“Otherwise” & A Roomful of Teeth

(poetry diary 75) On Sunday I saw the Grammy-winning vocal ensemble “A Roomful of Teeth” play at Yale.   They’re quite literary–one song included lines from Shakespeare, another was based on David Eagleman’s short story “Search,” and a third took its title from Jane Kenyon’s poem “Otherwise,” which the composer, Brad Wells, noted in the program is one of his favorite poems. The Roomful of Teeth song does not use the words of the poem. It’s joyful, with a great use of  bass-baritone singing towards the end. The audience applauded wildly afterwards.  I looked up the poem during the performance, though, and since I love Kenyon’s work and I know the story of her death through her husband Donald Hall’s poems, I wept through it, the poem and her story a long needle stuck into the happiness.  I’m not sure whether that’s what was intended, but the contrast provoked a strong and memorable emotional experience.  Excellent song, excellent poem.


Jane Kenyon, 19471995

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
Read rest of poem at Poets.org

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