Sunday, April 15, 2007

anyone lived in a pretty how town

In ninth grade, we had to do poet reports. Didn't even get to pick the poets, had to just draw one outta the hat, and come back in a week with some sources--10 total, no more than 2 online, no more than 2 encyclopedic...etc. I'm sure you've heard the drill.

I got e.e. cummings. Initially, was I impressed? Of course not--Poe (The Raven, Annabel Lee, Lenore...), Wordsworth (the host of golden daffodils, for crying out loud), Shakespeare (Hamlet, Sonnets, longer poems...), Longfellow (The Village Blacksmith), even Emily Dickensen or Mary Wolstonecraft Shelley's husband. But no, I drew this name that looked like a caterpillar, the same height, dots along the side, and just a series of the same curve, turned every-which way.

Great, I thought. The guy who must've invented L3375p34|c (that's leetspeak, aka leet. Awesome article on wikipedia), for which I had nothing but scorn, probably drank himself to an early death over his vast knowledge in beginning to uncapitalize words. I was not impressed. Not Impressed. At all.

Gradually, I came to cherish a few of his poems, enough so that the analysis I did for the paper was truly good. In fact, I got called in for plagiarism on it, and had to swear up and down that I'd actually thought of the ideas I'd put down in paper. Of course, I did reproduce one entire poem about a snowflake falling in order to be able to fill my page requirement, but I was, after all, in ninth grade.

My favorite poem quickly came to be 'anyone lived in a pretty how town'--a poem so sweet and painfully lonely that even then, I occasionally cried (quietly and alone) at the bus stop when I read it. It was innocent and sweet, and loving, and exhilerating, and it expressed in gentle, life-loving ways what Aldous Huxley and the other dystopian authors did so ham-handedly. Life is lonely, and people are without compassion and completely self-centered, but in this poem, cummings did not lose sight of the loveliness that surrounds all of life, especially in the country.

This poem has strongly influenced my writing--my habit of trying to convey feeling with strong, but disconnected images, the belief that stories are told primarily underneath the telling, rather than through it. It was this poem that led to my experimentation with 'negative space' writing, and Holly, the short story that has won several writing contests. It is emotional without being 'emo'. It is despairing without depression, and it is romantic without being cloying. It is delightful, and that word is perfect, because it is so very full of light.

I haven't given much thought to expressing why it is so lovely, so airy and full of truth, like a spring morning full of hard work. Read it. Please, read it--think about it. Hear it, and leave it, and read it again the next day and see whether you can hear what I'm saying, see what I see written in this lovely, lovely poem.

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn't they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autum winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone's any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain


My stepmother could have no way of knowing how I feel about this poem--I doubt she's even read it. I just loaded a CD she bought me--Strange Conversation, by Kris Delmhorst--into my computer, and darned if there wasn't a song with this poem as its lyrics. Trepidation galore, especially because on the case it's billed as being written by E. E. Cummings--all those squares and oversized letters--that's not the right name! But I decided to put my snobby, English-major sensitivities aside. After all, it's better to typo something to become correct than to typo something to become incorrect.....right? Maybe.

Besides, Kate's music...well, some of it would definitely intersect with the way a song of this poem would have to be. It would be sweet and dark, sometimes as light as the sun through new leaves, laughing as infectiously as children or sad as a baby bird alone in deep snow. It would be silvery bells and perhaps a fragile violin, maybe some celtic influence underneath. Mandolin, nothign heavy. Only the gentlest of guitars and piano. Brushed cymbals--no drums. Loreena Mckennitt might be able to do it. If she were really careful. Dar Williams writes the kind of beauty that is in this poem--she would be my choice, if I were to choose. I don't know of a male singer/songwriter who could do it.

Turns out that Kris Delmhorst is a woman. So, I double-clicked on the song title, bracing myself for the worst, hoping against hope that it would be all right. And oh, god. It starts with boom-chick-boom-chick drums and a country guitar leading up to Carrie Rodriguez-style fiddle. An upbeat country tune, sung with a drawl. "A-henny wun liy-uvd iyn a pu-ritty haow-taown..." Haowtaown. Like Cowtown. Oh god. There's no sweetness, no mysticism in her voice...very little melody, even. She's hammered this dream of a poem flat. Hammered it flat, and by the end of the first stanza, I feel like crying.

The defilement of art.

And the worst part? She slides flat on the final notes.

The horror! The horror!

EDIT
I looked on iTunes, just to torture myself, and found four songs up for the search string "Pretty How Town"...turns out that Melinda Stanford's version is enchanting...I recommend it. It's not...quite...what I was expecting, but it's very good. Go listen to the clip, at least...

EDIT again--I hope, Kate, that if you read this, you're not offended or anything...I really appreciate the music sharing...

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