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A Poet’s Eye, A Composer’s Ear

Since we began our “Shared Visions” program 7 years ago, we’ve been starstruck by the power of reciprocal artmaking (that is, turning an existing work of art into another work of art). Minnesota composer Cary John Franklin speaks directly to that alchemic impulse of ours with his piece The Merry-Go-Round at Night (from With a Poet’s Eye, 1985), which Ars Nova will perform as part of our “Sounds from the Soil: A Salon” event on September 25th.

The year before Ars Nova Singers was born, London’s Tate Gallery commissioned several poets to write about specific works of art in its collection. These poems were later published as an illustrated anthology titled With a Poet’s Eye. With much gratitude to Tate and the individual poets, Franklin took the process one step further by setting these poems-inspired-by-visual-art to his music. We can’t think of anything closer to creative alchemy than that!

Enjoy the words of Welsh poet Dannie Abse below, and tap here to purchase a virtual ticket to our “Sounds from the Soil” virtual salon to hear Ars Nova’s farm-recorded performance of The Merry-Go-Round at Night (from With a Poet’s Eye, 1985). If you’re a returning fan, you may have heard this fluttering, dissonant setting at our June 2016 Annual Gala!

information & tickets

I was initially stimulated to write this cycle as I viewed the anthology reproductions in all their fascinating diversity, and was captured by the poets’ [voices] as they led me into their wonderfully evocative worlds. As the writers cause us to look afresh with a poet’s eye, my simple hope is to enhance the vision from the perspective of the composer’s ear.

Headshot Image for Cary John Franklin
Cary John Franklin Composer

The Merry-Go-Round at Night by Danny Abse

The roof turns, the brassy merry-go-round crashes out music,
Gaudy horses gallop tail to snout,
inhabit the phantasmagoria of light substantial as smoke.
Then each one vanishes.
Some pull carriages. Some children, frightened,
hold tight the reins as they arrive and disappear
chased by a scarlet lion that seems to sneer not snarl.
And here’s a unicorn painted white.
Look! From another world this strange, lit retinue.
A boy on a steer, whooping, loud as dynamite—
a sheriff, no doubt, though dressed in sailor-blue.
And here comes the unicorn painted white.
Faster! The children spellbound, the animals prance,
and this is happiness, this no-man’s land where nothing’s forbidden.
And hardly a glance at parents who smile,
who think they understand as the scarlet lion leaps into the night
And here comes the unicorn painted white.