Episode 038: Poets’ Corner
In which we discuss jogging, whistling, and synonyms for cemetery
For quite a while in my 30s, I got into running. [Well, in my case, jogging.] I would sign up for 5Ks all the time and I even ran a couple of half marathons.
Unfortunately, the city streets where I was living were less than ideal for exercising. But then I noticed that people were regularly running in the giant cemetery about a quarter of a mile from my apartment.
Running in a cemetery? I guess that could be okay…?
It was more than okay. It was gorgeous and peaceful. People visiting departed loved ones would wave to me and smile. I would say hello to those buried there as I passed them. I would remember their names. Even used some of those names for characters in fiction that I wrote.
While jogging the other day, I was remembering my graveyard runs, and I thought “hey I should write a beat about a cemetery”. And what's the coolest cemetery you can think of?
Well, I guess Poets’ Corner isn’t technically a cemetery or graveyard. It’s more of a burial ground. Or a tomb? A mausoleum?
Well, poetic license and all that… dead people are there, that’s close enough.
According to the Abbey:
“The first poet to be buried here, in 1400, was Geoffrey Chaucer, author of 'The Canterbury Tales'. Not because he was a poet but because he was Clerk of the King's Works. Nearly 200 years later, Edmund Spenser (1553-1598) who wrote 'The Faerie Queene' for Elizabeth I, one of the longest poems in the English language, asked to be buried near Chaucer…”
1400! So began the coolest burial ground going—for literature lovers, anyway. I have visited on a couple of occasions, [including just this past week on a delightful Thanksgiving holiday], but the first time I was there I just stood and stared at Charles Dickens’ grave for about 10 minutes.
Homage must be paid to the greats. I mean, come on: Chaucer. C.S. Lewis. Rudyard Kipling.
Oscar Wilde, for heaven’s sake.
The picture from which I created my reduction is held by the Royal Collection Trust of England and was taken by an unknown photographer in the 1860s. It’s the spookiest photo of Poets’ Corner I could find.
This reduction kind of created itself. The photo was taken at some distance with some wonderful lighting. Very fuzzy. Lots of browns and tans. Lovely.
Wanted something a little empty, not a lot going on to clutter things up. What we have here is:
groovy drum kit
a little percussion
very simple 808s on the ones
a little three-note percussive ostinato figure
That’s about it. The middle section has one of my long free lines and there are some miscellaneous booms and crashes and swoops, but it’s reasonably empty.
Funny thing about that repeating three-note pattern: when I first started writing, the beat had a very strong Steve Reich/Philip Glass kind of vibe happening, where I wanted it to be all of these interweaving single-note repeating patterns.
That lasted about 10 minutes. This is all that’s left.
And finally—how about that whistling? Whistling can be very creepy, and I think the droning, repetitive feel of it here makes me feel like I’m so frightened I can’t move. I mean, we’re talking about graveyards here, right? And yes, I couldn’t help myself…the whistling is on purpose.
On a recent visit to Newport, RI, we went on one of those scary haunted midnight walks led by a fantastically schmaltzy, over-the-top tour guide complete with velvet cape, tophat, and cane.
The whole thing was fun, but I learned something I never knew: the difference between a graveyard and a cemetery.
Here is a full explanation, but while the terms are interchangeable today, originally a graveyard was always outside or connected to a church. Cemeteries are more recent inventions, needed once the tiny graveyards filled up!
One last note: over 100 poets and writers are commemorated in Poets’ Corner. But they’re not all actually buried there. Shakespeare, for instance, is celebrated there but buried in Holy Trinity Church at Stratford-upon-Avon. [That means double the chance to pay your respects to the Bard.]
Until next week, thanks for reading Polyester City. If you have any thoughts, please leave a comment by clicking the link above. If you know anyone who likes Music and Art and Stories [and whistling], which is pretty much everyone, please consider sharing by clicking the link below.