“Putrid with Paradox” (or “Overthinking Things”)

Thanks to Larry and Peggy, who both responded to my previous posting, which was a riff on the recent NYT article about professional musicians who hesitated to play late Beethoven and other extremely emotional pieces, either because they believed themselves too young to have had the necessary “experience” or else were no longer young but believed themselves not to have “suffered” enough.

I did not mean to imply that I questioned my “suffering” credentials as an (almost) 70-year-old amateur. I question all kinds of other things but certainly not my “right” to play late Beethoven, which I love. 

Wordsworth (or perhaps his sister Dorothy) defined poetry as “emotion recollected in tranquility” and, perhaps because of my past, I tend to favor poetry that springs from some experience of loss. However, loss unmixed with hope, meaning, or renewal of some kind is merely melodrama for me, just as unalloyed happiness is merely sentimental.  At my age, I enjoy the Romantic period of music and poetry less than I used to, perhaps for those reasons. Beethoven is considered late Classical, not Romantic, and I think that is why I return again and again to him. He was composing at that moment when classical structures were morphing into something else, which was to become the Romantic movement. And I am drawn to chimerical creations, which are more than one thing.

I was lucky enough to have been given books of poetry for Christmas, including a Louise Glück which I’d never purchased for myself—The Wild Iris—as well as one of Brenda Shaughnessy’s books—Our Andromeda. It is always wonderful to discover a new poet, and though Shaughnessy’s work has been around for some years, I have never read her.  Our Andromeda, like Edward Hirsch’s Gabriel (see September 1 entry–“Making Meaning from the Idea of Loss), is at least partly concerned with the grief/guilt over their children’s physical and emotional suffering.  As Shaughnessy says in her poem “The Seven Deadly Sins of (and Necessary Steps toward) Making Art,”

Pure art is, in a sense, pure innocence.

But artists are, in themselves, putrid with paradox.

I also mentioned, in my previous post, the painful story of a homeless woman I met about a week ago. She claimed that she had been unable to find a place in the shelter system here in Milwaukee, and so I ended up giving her quite a bit of money (for me).  Reporter Meg Kissinger, of the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel, whom I contacted about the situation, did a little digging and found that the story I had been told was not “true.”  Kissinger went on to write an excellent piece on the current situation for the Milwaukee homeless in yesterday’s Journal/Sentinel.

So–was I “scammed”?  Well, maybe,  but only if you believe in simple stories with simple morals. If you are, on the other hand, “putrid with paradox,” you realize that you cannot feel the cold or the “truth” of another’s experience through glass: that “innocence” is not a sustainable mode of being.


http://www.city-of-rochester.org.ukHere is Glück’s “Snowdrops”:


Do you know what I was, how I lived? You know

what despair is; then

winter should have meaning for you.


I did not expect to survive,

earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect

to waken again, to feel

in damp earth my body

able to respond again, remembering

after so long how to open again

in the cold light

of earliest spring—


afraid, yes, but among you again

crying yes risk joy


in the raw wind of the new world.


And in her title poem, Shaughnessy writes,

 The new wind is already in us, older sister

 to us all, blowing windfall and garbage

alike to those who do not deserve

either gifts or refuse.

Neither “Tanya”—the homeless woman I met–nor I “deserve/either gifts or refuse.”  Winter holds despair of many kinds for many people; but winter is not the whole “truth.”  The “putrid paradox” of poets (and artists of all kinds) shines light and warmth on the whole picture—at least the parts of it that they can see.

If not for that way into mystery, into a hard-to-see wholeness—and out of the stuck singleness of grief and loss–why would I play Beethoven? Why would I read and attempt to write poetry? Why would I risk being made a fool of?

For your enjoyment, here is Mitsuko Uchida (click link to listen to her fascinating discussion of the four-pointed definition of “talent” for a musician) playing Beethoven’s first movement– Vivace Ma Non troppo, Adagio Espressivo— of his Sonata, op. 109 (not op. 110 as I erroneously wrote earlier), which I am currently working on in order to bring it to light and life, once again, in the spring.

One thought on ““Putrid with Paradox” (or “Overthinking Things”)

  1. Thank you for the follow up blog….for clarifying what you wanted us to understand about your playing of late Beethoven. I really enjoyed being introduced to Mitsuko Uchida, Beehoven's music that you are working on and the poets quoted.


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