bowling for poetry

I don’t know how ACB does it, but I barely if ever have time to blog, read other’s blogs, or even reply to email. It seems sinful, somehow non-deductible. I used to spend 30-40 minutes a day surfing for new music on MySpace — now? barely 20 minutes a week, if that. I barely have time to write my own music, see friends, find new material, work out — and you want to sit at home and watch me spill my artistic guts? well, maybe just this once.

Actually, the last few months have been nothing short of incredible. Aside from sporadically writing new tunes for Ljova and the Kontraband, I’ve written music for two short films — Sean McPhillips’s Cupcake (which premiered at Tribeca FF in April) and Lev Polyakov’s new animation, Only Love, which is just starting to get sent out to festivals. The soundtrack for Cupcake was actually written for and performed by the Kontraband, with special guests Alon Yavnai (on piano) and Marcus Rojas (on tuba); while Only Love was scored for a chamber orchestra, which I recorded one player at a time in our living room. While the subjects of the films are similar at the germ, the outcomes and approach — on the soundtrack and out — are anything but. And yet, I still feel somehow proud of my work, that it still sounds personal and ambitious.

But aside from film scores and preparing the Kontraband album for release in September, I’m trying to hunt down my next big project — what could it be? My wife is pining for more songs – songs, songs that she can sing. Naturally.

We spent the 5th of July harvesting poetry, first at home and then at Barnes & Noble. Trying to find a poem suitable for a song is somewhat like finding a good car, pair of jeans, diamond ring — except sometimes it makes you feel ingloriously dumb.

In the course of an hour, I flipped through a bilingual volume of poems by Anna Akhmatova, as translated by Stanley Kunitz. The Russian side drove me to goosebumps and near tears, while the English translation made me admire the Kunitz’s artful re-stringing of her verse. Still, nothing seemed like a song — some poems were too short, and all were too depressing. Who’d pay to hear Russian angst nowadays? Only I.

I next looked at the The Collected Poems of Stanley Kunitz, the man who translated Akhmatova, but found nothing that grabbed me immediately. It felt dated, somehow, even if there was no “thou art antiquated” element.

I looked at a collection of Japanese Death Poems. (Too short. No. Thank you.)

..and more and more. There was a huge anthology, a litany.. But with every poem I rejected, a growing feeling of moronic stupidity arose, the kind I feel when I skip real vegetables for Veggie Booty. How could I not be inspired by any of these poems to write a song? Am I numb? Am I a froid droid? Why wouldn’t they speak to me?

Inna found for me some contemporary Yiddish poetry. It was very sentimental, though witty and graceful. Graceful poems make for good songs. And so I wrote something equally sentimental, something that could work, while dreaming of writing something colder, more detached.. but not something that would make Yiddish as angry-sounding as German.

Mostly, it was all about magnitude. Not the poems, but the size of the shelves. I felt the bookstore closing in on me, I wanted to write a poem to shut them up “you all talk too much yet say so little”, but I knew it wasn’t true. I knew my ears were clogged, but wouldn’t admit it. I saw the writing on the wall — some day, a kid named Mozart 3.0 will find my music and say “wow, this stuff is so 2005”. Ah yes, nothing like turning 30 – one foot in childhood, the other..?

It’s getting late.

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