For this month’s Music post, I point you to A.E. Stallings again (and why not?), this time to “Listening to Peter and the Wolf with Jason, Aged Three.”
I don’t know how she does it, is part of why I re-read Stallings, how she uses such formal (here rhyming triplets for goshsakes) forms but sounds so natural and contemporary so, yes I’ll say it (and why not?) accessible. Shouldn’t this poem be sort of boring? But it’s not.
It’s a small domestic moment, the action of “Listening to Peter and the Wolf with Jason, Aged Three,” taking place at present, and the detailed look it’s given, quite perfectly described — but not at length. I mean the moment, the listening to the music, the speaker’s reaction to the child’s grave and logical pronouncement, is not expanded to make some much larger point or dwelled upon philosophically, expounded or held up from all angles.
In Olives, the collection in which “Listening to Peter and Wolf” appears, “The Argument” (which I love) and “Country Song” (which I looked at in January) work similarly, moments contained and then over but for the echo, and they’re some of my favorites in the book. Other poems in Olives are more narrative or metaphor-y or function differently, and they’re quite good, but these three poems in particular are ones I think of a lot.
There’s something about the tension between the formal rigor, the rigid full rhymes, the modern speech rhythm and tone, and the flirting-with-cliche, really, point of the poem (“I’m older than Hank Williams ever was” or “The music’s in the room”) that because of its particular execution feels, instead of “yeah, yeah, we’ve all been there,” more “yeah, I know what you mean.”