The New Women's Poetry (and their use for music)
I'm not one to judge poetry. I just don't know enough. I read some in my humanities courses at Catalina Foothills HS, spent time writing settings of the-ones-everyone-needs-to-set (Afternoon on a Hill, several Dickinson poems, O Magnum Mysterium and some other sacred texts) and some that I ignorantly consider unique, and I STILL have no idea what I'm doing when I'm analyzing poetry. But that's ok: if there's one thing Garrison Kealor taught me via The Writer's Almanac, it's that a layman can understand poetry if it's good and connects to the human experience. With that in mind, I'll humbly offer up two sets of poetry I've recently come to appreciate and love (and program!).
Madeleine L'Engle is known for her series "A Wrinkle In Time" which, according to the Wikis, was pretty divisive in its time. I had no idea that it took dozens of rejections to get it published, nor did I know that there were many who took offense or something to the mention of witches and crystal balls (that means GTFO, JK Rowling). Regardless, L'Engle has also written some poetry a la The Virgin Mary, and it's fantastic. The wonderful Julia Brown, music director at First United Methodist in Eugene, and I are finalizing a Choral Sunday Service for December 3rd that includes L'Engle's Mary-influenced poetry as readings interspersed between the movements of Britten's Ceremony of Carols. Here are some of our favorites:
Oprah's Book Club is a big influence on particular American demographics, but that coupled with The Writer's Almanac gets you a great swath of potentially mind-blowing material. Peggy Freydberg was an anomaly in that her poetry is at a Keillor/Whitman level, but her story lent itself to being more or less discovered on Oprah's show. And thank God I found out about it. Peggy's poetry is the kind that makes you sit back and feel like you've just read the meaning of life... only to read another poetry and think the same thing.
Peggy Freydberg was a writer, but she only started writing poetry when she was too old to write long-form by hand (aka 90 years old). Her book of poetry Poems from the Pond was published months after her death at 107, but the brilliance and wisdom of it makes me think she was fine without seeing whether or not she'd become famous. Beyond her poetry, she just sounds like a truly wonderful person who had a lot to say, but didn't need a lot of words to say it. In particular, I love how her poetry focuses on staying vibrant in old age. She writes knowing that the material is for her, not for anyone else. I honestly feel like I'm being let in on a secret (...oh, wait, that's what Billy Collins said about her work. But I agree wholeheartedly.). Take in the following poem, one of the most well-known from her book (click on the image below to blow it up a bit... the typeface is a bit small):
Pretty incredible, eh? I know it's 2017, but one can never be too sure at this point, so it's important to mention that these two wonderful writers are two of many, many female poets who's work and art should be quoted, celebrated, and, if they'd be interested, set to music. Hell, I think I'll try and contact Madeleine L'Engle to set her "Instruments (I)" asap. That poem makes me want to do all of these, though this one's my favorite: