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  • By Johnny Payne

The Isle of the Dead

In 5/8 time, we row toward our demise.

Rachmaninoff supplies the oars, the boat

the waves, the craggy cliffs, the leaden skies.

All we must do is watch and sit and float

and eventually die. It isn’t much to ask

as his A minor pulls our heft along

creating streams and hewing to his task

of rendering our last gasp as a song.

Musicians make up tone poems because

they’re blessed half-mutes whose notes are mostly noise

that can’t express as words. They hate these flaws

which can’t be hidden, just finessed, with poise.

And knowing that music is mostly breath

they punish poets’ eloquence with death.

Johnny Payne is Director MFA in Creative Writing at Mount Saint Mary's University in Los Angeles. He has published two previous volumes of poetry, as well as ten novels. In addition, he writes and direct plays in Los Angeles and elsewhere. His plays have been produced professionally and on university stages.

1 comentário

05 de fev. de 2022

I enjoy very much how this poem explores the relationship between music and the written word. Unlike many poems that give effusive praise to music, this one takes an ambivalent stance, which is both rare and refreshing. The choice of Rachmaninov's "Isle of the Dead" (implicating an allusion to the visual arts, as well) as a vehicle for this exploration is apt, as the work conveys a sense of listlessness and ambiguity, a no-man's-land between the lands of the living and the dead. Great piece!

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