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Archive for April, 2016

The Ballad

Colors and Beyond.jpg

The Summer of Horses

Summertime was far too sweet that year

too poignant-berry, forest-trailing sweet.

Unhinging time, they cantered wild horses,

never touching earth beneath their feet.

She rode a silver steed–Euphoria,

and he, a red roan–Cavalier by name.

They let the horses lead them, unaware

her horse was blind and his was going lame.

Through the forest, over bluffs they rambled

and found a cozy inn beside the road.

“We’ll tie the horses here, and eat,” they said,

never sensing what the place might bode.

As they settled in a sunny-windowed corner

affording them a dazzling ocean view,

they were met with smiles, and graceful hands

and silky voice too honeyed to be true.

They waited, waited, waited for their meal.

She gazed out at the ocean breakers’ gleam,

while restlessly he rose and turned a corner–

unknowing things are rarely what they seem.

Finally food was served by graceful hands,

and silky voice–and pleasing, winsome smile.

They ate; their meals were fine, and yet the two

were vaguely apprehensive all the while.

Time began to move; now they perceived

an air of subtle, hidden treachery

disguised in graceful hands and winsome smile,

and silky voice skilled in duplicity.

“We’re never coming here again,” he said.

She agreed.  And when he went to pay

his pockets were empty.  As he’d turned that corner

graceful hands had whisked his cash away.

The eyes behind the winsome smile gloated

as the disenchanted couple raced across the lawn

to where they’d tethered the horses–for alas,

Euphoria and Cavalier were gone.

Margaret Longenecker Been

Note:  There is the ballad I mentioned in the last blog entry.  Balladry is far removed from my usual poetic voice.  If you love poetry but have never visited the Ekphrasis page on this site, you might want to try it. 

“Ekphrasis” is simply poetry that goes with art or art which reflects a poem.  I haven’t added to this page for awhile, but now am inspired to share more of my poems and art in Ekphrasis.

Margaret L. Been — April 24th, 2016

Another note, April 26th:  Please visit one of the loveliest websites I’ve ever discovered.  Just GOOGLE “Alicia’s Roses” and you’ll get there.  You will only wish you’d found it sooner!  MLB

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SS Edmund Fitzgerald underway, photo by Winston Brown

Perhaps the oldest form of poetry in most languages, the art of story-telling in rhyme and meter, has staying power like little else in literary history.  Recording historical events, myths, and everyday happenings—comic, tragic, or somewhere in between—the ballad has traditionally been sung and accompanied by (frequently a stringed) musical instrument.  Yet many unforgettable tales in rhyme and meter stand sufficiently alone on paper, begging to be read aloud.

My English literature background is rich with balladry beginning with that bloody saga of Good vs. Evil, Beowulf.  In the 1990s, when we lived in a home with a vaulted wood paneled ceiling we hung the heads of a Javelina pig and a pronghorn antelope—both hunted, bagged, and bequeathed to me by my father.  As I viewed the mounted heads, I experienced a wash of Beowulf Medieval atmosphere; I just had to get out an old textbook and read parts of that gory drama in the ancestral hall.

Whereas some of the characters in the ballad had grown fuzzy or obscure in my head over decades, the mood and setting were indelible.  Mood and atmosphere are created by music, with or without words.

English literature is replete with balladry.  Some beloveds probably known to most aficionados of poetry are Keats’ La Belle Dame sans Merci and Alfred Noyes’ The Highwayman.  Add The Rime of he Ancient Mariner, by Coleridge and haunting works by America’s own Edgar Allan Poe (examples: Annabel Lee and The Raven) and you have a start toward Balladry 101.  The canon is endless.

The tradition of story-telling via ballads set to music was big in the 1960s, with the popularity of folk music and wrung-out war-protests.  This music continued into the 1970s.  But since then, except in isolated parts of the country where (happily) folk music is inherent to the local culture, the ballad seems to have dropped through the floor—as if someone played a foul trick by suddenly opening up a hidden trapdoor on the floor of a stage, and absconding with a lot of life-quality in the process.

Now fakey-flashing lights, screaming, throbbing, gyrating about in indecent attire, and the glorifying of oblivion—all personified by The Coarse and Obnoxious (as well as The Just Plain Weird!) have supplanted the age-old entertainment mode of telling and re-telling the human story, both epic and everyday, in a format that implants one’s heart and mind forever.  As a society, we have lost the power of the ballad—and the loss is tragic beyond definition!

The stage lights went out and the metaphorical trapdoor opened up shortly after the immense popularity of what I believe to be one of the most significant ballads in contemporary times:  The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, by Gordon Lightfoot—a multi-gifted composer and troubadour.  With the obvious exception of fictional last minute commentary on the ship, Lightfoot documented the tragedy with careful selection of factual information.

The ballad triggered an inquisitive spirit in me, and in recent years I’ve read everything I could get my hands on concerning the Fitzgerald (pictured above in all its original glory.)  As far as I know, there is still a question:  Did the ship hit an uncharted shoal which jarred the hatches loose, or had they been improperly secured?  God knows.

Shipwrecks are among history’s most horrific events.  I have a penchant for reading about peril on high water, and oddly enough I don’t even like to be tossed about on a small inland lake in a sailboat.

Yes, I do swim and I love water.  Canoes and rowboats are wonderful!  Motors are okay, too.  But flailing in the wind?  No thank you—only in a book.  I have read about many ship disasters, including the Titanic which was massive in scope and devastation compared to the Fitz.  So why is the Edmund Fitzgerald foremost in my head?

Maybe because it happened in my recent lifetime, and less than three hundred miles from home.  Or even more likely, because Gordon Lightfoot wrote and performed an unforgettable song about the Fitz.  It’s all about The Power of the Ballad.

Margaret L. Been — April 23, 2016

Note:  Over decades of serious application to the art of poetry I have written many lyrical, philosophy-of-life pieces.  Ten years ago I decided to try writing a ballad, and I did exactly that.

The ballad is titled:  The Summer of Horses, and it is kind of a metaphorical-epiphany thing.  I was pleased with the effort, and the ballad won 1st Honorable Mention in the 2006 Wisconsin Writers’ Association Annual Jade Ring Contest.

God willing, and the creeks don’t rise, AND providing the days do not suddenly go berserk and hit 70-80° F., I will post The Summer of Horses on this site before National Poetry Month morphs into the Merry Month of May.

But please don’t hold your breath!  🙂

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Grandpa Longenecker and his racer

The above racing team consists of my paternal grandfather, George Washington Longenecker (1864-1951) and one of his American Standardbreds.  Grandpa George may be considered an obscure poet; but he was far from obscure in Neillsville, Wisconsin where he served for decades as a preacher in the 1st Congregational Church.

Along with “pastoring” (actually Congregational preachers* are called “Reverend” rather than “Pastor”), Grandpa George raised American Standardbreds and competed in sulky races at local fairs.  This activity raised a few legalistic eyebrows in the small Wisconsin community—probably due to the possibility of spectators gambling on the races.  But Grandpa’s recreational passions involved horses and poetry, not money.

Having made poems ever since I can recall and pursued a lifelong study of poetry as fine art, I need to mention that most literary poetry aficionados would consider my grandfather’s verses to be doggerel.  Although Grandpa was raised on classical literature, his course of study was theology—not the fine arts.  Like many Congregational Reverends in his era, he graduated from Ohio’s Oberlin Seminary.

Grandpa George loved the Lord Scripturally, with all his heart and mind.  His poems reflect his love, and that’s good enough for me!  My grandfather also loved music, specifically the great hymns of the Christian faith which he played on his violin.  Much of Grandpa’s poetry contains the cadence and meter of a hymn.

In 1947 Grandpa self-published a book of his work titled SUNSET POEMS—named after my grandparents’ home, “Sunset Point”, on a bluff overlooking Wisconsin’s beautiful Black River.  Here is one of the poems:

Grandpa's Poem

George W. Longenecker

No feature concerning Grandpa George would be complete apart from mention of his beloved life partner, Emma Rosina Ernst Longenecker (1866-1952), my grandmother.  In past blog entries I have celebrated Grandma Rose who was known for her abundant garden produce, homemade bread, and frequent litters of kittens generously shared with people around town.

Here is Grandma Rose when she was a young, Victorian era girl:

Grandma Rose

*A contemporary novel, GILEAD by Marilynne Robinson, centers on three generations of small town Congregational Reverends from the Civil War to Mid-20th Century.  I was riveted to this book and want to read it again, as it reflects my roots.  Potentially classic, GILEAD is a quietly-powerful piece of fiction.  Marilynne Robinson’s storytelling gift is poignantly beautiful.  Two more of her novels, HOME and LILA, form a trilogy with GILEAD.

Margaret L. Been — April 6th, 2016

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