Noting the recent passing of one of my favorite poets, I share a musical setting of “The Writer”, by Richard Wilbur. Sometimes spoken word has a way of directly connecting with my heart in pure and simple ways. Please join me in the kitchen. I will demonstrate!
Linden Tree Coffeehouse, Wakefield, MA
Photo: © 2018 Bob Tanner
I am excited to share news about two great shows coming up this weekend.
For my home townies, please come to the show on Saturday, March 3rd at The Burren Backroom Series (Somerville, MA) with John Schindler, an extraordinary songwriter from Boothbay Harbor, Maine. To make this even more special, I will be joined by my long time musical collaborator, Seth Connelly and my talented daughter Mally Smith. Use the special $2 discount coupon code “24HOUR” when you purchase in advance.
For my New Hampshire friends, this Friday evening, March 2nd, I join my good friend and great songwriter, Chris Lavancher at the Sunapee Coffeehouse, in Sunapee, NH. This will be my first appearance at this venue. I hear it is a great place to enjoy a meal and listen to acoustic music
Please join us… and tell your friends!
For complete details about these and all upcoming shows, please see this link.
This Month’s Music
© 1968 Richard Wilbur (used with permission)
music © 2008 Tom Smith (ASCAP)
In a recent visit by my friend Oen Kennedy, he mentioned a performance piece I used to do years ago of The Writer, a poem by Richard Wilbur. Oen, being the greatest lover of birds I know, was naturally taken by the struggle and ultimate triumph of the starling in this poem. Oen’s inquiry inspired me to relearn the piece and revise the guitar accompaniment I composed ten years ago.
Richard Wilbur in his office, 2006. Source: New York Times
Photo: Nancy Palmieri/Associated Press
As I prepared to write this blog, I learned that Richard Wilbur passed away a few short months ago in October in nearby Belmont, MA – just fifteen miles from my home. He would have been 97 years old on Thursday. I regret not visiting him. When I was composing the music to accompany his poem, I wrote his publisher a letter to ask permission. They kindly forwarded it to him and he replied to give me his blessings – clearly typed by him on his famous vintage typewriter. I intended to record it for my 2011 CD Journey Home, but it didn’t really fit that project, so sadly I never shared it with Mr. Wilbur. I hope he would have forgiven me for repeating the first verse at the end. In the above photo of him we see him in his office with that well worn typewriter. When I read “The Writer”, I can hear the clickity-clack of its keys “like a chain hauled over a gunwale.”
Richard Wilbur was named national Poet Laureate (1987) and was a multiple winner of the Pulitzer Prize (1957 and 1989). Although highly celebrated, he was also frequently maligned by contemporary critics. In his New York Times obituary, Daniel Lewis described it this way, “Across more than 60 years as an acclaimed American poet, Mr. Wilbur followed a muse who prized traditional virtuosity over self-dramatization; as a consequence he often found himself out of favor with the literary authorities who preferred the heat of artists like Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg.” But it is that quiet, humble and elegant traditional approach that draws me into his poems. I aspire to this in my own poetry and songwriting.
You can view Richard Wilbur read and discuss “The Writer” at this link.
When I perform this piece, vivid memories return to me of observing from a distance as my own daughters struggled with the process of writing. And like Richard Wilbur’s daughter who is the subject of this poem, mine have blossomed into an adulthood filled with many great writing triumphs!
“I wish what I wished you before, only harder.”
A special thank you to the good folks at the Roslindale Open Mike, where I recorded the video. Hosts Neal Braverman, Mike Delaney, Branson Bofat and Ken Porter. Audio by Steve Friedman. Video by King Yee.
(If so inclined, I invite you to leave a comment by scrolling to the end of this page.)
March 2, 2018 @ 7:00 pm: Sunapee Coffee House, Sunapee, NH
Sharing the evening with my good friend Chris Lavancher. This will be my first appearance at the Sunapee Coffeehouse. Hoping some of my midlands New Hampshire friends will share the evening with us. Should be fun!
March 3, 2018 @ 7:00 pm: The Burren, Somerville, MA
I am super excited to split a bill with my talented friend John Schindler (and special guests, Seth Connelly and Mally Smith) at The Burren back room. Doors @ 6 pm, show @ 7 pm. Come early and choose a dinner from their great menu. This all-ages show ends at 9 pm. Use the special code “24HOUR” when you order in advance to get $2 off the ticket price. Purchase tickets here.
April 6th, 2018 @ 7:00 pm: Dublin, NH
I will be the feature artist at this relatively new open mike. Dublin is a great old New England town. Come and share a couple of songs at the open mike!
April 20, 2018 @ 8:00 pm: Kingston, MA
Opening for Hilton Park at this long standing folk venue south of Boston. I am looking forward to returning to the South Shore Folk Club after a hiatus of several decades!
April 21, 2018 @ noon: New England Folk Festival, Mansfield,
Sharing a set with my good buds Peter Fischman & Deb O’Hanlon for a program entitled “Working Folks: Traditional and new songs about work, a working life, work going away.” Lots more happening at the festival all weekend long!
Click to view details for these and more upcoming shows.
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