Here’s my review of Stanley Fefferman’s The Heart of All Music: Poems about Music and Musicians. Aeolus House, 2018. 52 pp. ISBN 978-1-987872-11-8. $20
Convergence is a word often used to describe the reshaping of our world by such forces as the Internet. This concept also applies to Stanley Fefferman’s latest collection, The Heart of All Music, which can be described, appropriately, as the convergence of a life-time of listening attentively to a wide range of musical genres.
It’s a treat when a poet takes a whole book to explore in depth a single subject. When the topic is music and the poet as knowledgeable as Stanley Fefferman, the result is a gift for all the senses. His work is varied in tone, mood and mode, given a perceptive ear and a gift for translating the complexities of musical experience into language. Fefferman employs a wide spectrum of forms, including prose poems that read like a possible transcription from his original review. The tone of the poems hovers between elegiac and celebratory, performative and prosaic, traditional and contemporary. This elegantly presented book is like a musical score in itself. The Heart of All Music sectioned in the four musical terms of a sonata: “Allegro, “Largo”, “Scherzo”, and the Finale, “Andante Cantabile”.
Fefferman’s preface describes the magic of listening to music. He declares “the feelings that came set off the language centres of the poet-in-me, and the music generated words.” At first I thought of searching YouTube to hear the pieces Fefferman describes. Then I realized that the poems themselves present a complicated translation that is this poet’s specific perception, “sharp as crackling bones/ that fall as feathers filling an entire hall”. The reader experiences Fefferman’s particular vision through his vivid imagery: “Debussy’s unique String Quartet unfolds a shimmer of antique silk/ embroidered with pizzicated rhythms of the new French enthusiasm”.
Metaphors translate the sometime psychedelic experience of a concert. The poet often describes one sense in terms of another, presenting the emotional range of a synaesthete. Indeed, Fefferman includes a poem to Alexander Scriabin, famous for his own synaesthetic correlations. Fefferman offers us fascinating imagery to describe specific works. His phrase, “crennellated patterns”, conjures an instant image of fortified battlements, an image immediately followed by “notes that roll/ like a silken standard in the wind”. We are thrust into a mediaeval scene to accompany Barrios’s “La Cathedral”.
Musicians play off each other; “the players spin solo threads”. Like the musicians Fefferman depicts, the instruments described in these poems have character, indeed personality. “The cello in the scherzo remains sardonic” after “jittery discourses that keen upward till they peter out /— a musical representation of life leaving the body.” Shostakovich’s final sonata is “the corvid utterance of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Nevermore’.” The cello continues “dialogues with itself/ among mutterings of ‘es muss sein’”—Beethoven’s motto in his last quartet. The phrase, “It must be”, figures prominently in Milan Kundera’s novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being as well, designating an acceptance of fate. A line of poetry also interprets another string quartet in a phrase from Eliot’s The Waste Land. One art is presented in terms of another, engaging both feeling and intellect.
Fefferman’s commentary is a “solo series of precision shifts between attitudes of stillness and repose [that] encode/ a lifetime of contemplation” in a veteran’s “deep acceptance of the world as it is.” Blues, jazz, traditional folk and classical works, Fefferman covers and comments on it all, from O’Carolan to David Bowie to John Hammond to Mozart and Claude Vivier. Fefferman is at his best presenting female singers like Lhasa De Sela in one of his most touching laments, as well as poems to composers cut off too soon by war. His beautiful last poem, dedicated to Dvorak’s Piano Trio in E minor, is a spiritual resolution for both Fefferman and his readers:
“the sound of peace itself
a melody so exquisitely played
the mind is overwhelmed with pleasure
and comes to rest in its own place
like the reflection of sky in lake.”
Fefferman’s epigraph announces that he associates the heart of music with the moment of happiness that he is offering in these poems. Indeed, The Heart of All Music is a paean to Music and Musicians. The cadenced rhythm of these poems will resonate long after the last note, the final phrase. To paraphrase Rumi, in this beautifully produced collection from Aeolus House, “We have fallen into the place where everything is music.”
Poet, performer and playwright Penn Kemp has been lauded as a trailblazer, “a poetic El Nino”, and a “one-woman literary industry”. She was London’s inaugural Poet Laureate . Her 2018 books of poetry are Local Heroes (Insomniac), and Fox Haunts (Aeolus House). See http://www.pennkemp.weebly.com.
This review is now up on http://bywords.ca/november2018/review1.htm, thanks to Amanda Earl.