Sunday, April 26, 2009

Janet Holmes: Humanophone

So we're back from a wedding at of all places Orange, Virginia, midway between Fredricksburg & Charlottesville. Old stomping grounds, in part. Lovely country, rolling hills & farms & horses & kine. A visit to Montpelier, home of James & Dolley (with an "e") Madison, recently renovated from some DuPont's hideous "upgrade" back to its early 19th-c. state. An elegant formal garden, endless hiking trails back into the woods. My calves ache. Surprisingly, my head doesn't, given the endless potations at the wedding last night. The dog's nose – one of Basil Bunting's favorite drinks: beer + gin – is a wonderful thing, but probably too dangerous for extended bouts.

I don't like bed & breakfasts. Something creepy about that "welcome to our house" business, when I'd frankly prefer the anonymity of a hotel, the more aseptic & non-Victorian the better: give me Swisshotel any day.
Humanophone, Janet Holmes (U of Notre Dame P, 2001)

Various poems in various forms here: a number of quite personal lyrics (some very moving); some confrontations with literary texts (Dante, Keats); meditations on place. The centerpieces are 3 sequences on musical material: "Celebration on the Planet Mars," which explores the life & work of jazzman Raymond Scott; "Humanophone," on Charles Ives's father George, a Civil War bandleader & as much a visionary as his more famous son; & "Partch Stations," on the incomparable composer & instrument-maker Harry Partch – all three men who heard music that no one before had ever imagined, & sought new instruments to make it real.

I'm reminded in these 3 sequences of one of the modes of John Matthias (& Matthias's student Bob Archambeau): a poetic hearkening back to certains strains of the high modernist, in which the poet's goal is to hold up & display the shiny, odd byways of cultural history. Poems like these, at their best, stand alone – but they always seize the reader by the shirt: here's something you might not know, might never have heard of, but it could change your life, were you to follow this trace – read these books, listen these recordings, look at these pictures! Something fundamentally generous there.


1 comment:

JG said...


Coire ainsec.