrew Garland).
Like so much of this composer's visionary output, this opus is stamped with his unique sense of voice and color, exquisite craftsmanship and balanced form, and propelled by a compelling dramatic arc.
The final chorus of the set, “Let all the World in Every Corner Sing” or "Antiphon," is justly famous as both a poem and musical celebration, a classical Anglo-, church-choir "power-anthem."
But back to where we began, before that curatorial, dramaturgical digression (the kind Patrick and I both may have been fond of, haha. LOL.)
As an expert on Biblical Art, among so many other styles and areas, Patrick would have appreciated the resonance and sensuality of the "old masters" poem we've been discussing, "Love Bade Me Welcome."
(Chagall's "Song of Songs" which was one of the images Patrick discussed at Temple Emanuel,
The deliciously naughty double-entendre at the sacred "Love" poem's close is a direct nod to the eroticism of the "Song of Songs." As a sly wit himself, I can imagine Dr Cable laughing at the guilelessness of the 17th century poet:
“You must sit down,” says Love, “and taste my meat” / So I did sit and eat.
This homoerotic sensuality of the eroticized language is the final “payoff” to the “promise” or “tease” in the poem’s opening. That's at least one way to read it, for those looking for ways "in" to poetry.
The first line is at once a title, an invitation and/or a command: "Love bade me welcome," and the response literally and figuratively sets the scene: "...yet my soul drew back, / Guilty of dust and sin."
It's a two-person dialogue, a philosophical dialectic, and an allegorical cat-and-mouse game.
So "God-as-Love" responds to the poet-sinner’s shyness, coyness, or fear:
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack / From my first entrance in...
"Slack" and "entrance" also resonate: they have what one of my poetry teachers likes to call "heat." That's the "hot" word or moment in the poem. In this case, the loaded content at the top will be released and liberated at the end, like the definitive climax of a strong closing cadence.
Here, the double-entendre, sexual innuendo ("taste my meat") reverses the opening and serves as the punch-line, the final answer. As in western music with its dominant-tonic structure, its "tension and release," as in a definitive final cadence by Beethoven, this movement requires closure.
(Klinger's Beethoven sculpture at #MdbK, Leipzig, author photo 12, 2019)
For Inquiring Minds: Ekphrasis is an academic term we use in creative writing studies and poetry workshops to write about works of art, or blend writing with another creative form like music. It's the principle behind the series of music, poetry and art I've been privileged to share in "Listening to Paintings" #L2P with friends like Patrick at the Taubman over the last several years.
(Listening to Paintings at the TMA, Jan. 2020, in the exhibit of Ray Kass polyptychs, "riverrun")
Another "old masters" classic is "On the Death of Dr. Robert Levet" by the eminent British writer, Dr Samuel Johnson. I love the parallel with Dr Patrick Shaw Cable in this poem, where the obviously benevolent and generous "Dr" displays "the power of art without the show" and the "talent well employ'd" in service to humanity.
A more recent favorite is Dylan Thomas, Poem on His Birthday. This visionary, autobiographical “song of myself” is one of the final poems the Welsh poet wrote before his tragic early death at 39 at his NYC apt. in the Chelsea Hotel. I can imagine relishing this with Patrick, laughing out loud while listening to the eccentric poet read his work (in the link immediately above).
This link is to composer John Corigliano's modernist orchestral setting. It's one of three Dylan Thomas “cantatas” Corigliano composed over different decades, and recently connected into a “Dylan Thomas Trilogy.”
Fern Hill for mixed chorus and strings (or piano) is the first, most popular of the musical triptych. It's an "on-point" example of Corigliano’s classical American voice, continuing the lyrical-pastoral of Barber and Copland. His film scores are his most popular works in recent years. Check out his opera.
Each of these three 20th-c Dylan Thomas odes is also a haunting, sometimes strange or violent meditation on the stages, or "four seasons" of life. Quattro Stagioni: a favorite musical and artistic subject (in addition to being a specialty-pizza favorite, especially in Romania...)
(Cy Twombly's Quattro Stagioni, another curatorial and dramaturgical passion of the author, Tate version, London)
All three of the above examples can be found in the eminent critic Harold Bloom’s “Till I End My Song: A Gathering of Last Poems.”
I could continue to list poets and poems for memorial occasions. Rilke is one of the melancholy, expressionist, elegiac poets folks turn to during big occasions. Like Dickinson, so much of his entire output is a rich source simply because of its intelligent, well-argued engagement with timeless issues of humanity and mortality.
In his letters he invites his student to “go deeper” and to “hold to what is difficult.”
Poetry can help us go deeper. It can help us articulate and name feelings and experiences. Like any engaged encounter with the rich content and range of expression found in art, reading or hearing poetry can lead to discovery and surprises. Like entering a media gallery, or coming upon an unexpected performance or presentation...
(Collective Euphonia in front of Taubman Museum's "Teach Me the Language of a Rose" installation)
When art surprises us, it’s trying to tell us something. There’s a reason for that C#. That turn of phrase, line or foregrounding was on purpose. Likewise, the form, texture, subject, chiaroscuro and palette...
Or that delightful creative prompt of "taking a line for a walk," as Klee said. Oft quoted by British composer Birtwistle (of the Moth Requiem, above)
Dickinson, like Rilke, made death and mortality, and the facing of metaphysical, existential questions ever-relevant for serious occasions. And each poet takes lines for the most interesting of walks!
I'd start with Dickinson’s “The Saddest Noise” (listed as # 1789, her last numbered poem; included in Bloom’s anthology). My long-time favorite, “I’m Nobody” or the powerful “Why do they shut me out of heaven?” so evocatively set by Aaron Copland; here it's ravishingly sung by "Flicka" von Stade, and beautifully partnered by the ever-sensitive pianist, Martin Katz.
For Rilke, the Duino Elegies are epic masterworks dense with references and rich with symbols and meaning. They may be to poetry what Bach's Goldberg Variations, or Beethoven’s late String Quartet in C# minor, op. 131, or the Grosse Fugue are to music. An intensely concentrated, lyrically potent sequence of powerfully argued statements which unspool themselves in sometimes unexpected directions.
And Rilke's “Requiem for a Friend” is too perfectly named to ignore...
I love and always return to the Prague-born poet's The Archaic Torso of Apollo for its ekphrastic subject, which is to say, a work of art about another work of art.
Here, a sonnet about a classic ruin, a head-less torso in marble of the Greek god of the sun, music & the arts. The son of Zeus who is, so-to-speak, all-seeing, as we learn in the famous closing couplet:
for there is no place which does not see you: / you must change your life.
One of the songs I'd sing for Patrick again is from CE composer Gerald Cohen, whose music we shared that weekend last September. Here's Gerald's memorial setting of Psalm 23, "Adonai Roi".
(Collective Euphonia, led by yours truly, during our "Arise My Love: Song of Songs" debut, 2019)
Whitman’s To My Soul is perhaps the poem I would pick if forced to choose just one. Its range, its openness, its exuberant, love-of-life joy, its ambitious embrace and inclusion of every detail.
Whitman expresses himself with a guileless vivacity it is easy to parody but so hard to echo or follow. His genuine good-natured humanity is exemplary. O Soul, we have positively appeared. It is enough.
Indeed, it is. Though we will complain for more, as we did not get enough of your company, wisdom, wit and sui generis warmth, Patrick. We miss you already.
To close this "playlist" we have an unlikely choice to pair with the Friedrich seascape-genre-allegory, "The Stages of Life," below. It is music like none I know: The "Apotheosis" Finale of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara's Van Gogh Symphony (based on his own opera, Vincent).
It's the last sublime panel of a turbulent musical triptych. And a fitting farewell, at least for now...
(Caspar David Friedrich, "The Stages of Life"(1835; author photo, Leipzig, #MdbK, 12.2019)