Welcome to this month’s poetry classroom, with poet and professor David Wright. We invite you to respond to the poems we’ll share here—their forms, images, sounds, meanings, surprises—ask questions of David and each other, and write your own poems along the way.
Four Sarabandes (excerpt)
Yo-Yo Ma (New York 1983 and Illinois 2004)
Forget all you’ve read about period tempo
about antique cellos about Cassals
and Rostropovich and begin wherever you like
this sound is no one’s
this sound is strung together
memory pressed to vinyl
Breathe now—then worry or regret
each pitch or trill you’ve practiced
or pitch you slide into or pause you forget
Surrender to Bach, or kill him if you must
as you play—it is safe here. It’s just me
in my car, twenty years later, twenty miles later,
holding my breath for us both.
1. Why do you think the poet asserts at the start: forget all you’ve read about… antique cellos, etc.?
2. We generally associate breathing with wind instruments. Why breathe now, when it’s a string instrument in question?
3. How would the musician’s outcomes potentially be different in “surrender” versus “killing” of the music handed down from the composer?