Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Discoveriing a Poet

Poetry Month is over. But I'm still reading poetry, as I intend to keep right on doing. In the last few days I've discovered William Matthews in a 2005 issue of Poetry International which has many of his poems and many short critical or appreciative pieces about him. The poems are wonderful. Many are about jazz especially his favorite, Mingus. But he had also discovered opera at an early age [in Cincinnati, I think as he spoke of hearing lions in the zoo while at an outdoor opera; Cincinnati's zoo opera was quite famous and is where I first heard opera -- the lions were quiet that night. Matthews died in the late '90s. Here is a poem with humor, and a turn toward profundity. I am very happy I have discovered this man's work, his mind.


"The tenor's too fat," the beautiful young
woman complains, "and the soprano
dowdy and old." But what if Otello's
not black, if Rigoletto's hump lists,
if airy Gilda and her entourage
of flesh outweighs the cello section?

In fairy tales, the prince has a good heart,
and so as an outward and visible
sign of an inward , invisible grace,
his face is not creased, nor are his limbs gnarled,
Our tenor holds, in his liver-spotted
hands the sporano's broad, burgeoning face.

Their combined age is ninety-seven; there's
spittal in both pinches of her mouth;
a vein in his temple twitches like a worm.
Their faces are a foot apart. His eyes
widen with fear as he climbs to the high
B-flat he'll have to hit and hold for five

dire seconds. And then they'll stay in their stalled
hug for as long as we applaud. Franco
Corelli once bit Birgit Nilsson's ear
in just such a command embrace because
he felt she's upstaged him. Their costumes weigh
fifteen pounds apiece; they're poached in sweat

and smell like fermenting pigs; their voices rise
and twine not from beauty, nor from the lack
of it, but from the hope of accuracy
and passion, both. They have to hit the note
and the emotion, both, with the one poor
arrow of the voice. Beauty's not for amateurs.

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