winter syntax & walking across the atlantic

Two songs for harp and soprano – Winter Syntax / Walking Across the Atlantic

Commissioned by the N.J.O. in the summer of 2011, these two songs are set to two poems by the American poet, Billy Collins. They were performed by the ever wonderful Claron McFadden and by the virtuosic fingers of Remy van Kesteren.

Winter Syntax live/documentary recording only

Winter Syntax – Billy Collins

A sentence starts out like a lone traveler
heading into a blizzard at midnight,
tilting into the wind,
one arm shielding his face,
the tails of his thin coat flapping behind him.

There are easier ways of making sense,
the connoisseurship of gesture, for example.
You hold a girl’s face in your hands like a vase.
You lift a gun from the glove compartment
and toss it out the window into the desert heat.
These cool moments are blazing with silence.

The full moon makes sense. When a cloud crosses it
it becomes as eloquent as a bicycle leaning
outside a drugstore or a dog who sleeps all afternoon
in a corner of the couch.

Bare branches in winter are a form of writing.
The unclothed body is autobiography.
Every lake is a vowel, every island a noun.

But the traveler persists in his misery,
struggling all night through the deepening snow,
leaving a faint alphabet of bootprints
on the white hills and the white floors of valleys,
a message for field mice and passing crows.

At dawn he will spot the vine of smoke
rising from your chimney,
and when he stands
 before you shivering,
draped in sparkling frost,
a smile will appear in the beard of icicles,
and the man will express a complete thought.

Walking Across the Atlantic  live/documentary recording only

Walking Across the Atlantic– Billy Collins

I wait for the holiday crowd to clear the beach
before stepping onto the first wave.

Soon I am walking across the Atlantic
thinking about Spain,
checking for whales, waterspouts.
I feel the water holding up my shifting weight.
Tonight I will sleep on its rocking surface.

But for now I try to imagine what
this must look like to the fish below,
the bottoms of my feet appearing, disappearing.

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