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Front Cover by Bianca Stone
The Music Issue, 2016.

Created for the Massachusetts Review.

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Volume 57, Issue 4

A SPECIAL ISSUE on music. For this particular quarterly, given that “public affairs” is the kicker to our moniker, the first reaction of readers might well be, “Why?” Certainly if you think of music as entertainment, as remedy or therapy, you might not see such a theme as urgent. And yet what social movement, what new political formation, hasn't had its unforgettable soundtrack? Where, after all, do those in the struggle find the force and inspiration to keep moving forward, to get up, stand up, in this world full of tunnels and only occasional light? What brings them together, what lifts their voices, what beats the drum?

Granted, it isn't easy to put into words the power of music, especially where rhythm and melody occur in combination with words, yet whatever happens surely takes place at the level of nerve fibers, probably even before perception, much less knowledge. Two of the most respected historians of world history, the father-and-son team of John and William McNeill, have even speculated that human society itself may have begun in song and dance—that music may well be the foundation that first gathered us together into tribes, as a people. For this magazine, then, the measure of music must be taken according to the manner it serves to shake things up, to move us forward. Otherwise it is distraction.

No one should be surprised we’ve chosen to bring you over three dozen poets: a number of languages on this planet have only a single word for both poem and song, and surely all poetry aspires to the condition of music. Here too, however, one should never assume that the abstractions of measure, melody, and rhythm leave behind the tensions or faultlines of the world as it is. A chorus of cultural studies critics have argued, in effect, that all music in this country of ours derives, in one form or another, from the evidently homegrown spectacle of minstrel theater, and thus that US musical culture, and perhaps even US culture itself, began in and still carries that burden. From minstrelsy to blues and jazz, then onto the crossroads of rock and rap: this magazine would not be true to its history if, in a music issue, it failed to honor this legacy.

Given the plethora of possibilities offered here, including art, fiction, and non-, along with our passel of poets, it would be presumptuous in this introduction to attempt a roadmap for readers. From the cornucopia assembled here, we trust you’ll find your fill.

As pars pro toto, however, I can tell you a bit more about the music of one man, and why we want you know his work. The singer-songwriter Gianmaria Testa died this past year, at the age of fifty-seven. Working for the Italian state railroad system for most of his adult life, as a stationmaster in a provincial capital, Testa could be called, with no exaggeration, the Woody Guthrie of Italy’s Piedmont region. In his final years, the cantautore also became his nation’s Leadbelly: the two essays published here tell the back story to a pair of songs chronicling the contemporary migration crisis in Europe, in a period when racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia are even more telling there than they are here at home.

These words and music, on the other hand, make it impossible to see today’s African immigrants as anything other than Italian and European: no one can hear Testa’s stories as belonging to people who are in any way other. After all, as Testa reminds us, lo sapevamo anche noi (“we used to know it too”). After all, what part of the world today doesn’t have a history of migration from country to city, or from homeland to new world, over the last few centuries, if not the past couple decades? The loss of the land of our birth, along with the loss of traditions and language, is perhaps the most common experience shared across the globe today. Such are the stories that Gianmaria Testa has put to music.

As the philosopher of ethics Jonathan Glover recalls, “George Orwell fought against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War. He later described how a fascist soldier came in sight, half-dressed and running, holding up his trousers with both hands.” Orwell commented, “I had come here to shoot at “Fascists”; but a man who is holding up his trousers isn't a “Fascist,” he is visibly a fellow creature, similar to yourself, and you don't feel like shooting at him.” Woody Guthrie, in 1941, famously placed on his guitar the slogan: “This Machine Kills Fascists.” In our own day and age, it would no doubt be too simple, and overly reassuring, to suggest that any sort of music inevitably has any such redemptive effects. And yet we might still claim for music that which Jiko, the grandmother and Buddhist monk from Ruth Ozeki’s wondrous Tale for the Time Being, claims for Zen meditation—that it is a superpawa. The focus, energy, and collective solidarity of music might just be the one force on earth, from the beginning of human society to the days of slaughter at Pulse and Bataclan, that does change fascists into fellow creatures. And even on our worst days, with their horror beyond belief, the music doesn’t die.


Entries

poetry

Lips

By Gerald Stern

nonfiction

from Veloso, Walking into the Wind

By Igiaba Scego, translated by Frederika Randall

poetry

The Last Bohemian of Avenue A,

By Yusef Komunyakaa

art

from The Voice Imitator

By Ana Schuleit Haber and Yotam Haber

poetry

National Anthem

By Ilya Kaminsky

translation

from Radio Imagination

Hart Larrabee

poetry

Music from a Farther Room

By Gary J. Whitehead

nonfiction

from This Side of the Sea

By Gianmaria Testa, translated by Jim Hicks

fiction

The Tabla Player

By Farah Ahamed

libretto

from Here Be Sirens

Kate Soper

poetry

What to Take

by Barbara Ras

poetry

The Bugler Responds to Mary

by Rebecca Foust

poetry

Bird Song

by Tony Eprile

poetry

Without Night Shoes

by Jane Hirshfield

translation

from Veloso, Walking into the Wind

Frederika Randall

poetry

Mezzo

by Tanya Grae

poetry

Muzak

by Carol Potter

poetry

Loss

by Roger Greenwald

essay

Paul Robeson Sings America

by Shana L. Redmond

essay

Things in the Form of a Prayer in the Form of a Wail

by Matt Donovan

essay

The Blues: Where Love Ends Badly

by Gerald Williams

poetry

The Romantic Mode

by Jen Jabally Blackburn

Poery

Then Elvis Drops to One Knee

by David Kirby

poetry

Variable

by Mary Peelen

poetry

[untitled]

by Bruce Smith

poetry

Marvin Gaye Sings the National Anthem, 1983

by Bruce Smith

poetry

Desert Suite #5: Cactus Music

by Kimberly White

poetry

In Their Own Time

by Casey FitzSimons

Novel Excerpt

from Radio Imagination

By Seiko Ito, Translated by Hart Larrabee

poem

Cloud Hands

Arthur Sze

poetry

Randy Weston’s African Rhythms, the Day After

by Randall Horton

poetry

Found Music

by T. J. McLemore

poetry

Ornithology

by Peter Fiore

poetry

Goldberg Variatins

by Jim Whiteside

poetry

Charles Ives at the Spinnet

by Donald Revell

poetry

Music in the Kingdom of the Heart

by Laura McCullough

poetry

Dear Enya and Dear Sinéad

by Abe Louise Young

poetry

Twilight on Kool Darkness

by Bonia Lee Penn

poetry

Bassoon

by Ken Waldman

essay

from Perfect Pitch

by Marcelo Cohen, translated by Judith Filc

translation

from Perfect Pitch

by Marcelo Cohen, translated by Judith Filc

art

Silent Swan

by Bianca Stone, with text by Ben Pease

essay

Fantasie Impromptu

by Chen Li, translated by Ting Wang

translation

Fantasie Impromptu

by Chen Li, translated by Ting Wang

poetry

The Pae Turner

by Amanda Anastasi

poetry

The Fidelity of Music

by Geffrey Davis

poetry

Tryin to Write a Music Poem

by Diamond Forde

poetry

My Crying Towel

by Laura Kasischke

essay

For a Fistful of Sitars

by Gabriele Ferraris, translated by Laurence de Richemont

translation

For a Fistful of Sitars

Laurence de Richemont

poetry

Race Music

by Meredith Nnoka

poetry

Interview with Berry ordy

by Meredith Nnoka

translation

from This Side of the Sea

Jim Hicks

poetry

The Rolling Deep

by Anne Marie Macari

poetry

Country Music II

by Helen Wickes

poetry

Song of Eleven Consonants and Thirteen Vowels, for G. Stein

by Katie Farris

poetry

Poetic Art

By Paul Verlaine, translated by Laure-Anne Bosselaar

translation

Poetic Art

Laure-Anne Bosselaar

poetry

Mozart's Magic Coach

Slavko Mihalić, Translated by Dasha C. Nisula

translation

Mozart's Magic Coach

Dasha C. Nisula

essay

Mozart's Starlin

by Leslie Stainton

essay

Old Folks' Singing and Utopia

by Tim Erikson

poetry

Crypto-Animist Introvert Activism

by Brenda Hillman

essay

Writing the Life of the Concert Promoter

by Steve Waksman

essay

Saved by Soul

by Rashod Ollison

essay

For Adrienne

by Julia Conrad

poetry

The Persistence of Music

by A. Molotkov

Table of Contents

Introduction

ALLEGRO MA NON TROPPO, UN POCO MAESTOSO

from Here Be Sirens, an opera in one act by Kate Soper

Lips, a poem by Gerald Stern

What to Take, a poem by Barbara Ras

The Bugler Responds to Mary, a poem by Rebecca Foust

Bird Song, a poem by Tony Eprile

Without Night-Shoes, a poem by Jane Hirshfield

from Caetano Veloso, Walking into the Wind, nonfiction by Igiaba Scego, translated by Frederika Randall

Mezzo, a poem by Tanya Grae

Muzak, a poem by Carol Potter

Loss, a poem by Roger Greenwald

Paul Robeson Sings America, nonfiction by Shana L. Redmond

from The Last Bohemian of Avenue A, a poem by Yusef Komunyakaa

The Coming of John, an essay by John H. Bracey Jr.

Things in the Form of a Prayer in the Form of a Wail, an essay by Matt Donovan

The Blues: Where Love Ends Badly, an essay by Gerald Williams

The Romantic Mode, a poem by Jen Jabaily-Blackburn

Then Elvis Drops to One Knee, a poem by David Kirby

Variable, a poem by Mary Peelen

from The Voice Imitator, art by Anna Schuleit Haber and Yotam Haber

SCHERZO: MOLTO VIVACE

[untitled] and Marvin Gaye Sings the National Anthem, 1983, poems by Bruce Smith

Desert Suite #5: Cactus Music, a poem by Kimberly White

In their own time, a poem by Casey FitzSimons

National Anthem, a poem by Ilya Kaminsky

from Radio Imagination, a novel excerpt by Seiko Ito, translated by Hart Larrabee

Cloud Hands, a poem by Arthur Sze

Randy Weston’s African Rhythms, the Day After, a poem by Randall Horton

Found Music, a poem by T.J. McLemore

Ornithology, a poem by Peter Fiore

Goldberg Variations, a poem by Jim Whiteside

from The Scarlet Professor, a libretto by Harley Erdman

Charles Ives at the Spinet, a poem by Donald Revell

Music in the Kingdom of the Heart, a poem by Laura McCullough

Dear Enya and Dear Sinéad, a poem by Abe Louise Young

Twilight on Kool Darkness, a poem by Bonita Lee Penn

Bassoon, a poem by Ken Waldman

from Perfect Pitch, nonfiction by Marcelo Cohen, translated by Judith Filc

Silent Swan, a poetry comic by Bianca Stone, with text by Ben Pease

Fantaisie Impromptu, nonfiction by Chen Li, translated by Ting Wang

ADAGIO MOLTO E CANTABILE

The Page Turner, a poem by Amanda Anastasi

The Fidelity of Music, a poem by Geffrey Davis

Trying to Write Music Poem, a poem by Diamond Forde

My Crying Towel, a poem by Laura Kasischke

Music from a Farther Room, a poem by Gary J. Whitehead

For a Fistful of Sitars, an essay by Gabriele Ferraris, translated by Laurence de Richemont

Race Music and Interview with Berry Gordy, poems by Meredith Nnoka

from This Side of the Sea, nonfiction by Gianmaria Testa, translated by Jim Hicks

The Rolling Deep, a poem by Anne Marie Macari

Country Music II, a poem by Helen Wickes

Song of Eleven Consonants and Thirteen Vowels, for G. Stein, a poem by Katie Farris

Poetic Art, a poem by Paul Verlaine, translated by Laure-Anne Bosselaar

Mozart’s Magic Coach, a poem by Slavko Mihalić, translated by Dasha C. Nisula

Mozart’s Starling, an essay by Leslie Stainton

The Tabla Player, a story by Farah Ahamed

RECITATIVE (CHORAL FINALE)

Old Folks’ Singing and Utopia, an essay by Tim Eriksen

Crypto-Animist Introvert Activism, a poem by Brenda Hillman

Writing the Life of the Concert Promoter, an essay by Steve Waksman

Saved by Soul, an essay by Rashod Ollison

For Adrienne, an essay by Julia Conrad

The Persistence of Music, a poem by A. Molotkov

Notes on Contributors

Contributors

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