Stanley Plumly featured on The Writer's Almanac
Listen to "Glenn Gould" here and "Sitting Alone in the Middle of the Night" here, each of which is reproduced below.
Professor Plumly, Maryland's Poet Laureate and the director of the university's Creative Writing Department, is the receipient of many honors and awards over his illustrious career, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, three NEA Fellowships, the Ingram-Merrill Foundation Award, six Pushcart Prizes, nominations for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the William Carlos Williams Award, and the John William Corrington Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature. His recent work has been recognized with Beall Award in Biography from PEN in 2009, the Paterson Poetry Prize in 2008, and the LA Times Book Prize in 2008.
I heard him that one night in Cincinnati.
The concert hall, 1960, the same day
Kennedy flew into town in perfect sunlight
and rode the route that took him
through the crowds of voters and nonvoters
who alike seemed to want to climb
into the armored convertible.
Gould did not so much play as address
the piano from a height of inches,
as if he were trying to slow the music
by holding each note separately.
Later he would say he was tired
of making public appearances,
the repetition of performing the Variations
was killing him. But that night
Bach felt like a discovery, whose repetitions
Gould had practiced in such privacy
as to bring them into being for the first time.
This was the fall, October, when Ohio,
like almost every other part of the country,
is beginning to be mortally beautiful,
the great old hardwoods letting go
their various scarlet, yellow,
and leopard-spotted leaves one by one.
Sitting Alone in the Middle of the Night
Maybe it was summer and I was back home for a while
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working to pay off debts from school, painting white
barns and long field fences and on off-days baling hay.
It was hot then in Ohio and sometimes so dry the corn
or the soybeans would fail. I'd get up at two or three
in the morning to find my way to the kitchen for water
and he'd be sitting there in a kind of outline,
smoking and staring at something far, his eyes by now
long adjusted to the dark. Mine were just now opening.
Nothing would be said, since there was nothing to say.
He was dying, he was turning into stone. The little
I could see I could see already how much heavier
he made the air, heavy enough over the days that
you could feel in the house the pull of the earth.