Two CDs I ordered came in the mail today, Bob Dylan’s Christmas in the Heart and The Gyuto Monks Tantric Choir. I got the monks for meditation–it’s extremely low frequency chanting in very slow rhythm that I find very soothing. This particular recording was made by Mickey Hart, the Grateful Dead’s drummer, and is exquisitely recorded with a tremendous feeling of presence. The chants are in fact prayers and the monks believe that if a listener attends to them the prayers will find their way to the deities to which they are addressed. The Dylan Christmas record struck me as such a weird concept when it showed up in my Amazon recommendations that I preordered it. I’ve only listened to it once, but it’s not what you might think. Dylan mostly plays it straight, though the first track, “Here comes Santa Claus,” sounds like your eccentric uncle on Christmas Eve after he’s had a few. But then you realize your uncle can sing. There is also a strangely compelling and heartfelt version of the hymn “Hark The Harald Angels Sing.” The record also contains my least favorite song in the world (Christmas or otherwise), the smarmy “Little Drummer Boy,” which I could tell even as a kid was a sentimental, emotionally manipulative piece of crap. I confess I went out of the room and did something else when it came on this afternoon, so I only heard it from a distance. I’ll update this post after another listen or two.
A portrait of the young poet as an old man, or perhaps the old man as a young poet. In any case, here is an admiring profile of Leonard Cohen in the New Yorker.
Human beings seem to be inveterate makers of pattern, whether musical, visual, or verbal. The people who hollowed out the bird bones and cut holes at regular intervals were also making stunning pictures on the walls of caves and, I have no doubt, singing songs to their children and telling each other stories. All of these activities have pattern making at the heart. Other animals can recognize patterns in the world around them; human animals seem to be the only ones compelled to consciously create patterns — in the air, on the walls, with their voices.
I’ve just been reading Ellen Bryant Voigt’s delightful little book, The Art of Syntax — another in Graywolf’s really excellent The Art of series* — in which she makes explicit the patterns and variations in several poems serving as exempla.After all these years of writing poetry, Voigt’s little book excites me about what originally excited me — making shapes with words. With James Longenbach’s The Art of the Poetic Line, Voigt’s book would serve the intermediate student of poetry as a fine introduction to the art.
*Charles Baxter’s The Art of Subtext, another entry in this series, is a rich source of insight about the textures of literary fiction.
Even before dawn, when the sky is just lightening around four o’clock, a few birds begin turning up. I don’t know which birds they are — from the timbre they might be robins, but this is not daylight robin song. Just a kind of quiet noodling around. Lovely to lie there in the dark listening then drift back down into sleep.
I wonder what it would be like to be one of those people who sleep soundly virtually every night of their lives. I never have, not since I was a kid. Last night, though, I slept deeply & almost continuously. The extent to which sleep, or my waking relationship to sleep, has directed the currents of my life is extensive. When I think of my childhood, for instance, I often think of lying awake, sometimes in fear of night noises, sometimes listing to rock & roll on a tiny transistor radio under my pillow. Nine volt batteries were expensive and an eleven year old boy needed to hoard their power, deciding on a particular night whether to sip or binge.
Via Scott McLemee’s blog Quick Study, some trenchant social criticism from Neil Young: