Review of Wislawa Szymborska’s latest “Here”

Posted in Uncategorized on November 22, 2010 by closerocean

I finally had a chance to digest the poems in Wislawa Szymborska’s latest collection, “Here,” published last month by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  If you are unfamiliar with Ms. Szymborska’s Nobel Prize winning poetry, she is the queen of depth, master of juxtaposition, and standard-bearer of profundity encapsulated in simplicity.  Ms. Szymborska’s previous release, titled “Poems; New and Collected,” contained a variety of thought provoking works from a world of themes, of which I selected a number of poems to adapt into a pop music album (  The new collection is no different, with subject matters ranging from memory and Ella Fitzgerald, to the art of writing poems and well known works of art.  “Here” also shares the same translators, Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak, who have proven time and again that the essence and brevity of Szymborska can be realized perfectly in English.

I found two extraordinary examples of the depth and perspective that underlines “Here.” The first is a poem entitled “Teenager.”  In it, the subject addresses herself as a youth, with her entire life ahead of her.  They share similarities, but mainly the subject expands on their differences.  She compares basic qualities like their stature and skin, and then more interesting is their perception of time.  For the youth, “time is still cheap and unsteady,” while for the elderly woman, “it’s far more precious and precise.”  Ms. Szymborska often leaves us with a final line to contemplate on, and this poem is no exception.

In “Absence,” there is even more to think about as Ms. Szymborska delves into the idea of what would happen had her mother and father married different people. She wonders what their separate offspring would be like.  We often think of the fact that we would not be here in those instances, and, perhaps in our egocentricities, we do not think much about what those children would be like, and how they would share some of our attributes.  The subject mentions that each child has some of her characteristics, but “she wouldn’t have been me.”  Szymborska relates some of the things that this fictitious person is probably better at than herself.  She even wonders what would happen if these two girls had met one another.

“Here” offers us more of the expansive and evocative art that we have come to expect from Szymborska.  Her tongue in cheek wit and focused moments of grandeur remind us that like a fine wine, her craft only matures with age.


Tomorrow the Nobel Prize for Literature is announced

Posted in Uncategorized on October 5, 2010 by closerocean

Tomorrow in Stockholm the Nobel Prize for Literature will be announced.  Which brings us back to Wislawa Szymborksa, who won the prize in 1996.  In Szymborska’s acceptance speech she started with these words:  “They say that the first sentence in any speech is always the hardest.  Well, that one’s behind me.”  Her style will make you laugh and think. She will have you looking up at the stars in wonder and then look at your neighbors with a puzzled stare.

“Supercollider” is out now!!!!

Posted in Uncategorized on August 19, 2010 by closerocean

Our debut release, “Supercollider” is finally out.

You can check us out on itunes:

Or buy the physical CD at CD Baby:

“Supercollider” is a collection of songs loosely based on the poetry of Nobel Prize Laureate Wislawa Szymborska.

Hope you enjoy it!  Drop a comment to let me know what you think!

Anatomy of a song: 4 AM

Posted in Uncategorized on May 4, 2010 by closerocean
Here is the process involved in creating the song 4Am which is loosely based on the Wislawa Szymborska poem of the same title.
You can listen to the song 4AM here:
This is her poem, translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh:

Four A.M.

The hour between night and day.
The hour between toss and turn.
The hour of thirty-year-olds.

The hour swept clean for the rooster’s crowing.
The hour when earth takes back its warm embrace.
The hour of cool drafts from extinguished stars.
The hour of do-we-vanish-too-without-a-trace.

Empty hour.
Hollow. Vain.
Rock bottom of all the other hours.

No one feels fine at four a.m.
If ants feel fine at four a.m.,
we’re happy for the ants. And let five a.m. come
if we’ve got to go on living.

The way I began working with the text was to begin with the juxtaposition in the first stanza. I liked the idea of night vs. day, and toss vs. turn.  The image of 30 year olds being awake was an image I wanted in the lyric. My second system was my own, sprung forth from her words. I imagined a weary traveler trying to get some sleep on a train around this hour.

My first verse:

Night splits from the day
Toss shifts from the turn
30-somethings are awake

Light shines out for none
You’re sleeping on the train
we all fall down

For the Chorus, I noticed the rhyme in the original poem between embrace and trace.  I liked the idea of the world’s embrace.  Here’s how it turned out:

The world takes back it’s warm embrace
do we survive, or vanish without a trace?

In verse 2, I mainly used my own thoughts as furthering the themes of the original poem. There were ideas in the poem I wanted to use, such as the extinguished stars and rock bottom of the hours, that just didn’t fit in the meter of the lyrics I was working on.

Verse 2:

The dark feeds emptiness
and night loves loneliness
pacing back and forth

the sleep keeps you awake
the world is far and gone,
how much can you take?

The music as a whole has a sleepy sound to it, but I wanted the bridge to be strong.  Her poem ends with 5 A.M. arriving if we are to go on living.  I wanted to make a statement with 5 A.M., a sort-of let’s get on with it already.  Some people have asked why I used 5 o’clock in the lyric instead of 5 A.M., which is in the poem.  I chose those words because I liked the consonant sound of “sweep,” “sun,” “clock,” and “come.”  I felt that “let five a.m. come” would have been a bit of a letdown.


Sweep clean the hour, for the rising of the sun
Sweep clean the hour, let 5 o’clock come

Why certain “eclectic” music is not popular

Posted in Uncategorized on May 1, 2010 by closerocean

When I listen to what is dubbed “eclectic” music, there is a definite reason in my mind why it isn’t popular. And I don’t think that a society based on instant gratification is to blame. One of the key elements of good songwriting is captivating your audience through repetition. And repetition is one of the most difficult ingredients to add effectively to your song. Too much and you loose your listener. Repeat something someone doesn’t want to hear again, and you are finished. Just like adding salt to your soup, it is extremely difficult to find the right balance between too much and too little.

“Eclectic” music tends to rebel against repetition. They use a technique called “through composing,” which is what you will generally hear at coffee shops and empty bar gigs all over the country. It’s one of the biggest and most frequent mistakes an amateur songwriter makes. Basically, the writer will just free flow their ideas and meander the gamut both musically and lyrically, hoping to stumble upon something you find interesting. But even the poetic Bob Dylan repeats choruses and finds things that stick in your mind. The lack of repeating an idea doesn’t make it creative or interesting. It actually tells the listener: “there is nothing here important enough to have you hear it again.”

When I listen to radio stations playing “eclectic” songs, I find myself unable to listen for long. It’s a bit like grasping for straws. If there was something cool that passes by, waiting for that to come back may take awhile or may leave you stranded. Developing ideas and building up are great techniques to use in songs. They need to be done effectively. Sometimes the best songwriters will just repeat a certain chord sequence, or even one note that becomes interesting. There is nothing sell-out or populist about writing music people want to hear. Finding a phrase worthy of a repeat may be the most difficult part.

Finding Szymborska Day 1…..Wait a minute…..Day 1,037!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 28, 2010 by closerocean

Today is the day we begin cataloging the journey we shall call: ‘Finding Szymborksa.’  Although this is Day 1 for the blog, the act of finding this Nobel prize winning, 86 year old, Polish speaking, reclusive poet has been an ongoing one for me, the creator of the blog, the website, and the band Closer Ocean.

I sort of feel like Ray Kinsella from “Field of Dreams,” heading out on the road to find the Salinger-esque Terrance Mann.  Ray was egged on by a voice in the cornfield which told him “If you build it, he will come” and  “Ease His Pain.”

Although my quest seems perhaps more ridiculous based on the qualifications of Ms. Szymborska, (Terrance Mann did speak English after all, so how hard could that be?)  I haven’t been spoken to by crazy voices in my head.  All I did was listen to NPR.

NPR’s afternoon show “All Things Considered” appears on the surface to be a relatively straightforward news program.  Most listeners don’t end up on a multi year creative project based on a 4 minute segment simply titled “You Must Read This.”  The name itself in retrospect must have felt to me, a competitive and daring soul, like a challenge to run the gauntlet or at least step over some piping hot charcoals.

So I did ‘read this.’  I actually was very moved by the poetry and the passion segment writer’s voice (thanks a lot, Adam Gopnik!) that I drove straight to the nearest B & N and picked up her book, “Poems; New and Collected.”  That was June 5th, 2007.  One-thousand-thirty-seven days ago.

In that span, I read her works over and over again.  I spent many of those days captivated by her language.  I laughed at her wit and sense of humor.  I explained certain passages to my then girlfriend (now wife) Annie.  I said to Annie, “perhaps some of these poems would work as popular music.”  They are interesting and universal themes, and listeners would perhaps peel away the words right down to the soul.

I started innocently enough with just a few tracks on my home recording system.

In the blog entries ahead, I will not only continue moving forward with actually finding Ms. Szymborska, but I will also let you in on the journey that existed between days 1 and 1,037.  The album is nearing completion and a few tracks are available to listen to on this site.  Please enjoy.  Please help.  Do you speak Polish or write poetry in Krakow?

Hello world!

Posted in Uncategorized on April 27, 2010 by closerocean

Welcome to This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!