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Lovettsville’s music in verse

The poet – Claudia Gary – at Beans in the Belfry. Photo Courtesy/John Flannery
Lovettsville’s Claudia Gary has been a poet since she wrote, what she called, “simple” poesy, haikus, when she was only in the second grade.

Not too many years ago, Gary attended the West Chester University Poetry Conference in Pennsylvania and had a chance to demonstrate how poetry marries up nicely with music.
After all, Gary has said, “the earliest poems are considered to have been sung,” and so we are only re-uniting kindred art forms that “invigorate” each other.

“How many of us ever would have heard of Bob Dylan,” Claudia asked, “if he hadn’t set his poems to music?”

At that West Chester poetry conference, Gary sung a poem song, “If Only,” of how “one’s mind’s music lost on another ends with a broken string.” Accompanying her on cello, to make the music to sing her song, was the accomplished artist Ernst Reijseger. (You can actually hear a simulation of the performance at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnCD150n448 – but alas, not with Ernst.)

Ernst Reijseger is noted for his innovative musical trio and for film scores, perhaps especially, and more popularly in America, for his work with famed Director Werner Herzog on the “Cave of Forgotten Dreams.”

When Director Herzog enjoyed exclusive access to the Chauvet cave in Southern France, to create his filmed celebration of history, art and ancient culture, Reijseger re-imagined a music that befit the ancient cavern.
In their collaboration, Gary said Reijseger was “gracious and generous with his time.”

But how did the poetry all start?

“As a child, I was an advertising brat,” Claudia said, “by that I mean, my dad was in the advertising business, and he was promoted and transferred and we spent time in Texas, California and New York.”

“In the second grade, there was a special course in poetry at the Dallas library,” Gary said, “and four of us girls, almost every week, listened to poets, and wrote simple forms, haikus, and we were making an effort at poetry.”

In that period, Gary inhaled Browning’s “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” and another childhood favorite was Robert Louis Stevenson’s “A Child’s Garden of Verses,” including “The Swing,” asking, “How do you like to go up in a swing, up in the air so blue?”

“I think women have to understand empathy,” said Gary, “in order to live their own life successfully.”

In high school, a friend told Gary that Hanging Loose, a publication of poets, had a section, Poets in High School.

“They accepted several of my poems for that section,” Gary said. “When I was in New York, the editor set up a reading for me near NYU.”

“The publication consisted of loose sheets in an envelope,” said Gary. The publication said that they did this originally because they had “a very low budget” but also to license readers to take a poem and “pin it to the wall” or “use it as a napkin.”

Claudia said, “My writing style is more metrical, more formal, although I was pressured to write like my contemporaries.”
In a recent interview, Gary explained how she looked “for strong, evocative images in the words, and avoided things that may be confusing, such as complex syntax, misleading homonyms or an excess of abstract language.”

In her book, “Humor Me,” Gary quotes the poet, Richard Moore, a friend, who taught English at the New England Conservatory of Music. Gary agrees when Moore says that the greats, Shakespeare and Milton, were not old fashioned because they adhered to meter in verse but were instead “repositories of a lost wisdom, detectable even in the music of their verse.”

Gary's favorite poets, who practice the classical forms while using contemporary language, are Julie Kane, Rhina Espaillat, Alicia Stallings and Molly Peacock, among the women, and X.J. Kennedy, Richard Wilbur, Richard Moore, Frederick Feirstein and Frederick Turner, among the men.

Gary’s taste for music dates back to learning to sing canons at a young age, opening up the pathway to her convergence of poetry with music.

Gary explained, “I gravitate toward metrical because music is central to me.”

Talented observers have compared Gary's work to Emily Dickinson, as it’s sparse of word.
Moore said Gary's poems have “a wistful, elegiac quality” and while you will find yourself “smiling with amusement,” you can be sure “the other worldliness is never far away.”
When young, Gary took “an indefinite break” from her studies when she was supposed to graduate, she married a French man, and moved to the north of France, first, and then to Paris.

While the marriage ended, Gary learned phototypesetting and worked as an ad typographer for 10 years when she returned from Europe.

Gary has done editorial work and freelance writing. She was the former senior editor for Vietnam Magazine, and her articles on science and health appear in the VVA Veteran.

These labors subsidized her career as a poet, “and enabled her to have published several books of poems, “Let’s Get Out of Here,” “Bikini Buyer’s Remorse” and “Humor Me.”

“Poetry vitalizes others,” Gary said.

Sitting at Beans in the Belfry over cappuccino, Gary described how art was important to many, choosing as an example the former commissioner of Social Security, from 2007 to 2013, Michael Astrue.

Astrue wrote poetry under an anagram of his true name, as A. M. Juster, and was willingly “outed” for the artist he was in 2010, for having published a book of Petrarch translations and written a book of original poetry, “The Secret Language of Women.”

As for vitalizing others, Gary lived in Leesburg for 27 years and founded the Leesburg Poetry and Chamber Music Series, and their presentations were held in a succession of local galleries for the public to attend. They had to change the venue, in large part because the galleries were closing.

Henry Taylor, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, attended these events and jokingly cautioned Gary, “You really should stop making all these galleries close.”
Gary has lived in Lovettsville for the last three-and-a-half years, and has added readings in libraries and workshops to her loving labors. She also keeps in touch with her children from a second marriage.

Asked if she would give a reading at Beans, Gary chose a poem about nearby White’s Ferry, titled, “A Late Crossing.”
As there was a jazz jam playing, we retreated to the basement to record Gary's reading about a fisherman “out there with a hook, a lure, a sinker and nothing to lose” but his catch of course; then, he loses it. It skips over the smooth Potomac surface, vaults through my car window, settles on me,” but we can’t give you the finale. You’ll to read the poem for yourself – or you can hear the “Basement Belfry Reading” at www,youtube/xQEw4XKKyG4.

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