I composed Come soon, you feral cats — a two-movement cycle on the poetry of W.S. Di Piero — earlier this year, for the face-meltingly good loadbang ensemble. Going into the thing, I knew I wanted to work with a living poet; I’d set Eliot, I’d set Stephen Crane, I’d set A.R. Ammons, I’d set Shakespeare (because I’m a trailblazer!), but I’d somehow never set the work of a living poet to music.
Having absolutely no idea where to start looking, I did some poking around in the McSweeney’s Store. Di Piero’s Tombo immediately stood out, and I would be lying if I told you it wasn’t because I thought the cover was super, super pretty. I ordered it, figuring what the hell, right?
As soon as I cracked the book open (which was even better-looking in person), I knew I’d found exactly what I’d been looking for.
Great poetry, I think, is what happens when words on a page become more than themselves. It’s when language starts to feel like a door thrown open, a torch lit, a rope lashed to a dark mountainside. Great poems make us feel like there are — have always been? — unknown universes just beyond the quotidian, graspable realities of our waking lives. Perhaps more importantly, they show us that we often share those universes with one another. That sometimes, if we’re lucky, our secret worlds merge.
W. S. Di Piero’s poetry — lyrical, visual, humanist; teetering between the abstractive and the extractive — is full of this sort of thing. Take a poem like “One Night at the End of Winter,” from Tombo, for example: it starts as a simple meditation on the fact that it’s raining outside, and it ends with a vision of rainy-night multiverses, spinning on through time, peopled with humans sitting in windows wishing it would just stop raining already.
When I’m composing, I’m always chasing something similar: a sort of boundlessness. I’m trying to illuminate corners of my own secret universe, and I’m hoping that listeners will recognize something of themselves within it.
Setting Di Piero’s words to music felt like second nature to me. It felt like a gift.
— Patrick Greene, composer
You can purchase W. S. Di Piero’s Tombo here.