Sunday, July 18, 2010

Cherry Summer and Fall (Vol. 1, No. 6)

Cherries are different here, than in Poland. What we call "cherries" in America, are "czeresnie" in Poland, huge, sweet and juicy, overflowing. Their flavor is not good for baking, though: too bland, boring. The other cherries, "wisnie," are smaller and much more tart, so you can never find them in American stores. But this is the only kind used to make the exquisite "konfitury" that could be used as filling in the best kind of donuts, or to sweeten your tea, Russian-style, or to eat with bread and butter, and with fresh white cottage cheese. Ah, yes, there are also the early "szklanki" ("glass cherries" - if there could be such a thing), a failed compromise, not flavorful enough for konfitury, and not sweet enough to entice children up the tree.

Chekhov's "The Cherry Orchard" is "Wisniowy Sad" in Polish: "czeresniowy" would have been just too sweet for this wistful drama, pregnant with silences and disappointments. Chopin's music, in its gentle melancholy, tastes of the "sour cherries" too, one could say. Not being able to find the right kind of cherries in America, I used ripe Bing cherries as illustrations. I put three cherries in a motive of sorts, a single one followed by twins with a joined stem. Placed on a page, they looked like a "long-short-short" rhythmic pattern to me, or the first motive of the polonaise.

This noble dance, walked in a long line of couples, with grace and pride, is THE national dance of Poland, I think, the "Dabrowski Mazurka" of the national anthem notwithstanding. In a study dedicated to Polish Dance in California (Columbia University Press, 2007), I discussed the conflict of perception, with the polka being seen as the main Polish dance in America, while the polonaise triumphs in this role in Poland.

Poets danced the polonaise at our second reading from Chopin with Cherries, in May 2010 at the Ruskin Art Club in Los Angeles.

Edward Hoffman, the Artistic Director and choreographer of the Polish Folk Dance Ensemble Krakusy in Los Angeles, graciously led the poets and guests in a dance around the hall to Chopin's music. Dressed in a Polish nobleman's festive outfit, a velvet "kontusz" with slit sleeves, a feathered hat and carrying a sabre ("szabla"), Mr. Hoffman transformed Chopin's Polonaise into a dance it rarely was, a noble and uplifting motion around the hall. Here's Mr. Hoffman showing
the proper bow at the end of the dance, with Halina Wojcik. For more pictures, visit our Picasa Web Album.

I am beginning to think that it would be appropriate, and very enjoyable, to dance a Chopin's polonaise at an every reading from the Chopin with Cherries anthology. What about every concert? Would the patrons of Chopin recitals mind asking famous and revered pianists to now, please, play a useful encore, something to stretch our old bones to?

We do not know whether we'll be able to dance the polonaise at Beyond Baroque, Venice, on September 12, 2010 (3 p.m.): the exact program of the next group reading from Chopin with Cherries is not set yet. The list of poets is as follows: Marlene Hitt, Georgia Jones-Davis, Lois P. Jones, Leonard Kress, Radomir Voytech Luza, Marie Lecrivain, R. Romea Luminarias, Rick Lupert, Ruth Nolan, Kathi Stafford, Marilyn Robertson, Maja Trochimczyk, Kathabela Wilson, and Erika Wilk.

Let's come back to cherries, then. Or, rather, fruit. Many poets included in Chopin with Cherries associate the beauty of sound with other beauties and pleasures. The poets’ synaesthesic approach couples the music with a multitude of colors, images, tastes, and textures (Kerrie Buckley, Emily Fragos, Lola Haskins, and Leonore Wilson, among others). I think of cherries, Lois P. Jones of Mirabelle plums ("This Waltz is not for Dancing"):

I release
what storms I’ve gathered—my travels through them,
the journey of stairs climbed to catch the drop

of a single note. And you, oblivious of the rain
in your fingers, the gilt of dusk on the rue,
silky as a Mirabelle plum. Unconscious of my dream
of summer, a country dance and this song born of roses.

Lois's poems are sensuous and spiritual, inspired in every sense of this word. For Emily Fragos ("19 Waltzes"), Chopin music contains it all: "The feathered flesh of a fish, the juice of a peach,/the silver rivers before we named them with color." Diane Shipley DeCillis also recalls a peach, eaten while listening to Chopin ("Postcard of Home and Homesick"):

The peach smells like a nocturne.
I hold the pit, plant a peach tree
in my palm, imagining the soil
where roots travel and tendrils clench.

His music, filled with marches,
the sound of footsteps heading
home. Ballades and preludes,
written in a thousand shades of gray.

Margaret C. Szumowski thinks of the purple hands of children eating blueberries ("Concert at Chopin's House"). Mira N. Mataric recalls the flavor of berries and apples ("Dance with Me"); the latter may also be seen “rolling over cobbles” in Sharon Chmielarz’s fascinating take on impermanence ("Chopin: Apples"):

And when haven’t his glissandos
spilled over history, the colossus

that upsets lives like apple carts?
Apples rolling over cobbles.

God-fall we think,
finding among the bruised,

a handful of sweet apples.

Finding a great recording of Chopin is like finding a sweet apple among the bruised. Here's one, classic version by Arthur Rubinstein: Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53. Here's another one, Polonaise in A Major, Op. 40, by Philippe Entremont. And do not forget to eat the cherries!

Photo from Chopin with Cherries II: Chopin at the Ruskin: Wojciech Kocyan, Maja Trochimczyk, and Edward Hoffman, May 8, 2010, Ruskin Art Club, Los Angeles.

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