Tag Archives: violin

Broken Strings

Today is World Poetry Day, and by tradition on this blog (after having done it once), I’ll celebrate by posting an original poem. But today isn’t just about writing poetry; it’s about reading it. Currently, I’m enjoying Brandon Som’s The Tribute Horse. Let me know in the comments what poetry you’re reading, and I hope you enjoy my own contribution. If not, I have others.

Fiddle

Violins are such distraught instruments,
attention-hungry, stage-front and fraught with stage fright
as they demand burning strings with match-striking speed,
snapping bow hairs. When violinists listen
they can hear the glue dry on the tuning pegs,
can hear the instrument creak under the pressure
of a perfect performance, and still audiences almost never see
the violin at home. The smallest things do the worst damage;
a change in weather alone can pop a string. In silence
they release the pressure; tuning pegs unwind
letting out the strings, freeing them from the chipped bridge.
Violinists anthropomorphized these tools, naming them with anatomy,
the neck and body, not for the romance of it
but to transplant their body’s torment onto an instrument,
to make it suffer with them.
How frail the off-stage violin can be,
letting small things gnaw at it from the inside out,
allowing snowflake-sized details to warp its wood, melt its glue.
But these things are easy to fix. I can tune a violin
but what of the violinist? What of the audience? The streets?
Can we fine tune the weather to make the planet ripe again?
It doesn’t take a petition to tune an instrument
or social media campaigns to rosin a bow.
I can fix a broken string, but there my skills end
in the wake of so many other broken things,
cities, hearts, correspondences, futures. I can mend an instrument
held together and torn apart again by chance,
but for all the brokenness I can only marvel
at musicians with stage presence and their perfect instruments
that never need tweaking, never gather yellow layers of rosin dust,
never slide out of tune with the changing seasons
the way mine always seems to these days.

Copyright Keene Short, 2016.

 

A Novel That Sounds Like Bach

Typewriter musicStarting a new writing project can sometimes feel like latching onto an umbrella and jumping off a cliff, relying only on improvisation and plain luck to keep me from hitting the ground. The key difference is that, unlike jumping off a cliff, writing is a lot scarier.

The other day, I latched onto a good idea for a novel (lawyers, blogs, Texas). It’s since pulled me over the edge, and there’s no turning back. Fortunately, I have plenty to write about. I pull my inspiration from many sources, the authors I read, the people I talk with. One notion fueling this new novel is that I want it to read like the sonatas and partitas of J. S. Bach.

Of course prose and music are two different forms of art, but I’ve enjoyed listening to Bach for over ten years. I enjoy the deliberateness in his music. Nothing is superfluous, allowing the chord progressions to take center stage unhindered by a fixation with virtuosity, and I say this as a violinist who has personally dealt with the pretentiousness of virtuoso musicians and composers.

Instead, Bach patiently jogs along, sometimes as straight 8th notes for measure after measure. The emotions he conveys vary from movement to movement, but they always carry the same deliberate awareness, the same steady pace, putting focus on the chords rather than the structure. Similarly, I want to write prose that invites the reader to go on a run with it on an Autumn morning, that invites the reader to turn corners in an unfamiliar neighborhood but to keep running no matter what they encounter together. Ultimately, I hope to write something the reader can get along with easily, more a friend than a confusing professor. I admit that I am sometimes guilty of lecturing my readers in past stories.

I intend to listen to Bach’s sonatas and partitas while my fingers unravel this novel, but specifically I will listen to Chris Thile performing them on the mandolin. Bach wrote them for the violin, but I enjoy Thile’s rendition more. The timbre sounds more autumnal, more like raindrops or footsteps. And unless I get back to work writing, I may never see this idea to the end.

-jk