Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bruce Berger; Musical Poet

For a long time now I have carried around a collection of poems by Bruce Berger called "Facing the Music." It was an unexpected find in a old and quiet used bookstore on the upper west side in the late 1990s when quiet old used bookstores existed.

The biographical statement on the back flycover said Berger "attended Yale University and did graduate work in English until, "wondering what Crater Lake looked like in the snow, he left academia for good."

It did not say that he was a musician. No need.

There are musical insights in these poems. A schematic called "Opus 28, The Preludes" invokes each of the twenty-four preludes with the actual keys listed along the outer left and right margins:

"The agitated aftervoices pour
Their Chilling pulses and harmonic shocks
Into Chopin's closing music box,
Saving one hid fuse of energy
To detonate death's thrice-resolving D."

The margins show that the first two lines summon the g minor prelude, the third line invokes the F major prelude and the last two two lines the d minor prelude.

In his poem called "Enigma Variations," Berger explores the meaning of "gone." It was a lesson he "had to unlearn:"

"Now nears that someday when I should understand,
The master tune, we probably agree,
Is memory,
All sound mere variation. I buy
New releases, a fresh try."

Other imaginative poems contemplate the "secret laughter" of an acquaintance who had given the poet a copy of Gaspard and committed suicide years later, "And tough little Scarbo, who dances and disappears."

There is a poem called "Late Sibelius" that voices silences and "after-silence:"

"Disconnections brought to a final ripeness
In the full silence of the awaited Eighth
Promised, denied, destroyed. Or never begun."

At the close he gives advice: "Put this down and listen to late Sibelius."

My favorite is the final poem, "These Arias." It is a melancholy meditation about the "inflammation of the unceasing lastness / Of every untorn thing." Berger says that these disappearances repeat "useless the way Addio / Runs through Italian opera:"

"Goodbye old car.
Forgive tomorrow's absence, fond cafe.
Poor faithful chair, abandoned at Goodwill.
Any you, unexpected friend. Addio. Addio."


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