Natalie Merchant (and Some Forgotten Poets)

This is one of my favourite TED performances: Natalie Merchant singing songs set to the poetry of (more or less) forgotten poets from long ago. I was particularly blown away by “If No One Ever Marries Me.” Here’s the poem—and see what Merchant makes of it.

If you haven’t heard Merchant before, check out her work with 10,000 Maniacs. ‘Verdi Cries’, ‘Like the Weather’, ‘These are Days’, ‘Don’t Talk’, ‘What’s the Matter Here’: some of the greatest songs ever.

(TED link via my friend Shandana Minhas’s FB page.)

Trouble (and Crystal)

Two of the high points of this year’s American Idol, for me, have been the performances of Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble” by Matt Lawrence and Alex Lambert. What a great song it is; here’s the original:

Yeah, that song’s no lucky omen, and Lawrence and Lambert have both been eliminated long ago. Lawrence went out in the group stage of the Hollywood rounds—a stage I absolutely hate and don’t get the point of. Lambert was one of three shock omissions when the field was cut from 16 to 12. I felt like giving up on the show then, but the amazing Crystal Bowersox is still there, and I’m still watching. If she doesn’t win the show, though, I will kill someone.

If you don’t follow AI, here are some performances by Crystal: 1, 2, 3.

And here’s an original: “Farmer’s Daughter.”

Isn’t she amazing?

It’s Just The Motion

Check out this fine performance of one of my favourite songs, “Just The Motion”, by the great Richard Thompson:

I love Thompson’s guitaring in this, understated but expressive. You can also listen to Linda Thompson sing it here—the song is from their 1982 album, Shoot Out the Lights. Another version I like is by David Byrne in the tribute album Beat The Retreat.

Back to work now. It’s just the motion.

“The War Is Over”

On an email group I’m part of, Roswitha writes that the recent New York Times hoax reminded her of the gorgeous poem below:

by Julia Vinograd

No blame. Anyone who wrote Howl and Kaddish
earned the right to make any possible mistake
for the rest of his life.
I just wish I hadn’t made this mistake with him.
It was during the Vietnam war
and he was giving a great protest reading
in Washington Square Park
and nobody wanted to leave.
So Ginsberg got the idea, “I’m going to shout
‘the war is over’ as loud as I can,” he said
“and all of you run over the city
in different directions
yelling the war is over, shout it in offices,
shops, everywhere and when enough people
believe the war is over
why, not even the politicians
will be able to keep it going.”
I thought it was a great idea at the time
a truly poetic idea.
So when Ginsberg yelled I ran down the street
and leaned in the doorway
of the sort of respectable down on its luck cafeteria
where librarians and minor clerks have lunch
and I yelled “the war is over.”
And a little old lady looked up
from her cottage cheese and fruit salad.
She was so ordinary she would have been invisible
except for the terrible light
filling her face as she whispered
“My son. My son is coming home.”
I got myself out of there and was sick in some bushes.
That was the first time I believed there was a war.


Via Amitava Kumar, I recently discovered the work of the poet Lorraine Mariner. Here’s a poem I love:

by Lorraine Mariner

Yesterday evening I finished
with my imaginary boyfriend.
He knew what I was going to say
before I said it which was top of my list
of reasons why we should end it.

My other reasons were as follows:
he always does exactly what I tell him;
nothing in our relationship has ever surprised me;
he has no second name.

He took it very well
all things considered.
He told me I was to think of him
as a friend and if I ever need him
I know where he is.

For more, check out “Bye For Now.”

Twelve Crabs

I love this bit from ZZ Packer’s interview of Edward P Jones:

ZZP: Do you find that people treat you differently after your having won the Pulitzer?

EPJ: People ask if I’m happy about this and that, especially when they talk about the money. I am happy, but there’s no car in the world I want—I don’t want a car—there are places I want to go, but I’m not hungry to do world travel. There’s no fancy house that I want.

I got some crabs the other day, twelve crabs, and that’s a feast. That’s wonderful. That makes me happy.

I was in graduate school, and I was rooming at this place the first year and we all shared the same bathroom. After I moved I wrote to this one friend of mine, “Finally I got a bathroom all to myself.” He said I’d probably always be happy because there were small things that made me happy.

I remember when that basketball player Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose. Now, he’s from Maryland, he should have gone right down to the crab-house, bought twelve crabs and an orange soda, and that would have fulfilled him. Why didn’t he do that?

This is from “The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers”, which is full of many such gems.

To get a taste of Jones’s work, try his masterful short story, “Old Boys, Old Girls”. I’ve read few stories where time is handled so well, and it’s full of great bits of writing—one that struck me as exceptional was the paragraph about the protagonist’s sister driving him home.

Alzheimer’s Tales

The line of the day comes from Jai Arjun Singh, who writes about U, Me aur Hum:

This is two bad movies for the price of one.

Total VFM for Bollywood fans, in other words. Read his full review; I don’t think I’ll be watching the film now.

The greatest narrative involving Alzheimer’s, by the way, surely has to be Alice Munro’s masterpiece, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain.” I read it for the first time recently in an anthology of love stories put together by Jeffrey Eugenides, and agree with his description of it as “nearly impossibly good.” I’ve never read a short story that has moved me so much—or been so instructive about the art of writing. It’s a pitch-perfect story, right from the way she introduces the characters in that brief first section, to the dialogue-writing and understated story-telling, to the way she wraps it up. (The New Yorker version of the story is subtly, very subtly, different from the one in the book, and even that was instructive for me—one of the things that blew me away when I read it in the book, the absence of quotation marks in just one very apt piece of direct quotation in the story, isn’t there in the magazine version.)

It’s more than 11,000 words, so I suggest you go to it when you have the time, and read it slowly.

PS: And oh, Munro’s story was made into a film. I don’t think that would be up Devgan’s street, though.