Give Delight and Hurt Not: Brazos Bookstore and AFA

Article by Jeremy

In September, Brazos Bookstore and AFA (formerly American Festival for the Arts) decided to partner for a program that merges words and music. The goal was simple: ask two writers to create original works inspired by a line from The Tempest (“Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not”), and then ask two composers to use those works as the basis for new compositions. The authors and composers will come together for two performances, the first of which will happen at Brazos Bookstore on Sunday, May 17.

To find one of those writers, Brazos and AFA co-sponsored a contest judged by Ben Fountain. The winner? Gulf Coast’s online poetry editor Christopher Brean Murray and his poem “Blue Jay Variations,” which will be paired with composer J. Todd Frazier. Here’s an excerpt from Murray’s poem:

“When the pianist lifts
his lids, the blue jay
flies. When the blue

jay flies, the hour steps
its print to sands. White
sand accepts the boy’s

hot heel. He presses in
a print the hour won’t
uphold. [...]”

Murray shared with Brazos his thoughts on music and poetry:

“In ‘Blue Jay Variations,’ I was trying to write a poem in which a few main images appear, and reappear later, slightly transformed. That formal consideration was my initial preoccupation while writing the poem. I think I came up with the word ‘Variations’ first, probably inspired by the CD I often listened to of Glenn Gould playing Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Thus, a pianist became one of the central images in the poem. I do not play piano, but when I was a child, my family had a piano, which was positioned next to a window in our home. Outside was a tree to and from which birds were often flying—that’s probably how the images of the blue jay and the tulip tree came into the poem, but I was not consciously thinking about my childhood while writing. I was concerned with exploring (or imagining) how the central images might interact with or influence one another. One of the central themes of the poem is the passage of time, suggested by the boy’s ephemeral footprint, the falling petals, and the soaring of the jay. However, while such a theme in poetry often leads to a meditation on death, in this poem the movement of time is depicted as joyous—perhaps because it is accompanied by music, one of life’s greatest pleasures. The pianist in the poem sees clearly; his eyes are open. Thus, he is able to take in the beauty of what is happening around him. This, an essential activity in the life of a poet, can also be a great source of joy. I have written many poems that owe a debt to the music I listen to. I have written poems that very literally describe the sounds I hear. I have written others only obliquely influenced by the mood of a piece of music. I am very pleased that my poem has been the inspiration for J. Todd Frazier’s piece, ‘The Jay Soars,’ and I look forward to hearing it performed live.”

The other piece was written by Brazos Bookstore’s Benjamin Rybeck at the request of AFA. Rybeck has taught creative writing at the University of Arizona, and has published fiction, interviews, and reviews in many literary magazines. His piece “Conducting” will be the basis for an original composition by Hugh Lobel.

Here is an excerpt from “Conducting”:

“When the music starts, you stop plucking hairs from your nose. The racket enters through the window you’ve left open to enjoy the April breeze before summer engorges Houston. The icepick guitars, flailing drums, shrieking singers: it all might come from a car stereo, but from your bedroom, you can’t see anything other than well-clipped hedges, SUVs huddled in driveways, a tracksuited man walking a terrier. You don’t often hear disturbances in a neighborhood like this, so you spend a little longer at your window trying to spot its source than you would trying to spot the source of, say, a child’s laughter or a lawnmower’s hum. But soon, you turn away. It’s 6:49 a.m. You leave each morning at seven sharp. So you open your closet, while behind you, the music stabs the air.”

We look forward to hosting these writers and composers at Brazos in May!

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