Books

Strongly Spent: 50 Years of Poetry

John Sears

This is a consummately chosen selection of powerful poems, rewarding to read, and remaining in the reader's mind long after the book has been put down.

Shenandoah

Spring / Summer 2003

Edited by R. T. Smith

Washington & Lee University

Published quarterly. Current Issue: 269 pages, $16

Poetry Meaning and Mattering

Shenandoah's formidable 50-year track record in publishing high quality work by the most significant poets around is exemplified in this anthology. Gathered together here are pieces, mostly short but occasionally longer, by 100 poets, some of whom (for apparently arbitrary reasons) get more than one slot, and all of whom have contributed significantly to the development of American and British poetry over the last five decades.

Issues of hierarchies and privileges are largely evaded by the editorial decision to publish the poems in alphabetical order of the poets' surnames, leading to some interesting collocations and juxtapositions (James Merrill and W. S. Merwin sharing a double page spread, Philip Larkin immediately preceded by Maxine Kumin, W. H Auden and John Berryman facing each other), but also to an overriding sense of the democratic values of twentieth-century poetry, its extraordinary range and diversity, its liberating abandonment of formal constraints in favour of formal freedoms. These poems, in this order, present a consistently surprising, rewarding and refreshing experience for the reader.

The poems are framed by two essays which could stand in their own right as admirably crafted pieces of writing. Richard Wilbur's 'Poetry and Happiness', delivered as a lecture at Washington and Lee University and then published in Shenandoah, opens the volume, and does so with a flourish of stylish, well-couched observations on the perennially difficult question of how poetry can matter in the modern world. Wilbur takes a double definition of poetry as "a collective activity by means of which a society creates a vision of itself" (poetry as art), and as "verses written by poets, imaginative compositions which employ a condensed, rhythmic, resonant, and persuasive language" (poetry as literary tradition, a collection of verbal icons or artefacts).

This anthology goes some way towards fulfilling both definitions. Each poem stands alone as a fragment, a representative of the work produced by its author. Together, the 100-plus poems signify a particular set of takes on the culture of post-war Western society, a series of positions aware of their inheritance and of their moral and political responsibilities, judiciously unsure of their limits and wary of their potentialities. These are poets as, in Shelley's words, "unacknowledged legislators", offering an ethical commentary on events and situations, which becomes at moments an ongoing murmured dialogue as each poem communicates with its predecessors, forming an echo-chamber of words and themes.

R. T. Smith's essay, 'Strongly Spent', concludes the anthology and draws out many of these connections and repetitions, as well as differences and distances, between the works collected here. Smith's title, and the title of the anthology, comes from Robert Frost's 'The Constant Symbol' ("Strongly spent is synonymous with kept"), and implies in its economic metaphor the banking up of poetry, its investment in and for the future, its traditions as a resource of interest for the present. Frost figures centrally in Wilbur's argument, and Smith foregrounds the editorial role of selecting poems with a view to Wilbur's comments on poetry and happiness: "all the emotional, intellectual and visceral components" of happiness are to be found in these poems, along with "the unclassifiable element of surprise which yokes the orchestrated appeals to mind, heart and body".

Shenandoah represents the poetry anthology as celebration, offering a community of voices whose harmonies outweigh their diversities of origin. The anthology itself opens with Betty Adcock's 'Penumbra', a complex meditation on poetry, photography, memory and autobiography that unsettles any complacent reading with its concluding twist:

I am six years old, buried
in the colorless album.
My mother is dead.
I forgive no one.


As the poem shifts from 'her' to 'me', its emotional intensity develops like the photograph it describes, imprinting its central image on the conscience as well as the consciousness. Adcock's poem is a skilful pattern of words (the missing hyphen in that final "no one" cementing the bitterness barely contained throughout), a tough act to follow (even if we read it as a poem of unhappiness rather than happiness), and the measure of many of the poems here is that they do follow it, powerfully, convincingly and with the appropriate measures of respect necessary for poems to succeed.

Dead mothers are returned to by other poets here, notably Susan Ludvigson in 'Not Swans' ("I drive towards distant clouds and my mother's dying"), a poem which, in turn, links up with several others that explore the poetic legacy of W. B. Yeats. Ludvigson's 'not-swans' write back to Yeats's 'The Wild Swans at Coole', while Daniel Hoffman and Nancy Sullivan offer poems that directly engage with Yeats, suggesting (along with the editorial prominence of Frost) that it's a Romantic-Modernist tradition that predominates here.

These kinds of links and connections send the reader flicking backwards and forwards through the anthology, looking for this or that line, turn of phrase or word that resonates with a later or an earlier poem, reinforcing the impression that this is a consummately chosen selection of powerful poems, rewarding to read, and remaining in the reader's mind long after the book has been put down, confirming Archibald MacLeish's assertion in 'The Infinite Reason' (and in the middle of this anthology) that "Man is a creature to whom meaning matters".

Steve Mueske reviewed the July 2002 issue of Shenandoah in PopMatters.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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