Kyle Gann: Your Staccato Ways

for female voice and piano

Little Womb
Hotel Minor

Writing Your Staccato Ways taught me that poets don't always appreciate their words being sung. I guess they put their effort into how the words look on the page, and how they sound, silently, in the mind's ear, and after all that effort the added imposition of a tune comes as an annoyance. The poet Paul Valery is supposed to have said, "A song is like looking at a painting through a stained-glass window." I thought I was doing a favor for someone I met who was making a career change into poetry in mid-life, and that I could broaden the audience for her work. But after I sent her the finished song cycle I received no response, and soon after I fell out of touch with her altogether. I was happy with the result, though, and, so to speak, raised the piece as a single parent. Ever since that experience, I set only dead poets. - Kyle Gann

All poems 2013 Karen Schoemer


It's quiet on this mountain ledge
as if the rock were thinking

about how they came to rest
where they rest

asking why this peak
and not another

with its view of river, fields and steeples
and not another

in the slow aftermath
or stilled anticipation of motion

do they note the haze of spring
or the peculiar brown of March grass

do they remember the hotel that stood here
bridal white in the morning light

or rue carvings
and glacial teeth

do they consider themselves
a monument to the wind

or content themselves
with the camaraderie of silence

as I do
not having you to tell this to


The view draws me here
though it isn't much to look at

Ploughed fields, furrowed and dark
cob litter, stalks, a slanted fence

Orchard trees planted in rows
limbs bent to another's design

Forcing my eyes upward
toward clouds purple and skirmishing

and mountains dead ahead
their eons drifting down

Waves of repetition break
against that which will not move

I'm always here
I just don't know it


Berthed in this
placid pond,
I am calm.

Floating turtle-domed,
nostrils tipped,
slow and lazy,
I am benign.

The cyclorama
spins on gears
of seasons and years,
a verdant vertical

plane of trees,
shrubs, and a grassy
wading-in spot.

Blackbirds catch
an updraft
on stiffened wings.
Buckshot robins

puncture the sky.
I join the festivity
of surfaces

where this is this,
an island mind,
delicately severed
by a watery line.


Cars glide down
the bridge overpass,
slivered tops sliding
in and out of view.

Their silent rhythm
soothes me,
like bells in a minimalist

muted and sprung
from heavenly nests,
minutely variegated,
pluvial against the drone.

I wait and watch
the cars fulcrum across
the cement anchorage
down a ramp of rust

and peeling blue,
wait for you
with your staccato ways,
here and gone

wait for the mirrored ding
of the elevator,
for your staggered footstep
in the hall,

for the rattle of handle
and suck of card in slot,
for your running hands
and mouth that leaves me

black and blue.
I wait in a room
with a door
that remains a door

and a window
that remains fixed
on this segment of bridge
as these strange

bell-less tones
calm my shaking
hands in the metallic
morning light.


On the left heads turn left
We wait for that lift
that brings optimism
and forgetting

Outside the window
trees break into a run
A boy says "Daddy
we're going fast"

A blast from a nozzle
the smell of plaid
the strain and pitch
of metal and wire

The strangeness of strangers
accelerates into me
the almost-touching
and I remember

that calculated word
you used to lift me
the plaything I imbued
with ever-absent you

What is stationery animates
what is heavy lightens
what is level upends
love is in the air

- Kyle Gann

Duration: 14 minutes total

Return to List of Scores and MP3s

Return to List of Compositions

return to the home page