A review of Music’s Spell by Emily Fragos

Reviewed by P.P.O. Kane

Music’s Spell
Poems about Music and Musicians
Edited by Emily Fragos
Everyman’s Library, March 2009
ISBN: 9781841597836

There is a splendid appositeness to this anthology, for poetry has its own music and is often song.

At a rough reckoning, there are just short of two hundred poems here and they have been organised under various headings: ‘Music and Love’, ‘Composers’, ‘Voice’, etc. In total, we have ten such sections.

They are highly portable, these books – the series title, ‘Pocket Poets’, is a bit of a give away in this regard – and can be read on a bus or a tram, during the interval of a play at a theatre or in a cinema when the advertisements and trailers are screened. When each poem delivers a hit, a discrete jolt of beauty (as happened invariably with the present volume) the day suddenly seems brighter, the neon more sparkly.

You will find it difficult to decide on favourites herein. Close to the top must come David Wojahn’s poem about the meeting between Dylan and Woody Guthrie at the Brooklyn State Hospital. Then there is Tomas Transtromer’s poem about Haydn (‘Allegro’), which is quite sublime. And Dr. Samuel Johnson’s tribute to his beloved friend, Claudy Philips, whose very title has an unmistakable grandeur: ‘An Epitaph Upon the Celebrated Claudy Philips, Musician, Who Died Very Poor’. Surely a place must be found too for Hardy’s shudder at the immensity of the universe (‘In a Museum’), whose music will never end.

We must have these four certainly, but there are a hundred or so that are as good, from poets as diverse as Rilke, Walter de la Mare and Frank O’Hara (not O’Hara’s ‘The Day Lady Died’, but we do get another poem about Billie Holiday: Rita Dove’s very fine ’Canary’). Thank the editor and poet Emily Fragos too for including excerpts from a number of Shakespeare’s plays; ‘poetry’ has been defined broadly enough to make this possible.

Anyone with a liking for poetry and music will love this book.

About the reviewer: P.P.O. Kane lives and works in Manchester, England. He welcomes responses to his reviews and you can reach him at ludic@europe.com