Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cherry-fully Chopin (Book Review) by Alison Ross

Cherry-fully Chopin
by Alison Ross

Fair Disclosure: The editor’s poem, “Chopin,” appears in the book being reviewed.

Frederick Chopin was a world-renowned Polish pianist and composer, sometimes referred to as “the poet of sound.” His compositions are moving for their fierce elegance and palpable lack of symmetry. His music principally vacillates between exuding eloquently chaotic and sensually brooding qualities, although of course the usual palette of themes and emotions are prevalent in his compositions.

It is fitting, then, that this poetic composer would be enshrined in verse, especially on the anniversary of his 200th birthday. Poets throughout the centuries have written elegies to Chopin and his compositions, and poet and music historian Maja Trochimczyk has decided to compile an anthology of mainly modern-day and some classical poems that feature this emblematic and enigmatic musical figure. Her book is entitled "Chopin with Cherries: A Tribute in Verse."

What is most striking about this verse tribute is how deftly the editor weaves together the various themes, treatments and styles within the volume, meticulously detailed in the introduction and then presented format-wise in the book. The poems are arranged by composition type (preludes, nocturnes, waltzes, mazurkas, etc.) as well other themes such as his life, death, playing style, and so on. I especially appreciate how the editor has exhaustively catalogued the similar ideas elaborated in the poems; for example, the notion of "light" appears 71 times, while the notion of "rain" appears 25 times.

I also appreciate that an array of poetic forms spans this volume, from free verse to sonnet forms and all shades in between. Both academic as well as unorthodox styles are featured, although the more formalist poetic fashion weighs in a bit more prominently here. However, that is to be expected in a book about a classical composer - for while Chopin may have had an unconventional style of his own, classical music by nature has a formalist tenor to it.

Most of the poems therein are stunning. I have so many favorites, but just a few include: Chopin's "Raindrop" by Cheryl M. Thatt, There is No Other Love by R. Romea Luminarias, Mazurka vs. the Day by Katrin Talbot, Waltz in A Minor by Russell Salamon, Eternal Nocturne by Russell Salamon, and Night Nocturne by Lucy Anderton.

Here are some tantalizing fragments of those poems:

"There are mornings/Autumn mornings so brilliant/so articulated/so crisp/When a Chopin Mazurka/silently collides with/the Day spirit..." (Mazurka vs. the Day)

"He plays a woman as if she were/a nocturne/her thighs moistening/with music./She hears herself/dissolve in perfect Eden-fresh soul/made from A Minor and light" (Waltz in A Minor)

"Black butterflies whose shadowy/rhythms weep for a form that finds/fragments of perfect being - night/music where lost loves find light." (Eternal Nocturne)

"Played in the firelight/the night holding up the house/in its remote glove/each tone/held in the dark/of my mouth - even Chopin/cannot return you." (Night Nocturne)

"A clock/in the distance punctuates the grey day/wrestling with his own dark language/his soft fingers caress the keys to sanity/slowly he shapes adversary to ally.../pounds out melancholy/drop/by precious damn drop..." (Chopin's "Raindrop")

Hopefully I will not repel readers if I take on a bit of self-indulgence for just a moment. I don't normally deconstruct or tout my own poems in my zine, but I was flattered to be included in this anthology, and it put me back into the mindset of writing the poem that is included. I was listening to Chopin at the time, of course, and musing on the impressions the music invoked. In my poem, I employed nature symbols in surrealist fashion to evince the otherworldly aspect of Chopin's music.

by Alison Ross

the stars drip melodies
like blind pianos
tornados spin cacophonies
into a maze of violins

music is a labyrinth of tears
shed from the eyeless sun

Stars and pianos are counterparts since stars are like a visual melody; tornadoes and cacophony are obvious visual/auditory kins, and violins are also cyclonic, albeit in a harmonious way; music evokes tears of joy and pain and a tangle (labyrinth) of other intense emotions; and the sun illuminates the murky depths like Chopin’s compositions. The blindness/eyelessness touched on expresses the sensory aspect of music being so strong that it is blinding and yet also suppresses the visual in favor of the auditory. The sun has no eye and yet sheds tears analogous to emotions. Pianos are blind and yet can “see” music – the auditory experience is so robust it bleeds into the visual.

I am not sure if that makes sense to anyone else but me, but it is how I am able to render the effect of Chopin's music into verse form. Of course, such a symbolist poem opens itself up to copious ambiguous interpretations.

All in all, I am immensely pleased with how this anthology turned out. In fact, it exceeded my expectations, because it is so comprehensive and cohesive. The poems are fascinatingly diverse in voice, topic, content, and style, and the poems reveal such richly individualistic interpretations of Chopin's powerful pathos. Furthermore, the Chopin postcard artwork that embellishes the pages is exciting. Some of these postcards are portraits of the artist, while others are artistic incarnations of Chopin's compositions. These renderings are delectably morbid at times (evoking a Goya-esque sensibility), some even veering into the territory of "kitsch," as the editor notes with wry humor.

"Chopin with Cherries" is an anthology to treasure as intimately as one might cherish Chopin's compositions. You may purchase the book at Lulu.

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